The Top 100 NFL Players of 2012: A Writer's Perspective
Who is the best player in the NFL today?
Even when the players voted on the "Top 100 Players of 2012," there wasn't a unanimous decision. While it's almost impossible to qualify what makes a player the best, it's still worth a shot.
Quarterbacks have to know not only their own responsibilities on every play but also the responsibilities of every offensive player. Especially in today's NFL, teams rise and fall according to the play of their quarterbacks.
Are wins more important than stats? Are stats more important than wins? Should a great player be looked at less favorably because he plays on a good team? Are sacks more important than taking up double-teams? What do you say about a player who has a bad regular season and a successful postseason, or vice versa? How important is past versus projected success?
All those questions are asked when evaluating the top players in the NFL. While they're all valid, to me the main question to ask when determining who's the best is: Would you trust this player with the game on the line?
That said, I've come up with a list of who I believe to be the top 100 players in the NFL today.
*These rankings are based on what a player is capable of doing at their fullest potential (assuming each player is 100 percent healthy).
courtesy: Michael Vids
No. 100 London Fletcher, Inside Linebacker, Washington Redskins
Fletcher led the league in tackles (166) in 2011 and finished second in 2009 (142). He's averaged 141 tackles per season in the five years he's been in Washington.
No. 99 Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens
Smith's first NFL reception was a 74-yard touchdown in the first quarter of Baltimore's Week 3 win at St. Louis. Smith had three touchdowns (totaling 133 yards) in that first quarter.
No. 98 Dwight Freeney, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts
Over the last three seasons, Freeney has totaled 32 sacks despite starting only 40 games.
No. 97 D’Qwell Jackson, Inside Linebacker, Cleveland Browns
In his only two full NFL seasons, Jackson led the led the league in tackles (154 in 2008) and finished second in tackles (158 in 2011).
No. 96 Devin Hester, WR, Chicago Bears
Hester leads the NFL all time in punts returned for a touchdown (12). The next closest active player is DeSean Jackson (4).
No. 95 Johnathan Joseph, Cornerback, Houston Texans
Joseph had 44 tackles, 15 passes defensed and four interceptions last season for Houston (finished second in overall defense).
No. 94 Jason Witten, Tight End, Dallas Cowboys
Witten has missed just two starts since 2004. In that time, he's averaged 83 receptions for 945 yards and five touchdowns per season. From 2004-10, Witten made the Pro Bowl every season. In 2010, he was named a First-Team All-Pro.
No. 93 Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan is 23-9 since 2010 (71.9 percent winning percentage), when he was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
No. 92 Matt Schaub, Quarterback, Houston Texans
Since 2007 when he joined the Texans, Schaub has never completed less than 61 percent of his passes, while averaging 259.9 yards per game.
No. 91 Jonathan Vilma, Inside Linebacker, New Orleans Saints
Vilma made the Pro Bowl from 2009-10, before playing only 11 games last year due to an injured left knee.
No. 90 Carlos Rogers, Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
Rogers posted 52 tackles and six interceptions last season for San Francisco (the league's best defense).
No. 89 Carl Nicks, Guard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He was named a First-Team All-Pro by the Associated Press in 2011 and was a Second-Team All-Pro in 2010.
No. 88 Elvis Dumervil, Defensive End, Denver Broncos
Dumervil has racked up 26.5 sacks in his last 30 games.
No. 87 Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
Nicks averaged 15.7 yards per reception in 2011, ranking fifth among players with at least 75 receptions.
No. 86 Derrick Johnson, Inside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs
In 2011, Johnson was a First-Team All-Pro after totaling 104 tackles, nine passes defensed, two interceptions and two sacks. In seven seasons with the Chiefs, he's played every linebacker position.
No. 85 Champ Bailey, Cornerback, Denver Broncos
Bailey made every Pro Bowl from 2000-11, with the exception of 2008 (when he played only nine games due to a groin injury).
No. 84 Brian Urlacher, Inside Linebacker, Chicago Bears
Urlacher was named a First-Team All-Pro player four times in his first seven NFL seasons (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006). In 2010, he led a Bears defense that ranked second in the league against the run (90.1 yards per game).
No. 83 Michael Turner, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons
Over the last four years, Turner has finished among the top 10 runners in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per game (average). From 2010-11, he totaled 2,711 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns.
No. 82 Nick Mangold, Center, New York Jets
Mangold's absence from Weeks 3 and 4 last year marked the first time in his six-year career he missed a game. The Associated Press named him to their First-Team All-Pro list in 2009 and 2010 and to their Second-Team All-Pro list in 2011.
No. 81 A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
Green made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season (2011). He recorded 65 receptions for 1,057 yards (16.3 yards per reception) and seven touchdowns. He also had five carries for 53 yards on the year.
courtesy: Michael Vids
No. 80 Justin Tuck, Defensive End, New York Giants
From 2007-10, Tuck registered 39.5 sacks in 49 starts.
No. 79 Joe Staley, Tackle, San Francisco 49ers
In 2011, Staley helped the 49ers finish eighth in the league in rushing (127.8 yards per game), while also finishing sixth in the league in runs to the left of 10 yards or more (26).
No. 78 Von Miller, Defensive End, Denver Broncos
Miller was named a Second-Team All-Pro after his first year in the league (2011). He had 51 tackles, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 15 games played.
No. 77 Joe Thomas, Tackle, Cleveland Browns
In his five NFL seasons, Thomas has made the Pro Bowl each year and has been a First-Team All-Pro each year since 2009. Since he came into the league, Thomas has started every game in which he's played (80 out of 80).
No. 76 Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
For his career, Vick averages more yards per carry (7.2) than yards per pass attempt (7.1). In 2010, the Associated Press named him the Comeback Player of the Year. Since 2010, Vick has averaged 12.7 yards each time he rushes or passes.
No. 75 Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Bowe led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (15) for the 2010 season. He averaged 16.1 yards per reception that season, ranking third most among players with at least 70 receptions.
No. 74 Vincent Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In seven seasons, Jackson has never averaged less than 15.2 yards per reception in a given year (has a career 17.5 yards per reception average).
No. 73 Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
Since 2006, Asomugha has led his defenses to nothing worse than a 10th-place ranking in pass defense (including ranking second in 2010 and first in 2008).
No. 72 Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
Was a First-Team All-Pro in his rookie season (2011). Peterson also returned four punts for touchdowns during his rookie campaign, including the second-longest punt return of all time (a game-winning, 99-yard punt return against the Rams in Week 9).
No. 71 Roddy White, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Since 2007, White has caught at least 80 passes for at least 1,150 yards each season.
No. 70 Maurkice Pouncey, Center, Pittsburgh Steelers
In his rookie season (2010), Pouncey started each one of the Steelers' 18 games (playoffs included) before missing Super Bowl XLV due to a broken left ankle. He also made the Pro Bowl that year.
No. 69 Jason Babin, Defensive End, Philadelphia Eagles
In Babin's first eight NFL seasons, he played for five different teams and totaled 30 sacks. Last year with the Eagles, Babin recorded 18 sacks (third best in the league).
No. 68 Trent Cole, Defensive End, Philadelphia Eagles
Cole has notched double-digit sack outputs in each of the last three seasons (33.5 total).
No. 67 Tony Gonzalez, Tight End, Atlanta Falcons
Gonzalez is second on the all-time receptions list (1,149), 11th on the all-time receiving yards list (13,338) and ninth on the all-time receiving touchdowns list (95). Over the last two seasons, Gonzalez has made 150 receptions and 13 touchdowns (along with two Pro Bowls).
No. 66 Tony Romo, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
From 2009-11, Romo averaged a 66.3 percent completion percentage and has thrown for a total of 68 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
No. 65 DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
In just two games last season did Jackson have a per catch average of less than 10 yards. For his career, Jackson has averaged 17.81 yards per reception (fourth among active players).
No. 64 Clay Matthews, Outside Linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Although Matthews only had six sacks last season, he posted career-highs in interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (3). He's also made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
No. 63 Logan Mankins, Guard, New England Patriots
Two years ago, Mankins was a First-Team All-Pro, despite playing in only nine games. Prior to that, he had started every game the Patriots played for five-straight seasons.
No. 62 Vonta Leach, Fullback, Baltimore Ravens
Leach has been named the NFL's best fullback for two consecutive years (First-Team All-Pro). In that time, he's blocked for the league's second-highest rusher (Ray Rice, 2011) and the league's leading rusher (Arian Foster, 2010).
No. 61 Marshawn Lynch, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks
2011 was the best season of Lynch's six-year career. He ran for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also catching 28 passes for 212 yards.
No. 60 Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers
In the 2011 postseason (two games), Davis had 20 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
No. 59 Jason Peters, Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Peters has been named to the Pro Bowl every season since 2007, including his first All-Pro selection (First-Team) last year. He helped the Eagles claim the third-best yards per rush average in the league (5.1), along with the second-most amount of rushes to the left of 10 yards or more (35).
No. 58 Marshal Yanda, Guard, Baltimore Ravens
Yanda has made 44-straight starts for the Ravens (playoffs included). While mostly a right guard, he's also played right tackle. In 2011, he was named a Second-Team All-Pro.
No. 57 Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle, New England Patriots
While 2011 was Wilfork's third-worst tackling season (32), he had career-highs in sacks (3.5) and interceptions (2). He's made the Pro Bowl four out of the last five years.
No. 56 Tamba Hali, Defensive End, Kansas City Chiefs
Since 2010, Hali has recorded 117 tackles, 26.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles. He made his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2011.
No. 55 Eric Berry, Free Safety, Kansas City Chiefs
Berry burst onto the NFL scene in 2010, racking up 92 tackles, nine passes defensed and four forced fumbles in his rookie campaign.
No. 54 Earl Thomas, Free Safety, Seattle Seahawks
Thomas is the best player on the Seahawks and helped them achieve the No. 9-overall defensive ranking in 2011. They finished 27th in 2010. Thomas has 174 tackles and seven interceptions in just two seasons.
No. 53 Darren McFadden, Running Back, Oakland Raiders
Although McFadden has only made 32 starts in four years, he's made his touches count. For his career, McFadden is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per reception.
No. 52 Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears
In 2008, Marshall made 18 catches against the Chargers, putting him at No. 2 all time for receptions in a single game. A year later, against the Colts, Marshall set the all-time record for receptions in a single game (21). Since he's become a regular starter (2007), Marshall has averaged 95 receptions for 1,188 yards and over six touchdowns per season.
No. 51 Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs
In Charles' only playoff appearance (vs. Baltimore, 2010 postseason), he rushed nine times for 82 yards and a touchdown. That output was 45.8 percent of all the rushing yardage the Ravens gave up that postseason.
No. 50 Jahri Evans, Guard, New Orleans Saints
Evans has been a First-Team All-Pro the last three years running. He has never missed a start (96 career games).
No. 49 Darren Sproles, Running Back, New Orleans Saints
In 2011, Sproles led the league in all-purpose yards (2,696). Each year since 2008, he's finished no worse than fifth in that category. Last year, he had 87 rushes (603 yards and two touchdowns) and 86 receptions (710 yards and seven touchdowns).
No. 48 Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
In his first three years, Wallace is averaging 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns per season. In 186 career touches, he lost two fumbles.
No. 47 Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
Smith has been in the league since 2001, and last year was one of his best. He posted the third most receiving yards (1,394) and touchdowns (seven) of his career.
No. 46 Steven Jackson, Running Back, St. Louis Rams
Jackson has gained at least 1,000 yards rushing and scored five rushing touchdowns in every NFL season he's played in (except for his rookie year, when he made just three starts). For his career, he has over 9,000 rushing yards, over 3,000 receiving yards and has scored 60 total touchdowns.
No. 45 Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
Besides Larry Fitzgerald (28) and Jason Witten (29), Welker is the youngest active player with at least 650 career receptions. In four of the last five seasons, he's made at least 111 receptions each year.
No. 44 Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
Since 2008, Rivers has led a Chargers passing offense that's finished no worse than seventh each year. Since 2006, when he took over the starting job from Drew Brees, Rivers has averaged 28 touchdown passes per season.
No. 43 Joe Flacco, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens
Through the first three years of his career, Flacco won four road playoff games (most ever to start a career). He's been the starting quarterback for each of the Ravens' 73 games (postseason included) over the last four years. He's also won 70.8 percent of his games played in the AFC North.
No. 42 Mario Williams, Defensive End, Buffalo Bills
Williams has recorded eight sacks in his last nine games. From 2006-10, Williams missed just three starts. From 2007-09, he recorded 35 sacks and eight forced fumbles.
No. 41 Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
Over the last four seasons, Jennings has averaged 1,155 receiving yards and nine touchdowns a year. At the end of 2010, Jennings held a 5-2 postseason record, including a win in Super Bowl XLV in which he caught four passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
No. 40 Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger is 80-33 is his regular season career (70.8 percent) and 10-4 in his postseason career (71.4 percent), including victories in Super Bowl XL (21-10) and Super Bowl XLIII (27-23). Although the Steelers have allowed 135 sacks over the last three seasons, Roethlisberger has still managed to miss just six starts, while completing an average of 63.8 percent of his passes.
No. 39 Brian Cushing, Outside Linebacker, Houston Texans
Cushing recorded 114 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last year for the NFL's second-ranked defense. He won the NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2009 (his best season: 133 tackles, 10 passes defensed, four sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles).
No. 38 Jake Long, Tackle, Miami Dolphins
As the first-overall pick in the 2008 draft, Long made an immediate impact in Miami. He's made the Pro Bowl every season since he entered the league and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2010. He's started every game for the Dolphins since 2008, with the exception of Weeks 15 and 17 of the 2011 season (back injury).
No. 37 James Harrison, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Since the Steelers' Super Bowl run in 2008, Harrison has dominated the opposition, recording 339 tackles, 45.5 sacks and 20 forced fumbles in 56 games. Besides winning the Super Bowl in 2008, Harrison also won the NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year award.
No. 36 Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Although the Panthers went 6-10 in 2011, Newton did his fair share in his rookie season. He threw for over 4,000 yards and ran for over 700 yards and 14 touchdowns (most rushing touchdowns ever by a quarterback).
No. 35 Matt Forte, Running Back, Chicago Bears
Forte has gained at least 1,400 scrimmage yards in each of his first four seasons (including 2011 in which he only played 13 games). He is tied for second-youngest (26) on the active list of yards from scrimmage (6,218 yards).
No. 34 Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
Although Manning didn't take a single snap in 2011, he set personal records for completed passes in 2009 (393) and again in 2010 (450). From 2003-06, he threw for a total of 137 touchdowns against just 39 interceptions (Manning won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts after the 2006 season).
No. 33 Charles Woodson, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers
Woodson is a two-time NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year (1998, 2009). Since 2009, he's made three Pro Bowls and was named a First-Team All-Pro twice (2009, 2011). Since he joined the Packers in 2006, he's started each of the 93 games he's played.
No. 32 LaMarr Woodley, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Woodley made nine sacks in 10 games during 2011. For his career, he's made 48 sacks in 57 starts. From Week 5 to Week 8 of 2011, Woodley had four consecutive games of more than one sack (he left the Week 8 game versus New England with a hamstring injury).
No. 31 Frank Gore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
Gore ranks 23rd on the all-time career rushing yards per game list (76.3) and is sixth on the active list. In 2011, Gore put up the second-most rushing attempts (282), rushing yards (1,211) and rushing touchdowns (8) of his seven-year career.
courtesy: Michael Vids
No. 30 Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
Although 2010 was his rookie season (in which he played in three games but didn't make a reception), 2011 was Cruz's introduction to the NFL. Even though he started just seven games, he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards (18.7 yards per reception) and nine touchdowns. Cruz caught four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI (21-17).
No. 29 Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive End, New York Giants
In 12 starts since 2010 (his rookie year), Pierre-Paul has recorded 116 tackles, 21 sacks, 13 passes defensed and four forced fumbles. He was a First-Team All-Pro in 2011.
No. 28 Arian Foster, Running Back, Houston Texans
Since his first full season in the NFL (2010), Foster has rushed for 2,840 yards and 26 touchdowns. He's also caught 119 passes for 1,221 yards and four touchdowns in that time.
No. 27 Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions
2010 was a great year for Suh. He was drafted second overall, won the NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award and was named a First-Team All-Pro.
No. 26 Lardarius Webb, Cornerback, Baltimore Ravens
In each of his three NFL seasons, Webb has made more tackles, defended more passes and made more interceptions each year. Webb had three of Baltimore's league-leading five interceptions in the 2011 postseason (two games). He also helped the Ravens hold opposing quarterbacks to a league-leading average rating of 43.3 (next best was 69.3, Houston).
No. 25 NaVorro Bowman, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Bowman was a First-Team All-Pro in 2011, after making one start in his rookie year (2010). He made 143 tackles, defended eight passes and made two sacks for the NFL's best run defense.
No. 24 Ray Lewis, Inside Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
A two-time NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-time First-Team All-Pro, Lewis is also the only non-quarterback on this list to be a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV).
Through 16 NFL seasons, Lewis has consistently been a three-down linebacker. Last year, despite starting in only 12 games, Lewis made 95 tackles, defended seven passes, made two sacks and forced two fumbles. Since 2008, the Ravens have finished outside the top three in overall defense once (10th in 2010).
No. 23 Julius Peppers, Defensive End, Chicago Bears
Peppers has missed six games in his 10-year career. He's accumulated 100 sacks (27th all-time, fifth on the active list).
The average career for the top-five sack artists was 15 years. At his current rate, if Peppers plays a full season for each of the next five seasons, he will have 150 sacks, which would be good for fifth all-time.
No. 22 Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jones-Drew won the league rushing title in 2011, rushing for 1,606 yards (and eight touchdowns). Jones-Drew is a true workhorse, as he also led the NFL in rush attempts in 2011 (343). Throughout his six-year career, he's averaged 46 receptions for 412 yards each season.
No. 21 Justin Smith, Defensive Lineman, San Francisco 49ers
Smith does it all on the defensive line. He was a main factor in helping the 49ers rank first in run defense in 2011. Since 2001 (his rookie year), Smith has started in 171-straight games (Cincinnati 2001-07, San Francisco 2008-present).
Since joining the 49ers, Smith has averaged 64 tackles and over seven sacks per year. Since 2009, the 49ers run defense hasn't finished worse than sixth.
No. 20 LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
In 801 career touches, McCoy has lost only three fumbles. In 2010, he caught 78 passes for 592 yards and two touchdowns. In 2011 (First-Team All-Pro), he ran for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns.
No. 19 Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints
Last year, Graham was third in the NFL in receptions (99), seventh in receiving yards (1,310) and fourth in receiving touchdowns (11). Prior to last season, Graham made only five NFL starts.
No. 18 Troy Polamalu, Strong Safety, Pittsburgh Steelers
Polamalu has been a First-Team All-Pro three out of the last four years (except for 2009, when he played only five games). He was named the 2010 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year, after racking up 63 tackles, 11 passes defensed and seven interceptions. Since 2008, the Steelers have finished first, fifth, second and first in overall defense.
No. 17 Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
On November 4, 2007 (versus the Chargers), Peterson set the all-time record for rushing yards in a single game (296). It was his eighth NFL game. To date, Peterson has rushed for 64 touchdowns in 66 starts. He needs five rushing touchdowns to become the active leader.
No. 16 Ed Reed, Free Safety, Baltimore Ravens
Reed needs 21 interception return yards to surpass Rod Woodson for most all time. Reed ranks ninth all time (third on the active list) with 12 career non-offensive touchdowns.
He also holds the record for the first- and second-longest interception returns in NFL history (106 yards vs. Cleveland in 2004, 107 yards vs. Philadelphia in 2008). In 2010, he led the league in interceptions (eight) despite playing in only 10 games.
No. 15 Rob Gronkowski, Tight End, New England Patriots
In 2011, Gronkowski led the entire NFL in touchdown receptions (17). He had more weeks when he caught multiple touchdowns (seven) than weeks when he caught no touchdowns (six). In fact, in 27 starts Gronkowski has caught 27 touchdowns.
No. 14 Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings
Allen led the NFL in sacks in 2011 with 22 (one-half sack short of the all-time record). No player (regular and postseason combined) had more sacks in 2011 than Allen did. From 2007-09 and then again in 2011, Allen had no less than 14.5 sacks and was a First-Team All-Pro in each of those seasons.
No. 13 Terrell Suggs, Outside Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
This reigning NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year also won the NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award after the 2003 season. Since 2006, the team against which Suggs has had the most sacks each year has been the Steelers. While the Ravens and Steelers play twice a year, they are Baltimore's toughest opponent without question.
No. 12 Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans
Johnson was a First-Team All-Pro from 2008-09, when he also led the NFL in receiving yards and finished first and third (respectively) in receptions. In 729 career touches, he's fumbled only four times.
Johnson is the NFL's all-time leader in receiving yards per game (79.1).
No. 11 Ray Rice, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens
Rice led the league in yards from scrimmage in 2011 (2,068) and had the second-most receptions among running backs last year (76). He accounted for 36.8 percent of Baltimore's offense.
Last year when Rice had 13 carries or less, the Ravens were 1-4 (that win was Week 3 when Baltimore beat St. Louis, 37-7, and Rice came out early after rushing nine times for 81 yards). When Rice had 14 carries or more, the Ravens were 11-0.
No. 10 Darrelle Revis, Cornerback, New York Jets
Revis has been considered the best cornerback in the game for the last few seasons. Since 2009, he's been a First-Team All-Pro every year. For his career, Revis has 95 passes defensed in 77 games played.
Last year, his 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown versus Miami made him one of 23 players to ever return an interception for 100 yards or more.
No. 9 Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
"Megatron" had a monster year for the Lions in 2011. Not only did he become a First-Team All-Pro for the first time, but he was fourth in the league in receptions (96), first in receiving yards (1,696) and second in receiving touchdowns (16). His 105.1 yards per game average was a full-seven yards more than the player who was second (Wes Welker).
No. 8 Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald has been the model of consistency at the wide receiver position, whether he was the Cardinals' only legitimate threat or not. He's had over 1,400 yards receiving in four of his eight NFL seasons. He's never averaged less than 11.3 yards per reception and has always caught at least six touchdowns each year.
Fitzgerald ranks second on the all-time list for receiving yards per game (77.5). Last year, he was just 20 yards shy of his career best for yards per season set in 2008.
No. 7 Haloti Ngata, Defensive Lineman, Baltimore Ravens
There is no defensive line position Ngata can't play. He's been a Pro Bowler for the last three years and a First-Team All-Pro for the last two years, but 2011 was his best season to date. Ngata made 64 tackles, five sacks, defended five passes and forced two fumbles.
For (primarily) a defensive tackle, that's almost unheard of. He's huge, quick, young and getting better.
No. 6 DeMarcus Ware, Outside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
Ware's worst season was his rookie year (2005) when he made 58 tackles, eight sacks and forced three fumbles. Since then, he's averaged over 15 sacks and four forced fumbles per season.
He's been a First-Team All-Pro every year since 2007 (except for 2010—and he still had 15.5 sacks that season).
No. 5 Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Willis is the best defensive player on the best defense in the NFL today. He's been a First-Team All-Pro four out of his five NFL seasons (except for 2008, his second season, when he still had 141 tackles).
At this point in his career, Willis is averaging 9.1 tackles per game. If Willis plays for 15 years at his current rates of games played per season and tackles per season, he will have made 2,075 tackles in his career.
No. 4 Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants
Manning is coming off of his second Super Bowl victory in which he also won the MVP award. Of the players on this list, only Tom Brady can say he's won two Super Bowl MVP awards, and Manning is 2-0 against Brady in Super Bowls.
After losing the first two postseason games of his career, Manning has won eight of his last nine postseason games. In a league that is quarterback-driven and in a league where others care mainly about what you've done lately, Manning is certainly elite.
No. 3 Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
Not only does Brees often throw for the most yards in the league, he's often the most accurate passer in the NFL as well. Since Brees joined the Saints in 2006, he's finished no worse than third for total passing yards in a season (except in 2009 when he finished sixth). In that same time, Brees has finished no worse than fifth in completion percentage for a season (except in 2008 when he finished eighth).
2011 was his best season yet, as he set all-time records for passing yards in a season (5,476) and completion percentage for a season (71.2 percent). Brees is one-tenth of a percentage point behind Chad Pennington for the best career completion percentage, even though Brees has 3,008 more career pass attempts.
No. 2 Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots
Brady has 300 touchdowns against 115 interceptions in his 11-year career (including 2000 and 2008, when he made one start and attempted just 14 passes). He has a career 16-6 postseason record (including winning the first 10 postseason games he ever played). Brady is second on the active list (sixth all time) for comeback victories, with 35.
For good measure, he's thrown for the most completions (127) and yards (1,277) in Super Bowl history. Brady is legendary, there's no way around it.
No. 1 Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
From February 2011 to June 2012, Rodgers won a Super Bowl (XLV) MVP, a league MVP and was voted by the players as the Top NFL player of 2012. Last season, Rodgers' final quarterback rating was 122.5 (11.9 points higher than the next player). Throwing for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and six interceptions will do that for you.
His career passer rating of 104.1 is the best ever. Where one percentage point is a considerable difference, Rodgers' career mark is 7.2 points higher than that of the next player. Rodgers also has 16 rushing touchdowns to go along with a career average rush of 4.8 yards. As of today, there is no better football player than Rodgers.