NFL's Top 100 Players of 2012: 10 Things the NFL Players Got Wrong
On Wednesday night, the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2012 series came to an end, as the 10 top-ranked NFL players were revealed in a two-hour special series finale.
The voting for the top 100 was done entirely by NFL players, and it is hard to argue with the selections made by the people who should know the players best: themselves, their teammates and the players they play against.
However, in my opinion, the NFL players made some incorrect decisions in their voting. Which players were too high, which players were too low and which players should not have been on the list at all? In the following 10 slides, I look at a few of the rankings that stood out as being questionable.
The full top 100 rankings can be found on NFL.com.
Calvin Johnson Ranked Ahead of Tom Brady
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson certainly deserves a place among the top 10 in the rankings. He is the NFL’s best wide receiver, a superstar playmaker and true game-changer who can take over the game and give any opposing cornerback nightmares.
As a wide receiver, however, the No. 3 overall ranking was too high for Johnson.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is not only one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, but he is coming off of his strongest seasons of his career in which he led the Patriots to a spot in the Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees are both coming off of incredible seasons, and deserved the top two spots in the rankings. Most importantly, however, the top three players in the rankings should be Rodgers, Brees and Brady, with an order among the three elite signal-callers truly being difficult to set.
No offensive skill position player is a greater game-changer than Johnson, but against three elite, Hall of Fame level quarterbacks who all have Super Bowl rings, “Megatron” would still be receiving an incredible honor by being ranked No. 4 behind Brady.
Nnamdi Asomugha Ranked Much Too Low
Not much went well for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, and that had a negative effect on the play of star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha struggled to find his role while sharing snaps in the secondary with Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and his play suffered as a result.
But while Asomugha is coming off arguably his worst season of his NFL career, he has been an elite cover cornerback for many years and he should bounce back after a full year to adjust to his new team. Asomugha deserved to drop off in the rankings, but he fell much too far by being ranked No. 79.
Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets was ranked as the top cornerback, and deservedly so as he has established himself as an elite shutdown cornerback and best playmaking defensive back in the NFL. Five other cornerbacks, however, should not have been ranked ahead of Asomugha.
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers and Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph both had tremendous seasons with new teams last year, and they were worthy of being ahead of Asomugha.
The other three should not have been. Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is still a playmaker in the secondary, but at age 35, his play is starting to drop off. Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos continues to be overrated for his big-play ability, while Patrick Peterson had a tremendous rookie season returning punts for the Arizona Cardinals but has not come close to establishing himself as a top-five NFL cornerback yet.
Eli Manning Ranked Outside of Top 30
Once again, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Playing the NFL’s hardest position, Eli Manning emerged among the NFL’s truly elite quarterbacks last season by not only having the best statistical season yet of his career, but by winning his second Super Bowl championship as the leader of the New York Giants.
Manning legitimately proved himself as one of the NFL’s top-five quarterbacks, and he did receive that distinction in the top 100 rankings. But with the great importance of quarterbacks in the NFL, Manning deserves a spot among the top 10 or 15 overall players, rather than being ranked No. 31 overall. There are simply not 30 players who are more valuable to their teams than Manning in the National Football League.
Would anyone argue that Frank Gore is more valuable to the San Francisco 49ers, or Julius Peppers to the Chicago Bears, than Manning is to the Giants? I certainly would not, but considering that those players were ranked ahead of Manning, the numbers indicate that many NFL players would.
This argument also holds true for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was ranked No. 30 overall. While Roethlisberger is not statistically elite and has a questionable off-field history, he remains an elite quarterback who has won two Super Bowls, and has proved himself with his ability to make plays with the game on the line, time and time again.
As top-five quarterbacks in the NFL, Roethlisberger and Manning deserved considerably higher placement on the list than they received.
Cam Newton Ranked Inside of Top 40
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had one of the most incredible rookie seasons in NFL history, in which he broke all-time rookie records for passing yards and total touchdowns. Newton made it clear that he was well worth the No. 1 overall pick that the Panthers invested in him in the 2011 NFL draft, and he appears set for a career of stardom.
However, with only one NFL season under his belt, Newton being ranked No. 40 overall among all of the league’s players is moving too fast. Putting things into perspective, Newton was ranked only 10 spots behind Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who is already well on his way to a Hall of Fame induction, and nine behind Eli Manning, who is coming off of his second Super Bowl title as Giants quarterback.
Newton was ranked as the No. 6 overall quarterback in the National Football League, ahead of many other quarterbacks who have been doing great things for years, including Peyton Manning and two quarterbacks who were not even ranked on the list, Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
Newton certainly deserved a place in the top 100, and if he continues to play as well as he did in his rookie season, he should only continue to move his way up the list. However, these rankings did not seem to take into account Newton’s potential for a sophomore slump, while it failed to give the proper respect to established veteran quarterbacks who have achieved higher accolades than Newton possibly could in only one season.
Tim Tebow Included in Top 100
During the 2011 NFL season, I enjoyed “Tebowmania” as much as anyone. After taking over as the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback following a 1-3 start, he led the team on an improbable comeback run to the postseason, and then led them to a overtime playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tebow proved himself as a tremendous leader and winner last season, and he deserves to be an NFL starting quarterback. However, the current fact is that following his trade to the New York Jets, Tebow is now a backup quarterback.
There should be no place for a backup quarterback in the top 100. Additionally, while Tebow’s season was defined by its victories, a quarterback ranked among the league’s 100 best players should not be coming off of a season in which he only completed 46.5 percent of his passes and threw for only 124 yards per game, both of which were the worst averages among 34 starting quarterback with 240 or more passing attempts last season.
After a season in which he captivated the attention of sports fans more than any other NFL player, it comes as little surprise that Tebow was voted into the top 100. Unfortunately, he deserves no place on a list that does not even include Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub or 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Vonta Leach, John Kuhn Included in Top 100
Vonta Leach of the Baltimore Ravens and John Kuhn of the Green Bay Packers may be the NFL’s two best fullbacks, and they are valuable assets to their teams as tough, physical lead blockers. They deserve no place, however, among the NFL’s top 100 players.
In older generations of the National Football League, fullbacks were used on nearly every offensive possession and were an integral piece of a starting lineup. Those days, however, have passed. Fullbacks are a sparingly used position, and players at the position do not carry nearly the importance they once did.
Leach and Kuhn are among the last of a dying breed of fullbacks who are great blockers, while also having the ability to run the football and catch passes out of the backfield. Neither player, however, made much impact to his team outside of blocking in 2011.
Leach had only 35 rushing yards and 69 receiving yards for the entire 2011 season, while Kuhn had 78 yards on the ground and 77 from receptions. Both players averaged less than 10 all-purpose yards per game last season, while each ran for less yards than Tom Brady (who had 109 rushing yards last season), a quarterback certainly not known for his ability to run the football.
Leach and Kuhn are solid players who deserve the respect of their playing peers, and the rankings show that they certainly have that respect. As far as the rankings go, however, they both took spots from players who make much more of an all-around impact for their teams.
The Gap Between Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork
Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork are the NFL’s two most dominant defensive linemen. Both players are versatile defensive linemen who are scheme-diverse and can dominate the line of scrimmage from multiple positions. In my opinion, the two players both deserved to be ranked very high in the top 100, but they should not have been separated by much.
The NFL players did not share my opinion. While Ngata was ranked surprisingly high at No. 9 overall, Wilfork was ranked 81st overall. Ngata is a tremendous defensive lineman worthy of a very high ranking, but this gap should not have been nearly as wide as it is.
They are certainly two very different players. Ngata’s primary position is as a five-technique defensive end, but he is also tremendous as a defensive tackle in the team’s nickel package and can shift inside to nose tackle to bring additional pressure on the interior defensive line. Wilfork’s primary position is as a nose tackle in the Patriots’ defensive front, but while he is a massive space-eater, he is also a very disruptive interior penetrator who has been used as a defensive end at times in three-man fronts.
Ngata has a slight edge over Wilfork when it comes to bringing pressure in the backfield, and he is worthy of being ranked as the NFL’s top defensive lineman. Wilfork, however, should have been right behind him. The importance of a nose tackle to a team who uses three-man defensive fronts (the Patriots’ defensive scheme utilizes both three-man and four-man defensive lines) should not be understated, and Wilfork stands out above all other NFL players in that respect.
Another interesting note about Ngata is that he was ranked highest among all Ravens defensive players, even though three others—outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Ed Reed and inside linebacker Ray Lewis—were also ranked within the top 20. I would argue that Suggs, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, should have taken Ngata’s spot in the top 10, but Ngata is a dominant defensive line presence certainly worthy of a high ranking.
15 Running Backs Included in Top 100
Each and every year, the NFL increasingly moves away from feature backs who handle the majority of a team’s carries at running back, as NFL teams are now known for using two- and three-back rotations throughout the course of a game.
As a result, individual running backs have become significantly less valuable, and significantly more replaceable. The top 100 rankings, however, did not reflect that. Fifteen running backs were included in the top 100, more players than at any other position.
The NFL’s elite running backs, such as the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew, Ravens’ Ray Rice and Texans’ Arian Foster certainly deserve their places within the rankings. Some running backs, however, were ranked much too highly.
49ers running back Frank Gore is a quality running back who has been productive for many years, but he is certainly not a game-changer worthy of being ranked No. 28 overall among NFL players. Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who was only run for more than 1,000 yards in one of four NFL seasons, was ranked No. 62 overall.
Even Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks and Willis McGahee of the Broncos, who ran for respective totals of 1,204 and 1,199 yards last season, were questionable inclusions in the rankings.
The positional breakdown of the top 100 rankings should reflect their importance in the NFL, but that was certainly not reflected. While 15 running backs were included, only 10 total offensive linemen and 11 total defensive backs were in the rankings.
Aldon Smith Not Among Top 100
For a player who has only played one season, No. 52 overall may have been too high of a spot for Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller. That said, it is clear that Miller is ready to be a stud NFL linebacker and defensive playmaker for many years to come, and he certainly deserved a spot in the top 100.
However, if Miller earned a spot in the rankings, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith should not have been far behind him. Miller was the rightful winner of the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but Smith took 11 of Miller’s votes for a reason.
In his rookie season, Smith emerged as a player who could be among the NFL’s most dominant hybrid pass-rushers for many seasons to come. Smith led all rookies last season with 14 sacks, which was also the same number of sacks that Terrell Suggs, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, had in his award-winning season last year.
Four other players from the 49ers’ defense—Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Carlos Rogers—were all included among the top 100, which may have played a role in keeping Aldon Smith out of the rankings. Nonetheless, if Aldon Smith continues to play at the high level that he did as a rookie, he should earn a place in future top-100 rankings without any doubts.
Only 3 Safeties, Eric Weddle Not Among Them
The safety position was grossly misrepresented by the rankings, with only three included among the league’s top 100 players. Furthermore, San Diego Chargers strong safety Eric Weddle was among the list’s worst exclusions.
Weddle is one of the NFL’s most complete safeties, and he is coming off of the best season of his career. Weddle tied for the NFL lead last season with seven interceptions, among a total of 18 passes defended, while he also had 88 tackles. For his complete season last year, Weddle was named a first-team AP All-Pro.
All three of the safeties who were chosen to be among the top 100—Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu, Ravens free safety Ed Reed and Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas—are all well-deserving of their rankings on the list. But there certainly should have been room for at least one more safety, as a spot among the top 100 should have been made for Weddle.
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