The 25 Best Players of the 2011 NFL Season

Daniel Hudson@daniel3417Correspondent IIIJanuary 8, 2012

The 25 Best Players of the 2011 NFL Season

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    Going into the beginning rounds of the 2012 NFL playoffs, let's look back on the year that was and the players that made them. From No. 25 to No. 1, I've got the best players of the 2011 season here for you.

    You might be surprised by a few on this list, and if so, let me know. But once we get to the top 10 and especially the top five, it's a case of the usual suspects. The best are the best for a reason.

    The debate over who is better—Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers—is answered on my end here. See if you agree.

No. 25: Tim Tebow

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    Yes, let's start it off with a curve ball!

    A self-admitted "Tebro," it's hard for me to ignore what Tim Tebow meant for the Denver Broncos this year. He was the team. His passing numbers were inconsistent, but he ran the read option to perfection, leading Denver to the most prolific rushing attack.

    Don't overlook his running stats. It's a part of the whole package. Over 600 yards rushing, and 5.8 yards per carry is vital to a ground team like the Broncos.

No. 24: David Akers

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    As weird as it is to have a kicker on this list, the terrific 2011 season for the San Francisco 49ers is thanks in large part to David Akers.

    The 49ers have a ferocious defense and a solid offense, so Akers was called on by coach Jim Harbaugh more than once to provide the scoring for the team. He kicked at least three field goals in an astounding eight games.

    After perhaps his best year ever, Akers set the single-season record for scoring by a kicker with 165 points.

No. 23: Eric Weddle

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    While the San Diego Chargers were huge disappointments this year, their highly paid safety Eric Weddle certainly wasn't.

    He tied for the most interceptions in the league in 2011 with seven and was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dark 8-8 year for the Bolts.

    I'd like to see him in the playoffs, but Norv Turner is going to put a major obstacle in the way of that...

No. 22: Lawrence Timmons

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    Did Lawrence Timmons have a season for the ages? No, not really. But I'd be remiss to leave the best player on the best defense of 2011 off this list.

    Timmons racked up 68 solo tackles and 25 assists for just shy of the century mark for total tackles this year. He manned the middle of the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense along with James Farrior.

    His play was vital to the Steelers allowing the least total yards and points for the 2011 season.

No. 21: Pat Angerer

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    Is this a new name for you? It is for me, too. I doubt it will be that way much longer.

    The Indianapolis Colts have two things to be happy about entering next season: 1) the first overall pick and 2) Pat Angerer.

    Angerer was a mean linebacker this year, tallying 148 total tackles, which was good for fourth in the NFL. Just a second-year player out of Iowa, I expect Angerer to become a stalwart atop linebacker lists for years to come.

No. 20: Marshawn Lynch

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    Maybe I'm still in awe from Marshawn Lynch's numerous runs, but I've got to put him in the top 20 for best players of 2011.

    Best running back of the season? No, not at all. Hard running/biggest playmaking back? Yes, I think so.

    Ever since being traded to the Seattle Seahawks, Lynch has been lighting up the highlight reels with his never-quit attitude and Skittles eating. His 1,200 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns is good enough.

    Enough of me. Just watch.

No. 19: Charles Woodson

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    Charles Woodson knows more about playing cornerback in the NFL than anyone on Earth.

    His 74 total tackles was the third-most in his illustrious 14-year career. The seven interceptions he snatched earned him interception champion co-honors.

    A model of consistency and excellence, Woodson is still one of the game's best.

No. 18: NaVorro Bowman

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    I've got to be honest. I never heard of this guy until I started doing some research.

    NaVorro Bowman finished in the top 10 in total tackles with 143 and was key to the San Francisco 49ers rising nine spots in the total defense ranking from 2010 to 2011.

    Bowman isn't as well-known as his linebacker teammate Patrick Willis, but that will soon change.

No. 17: Cam Newton

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    As a rookie in 2011, Cam Newton stood out as the class' best. But he also was one of the NFL's best players, veterans included.

    Newton stormed into the league and broke records held by quarterbacks ranging from Kordell Stewart to Peyton Manning. His huge arm and great running ability made him one of the best offensive weapons in the game.

    I don't understand how the Carolina Panthers didn't win more than six games in 2011, but with Newton at the helm, it won't stay that way long.

No. 16: Jason Pierre-Paul

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    From Michael Strahan to Osi Umenyiora to Justin Tuck and now to Jason Pierre-Paul. Does it ever end for the New York Giants?

    As you can see, Pierre-Paul is just the latest in a long line of great defensive ends for the Giants, but what makes him different and even more remarkable is that the 2011 season was just his second year.

    In Strahan's second year, he totaled 38 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul racked up 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks. Yikes.

No. 15: Arian Foster

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    For a guy to miss three full games and still rack up 1,224 yards on 4.4 yards per carry is quite a feat.

    The Houston Texans owe much of their first AFC South title to running back Arian Foster. The undrafted player out of Tennessee ("Where was this in Knoxville?" asks the UT grad) has exploded onto the scene in his two full seasons.

    Foster was also a terrific pass-catcher in 2011, gaining over 600 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

No. 14: Jordy Nelson

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    The best receiver for the Green Bay Packers wasn't Greg Jennings or Donald Driver. It wasn't the talented tight end Jermichael Finley, either.

    It was the deceptive Jordy Nelson.

    Nelson's stats took a quantum leap from 2010 to 2011. He went from 500 to 1,200 yards receiving and two touchdowns to 15. He and Aaron Rodgers got quite a thing going in Green Bay.

No. 13: DeMarcus Ware

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    DeMarcus Ware has found himself on these lists ever since his rookie season in 2005. He's a beast.

    Nothing new to add. Maybe just a plea to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to chill out and let the 'Boys do their work.

No. 12: Ray Rice

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    There may be no team in the NFL more indebted to a single player than the Baltimore Ravens. Without their star running back Ray Rice, they'd just be a great defense.

    Rice was responsible for 38 percent of all yards gained by the Ravens offense in 2011. He set career highs in rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns.

    He might be the game's best overall back.

No. 11: Victor Cruz

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    The most electrifying wide receiver of the 2011 NFL season wasn't DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace or even Calvin Johnson.

    It was the New York Giants' Victor Cruz.

    Eli Manning found a dependable deep threat with speed and good hands. After having a silent rookie year in 2010, the undrafted Cruz absolutely came out of nowhere.

    Over 1,500 yard receiving, 15 touchdowns and numerous 80-yard bombs. He was fun to watch!

No. 10: LeSean McCoy

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    If moving the chains is a priority in the NFL, LeSean McCoy was one of the league's most important players in 2011. No player reached the first-down marker more than him.

    With 84 rushing first downs on the year, McCoy averaged more than five first downs per game. Think about that. A runner like him carries the ball 15 to 20 times per game. A third of the time he turned it into a first down.

    He had a nose for the end zone with 20 total touchdowns and is a good bet to make the Dream Team a contender next year. 

No. 9: Rob Gronkowski

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    It seems like every week the New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski had a touchdown.

    On average, he did. With 17 touchdowns on the year, Gronkowski showed himself to be among the NFL's elite players in the 2011. He set single-season records for receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end.

    Gronk was simply terrific in Foxborough.

No. 8: Tom Brady

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    But who was throwing all those passes to Rob Gronkowski? It was the omnipresent Tom Brady.

    The New England Patriots' signal-caller had a career year in many aspects, particularly passing yards. He broke Dan Marino's record a week after Drew Brees did and now has the second-most passing yards in a season.

    At 34 years old, Brady is still cruising along.

No. 7: Terrell Suggs

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    I love Ray Lewis, but the changing of the guard has occurred in Baltimore—Terrell Suggs is now the best linebacker on the team.

    And it's a well-known fact that if you're the best linebacker for the Ravens, you are one of the best in the NFL. Suggs made his mark in 2011 as a pass-rushing specialist and amassed 14 sacks, good for fifth in the league.

    His 70 total tackles that he added on are nothing to scoff at. It looks like we have many more years of fearing Baltimore's defense.

No. 6: Maurice Jones-Drew

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    If Ray Rice was great, Maurice Jones-Drew was even better. The powder keg of a running back led his Jacksonville Jaguars in nearly every way possible.

    For the Jags, MJD had the most rushing yards and touchdowns. He was second in receptions and receiving touchdowns and third in receiving yards. He accounted for 48 percent of Jacksonville's offense. Wow.

    Jones-Drew also led the entire NFL in rushing yards with 1,606. He was a monster in 2011.

No. 5: Matthew Stafford

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    Finally, Matthew Stafford had a healthy season! We finally saw what he can do in 2011.

    He was nearly the third player to pass Dan Marino's passing yards record but came up 50 yards short after an insane Week 17 game where he threw for 520 yards. He and Drew Brees became the only quarterbacks in history to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.

    With only 16 interceptions, Stafford has given Detroit Lions fans a reason to look toward the future.

No. 4: Jared Allen

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    On a terrible Minnesota Vikings team, Jared Allen wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

    His 22 sacks were just half a sack shy of tying Michael Strahan's all-time record, and none of Allen's sacks came from a sliding Brett Favre.

    Allen is one of the most energetic and intense players in the league, and that earned him a top-four spot in the 2011 players list. 

No. 3: Calvin Johnson

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    Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, lit the NFL on fire in 2011. He used his running back's speed in a tight end's body to help lead the Detroit Lions to their first postseason since 1999.

    Johnson led all wide receivers with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was in the top four of targets and receptions in the NFL and dazzled fans with his unbelievable catches.

    Alongside Matthew Stafford, Johnson has given Detroit plenty to be excited about.

No. 2: Aaron Rodgers

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    Following up his Super Bowl XLV MVP Award, Aaron Rodgers didn't disappoint at all.

    His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 45-to-6 in 2011 was absolutely insane. His completion percentage of 68 percent was nasty. His 122.5 QB rating was tops in the NFL.

    With 4,643 yards and a No. 1 seed for the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers had a brilliant follow-up to last year's postseason performance.

No. 1: Drew Brees

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    The best player of the 2011 season was the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. He was exquisite.

    He set the record for most passing yards in a season (5,476), threw the most touchdowns of any quarterback and finished second in QB rating.

    He incorporated more players into his offense than any other quarterback, and the Saints surged because of it. Brees deserves the MVP.