The NFL Network's annual release of the game's top 100 players has become a highly anticipated event.
Not only does it signal the fact that the season is quickly approaching, but it provides the stage for fans to do what they love most.
My pocket passer is better than your read-option, athletic QB. My dynamic, speedy running back is far superior to your bruising ball-carrier. I'm smart. You're stupid.
While this list is intended to close the door on debates like those, it only opens up five more windows in the process. But that's what it makes it so enthralling.
So, here we go. Let's take a look at the best of the best as they are periodically announced.
Dennis Pitta is just a solid, reliable contributor who has quickly earned quarterback Joe Flacco's trust in the past few years.
In just his third season, the former BYU star pulled in 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. More importantly, he was massive in Baltimore's Super Bowl run, compiling 14 catches, 163 yards and three touchdowns in four wins.
At 6'4", 245 pounds, Pitta is a monster in the red zone, but the 27-year-old is continually improving the other aspects of his game.
Pass-catching tight ends are becoming increasingly important in the NFL, and this ranking showcases Pitta's rise toward the position's best.
A certain punch on a certain talkative cornerback may come to the minds of many when thinking about Trent Williams, but he is clearly beginning to get the respect he deserves.
The No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft started his first career game in Week 1 of that season, and he has continued to get better since then.
In 2012, he was a major reason why rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris exploded onto the scene, helping the Redskins to a league-best 2,709 rushing yards and a second-best 5.2 yards per carry.
For his efforts at the most important offensive line position for one of the most dominant running teams in the league, he was named as a Pro Bowler and gets No. 99 on this list.
If you want evidence of this being a strong list, look no further than freakin' Maurice Jones-Drew being at No. 98.
The dynamic back is undoubtedly this low because injuries held him to just six games and 414 rushing yards in 2012, but he remains one of the most feared ball-carriers in the NFL.
We aren't far removed from the workhorse's 2011 season, when led the league with 343 carries and 1,606 yards. That wasn't far from the norm, either, as he has averaged 1,404 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns per season during his career.
MJD is dangerous in every aspect of the game. If healthy, there's little question that he will outplay this ranking in 2013.
Heath Miller isn't flashy, but he has consistently remained Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target during all eight of his seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 30-year-old tight end has swayed under 400 years in a season just once, averaging 51 catches, 585 yards and five touchdowns during his career. Despite being so steady, though, he likely landed on this list because of his career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2012.
Throw in his ability as a blocker, and it's encouraging to see Miller get recognition on this list.
The new Tampa Bay Buccaneer epitomized what the San Francisco 49ers defense was all about with his physicality and propensity to lay massive hits.
Not only did he make players think twice (or thrice) about crossing the middle, but the hard-hitting safety picked off three passes and forced a fumble en route to being named First-Team All-Pro in 2012.
In his four seasons as a full-time starter with San Francisco, Goldson racked up 14 interceptions, proving that he's a playmaker as well as an effective enforcer in the back.
The Niners are losing a crucial player from arguably the league's most ferocious defense.
Giving us two straight First-Team All-Pros (in the 90s, nonetheless), we have Max Unger.
The Seattle Seahawks center has the perfect combination of intelligence and a nasty streak, and he was a huge reason why Russell Wilson was able to succeed as a rookie.
Moreover, he consistently cleared room for Seattle's imposing run game. Behind Unger, the 'Hawks ran the ball a staggering 536 times (most in the league) last year for 2,579 yards (4.8 yards per carry—fifth-most in the league).
At just 27 years of age (and with just two full seasons as a starting center under his belt), the former Oregon Duck is here to stay.
With Daryl Washington as the centerpiece, the underrated Arizona Cardinals defense ranked 12th in yards allowed per contest.
The dynamic third-year linebacker proved to be a force in every aspect of the game in 2012, racking up 134 combined tackles, 9.0 sacks, one interception, two pass deflections and two forced fumbles. He stops the run, he gets to the quarterback, he can drop back and be effective in coverage.
He can do it all.
After improving his stats across the board, Washington was named to the All-Pro Second Team in 2012, and I wouldn't expect him to fall below that threshold anytime soon.
Simply put, Anquan Boldin is a man.
OK, so everyone else on this list is also a man. But Anquan Boldin is a man's man. No, he's a man's man's man.
The former Arizona Cardinal and—most recently—Super-Bowl champion Baltimore Raven isn't afraid to go across the middle or make catches in traffic. He is one of the toughest players in the league and has arguably the strongest hands of anyone in the NFL.
Boldin "only" recorded 65 catches and 921 yards in 2012, but he is true star who will continue to make big plays after 10 years in the league.
San Francisco may be losing Dashon Goldson from this list, but it's gaining a terrific, reliable weapon in Boldin.
Somewhat overshadowed by Ndamukong Suh, who went one pick before him in the 2010 draft, Gerald McCoy is fast-rising stud who is beginning to get his due praise.
After an injury-plagued 2011, the 6'4", 295-pound monster was brilliant last season, compiling 5.0 sacks and a forced fumble.
That obviously doesn't sound like much, but his ability to blow up plays at the point of attack was a critical reason why the Bucs had the No. 1-ranked rush defense (a minuscule 3.5 yards per carry allowed) in the NFL last year.
His defensive line-mate Michael Bennett will be gone in 2013, but McCoy could thrive with a bunch of kittens playing defensive end next to him. He will only continue to cause havoc for opposing defenses.
Much like Maurice Jones-Drew, Troy Polamalu slips on this list after a season filled with injuries.
In 2012, the explosive safety played in just seven games, but he was still able to make a significant impact, recording 34 total tackles, one sack, one interception and three pass deflections.
While Polamalu is known for being a destroyer in the middle of the field, his ability to get to the quarterback and force turnovers in coverage is what makes him one of the league's most dangerous safeties when healthy.
The 32-year-old already has 10 seasons under his belt and has missed a large portion of two of the last four seasons. He very well may be on the downslope of his career, but even then, he's better than most.
Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 9 against the Seattle Seahawks, Percy Harvin was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2012.
In nine games, he pulled in a staggering 62 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 96 and a score and found the endzone once on a 105-yard kick return against the Detroit Lions.
If you extrapolate that out to a full 16-game season, Harvin would have compiled 110 catches, 1,373 yards from scrimmage (1,203 receiving, 170 receiving) and eight touchdowns.
Blessed with lightning speed, defender-embarrassing elusiveness and underrated strength and toughness, Harvin is one of the most electrifying players in the game when he gets the ball in his hands—whether it be via the run, pass or return game.
If Harvin proves healthy, the 'Hawks just acquired arguably the best slot receiver in the game—and a player almost guaranteed to improve on this No. 90 ranking.
With unreal explosiveness and unrelenting speed, Cameron Wake is a quarterback's worst nightmare.
The former Canadian Football League star makes his second appearance on this list in three years thanks to a career-best 15.0 sacks (fourth-most in the NFL) in 2012—giving him an almost-unfair 43.0 in 62 career games. He also forced three fumbles.
Wake may not be a household name, as evidenced by this harsh ranking, but the Dolphins probably like it that way. While he is clearly still underrated after four years in the league, it doesn't make him any less of an elite pass rusher.
Jacoby Jones over Percy Harvin and Cam Wake is, to put it kindly, an upset. But it's apparent the voters had the Super Bowl fresh on their minds when considering the Baltimore Ravens' dynamic receiver and kick returner.
In the year's most important game, Jones caught one ball for a 56-yard touchdown and returned five kicks for 206 yards and another score.
Essentially, he was so galvanizing he put the lights out at the Superdome.
Many will argue this decision—Jones was dominant in the return game but had just 406 receiving yards and one touchdown for the Ravens during the regular season.
But the 28-year-old is unarguably a dangerous game-changer who proved to be an absolute crucial addition for the Super Bowl champs in 2012.
It's clear that team success had a behemoth effect on the voting—just 14 players in, we already have four players (including Anquan Boldin) from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Safety Bernard Pollard is the newest addition.
As one of the hardest hitting players in the league, the 28-year-old compiled 98 combined tackles, two sacks, an interception and six pass deflections in just 13 games last season.
He also showcased his unrivaled toughness when he played most of the Super Bowl with six broken ribs.
Pollard is the quintessential competitor—someone you always want on your sideline.
Age is simply a number to 37-year-old London Fletcher, who makes this list after his impressive 15th season in the NFL.
He showed very little signs of recession in 2012, racking up 141 combined tackles to go with three sacks, five interceptions, 11 pass deflections and a forced fumble. It was a season that earned him an All-NFL Second-Team selection.
Fletcher is one of the most complete inside linebackers of all time coming off arguably his most productive season in five seasons, and his inclusion in the top 100 is undoubtedly deserved.
Charles Woodson's inclusion at this spot despite playing just seven games in 2012 is a testament to his impressive play-making ability.
He only had 38 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception and five pass deflections, but his game-changing propensity as one of the league's best safeties ever was still apparent.
Woodson is not only a hard-hitter and reliable tackler in the back, but he is a terrific cover man with solid versatility and unbelievable ball skills.
While he saw a decrease in his ranking this year, and he is on the downslope of his career, the 36-year-old has earned the respect to be rated at No. 85. It wouldn't at all be shocking if he returned to his 2011 production this season.
Much like Woodson, Steve Smith suffered a decrease in stats in 2012 but has done enough throughout his brilliant career to prove he still belongs among the league's 100 best players.
Of course, for Smith, a "decrease in stats" meant 73 catches, 1,174 yards and four touchdowns. Most players would sell their soul for that kind of season.
Even after 12 years in the league, the 33-year-old wideout remains one of the funnest players in the league to behold. He is only 5'9" and 185 pounds, but he is explosive, strong, physical, tough to take down and absolutely fearless.
Brian Urlacher often deservedly got most of the attention in the middle of the Chicago Bears' defense, but Lance Briggs has—for a long time now—been a crucial part of that unit's success.
In 2012, he had quite possibly his most complete season ever, racking up 102 total tackles, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks to go with daunting coverage stats—two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns) and 11 pass deflections.
Briggs' impact helped Chicago to the fifth-best defense in terms of yards allowed, third-best in points and easily first-best in takeaways.
There's little question that he deserves this spot.
Five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro Logan Mankins has long been one of the best offensive guards in the league, and it's not shocking to see him at this spot.
In 2012, despite missing six games with various lower-leg injuries, he still helped anchor an offensive line that paved the way for 1,263 yards and 4.4 ypc from Stevan Ridley and gave up just 27 sacks (fifth-least in the NFL).
Guards don't often get much acclaim, but Mankins is a truly elite player in this league.
Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over for the injured Alex Smith during Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams, started the next week in a dominant win over the Chicago Bears and never looked back.
Despite tallying just seven regular-season starts in 2012, Kaepernick threw for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions while running for another 415 yards and five scores, as he established himself as one of the most dangerous dual-threat QB's in the league.
In the playoffs, he took his already burgeoning game to a whole new level.
Against the Green Bay Packers, he threw for 263 yards, ran for another 181 and scored four touchdowns in one of the most electrifying postseason performances in NFL history.
The 'Niners have been known for their defense over the past couple of years, but the 25-year-old Kaepernick appears set to add a scary dimension to their offense for a long time.
The seven-time Pro Bowler is renowned for his incredible spin move that has so often led to quarterback sacks over the years. However, that was more difficult for Freeney last season, as he converted to outside linebacker.
Indianapolis enjoyed a magical 11-5 campaign, but Freeney was not as significant of a contributor as he has been on past great Colts teams.
Freeney knew going in that switching to the 3-4 linebacker spot would be an adjustment, and he never quite got settled. A declining skill set in the twilight of his career and schematic unfamiliarity led to just 5.5 sacks in the end.
Now on the open market, it will be interesting to see where Freeney lands. Labeling him as the 80th-best player is more of a sign of respect for his body of work than anything he's done recently.
The reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was well-deserving of the award, and has emerged as a franchise cornerstone for a Panthers defense that desperately needed him.
Kuechly racked up 164 combined tackles, one sack, eight passes defended and two interceptions in his impressive campaign.
NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock called Kuechly possibly the best coverage linebacker he had ever evaluated coming out of college. Carolina certainly didn't mind taking him with the ninth overall pick, and he's been a phenomenal selection thus far.
Now firmly entrenched in the heart of the Panthers' defense, Kuechly should only continue to improve. Plus, he'll be helped by the presence of dynamic rookie defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.
Few left tackles in the NFL are better than Staley, who comes at an absolute bargain for the 49ers, as he'll only make $2.1 million in salary in 2013, per Spotrac.com.
The former first-round pick out of Central Michigan weathered several arduous seasons ahead of the Jim Harbaugh coaching era, but his patience paid off. San Francisco is again a premier NFL franchise in terms of results on the field, and Staley is a big reason why.
Staley protects the blindside of electrifying QB Colin Kaepernick, and has outstanding athleticism for a player at his position.
As an All-Pro the past two years, it's easy to see how Staley makes this list. If offensive linemen were more universally appreciated, he would likely rank even higher.
Versatility and doing one's job are trademarks of the New England Patriots' franchise, and Hernandez encompasses those completely.
Perhaps he benefits from the presence of superstar teammate Rob Gronkowski at the same position, but there is no denying the multiple dimensions Hernandez brings to the table.
Hernandez is an exceptional pass-catcher, a dependable blocker and has even lined up in the backfield and taken hand-offs from QB Tom Brady. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has such a flexible asset in Hernandez every Sunday.
A lot of teams are looking silly for passing on Hernandez, who was the 113th pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The only reason he's likely not higher than No. 77 in the Top 100 is because he missed six games in 2012 due to a shoulder injury, which he had surgically repaired this offseason.
A breakout season in 2011 led to Stafford breaking into the "elite quarterback" conversation. Though he is still the unquestioned man under center in Detroit, his passing touchdown total fell from 41 the previous year to just 20.
Stafford fell just short of posting back-to-back 5000-yard seasons, but his team's putrid 4-12 record—which included a season-ending eight-game losing skid—isn't helping his cause. Nor is the fact that he has the best receiver in the league in Calvin Johnson at his disposal.
In defense of Stafford, though, he did fire more passes than anyone in the entire NFL with a whopping 727 attempts.
More often than not, Stafford had to lead Detroit from behind due to a lackluster running game and spotty defense. Given the talent he possesses and a better backfield with Reggie Bush in the fold, it's difficult to fathom Stafford falling much further down the Top 100 next year.
One of the most unheralded, solid players in the league, the Chiefs' No. 1 corner was constantly tasked with shutting down the opponents' top receiver on the outside this past year.
Kansas City struggled mightily to the point where they had the top overall draft pick and brought in an entirely new regime. Flowers will be a big part of their success moving forward, though.
The veteran is entering his sixth year, and although he's just 5'9" and 187 pounds, he attacks the ball and is extremely physical. He's not even afraid to step up and make hits in run support.
Flowers will have the assistance of newly acquired CBs Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson this coming year, and as the Chiefs improve, so should his standing among the top corners in the league.
For years Mathis teamed with Dwight Freeney as part of a dynamic pass-rushing duo for the Colts. Mathis adjusted slightly better to the switch to outside linebacker in 2012, racking up eight sacks.
Having said that, Mathis isn't quite the player he once was, though he's not declining on the scale that Freeney is. With another year at the position, perhaps Mathis can have an even better campaign in 2013.
It's difficult to tell whether or not Mathis is tapering off or if he just needs more time to get comfortable in the 3-4 alignment.
Whatever the case may be, at age 32, it's clear that Mathis still has at least something left in the tank. At the very least, he should continue to occupy his starting spot while grooming first-round draft choice Bjoern Werner for the future.
Reputation definitely plays a role in this slot for Gates. The tight end who essentially shattered the mold of the position and paved the way for freakish athletes to shine more than ever in the modern NFL is way too high evaluating last season alone as the judgment criteria.
Gates simply isn't the player he once was. Excluding his rookie season, 2012 was his worst in terms of receiving production: 49 receptions, 538 yards and seven touchdowns, with the latter number matching his total from the prior year.
The explosiveness Gates once possessed is now not nearly as evident, as he averaged a career-low 11 yards per catch.
Though he is still a reliable red zone target, there is no question that Gates can't stretch the field as well as he used to. He has enjoyed a phenomenal career, but Gates isn't the 73rd-best player in the league.
Williams is entering his second season in Buffalo on a six-year, $96 million deal with incentives that push the money to nine figures. Given the type of coin the team shelled out to get him, his 10.5 sacks somewhat justify the investment.
However, three of those 10 came against the Indianapolis Colts, as Williams pushed through a porous offensive line to sack a fellow No. 1 overall pick in rookie QB Andrew Luck.
The Bills need even better play out of Williams moving forward to be a legitimate competitor in the AFC. It's safe to say that he's among the premier defensive ends in the league—certainly so in terms of talent.
Having said that, there is room for Williams to improve. This seems a little high on the list for him judging from his play in the 2012 season alone.
It was amazing that the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft was able to start 15 games as a rookie and be generally effective.
Richardson had difficulty breathing and sleeping, much less suiting up on the gridiron and taking punishment every Sunday. Over the last nine games of his maiden campaign, he played with two broken ribs.
In spite of that, he still managed to set Browns rookie records with 950 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Additionally, Richardson caught 51 passes for 367 yards and another score, proving that he is indeed a complete back.
Factoring in the pain he was playing through and how productive he was, it makes sense that Richardson is so far up on the list despite his 3.6 yards per carry average. Look for Richardson to ascend even higher in the next edition of the Top 100, assuming he stays far healthier this coming season.
With 146 combined tackles in 2012, Chad Greenway led the Minnesota Vikings for the fifth consecutive year.
Simply put, he is relentless to the ball.
Outside linebackers in 4-3 schemes tend to get lost in the shuffle—they aren't racking up double-digit sacks or rushing the quarterback on seemingly every play like 3-4 OLB's—but Greenway, who hasn't missed a single game in six seasons, has continually proven his incalculable worth to the Vikes.
In addition to being a tackling machine, he racked up three sacks, one interception, four pass deflections and two fumble recoveries last season as one of the team's most versatile, crucial playmakers.
For his efforts, he was named to the NFL All-Pro Second Team.
You're looking at a major reason why the Chicago Bears led the NFL in takeaways last season.
Charles "Peanut" Tillman may bring with him more notoriety, but the other half of Chicago's cornerback duo—Tim Jennings—established himself as the most productive ball hawk in the league in 2012.
The diminutive corner pulled down a NFL-high nine interceptions last year to go with a staggering 21 pass deflections. While Jennings is only 5'8", there are very few players in the league with his combination of anticipation and ability to break on balls and make plays in the air.
Another year like last, and this rank will feel laughably low.
Many will point to the addition of Peyton Manning as the sole reason for Demaryius Thomas' emergence in 2012, but judging by his jaw-dropping skill set, this type of season was a long-time coming.
He has the towering size (6'3" and 230 pounds), trampoline-like leaping ability and strong, sticky, reliable hands that make him a dangerous threat in the red zone, but he also has the speed and elusiveness to break off big plays.
Thomas can make plays all over the field, and that became painfully—for opposing cornerbacks—evident in 2012.
Nearly tripling his production from 2011, the third-year receiver pulled in 94 catches for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns, finishing in the top 10 in the NFL in each category.
And at 25 years of age, he's only going to continue to get better. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Darrelle Revis played just two games in 2012 before suffering a torn left ACL, yet he is still ranked No. 67 on this list.
That should tell you just how talented he is when healthy.
Revis' worth can't just be defined with stats—which is also telling, considering he has 19 interceptions and 97 pass deflections in his career—because he has proven to be such a lockdown corner, that teams simply stop throwing to his side.
More noteworthy is his combination of strength, physicality and coverage ability, which earned him the nickname "Revis Island," that made him the undisputed best corner in the league before his injury.
There are, of course, questions about whether he can return to that form, but if he does, the Bucs may have gotten away with the coup of the offseason.
The Seattle Seahawks have drawn acclaim as of late for their ability to find steals in the later rounds of the draft (hello there, Russell Wilson), but this first-round pick is working out pretty well, too.
In 2012, Thomas racked up three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), nine pass deflections, a forced fumble and 61 combined tackles as he established himself as one of the league's best safeties.
He was named to the NFL All-Pro First Team.
At 5'10", Thomas may look out of place in Seattle's large Legion of Boom secondary, but he plays with a fire, aggressiveness and speed that is matched by very few players in the league.
Many will look at Dwayne Bowe's stat line in 2012—59 catches, 801 yards and three touchdowns—and question why he merits a ranking this high.
Obviously not the most spectacular numbers, but when you consider the Chiefs struggled their way to the league's worst passing offense, they aren't nearly as bad as you originally thought.
Bowe is a big, strong, fast receiver who has reliable hands and can break tons of tackles. With Alex Smith under center in 2013, he should return back to the NFL's elite.
About 13 months ago, many people were saying "huh?" as the Washington Redskins were drafting Alfred Morris with the 173rd pick in the 2012 draft.
13 months ago. That's a hasty rise to the 64th-best player in the NFL.
Morris benefited from defenses focusing on fellow rookie Robert Griffin III, but he quickly established himself as one of the most bruising, powerful backs in the league on his way to 1,613 yards on 4.8 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns.
Many will call the youngster out of Florida Atlantic a product of the system, but as long as the 5'9", 220-pound bowling ball keeps bulldozing defenders on a weekly basis, they will soon be able to call him something else :
All Pro First Teamer.
Stephen Tulloch isn't going to rack up many sacks—0.5 in 2012, 8.0 during his seven-year career—but he is an absolute run-stuffer.
As one of the most physical players in the league, the 5'11" linebacker flies to the ball and makes tackles all over the field. In 2012, he recorded 112 combined tackles to go with a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Tulloch may not always get the recognition he deserves, but he is the lifeblood of any defense he plays on.
For all the flak that Chris Johnson gets, he still very quietly rushed for 1,243 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
It's true that the speedy back has been underwhelming ever since rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009. His numbers, both game-by-game and year-by-year, have been inconsistent, and his propensity to dance in the backfield instead of hitting the holes hard has been frustrating.
But despite playing behind a mediocre offensive line in a below-average offense, Johnson has continued to produce and continued to serve as one of the most dangerous home-run threats in the NFL.
With a revamped line in 2013, he may come very close to re-earning the nickname, CJ2K.
If you look up "pocket presence" in the dictionary, you probably won't find an entry, but on an unrelated note, Ben Roethlisberger has a lot of it.
There is perhaps no better player in the league at avoiding pressure in the pocket, extending the play and making a strong, accurate throw on the run. It may not always be pretty, but Roethlisberger's ability to thrive with "street-ball" plays makes him a unique, dangerous weapon in this league.
Unfortunately, it also leaves him susceptible to injuries. In nine seasons, he has never played less than 12 games, but he has also never played 16.
Still, he is also one of the toughest players in the league and will play through any malady that is physically possible to play through. In 2012, despite dealing with shoulder and rib injuries, he still completed 63.3 percent of his throws for 3,265 yards (251.2 per game), 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
Simply put, Roethlisberger is a player you want on your team.
The sack specialist loses some ground despite the impressive turnaround the Vikings experienced this season in making the playoffs. Jared Allen had a huge hand in it, registering 12 sacks, but it wasn't near the production he experienced in his ridiculous, 22-sack campaign in 2011.
Nevertheless, Allen is one of the most feared defensive ends in all of football at 6'6" and 270 pounds of fury. His charismatic personality makes him a likeable player, but where he really earns his respect is between the white lines, which has resulted in being selected for the past five Pro Bowls.
In the face of constant double teams and game-planning attempted to thwart his pass-rushing prowess, Allen continues to thrive entering his 10th NFL season with a relentless motor and rare athleticism.
With this being the final year of his six-year contract in Minnesota, look for Allen's play to step up even more.
With the first-round draft selections of defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings add depth to the front four while bolstering the secondary. That affords Allen even more time to get to the opposing quarterback.
Having made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, it's clear that respect for Derrick Johnson is growing around the NFL—and rightfully so.
The inside linebacker should be in for another stellar year in 2013 with an upgraded supporting cast on defense that should allow him even more free reign to continue making plays.
It's difficult to poke holes in Johnson's game, because he can essentially do it all.
Be it his sideline-to-sideline range and tackling ability, his effectiveness as an inside blitzer or his skills in pass coverage, Johnson is truly one of the premier linebackers in the league. He could be placed much higher in the NFL Top 100.
A new regime fostered by Andy Reid should bring more winning to the league's worst reigning team, and will continue to showcase Johnson as a Chiefs franchise cornerstone.
Salsa dancing never looked so good on the gridiron until Victor Cruz burst onto the scene for the New York Giants during their run to Super Bowl XLVI.
The playoffs never came for the Giants this time around, but that didn't prevent Cruz from having a prolific season in which he caught 86 passes for 1082 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Cruz's yards per catch dropped by six yards from the previous year, though, and that was partially due to the absence of his dynamic teammate, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was frequently injured.
Both stud wideouts are set to be free agents in 2014, per Spotrac.com. Cruz is currently a restricted free agent, but has yet to sign his one-year tender offer nor the multi-year deal that would pay him approximately $7 million.
That certainly clouds the future of QB Eli Manning's premier weapons in the passing game. Even with this contract dispute, though, Cruz should be in the Big Apple with Big Blue—and have even more incentive to build off of the early success his promising young career has produced.
No running backs went in the first round of this year's draft, but Doug Martin, as the No. 31 overall pick in 2012, did not disappoint GM Mark Dominik's heavy investment at such a volatile position.
There was risk associated with the selection beyond the fact that Martin was a running back—he came from a smaller school in Boise State and is just 5'9". However, it's been proven that he is a powerful back with incredible balance and uncommon versatility.
Martin actually compares favorably to the all-around game that Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice boasts. Bucs head coach Greg Schiano coached Rice in college at Rutgers, and now has a similarly valuable back at his disposal to be the driving force of Tampa Bay's offense.
1454 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground gave Martin a successful first year in the NFL alone, but he also caught 49 passes for 472 yards and another score.
The most notable game of Martin's rookie season was in Oakland, where he shredded the raiders for 250 yards and four touchdowns on just 25 carries.
All of that resulted in a trip to the Pro Bowl—likely to be the first of many in Martin's career. Especially with All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks returning from an injury that cut his season short in late October, the opportunity to make an even bigger impact is tangible for Martin in 2013.
A torn Achilles tendon last offseason didn't prevent Suggs from returning by the middle of the 2012 campaign to continue being an impact player in the Ravens' vaunted defense.
The numbers weren't necessarily spectacular, which is partially why Suggs is this low on the list despite being a first-team All-Pro selection as recently as 2011.
There are few scarier players flying off the edge of a 3-4 defensive alignment than Suggs, who specializes in throwing quarterbacks off their rhythm by hitting them frequently—and not stopping.
Suggs has had the benefit of playing alongside legendary linebacker Ray Lewis for his entire career. Now that the future Hall of Famer has retired, it will be interesting to see how Suggs performs with him gone—especially now that he'll be far healthier.
When he was drafted 15th overall out of South Florida by the Giants in 2010, Jason Pierre-Paul was considered extremely raw and a boom-or-bust proposition.
Though his production dipped significantly this past season, it looks as though JPP is indeed a big hit, since he registered 16.5 sacks in just his second NFL campaign in 2011.
The Giants are one of the hardest teams to predict in the league, even on a game-by-game basis. That's an appropriate assessment for Pierre-Paul, because at times, he can take over games and manhandle whomever is attempting to block him.
Other times, though, he disappears for stretches. That was far more frequent this past year, and definitely unexpected from a player of his talent level who seemed to only be getting better.
With his 6'5", 278-pound frame and hopeful natural progression, it's very feasible that Pierre-Paul could vault 20 spots on this list following the 2013 season.
It's simply a nightmare for any offensive tackle to try to prevent Julius Peppers from making a game-changing play.
The 6'7", 287-pound defensive end is one of the best athletes in recent memory at his position, and continues to produce year after year.
The former No. 2 overall pick registered 11.5 sacks in 2012—his highest total since 2008 with the Carolina Panthers—and that netted him second-team All-Pro honors.
Peppers didn't force multiple fumbles for the first time in his career, but did recover four, and also batted down a career-low two passes. That's part of what explains his substantial drop from No. 26 in the NFL Top 100 from a year ago.
2013 will mark Bailey's 15th season, and his longevity and consistency is remarkable at such a scrutinized, pressure-packed position.
Only once since 2000 has Bailey not been named to the Pro Bowl, and the year he was absent he only played in nine games.
Bailey's unique style of covering and incredible physical gifts have allowed him to be one of the premier cornerbacks in the league for years. As his career is drawing to a close, though, Bailey has had to rely more on technique and experience to continue thriving.
Opponents don't dare to challenge Bailey as frequently, so his interception numbers have not been as high in recent years. The impact Bailey makes by his presence alone, though, is still evident.
Concerns over the turbulent end Vincent Jackson had with the San Diego Chargers didn't scare away the Buccaneers, who inked Jackson to a lucrative deal last offseason.
The risky proposition certainly paid dividends, as Jackson was revitalized in his new environment in Tampa Bay, putting up career-highs of 72 receptions, 1384 yards and also had eight receiving touchdowns.
Jackson is 6'5" and 230 pounds, with outstanding leaping ability, ball skills and even enough speed to be a threat after the catch. The Bucs moved him all over the place in their offense, and QB Josh Freeman finally had a legitimate go-to guy.
Tampa Bay did miss the playoffs, though, and Freeman is entering a landmark campaign in which he must be more consistent. His strong arm has at least allowed Jackson to thrive, and it will be interesting to monitor how the dynamic duo fare this year.
Getting the job done for merely one season in the NFL isn't regarded as impressive in most instances. Russell Wilson's first season as the Seahawks' signal-caller was a raging success that should translate to a future as the man under center in Seattle for years to come.
The Seahawks signed Matt Flynn in free agency to be the starter, but when Wilson fell into their lap in the third round of the draft, GM John Schneider pulled the trigger.
Had Wilson not been under six feet tall, he would have been a first-rounder. Instead, he wound up being the steal of the draft, throwing for 3118 yards and tying Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 touchdown passes.
In addition to throwing, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell turned Wilson loose as a runner, effectively utilizing the zone-read option concept down the stretch of the regular season.
Wilson scampered for 489 yards and four more touchdowns, and led the Seahawks to the brink of the NFC Championship game.
Now that Percy Harvin has come to town, giving Seattle a much-needed threat after the catch, the level of play should remain high for Wilson—and even exponentially improve his position on this list come next year.
Many—including Richard Sherman himself—will argue the Seattle Seahawks' second-year star is the best lockdown corner in the league.
At 6'3" and 195 pounds, Sherman is incredibly physical, but also has the speed and instincts to make plays on the ball like few others are capable of. In 2012, he compiled eight interceptions and 24 pass deflections for the 'Hawks' stingy defense, giving him an impressive 12 and 41 for his two-year career.
Sherman has also gained the reputation as one of the biggest talkers in the league, but the First Team All-NFL corner is undoubtedly backing it up with his play on the gridiron.
For someone who can make a legitimate case as the prime cornerback in the entire league, 50 feels a little low.
Justin Houston has gotten a ton of attention as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, but he is unequivocally one of the brightest young players in this league.
In 2012, the second-year star out of Georgia recorded 66 combined tackles, 10.0 sacks, a forced fumble, an interception and five pass deflections.
Oh, and he's only 23 years old.
Houston has absolutely thrived in that 3-4 outside linebacker role, but he took massive strides towards becoming more of a complete player rather than just an outside pass rusher this season.
If he takes a similar step next year, he is going to be scary good—if he isn't already.
During the past three seasons, Arian Foster has gained most of the headlines in Houston rushing for over 4,200 yards and establishing himself as one of the league's best backs.
But one of the underrated players most responsible for Foster's immense success?
Left tackle Duane Brown.
The five-year veteran has been an anchor for the Houston Texans' offensive line, blending an impressive combination of athleticism and physicality that makes him the ideal fit in the zone-blocking scheme.
Brown may not get the correct amount of recognition, but there is no question anymore that the 2012 Pro Bowler and All-NFL First Teamer is one of the elite left tackles in the NFL.
What else can you say about Tony Gonzalez that hasn't already been said? He is the pass-catching tight end who all other pass-catching tight ends are compared to.
For his career, he has 1,242 catches, over 14,000 yards and 103 touchdowns. He holds countless tight end records and has been the model of health and consistency, missing just two games in his entire career.
And he's still got it.
In his 16th NFL season, the future Hall of Famer pulled in 93 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, and more importantly (at least to him), secured his first career playoff win.
Gonzalez is one of the best ever, and I think it's safe to say we're all just happy we can witness his greatness for one more season.
If you like your quarterbacks big, strong, elusive, athletic and fast, then Cam Newton is the signal caller for you.
But while Newton is known for his tremendous size (6'5", 250 pounds) and electricity that tends to help him pick him up bushels of yards on the ground, he also has a very fast release and a rocket for an arm.
Put it all together, and in 2012 he threw for 3,869 yards, 19 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions while running for another 741 yards and eight scores.
His numbers were slightly down from his rookie year, and he tends to struggle with inconsistency, but at just 24 years of age, the sky is the limit for this rare specimen.
After a season that was plagued with injuries and inconsistency, LeSean McCoy was still able to garner a pretty solid spot at No. 45.
That points to his immense talent.
McCoy finished with 840 rushing yards, 373 receiving yards and just five total touchdowns in 12 games, but if he is back at full strength, watch out for him in 2013 under new head coach Chip Kelly.
The fifth-year back is arguably the most elusive player in the NFL. He has the shiftiness and open-field moves that few players could only dream of, and the things he does with the ball in hands are often jaw-dropping.
This is a good spot for McCoy, but don't be surprised if he finds himself higher next year.
Wes Welker tallied 118 catches, 1,354 yards and six scores in 2012, and it was actually a step back from his previous season.
Nevertheless, he surpassed 110 receptions for the fifth time in six seasons and continued to entrench himself as the best slot receiver in the NFL.
Welker is only 5'9" and 190 pounds, but he runs crisp routes, finds open spaces, has reliable hands and is extremely difficult to bring down in space. He is also easily one of the toughest players in the league.
It will be intriguing to see how the dynamic receiver goes from one future Hall of Famer (Tom Brady) to the next (Peyton Manning) in Denver, but it's likely that he'll simply respond to the new environment with catches. And lots of them.
Because that's just what he does.
Eli Manning tends to receive a lot of criticism, but he has turned himself into a great quarterback.
In 2012, he finished with 3,948 yards, 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He finished in the top 10 in touchdowns and yards per pass.
While those numbers are impressive, it's what he has been able to do late in games that has taken him to a new level. He orchestrated three game-winning drives and three fourth-quarter comebacks last season, giving him 11 and 10 in the last two years, respectively.
It's hard to find a quarterback who has been more clutch than Eli, and he is slowly but surely beginning to earn the respect he deserves.
Haloti Ngata is an absolute machine.
As one of the most intimidating defensive forces in the league, he posted 50 tackles, 5.0 sacks and anchored the Baltimore Ravens' Super-Bowl winning defense.
And some saw it as a down year.
While the four-time Pro Bowler is known as a brute force and monster hitter, it's his versatility that is impressive. Yes, he is incredibly strong and usually commands double teams, but he is also very agile and capable of lining up in different spots across the defensive line.
Interior lineman don't always get much respect for their work in the trenches, but Ngata has done enough for people to recognize he is one of the game's best players. Period.
Jason Witten suffered a lacerated spleen in the preseason, was listed as doubtful for Week 1 of the regular season and still somehow started all 16 games for the Dallas Cowboys.
That's pretty much all you need to know about the 31-year-old tight end.
But not only is he nails-tough, he is talented. After a "down" season in 2011 in which he failed to record 80 catches for the first time in five years, Witten bounced back in 2012 with a career-high 110 receptions to go with 1,039 yards and three scores.
For a team that often struggles with inconsistency, Witten has been the model of constant production.
He has been one of the league's best tight ends for almost a decade now, and after another elite season, he is deserving of this spot.
Following a bit of a letdown sophomore campaign in 2011, Ndamukong Suh returned to being a destructive force last season.
In 16 games, he compiled 35 tackles (17 for loss) and 8.0 sacks.
Many may not like Suh's often questionable behavior both on and off the field, he causes chaos on the gridiron with his ability to shed blocks, blow up plays and get into the backfield. He can disrupt the opponent's passing and rushing game.
With just three seasons under his belt, Suh has the potential to still improve greatly—which should be a scary thought for every interior offensive lineman in the league.
You aren't going to find a wide receiver who is more consistent than Roddy White.
After pulling in 92 catches for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, the eight-year veteran now six seasons in a row with at least 80 receptions and 1,100 receiving yards.
Although he doesn't always get the notoriety he deserves as a supremely elite wideout in this game (this ranking further suggests that fact), White has the size, strength, route-running ability and sticky hands to continue to be a major force very a long time. And that's all the Atlanta Falcons care about.
Along with the burgeoning Julio Jones, White is part of undoubtedly one of the most dangerous wide-receiver tandems in the league.
Vernon Davis is a physical specimen.
Standing at 6'3" and weighing 230 pounds, he certainly has the size and strength of an NFL tight end. But what makes him such a matchup nightmare is that he contains the athleticism, speed and hands of an elite wide receiver.
At times, it's almost comedic watching a linebacker try to match up against him.
In 2012, Davis had somewhat of a down year with just 41 catches, 548 yards and five touchdowns, but he made up for it in San Fran's two most important games. In the NFC championship and Super Bowl, he combined for 11 catches, 210 yards and a score.
As he continues to get more comfortable with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, look for the crazy-talented tight end to have a massive 2013.
As one of the most vocal players in the NFL, NaVorro Bowman backs up his talk.
In 2012, the 49ers linebacker proved once again to be a tackling machine with 144 combined tackles. He doesn't usually rush the quarterback (just 2.0 sacks), but he has sideline-to-sideline speed and impressive coverage ability that help him make plays all over the field.
Patrick Willis is the linebacker who gets most of the attention on this team, but Bowman, after just three seasons in the league, is quickly closing the gap between he and his teammate.
That's thoroughly impressive.
It's not a stretch to call Geno Atkins the best defensive tackle in the league.
He was so dominant in 2012, that he garnered talk for Defensive MVP as he racked up 64 combined tackles, 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Playing strictly out of the three technique, those numbers are almost unheard of.
Atkins isn't the biggest interior lineman in the league, but he has the explosion and speed to beat guys off the line and the strength to simply bull them over.
He is going to be a force in this league for a very long time.
Judging strictly by raw talent, it would be easy to argue for Dez Bryant as the best receiver in the NFL.
The former Oklahoma State pass-catcher has size, strength, athleticism, physicality and reliable hands. He can use speed to go deep, he can rise up for jump balls, he can make catches in traffic, he can take screens to the house.
He can do it all.
Unfortunately, in his first couple of seasons, Bryant dealt with some immaturity and injury issues, and there was concern that he would never take advantage of that talent.
Well, it's safe to say those concerns are all but quelled.
In 2012, he racked up 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, giving him a ridiculous 27 receiving scores in three seasons.
If that improvement (he had just over 1,400 yards in his first two seasons combined) is an indication the growth that's coming, it won't take long for Bryant to join Calvin Johnson at the top of the NFL.
Charles Tillman is the epitome of a playmaker.
In 2012, Peanut had three interceptions, and all he did was return every single one for a touchdown. He also had 16 pass deflections, an absolutely staggering 10 forced fumbles and just to boot, 85 combined tackles.
He may not be the best coverage corner in the league, but his propensity to force turnovers and always be around the ball is a major reason the Chicago Bears always have such a dangerous defense.
I'm not so sure I believe Patrick Peterson is a better corner than Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman, but it's clear that his ability as a punt returner enhanced his value.
That's not to say he's a slouch at corner. With seven interceptions, 17 pass deflections, seven forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries, he proved to be a dangerous playmaker defensively.
And when you add in his ability to change field position in the punt game, it's clear Peterson is truly a unique weapon.
The former LSU star wasn't as effective in the return game in his sophomore season, as he averaged just 8.4 yards per return and failed to find the endzone. But after taking it to the house four times as a rookie, he's still a major threat teams must gameplan for.
There are very few players who are capable of affecting the game in as many different ways as Peterson, who is still just 22 years of age.
If it seems like Frank Gore has been terrorizing the league for nearly a decade, there's a reason for that.
He has been.
After getting just one start in his rookie season, Gore has turned in seven straight seasons with at least 200 carries and 4.2 yards per tote. In six of those seasons he has hit the 1,000-yard and five-touchdown marks.
And as a 30-year-old in 2012, Gore had one of the most productive seasons of his career as he racked up 1,214 rushing yards on 4.7 yards per carry and found the endzone nine times.
Gore isn't sexy, but he's a bruising back who is nearly impossible to slow down and has produced with remarkable consistency in his career.
Quarterbacks don't like Clay Matthews.
The four-year pass-rushing linebacker is relentless getting to the quarterback, as his blend of athleticism, strength and motor is unrivaled.
In 2012, he tallied 13.0 sacks (fifth most in the league) despite playing in just 12 regular season games, and in the postseason, he added three more in two games against two athletic quarterbacks.
Matthews may only have one role, but he is undoubtedly one of the very best in the NFL at that role.
Vince Wilfork is a big boy, and that makes him an incredibly dangerous weapon.
The 31-year-old doesn't always light up the box score—he had 49 combined tackles, 3.0 sacks and six pass deflections in 2012—but his impact can't be measured.
In addition to being a massive load, he has impressive mobility that helps break up the pocket and line of scrimmage on nearly every play. While that doesn't always result in tackles or sacks, it dictates what teams have to do on offense.
Simply put, Wilfork is a game-changer.
Justin Smith has never recorded 10 sacks in a season during his 12-year career, but there are very few defensive linemen in the entire league who are capable of making as big of an impact as him.
He isn't the biggest or fastest guy in the NFL (6'4", 270 pounds), but he is incredibly strong and uses his hands and a slew of rush moves to create leverage. When he doesn't get through to the backfield, he usually commands a double team and creates a lane for a teammate nearby.
Moreover, his toughness can't be questioned, as he has played in 189 out of a possible 192 games in his career—and he's started 185 of those.
While there are a heap of superstar players on this dominant 49ers defense, it isn't a stretch to call Smith the most important.
Joe Thomas is a machine.
Blessed with an impressive combination of size, agility and intelligence, Thomas is one of the most consistently dominant players in the league. He has started all 96 games of his NFL career and made a Pro Bowl in every season.
In the last three years, he has given up five sacks. Five.
If there was a better way to quantify the value of left tackles, I'm confident Thomas would garner attention as a top-10 player in the NFL.
He has had a spectacular seven-year career, yet still managed to tally career highs in all three of those categories.
Marshall is 6'4" with the leaping ability, route running and hands to pull in some jaw-dropping catches, but he might just be at his best after the catch.
In 2012, he compiled 360 YAC (yards after catch). His combination of elusiveness, strength and speed makes him a threat to bust one open every time he touches the ball.
Julio Jones is No. 26 this year, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him crack the top 10 in the very near future.
The third-year pro has the speed to get behind safeties for the home run, the size and leaping ability to win jump balls and the hands to be a reliable threat over the middle of the field.
In 2012, just his second year in the league, he had 79 catches for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Having Roddy White command some of the attention on the other side of the field certainly helps, but Jones consistently sees double teams—which are rarely effective. He is easily one of the most talented players in this league, and he is going to be scorching secondaries for a long time, no matter who his teammates are.
At No. 25, Rob Gronkowski comes in as the top-ranked tight end.
He broke his forearm after just 11 games in 2012 but still managed to tally 55 catches for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns, putting him on a pace that would have brought him close to his 90-catch, 1,327-yard, 17-touchdown campaign in 2011.
In three seasons, Gronk now has 187 catches, 2,663 yards and 38 touchdowns. Thirty-eight touchdowns in 43 games.
He may gain a lot of attention for his antics off the field, but the menacing tight end has proved himself as both a legitimate matchup nightmare and automatic redzone option while on it.
There are a lot of things you have to do in the NFL that I wouldn't want to do, but tackling Marshawn Lynch would be near the top of that list.
"Beast Mode" just searches for contact. He's strong. He's explosive. He runs downhill and he runs incredibly hard. Arm tackles simply won't do with this guy.
But while his ability to break tackles and rack up yards after contact is second none, he also has impressive speed and elusiveness that allow him to get away from defenders and hit some home runs.
In 2012, he carried the ball 315 times for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It was going to be difficult for Andrew Luck to live up to the hype as one of the best prospects in recent memory, but he passed the test.
Luck was the victim of some often inconsistent offensive line play, and he had a lot of youth around him, but he still managed to throw for 4,374 yards, 23 touchdowns and just 18 interceptions.
Moreover, he proved himself as a winner, putting together an NFL-leading seven game-winning drives to help the Colts, who won two games in 2011, win 11 in 2012.
Luck has it all—rocket arm, pinpoint accuracy, winner's mentality, hard-working attitude, intelligence, deceptive speed—and he is only going to continue to climb the ranks of this league.
Larry Fitzgerald had a down year in 2012, but it wasn't his fault.
The Arizona Cardinals once again had no consistency under center, and Fitz suffered to the tune of 71 catches, 798 yards and four touchdowns.
But if we're judging by talent, Fitzgerald is easily one of the best players in the NFL. If you give him a good quarterback, he's going to find himself in the top 10, if not higher.
Not only is he a really nice person, but Fitz has every single tool you look for in a wide receiver—size, strength, speed, route-running ability and reliable hands.
And "reliable" doesn't even begin to describe Larry's hands, which are some of the best ever in the NFL.
Many believed Reggie Wayne was "done" after his 75-catch, 960-yard campaign in 2011 without Peyton Manning.
But with Andrew Luck in town, Wayne returned to being his ultra-consistent self with 106 receptions, 1,355 yards and five touchdowns.
Wayne's route-running and sticky hands are unrivaled in this league, and although he has been in the league for 12 years, the future Hall of Famer will continue to be one of the most dangerous, versatile players in this league.
Adrian Peterson got most of the attention last season for his remarkable recovery from injury, but people forget that Jamaal Charles was also making a return from ACL surgery.
And what a return it was—he carried the ball 285 times for 1,509 yards (an astounding 5.3 ypc average) and five scores. He also pulled in 35 catches for 236 yards and another touchdown.
Displaying his big-play ability, he had two games where he surpassed the 200-yard mark and 11 runs of 20 yards or more.
Charles has unbelievable speed, elusiveness and explosive ability, but his willingness to run in between the tackles and gain the tough yards is what makes him such an elite back.
Joe Flacco is one of the most polarizing players in the league, but he has only been able to earn that title because of his recent run of success.
The 27-year-old quarterback can be inconsistent, but in 2012, he threw for a career-high 3,817 yards to go with 22 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He led four fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives.
And in the postseason, he kicked it into another drive.
In leading the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2013, he threw for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero (!) interceptions.
For his efforts, he was given a gargantuan new contract and the No. 19 spot on this prestigious list
It's unlikely that you're going to find a better defensive playmaker than Ed Reed.
In 11 magical seasons, the vaunted safety has recorded 61 interceptions, forced 13 fumbles and recovered another 11. He has scored 13 career touchdowns (seven via interception, two via fumble recovery, one via punt return and three other).
The nine-time Pro Bowler is fifth all-time in non-offensive TDs and first all-time in interception return yards.
Reed continued that success in 2012 with four more interceptions and a touchdown in the regular season and then a big pick in the Super Bowl.
2013 will mark the first season Reed doesn't suit up in a Ravens uniform, but given his toughness, aggressiveness and talent, he will only continue to make a major impact with the Houston Texans.
It certainly helps having two of the best wide receivers in the game, but Matt Ryan seriously elevated his game in 2012.
En route to leading his Atlanta Falcons to a dominant 13-3 record, he completed a league-best 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Matt Ice also lived up to his nickname, as he led the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks (five) and game-winning drives (seven).
Perhaps more importantly than any of that, Ryan took the next step towards the NFL's elite, earning his first postseason victory before coming up just short for a trip to the Super Bowl.
With Ryan at the forefront, the Falcons should only continue to boast one of the most electrifying offensive attacks in the NFL.
Last season, A.J. Green pulled down 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns.
It was his second year in the league.
The 24-year-old is an absolute monster. He has the size (6'4", 211 pounds), strength and leaping ability to be unstoppable in the red zone, but he has also runs solid routes and possesses good hands.
As he continues to build his repertoire with fellow 2011 draftee Andy Dalton, there is no limit on what he can do in this league.
In 2013, don't be surprised if he approaches Megatron territory.
What is there to say about Robert Griffin III?
He's accurate, strong and consistent throwing the football, but he is also one of the most athletic players in the league. The Redskins' ability to run the read option with RGIII at the helm completely changed the game in 2012.
En route to winning NFL Rookie of the Year, he completed 65.6 percent of his throws for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions while running for another 815 yards and seven scores.
Throw in his un-rookie-like composure, and there is undoubtedly no one else in the NFL quite like RGIII.
He has a lot of work in front of him as he attempts to come back from knee surgery, but with the way this guy has continually impressed at astounding magnitudes, it's difficult to imagine him not having a successful comeback.
Andre Johnson struggled to a mediocre, injury-filled 2011 season, but he came back to the tune of 112 catches and 1,598 yards in 2012.
The yards were a career-high, which is slightly surprising considering the unbelievable career—six seasons of over 1,000 yards, six Pro Bowls—he has had.
Johnson is a specimen. He is unbelievably efficient on jump balls, but he is also spectacular going over the middle or as a deep threat.
Throw in his ability and willingness to block, and there is little question that he is one of the best all-around receivers in the league.
Ray Rice is only 5'9", but that hasn't stopped him from being one of the most productive backs in the league over the last four years.
In 2012, the explosive stick of dynamite rushed for 1,143 yards, tallied 478 receiving yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
The 1,621 yards from scrimmage was his lowest in the last four years, but that just speaks to amazing versatility, consistency and playmaking ability.
What's most scary is that Rice is still only 25 years old. He is already easily one of the most explosive, hard-to-tackle, all-around players in the league, but there is still room for him to get better.
In terms of pure pass-rushing ability and consistency, there is no one better than DeMarcus Ware.
With 11.5 sacks in 2012, he became the second-fastest player to 100 sacks behind some guy named Reggie White.
In eight seasons, he has now played in every single game and recorded seven straight seasons with at least 10 quarterback takedowns.
Blessed with unbelievable speed and relentlessness off the edge, there is very little chance that the 30-year-old is slowed down anytime soon.
For the second year in a row, Drew Brees led the league in yards (5,177) and touchdowns (43).
And that was in a "down" year, as he completed "only" 63.0 percent of his throws, was picked off 19 times and finished with just a 7-9 record.
Nevertheless, his production has been unbelievable, and he has continued to make his assault on the NFL record books.
Many will point to the New Orleans Saints' offensive strategy as a reason for that production, but there are very few players in the league with Brees' work ethic, attention to detail and ability to make unbelievable throws down the field.
In 2012, Patrick Willis recorded 120 combined tackles, two interceptions, nine pass deflections, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, and it was arguably one of the worst seasons of his career.
That's pretty much all you need to know about the ferocious linebacker.
He is big, strong, fast, instinctive, covers the entire field and is quite possibly the best tackler in the entire league.
It's not often than offenses have to gameplan to stay away from a middle linebacker, but Willis is that dangerous. He consistently stuffs the runs, reads plays in an instant and is also very adept in pass coverage.
In six seasons, he has made six Pro Bowls and five All-Pro First Teams.
If Von Miller wants to get to the quarterback, he will not be stopped.
After recording 11.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011, he came through with quite an encore last season, bringing down the quarterback 18.5 times to go along with an impressive six forced fumbles.
But while he is easily one of the best pass-rushers in the league, Miller is quickly establishing himself as a talented all-around player.
In 2012, he increased his interceptions and combined tackles, and at just 24 years of age, it's a little scary to think about what he's going to be doing in a couple of years.
Arian Foster is a workhorse.
In 2012, he carried the ball an astounding league-high 351 times, pounding away for 1,424 yards and 15 scores. It was the third straight season in which he touched the ball over 300 times, recorded at least 1,600 yards from scrimmage and found the end zone at least 10 times.
The man is an unbelievable combination of consistency and production.
In fact, there are very few things he isn't good at. He has unbelievable vision, solid speed, terrific power and spectacular hands for a running back.
He isn't always sexy in what he does, but he goes to work week in and week out and always puts up big numbers.
Aldon Smith is an athletic freak of nature.
Blessed with an unbelievable combination of quickness and power, the San Francisco 49ers' young pass rusher has already amassed 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons after racking up an amazing 19.5 in 2012.
The Niners' defense is absolutely stacked with impressive playmakers, but that unit is reliant on Smith being the dominant force that he has become.
At just 23, he still has a lot more room to get better, too.
Ho-hum, just another season for Aaron Rodgers: 67.2 percent completion rating for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a QB rating of 108.0.
It wasn't quite on par with his 2011 MVP season, but whenever you can compile those kind of numbers with pretty much no resemblance of a run game AND have it be considered a step back, that's truly unbelievable.
Rodgers sometimes makes it look so easy that we forget how remarkable some of his pinpoint throws into the tiniest windows really are.
If I'm starting an NFL team right now for one season, I'm not sure there are five players I take over this guy.
There are a lot of talented pass rushers in this league, but J.J. Watt may have put himself a slight cut above the rest with a dominant 2012 season.
He led the league with 20.5 sacks to go along with an amazing 81 combined tackles and 16 pass deflections, establishing himself as transcendent force unlike anything we've seen over the full course of a season in a long time.
It was such an impressive season, in fact, that he even garnered slight talk as an MVP candidate, and although that was quickly quelled by two guys above him on this list, he deservedly won AP Defensive Player of the Year.
It will be interesting to see how Watt builds off his memorable sophomore campaign, but there's little question that he has arrived as one of the most feared players in the league.
Tom Brady has been tearing up NFL defenses for so long that you sometimes forget about how good he actually is.
In 2012, he threw for 4,827 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and it was pretty much a typical year for him.
Year in, year out, the veteran QB constantly puts up big numbers, wins games and makes everyone around him look like Pro Bowlers.
There's really not much you can say about him that hasn't already been said. He's cool in the pocket, he makes smart decisions, he gets the ball out quick, he has strength and accuracy, and as long as he's around, the Pats will be a force in this league.
Brady is a future first ballot Hall of Famer, but with the way he has played the last couple of seasons, it doesn't appear that day is coming anytime soon.
Teams always know that the ball is coming to Calvin Johnson, yet teams have essentially no chance of stopping Calvin Johnson.
Double-team, triple-team, quadruple-team, 11-tuple-team, it really doesn't matter.
Appropriately nicknamed after a machine, Megatron is the epitome of unstoppable. He's 6'5", 240 pounds, runs with 4.4-40 speed, has trampoline leaping ability, glue-like hands, and to boot, he's one of the most humble, quiet players in the league.
In 2012, Johnson recorded a silly 122 catches and 1,964 yards, breaking the legendary Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a single season.
The way in which he controls a game from a notoriously less-important position is a sight to behold.
Remember when Peyton Manning's career was supposed to be over?
Well, after missing the entire 2011 season with a serious neck injury, all he did was return in 2012 and compile one of the best seasons of his Hall-of-Fame career, completing 68.6 percent of his throws for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and leading the Denver Broncos to a 13-3 record.
In addition to having a strong arm, pinpoint accuracy and terrific pocket presence, Manning beats teams with his intelligence. He knows what defenses are doing before defenses do, and his ability to control a game is unrivaled.
Game-planning against this guy is usually an exercise in futility, and that's a testament to how good he is.
After one of the most remarkable comebacks ever turned into an MVP season, there's really no arguing against Adrian Peterson being the most dominant player in the league.
AP tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 16 of 2011, and for a guy with so much speed and explosion, many wondered if he would ever be the same.
It turns out he wouldn't be the same—he would be better.
Not only did he return earlier than expected, but he nearly broke the NFL record by rushing for 2,097 yards.
I'm pretty sure Peterson is a robot.
A huge, fast, strong, elusive robot.