Thursday, June 10, 2010

The NFL's Top 50 Players

Presenting, the fifty best players in the NFL, heading into the 2010 season.

In the past I've compiled lists of the 50 best players in the NBA, but I've never attempted an NFL list before. It's like comparing apples and oranges, with some avocados and watermelons thrown in. I can look at LeBron's 29-8-7 and say it's better than D-Wade's 26-6-5, but how do I compare Peyton Manning's 40 touchdowns against Jared Allen's 15 sacks? Or Chris Johnson's 2,000 rushing yards against Ryan Clady's ... good pass protection? Heck, the elite defensive backs are elite because they don't have any interceptions, because quarterbacks are too scared to throw anywhere near them. (See Asomugha, Nnamdi).

So this list is not going to be easy to compile, nor is it in any way set in stone. There are millions of factors: injury history, off-the-field issues, attitude problems, systems (like 3-4 or 4-3 or RBBC or whatever), coaches & coordinators, and the ever-important supporting cast. And then there's positional value - the idea that a good left tackle is more important than a good right guard because the position is more important. Those things are all involved in the decision making process. Contracts and age are factors too, but not hugely deciding factors. This list is not a reflection of a player's career, but of his projected effectiveness in the 2010 season.

Essentially, this is a real life fantasy draft. I'll start at #50 and count down to #1 ...

50. Brian Waters, LG, Kansas City
The best player on the Chiefs, and a big reason why Jamaal Charles racked up 1,300 surprising yards in just 8 games last year. Waters would be a perennial Pro Bowler on just about any other team. In 2004 he was named Offensive Player of the Week after the Chiefs racked up 8 rushing TDs in one game. He’s the only offensive lineman to ever win that award. He also won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2009 for outstanding sportsmanship. Great player on a bad team.

49. London Fletcher, MLB, Washington
The older and supposedly more ‘washed-up’ he gets, the better he gets. He hasn’t missed a single game since 1998, and he’s racked up an astounding 1,480 tackles in that span. He’s finished in the top 10 in tackles every year since 2003. Last year he finished second to Patrick Willis. He’s relentless, and probably the smartest linebacker in the NFL. Here’s the most telling statistic: Washington’s defense improved from 31st in the league to 8th the season that Fletcher arrived.

48. Phillip Rivers, QB, San Diego
The fifth best QB on my board, Rivers has been underrated and underappreciated for far too long, from both a fantasy and a real-life standpoint. He’s big, strong, accurate, and has one of the quickest releases in football. And all the Chargers do is win – they’ve won the AFC West four straight years. It’s only a matter of time before Rivers is playing in the Super Bowl.

47. Jason Peters, LT, Philadelphia
Many people consider Peters overrated, while others – such as Philly coach Andy Reid - consider him the best left tackle in the NFL. I think he’s somewhere in the middle. He was dominant for the Bills, went to a couple of Pro Bowls, and then held-out until being traded to the Eagles, who secured him as the blind-side protector of Kevin Kolb for five years to come. He’s got the size and athleticism to block anybody; the only thing he lacks sometimes is mental focus.

46. Corey Webster, CB, NY Giants
A perfect example of how statistics are misleading when it comes to cornerbacks. Webster only has 6 INTs in his 5 year career, but has consistently been shutting down opposing receivers for years. In 2008 he posted the best YPA (yards per attempt) in the NFL and also the lowest completion percentage when thrown at, while allowing just one TD. He’s a strong, physical, jam-at-the-line type of guy and doesn’t make a lot of flashy plays, but gets the job done week after week.

45. Logan Mankins, LG, New England
A two-time Pro Bowl guard for the Patriots who has protected Tom Brady over the years with great success. Hasn’t missed a game since he was drafted in 2005, and gives up very few sacks despite facing frequent double teams and blitzes. Also a very good run blocker; when Brady went down in 2008, Mankins helped the Pats rush for over 2,200 yards.

44. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas
The best all-around tight end in football, and the only one on this list. No disrespect to Gates, Clark or Gonzalez – I’ll take any one of them on my fantasy team. But for this real-life fantasy draft, I want outstanding production in both the passing game and the blocking game if I’m taking a tight end. Witten gives that – not only does he catch about 90 passes a season, but he is, at least in my opinion, one of the best blocking TEs in football.

43. David Stewart, RT, Tennessee
The only right tackle on this list, and in my opinion he’s head-and-shoulders above all the rest of the right tackles in the NFL. Typically, right tackle is the position for your best blocker in the run-game, and Stewart is one of the best run-blockers in the business, if not the best. Even before Chris Johnson arrived, Tennessee had a fantastic rushing attack, and it was largely due to Stewart. Without taking anything away from Johnson’s phenomenal talent, it should be noted that behind every great running back is at least one dominant run-blocker. (The only exception: Barry Sanders).
42. Jon Beason, MLB, Carolina
Drafted in 2007, Beason finished second in the NFL in tackles as a rookie, behind fellow rookie Patrick Willis. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Willis. In 2008, he was third in the NFL in tackles – one spot behind Willis. In 2009, he tied for second in the NFL in tackles – behind, who else, Willis. He’s a two time Pro Bowler in just three NFL seasons and bound for greatness if he can avoid being arrested again. Basically, he’s just like Patrick Willis only a little bit not as good.

41. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay
The reigning defensive MVP is a great player, but he’s not the best cornerback in the NFL. Not even close. He had a great 2009, with 9 INTs and 3 TDs, but many of those were in junk time and/or against the Lions. Woodson is my favorite college football player ever, and definitely worthy of being in the top 50, but he shouldn’t have won the D-MVP award last year. Everybody knows this. It should have been Revis.

Great player? Yes. Defensive MVP? No.

40. Lamar Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh
Just three years into his career, Woodley already has 29 sacks, a Super Bowl ring, a Pro Bowl appearance, and is one of the mainstays on the NFL’s best blitzing defense. He’s strong enough to play DE in a 4-3, but quick enough to drop into coverage and chase slot guys around. As far as the ever-coveted combination of size and strength, Woodley’s about as good as it gets. James Harrison gets all the credit in Pittsburgh, and that’s fair I guess; but Woodley certainly ranks among the best outside linebackers in the game and deserves more credit than he gets.

39. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
My #4 quarterback on the board, and you can probably guess who the top 3 are. Which means that Rodgers ranks ahead of his predecessor, old man Viking. I love everything about Rodgers’s game: his arm strength, accuracy, mobility, his poise in the pocket, his ‘touch,’ (as Troy Aikman might say, he throws a very “catchable ball.”) I love Rodgers as a player, and hate the fact that he’s in the NFC North. In two years as a starter, he averages 29 TDs, 4200 yards, just 10 INTs, and 64% completions. Those are perennial Pro Bowl numbers.

38. Asante Samuel, CB, Philadelphia
In a sense, yes, Asante Samuel is one of the most overrated, overhyped, overvalued cornerbacks in the league. Just about any list of overrated NFL players is going to include Samuel, along with usual culprits like Urlacher and Reggie Bush. And I can’t argue – he gambles too much, he gives up a ton of yards, and he doesn’t tackle very well. He’s soft, not a great teammate, and he wants to get paid. But there’s a reason he had 9 INTs last year and made his third straight Pro Bowl. And it isn’t because quarterbacks are throwing the ball right to him. He knows how to read the passer and jump the route at just the right moment, and that’s why he has 29 picks in the last 4 years. He’s a game-changer, a big-play guy on defense. He ranks in the top 10 amongst active interceptions leaders, and he’s five years younger than all the guys he’s trailing, except Ed Reed. I’ll take a gambler in my secondary if it means 8 INTs a year.

37. DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia
There are only three other receivers on this list, and I’ll just spoil it for you and tell you who they are: Larry Fitzgerald, and Calvin & Andre Johnson. No Moss, no Marshall, no Boldin, no Wayne. All those guy are great, but there isn’t much difference between them. Only three WRs are athletically elite and still young in their careers and also have great work ethics and non-diva personalities. But I gave a lot of thought about DeSean Jackson and decided that ultimately I couldn’t leave him off the list. Why? Because he’s more than just a receiver; he’s the most explosive player in the NFL. Along with his 1150 receiving yards and receiving 9 TDs, he amassed 140 rushing yards, and another 440 yards on punt returns. He had the best average on punt returns and no one was within 3 yards per attempt of him. Every time he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to score.

36. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Washington (for now)
Big Al could be a top-ten guy if he would shut up and play. He’s probably the single best run-stuffer in the NFL and also explosive in the pass rush. But I’m not sure I would actually take him in a real-life fantasy draft, because there are plenty of DTs who can get the job done without causing drama or stomping on anyone’s head.
35. Justin Tuck, DE, NY Giants
If Tuck has been named MVP of Super Bowl 42 – like he should have been – then everyone would be fine with him being ranked 36th on this list. Instead, it’ll probably raise an eyebrow or two. In 2008, he was the only defensive player who gave Tom Brady any problems all season, and the Giants won a Super Bowl as a result. (And the incurably stupid Eli Manning won the least deserved Super Bowl MVP ever.) Tuck has faced nothing but double teams over the past 3 seasons, thanks to Osi Umenyiora’s injuries and overratedness. What happened was, Umenyiora randomly got 6 sacks in 1 game in 2007 because Philly played a third-string left tackle and refused to take him out of the game or even give him any help, and as a result Osi became the famous Giants DE, even though Tuck was better. But now Tuck is the one who faces endless double teams, and still wreaks havoc on opposing offenses with incredible consistency.

Just like Simba is the rightful king of Pride Rock, Tuck is the rightful owner of Eli Manning's Super Bowl MVP.

34. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, LT, NY Jets
Excellent run blocker and very good pass blocker. Least penalized O-lineman in the league per snap. Often overlooked because of his weird name.

33. DeMecco Ryans, MLB, Houston
A proto-typical chase-and-tackle machine. He’s young (25) and has already amassed over 500 tackles in his first 4 seasons. Great instincts, great speed.

32. Jared Gaither, LT, Baltimore
Kept the star of The Blind Side (Michael Oher) from playing left tackle in 2009 and will do it again in 2010. At 6’9”, 340 lbs. he might be the largest player in the NFL, and he plays with good technique and surprising athleticism. Was nearly traded prior to the 2010 Draft, and the Lions were one of the teams rumored to be involved. It didn’t happen; I was crushed.

31. Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia
Just a little tiny bit better than Justin Tuck, but a similar player. 47 sacks in 5 years as a pro. Faces constant double teams. Huge, strong, and fast. Perennially among the leaders in tackles among defensive lineman. Great against the run.

30. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore
One of the most underrated defensive players in the game and a definite victim of “weird name syndrome.” No question about it, if his name was Joey Jazz everybody and their mother would know who he was. He’s the beast in the middle who has kept the Ravens defense dominant in the past few years – since he arrived, they’ve been a top 5 defense against the run each year. Ray Lewis gets 99% of the credit, but Ngata deserves at least 45% of it.

29. Jay Ratliff, DT, Dallas
Since being drafted in the seventh round in 2005, Ratliff has been making the 31 teams that passed on him pay. He’s as disruptive and beastly as any DT in the game today, and was an easy choice for last year’s All Pro team. If Suh becomes as good as Ratliff (or Ngata) in three years, I’ll be ecstatic.

28. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit
The first and only Lion on the list, Megatron is an athletic freak of nature with all the physical tools to be the greatest receiver on the planet. Size, speed, hands, power, agility, and unparalleled jumping ability. He’s unguardable, and untackleable. But, his route-running could be a little more crisp and he’s had some injuries that have kept him down for a bit too long. Hard to judge how good he could be on a real offense.

27. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis
Speaking of great players on horrible offenses, Steven Jackson has racked up an amazing 4,300 yards in the past three seasons, while the Rams won just six games in that span. Plus Jackson battled injuries and missed about eight games in that span. Back when the Rams were relatively good, Jackson amassed 2,300 yards in 2006 alone. He’s a freak. A monster. And possibly the most dedicated superstar on a terrible team since Garnett on the tortured Timberwolves of the late 90s.

26. Nick Mangold, C, NY Jets
Pretty strange to see a center on this list, but you can’t deny the impact that Mangold has had on the Jets – since his arrival a few years ago they’ve become the most dominant running team and it doesn’t matter who carries the ball. Mangold is the quickest center in the NFL when it comes to snapping the ball and immediately locating and destroying defenders; he’s given up just 4 sacks in his entire career, and is unquestionably the best run-blocking center in the NFL. He’s been the clear-cut best center in the NFL for the past 2 years, and probably will be for another 5 years at least. When Mangold was drafted in 2006 many scouts said he was the best prospect at center ever, and he has not disappointed; his streak of Pro Bowls could end up in double digits.

The best center in the business, by far.

25. Ray Lewis, MLB, Baltimore
If you start typing “Ray Lewis” into Google, the first word that comes up is “manslaughter.” I think that says it all. But if not, consider that Ray is closing in on 2,000 career tackles, along with 37 sacks and 28 INTs. Last year, the Ravens had the league’s third best defense; they’ve been in the top six every year since 1998, except one year, 2002, when Ray missed eleven games with an injury. That’s no coincidence. I know this list is supposed to represent 2010 and not a career body of work (which is why Lewis is ranked 25 and not top 5), but you can’t ignore 11 Pro Bowls, 2 D-MVPs, and 9 times being a First Team All Pro.

24. Chris Snee, RG, NY Giants
Benching 615 pounds, Snee is the NFL’s strongest man. And when he’s pulling on a counter play, he uses that immense strength to manhandle defenders and open up humungous holes for the Giants’ many running backs. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ward or Jacobs or Bradshaw; it might as well be me running through those holes. Snee is just a beast in the running game, plain and simple. He is also the son-in-law of his coach, Tom Coughlin.

23. Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis
The ultimate sack-master, Freeney is best known for his ridiculous speed around the edge when rushing the passer, but he has developed an equally effective power move in recent years. Despite facing lots and lots of double teams since he was a rookie, Freeney has accumulated 84 sacks in his 8 year career, and also 36 forced fumbles. Pretty darn good. I have him ranked as the 4th best defensive end.

22. James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh
Undrafted out of Kent State, James Harrison is the perfect outside linebacker in a blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme, and has put together one of the most statistically productive streaks in recent memory. In the past 3 years: 34 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, 280 tackles, and one Super Bowl victory in which he had the most important play – a 99 yard pick-six. He’s a rare combination of incredible power and incredible speed, and adds a unique play-making element in terms of forcing turnovers.

21. Jahri Evans, RG, New Orleans
Right guard is probably the least glamorous position in the NFL, but somehow Evans developed into a star last year, anchoring an unstoppable Saints’ offense and giving Drew Brees enough time to throw on every passing down. Brees was sacked just 20 times in 514 attempts; he also completed an obscene 70% of his passes and led the NFL in TD passes. But most of that credit belongs to Brees, and we’ll discuss that later. But Evans must have done enough to impress the Saints’ front office, because in May he signed the most lucrative contract of any offensive guard in NFL history – 7 years, $56 million. No matter how good he may play until 2017, he probably won’t live up to that salary.

He may be great, but is Jahri Evans really worth $56 million?

20. Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago
Physically, he might be the best defensive player in the NFL – maybe even the best athlete in the NFL. At 6’6”, 280 pounds, Peppers was a force on UNC’s basketball team and played in the Final Four. He played running back and was a state champion sprinter in high school. The dude can flat out run, and can also run over offensive lineman. He brings his 81 career sacks to Chicago and twice a year he’ll get to face Jeff Backus and the Lions; I’m very worried.

19. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona
Fitzgerald is my #2 overall wide receiver, just ahead of Calvin and just behind Andre. But essentially, all three players are similar – huge, fast, great hands, and they don’t draw obnoxious attention to themselves. The reason I’ve got Fitzgerald 10 spots behind Andre Johnson is that he had success while playing next to Anquan Boldin and catching passes from future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner; if he can continue his success next to Breaston and with Leinart at QB, I’ll be very, very impressed.

18. Jake Long, LT, Miami
17. Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland
Powerful, punishing, huge, smart, fast, franchise left-tackles with no weaknesses. Both 25 years old. Neither of them give up any sacks, and both are excellent in the running game. Both guys have been Pro Bowlers in each of their pro seasons and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Most people consider Denver’s Ryan Clady (drafted in 2008) to be the best left tackle in the game today. I wouldn’t disagree with that. However, Clady is expected to miss most of the 2010 season with a knee injury he suffered when playing basketball, and Thomas and Long are easily the next two best LTs in the game. (Sidenote: the five best LTs are all in the AFC.)

16. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore
You may notice he’s the first safety on this list, and there’s only one left to come. That’s not because there’s a lack of talent at the safety position, but merely because there’s so much depth after Reed that they all are about the same. Adrian Wilson, Darren Sharper, Brian Dawkins, Bob Sanders, and Oshiomogho Atogwe all deserve a mention, but none stand out like Reed and my #4 overall player. I originally had Ed Reed ranked in the top 10, but re-considered because of his growing age (now 30) and occasional injuries. But he’s the consummate playmaker on defense; 46 career interceptions, and 12 career touchdowns. He defines “ball-hawk.” And if the ball ends up in his hands, as it often does, more often than not he manages to find the end zone.

15. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota
After watching this video, I’m positive that Jared Allen is the funniest guy in the NFL. I also believe him to be the 2nd best defensive end, which is greatly impressive considering the stiff competition at that position. It's his consistent production, superior technique, and a nonstop motor that set him apart. Freeney and Peppers are just a little bit more athletic, but Allen never complains about money or any of that crap. He just plays. And he, like Peppers, gets to face Jeff Backus twice a year, so you can bet he sacks Stafford at least 5 times in 2010.

14. Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota
I’ll go ahead and say that Kevin Williams is the most underappreciated player in the NFL. Not because he lacks name recognition, but for just the opposite reason – too much name recognition. You ask any knowledgeable football fan why Minnesota has the best run defense in the NFL, and they’ll reply with two words: “Williams Wall.” But if you ask those same fans which Williams is better, Kevin or Pat, you’ll get a “Uh…” The Williamses are indissolubly linked to one another. They operate and play as one. They even got suspended together. But if you put Pat on any other team, he would just be Pat – a pretty good DT. But if Kevin ever left the Vikings, his new team would suddenly have a top 15 player and become dominant defensively in a moment. He’s the definition of ‘disruptive.’ He can rush the passer better than any other DT in the league, he absolutely eradicates the interior running game, and he never misses a play. He imposes his will against every interior lineman in the NFL. Except maybe one, who just so happens to be his teammate.

Both good players, but #93 is the one you really want.

13 Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee
I love this guy. He’s one of my 5 favorite players to watch, in any sport. He’s electric. He’s unbelievable. I’ve compared him to Barry Sanders on at least a dozen occasions. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years as an NFL fan, it’s that one elite season doesn’t make someone elite. I’ve gotta see more before he’s in the top 10. I hope he goes for another 2,000 yards. But I don’t think he will.

12. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas
An OLB in a DE’s body, Ware is unreasonably fast from the linebacker position. He racks up sacks – 57 in the last 4 years – better than anyone in the league right now, and had hte most QB pressures (sacks + hits + pressures) of anyone in 2009 AND in 2008. He’s exceptionally tough – he was carted off the field with a neck injury last year, and came back to the play in the very next game. And the best part is, he’s one of the rare quality guys in the NFL. He’s married to his high school sweetheart, and after 3 unsuccessful pregnancies they adopted a daughter in 2008. One of my favorite non-Lion players.

11. Mario Williams, DE, Houston
What people probably don’t realize about Mario is that he faces double teams on every down, and still manages 40 sacks in 4 seasons. And that he’s widely regarded as the best defensive end against the run. He has no weaknesses. A great #1 overall pick by the Texans in 2006, passing on the hype-machines of Reggie Bush and Vince Young, neither of whom, coincidentally, are on this list.
10. Patrick Willis, MLB, San Francisco
Patrick Willis is the best linebacker in the NFL right now, and there is absolutely no debate. Most of the great outside-linebackers are really just DEs playing in the 3-4; Willis is a pure tackler, in the mold of Ray Lewis or Dick Butkus. Just three seasons into his career, Willis is already shaping up to be one of the all-time greats, and its his humility and dedication that give him a chance to achieve greatness. He doesn’t talk – he just goes out there and tackles people. He’s as close to ‘perfect’ as a football player can be – played in every game since being drafted; racked up at least 140 tackles in each season so far; led the NFL in tackles as a rookie and again last year. And he’s very solid in coverage, with 23 passes broken up and 4 INTS – 2 of them returned for scores.

9. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston
When a guy’s as consistently stellar as Andre Johnson is, sometimes the only way to explain it is with the numbers. His first five NFL seasons were exceptional, but injuries plagued his production a little bit. But then in 2008 he led all receivers in yards (1575) and receptions (115) as well as first-down catches. He followed it up by once again leading all receivers in yards (1569) in 2009, and was third in receptions (101) and first in total targets. Basically, despite facing double and triple teams, Andre has put up an average of about 95 receiver yards a game consistently for three or four years now. He can do absolutely everything – the deep ball, the slot stuff, over the middle, catch in traffic, run after catch, plus he’s a great blocking receiver and he’s never done a single stupid end zone dance or shot anyone at a night club or Danced with the Stars. He’s a no-nonsense superstar, the most talented receiver in the game, and the most productive. He’s similar to Calvin Johnson or Fitzgerald, except stronger physically, and a superior leaper. His ball instincts are the best. He’s got potential to be the 2nd best receiver to ever play the game if he stays healthy. Through 7 NFL seasons, he has just shy of 8,000 yards; by contrast, Jerry Rice had just a shade over 9,000 yards, and played in 5 more games.

8. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota
And speaking of guys who have potential to be among the All Time Greats, AP, or AD, or whatever you want to call him, is quite simply and undeniably the best combination of speed and power that the running back position has seen since … Walter Payton? Jim Brown? I don’t even know. Definitely the best in my lifetime. He can power through the middle, sprint around the corner, break tackles without slowing down, and he’s got the best intangibles – balance & vision – of any running back since Barry. I know he has a terrific O-line in front of him, but I’m convinced you could put him on any team in the NFL and expect 1,400 yards and 12 TDs easily. For all of his supposed “injury concerns,” he’s played in 37 straight games and rushed for at least 1,300 yards in each with a stunning 4.9 yards per carry – those are astounding numbers and proof that he can take it the distance on any carry. Yeah he’s a fumbler, but I think those problems will not last long. If he can keep his 1,500 yards per season average going, he’ll overtake Emmitt Smith as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher in 2019.

7. Tom Brady, QB, New England
This was as low as I could drop Brady with a clear conscious. I know these rankings are supposed to represent the 2010 season and not a career body of work, but how can you drop one of the 5 best quarterbacks of all time just because of one season in which he wasn’t the best. He wasn’t a top 2 quarterback last year, but he wasn’t any worse than 5th. The Pats finished 2nd in the AFC in scoring and 3rd in the NFL in passing yards. Brady’s ceiling is still as high as anyone’s; he could throw another 50 TDs this season if everyone’s healthy. He still has “Greatest of all Time” potential if he compiles another 5 good seasons, which he could. Probably the #1 guy in the league that I don't want to play against.

6. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland
The unquestioned captain of the “Weird Name All Star Team.” It’s remarkable that some people still don’t know who Asomugha is. Just last season he was a top 3 player in the NFL. I think all the losing in Oakland is finally starting to catch up with him, but his track record is unprecedented. His 2007 and 2008 may have been the two best seasons ever compiled by a defensive back. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: 2006 – 8 INTS, made a name for himself, made QBs afraid; 2007 – only thrown at 31 times all season, and only 10 completions against him all year. Considered the best season any cornerback ever had, until … 2008 – thrown at just 27 times all year, only 8 completions allowed all year, in 16 starts. Even Bill Belichick complemented him; 2009 – targeted just 27 times, 13 completions allowed. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 31 completions allowed in 3 seasons – an average of two catches allowed every three games. Mind you, he’s doing this lined up against the best of the best receivers, play after play, with no help. Guys like Manning and Brady don’t even bother looking in his direction; they gameplan entirely around avoiding him. It’s tough to identify exactly what makes him so good. It’s his technique, his understanding of the game, and his physical strength. His speed is good, his hands are good, but it’s his brain that sets him apart. Probably no coincidence that he’s the most involved NFL player when it comes to philanthropic efforts; he meets with Bill Clinton and encourages inner city kids to go to college and does all sorts of amazing things for the world. You should just check out his wikipedia page and read about him. Fascinating guy.

5. Steve Hutchinson, LG Minnesota
Again, let’s just look at the facts: in 2005 when Hutch was in Seattle, the Seahawks were 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards and 1st in TDs. Shaun Alexander won league MVP. The very next year, Hutch went to Minnesota, and Seattle dropped to 14th in yards and 27th in TDs. The Vikings, meanwhile, jumped from 27th in rushing yards to 1st upon Hutch's arrival. You can credit Adrian Peterson all you want, but you can’t ignore the fact that Hutchison made Shaun Alexander an MVP in Seattle, and also led them to a Super Bowl. He’s quite simply the best offensive lineman of the past decade, and possibly the best guard ever. Definitely the best OG in at least 30 years. And the best part is, he’s still just 32 and could play for another 4 or 5 years.

4. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh
You can’t explain in words what Polamalu means to the Steelers’ defense. You really just have to watch them play with him and without him. With Troy, they are by far the best defense in the league, and nearly impossible to move the ball against. When he was hurt last year (Madden Curse), the Steelers defense was exposed – they couldn’t stop the run or the pass, all they could do effectively was blitz. Believe me, I watched way more Steelers games than I wanted to. Their secondary immediately went from the most feared in the league to a huge weakness, and teams started torching them. They were 16th in the NFL against the pass; the year before, when Polamalu played all 16 games, they were 1st. Quarterbacks averaged a rating of 83 against the Polamalu-less Steelers; the year before – 63. (Want to hear something funny? The Lions have surrendered an AVERAGE QB rating of 109 over the past two years. In other words, two years in a row the best quarterback in the NFL was “whoever played the Lions.”) It’s tough to explain what makes Troy Polamalu such a great defender; while he obviously has the speed and the power and the physical tools, it’s really his instincts and aggressiveness that make him so dominant. He’s involved in nearly every play, and seems to move from point A to point B faster than you think possible. He doesn’t have one of those eye-popping 40 times, but when you see him on the field, you constantly say “How did he get there so fast?” He’s just a possessed maniac, no other way to say it. He’s probably on steroids or something. Stupid Steelers.

3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
If I’m building an NFL team from scratch and doing a fantasy draft, I’m sure as heck not letting Drew Brees pass by. He’s put together two of the best statistical seasons in NFL history in back to back seasons, and done it with squat receivers and without much of a running game or a defense. It’s all him, and some help from the offensive line. But in terms of accuracy and “making all the throws” (a phrase that’s overused, especially to describe Matthew Stafford which is laughable), he’s by far the best in the business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 6 yard slant or a 25 yard post or a 42 yard fade, he puts it in exactly the right spot every time. He feels and understands the pass rush so perfectly and has eyes all over the back of his head, and that’s exactly why the Saints started the season 13-0 and went on to win the Super Bowl. And although they aren’t going to win it all again in 2011, they’ll easily win another 10+ games because Brees will continue to throw for 4500 yards, 35 TDs, and complete a profane 70% of his passes.
2. Darelle Revis, CB, NY Jets
Certainly the breakout star of 2009, but it was no fluke. Darelle Revis will be dominating wide receivers for years to come, and is the perfect piece to build a defense around. Last year the Jets gave up only 8 passing TDs all season (ridiculous!) and only 153 passing yards per game (also amazing) and Revis was the reason. Take him off the Jets, and they wouldn't have won more than 4 games. He did nothing but shut down #1 receivers all year long, holding Moss to 7 catches in 2 games, TO to 4 catches in 2 games, Ochocinco to 2 catches in 2 games, Colston to 0 catches, Wayne to 3, and the best WR in the league, Andre Johnson, to 2 catches for 29 yards. As great as Asomugha was and is, Revis has to be considered the most dominant defensive player in the NFL heading into the 2010 season, and the prominent reason why the Jets made it to the AFC Championship game behind a rookie QB. The Raiders primarily play zone, which means Asomugha sometimes has help. The Jets play man, which means Revis is often left entirely alone on the side of the field, against the fastest, strongest, biggest guys in the league. Imagine being left alone with Calvin or Andre Johnson. It came to be known as Revis Island , and he embraced the challenge and blew away any preconceived notions I had of ‘shutdown corner.’

The best cornerback of all time in the making.

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis
What can you say? He hasn’t missed a game in 12 seasons, has thrown for AT LEAST 26 TDs each year, completes around 68% of his passes, and wins at least 10 games a season, usually more. He’s the best quarterback in the NFL, and simultaneously maybe the best COACH in the NFL. He dissects defenses faster and more viciously than any quarterback ever. He’s the smartest, most cerebral, and most dominant player in the NFL. He’s also a pretty underrated athlete; he can move, he has a rocket arm, he has laser precision, and he never makes a bad throw. At least… not until the playoffs.

Here's a recap of the list, by position:

QB – 5
RB – 3
WR – 4
TE – 1
LT – 5
LG – 4
C – 1
RG – 2
RT – 1
DE – 6
DT - 4
OLB - 4
MLB - 3
CB - 5
S - 2

Hope you enjoyed the top 50.
Let me know what you think of the list. Who should have I included, who should I have left off? Crazy Keith, I especially want to know your thoughts.

I know I left a lot of great "skill" players off the list - Romo, Favre, Jones-Drew, Turner, Wayne, Moss, etc... - but I don't think those guys are all that valuable when there a dime a dozen. I'd rather have an elite player at a different position. I think it's better to have the best CB or DT or LG in the league than the 5th best QB. I could be wrong. But I think I'm right.
One thing's for sure, it'll be a fun 2010 season. Stay tuned for a Detroit Lions Season Preview and more fantasy football thoughts that you can handle.
And as always, Go Lions.


  1. Personally, I'd drop Drew Brees a few spots. I think the Saints are going to slip pretty bad this year - super bowl hangover and they're probably tired of breathing in oil fumes.

    I do feel you on Tom Brady though. It's hard to let go of a figure who was so good - but the reality is that was three years ago. I'm jumping off the Brady bandwagon and moving him down some spots on my QB Board.

    Right now, for a fantasy QB board, I'm looking at Manning / Rivers, Rodgers, Flacco, and Brees. I think Rivers will have the better statistical season, but you can't really argue with Manning's leadership.

  2. flacco ahead of brees?!?

    the only reason i won't completely dismiss that notion is the Madden Curse.

    i don't love the saints this year either. losing Fujita hurts their defense a lot. but I love Brees still.
    thanks for the comment.

  3. I like the diversity of the list.