B/R NFL 1,000: Top 100 Players Overall
Bleacher Report's NFL 1,000 began in February with our ranking of the top 65 quarterbacks. It culminated last week with the 19th positional breakdown, for running backs. Now, we've mined all the rankings to pull out the top 100 overall scorers in our 100-point system.
The result is this slideshow ranking the top 100 NFL players. Each player is presented with the scores and comments that appeared under his name in the positional articles. This means you'll see different criteria for different players, according to their positions.
Many players are tied in terms of overall score. I have broken any tie to set the ranking according to which player I'd rather have on my team to win a game right now.
One of the key differences between last year's top 100 and this year's is that we have excluded kickers and punters. We did rank them as part of the 2013 NFL 1,000 (here's the kickers slideshow, and here's the punters slideshow) but chose not to include them in the mix of the overall top 100 players.
As expected, the NFL 1,000 rankings inspired a lot of reader comments, many of them challenging our choices. All along, our team was watching film from the 2012 season and trying to stay true to the mission of judging players by the skills they showed in that film—not by their basic statistics, their past achievements or their potential.
With that said, let the debates begin.
All statistics are from Pro Football Focus.
100. Justin Houston, 3-4 OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Justin Houston has the speed to beat offensive tackles up the field with a good first step, but he also uses his hands well to allow him to freely bend the edge to get to the quarterback. He’s developed a nice counter-move inside, where he displays enough upper-body strength to get the blocker off-balance and close on the quarterback. He shows great awareness to freely chase down quarterbacks who leave the pocket and has elite closing speed to bring them down.
Houston became more comfortable out in space as the season went on, and he displays enough athleticism to run with backs and tight ends up the field in coverage. He covered the wheel route nicely a few times late in the season. Houston isn’t overly fluid in his hips, but he isn’t a liability out in space.
Houston displays an ability to stack the line of scrimmage and the upper-body strength to shed blockers while defending the run. He was inconsistent in reacting to the run, and it allowed blockers to get their hands on him and seal him off from the play at times.
Houston is a solid tackler who drives through contact and displays the physicality inside the box to help make plays in run defense. He does a great job of creating leverage with his lower half by getting low and driving through a ball-carrier.
Houston is on the verge of becoming a household name among the elite outside linebackers with just a little more development in reading and reacting to the run.
99. Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills
A true nose tackle against the run, Kyle Williams can play anywhere from head-up on the center to shading and attacking the gaps off the guards. He is stout and plays low to the ground, making it tough for linemen to drive-block him out of rushing lanes. He won’t make a ton of tackles—that’s not his game. But he will pile up blockers and close holes that backs are trying to come through. Williams is at his best coming off the snap and slamming into blockers to force a pileup.
A better pass-rusher than you might think. Williams creates sacks, but he piles up a ton of pressures on the pocket with his quickness and strength from the tackle position. He fires off the ball hard and has the agility to attack gaps. He doesn’t have great length, but he’s slippery in tight spaces and uses his hands very well to disengage blockers.
One of the best all-around defensive tackles in the league, Williams was a major impact in 2012.
98. Terrell Suggs, 3-4 OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Terrell Suggs wasn’t even supposed to play in 2012, but there he was in Week 7, lining up in his familiar spot at outside linebacker in the Ravens’ hybrid scheme. Suggs didn’t hit the ground running as a pass-rusher, showing some slowness and stiffness after coming off injury. He was a bigger impact due to strength than speed, but by season’s end, he was flashing the quickness that has made him such a tough player to block one-on-one. From a production and impact standpoint, he performed very well, given his number of reps and starts. We all know that Suggs is a better pass-rusher than his 2012 film showed.
On passing downs, it’s common to see Suggs drop down to a defensive end position and work purely as a pass-rusher. He was rarely used in coverage, as he’s not quite flexible or fast enough to work in space against receivers.
When coming down off the edge, Suggs plays with good enough strength to keep blockers from getting into his frame. He uses his arms well to create distance, which he follows up with hands to shed blocks. Early in his 2012 season, we saw him getting driven back off the line, but this was corrected by the playoffs.
A powerful tackler with the ability to stun and hurt ball-carriers, Suggs plays tough and angry. That shows up when he has to go after a running back or wide receiver. His length and reach allow him to pull down runners and make plays from behind the ball. You won’t see Suggs miss tackles.
Suggs played just half of the season after coming back from injury. By season's end, he was the all-around threat we’ve come to love in Baltimore.
97. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
One look at Arian Foster’s build and you can tell he packs a punch. While power isn’t his best asset, he’s strong enough to bust open holes and run through tacklers. Foster gets low when met by a defender and has the burst to overpower defenders trying to get to his legs.
Foster isn’t a speed back, and you won’t see him shaking defenders in space to break away, but he’s fast enough to get to the corner and turn upfield. With his balance and power combination, that’s more than enough for him to keep defenses honest on the outside.
No running back follows his blockers better than Foster. He has an ideal combination of vision, balance, patience and instinct. There’s almost a sixth sense to the way he finds the hole and gets through the initial wave of defenders.
The Texans liked to use Foster out of the backfield as a swing route and check-down receiver, and he performed well there. There were dropped passes, but he’s a dependable threat in the flats and someone the defense has to keep tabs on.
Foster excels with patience and vision. He’s the ultimate underdog at running back and continues to work hard to beat the odds.
96. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Few players in the NFL can recover in coverage like Patrick Peterson, which can be a good and bad thing. He will take risks that most cornerbacks wouldn’t because he knows he’s fast enough to recover, but a well-timed and well-placed pass will still expose his positioning at times. He did show improvement in awareness and ball skills in 2012, but he allowed too many catches, way too many touchdowns, and almost 14 yards per catch.
A big player who can come up and impact the run game, Peterson can stand to clean up his angles to the ball-carrier, but he can be a factor once he gets there.
Missed tackles in space hurt Peterson, but he showed big improvement here over his 2011 film. He did a better job playing with a low pad level and running through ball-carriers.
Peterson remains somewhat overrated by fans due to his athletic ability and high draft position, but he backed up his reputation and started to play like a stud cornerback in 2012. Now he has to follow that up with an even better 2013.
95. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin was one of the league’s leading men in yards-after-contact, which goes to show how powerful the stocky rookie was in 2012. He has a naturally low center of gravity and runs with good balance to keep his feet after making contact with defenders. Not only did Martin pick up yards after contact, but he was strong enough to break tackles and continue moving up the field.
We noted Martin’s ability to break tackles with power, but he also shook would-be tacklers with speed and agility. He has a very nice jump-cut when defenders are in his path, and he showed good speed when in space to run away from the linebackers and defensive ends.
There were adjustments for Martin in his first season, but the former Boise State back hit the ground running. He scans the field well pre- and post-snap, showing a nice ability to find gaps in the defense when running both inside and outside the tackle box.
The Tampa Bay offense went to Martin as much as possible, and that meant throwing him the ball too. He responded with 49 catches. Were it not for drops—mostly caused by failing to secure the ball before turning to run—Martin would have a perfect score this category.
Martin quickly lived up to the expectations placed on him as a first-round pick in 2012.
94. Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins
A stout cover man, Reshad Jones can lock down slot receivers and tight ends from the strong safety position. He allowed a passer rating of just 38 last season. Basically, he held QBs to a rating worse than Tim Tebow had in Denver. Jones isn’t well known yet, but his cover skills are elite.
With good bulk and strength for the position, Jones is willing to throw himself into the ring and make plays against backs in the run game. He does a good job reading and reacting to the ball and is fast enough to close on the edge.
Jones played nearly every snap for the Dolphins last season. He’ll bounce off runners at times if he doesn’t properly wrap up, but he brings impact and force in his tackles. We’d like to see him clean up his angles at times, but his development was huge.
Jones has the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline and shows very good acceleration in space. He’s not a 4.4 sprinter in the 40-yard dash, but his speed is more than enough.
If you’re wondering who Reshad Jones is, do yourself a favor and find some 2012 Miami Dolphins games online. Jones was a beast all season, showing up as a cover man and run defender. He’s one of the NFL’s best up-and-coming players.
93. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
You won’t find a more physical, aggressive runner in the NFL. The best way to explain how amazing Marshawn Lynch is as a power back is to tell you this: He gained over 1,000 yards rushing after contact last season. Not only is he powerful, but he shows great balance to attack defenders and keep his feet to pick up yards after initiating that contact. Lynch is all strength, as he’s not one of the bigger backs in the game at 215 pounds.
Not a speed back or a true threat to run away from the defense, Lynch will get loose at times. If the defense loads up the box, he’ll show nice moves in space after getting past the initial wave of defenders.
A mauler with the ball in his hands, Lynch doesn’t always look for openings since he knows he can make one of his own if needed. He does show good patience when moving laterally to find an opening in the offensive line.
Lynch isn’t relied on often as a receiver in the team’s offensive attack. When thrown to, which is mostly in the flats, he isn't always sure-handed.
Lynch is the NFL’s top power back. He’s a true bruiser, and he is the perfect back for the Seahawks’ physical style of play.
92. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
After contact, LeSean McCoy isn’t a high-level yardage back, but that’s not his game. When met in the hole or on the edge by a defender, he can lower his shoulder as a last resort to put a hit on the defender. McCoy is able to break tackles more due to his slippery running style and agility, and less because of his raw power or strength.
McCoy has elite agility and uses that ability to cut and shake defenders in gaps. He’s the closest thing today to Barry Sanders in terms of hip flexibility in space. On pure speed, McCoy is fast. He can get to the corner and turn upfield to pick up major yards before contact. He’s one of the best in the game at creating missed tackles.
McCoy sees the field exceptionally well no matter the situation he’s put in. We noted his ability to find creases in the offensive line and his penchant for making cuts and evading defenders at the second level of the defense.
A legitimate threat as a receiver coming out of the backfield, there were times in 2012 when McCoy was more of an asset as a receiver than a running back due to the sad state of the Eagles’ outside run blocking. He’s a smooth athlete who looks the ball into his hands and makes sure he’s got it before turning upfield.
McCoy didn’t have monster production in 2012 thanks to a sometimes-pitiful Eagles offense and an injury that caused him to miss four games. But there’s no doubting that he's a top-tier back on talent, impact and production.
91. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick is still learning where he can and cannot fit the ball, but his accuracy has improved over the course of the season. We’re still looking at a quarterback who completes too few of his passes, though. Kaepernick must get better at keeping the ball down when throwing outside the hashes.
Kaepernick famously dislocated Randy Moss’ finger with a pass this season. That should tell you all you need to know about how hard he can sling the ball. When grading arm strength, Kaepernick comes out very high on the list.
He is adept at seeing the open field and finding his read. Kaepernick showed a good ability to make a simple read and find the weakness of the defense. He has a good football IQ and is a quick study.
While his throwing motion won’t win many awards, Kaepernick does a great job setting up his throws with his lower body. He steps into passes and does a good job finishing on his front foot.
One of the better running quarterbacks in the NFL, Kaepernick’s speed and agility in the open field have been an added threat to the 49ers offense. He is able to tuck and run past defenders.
A fast-developing, young quarterback with tons of potential, Kaepernick looks like a future star at the position. We’d love to see him check down now and then, but there is a lot to like about No. 7.
90. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
Dropped passes on hot routes over the middle consistently kept Victor Cruz from making plays. You can blame the quarterback for poor throws on some of these, but there’s a good amount of responsibility on the wide receiver too. He looks to turn and make plays upfield before bringing the ball into his cradle. When moving laterally across the field, Cruz will struggle to turn his hips and adjust to passes not thrown right on the mark. He’ll go from making a spectacular play to dropping a routine pitch-and-catch.
A versatile route-runner, Cruz can beat you with a quick slant over the middle or an all-out deep go route. He’s one of the few players in the league who can truly threaten a defense in multiple ways. As a cornerback, you have to plan for a hard-charging breaking route or the possibility of a head-fake that leads to a streak up the sideline.
Cruz is quick, but he's not top-end fast when it comes to raw speed. That might surprise you, but when matched up one-on-one and asked to run deep, he won’t be able to separate consistently from speedy cornerbacks. He’s able to make plays in the open field and can stretch the defense, but his speed is more game speed than track speed. It’s also not incredibly consistent. He tends to turn his playmaking ability on and off at times.
Cruz has the talent to be one of the most dangerous and explosive players in the NFL on a regular basis. But for him to enter higher territory in the rankings, he has to become a more consistent pass-catcher.
89. Marcel Reece, FB, Oakland Raiders
Marcel Reece isn’t going to knock helmets and drive defenders out of the hole on every play, but he can when needed. Reece excels at walling off defenders by using his speed and strength to get the angle on defenders and keeping them from getting to the ball-carrier.
Reece has the talent to be special, but he gets caught out of position too often and has a tendency to stand up out of his stance to pass protect. Oakland has used him a lot as a receiver, which causes his pass-protection skills to fall behind.
Strong enough to push the pile, Reece generates much of his power from his speed. He doesn’t slow down before he hits you, which makes up for not having great overall strength. He generates power, though, and that’s all that matters.
Reece moves like a running back. He has the open-field quickness to exploit defenders and can be a runaway back in the open field. This isn’t fullback-level speed.
With soft hands and a good ability to adjust to catch the ball, Reece is a threat as a receiver. Thanks to his superb athletic ability, the Raiders can flex him out as a tight end or receiver to draw mismatches.
One of the more athletic fullbacks in the NFL today, Reece is a triple threat as a runner, blocker and receiver. What he doesn’t bring to the table as a pass-blocker, he makes up for with the ball in his hands. Reece is the most versatile fullback in the game today.
88. Justin Smith, 3-4 DE, San Francisco 49ers
One of the NFL’s best run defenders, Justin Smith does a great job initiating contact with the offensive line. He’s strong enough to stun blockers and then make a countermove to the ball. Smith holds anchor on the edge as well as anyone, keeping the play from going outside and keeping blockers from getting to the second level on the edge.
The 49ers love to run a "Texas stunt," where Justin Smith goes outside the offensive tackle and outside linebacker Aldon Smith comes around and attacks the inside shoulder of the tackle. This gives the Smith Bros. an equal opportunity to attack the backfield. Justin has the strength to attack the body of a tackle and tie them up—some would call it holding—which allows other players to come free and sack the quarterback. When not stunting, Justin Smith has the strength and quickness to be a factor against the backfield. In 2012, he was more focused on freeing up Aldon Smith on the edge and didn’t attack the backfield as often. A torn triceps late in the year limited Justin Smith’s ability.
A prototypical defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, Justin Smith is a dual threat on every down. His 2012 wasn’t as productive from a numbers standpoint, but his play on the field was a springboard for the 49ers’ success on defense.
87. Muhammad Wilkerson, 3-4 DE, New York Jets
A classic 3-4 defensive end, Muhammad Wilkerson’s awareness against the run is top-notch. He does a great job coming off the line controlled and looking for the ball. He’ll lock out his arms to keep the blocker off his body while making a read and then can use his quickness to react to the play. Wilkerson works down the line of scrimmage when engaged and has the vision to still find and attack the ball.
An active pass-rusher, Wilkerson won’t always convert pressures to sacks in the open field. He’s a very good containing defensive end, but he will let quarterbacks step up in the pocket. Wilkerson can get stonewalled by big offensive tackles, but he's quick enough to counter with a rip or shoulder dip. Wilkerson uses his hands well to slap and rip away from blockers, but when lined up inside, he plays a bit high and can get slowed down because of it. Wilkerson does a better job pressuring the quarterback instead of actually converting sacks.
Wilkerson played plenty in a 5-technique, but he also lined up as a 4-tech and a 3-tech at times in the Jets’ schemes. No matter the alignment, he showed a balanced game based on strength, quickness and vision.
86. DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson’s 2012 was cut short by injury, but he was a versatile playmaker in the team’s offense when healthy. Without long arms, Jackson’s catch radius is limited. He doesn’t have the height to go up and attack high passes. But he catches well in traffic and shows the ability to adjust and track the ball over either shoulder. When the ball is well thrown, he won’t drop it.
Jackson’s route running wasn’t ideal in 2012, but it wasn’t bad either. He rounded off routes and struggled to separate on one cut. Without the size to box out defenders, Jackson has to win with route running. If he’s not crisp and precise, he won’t be open.
With top-tier speed, Jackson has the ability to get away from defenders before and after the catch. He’s slippery in space and shows the raw speed to stretch the field on deep routes or pick up yards after the catch. There aren’t many defenders who can catch Jackson when he’s at top speed.
Jackson is a world-class athlete and dangerous route-runner, but his 2012 showed decline as the offense around him fell apart. In Chip Kelly’s offense, he’ll be an exciting player to watch.
85. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
With a 222-pound frame, Matt Forte has the strength and bulk to run over defenders when they meet him head-on. He runs high at times and can be tackled at the waist because he’s not low enough to the ground. He can break tackles, but it’s an inconsistent trait.
Forte has the speed to get away from the defense, especially when he’s in space. He may not break away for 90-yard runs, but he’s fast enough to hit the edge. If he turns the corner, he’s good for a big gain.
It has to be added that the Bears offensive line was not very good. Forte has to rely on his vision to find the openings they do create and hit them before that opening closes. In the open field, he shows better vision than he does behind the line, moving freely and reading his blocks to get into space.
The ball didn’t hit the ground often when thrown to Forte in the flats. He’s versatile enough to be moved out into the slot as needed and can threaten the defense from there. He did struggle to bring in the hot throws from Jay Cutler when the quarterback drilled passes.
Forte didn’t have the elite production of some other backs, but his abilities are as good. He’s versatile as a runner and receiver, and he showed the vision to pick up more than 1,000 yards rushing behind a suspect offensive line.
84. James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers
James Jones was listed as the No. 4 or No. 5 receiver on most early-season depth charts. Due to injury, he was able to work his way into the lineup and emerge as a leader at receiver. He has strong, big hands and is able to pull the ball in even when the pass isn’t perfect. This is an improvement from his 2011 film, which showed consistent drops in space and in traffic. Jones’ concentration was noticeably better, and that led to more targets. In the red zone, he showed toughness and a willingness to make grabs in tight windows.
Jones showed some stiffness getting in and out of breaks in space, but he does a good job setting his position and keeping defenders from gaining ground to break on the ball. In short areas, like the red zone, he’s a much better route-runner because he’s not relying on speed to separate in the open field. Instead, he can use his quickness and body to create room to operate in.
Jones doesn’t have great speed, but he does a good job causing missed tackles and picking up yards post-catch. He won’t outrun defenders in coverage, but he can be slippery in the open field.
Jones came out of nowhere to emerge as a leader among the Packers wide receivers in 2012. Expect a continuation of that role in 2013.
83. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
Dropped passes showed up too often on Jordy Nelson’s 2012 film. He struggled to lock the ball away and secure passes throughout contact with defenders. Nelson rarely dropped a wide-open pass, but he didn’t show the same consistency that we noted in 2011. He has a big catch radius thanks to his 6’3” frame and will pull in high and wide passes without trouble. The key for his improvement in 2013 will be securing the ball and making sure it’s put away before running.
Nelson lives on breaking routes, where his quickness and acceleration in and out of cuts is evident. He plays with a naturally low center of gravity, which allows him to make quick cuts and changes in his route without having to slow down or stutter step to break off routes. He’s not a vertical threat, but he can stretch the field when needed.
Nelson has exceptional quickness in space, but he doesn’t have top-end raw speed. He can beat defenders with footwork and burst, but he doesn’t maintain that speed downfield.
Nelson saw a drop in production in 2012, especially in the red zone, but he was still a consistent presence in the Packers offense. He’ll be ranked higher next season with more targets.
82. Derrick O. Johnson, ILB, Kansas City Chiefs
As an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, Derrick O. Johnson is asked to make a lot of plays individually against the run, and he does so at a high rate. Johnson is a fluid player with the agility to slide laterally or attack the run in front of him. His value is in his range, as he can effectively track the ball side to side. He has the speed to pursue and cut off the edge.
Johnson isn’t utilized as a pass-rusher as much as he could be with his speed and strength. When asked to shoot through A- and B-gaps, he does well to drop his shoulder and make himself a smaller target. Johnson may be more effective as part of a stunting duo where the offensive line has to make a decision. This would be a better fit for his speed.
One of Johnson’s best attributes is his ability in coverage. He’s fast, plays light on his feet and shows good vision to read and react to the route. Johnson will get physical over the middle and can rub and bump tight ends off the line. He’s versatile enough to be matched up in man coverage or deep zone play.
In games we scouted, Johnson missed more tackles than the top players at the position, but he was better than other 3-4 inside linebackers with his size and skill set. He did miss too many tackles in 2012, but it wasn’t a major problem. A lack of play upfront allowed blockers and runners to get to Johnson in a hurry.
Johnson has a smooth, graceful style of play, but he hits like a truck when coming down on backs. He’s a Pro Bowler for a reason.
81. Mike Iupati, OG, San Francisco 49ers
Mike Iupati is one of the best guards in football, but when it comes to pass protection, he can be too aggressive at times. The 49ers would like their left guard to be more patient and more aware, as Iupati can come off the ball with his head down and fail to pick up pressure. He is strong enough to handle anyone he gets his hands on, but he has to become more adept at recognizing pressure.
One of the best in the business, Iupati is more than just strength in the run game. He’s one of the more agile guards in the NFL right now, and that shows in his ability to kick out on sweeps and tosses. The 49ers can pull and trap with Iupati all day, as he’s quicker than most defenders he’ll face.
Iupati hasn’t mastered his technique yet, but he’s so much stronger than the competition that he hasn’t had to. When on the move, few blockers are as talented as Iupati is. He’s a picture of how to scout and develop a rookie guard prospect.
80. Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Greg Jennings has strong hands and very good concentration. With a smaller stature, he doesn’t have the range to extend and pull in outside passes, something that can affect his ability to build a solid catch radius. He’s aware in traffic and does a good job pulling the ball in and catching hot passes thrown in tight windows.
The best part of Jennings’ game is his ability to separate from coverage. It’s fun to watch him moving in routes, as he’s not very big or very fast. He’s smooth coming off the line and has the hips to drop his weight and change direction on the fly. When running a deep breaking route, Jennings is able to cut with a very quick break. He does it without a lot of setup time, so defenders are left playing catch up. It takes great timing and agility to shield the ball from defenders trying to break on his route, and he does that as well as anyone in the game.
Healthy or not, Jennings isn’t a burner on the field. He is very quick and fluid, but you won’t see him sprinting up the sidelines and outrunning defenders. He’s able to pick up yards post-catch thanks to very good vision and agility.
When healthy, Jennings was a top-tier wide receiver in 2012. The problem was keeping him on the field. The Minnesota Vikings will attempt to do that very thing in 2013.
79. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb may not be thought of as a top-tier all-around receiver, but he has become one. Cobb was the Packers’ most targeted receiver, but he also led the team in dropped passes. He doesn’t have the long arms needed to extend and make catches away from his body. His drops came largely when asked to go over the middle, as his timing with Aaron Rodgers and his concentration to make catches in traffic were not always consistent.
An explosive player with a natural low center of gravity, Cobb is able to quickly get in and out of breaks. He’s fast enough to leave defenders behind once he makes his break. When asked to come off the line against press coverage, he can struggle at times, but his rare quickness and agility help him to keep defenders from getting their hands on his frame.
Cobb has elite speed in the open field, showing off quickness and the ability to accelerate past defenders both in his route tree and when making plays after the catch. With the ball in his hands, Cobb is already one of the game’s most exciting players.
Cobb went from explosive athlete to all-around playmaker in 2012. His development as a receiver has allowed the team to move on from Greg Jennings.
78. Charles Johnson, 4-3 DE, Carolina Panthers
A good run defender but better pass-rusher, Charles Johnson is constantly making plays for the Panthers. While he isn’t strong enough at the point of attack to be a dominant run defender, Johnson does well in space and when asked to track down the line of scrimmage on backside plays.
A bit of a freak as an edge-rusher, Johnson produces sacks, pressures, hurries and hits on the quarterback at an alarming rate. He’s a smooth pass-rusher at his size with the agility to bend the edge and attack. Johnson has the length to pull down the quarterback even while engaged by blockers. Guys his size shouldn’t be able to move and bend the way he does.
An exceptional athlete coming off the Carolina left edge, Johnson is one of the most talented pass-rushers in the NFL today.
77. Eric Winston, RT, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs struggled in 2012, but right tackle Eric Winston was once again solid. He was the most productive pass-blocking right tackle in the NFL. He can get behind if a speed-rusher sets him up to the outside. He creates space between guard and tackle, and he counters back inside. Winston does a good job sliding his feet to come back inside to recover.
Winston is a classic power right tackle with the strength to move the pile. He plays well out of a two- and three-point stance. Winston is at his best in a zone-blocking scheme that allows him to track upfield and get an angle on defenders (as opposed to a power scheme, where he’s locked on to one player). He shows good agility for a big man, getting out of his stance quickly and easily getting to the second level. He does a good job rubbing the outside man and then getting upfield to attack linebackers.
Our top right tackle from 2011, Winston had a tough season in Kansas City. He wasn’t as effective pass-blocking for the troubled quarterbacks, allowing more sacks and penalties than usual. On film, the penalties seemed to be caused by late audibles in the cadence. The strength of Winston’s game is his run-blocking, and he was once again brilliant in 2012.
76. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
For a rookie, Andrew Luck was well ahead of the curve in terms of accuracy in 2012. While there were times when Luck missed the mark, those mostly happened when he was pressured and/or asked to throw the ball to the right hash up the field. Overall, it’s tough to be upset with Luck’s ball placement.
An area where Luck received some criticism before the draft, he answered critics this year by showing off the arm strength needed to make every NFL throw in the playbook. He doesn’t have a rocket of an arm, but he’s strong enough to throw to every part of the field.
Critics will point to Luck’s high number of interceptions, but his decision making encompasses more than just interceptions—which don’t take into account dropped or tipped passes. Luck’s ability to make pre- and post-snap reads in his first season was incredible, and the Colts coaches asked him to execute the offense on his own. Luck didn’t disappoint, showing off the football IQ that made him a once-in-a-generation talent pre-draft.
This is how quarterbacks should look. Whether it’s his three- and five-step drops from center or in the way he actually sets up and throws the ball, Luck is a technician with beautiful balance, strength and ability to throw the ball.
You don’t think of Luck as a fast runner, but he is. He showed that at the NFL Combine and backed it up on the field last season. When pressured, Luck was able to tuck and run for big gains, but he was also very effective when asked to roll out and throw on the run.
It’s tough to separate fact from hyperbole at times, and Luck certainly came into the league with plenty of hype. What we saw in year one was a smart, young quarterback who tried too hard at times, but he also delivered in crunch time with big performances and a ton of moxie.
75. Sebastian Vollmer, RT, New England Patriots
With long arms and exceptional quickness to cut off the corner, Sebastian Vollmer is a prototypical tackle in today’s NFL. Vollmer is long enough to cut off pass-rushers who try to loop outside of him, but he could do a better job sliding his feet to maintain balance. He will arch his back to absorb bull rushes and second moves.
Vollmer can be dangerous as a run-blocker, but only when he’s coming in with leverage and technique. Too often he’ll try to muscle his way through a block, and he’s just not strong enough to do that. When Vollmer dips his shoulders and fires off, he’s tough to get past.
Vollmer shows great balance between pass- and run-blocking. Thanks to his length at 6’8”, he’s able to keep defenders at bay without always having to move his feet and kick out to the edge. He’s a versatile athlete who can also play left tackle in a pinch.
74. Alex Mack, OC, Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack plays with the patience of an offensive tackle, making him a tough player to beat in the middle of the line. He doesn’t tend to reach or lunge for pass-rushers. With a strong base, he’s hard to beat with countermoves. Mack has a strong lower body and can stand up pass-rushers by getting leverage underneath their pads and driving up. He is rarely beaten, but when teams do get the best of him, it’s with speed up the A-gap.
While he’s very good in the run game, Mack could benefit greatly from attacking with a lower pad level. Defenders can get inside his frame and push his back up. While he doesn’t lose many of these battles, it prohibits him from getting push up the middle. On the move, Mack is excellent at combining power and agility to pull on the edge or clear the second level.
Mack is truly one of the most fun players to watch at the position. Based on scouting technique, he could make a case for the best player at the position. Cleaning up some issues in the run game would put him atop the list of the NFL’s best centers.
73. Max Unger, OC, Seattle Seahawks
A versatile pass-blocker who has lined up at guard and tackle, Max Unger has the ability to stand up and mirror pass-rushers from the center position. Where he gets in trouble is by standing too tall and losing leverage and agility. Unger has a tendency to play flat-footed and can allow pass-rushers to gain ground off his shoulders. When pressed up the middle, he’s exceptionally strong to hold his ground. With a long reach and big base, Unger has the skill set to get much better here with time.
If you watch Marshawn Lynch cut back for big yards, chances are that Unger was the one clearing the second level for him. He does a fantastic job getting off the ball and working upfield to take linebackers out of the play. Even when a nose tackle is designated to tie him up, Unger is good enough with his hands to make quick work of him. You’ll love watching Unger fire off the ball into the defensive tackle and then scrape to take out linebackers who are closing on the ball-carrier. This is what he does best; he’s a nonstop blur in the run game.
One of the best run-blocking centers our team graded this year, Unger does need to get better in the passing game, but the talent is there. He’s a versatile, strong center who fits the moving-line philosophy that the Seahawks use so well to fuel the run game.
72. Jerod Mayo, 4-3 OLB, New England Patriots
Jerod Mayo tracks the ball well coming off the edge. His past experience at inside linebacker allows him to see and read his keys well, which puts him into position to make plays moving inside-out. Mayo’s vision makes him a tough player to beat on the corner, but he moves with deceptive speed and fluid hips when tracking the ball laterally. He’s not exceptionally fast when closing on the ball, but he has good strength to put runners down.
Mayo is an impressive athlete and all-around linebacker. If there’s a hole in his game, it’s when he's asked to rush the passer. He doesn’t have the quickness or burst to bend the edge and get to the quarterback, but he plays with strength and can beat blockers when they get their hands on him. Mayo will make an impact in the passing game by cleaning up trash and flushing the pocket.
An underrated cover man, Mayo surprised us with his ability to drop into zones and then shift to plant and close on passes. He has good balance and light feet, and his agility allows him to change direction to get to the ball in the air. When matched up one-on-one, he’s able to keep pace with tight ends and backs throughout transitions.
A hard hitter with the size and strength to stop runners in their tracks, Mayo closes on the ball well and has the upper- and lower-body strength to hit and stick ball-carriers. He won’t miss tackles if he can get into position to put his pads on the ball.
Mayo is a versatile linebacker in that he can play inside and outside. As the Patriots have moved to a 4-3 defense, his stock has taken off as a premier player on the edge.
71. Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas has the best technique of any pass-blocker in the NFL. He didn’t have an elite year, allowing three sacks, but he was once again a top-level blocker who is a textbook example of how to control the edge. He’s quick off the edge and wastes no movement in getting to the corner. Thomas is also strong enough to stand his ground and hold off bull rushes and hard inside moves. He’s quick enough to shuffle his feet and not give up the corner. These are all the things a left tackle must be great at, and Thomas is.
Thomas may remain the textbook example of a left tackle’s pass-protection skills, but his run blocking is not as strong. He can struggle to reset off the snap and get his pads low. He has good power, but his leverage is shaky at best.
Thomas enjoyed a good 2012 season protecting a quarterback without great mobility. While he hasn’t been an elite run-blocker, you won’t find anyone better on the edge when in passing situations. Thomas’ strength and balance are the bedrock for his success.
70. DeMarcus Ware, 3-4 OLB, Dallas Cowboys
A natural athlete with the quickness, flexibility and strength to frustrate blockers on the edge, DeMarcus Ware is a rare talent as a pass-rusher. His ability to beat blockers off the ball with quickness is well-known, but he’s also developed better hand use to counter quick blockers. This allows Ware to work inside when the edge is cut off, giving him a dual-pronged approach to getting to the quarterback. You also have to factor in that he played half of the season hurt, something that limited his ability to rip away and dip from blockers.
Like most elite pass-rushers, Ware isn’t used often in coverage. When he was dropped back off the line, quarterbacks recognized it and went at him. He’s quick and closes on the ball well, but the movement to flip his hips and run isn’t fluid enough to stay with most receivers and tight ends.
Ware has been known to overpursue the ball coming off the edge, which allows offenses to run the ball with success off-tackle and on misdirection. Ware is quick and powerful when coming at the backfield, though, and he’ll take away the outside when playing disciplined ball.
Ware closes on the ball with good speed and quickness, showing the ability to pin down runners in the backfield when coming off the edge. Many of his tackles come on blindside hits on quarterbacks and running backs when he comes down the line and attacks the play from the backside. When asked to break down in space and attack, he can be high and wild. Ware missed more tackles than his peers, and that’s something that showed up on our score sheet often.
It may seem foolish to rank Ware below teammate Anthony Spencer, but looking at the 2012 season alone, it’s accurate. Ware is still an impact player and an All-Pro candidate, but he's not an elite run-stopper, which hurt him slightly in these rankings.
69. Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets
Antonio Cromartie’s raw athletic ability makes him stand out from others, as does his length and height to match up with bigger, stronger receivers. He is smooth in his backpedal and has the speed to turn and run with receivers. He’s a very fluid athlete overall, and that shows up on film. In coverage, he did a great job knocking away passes and keeping receivers from bringing in the ball. He was abused a bit underneath with soft zone coverage, though. In the red zone, he had trouble with back-shoulder throws and must play with better position there.
When Cromartie comes up to support the edge, he can make an impact. Fans perhaps would be surprised to see how well he played against the run in 2012.
Cromartie doesn’t make a ton of tackles, but he did a better job closing on the ball and limiting missed tackles last season. While his effort can be questioned, his technique is better than advertised.
One of the biggest improvers during the 2012 season, Cromartie answered the call when Darrelle Revis went down. He played his best season yet.
68. Anthony Spencer, 3-4 OLB, Dallas Cowboys
Critics of Anthony Spencer will point out that he had one good season, or that DeMarcus Ware cleared a path for him. Neither is true. Spencer was tasked with beating his man—and last time we watched football, the left tackle’s assignment had no bearing on whether the right tackle performed well. Ware is a talented player, but to credit him for Spencer’s success is lazy scouting. In 2012, we saw Spencer become a better all-around pass-rusher, moving with confidence off the edge and using his hands better to create distance and disengage from blocks. His quickness was better, or maybe just more aggressive, as he came off the edge to beat right tackles with a first step that made it tough for anyone to turn and adjust to his speed.
Primarily a pass-rusher, Spencer was asked to drop back and cover a tight end or back out of the flats at times. He did enough to show us that while he’s a fantastic player, he’s not a coverage linebacker.
One of the best edge-defenders in the NFL when it comes to stopping the run, Spencer did an excellent job at holding up against powerful right tackles. He was able to dig in and anchor the edge, and he also beat blockers to the ball and made tackles. In fact, he made a league-leading amount of tackles for 3-4 outside linebackers.
Production wasn’t as much of a factor in this grade, but it was hard to watch Cowboys film and not see Spencer making play after play on the edge. He’s a powerful tackler with a smart wrap-up technique and the lower-body strength to push through ball-carriers to put them down without the risk of a missed or broken tackle.
Spencer was the Cowboys’ best outside linebacker in 2012. It was a close race between he and Ware, but Spencer’s ability to stop the run pushed him just above his teammate in our tiebreaker.
67. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills
Jairus Byrd comes in tied with our best coverage score for any safety. When matched up in coverage last season, Byrd allowed a passer rating of just 56.9. He has elite skills in both man and zone coverage and has shown with his five interceptions on the year that he can convert coverage to interceptions.
Our scouting team loved Byrd in run defense last year. He’s active and aggressive in run support. Byrd can come up to close down rushing lanes and will get physical in the box.
During the games we charted, Byrd missed very few tackles and was recorded to have just four misses on the year by Pro Football Focus. Not only is Byrd an active tackler, he’s a consistent one.
Byrd is able to make plays all over the field despite not having great speed. He’s much more quick than fast in the open field.
Few safeties had the all-around year that Byrd did in the Bills defense. He’s a triple threat as a cover man, run defender and ball hawk who can create turnovers in the secondary.
66. Vonta Leach, FB, Baltimore Ravens
Hands down, Vonta Leach is the NFL’s best run-blocker. He is strong enough to get through the hole and truly lead block for the Ravens running backs. Leach understands the need for impact and leverage at the point of attack, and he’s strong enough to drive defenders out of the hole.
Leach can be a bit overaggressive at times in pass protection, opting to attack the defender instead of waiting and absorbing the rush. He’s strong enough to get away with this, though.
The best attribute of Leach’s game is his ability to drive block. With great lower-body strength, he’s able to lock up with defenders and back them out of running lanes.
You won’t find Leach outrunning defenders up the sideline, but he has good functional speed. He’s rarely asked to go further downfield than to the second level of the defense, and he’s fast enough to get there without problems.
A better receiver than you might realize, Leach isn’t utilized often in the Baltimore offense. He’s a body-catcher, but that can be effective on underneath routes and screens.
Leach is a rare throwback to the old days of fullbacks. He’s a big-bodied bruiser who makes his cash by opening up holes between the tackles and kicking out to lead block on outside runs. On the off chance that he gets the ball, Leach can make things happen, but only on short-yardage situations.
65. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts
In uncharacteristic fashion, Reggie Wayne had some dropped passes in 2012, with most drops coming on contested passes on short and intermediate routes. Wayne has great concentration and will pull in tough grabs that are contested or thrown away from his body. When asked to adjust to the ball on a sideline route or back-shoulder throw, he’s one of the game’s best.
You could make a case for Wayne as the league’s best route-runner, even at 34 years old. He shows smooth footwork and the short-area quickness needed to get in and out of breaks in a hurry. His timing on breaking routes is impeccable. Wayne isn’t a big receiver, but he’s able to get his body in the right position to keep defenders from challenging him for the ball.
Speed is no longer a strength for Wayne, but he’s still very quick in short areas and shows good enough burst to separate from defenders to make catches. He doesn’t add a lot of yards after the catch, but he’s a solid chain-moving receiver.
No longer an elite athlete, Wayne is still one of the best technicians in the league. A quality No. 1 wide receiver, he’s on his way to the Hall of Fame.
64. Mike Pouncey, OC, Miami Dolphins
A top-level athlete at the position, Mike Pouncey can do it all. One of the best strengths to his game is his ability to read and recognize blitzes pre-snap. Once the ball is in play, Pouncey is exceptional at anchoring to hold his ground. He has a quick first move and can jump to his base without losing leverage. He’s strong enough to stand his ground and rarely gets moved back into the quarterback.
Pouncey is a strong moving center in the run game. Off the snap, he does well to angle block to the left or right. When attacking defenders from the side, he’s very good at driving and sealing off lanes. When asked to simply take on a defender head-up, Pouncey can sometimes struggle with leverage in the run game. He’s better at holding his ground than moving players backward.
One of the most complete centers in the NFL, Pouncey does a great job for the Dolphins no matter the down or distance. For him to take the next step and become an elite player, all he needs is more experience.
63. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
Hakeem Nicks made major improvements in 2012, showing better strength and concentration when attacking the ball. When we scouted him in 2011, Nicks dropped eight passes. Fast-forward to 2012, and he put just two passes on the ground. He showed improved ability to improvise on the run and adjust his body to look the ball in and get his arms extended.
An underrated route-runner, Nicks was much better than we had projected in the preseason. He’s not fast enough to run away from defenders up the sideline, but he sets up breaks in his routes with subtle body movements and head fakes. Nicks can struggle to separate with speed if he’s matched up with a physical cornerback who can jam him at the line.
A big, strong athlete, Nicks doesn’t move with elite speed. He’s still able to get separation from defenders to make catches and pick up yards, but it's more due to strength and his ability to use his body to box out cornerbacks.
Nicks is a better technician than athlete, but there’s no doubting that he has become of the best all-around wide receivers in the league.
62. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Dropped passes were a problem for Dez Bryant at times in the 2012 season. He started the year cold, showing poor concentration and struggling to lock the ball away before turning upfield. That went away, though, as Bryant showed renewed focus and worked to perfect his technique. Except for one game against Pittsburgh’s physical coverage late in the year, Bryant showed zero drops after Week 8. The key is building on that success. He’ll make the impossible catch look easy, but then he'll drop an easy pitch-and-catch on a comeback route. He has to concentrate and worry more about completing the catch and less about yardage.
There were times in 2012 when Bryant was clearly on a different wave length than quarterback Tony Romo, but that doesn’t mean Bryant was to blame. His route running developed throughout the season. He is an athlete with good flexibility, balance and body control. That allows him to win in one-on-one battles against man and zone coverage. He’s quick in and out of breaks and doesn’t waste steps when getting into his route stem. Watch Bryant in 2011, then in Week 1 and finish up with his Week 17 game. You'll see a player transformed.
Bryant is thought of as a fast, athletic wide receiver. That’s somewhat true, but when you see him on film, he’s not exceptionally fast. Bryant is quick, and he can make sudden movements in space to evade tacklers. But when it comes down to outrunning a defender, he’s only above average.
If based purely on potential and ability, Bryant would be in the top five for wide receivers. He started to flash that skill set in 2012 as an all-around threat, but dropped passes and penalties still show up too often.
61. Anthony Davis, RT, San Francisco 49ers
When watching Anthony Davis in pass protection, you see a big man with the quickness to move, but one who struggles to pick his spots. Davis will overextend at times and get caught on his toes lunging toward defenders. He must learn to keep his balance and his base strength by sliding his feet and anchoring with his rear end.
Davis fires off the ball with rare power and burst. For a big man, he generates good leverage off the snap, allowing him to get into his defender quickly. He has the agility to be used out in front of the run, but the 49ers really like to have Davis kicking out defensive ends and crashing down on tackles when the run is to the outside. He is an ideal fit for the power-blocking scheme the 49ers favor.
Davis is an unreal athlete for the position, showing the footwork and flexibility needed to win battles on the edge. He is one of the league’s most improved players over the course of the last two seasons, and his hard work has paid off. He’s now one of the best run-blockers in the NFL.
60. Alex Boone, OG, San Francisco 49ers
Alex Boone wasn’t dominant as a pass protector, but he was very good nonetheless. Boone’s biggest strength is his long reach, giving him the ability to punch and stun defenders. While he can struggle to move his feet laterally in the passing game, he works well as long as he’s able to keep his hands on the defender.
Boone was flat-out tough to beat in the run game. He has the size to maul defenders off the snap, and for a tall guard, he showed very good pad height and leverage to attack the defense. Boone has the strength and technique to latch on to defenders and drive-block them out of the hole or turn them out to open inside rushing lanes.
A mauler off the line of scrimmage, Boone’s sheer size and strength advantage make him almost unstoppable in the run game. As a power guard in the 49ers scheme, he’s one of the best at clearing rushing lanes at the line of scrimmage and scraping to the next level.
59. Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore Ravens
Lardarius Webb is a menace in coverage and a technician on the edge. Despite being a smaller cornerback, he is quick and active on the outside. He’s able to time his breaks and use his quickness to get into position to make a play on the ball. In just six games, he had an interception and three passes defensed. That's all the more impressive when you consider how little he’s targeted. Webb is great at finding the ball both out of his turns and when asked to track the ball deep. He won’t give up deep receptions in coverage. He was on his way to a Pro Bowl season prior to injury.
At 180 pounds, Webb isn’t a big, strong cornerback, but he does a very good job taking up space and keeping the run inside. He’ll come up to pop backs if they get through the front seven.
Missed tackles were an issue for Webb last year. He struggled to make enough initial contact to put ball-carriers down.
An injury cut short a great season from Webb, but he’s legitimately one of the best in the league.
58. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten catches everything. He catches contested passes, high passes, low passes and passes that he has no business getting to. Witten has the best hands of any tight end in the NFL.
A strong run-blocker who can do well as an in-line or motion blocker, Witten could do a better job sealing off blocks to maintain the edge. He’s not asked to stay in as a pass protector.
Witten is a technical route-runner who uses his size and quickness to generate separation. There’s not a route Witten can’t run, but it’s worth noting that many of his catches up the seam are contested by defenders. He still makes the catch, but his separation can be lacking.
Witten wasn’t known for his speed coming out of college, and his top-end speed has dropped off since then. Witten won’t run away from defenders post-catch.
A complete tight end who fits into a throwback mold of the position, Witten is one of the most enjoyable players in the NFL to watch. His gritty, tough style of play equals his production.
57. Tim Jennings, CB, Chicago Bears
The smallest of our top-ranked cornerbacks, Tim Jennings’ play isn’t limited by his size. He is quick in space and makes fluid, clean transitions with receivers. Jennings is able to stick with receivers off the line and has the speed to turn and run up the field if needed. Jump balls can be a problem for Jennings, naturally, but he shows good technique to jar the ball loose as the receiver comes down. He will struggle with physical wide receivers off the line. The Panthers' Steve Smith beat him up because he’s so physical and quick off the line.
Jennings' lack of size can be a liability on the edge in run defense. He’s aggressive, physical and a strong tackler, but he can get pushed out by receivers who are good at blocking.
You will see a few missed tackles from Jennings. He can be limited by a shorter reach and struggle to get free from blockers, but he’s a consistent presence on the edge.
Jennings and Charles Tillman combined to be one of the NFL’s best cornerback duos in 2012, in large part due to Jennings’ ability in man and zone coverage.
56. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
Joe Haden has the potential to be one of the best two or three cornerbacks in the NFL, but he has to find better consistency in coverage. Having three interceptions on the year didn’t hurt or help his ranking, but allowing six touchdowns in coverage did. Haden has the quickness to turn and run, but he struggled to change direction in the red zone and keep up on breaking routes. He’s aware and agile, which makes him tough to beat in space, but NFL wide receivers had success in 2012 in picking up yards before and after the catch. He played softer than we had seen before, not showing his usual strength in his ability to redirect receivers and stick in their pockets.
Haden is a physical player, which helps him in the run game. He will get run off by receivers at times and struggle to come back to the ball, but he has the ability to turn in the run.
Haden will miss some tackles in traffic but has the strength to stop runners in space.
A four-game suspension hurt Haden’s 2012 season, but there is no doubting he’s a potential top-five player at the position.
55. Daryl Washington, ILB, Arizona Cardinals
Daryl Washington is a quick, smooth athlete when attacking the run. He plays with great balance and is able to make sharp changes to plant and go toward the ball. He’s not the biggest or strongest linebacker and can be tied up and driven off the ball by blockers, but his quickness and agility make him tough to tie up.
The Cardinals like to send their inside linebackers after the quarterback, and Washington did a great job getting through the line and pursuing the passer. His quickness and burst make closing on the quarterback possible. Washington shows developed pass-rush moves—like a shoulder dip and hip bend—that few inside linebackers show.
Washington can be very good when asked to run with backs or tight ends into their routes. Athletically, he’s as gifted as anyone in coverage, but his awareness and route recognition could use some work to keep him from guessing.
Scouting Washington as a tackler, we saw misses and whiffs that kept his score lower than you might expect. While he hits with power and aggression, his efficiency isn’t always elite. He allowed backs to bounce off his pads too often, especially early in the season.
A talented all-around linebacker, Washington is on his way to being one of the top players at his position. A four-game suspension to start 2013 won’t help, though.
54. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos
Champ Bailey is a future Hall of Fame candidate, and he was once again a top-tier cornerback. He is a fluid athlete with the quickness to turn and run with wide receivers off the line. While the league's best will beat him over the top, he’s instinctive and athletic enough to keep pace with most NFL talent. Bailey allowed just one touchdown in the regular season due to his ability to limit targets and prevent big plays in space. In the red zone, he effectively reads the quarterback and reacts in zone coverage. He plays the ball well when breaking on routes from a soft zone, and he still has the ability to create and force turnovers.
Bailey plays the run better than you might expect. He is one of the game’s best at forcing runners back inside to tacklers and will come up to take away tosses and sweeps.
You won’t see many missed tackles when scouting Bailey. He’s an active, aggressive tackler with wrap-up technique and sure hands.
Bailey has lost a step, but his 2012 film showed that he’s still a top-level NFL cornerback. There’s still quality play left in his game.
53. Russell Okung, LT, Seattle Seahawks
In a league dominated by the pass, Russell Okung allowed just two sacks all season. The factors that make Okung so good in pass protection are his long arms and quick feet. He’s able to make a fluid, quick move to the corner to cut off the edge rush. While he’s not overly strong, he uses good leverage to hold the inside on power rushers.
Okung is an exceptional pass-protector, but he’s not on the same level in the run game. Too many penalties were charted his way, knocking down his overall score and giving concern about his ability to anchor the edge. Physically, he has to learn to keep his hands inside the frame of the defender when pushing the pile.
Finally healthy, Okung dominated as a pass-protector in 2012. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he was a highly projected draft pick when the Seahawks selected him in 2010. Now that he’s injury-free, that promise is being fulfilled.
52. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles isn’t known for his power. He has the strength to run through some arm tackles in the open field, but he's going down if a defender gets a shoulder into him. Charles did a better job in 2012 of understanding how to take hits when running inside the box. He’s a north-south runner who needs to keep his feet moving and his momentum going downhill.
Charles has become one of the biggest big-play threats because of his speed in the open field. He does a great job of getting through the second level inside the tackles before kicking it to the outside. You’d think with his speed that he’d constantly be looking to bounce everything outside. He does, but it’s only after getting to the second level.
Charles has outstanding vision when running through lanes and moving through a crease to the outside. He can work his way past the initial line of defenders. If he’s got daylight to the outside, he’ll find it.
Charles wasn’t a big factor in the passing game last season. He had 35 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown. He shows soft hands when asked to make plays out in space, and the Chiefs didn’t do him any favors by consistently running screens in very obvious situations. With Andy Reid coming to Kansas City, we’ll see Charles become a much bigger piece of the passing game.
Charles is an electrifying running back. Perhaps the Chiefs have found a quarterback in Alex Smith who can take some of the weight and pressure off Charles.
51. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A healthy Gerald McCoy went on a tear in 2012, showing why he was taken No. 3 overall in 2010. He has good strength to shed blockers and get to the football. While he doesn’t make a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage, he shoots gaps and causes runners to change direction and find other rushing lanes. McCoy will get shoved around some in the run game, but he shows the balance and quickness to recover well and still close on the ball.
McCoy didn’t have a huge number of sacks in 2012, but he is constantly pressuring the backfield and making plays on the ball. He plays fast, and he has the quickness to get into gaps and force the quarterback into mistakes. The Tampa system allows McCoy to shoot gaps and attack, and that’s what he does best. We’d like to see better hand use to free himself from blockers—which would lead to more sacks—but he is already one of the best.
If his first full season is an indicator of what’s to come from McCoy, he’ll be a force in the league for a long time.
50. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Eli Manning’s accuracy seems to be affected by the situation of the game more than any other quarterback scouted. Unlike what you might expect, he gets better in pressure situations. You won’t see gaudy completion percentages, but he does a good job threading the ball and is a high-level passer to intermediate and deep areas. Accuracy isn’t Manning’s strength; you will find him struggling to push the ball up the left sideline and on underneath routes to the outside.
Arm strength isn’t an issue for Manning. He’s able to deliver the ball to all areas of the field without issue. His deep passes don’t flutter, and when throwing to the edges, he’s able to throw the ball on a line without putting unnecessary air under it.
Manning’s decision making varies from great to poor. You’ll see Manning playing calm, collected football, and then other times he seems to wilt under pressure. His decision-making skills have yet to become a consistent strength.
Manning has very good mechanics and delivers the ball with a clean, concise delivery. He does a good job transferring his weight when setting up in the pocket and stepping through his throwing motion.
He's not a mobile quarterback, but he’s not a statue either. Manning has good quickness and is aware enough in the pocket to pull the ball down and run when necessary.
Manning is a borderline elite quarterback based on Super Bowl wins. Based on attributes and traits, he doesn’t show up as well. His decision making is terrible at times, and even in 2012, there were too many instances of interceptions and bad decisions over the middle. Manning knows how to win, but his play is too inconsistent to receive a higher grade.
49. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Demaryius Thomas has made impressive strides in his two NFL seasons, but we’re still seeing too many drops when going over the middle. He struggles to adjust to passes while moving laterally, and while this is something he can improve with time, we haven’t seen it yet. This is most frustrating because outside of those passes over the middle, he’s a very consistent and impressive receiver. Thomas has great reach and can extend vertically to high-point passes. He’ll out-leap defenders and has the strength in his hands to pull down errant throws. Outside of those drops in traffic, Thomas is great.
One of the most impressive facts about Thomas has been his development as a route-runner. In 2012, we saw him executing a much more in-depth route tree with Peyton Manning running the offense. His agility and explosiveness make Thomas tough to stick with no matter the route. He’s athletic enough to disguise his route until the last minute, and he's fast enough to cut and run away from coverage.
Speed is a big part of Thomas’ game, and rightly so. At 6’3”, 230 pounds, he’s already a big, thick target on the edge. With his speed, he becomes a nightmare for cornerbacks to keep up with. Not just fast, he’s quick enough to get in and out of breaks without showing stiff hips or heavy feet.
Thomas came into the NFL raw, and he finally showed the production to match his incredible potential. The future is bright for Thomas.
48. Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A big, strong wide receiver, Vincent Jackson has the size to toss defenders off his frame and go up to attack the ball. There wasn’t one area on the field where he struggled to reel in passes, but drops did show up on film when he tried to move before tucking the ball away. It’s worth noting that his hand strength and arm extension were both very impressive. Jackson’s few drops on the year didn’t overshadow his ability to contest passes in traffic.
Not an elite route-runner due to a lack of speed and flexibility, Jackson wins in coverage with his size and length. He does an excellent job breaking his routes off and boxing out the defender. He’ll get inside position on a post route and ride it out through the catch.
You won’t see Jackson outrunning cornerbacks or making ankle-breaking moves in space, but he moves very well for his size. He has the straight-line speed to get deep on defenders and shows good ability to sink his weight and change direction.
Jackson had his best season yet in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, proving that he wasn’t just a product of Philip Rivers’ talent.
47. Michael Bennett, 4-3 DE, Seattle Seahawks
An underrated athlete, Michael Bennett has the quickness and strength to attack the run and make plays. He’s stout at the point of attack, and he’s asked to stop the run often at left end. Bennett will get caught going too far outside and letting teams run underneath him, but he shows good recovery speed.
A talented pass-rusher who creates constant pressure on the quarterback, Bennett not only gets to the passer for sacks but also generates hurries and hits that cause mistakes or set up sacks for other players. He uses a combination of speed and power moves to get free of blockers. His hand use to swat away blockers is great. The biggest knock would be that Bennett doesn’t always finish well and doesn’t have elite speed to close ground on the quarterback.
One of the more balanced defensive ends in the league, Bennett has the agility to be a top-level pass-rusher while showing the strength to stop the run.
46. Antoine Winfield, CB, Seattle Seahawks
A tough, physical cornerback who locks up well in man coverage, Antoine Winfield bucks the trend of the bigger, taller player in today’s NFL. He doesn’t have the length or size to be a physical presence on the edge, but he plays tough and aggressive at the line of scrimmage. He can play in press coverage and does a great job impacting wide receivers off the line. He’s quick enough to adjust in space and can run with players in their route tree. Bigger receivers will be able to go over the top on him, but he’s very aware and does a good job getting inside position on jump balls.
A nasty run defender, Winfield attacks the ball and will fight through traffic to get to the runner. He’s slippery in space and plays with a nonstop motor when asked to come up and attack the edge.
Winfield was close to being a top-rated tackler, but we noticed too many missed tackles to be a perfect 15. His smaller frame and limited reach made him a less-than-perfect tackler.
After a full 17 games of viewing, it was apparent that Winfield was one of the best. He had just one bad game in all of 2012; unfortunately, it was against Green Bay in the playoffs.
45. Josh Sitton, OG, Green Bay Packers
Josh Sitton has the quickness and vision to be exceptional when protecting the quarterback. As the Packers right guard, he’s taking on more powerful defenders off the snap, and he does well to engage with a punch and absorb the rush with a strong foundation. He has the strength to stand up and lock arms with a defensive tackle. Sitton does a great job feeling pressure and adjusting to pick up stunts and twists. His agility comes into play a lot on passing situations because he can move and reach late-timed plays.
Sitton isn’t afraid to get dirty in the run game. Not to say he does anything illegal, but he has a mean streak and will attack off the snap. You have to like Sitton’s ability to slide his feet off the snap and then explode into the defender. He’s not always taking a 45-degree angle to the man, which could help him some, but he has the strength to still win head-up blocks.
As one of the best pass-protecting guards in football, Sitton earns high praise for his balance and ability to impact the game no matter the down and distance. Add in the fact that his quarterback loves to hold on to the ball in the pocket, and Sitton’s track record is much more impressive.
44. Tarell Brown, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Some will argue that a great pass rush helped Tarell Brown, and it definitely does make his job easier. But his ability to stick in man coverage and run with wide receivers stood out this past season. He doesn’t pull down a lot of interceptions, but he is able to limit receptions and yardage. Brown will give up catches, but they will be short-yardage catches thrown underneath while he plays off the line of scrimmage in coverage. He can get a little lost on deep routes, but that area improved considerably in 2012.
Brown’s exceptional ability to make tackles in space keeps his run defense score high. But when engaged by blockers—be it a wide receiver or fullback—Brown struggled to come free and make a play on the ball. He was inconsistent here throughout the year.
A tough tackler on the edge, Brown does a good job pulling down runners whether they’re coming right at him or if he’s trailing in pursuit. One of the best tacklers in the NFL during the 2012 season, Brown didn’t miss one tackle in the 19 games we saw on the year.
Brown was targeted often in 2012, but he did a good job limiting receptions while establishing himself as an elite tackler.
43. Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay Packers
A natural zone-coverage cornerback, Casey Hayward excels on underneath coverage where he can read the quarterback and break on the ball. Few NFL cornerbacks have the awareness that he showed in his first season, and that led to six interceptions and 21 passes defensed. Hayward has the length and quickness to play on the outside and take away top receivers. He was also one of the game’s best in the slot. Watching him in Week 11 against Detroit, we saw a future All-Pro cornerback (seven targets, one catch for six yards). He earned my Defensive Rookie of the Year vote for his all-around excellence in coverage and ability to create turnovers.
Hayward lined up often on the inside and underneath, in "Robber" coverage, which put him in position to impact the run off the tackle and to the sideline. Hayward does a good job coming up to play the run, but he could be more consistent in getting through traffic.
A solid open-field tackler, Hayward will attack the legs of ball-carriers and does a good job getting his man. Hayward won’t miss tackles in the open field and is strong enough to hit and maintain contact.
Rookies aren’t supposed to play this well, but Hayward landed in the ideal spot for his talents as a zone cover man and instinctive ball hawk.
42. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
For a small running back, Ray Rice packs a punch when coming through the hole. Rice’s low center of gravity allows him to hit defenders and use his leverage and lower-body power to get through tacklers. When would-be tacklers get in his face, he can put them on their backs.
You may not think of Rice as a pure speed back, but he does have the quickness and burst to kill the defense with big runs. He’s fast enough to get to the corner and find daylight. When he’s in space, he’ll outrun defenders.
Vision is what makes Rice so great. He’s able to find seams behind the line of scrimmage and can fit his small frame through tiny openings. He’ll also make openings when needed and is one of the best in the game at reading the defense and following his blocks.
Rice is an elite-level receiver coming out of the backfield. He’s poised and fluid when running routes into the flats, and he secures the ball there with limited drops or bobbles. He’s arguably the best receiving back in the game.
Rice is one of the most talented running backs in the NFL. His combination of vision, speed and receiving skills make him incredibly dangerous.
41. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
There were times when Julio Jones dropped the ball on intermediate-to-deep routes, and that was a concern for us in dropping his grade slightly. He has big, strong hands and long arms, though, and he’s able to extend and make tough catches look routine. The fact that his catch radius is so big puts more pressure on Jones to make every catch. His concentration was much improved in 2012, and he showed better patience to look the ball in.
One area where Jones still needs some work is in his route running. He has the athletic ability to be great, but his cuts are still too rounded when he’s asked to make quick changes of direction. He’s exceptional on deep routes, and he's one of the top players in the league at using his body to separate from coverage.
Jones is a blur of speed going up the sideline. When you consider that he’s 6’3”, 220 pounds, it’s even crazier to watch him outrunning elite cornerbacks.
Jones has the raw talent to become the top wide receiver in the NFL. As he develops, watch for him to continue moving up the board.
40. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson’s ability to deliver the football on target was one of his strongest attributes in 2012. Wilson hasn’t been flawless thus far in his young career, but when asked to thread the ball into tight spaces over the middle, he’s been one of the top passers in the game. Wilson can continue to get a better feel for deep and outside routes.
Arm strength is something Wilson definitely doesn’t lack. He’s able to deliver the ball with very good velocity, can push passes up the field to attack deep areas and has the raw arm strength to throw on the move. He has one of the strongest arms you’ll see in the NFL today.
Wilson impressed all year with his ability to make the right decision pre-snap. We knew that he was capable of making plays after the ball was snapped, but he was well ahead of where a rookie third-rounder should be in evaluating the defense and making reads. Wilson has shown tremendous growth here over the course of the season.
When you think of compact deliveries and a fast release, Wilson comes to mind. He has a very solid, efficient setup and delivery, with no wasted motion or time. He throws like a spring, using his entire body to torque into the throw, transferring his weight from his back foot and stepping into the pass.
A high-level athlete who has shown to be a good runner, Wilson has been impressive not only in tucking and running but also in using his agility to slide in the pocket and evade pressure.
Wilson has proved to be one of the better picks from the 2012 NFL draft, quickly beating out Matt Flynn at the position and driving the Seattle Seahawks to a very successful season. Wilson’s athletic ability and arm strength have been much more important than his height, which was a big reason why he fell to Round 3 in the draft.
39. Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers
Eric Weddle is one of the NFL’s best cover safeties. He’s versatile enough to play in man or zone coverage, with enough speed to hang with receivers and tight ends if matched up.
The rare coverage safety who can also come up to stop the run, Weddle is aggressive upon making a read. He’ll fly into the box and is comfortable taking on blockers.
Weddle doesn’t have highlight-reel hits very often, but he’s a solid, consistent tackler who makes strong impact and can hang on for the finish.
Weddle isn’t the fastest player in the NFL, but he has very good speed for a safety. That speed and quickness show up in his range, which allows him to be one of the best ball hawks in the game.
Hands down, the best safety in the NFL when looking at coverage, tackling and run support. Weddle is a complete player who can thrive no matter the down and distance.
38. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos
Chris Harris Jr. had a good 2011 season, but he took the next step in 2012. He has the quickness to keep pace with most NFL wide receivers, showing the feet and hips to change direction and move fluidly through routes. He’s talented enough in man coverage to stick in the hip pocket of a wide receiver and take away passes with physical coverage. Harris limits receptions well and does a good job keeping receivers from picking up yards after the catch. He doesn’t make a ton of interceptions or break on the ball particularly well, but he also doesn’t gamble by jumping routes and guessing on the play. Watching him on film, you see a versatile cornerback who can play inside or out.
Harris does a good job holding the edge and forcing runners back inside. He’s a good tackler in space, but he doesn’t have the strength to always beat blockers to the ball. Harris is willing and aggressive, but he can be held off if blocked.
Harris jumps off the screen in tackling situations. He’s not the biggest cornerback, but he plays physical and will come up to stick ball-carriers. He’s active, totaling high numbers of tackles, and he backs that up on film with solid technique and aggressiveness.
One of the best-kept secrets in the NFL, Harris is on the verge of breaking out on a national scope.
37. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Forget production. When you look at Larry Fitzgerald’s game, you have to remember that he played with a very bad group of quarterbacks behind a very bad offensive line. When the pass is thrown in a catchable area, he does a great job pulling in the ball. The issues came when the ball was slightly overthrown and off the mark. His only drops on the season came on underneath routes where the ball was a step off.
Quick feet and long, strong strides allow Fitzgerald to accelerate away from coverage. Against zone coverage, he has the awareness and size to sit down in space and make himself a big target. The only thing keeping him from a perfect score is a little hesitation coming out of outside breaks. We didn’t see the same ability to cut and go.
Not an elite speed player, Fitzgerald is able to separate from defenders with a long stride and good quickness. He’s able to make smooth, sudden movements without hesitation. That allows him to get open and make plays up the field.
No player at the position does more with less talent around him, but that lack of quarterback talent has kept Fitzgerald from producing at a high level. Here’s hoping Carson Palmer can get him back in the top three.
36. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
The 2012 season saw Michael Crabtree explode onto the scene in the 49ers passing game. His ability to make plays over the middle was made possible by strong hands and good concentration. On the run, he’s one of the better receivers in the game at adjusting his body to make tough catches. It’s not easy to turn your upper body to make difficult grabs while running laterally, but Crabtree did it. There were rare instances where he didn’t extend his arms fully to attack passes, but those were not a consistent problem.
Crabtree is a crisp, explosive route-runner who dominates the intermediate to short route. He’s quick enough off the ball to generate separation in his first few yards. When asked to break and change direction, he’s fluid and can accelerate out of his cut.
While Crabtree is quick, he’s not exceptionally fast. Even coming out of Texas Tech, he didn’t display elite-level speed. He’s able to separate from defenders with sharp cuts and acceleration.
Crabtree had his best professional season as he came alive in Jim Harbaugh’s offense, especially once Colin Kaepernick took over. By season’s end, he was one of the most consistent players in the game.
35. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski will drop more passes than you might remember, but he will also pull in contested balls and make spectacular catches look easy. Gronk has big, strong hands that enable him to pull in passes that aren’t perfectly on the mark.
A very good run-blocker, Gronkowski is excellent at coming off motion and cracking linebackers, ends and defensive backs. He’s strong enough to make a major impact in the run game as an edge blocker.
One of the best in the NFL at getting open, Gronkowski can stick his foot in the ground and cut like a much smaller player. He uses his size well to box out, but he’s also fast enough to run away from coverage.
Gronkowski won’t wow anyone with a blistering 40-yard dash time, but he’s quick in space and uses his agility to separate from defenders. It’s a bit cliche, but he plays faster than his 40 time while still being fast enough to separate pre- and post-catch.
One of the most impressive players in the NFL, Gronkowski has been slowed by injuries that have limited his production and overall skill set. A healthy Gronk in 2012 would likely be ranked higher, but there’s no telling when he’ll be back to 100 percent.
34. Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears
Brandon Marshall is a strong receiver with the size to box out defenders. That said, when he went over the middle, we noted dropped passes as he tried to run before securing the pass or when shying away from defenders. When asked to stretch the field, he shows good concentration and awareness, but it was a different story underneath. He has consistent hands, and drops were a small part of the production he displayed in 2012, but it was a noticeable concern on film. When he attacked deep passes, he was very good. Few wide receivers play as well as he does on the sideline.
Marshall has good quickness, excellent strength and nice footwork to make intricate cuts in a pretty diverse route tree. He does a great job breaking off routes and not tipping his hand to defenders. Marshall is quick enough to stick his foot in the ground and separate from coverage on breaking routes, but he’s big enough to shield the ball from corners when asked to break on the ball. You won’t see a cornerback jumping his route, as he’s big enough to keep them from getting underneath his frame to make a play on the pass.
Marshall isn’t a fast receiver, which makes his ability to separate and make plays all the more impressive. You won’t see him running away from coverage or picking up big yards on a sprint after the catch.
Marshall exploded in the Bears offense in 2012, earning his paycheck and then some. He’ll be an even better fit in the West Coast offense the team plans to run in 2013.
33. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger can get a bit wild at times, but his accuracy doesn’t. Big Ben’s accuracy has been underrated for some time, but watching him throw last season, it was impressive to see his ball placement and the way he throws the ball where his receivers can catch and run. That is what makes the Steelers offense work the way it does.
No one has ever doubted the arm strength of Roethlisberger. He has a big, strong frame, and that’s represented in his arm strength. Throwing to all levels and all directions, Roethlisberger has the strength to make every throw in the book.
This is one area where we’d like to see improvement. Roethlisberger still gets frustrated at times and either takes a sack or throws an interception when a checkdown is there or a throw-away would suffice. He’s a gambler, which doesn’t bode well for decision-making points. We would like to see his internal clock in the pocket move faster too.
Roethlisberger has a tendency to deliver the ball from different angles depending on the pressure and whether or not he’s moving. He does a great job of using his body to generate power into his throws. He is one of the more accurate passers on the move because of his lower body being squared up when throwing.
Roethlisberger isn’t exceptionally fast, but he’s very tough to bring down when on the move. With 240 pounds of momentum, he’s a force in the open field. An underrated aspect of his game is the ability to move laterally and deliver the pass on the move.
Some may want to discredit Roethlisberger for injuries, but when healthy, he was one of the game’s best and most consistent quarterbacks in 2012. From a mechanics and talent standpoint, he grades out very high in all categories.
32. Joe Staley, LT, San Francisco 49ers
A talented pass-blocker, Joe Staley struggles with fast pass-rushers who can beat him to the edge. Defenders will catch Staley off-guard with a hard outside move, as he can struggle to shuffle step and beat pass-rushers to the corner. He can be a little top-heavy at times, but if Staley gets his hands on pass-rushers, he’s strong enough to control them and shut down the pass rush. He's far from a liability, but his struggles with outside moves hurt his score.
The most powerful run-blocker in the NFL, Staley grades out with a perfect overall score in this area. With a big, strong frame and elite quickness for a left tackle, Staley is able to explode off the line and get into defenders’ frames quickly. He has a great understanding of angles in the run game, which allows him to not waste steps or get lost in traffic. Most importantly, he is just faster and stronger than most players he’ll encounter.
Staley emerged in 2012 as the best run-blocking left tackle in the NFL. He’s a powerful, athletic player with unreal quickness and strength. What makes Staley so great is his quickness off the ball and burst when engaging defenders.
31. Jason Pierre-Paul, 4-3 DE, New York Giants
A better run defender than people may realize, Jason Pierre-Paul has the strength to stop the run off the edge or up the middle. The Giants like to move him around in different alignments, and Pierre-Paul does a good job knifing through blocks to make stops. He was one of the most active run-stopping defensive ends we scouted all season. With his length, raw strength and awareness, JPP is a beast against the run game.
JPP is a strong, balanced pass-rusher with an all-around game to frustrate offensive linemen. Pierre-Paul is the first man off the ball on defense and shows the burst to get through the offensive line with his first step. He plays with exceptional leverage for a big man, making himself small and limiting the amount of space linemen can hit. His awareness for reading and recognizing the play was some of the best our team saw. With his strength, Pierre-Paul can rush from the outside or inside and can be a matchup nightmare any time he is in a one-on-one situation.
He’s like a shark on defense, always moving toward the ball. Pierre-Paul is one of the most versatile, impactful defensive players in all of football.
30. Brandon Graham, 4-3 DE, Philadelphia Eagles
A high-motor player, Brandon Graham will make stops in the run game and can be a positive player there. Graham fires off the ball at full speed, which will expose him to runs underneath, but he’s quick enough and aware enough to catch runners from behind. He doesn’t show the strength to be a stand-up defender off the edge, but he can take on a blocker and will fight through traffic to make plays on the ball in space.
An active, athletic pass-rusher off the edge, Graham plays well coming off the left or right side of the line. He’s a natural outside rusher with the quick first step to hurry offensive linemen. From there, he has the skills to counter with an inside or outside move to create spacing. He shows the quickness to close on the quarterback, but he didn’t show great ability to pull the passer down for sacks. Graham pressured the quarterback, but actual sacks were limited. The Eagles’ Wide 9 alignment helped him get space off the ball, but it made sacking the quarterback harder due to the distance he was asked to cover.
Graham had a spectacular 2012 season, showing off the athletic ability and pass-rushing skill set that led to him being a first-round draft pick. As the Eagles move to a 3-4 defense, Graham will be one of the centerpieces.
29. Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis doesn’t have the longest arms or biggest hands, but he’s a strong pass-catcher who looks the ball in and secures it before turning upfield. Davis doesn’t put the ball on the ground often. While he struggles at times with fastballs over the middle, he does a good job adjusting to passes in flight.
Davis is a technician when it comes to blocking. He has a great understanding of angles and leverage. The 49ers also help by setting him up for most blocks coming off motion, which allows him to get a natural angle to the side of the defender.
Davis is one of the most athletic tight ends in the game, and the 49ers offense benefits from being able to open up the playbook with him. Davis does a good job planting his foot in the ground and changing direction. He has quick feet and a short, compact stride that allows him to make quick cuts and then accelerate into breaks.
One of the fastest tight ends in the NFL right now, Davis does a good job converting speed to big plays. He knows how to use his quickness to separate from defenders in his route tree.
Davis didn’t have the best production among tight ends in 2012, but when looking at the position from a traits and abilities standpoint, he was the best. His balance as a blocker, receiver and route-runner makes him invaluable.
28. NaVorro Bowman, ILB, San Francisco 49ers
There is little separating NaVorro Bowman from teammate Patrick Willis. He might be faster and smoother when running alleys and getting to the ball. He’s instinctive and quick to recognize the play and can get through traffic to take on the ball.
Being able to pull the chain and attack the backfield is a strength for Bowman. He’s quick enough and aggressive enough to be used as an effective blitzer through the middle of the offensive line. His field speed is impressive.
A smooth athlete, Bowman does a good job turning his hips to run and get depth in coverage while also showing the lateral agility to run with crossing routes. He’s aware and active in coverage and makes his mark on the game by taking away target opportunities.
A hard tackler with a high level of success, Bowman doesn’t miss many tackles. His quickness and vision allow him to beat his teammates to the ball-carrier often.
Bowman is one of the game’s absolute best. For a while there, it looked like he might be the best inside ‘backer on his team. The 49ers have something special with the Penn State product.
27. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
When we looked at accuracy this year, it was tough to not be impressed with Robert Griffin. When standing in the pocket, Griffin showed great touch and timing on passes to all areas of the field. He displayed all the tools to throw in every situation. However, no one was better than RGIII when throwing under pressure. When asked to improvise or throw on the move, Griffin’s accuracy shot up another level and became something unreal.
Griffin is known for having a powerful arm, even if that means he’s a little too hot at times when throwing underneath. There’s no doubting that Griffin can spin the ball with the best of them, but his development will actually entail learning when to take some heat off the ball at times.
For a rookie, you can’t complain about RGIII’s decision making. One thing we noticed in charting the games was that the Redskins aren’t asking him to throw a ton of passes downfield unless it’s off play-action or when a play breaks down and he’s forced out of the pocket. However, his low number of interceptions is as much a credit to smart play-calling as his decision making. That said, RGIII has done a great job of making smart reads in the team’s zone-read packages, and he’s able to make downfield reads that few rookies have in the past.
You can’t evaluate RGIII without making note of two things: his quick release, and the way he keeps his eyes downfield. These both factor into how good Griffin is under pressure and are a big reason for his overall success. Young quarterbacks have a habit of watching the pass rush, but Griffin keeps his eyes “up” and surveys the coverage. That’s why he’s able to be such a high-percentage passer under pressure.
A deadly runner who is used on various designed runs, Griffin can also be equally terrifying for defenses when his receivers are covered and he has to create on his own. Teams consistently attempted to spy RGIII with linebackers and safeties, but he was still able to pick up yardage on the ground.
Griffin did some unprecedented things as a rookie starter. His athlete-passer combination makes for an exciting blend every Sunday. From a talent standpoint, he has the tools to be the best in the NFL. The key will be developing his decision making to further open up the offense and finding ways to protect him from injury. If the Redskins can do this, the road will be paved for Griffin to keep moving up the rankings.
26. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco is unique in that he's most accurate on downfield throws. When asked to push the ball past the 20-yard range, he’s at his best. When throwing underneath, Flacco’s passes tend to sail high and wide, leaving receivers reaching for passes off their mark. I did see marked improvement over the course of the season in his ability to hit the seam route and deliver the ball with touch.
He has enough arm strength to hit on passes deep down the field but doesn’t always exhibit top-level velocity, especially on underneath throws. Flacco’s deep ball is a thing of beauty, though, and one of the best in the game.
Flacco had a low number of interceptions in 2012 due to more checkdowns and a safer approach to the offense. That changed once Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator. He is one of the rare quarterbacks who has better downfield vision than underneath.
He can tend to forget his feet and will throw without stepping into passes. When he does set up and throw, Flacco has pretty motion, with an over-the-top delivery and smooth release.
He isn’t a threat to run and can be a liability when pressured at times. Flacco did show better-than-expected ability to roll outside the pocket once Bryant McKinnie was inserted at left tackle.
Flacco was supposed to enter elite status this year, and after a solid playoff run, he’s probably close. The talent is there for Flacco to enter the next level. His ability to throw the deep ball is one of the best in the NFL, but he must work on becoming a better passer underneath and working to deliver a catchable ball to all areas of the field.
25. Chris Myers, OC, Houston Texans
The first thing you notice about Chris Myers is his agility. As one of the best moving centers in the entire NFL, Myers is excellent at sliding inside the line to pick up blitzes and help guards in pass protection. When put into a one-on-one situation, he can lose anchor and get walked back, but he is smart enough to go to the ground and cut the defender if that happens. Myers does a great job coming out to meet pass-rushers, and with his quick feet and strong hands, he’s able to mirror and protect the pocket.
Myers’ agility is the key here. He’s super fast out of his stance and easily gets the angle on defenders to drive-block from the side and/or to seal off rushing lanes up the middle. The lone negative would be that Myers doesn’t have the pure strength to lock horns with nose tackles and drive them out of the hole. When moving laterally and up the field, he is deadly.
Myers isn’t the biggest guy at 290 pounds, but he makes up for that with excellent quickness and vision. As the best center in the NFL during the 2012 season, Myers is a key cog in the Houston Texans offense.
24. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills
C.J. Spiller is a true speed back, but when he hits the open field with momentum, he’ll run over defenders in the hole. His natural instinct is to cut and try to shake tacklers, but if he must lower his shoulder, he can with some success.
Spiller is one of the NFL’s fastest and most elusive running backs. His ability to hit the hole at full speed allows him to eat up yardage and gash the defense. Spiller’s at his best when out on the edge, as he has the speed to score from anywhere on the field.
Spiller’s ability to see the field and find openings is impressive. We only docked his grade because his vision behind the line of scrimmage isn’t quite elite. His open-field vision is.
Spiller is a talented and developed receiver coming out of the backfield or when flexed out into the slot. He’s multi-talented as a receiver and route-runner.
Spiller didn’t have top-tier statistics, but it was clear every time he touched the ball in the 2012 season that he has the talent to be one of the most effective backs in the game. Our high ranking of Spiller is based on the quality of his power, speed, vision and receiving, as demonstrated last season. If he had been given leading-man touches early in the year, we’d be talking about him as a top stats producer too.
23. Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears
One of the more well-rounded cover corners during the 2012 season, Charles Tillman made a major impact in the Chicago secondary with near-flawless coverage. He had just three interceptions on the year but did a great job limiting targets (passes thrown his way) and receptions. When a receiver did catch the ball, Tillman was there to make a quick tackle. His ability to transition through routes is exceptional, as he shows quick feet and loose hips in space. He has the length and height to take away jump balls and has the awareness to track deep balls over his shoulder. A great stat from 2012: The longest pass Tillman allowed was 28 yards.
Tillman comes up to play the run with aggressiveness, showing the ability to chase runners and even set the edge to some extent. This isn’t his strength, but he does a good job forcing the run back to the inside and will make plays on the ball if called upon.
Tillman is an active tackler, showing up often in run support and when making plays after the catch. He doesn’t miss tackles when attacking the ball and shows a consistent impact with ball-carriers.
The man they call “Peanut” had a big season in 2012. Tillman impacts the game with tackles, coverage, forced fumbles and interceptions.
22. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons
One of the game’s most consistent pass-catchers, Roddy White is nearly flawless when catchable passes are thrown his way. He shows the strength to make contested catches on the ground or when asked to go up and attack the pass. Despite not being a very big receiver, he does a great job making plays in traffic and keeping the ball off the ground.
A classic possession and underneath receiver, White won’t be stretching the defense with go routes and upfield moves. What he does do, though, is attack on intermediate routes. With impeccable timing, he’s able to separate from defenders using agility and quickness coming out of his breaks. You won’t see White physically dominate defenders in coverage, but his footwork is silky smooth.
Not a track star on the field, White won’t separate from defenders with pure speed. He also won’t make big plays after the catch consistently off his speed. He’s quick enough to generate separation, but compared to teammate Julio Jones, he’s on the slower side.
White is one of the most talented and productive wide receivers in the NFL. The fact that he can produce so well in spite of the attention he receives from defenders is quite telling.
21. Evan Mathis, OG, Philadelphia Eagles
Evan Mathis comes in as our highest-graded pass-blocker. His ability to fire off the line and get into pass sets make him almost unbeatable on the inside. Mathis has the strength to win in one-on-ones. His quickness in space allows him to help inside or out and reset to get back into position. He’s patient against delayed pressure and is quick to get his hands on defenders in those situations.
Mathis does a good job getting to his man, and he’s strong enough to engage and win. We’d like to see him playing with a lower pad level at times, as he can get caught flat-backed and standing up. Mathis has the footwork to be very good when asked to pull and get out in front of outside runs.
A clean technician with great awareness before and after the snap, Mathis may not be the most athletic guy on the field. But he is able to dominate most defensive tackles with angles, leverage and a mean streak when engaged. He’s the NFL’s best left guard right now.
20. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
Andre Johnson is a consistent pass-catcher, and that’s a testament to his concentration and hand strength. When looking for drops, they were only an issue on deeper routes. We did dock his score for the few drops he showed between 10 to 19 yards on film. The majority of the misses were due to the pass being a step far or from Johnson struggling to come out of contact and accelerate under the pass. When the ball hits his hands, you can feel confident about the catch.
Being a great route-runner is about understanding timing, space and angles. Johnson does all three. He’s not a raw athlete outrunning defenders, but he has exceptional skills to plant and go on routes. Showing off his veteran experience, he uses his hands well with a subtle push off from defenders—one that’s rarely flagged—and the intricate head fakes and hip moves to throw defenders off his trail.
As he ages and recovers from injuries, Johnson doesn’t show the same level of speed he flashed a decade ago, but he makes up for the decline in sprinter’s speed with great quickness and agility. At this point in his career, he’s more quick than fast. But he will still flash burst and acceleration off the line and when making plays post-catch. While you won’t see him outrunning defensive backs consistently, when Johnson has the ball in his hands, he’s able to pick up yards with deceptive speed and moves.
When healthy, Johnson is one of the game’s elite players. His route-running ability and concentration are among the best you’ll find in football today.
19. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green has quickly become one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, showing the quickness and explosive ability to separate from defenders and threaten the defense. When grading his hands, Green shows up with several dropped passes, mostly due to passes being thrown just a step behind. He has the strength and concentration to make tough grabs on the sideline and over the middle. Green and his quarterback seem to be out of sync at times, but taken in the right context, his 10 dropped passes on 158 targets is an acceptable number for a top-tier wide receiver facing nearly constant bracket coverage.
The smoothest route-runner in the NFL, Green does a phenomenal job getting into his route and not slowing down throughout breaks. He’s not the fastest receiver in the game, but he covers that up by timing his breaks and playing with great footwork when asked to make cuts. Few players are able to effectively move their upper and lower body independent of one another to throw off defensive backs, but Green does it at an elite level.
Green won’t win many races down the sideline, but he has excellent functional speed. He’s able to accelerate in and out of cuts at a high level, which is the most important type of speed for a wide receiver. You won’t see him making jaw-dropping cuts in the open field to evade tacklers, but Green has enough speed to get open and make plays after the catch.
Green has rare ability to attack the ball in flight and to separate from defenders with crisp routes and all-around athleticism. He’s a star.
18. Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Over the course of the 2012 season, Percy Harvin dropped just one pass. You could argue that he was the most consistent pass-catcher in the NFL during the season, showing great concentration and a willingness to sacrifice his body when going over the middle. Harvin made the easy and difficult catches consistently, showing strong hands and the athleticism to adjust to the ball in flight and pull down catches.
Harvin doesn’t have the size to line up on the outside and beat physical cornerbacks, but no other wide receiver in the NFL can be used in the number of ways that he can. As a route-runner, Harvin has exceptional quickness and hip flexibility to cut and explode, leaving cornerbacks behind as he carves up the field. He’s able to play from the slot, on the outside or even out of the backfield. He is a matchup nightmare no matter where he’s lined up.
Harvin led the league in forced missed tackles, a testament to his speed and open-field moves. It was obvious watching him early in the 2012 season that Harvin was one step faster than most people trying to cover him. With his top-tier burst and good open-field vision, Harvin can be one of the game’s most dangerous players in space.
When you ask fans who the second-best wide receiver in the NFL is, few outside of Seattle or Minnesota will mention Percy Harvin, but his 2012 season was dominant. It’s easy to forget that he was an MVP candidate before losing the remainder of the season to injury. When on the field, few were better.
17. Aldon Smith, 3-4 OLB, San Francisco 49ers
With 19.5 sacks on the season, Aldon Smith was a terrorizing force coming off the edge of the 49ers defense in 2012. Critics will point out that he struggled to produce without Justin Smith in front of him, but the second-year outside linebacker was also playing hurt to end the season. Looking at last year, few outside linebackers affected the game like Smith. He plays with the strength off the snap to drive tackles back off the ball and get pressure on the quarterback. Smith changes the line of scrimmage with his bull rush, and he’s quick enough to loop inside or outside to create pass-rushing opportunities.
Smith was rarely placed in coverage situations in the attacking San Francisco defensive scheme, making it tougher to grade his ability there. With good quickness and length, he should be fine in space. But the quick feet to change direction and run with receivers wasn’t evident in Smith’s game. He’s an impressive athlete when moving forward but not so much when dropping back.
Smith has the long arms you love from an outside linebacker, as it allows him to distance himself from blockers and then shed their contact easier. He does a good job stacking and shedding blockers, using quick hands and good acceleration to close on the ball-carrier. Smith’s reach and closing speed makes him tough to beat on the edge. He doesn’t always play strong and low when asked to come inside to stop the run, though, and he can get pushed off the line in those situations.
Watch the 49ers play, and you’ll see Smith making tackles from all different angles and positions. He’s long enough to drag down runners from behind and strong enough to stick ball-carriers in the hole and end the play. He can get better at playing low and with leverage, but his 2012 was much improved over 2011.
One of the more exciting young players in the game at any position, Smith’s first season as an every-down player was a major success in San Francisco.
16. Clay Matthews, 3-4 OLB, Green Bay Packers
Being a great pass-rusher is about getting sacks, but it's also about creating pressures on the quarterback and hitting the passer before and after they release the ball. Clay Matthews does all three. He plays with good strength off the edge to beat blockers to the corner, showing good hand use to break free and attack the backfield. Matthews is more flexible and athletic than you might expect. He has good quickness and is agile enough to dip his shoulder coming off the edge in order to evade linemen. He’ll also knock you to the ground with a very good bull rush, powered by strong legs and quick feet.
The lone weakness in Matthews’ game is his coverage ability. Granted, he’s rarely asked to drop back into coverage, but when the Packers do need him to play either zone or man defense, he’s a bit lost. For all his quickness, Matthews doesn’t change direction well when trailing receivers.
Playing with good strength and excellent outside contain technique, Matthews can take away the run. He plays downhill with speed and can turn running backs in from the edge. Few players lock out their arms as well as Matthews does when encountering blockers.
Tackle production isn’t what we’re scouting here, as that can be skewed by where the tackle takes place and who is keeping track of the tackles. When looking at tackling ability and impact, Matthews is one of the best. He doesn’t miss tackles or allow runners to slip his grip for positive yards after contact. He’s strong enough to put ball-carriers down.
Matthews was an all-around force as a pass-rusher in the Packers scheme in 2012, proving himself to be the league’s most valuable 3-4 outside linebacker.
15. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has long been credited as having upper-level accuracy, but we saw a regression last year, especially when pressured. As the Saints offensive tackles struggled, so did Brees. His accuracy tended to err on the side of passes going high, whereas before he was drilling receivers in the chest. The loss of protection on the outside limited Brees’ ability to step up in the pocket, which affected his accuracy.
Never his best asset, but Brees makes up for a less-than-elite arm with very good mechanics and great timing. He may lack arm strength, but he throws a beautiful deep ball because he knows to put air on it and let his receivers get in position. That knowledge separates him from players with physically stronger arms.
It’s tough to knock Brees for a decline in decision making, considering he was without Sean Payton all year, but it’s fair to note that his interceptions this year were an issue. Some of those can be attributed to tipped or dropped passes, but an elite quarterback shouldn’t have 19 interceptions.
Brees does a great job using his whole body when throwing, but what’s best about watching No. 9 throw the ball is his balance and agility. His feet are usually moving until the last second, but he still manages to get set and square his body with his feet, which sets him up to throw with power and accuracy.
Brees is the absolute best in the NFL at moving in the pocket to make throws and find passing windows. He is a very good athlete, and not only can he use that mobility to create passing windows, but he’s also a threat to get outside the pocket and pick up yards on the move.
Brees had one of his worst seasons in 2012, but he’s still performing at a high enough level to be considered an elite quarterback. His accuracy and mechanics are some of the best, as is his deep ball.
14. Duane Brown, LT, Houston Texans
Duane Brown allowed just four sacks over the course of the regular season and playoffs, showing that he’s a premier pass-protector on the left side. Brown’s biggest strength is his ability to quickly come off the line and get into position. His quickness in coming out of his stance is elite, as is his ability to slide his feet and get into position to stop pass-rushers taking an outside loop to the quarterback. Brown has the strength to wall off bull-rushers and is smart enough to identify blitzes pre-snap.
Quickness and leverage are the keys to Brown’s success as a run-blocker. The Houston Texans routinely ran left behind Brown, which is opposite most NFL teams' tendency. He dominated at the line of scrimmage, showing the burst to come off the ball and push defenders off-balance. In the Texans’ zone-blocking scheme, quickness and agility are most important for a run-blocker, and Brown excels at both. Aided by his smaller frame, he has rare quickness for the position.
Brown grades out as our top left tackle and the most balanced overall tackle in the NFL. His quickness and agility are perfect matches for what the Texans do offensively. Both skills allow him to be equally qualified as a pass-protector and run-blocker. Being balanced and versatile is rare for an NFL tackle, but Brown has both.
13. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan rarely misses the mark when he sets his feet and delivers the ball. But when he’s pressured, there are too many times when he misses. That’s being very picky, as Ryan is one of the top passers in terms of completion percentage and ball placement. He’s one of the best, but cleaning up some issues under pressure could make him the best.
Ryan has the arm strength to make every throw you’d ask of him. He does a great job pushing the ball deep and letting his receivers run under it. Ryan can struggle a bit when asked to fire the ball deep and to his left, which is often a problem area for right-handed quarterbacks.
Ryan has a habit of throwing the ball up late in the play and asking his receiver to make a play on the ball, which too often results in interceptions. He must become more decisive when pressured.
A classic, prototypical throwing motion gives Ryan high scores in mechanics. He looks like the statue of a quarterback in the pocket—shoulders squared to feet, ball shoulder level and weight balanced on each leg.
Not known as a scrambling quarterback, Ryan has average quickness for the position but better-than-average agility. He’s able to slide in and up in the pocket to find passing lanes and can pick up free yards when the defense backs off the line of scrimmage.
Ryan is close to that elite level of quarterback. There’s no doubting his raw talent, and mechanically he’s one of the best in the business, but there are still too many games where his interceptions hurt his team. That’s the biggest area of concern and the reason why Ryan isn’t scored higher.
12. Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers
Patrick Willis excels and wins with his vision and ability to diagnose the play pre-snap. He quickly reads and reacts to the play and moves well laterally to shut down the run between the tackles. Willis is strong enough to shoot gaps and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
The 49ers do a good job of using their inside linebackers to rush and blitz the A-gaps, and we saw plenty of results there. He has the quick first step and agility to get through gaps and beat blockers to the hole.
Willis is an instinctive linebacker with good lateral quickness to slide and keep pace with tight ends. He has the speed and agility to be a top-level cover man when taking away tight ends and wide receivers over the middle.
Willis is one of the best tacklers in the NFL. He hits with power and with a consistent impact needed to wrap up and take down ball-carriers. He rarely misses tackles or takes himself out of plays with poor positioning or effort.
Willis has become synonymous with excellent inside linebacker play. He has the perfect balance of speed, size, strength and vision to shut down an offensive game plan.
11. Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore Ravens
Marshal Yanda is a powerful guard who shows the balance needed to keep up with a bull rush or a speed rush all the same. He has the length to punch off the snap and generate distance, and he does a good job moving his feet to mirror defenders in space. If he has a weakness, it is in coming off combination blocks to pick up backside pressure.
Yanda is a powerful player who generates the push off the line needed to fuel the run game, and he’s quick enough to dominate in the run game as a rare right guard who is athletic enough to pull and trap. Yanda can get top-heavy at times and must play down more, but he is one of the most complete blockers you’ll find.
Yanda is the prototype from which all future right guards are being scouted at this point.
10. Cameron Wake, 4-3 DE, Miami Dolphins
A noted pass-rusher, Cameron Wake isn’t a one-trick pony on defense and can make plays against the run. Wake comes off the ball so quickly—and generally with an outside loop—that he will take himself out of run plays at times. The positive, and rare aspect of his game, is that Wake is quick enough to make plays from behind in those situations. It’s not a perfect play, but he can gain ground and will make backside tackles.
A fierce pass-rusher, Wake dominated the 2012 season with sacks, pressures and hits on the quarterback. No 4-3 defensive end did better. Wake has the quickness to fire off the ball and quickly challenge the edge against offensive tackles. He has the flexibility to turn his hips and turn the corner against slower right tackles from his spot at left defensive end. Wake is strong for his size and can rip away from blockers who manage to get their hands on his slippery frame. When he is stopped by a blocker, he is persistent enough to fit through blocks and still put pressure on the backfield. No player in the NFL bent the edge better than Wake did in 2012.
A terror for NFL offenses due to his quickness and explosion off the edge, Wake had a positive impact in every single game this season. He showed rare consistency while putting quarterbacks on the ground.
9. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning's ability to thread the ball between defenders is legendary. His overall accuracy in 2012 was high, with the only poor marks coming early in the season. Manning can drive the ball on target—and make it catchable—like few others.
This was one area of Manning’s game that was slow to come back last season after missing all of 2011. As the year progressed, his strength came back. But where he used to be in the upper level of NFL velocity and strength, he’s now behind younger, stronger passers.
Manning was near-flawless in 2012, but the decision-making aspect of his game was slow to come back. The Atlanta Falcons confused and rattled him. So did the Cincinnati Bengals.
Manning’s greatness largely comes from his mechanics. No quarterback in the NFL sets his feet as well as him. His lower-body mechanics are textbook quality, with his legs driving the ball so he doesn't rely on just his arm strength to deliver the ball.
Manning lacks the speed to be a threat outside the pocket, and while he has good pocket presence, he is at his worst when teams bring heat against him. This is caused by a lack of foot speed and lower-body agility. Manning is an all-time great, but not when he's asked to move.
Manning’s 2012 season won’t go down as one of his best, but it should considering the odds he was playing against. It did take several weeks for Manning to get back to his normal self, but once he reached that level, the Denver offense became virtually unstoppable.
8. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ accuracy grades out as almost the best in the NFL. He was a marksman in 2012, posting one of the highest completion percentages on both deep and intermediate passes. While Rodgers’ accuracy numbers may be lower than those of other quarterbacks, take away the dropped passes by his targets, and the numbers look much different.
Rodgers doesn’t have a big arm, but he does throw with high-level velocity. He's more of a touch passer than a quarterback who will rifle the ball through windows, but he can wind up and throw strikes when needed.
An expert at running the Green Bay offense, Rodgers does a great job getting his team in position to run the right plays. What he does under pressure and in the heat of the moment is unchallenged by most quarterbacks in the NFL.
Rodgers’ mechanics were reworked by the Packers early in his career, and it improved his throwing immensely. Those changes are still seen today, and his smooth mechanics are an example of what we want quarterbacks to look like. Rodgers is balanced, loose and throws with a smooth, over-the-top delivery.
He's an underrated runner who has the speed to make defenses pay if they leave running lanes. Rodgers doesn’t use his mobility as much to extend plays in the pocket, an area he needs to work on heading into 2013.
One of the best players in the NFL, Rodgers represents the new school of elite quarterbacks. He can run, he operates a wide-open offense that would rather throw a quick slant than hand the ball off, and he’s deadly accurate.
7. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
An athletic, active defensive tackle, Geno Atkins makes plays in the run game by crashing lanes and taking on the ball-carrier. Unlike many defensive tackles, he makes tackles in the backfield instead of standing up blockers to allow linebackers to come in and clean up. He has the footwork to beat blockers to the hole, and from there, he’s quick enough to chase the ball-carrier. Atkins will get pushed around a little by firing off the ball too fast and then getting “whammed” by guards or fullbacks, but he’s still fantastic against the run.
Atkins led all defensive tackles in sacks in 2012, showing off his dangerous first step and follow-up quickness. He beats his man to the gap and has the versatility to win with speed or power when engaged. He plays with leverage and has the flexibility to dip and drive blockers, which allows him to put pressure on quarterbacks even when he has only one free arm.
Atkins is the best defensive tackle in football. He’s an elite run defender and has the quickness and speed to be a terrorizing presence as a pass-rusher.
6. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman was amazing in 2012, limiting completions and creating turnovers with eight interceptions and 24 passes defensed. He plays with great range at 6’3” and has the length to take away deep routes. Unlike most tall cornerbacks, he is quick enough to keep up on underneath routes and can be effective no matter the route. His read-and-react ability is as good as his trash-talking skills. He’s able to take away jump balls and can contest back-shoulder throws with his long arms. Few NFL cornerbacks have the quickness to run with wide receivers and the size to play hip to hip, but Sherman has both.
A solid edge defender with good range and quickness to take away the corner, Sherman will come up and play the run well. He will fly up to make a tackle and can be aggressive closing on the ball.
Sherman isn’t a natural tackler, but he’s effective in space at bringing down ball-carriers. He doesn’t pack much power in each hit, but he is efficient.
Sherman had one of the best seasons in recent memory for a cornerback, showing that physical, aggressive play at the line of scrimmage is back in the NFL.
5. Von Miller, 4-3 OLB, Denver Broncos
Known as a pass-rusher, Von Miller has evolved into an elite run defender, proving his worth as a three-down player. Coming off the edge, Miller does a good job setting up on the corner and getting into the backfield. He’s strong enough to beat blockers using speed and surprising power when engaged.
Miller makes his money as a pass-rusher, and he does it damn well. He is uniquely quick and powerful coming off the edge, showing the shoulder dip to beat blockers and get low against tackles who kick out to meet him at the corner. He’s able to convert his first-step speed to power well, allowing him to drive blockers when engaged. Miller is a rare 4-3 outside linebacker in that he can drop down to defensive end in pass-rushing situations and win in one-on-one assignments.
Coverage was a weak spot for Miller in his rookie season, but in his second season, he was a better player in space. His awareness and recognition of the play—as well as his alignment—was much improved.
On the season, Miller missed just one tackle attempt. That’s phenomenal for an outside linebacker who makes as many plays on the ball as he does. He’s an impact tackler with the closing speed and power to put runners down with force.
Miller is the best of the best when it comes to NFL 4-3 outside linebackers. His ability to rush the quarterback, stop the run and drop back into coverage makes him a rare stud at the position.
4. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
One of the most accurate passers to ever play the game, Tom Brady’s ability to thread the needle comes from his mechanics and his decision making. Put it all together, and you have a quarterback who rarely misses his mark.
Brady has never been known to have a big arm, but he makes up for a lack of raw arm strength with great mechanics and timing. Watching Brady throw in the 10- to 20-yard range, you see ideal velocity on the football. His downfield passes aren’t rocket-launched, but he throws with good height, and his deep passes don’t lose velocity as they travel. That’s the mark of a strong arm, even if he doesn’t have Jay Cutler-like strength.
Close to perfect, but there are instances where Brady tries to force the ball too often. His eight interceptions in 2012 are a good indicator that he knows how to take care of the football, but there is room to improve. We’ll see Brady fade from the line of scrimmage and toss the ball off his back foot. It’s picky, but if Brady could clean up this bad habit, he’d have a perfect score.
From top to bottom, Brady’s mechanics are what you would teach every young quarterback. He has the ideal weight transfer in his throwing motion, using his hips to generate torque on the ball and stepping through throws with his back foot. You also see ideal ball placement before he releases the ball, as he keeps the football near shoulder height, cutting down on wasted motion and time in his delivery.
While Brady wouldn’t win a footrace against many NFL quarterbacks, he’s smooth in the pocket and able to use his feet to move up and around when pressured. He’s not fast, but he’s sneaky. Brady is able to extend the play well due to his quick feet, even if he’s not a threat to run outside the pocket.
He's the best quarterback in the NFL when it comes to scouting traits. You can also look at production—whether that’s wins or just stats—and make a solid argument for Brady as the best in the game last season. When we talk about scouting young quarterbacks, Brady and Peyton Manning are the template by which all current and future quarterbacks will be graded. Brady gets the edge here due to better arm strength and slightly better mobility.
3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson’s 2012 season is in the record books as one for the ages. When evaluating this hands, two things stood out to us: Johnson led the league in passes thrown his way and finished second in dropped passes. That seems worse than the film showed, as he had solid hands to go up and contest passes and did a good job securing the ball before turning. Some want to bring up that Johnson had only five touchdowns on the year, but that is a schematic and play-calling issue, not a talent problem.
Critics will say that Johnson runs one route—a go route up the field—but he does do a bit more. He sets up routes with perfect form coming off the line of scrimmage. In his first five yards, it’s impossible to read his route and diagnose the play. Johnson doesn’t run a huge playbook of routes, but he’s an artist when asked to disguise his play.
Johnson is a rare physical specimen. That shows up in his ability to outrun cornerbacks despite being 6’5” and 230 pounds. He’s incredibly fluid in the open field and has the burst to beat defenders off the line of scrimmage.
The fact that Johnson was able to set the single-season yardage record goes to show just how dominant his 2012 season was. Johnson was one of the NFL’s most dominant players.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Say a prayer for the defender that meets Adrian Peterson in the hole. He’s one of the NFL’s most powerful, violent runners and won’t shy away from contact. Defenders will take on hits from Peterson, and his high running style sets him up to deliver a stiff arm, a shoulder or a high knee to the face when tacklers drop their heads.
You might not think of Peterson as a speed back, but go back to Week 13 and watch him run away from the Green Bay Packers defense. He has the speed to lose defenders, especially when those defenders are laying on their backs after being run over. He’s a high runner with a long stride, so the look of Peterson running can be deceiving. But make no mistake: He can move.
It’s easy to assume that Peterson is a great running back because of his power and speed, but the attribute that makes him so talented and productive is his vision. He’s the best in the NFL at moving laterally behind the line of scrimmage and finding a seam. Once he finds that seam, his power and speed come into play.
There are better receivers than Peterson, but he’s still a capable pass-catcher with the overall athletic ability to make plays in the flats. He does a good job looking the ball in, and while the difficult catches will trouble him, Peterson brings in the ball with strong hands.
Peterson had one of the best seasons any running back has ever had. His blend of power, speed and vision make him one of the NFL’s most valuable players.
1. J.J. Watt, 3-4 DE, Houston Texans
Players as big as J.J. Watt are not supposed to run down Chris Johnson from behind, but he did. Watt is incredibly fast and fluid in pursuit, but he’s also strong enough to effectively hold the edge in a 30 front for the Houston Texans. To play that position, a player needs strength and length, and he has both. He can lock his arms out and use his strength to pause the tackle and read the run. He can then use his strength to toss the tackle aside and make a play on the ball. Watt is strong enough to make plays in the run game individually and has the ability to be a one-man wrecking crew.
Watt affects the passing game as both a rusher and as someone who can get up to deflect passes. That dual-threat aspect to his game makes him one of the truly unique players in the NFL today. Watt slides inside to a defensive tackle position often in a passing situation, and there he has the quick first step to split the gap between blockers. He is much more agile than you would expect from a man his size, and he can move laterally to get the right pass-rushing angle. Watt is one of the few players in the NFL who can attack the backfield equally going inside or outside a blocker’s shoulder. He moves like an outside linebacker with the strength of a nose tackle.
J.J. Watt’s 2012 season is one of the finest you or I will ever see from a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Maybe one of the best from any defensive end ever. Watt comes in ranked as the top player at his position by a large margin.
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