Thursday, May 31, 2012

Top 100 Players in NFL

This is the second segment in a triad of rankings as we gear up for the 2012 season.  First I ranked the 32 teams based on how happy or unhappy they are with their current quarterback situations.  

Note: this was not necessarily a ranking of the ‘best’ QBs in the league right now, but rather the best QB situations for the foreseeable future.  For example, I still think Rivers is a better QB than Newton, but because of current contracts and long-term potential and the trajectory of their careers, I would rather have Newton.

This ranking lists the NFL’s top 100 players, based primarily on the 2011 season, but also considering each player’s track record, age, durability, off-field issues, and contracts.

There have been a flurry of these Top 100 lists lately, with most of them being purely idiotic.  For example, the NFL players voted and decided that Ray Lewis is the 4th best player in the NFL.  Yes, #4 overall in the entire league, not fourth best on his own defense. Come off it. 

Then ranked inconsistent quarterbacks like Vick and Romo in the top 20, ahead of game-changing superstars like Jared Allen and Larry Fitzgerald.  And the epically doltish NFL Network has Joe Thomas way back in the 80s, just 13 spots ahead of Tim Tebow.  Really? There are only 13 NFL players between the best offensive lineman in football and a lousy backup quarterback?  Wow.

But there are responsible analysts, such as Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Bleacher Report, Peter King at, Football Outsiders,, and Pete Prisco at CBSsports.  Using their lists and analysis, but also relying heavily on my personal prejudices, I’ve concocted this list of the Top 100 Players in the NFL.  

Top 100

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Best player at the most important position. I wouldn’t bet against him having another MVP year.

2. Darelle Revis, CB, Jets
Narrowly edges out Calvin because he owned Calvin head-to-head (1 catch, 13 yards) and has been elite for a longer period of time.    

3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Single-handedly won at least 5 games last year.  Maybe more. His route-running, hands, speed and ability to break tackles are all excellent, but it’s his ability to leapover 3 guys in the end zone that sets him apart from every other receiver ever.  The only thing that can stop him is being on the cover of a stupid video game.

This seems like a good time to take a discourse into the history of the infamous Madden Curse:
1999 – Victim: Garrison Hearst.
For the first time in Madden’s history, they decided to put a player on the cover, instead of Madden himself. They chose Hearst, coming off a season with 2,100 total yards…
What happened? Hearst broke his ankle, missed two entire seasons, and experienced post-surgery complications called Avascular Necrosis, meaning the bone inside his foot literally died. The Niners went from 12-4 to 4-12. A few years later, Hearst got in trouble for anti-gay remarks, saying “Hell no, I don’t want no faggots on my team.”
Overall curse grade – 97

 2000 – Victim: Barry Sanders
Arguably the greatest player of all time was within 1,500 yards of the career rushing record and only 31 years old when he was put on the cover of Madden…
What happened? Barry faxed a letter to the Wichita Eagle newspaper announcing his retirement, on what will go down in history as the worst day in the history of the NFL. A legendary career was ruined and a franchise decimated.
Overall curse grade – 5,000,000

 2001 – Victim: Eddie George
George had just run for 1,500 yards and 14 scores and the Titans went 13-3 …
What happened? He fell short of 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, had only 5 TDs, and ran for a sad 3.0 YPC. The Titans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
Overall curse grade – 65

 2002 – Victim: Daunte Culpepper
The All Pro had just led the Vikings to the playoffs and thrown 33 TDs and 16 picks. He was well on his way to Canton
What happened? A 5-11 season, followed by a 6-10 season in which Daunte threw 23 picks and set an NFL record with 23 fumbles. Then, when his career bounced back in 2004, he blew out both knees and never threw more than 6 TDs in a season again. His career ended in shambles, as quarterback of the Sacramento Mountain Lions.
Overall curse grade – 80
 2003 – Victim: Marshall Faulk
Nobody was more curse-proof than Faulk. He had run for 1,300 yards in three straight seasons (all playoff seasons); he had a Super Bowl ring, five straight Pro Bowls, an MVP, and was the three-time reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, not to mention the consensus #1 pick in every fantasy football draft...
What happened? He ran for just 953 yards, the Rams went 7-9, and he never eclipsed 1,000 yards again. The following year, he started just 10 games, and was slowly phased out in favor of newcomer Steven Jackson.
Overall curse grade – 90

 2004 – Victim: Michael Vick
The phenom was revolutionizing the quarterback position, running for almost 800 yards in his sophomore season, and leading the Falcons to a playoff victory  …
What happened? Just one day after Madden hit shelves, Vick broke his leg in a preseason game and missed the first 11 games of the year. The Falcons went 5-11. Then, he rebounded, compiled three straight quality seasons (just 1 playoff appearance though), but then was arrested for killing dogs and spent 23 months in prison. He is now arguably the most hated person in sports, and deservedly so.
Overall curse grade – 95

 2005 – Victim: Ray Lewis
Five straight years as a First Team All Pro, and one of the best linebackers of all time in his prime …
What happened? He got off easy with a season-ending hamstring injury in week 6. The Ravens went 6-10. Lewis has been a Pro Bowler in 13 of his 14 seasons. The one season he wasn’t – 2005, when he was on the Cover.
Overall curse grade – 55

 2006 – Victim: Donovan McNabb
Five straight Pro Bowls, five straight playoff appearances, and enough swagger to pronounce “I don’t believe in the Curse at all...”
What happened? McNabb suffered a sports hernia in the first game of the season, played through the pain, then tore an ACL while jumping out of bounds in week 9 and missed the rest of the season. Philly went 6-10. 
Overall curse grade – 85

 2007 – Victim: Shaun Alexander
The reigning MVP had just run for 1,880 yards and a record 27 TDs. The Seahawks went 13-3 and made the Super Bowl.
What happened? He broke his leg in week 3, and missed 6 games. The next year, he broke his wrist, his knee, and his ankle. He never ran for more than 900 yards in a season again, and played just 2 more years in the NFL, despite having just signed an 8-year, $62 million dollar deal, the largest ever for a running back.
Overall curse grade – 95

 2008 – Victim: LaDanian TomlinsonLT was selected to be on the cover, but turned it down, partly in response to a fan-crazed campaign called ‘’ That year, LT amassed over 1,900 yards, 18 TDs, and did not get hurt once.

 2008 – Victim: Vince Young
The Rookie of the Year had just gone 8-5 as a starter, with 4 fourth-quarter comeback wins. He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to deride any chance of the Curse taking him down...
What happened? Well, he only missed one game with a leg injury, finished with a solid 10-6 record, and made the playoffs. The Curse seemed to be broken!  But then next year, Young injured his knee in week one, Kerry Collins took over the starting job, and the Titans went 13-3 while Young rode the bench. After that, he got his starting job back, did okay, got hurt a few times, never made the playoffs, and eventually went nuts, throwing his shoulder pads into the crowd, storming out of the locker room, texting his coach to apologize, and getting kicked off the team. He’s been a joke ever since, and the former #3 overall pick is now a backup on the Bills.

Overall curse grade – 80

 2009 – Victim: Brett Favre
This is where it really gets bad. After ten straight seasons of ruining careers, the Madden franchise decided to wield some mercy by putting a retired player on the cover. Nothing could go wrong, right?
What happened?  Everything went wrong. Favre un-retired, but the Packers didn’t want him because they liked Aaron Rodgers too much, so Favre went to the Jets, where he played lousy, hurt his ankle, texted pictures of his penis to a girl half his age, missed the playoffs, was despised by teammates, retired, unretired, retired, unretired, became a laughingstock, watched Aaron Rodgers win a Super Bowl, became a Viking, hurt his shoulder, retired, unretired, became reviled by everybody, retired, cried, tried to unretire but nobody wanted him, and finished his career as a sad, sad figure of a man.
Overall curse grade – 99

 2010 – Victim: Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu
How do you avoid a Curse that has struck 11 straight years? By putting two players on the cover!
What happened? Troy hurt his MCL, his PCL, and only played 5 games. The Steelers went 9-7, and missed the playoffs after having won the Super Bowl the previous year.
Larry, meanwhile, appeared to break the Curse. He played all 16 games, had 13 TDs, and won a classic playoff game with 82 yards and 2 TDs. The next year, however, Kurt Warner retired, Anquan Boldin left, Karlson Dansby left, and the Cards went 5-11 behind 65.9 QB rating. Fitzy is now stuck with a huge contract on a terrible team.
Overall curse grade – Polamalu – 75, Fitzgerald – 65
Total – 70

 2011 – Victim: Drew Brees
Coming off a Super Bowl victory and a 109.6 QB rating, Brees was not about to be taken down by the Curse …
What happened?  He threw twice as many interceptions as the previous year and his passer rating dropped to 90.9, but the Saints still went 11-5. But because of a stupid rule, the 11-5 Saints had to play on the road in the playoffs, at 7-9 Seattle, who pulled the massive upset. Later, it was discovered that the Saints were not only paying each other to injure players, but also wiretapping opposing teams. Brees now is without his head coach and engaged in a potential holdout.
Overall curse grade – 65

 2012 – Victim: Peyton Hillis
For the first time, the fans decided the victim with an online vote. Hillis, a fantasy football darling with massive biceps and a rugged attitude, upset Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick and ended up on the cover, despite less than 1,500 total rushing yards in his entire career …
What happened?  In honesty, Hillis never should have been on the cover in the first place. But it was still shocking when he let a contract dispute, strep throat, and two hamstring injuries limit him to 587 yards and 3 TDs, while the Browns went 4-12.  Now Hillis is a backup RB for a lousy team, and instead of the multi-year deal he sought with the Browns, he settled for 1 year, $3 million with KC. He is the first victim to admit that he believes in the Curse.
Overall curse grade – 90

 2013- Victim: Calvin Johnson
We should be prepared for anything, up to and including Calvin being abducted by Colombian drug lords . My hope is a 4-6 week injury with no long-term repercussions. Realistically, he’s going on IR sometime in September, and maybe will be able to play in 2013. In other words, draft Titus Young in your fantasy leagues. 

On to the rest of the top 100 …

4. Patrick Willis, ILB, 49ers
A perfect middle linebacker who has no weaknesses. He averaged one missed tackle per 44 attempts, by far the best rate in the league.

5. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Cowboys
The best pass-rusher in the league, with 91 sacks in his last 6 seasons, and 19.5 last year. No slouch in coverage either.

6. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Still the master of dissecting defenses, but not as consistent as he used to be.  

7. Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Set the single-season passing yards record with a bunch of mediocre receivers.

8. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings
The Vikings may have gone 3-13, but you can’t blame it on the guy with a league-high 22 sacks.

9. Joe Thomas, LT, Browns
It’s become trendy to criticize Joe Thomas this offseason. I’ve even seen him ranked behind LTs Andrew Whitworth and Tyron Smith, who don’t crack my top 75. I don’t understand … yes, he had 9 penalties, but he was essentially perfect in pass protection for the fifth straight year and a completely overbearing run blocker . He’s as good as it gets on the offensive line, and will be for a long time.

10. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
He was the best player on the Super Bowl champs last year, recording 16.5 sacks and leading all defensive linemen in tackles with 86. Probably should have been Super Bowl MVP. And he’s just going to get better.

11. Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers
Because of his age (31), recent injuries, and the Steelers crummy CBs, Troy has somehow become underrated. He’s still the most complete safety in the league, dominating both the secondary and the line of scrimmage with amazing instincts and acceleration.

12. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
With no quarterback to throw him the ball, Fitz’s TDs and completions were down, but he dropped only 3 passes out of 151 targets, and was 4th in the NFL in receiving yardage despite being on perhaps the worst offense in the league.

13. Julius Peppers, DE, Bears
Was just as dominant in his second season with Chicago as he was in his first. Peppers is quietly the best run-stopping DE among 4-3 teams; the Bears have ranked 2nd and 5th in run defense since he arrived, compared to 23rd before he showed up.

14. Mario Williams, DE, Bills
So much for moving to the 3-4.  Mario spent 5 games in the Texans’ new defense before tearing a pectoral muscle and missing the season; now he moves back to the 4-3 DE spot where he’s been so dominant.  Buffalo may have actually gotten him for a bargain at 6-years, $100 million.  If he stays healthy.

15. Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens
Ngata is taking all kinds of flak, much like Joe Thomas, for what was perceived as an ‘average’ 2011 season. He ranked 90th on the PFF list, and 25th on the Prisco list. But Baltimore once again ranked in the top 5 in run defense, extending that streak to 6 straight seasons since Ngata was drafted. Also, Haloti amassed 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 fumbles recovered while being flagged for only 1 penalty in 16 games.

16. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Coming off an ACL tear, it’s unclear if AP should even be in the top 100.  But if he’s at even 90% health, he’s the best RB in a decade with his combination of speed and strength.  Many people have MJD/McCoy/Forte/Rice ahead of AP because of their impact in the passing game, but that’s really a result of scheme and because those teams don’t have good receivers.  AP is the best pure runner, and Foster is second. (see 29).

17. Justin Smith, DE, 49ers
Can dominate the defensive line as a DT or a DE in any scheme. Was unstoppable late in the season and in the playoffs, and created matchup problems all year that led to a 14 sack season for his rookie teammate.

18. Von Miller, OLB, Broncos
The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year didn’t miss a tackle all season, and racked up 12 sacks with a broken hand playing on a bad team.  Now, he’s got Peyton Manning at QB, which means the other team will be passing more, which means … 20 sacks? 30?   

19. Nick Mangold, C, Jets
Center isn’t a sexy position, but the Jets completely fell apart last year when their stud missed two games. He’s the best interior O-lineman in the league, not only physically but with his ability to analyze defenses and make audibles on the field. He’s basically Mark Sanchez’s brain on the field.  His sister is an Olympic weightlifter, too.

20. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Eagles
Fell out of the top 50 on pretty much everybody’s list after one bad season in Philly in which he was simply miscast. Still has elite cover skills and should rebound this year.

21. Trent Cole, DE, Eagles
Just like Peppers and JPP, he is dominant in all phases on the defensive line. Deemed the ‘most complete 4-3 DE’ by Pro Football Focus.

22. Duane Brown, LT, Texans
The former first round pick was considered a ‘project’ for a couple seasons; last year he emerged as a legitimate stud. He was the only tackle all season who did not give up a sack, and the only tackle who successfully manhandled Terrell Suggs. Pretty good in the running game too.

23. Cameron Wake, OLB, Dolphins
Against constant double teams, Wake notched 9 sacks and 72 hits/hurries, for the second most QB pressures, behind only Jared Allen.  

24. Jake Long, LT, Dolphins
Played most of the 2011 season with a torn bicep, and now might miss games early in 2012. But it’s the last year of his contract, so he should be ready to kick some serious butt, even if it means blocking for Ryan Tannehill.

25. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
I had more trouble with this ranking than any other. Prisco put him 10th, PFF put him 6th, and I’m barely including him in the top 25.  Why?  Well, for one thing, I think if you take him off the Patriots and put him on any other team, he wouldn’t even reach half of his absurd 2012 numbers: 90 receptions, 1,300 yards and 17 TDs. Further, he’s only played one good season so far, and I like to see someone play two great years before they’re deemed a franchise stud.. And lastly, he benefits from the Patriots unusual offense that does not target receivers downfield. His record-breaking season was a combination of being a physically freakish player and also playing in a perfect system.

26. Jonathan Joseph, CB, Texans
It’s not just Revis and Asomugha anymore atop the CB world. Joseph definitely belongs in the conversation, as does Joe Haden (see 31).
27. Geno Atkins, DT, Bengals
Leaps past Suh as the league’s best 4-3 defensive tackle.  A fourth round pick in 2010, Atkins dominated from start to finish last season, leading all DTs with 49 QB disruptions and performing very well against the run.

28. Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs
On a defense that was mostly terrible, Hali faced routine double coverage and still managed 12 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.

29. Arian Foster, RB, Texans
Missed three games last year, but still racked up 1,850 total yards and scored 12 TDs. Kept Houston’s offense clicking despite the losses of Schaub and Andre Johnson. And not only did he catch 53 passes, but he did more with those passes than any other RB – his average of 11.6 yards per reception was the highest among RBs.

30. Navarro Bowman, ILB, 49ers
In his first year as the full-time starter next to Patrick Willis, Bowman almost outplayed his All Pro teammate, with an NFC-best 111 solo tackles.  He saved his best for the playoffs, with 25 tackles in 2 games. It’s fair to say, (though unfair for the rest of the league), San Fran has the two best inside linebackers in football.

31. Joe Haden, CB, Browns
Haden picked off 6 passes as a rookie, but none last year as QBs barely looked in his direction. Nonetheless, he led all CBs in passes broken up with 17 and he allowed just a 49% completion percentage to passes thrown in his direction, all while guarding the best receiver on every team he faced. Held Fitzgerald, Marshall, and Wallace to under 65 yards each with no scores.

32 – 35. RayMatt McDrew  
For the sake of not splitting straws, I am lumping Ray Rice, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, and Maurice Jones-Drew into a four-way tie. They are all great in all phases of the game. I would take any one of them as my franchise RB in a heartbeat. They each caught at least 40 passes for the second straight year, and they all ran for 1,300 yards, except Forte, who was on pace for 1,330 before he got hurt.  From a fantasy perspective, I would rank them McCoy, then Rice, Forte, and lastly MJD because of the terrible offense he plays on. But beware: Ray, Matt and Maurice are all involved in potential contract holdouts.  Nobody wants to pay running backs anymore, and with Peterson, Charles, Forte, Mendenhall, and Fred Jackson all suffering major leg injuries, it’s understandable. Especially in the world of RBBC.

36. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions
Statistically he declined from 2010 to 2011, but double-teams don’t show up on the stat sheet. At least half of Cliff Avril’s 11 sacks were created by Suh.  But, he really needs to stop stomping, lying, pouting, crashing cars and acting like a jerk and just focus on not overpursuing and getting trapped. He has the potential to be the best DT in the league, but he’s not there yet.

37. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
For a while, Andre reigned supreme above Calvin and Larry, but missing 8 games last year with lingering knee problems really hurts his stock. He might miss action in early 2012. When healthy, he’s the complete package, good for 100 catches, 1,500 yards, and 8 TDs. But the gap between him and the next batch of receivers is narrowing.

38. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Another enigma … but all reports are that his arm looks just fine. I suspect John Elway did his research. Peyton might be in for a monster comeback year.

39. Brian Cushing, ILB, Texans
The 2009 D-ROY battled through a drug-suspension in 2010 and a move from 4-3 OLB to 3-4 ILB in 2011, and posted his best season yet, racking up 114 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 picks, 2 fumbles forced, and earning team MVP honors. He was the best inside linebacker in the AFC but did not make the Pro Bowl thanks to another idiotic homage to Ray Lewis.

40. Daryl Smith, OLB, Jaguars
Believe it or not, Jacksonville ranked 6th in total defense last year. Without Smith, they would have been closer to 26th. He was all over the field, racking up 107 tackles, including more stops in the running game than any other OLB. He also broke up more passes than any 4-3 OLB, and knocked down the quarterback on 15% of the plays in which he blitzed, highest rate of any linebacker. He was really special, despite playing for a horrible team.

41.  Carl Nicks, G, Buccaneers
It’s tough to rate guards, because typically your All Pro guards coincide with your elite quarterbacks, and you start to wonder if Stephen Peterman would suddenly be a Pro Bowler on New England.  But Nicks is best known as a run-blocking specialist who also happens to excel at protecting the QB. Moving from New Orleans to Tampa will be a test for him, but he should pass and help turn Tampa’s offense around.

42. James Harrison, OLB, Steelers
Roger Goddell’s #1 enemy missed 5 games last year due to suspension and injuries, and has been steadily on the decline since his D-MVP 2008 season. But he’s still one of the most fearsome pass rushers even at 34 years old.

43. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
Still the best all-around TE in the league, with great hands, great intelligence, and a capable blocker.  Doesn’t have that Gronkowski/Graham type of speed, but makes up for it with durability (hasn’t missed a game in 8 years) and leadership (didn’t put up with T.O’s nonsense) and consistency (catches at least 80 balls every single season.)

44.  Lardarius Webb, CB, Ravens
It was a tough call for the fifth best corner, but I went with Webb narrowly over Flowers and Carr.  In his first year as the full-time starter, Webb started all 16 games and allowed an unbelievable zero TDs, while grabbing 5 picks and then 3 more in the playoffs. He can play outside in man coverage or in the slot. The days of Baltimore not having a cornerback are finally over.

45. Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs
KC ranked an impressive 6th against the pass last year, despite losing Eric Berry in week one. The biggest reason was Flowers, though Brandon Carr (#68) deserves props too. Flowers began the year in rough shape, giving up 5 TDs in the first 3 games, but then gave up only one score the rest of the season. Before that he had allowed an amazingly stingy 6 TDs in his first 43 starts.  

46. Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots
The 320 pounder has surprising athleticism and moves from DT to DE to nosetackle on any given play. He had his best season in 2011 with 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 52 tackles, and three dominant performances in the playoffs against a myriad of double teams.

47. Clay Matthews, OLB, Packers
While he declined from 13.5 sacks last year to 6 sacks in 2011, the Packers insist he was actually better in 2011, making dozens of plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. It may be true; Clay had more QB hurries and hits that didn’t result in sacks than any other player in football. He was also great in coverage, with 3 INTs and 9 passes deflected.

48. Chris Myers, C, Texans
The second best center in the league behind Mangold, and one of the league’s best run-blockers.

49. Derrick Johnson, ILB, Chiefs
All over the field, racked up 131 tackles, great in coverage, one of the best pure inside linebackers in all of football.  That Chiefs defense is actually going to be really good with Eric Berry healthy and Dontari Poe at DT.

50. Calais Campbell, DE, Cardinals
A very effective DE in the 3-4 scheme. He led all players with 9 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, and led all 3-4 DEs with 55 tackles. He’s recorded at least 6 sacks in each of the last 3 seasons, and truly earned the 5 year, $55 million contract that will invariably cause his play to decline. 

51. Matt Stafford, QB, Lions
The Unflappable Kid threw for an astounding 5,000 yards in his first full season. Give as much credit to Calvin Johnson as you want - 5,000 yards is still amazing. Especially when you consider that Stafford suffered more dropped passes (46) than any other quarterback. He still had issues with decision making and accuracy, especially early in the season, but his game has totally evolved into something worthy of a #1 pick. 

52. Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Didn’t have the regular season success that the other elite quarterbacks had, and barely snuck into the playoffs. But there was nothing fluky about his postseason play – the best game of his season was the Super Bowl, and he outplayed Aaron Rodgers in the first round. Eli was under pressure on more snaps than any other QB in the league during the regular season, and led the NFL with a 69.4% completion percentage on passes in which the QB was under pressure. Pretty amazing. Also led the league in completions and yards for passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.

53. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
The former third round pick spent 2005 through 2008 trying to make a roster. He finally landed in Cincinnati, where he played 25 games at left guard and didn’t give up a single sack. Philly swooped him up, he started at left guard all 16 games, and again, didn’t give up a single sack. He also graded as the best run-blocking left guard by PFF, consistently openings holes for LeSean McCoy, who had a league-high 17 rushing TDs. 

54. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Reminds me so much of Calvin Johnson that it’s scary. Could easily be the best WR in the league as soon as 2014.

55. Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts
Lost in the Colts 2-14 season was another solid effort by Freeney, a pure pass-rushing phenom. But he’s got a myriad of issues going into this season: ubiquitous trade rumors, a move to the 3-4 defense, a new coach and new coordinator, and a $14 million salary that the fans don’t think he deserves.  

56. Marshal Yanda, G, Ravens
Considered the best right guard in football by just about everybody; strong enough to maul DTs and open holes, athletic enough on counters and screens to chase down linebackers and give Ray Rice plenty of room to maneuver.

57. Elvis Dumervil, OLB, Broncos
The 2009 sack-champ missed all of 2010 with a chest injury, but returned in 2011 with a solid bounce-back season. He started slowly, as did the entire Broncos team, but finished with 10 sacks in the last 10 games. He and Miller should be considered the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL.

58. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Rams
When he’s not fist-fighting receivers or punching helmetless linemen, Finnegan is a top-notch cover corner with great physicality and a knack for locating the ball. He’s durable (missed 3 games in 6 seasons), consistent, willing to matchup against elite receivers, and arguably the best tackler among CBs. He now reunites with Jeff Fisher in St. Louis after six seasons in Tennessee. The only potential downside is whether $27 million guaranteed will turn him into a slacker.

59. Kyle Williams, DT, Bills
Following an outstanding 2010 campaign, Williams was considered one of the best DT/DE hybrids in football, very comparable to Justin Smith from the Niners (see #17).  Then in week 9 last year he went down for the year with a foot injury … and the Bills quickly fell apart, losing 7 straight games. Not a coincidence.  Now, he returns healthy, and along with Mario Williams and Marcel Dareus forms the best defensive line in football.

60. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Few players mean more to their teams than Big Ben, simply because no other QB can play the way he plays, absorbing contact and turning would-be sacks into big gains. He’s totally uncanny and downright lucky at the QB position, but he gets it done in crunch time and on 3rd and long.

61. Ed Reed, S, Ravens
Not the 9-INTs-a-year safety we used to know, but still dominant in coverage and capable of huge plays. He saved his best performances for the playoffs, and was deemed “the best secondary player I’ve coached against” by Bill Belichick. 

62. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
The Subway Spokesperson has been replaced by JPP as the Giants’ most feared pass-rusher, but Tuck can still get after the quarterback and command double teams. 

63. Phillip Rivers, QB, Chargers
Last year was a severe downturn in his career, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever get back to elite QB status. But he’s still capable of carrying the Bolts on his back and leading them to 5 or 6 victories by himself. Not shabby at all.

64. Charles Woodson, CB, Packers
No longer an elite coverage player (allowed tons of yards and plenty of TDs, and committed 9 penalties), but still the smartest and most wily veteran CB in the league. His 7 INTs were third most in the league, and he’s a trustworthy tackler with an amazing 28 forced fumbles and 15 sacks in his Hall of Fame career.  

65. Chris Long, DE, Rams
The former #2 overall pick, and Howie’s son, began his career as a borderline bust, with 17 sacks in 3 years and despicable defense against the run. But last year his potential was realized during a 13 sack season on the heinous Rams; he is still a liability in the running game, but getting better.

66. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
Was truly atrocious last year, with a 4.0 YPC and only 4 total TDs. But I’m willing to write that off as an anomaly caused by an offseason of contract negotiations and a missed training camp. All indications are that he’s ready to take this season seriously, and if he still elite speed, that’s good enough to make him the seventh best RB in the league.  

67. Wes Welker, WR, Patriots
Led the NFL in receptions and was 2nd in receiving yards. Clearly, he’s a benefactor of playing with Tom Brady. But he shouldn’t be punished for the team he plays for. 1,569 receiving yards is impressive no matter what, and Brady’s QB rating was 116.2 on passes thrown to Welker, compared to 98.5 on passes thrown to anyone else.

68. Brandon Carr, CB, Cowboys
The Grand Valley State alum proved last year that he wasn’t a fluke in 2010. Two consecutive seasons of allowing less than a 50% completion percentage for the Chiefs earned Carr a big payday from Dallas – 5 years, $50 million.  Now his challenge is to continue his excellent play despite the large contract. Carr was always second fiddle to Flowers in KC, and now will play next to #6 pick Morris Claiborne, giving Dallas possibly the best CB tandem in the league, just a year after having a garbage secondary.

69. Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints
He may line up at tight end, but statistically speaking, Graham was a top 5 receiver last year. Just like Gronkowski, he creates nightmarish matchup problems because of his size and speed.

70. David Harris, MLB, Jets
From Ottawa Hills High School, the chase-and-tackle specialist earned the biggest contract in the history of inside linebackers: 4-years, $36 million, $29 million guaranteed. Let’s see if he can stay motivated this year. My guess is, no. Not with all the distractions and nonsense going on in Rex Ryan’s locker room.

71. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
For a guy to rank outside of the top 70 and finish with 18 sacks, something must be amiss. For Babin, it was the notorious wide-nine scheme. While ranking 3rd in the NFL in sacks, he contributed next to nothing for the Eagles’ wretched run defense, and committed 12 penalties. But still … 18 sacks is impressive.  

72. Paul Posluszny, MLB, Jaguars
Poz suffered two broken arms during his four years in Buffalo and fell short of lofty expectations. But Jacksonville wisely signed him for 6-years anyway, and he did not disappoint, with an excellent 2011 campaign during which he posted the best PFF coverage grade of any linebacker, as well as an average of one missed tackle per 23 attempts, the third best rate among linebackers. 

73. Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers
The speedster proved in 2011 that he can do more than just run the ‘go’ route. He dropped only 4 balls out of 113 targets, replaced Hines Ward as the most reliable possession receiver, and had nearly 1,200 receiving yards despite constant double teams. He is the most feared speed receiver in the NFL right now, in part because DeSean Jackson is too busy being an idiot.

74. Sione Pouha, DT, Jets 
Doesn’t make any impact in the pass-rush, but one of the stingiest run-stuffers in football. Sheds blocks faster than anybody and takes up massive amounts of space.

75. Champ Bailey, CB, Broncos
Still a top coverage corner at age 34. Not going to scare anybody with his speed, but understands technique and mechanics as well as anybody.

76. Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ #1 weapon is nothing extraordinary, but he’s steady, sure-handed, and makes great plays after the catch. Jordy Nelson had better stats, but Jennings is the better player. 

77. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
I’m not a big fan of one-year wonders, but Cruz proved to me that he is a future star. He gained more yards from the slot (1,208) than anyone else, while also averaging 3.08 yards per route run, the top mark in the league. An amazing season and his trajectory is pointing way up. 

78. Jordan Gross, LT, Panthers
At the suddenly sexy left tackle position, I have Gross ranked 5th, behind elite players Joe Thomas, Jake Long and Duane Brown (and Jason Peters, who is injured for all of 2012).  It’s very close between Gross, Whitworth, and Tyron Smith, and plenty of others who just missed the top 100, including Ryan Clady, Donald Penn, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and Michael Roos. It’s a subjective position, but I like Gross because Carolina is able to run the ball successfully with third and fourth string RBs like Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton, and Gross is the rock of that line. The Panthers were 1st in the NFL last year in YPC. 

79. Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals
Still learning the ropes as a CB (gave up a lackluster 59% completion percentage as a rookie), but he’s hands down the best kick returner in the NFL, with no apologies to the overrated Devin Hester. Peterson ran 4 kicks back for TDs as a rookie, 2 of which were game winners. He also blocked two punts, and his 699 punt return yards were almost 100 yards more than anyone else. And by this time next year, my hunch is we’ll be talking about him as an elite coverage player as well.   

80. Eric Weddle, S, Chargers
The only safety on this list besides Polamalu and Reed, Weddle has been solid for a few years, but was downright incredible last year. He allowed just 11 completions for 110 yards in 16 games, while intercepting 7 passes. Now, he’s got a 5-year, $40 million contract, which he earned. But will it affect his play? Probably, yes.

81. Andrew Whitworth, LT, Bengals
Bengals’ fans like to contend that Whitworth actually had a better season than fellow AFC North tackle Joe Thomas. That may have been true; he gave up just 3 sacks and 3 QB hits. But one season is just one season, and Joe Thomas has been dominant for five seasons.

82. Tyron Smith, LT, Cowboys
The rookie from USC was fantastic at right tackle in 2011, and now moves to left tackle where he’ll face off against elite pass rushers like JPP, Cole, Harrison, Peppers, Abraham, and Orakpo. Let’s see how that works out for him before we proclaim him the next Jake Long. Also, I don’t trust players from USC.

83. Aldon Smith, OLB, 49ers
Another hugely successful rookie, Aldon took advantage of his great defensive teammates and recorded 17 sacks when you include the playoffs. Oddly enough, he wasn’t an every down player – just a situational pass rusher. When he plays every down, it’ll probably take a toll on his sack total, as he will have to battle fatigue within the game.

84. Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Broncos
While Doom and Gloom (Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller) get all the credit on Denver’s defense, Bunkley was an essential part of their Tebownian six-game winning streak. Just like Pouha at #74, Bunkley did nothing in the pass rush; in fact, he wasn’t even on the field for most third downs. But when he was on the field, he made the tackle on 11.3% of running plays – the highest mark of all DTs.

85. Josh Sitton, G, Packers
Overall, the Packers have a very good but not amazing offensive line. They have no weak links, and no superstars. Sitton was their best blocker though, with only 2 sacks and 1 QB hit allowed. 

86. Brian Orakpo, OLB, Redskins
A pure pass-rushing specialist, Orakpo now has 29 sacks in his first 3 seasons. But he offers next to nothing against the run, and he’s best known for playing Scrabble with the Geico caveman

87. Lance Briggs, OLB, Bears
While Urlacher unfairly absorbs all of the attention and credit, Briggs quietly goes about being one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in football.  Briggs had more tackles than Urlacher last season and was all over the field.

88. Vontae Davis, CB, Dolphins
Faced a lot of pressure as the only competent player in Miami’s secondary, but played admirably. He’s one of the few CBs who can line up against any stud WR in the league and not be overmatched. Now, if only he can teach his younger brother Michael to stop killing tourists with a hammer. Yikes.   

89. Chris Gamble, CB, Panthers
When the Pro Bowls were announced, Gamble was considered one of the biggest snubs, and rightfully so. He allowed just 27 receptions for 338 yards and gave up a measly QB rating of 53.3 on passes thrown in his direction, with 3 INTs.  Those are almost Revis-esque numbers, and especially impressive that he did it playing for a terrible defense.   

90. Lamar Woodley, OLB, Steelers
Missed six games with a hamstring injury, but still picked up 9 sacks in 10 games, including 7.5 sacks over a 4-game stretch in which Harrison was out. That’s 53 sacks in his last 64 games. And just think, the Lions drafted Drew Stanton instead of this guy!

91. John Abraham, DE, Falcons
People were treating Abraham like a fossil before the 2011 season, but the 34 year old proved he’s still a threat off the edge with 9.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.

92. Tramon Williams, CB,  Packers
After his breakout 2010 season, Tramon came down to earth with a mediocre 2011 in which he, along with the entire Packers defense, gave up way too many yards and TDs. But let’s realize that that had something to do with Aaron Rodgers putting up 30+ points in the first half over and over and forcing defenses to air it out. Tramon is learning from Woodson how to outsmart young QBs and pick off crappy passes; he has at least 4 INTs in 4 straight years. I'm betting he'll bounce back with a solid 2012.  

93. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
With only 9 WRs in my top 100, it’s a shame to include two Steelers. But Brown belongs on this list; in addition to being a top-notch slot guy with great hands, great speed and great moves, he’s also the league’s second best kick returner.  

94. Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Lions
The most underrated Lion, Tulloch racked up 84 solo tackles last year, more than any Lion in almost 10 years. With all Detroit's D-linemen overpursuing on every play, Tulloch was the constant who kept our defense from being rotten. He also allowed an average of 0.4 yards per play when he was in coverage – the best mark of any inside linebacker.  

95. Marcell Dareus, DT, Bills
A future star at DT, Dareus was stout against the run and notched 5.5 sacks.

96. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Set all kinds of rookie passing records, while running for 700 yards and 14 scores as well. Sky is the limit.

97. Maurice Pouncey, C, Steelers
The only good offensive lineman on the Steelers, Pouncey is quickly blossoming into one of the best centers in the league and will be a mainstay for Pittsburgh for a decade to come.

98. Roddy White, WR, Falcons
He puts up insane numbers (averages about 90 catches, 1,200 yards and 9 TDs over the last five years), but the physical talent is not on the same level as guys like Calvin, Fitz, and AJ Green. It won’t be long until Julio Jones is Atlanta’s #1 receiver. But for now, Roddy led the league in targets and was second in receptions, so that earns him a spot in the top 100.

99. Charles Tillman, CB, Bears
A super physical corner who is perennially one of the best tackling CBs and usually forces about 4 fumbles a year. Not bad in coverage either.

100. Carlos Rogers, CB, 49ers
With all the studs on the Niners defense, Rogers often gets overlooked, but the former Redskin had a great season defending primarily slot receivers. Six interceptions, 18 passes broken up, and 40 solo tackles is outstanding, along with a 52.8% completion percentage allowed. 

Honorable Mention:

Terrell Suggs, OLB, Ravens
*Would have ranked 7th*
Elite pass rusher, elite run stopper, and a well-deserved Defensive MVP. It’s a shame he’ll miss most of 2012 with an Achilles injury he suffered playing basketball.

Jason Peters, LT, Eagles
*Would have ranked 13th*
Ranked as the top tackle by just about every analyst last year, he was dominant in pass protection (4 total QB hits allowed) and run blocking.  Too bad he’ll miss all of 2012. 

Leon Hall, CB, Bengals
A top 10 cornerback when healthy, Hall ruptured his Achilles last November and might miss the first 4-6 weeks of the 2012 season. Who knows if he’ll ever be 100% again.

Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Only 7 RBs crack the top 100, and that’s largely due to injuries. Sure, the NFL has become a “passing league” and RBBC has run rampant, but injuries have made elite running backs into a thing of the past. Along with McFadden, you could add Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles, and Michael Turner to the list of great talents who can’t stay healthy.

Karlos Dansby, ILB, Dolphins
Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Steelers
A couple of great tacklers who just miss the top 100.

Jahri Evans, G, Saints
A great guard, but not worth $56 million. He wasn’t even the Saints’ best guard last year, but he's the highest paid guard ever.

Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
For that matter, you could add Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to the Honorable Mention. That offense has so much talent and potential, but is so dang dysfunctional.

Eric Berry, S, Chiefs
Earl Thomas, S, Seahawks
There is every reason to believe that these two will be the Reed and Polamalu of the next generation.  Jarius Byrd from Buffalo also deserves mention. 

Not Honorable Mention:

Rolando McClain, ILB, Raiders
A rare talent with potential to be a top 20 overall player. The former #8 pick had a really nice 2011 season, but an imbecilic affinity for firearms seems to have destroyed his career. He’ll spend 180 days in jail for “assault,” but if you read the story he really should be spending 180 years in prison. What a scum bag.   

Trent Williams, LT, Redskins
Russell Okung, LT, Seahawks
A couple of top 6 picks from the past 3 years who have completely and utterly not worked out at left tackle.

Brian Urlacher, MLB, Bears
Ray Lewis, MLB, Ravens
No disrespect; these are both good players who used to be great players. But their primes are past, even if nobody wants to admit it.

The 2009 Draft Class
Matthew Stafford comes in at #51, but nobody else from the top 12 ranks in the top 100. Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez … that is one horrendous top 5. (Compared to the 2011 Draft, in which 7 of the top 10 picks are already top 100 players) 

Charles Johnson, DE, Panthers
Johnson robbed Carolina for 6-years, $72 million, and then played a completely forgettable, barely noticeable, ho-hum season at defensive end.  He’s basically a role player getting paid like a superstar. Hey wait a second … when did Joe Dumars become GM of the Carolina Panthers?? 

Teams with the most players in the Top 100: 
Pittsburgh (7)
Green Bay (6)
Philly, San Fran, Baltimore, Houston, Denver (5) 

Team with the fewest players in the Top 100: 
Oakland, Seattle (0) 
Indy, Tennessee, Washington, Tampa (1) 
San Diego, Cleveland, New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minnesota (2) 

That's all I got.  What do you think?  

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