The NFL's Top 50 Players at the Season's Quarter Mark

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 4, 2013

The NFL's Top 50 Players at the Season's Quarter Mark

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    The 2013 NFL season is at the quarter mark, which means it's time to officially start talking about who the best players in the game have been.

    Forget about last season or next season. This is about right now. Through the first four weeks of the season, who has been the most talented player? Which players, on offense and defense, have had the biggest impact on the field?

    Throw out what you knew heading into the season. Forget anything you have in your head regarding potential and future worth. Look at the game film and only the game film. If you do that, these 50 players will be evident as the best of the best so far in 2013.


    All stats courtesy of and Pro Football Focus.

50. Jordan Cameron, Tight End, Cleveland Browns

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    The Line

    Jordan Cameron wasn't a known player before the season, unless you love the NFL draft or the Cleveland Browns, but after just four weeks here, he is in the top 50 players of the season. How did that happen?

    Jordan, like many basketball-player-type tight ends before him, is now smarter and more versed in the ways of the NFL after having time to acclimate to the league. He's also in an offensive system that loves to use the tight end.

    Norv Turner, offensive coordinator, has almost force-fed the ball to Cameron, but he's responded with 30 catches and five touchdowns in just four games. Amazing considering he has Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer throwing the ball his way.

49. Tyron Smith, Left Tackle, Dallas Cowboys

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    The Line

    Tyron Smith has gone from superstar rookie right tackle to struggling second-year left tackle and now back to damn near elite. The Dallas Cowboys have one of the game's best young left tackles, and not many people have taken notice yet.

    On the year, Smith has allowed zero sacks and just two quarterback hits. He's keeping Tony Romo's jersey clean behind an offensive line that's otherwise struggled. With his quickness and strength on the edge, Smith is making a solid case for All-Pro consideration this year.

    Smith isn't on the Joe Thomas level just yet, but he's headed in that direction.

48. Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

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    The Line

    The Detroit Lions have an unstoppable duo at defensive tackle, but you already knew that. What you might not know is that Nick Fairley is close to being the better all-around player than his teammate Ndamukong Suh.

    Fairley doesn't make the same highlight-reel plays that Suh is known for, but he also doesn't make the mistakes and costly penalties. And to his credit, Fairley's 1.5 sacks nearly match the two sacks of his more famous linemate.

    The two are incredible together on the Lions line, and even individually, they stack up against the best in the league.

47. Julius Thomas, Tight End, Denver Broncos

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    The Line

    Many will argue that Julius Thomas is the result of Peyton Manning. Those people may be right, but Thomas still has to catch the football and make the play afterward, and those are two areas where he's excelled in 2013.

    Thomas has notched 18 catches on the year for 237 yards—both behind what fellow breakout tight end Jordan Cameron has done—but where Thomas is excelling is in yards after the catch. There he's adding an incredible 7.3 yards per catch. That's on Thomas, not Manning.

    Thomas' athletic ability, catch radius and vision in the open field are eerily similar to a young Antonio Gates. If he can stay on this track, we'll be talking about him in the top 50 for a long time.

46. Kyle Long, Guard, Chicago Bears

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    The Line

    Rookies are not supposed to be All-Pro quality, and yet there's Kyle Long, playing as well as any right guard in the NFL this season.

    The first-year man out of Oregon has been fantastic from the opening kickoff. He's quick and smart, and combined with fellow rookie Jordan Mills, he's part of one of the best young right sides in the game. There have been bumps in the road, but Long has allowed just one sack of Jay Cutler all season. That's incredible.

    The Chicago offense has taken off with Long in the lineup. If the rest of his career goes like the first four games have, Long will be a fixture on this list.

45. Kiko Alonso, Inside Linebacker, Buffalo Bills

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    The Line

    A surprising number of rookies make the top 50 after just four games in the NFL. Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Kiko Alonso is one of them and perhaps the most impressive of them all.

    In four games, Alonso has four interceptions. He's also added 19 solo tackles and one sack and is currently the No. 4-ranked middle linebacker by Pro Football Focus. That's pretty dang good for a second-round pick out of Oregon.

    Alonso has made an instant impact for the Bills, and while it would be foolish to expect him to keep up his crazy interception streak, his play in stopping the run and eliminating catches has been enough to get him noticed.

44. Sean Lee, Inside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

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    The Line

    Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys has always been a top-tier talent. What we're seeing now is a healthy Lee living up to that potential.

    Ranked by Pro Football Focus as a top-10 middle linebacker, Lee's film shows a triple-threat linebacker who is capable of stopping the inside run, attacking the edge to get off tackle and affecting the game through pass coverage. Lee's vision, hands and agility make him one of the most dangerous coverage men in the game from the "Mike" 'backer position.

43. Reggie Bush, Running Back, Detroit Lions

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    The Line

    Reggie Bush has fulfilled his destiny in Detroit—and boy, is it fun to watch.

    The explosive, dynamic Bush is at home in the Lions' wide-open offense where they take advantage of his agility, quickness, hands and vision. A normal offensive series has Bush running inside zone plays, catching the ball out of the backfield and being given room to run on stretch plays that maximize his speed and burst.

    Bush is what the Lions have been missing since Jahvid Best went down with injury in 2011. Now they have Bush, who is everything Best could have been and more.

42. Terrell Suggs, Outside Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Line

    It's a testament to Terrell Suggs' greatness that he continues to make top-50 lists year after year. But he continues to earn it.

    Injury cut Suggs' 2012 season short, but that hasn't slowed him down at all in 2013. In fact, he's playing some of his best football yet. With four sacks, six quarterback hits and 10 hurries, he's made the most of his pass-rushing opportunities in the Ravens' hybrid defense. And unlike other one-trick pass-rushers, Suggs can stop the run and shift down to play defensive end without missing a beat.

41. Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

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    The Line

    Brandon Marshall should send Marc Trestman a very large Christmas card this year. In the new Chicago Bears head coach's scheme, Marshall has seen 41 targets in four games—good for No. 6 in the game. He's pulled in 27 catches with those targets and is quickly establishing himself as one of the elite No. 1 receivers in the league.

    With his size, strength and ability in traffic, Marshall is bordering on unstoppable when the pass is catchable.

40. Jurrell Casey, Defensive Tackle, Tennessee Titans

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    The Line

    You might be surprised to see the Tennessee Titans defensive tackle ranked here over better-known players, but his performance on the field has been stellar.

    As a pass-rusher, Casey has been impressive, notching three sacks, three quarterback hits and 11 hurries. Against the run, he's been just as impressive stacking gaps and clogging inside rush lanes. A true dual threat, Casey is an every-down defensive tackle in an age of specialization.

    This may be the first you're hearing of Casey, but it won't be the last.

39. Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive End, New York Jets

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    The Line

    The New York Jets have not been a good football team this year, but the front seven on defense has been lights out. You can thank Muhammad Wilkerson for that.

    Wilkerson burst onto the scene in 2012, finishing the year ranked No. 2 among all 3-4 defensive ends. Now that he's a year smarter and a year more developed, he looks even better.

    With surprising speed and strength, Wilkerson is able to lull blockers to sleep before exploding with one step and attacking the backfield. His versatility as a pass-rusher and run-stopper makes him one of the most valuable defensive ends in football.

38. Jabaal Sheard, Outside Linebacker, Cleveland Browns

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    The Line

    The 2-2 start by the Cleveland Browns has been a surprise, but the strong play by outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard shouldn't catch anyone off guard.

    Sheard was already a highly talented defensive end before moving to a stand-up position in the 3-4 defense this season. That's a role he's flourished in, as his true athleticism and quickness are on display against offensive tackles who can't catch up with his outside moves.

    Sheard has been nearly unstoppable once he's rolling off the line. With 1.5 sacks and 10 hurries, he's making his mark every time the quarterback drops back to pass.

37. Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Line

    Gerald McCoy has transitioned from top-level NFL draft prospect to top-tier NFL defensive tackle in his short career. Now, in 2013, he's among those defensive linemen that NFL offenses must game-plan for each week.

    McCoy has unreal quickness off the line of scrimmage, showing a first step that blockers cannot keep up with. When they do get the jump on him, McCoy is strong enough to hook and drive blockers into the backfield. That rare combination of speed and strength and the ability to use both equally make him a dangerous man to contend with on the inside.

    With two sacks, four quarterback hits and 13 hurries, you can easily see on a weekly basis just how dominant McCoy has become.

36. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Line

    This will not be a popular opinion. I know that. However, the fact is that Adrian Peterson has not been the best running back in the NFL this season.

    Is he the most talented? Yes. Is he plagued by terrible quarterback play that allows defenses to stack up against him? Yes, but that was the case last year when he broke free for 2,000 yards rushing. Peterson's line isn't opening the same holes this year, but he's also missing some of the holes they do open.

    There is no doubt that Peterson is the NFL's most talented running back, but through four games, he's far from being the biggest impact at the position.

35. Alterraun Verner, Cornerback, Tennessee Titans

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    The Line

    One of the untold stories of the season has been the success of the Tennessee Titans defense. You know about Jurrell Casey now, but how about cornerback Alterraun Verner?

    A physical, smart player on the edge, Verner has excelled now that the team has a pass rush in front of him. According to Pro Football Focus, Verner is the best cornerback in the league right now. He's allowing an unheard-of quarterback rating of just 12.9 while intercepting four passes in as many games. Those are elite numbers.

    The sample size is small, but through the first quarter of the season, few players are showing up like Verner.

34. Derrick Johnson, Inside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Line

    The 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs owe much of their success to the offensive system brought in by Andy Reid and the play of Alex Smith at quarterback. But how about that first-ranked scoring defense?

    The play of the defense has been awesome in Kansas City, and it all starts with inside linebacker Derrick Johnson.

    The most athletic inside linebacker not playing in San Francisco, Johnson ranks as the best inside linebacker in the AFC currently. That's high praise considering the competition, but few can keep up with his athletic ability, coverage skills and awareness against the run.

    The 2013 season looks like an All-Pro year for Johnson.

33. Eric Berry, Safety, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Line

    The Kansas City Chiefs defense has allowed the fewest points in the league while allowing the second-fewest passing yards. Tip your hat to Eric Berry for that one.

    The former Tennessee Volunteers safety has been fantastic now that he's fully recovered from an injury that took his 2011 season and caused problems early in 2012. But Berry looks like his former self—if not better—through four games.

    With his versatility and unparalleled athletic ability, it's no surprise that Berry is playing at an All-Pro level.

32. Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals

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    The Line

    Talk about a career wasted by poor quarterback play. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald may be the best wide receiver in the game who will never again lead the league in receptions. 

    But that's no fault of his own. Fitzgerald is still a brilliantly talented wide receiver; in fact, he's the total package at the position. However, Arizona's struggles to find a viable quarterback since Kurt Warner retired have kept him from producing numbers in an age that's dominated by fantasy football. No numbers equals no respect from the masses, unfortunately.

    Game film, though, shows that Fitzgerald has been a victim of circumstance. When talking about pure talent, few can compete.

31. LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Line

    A new scheme in Philadelphia means LeSean McCoy is finally being used to his full potential. Fantasy owners and Eagles fans alike can rejoice.

    McCoy was almost wasted at times under Andy Reid, but Chip Kelly (and his love for running backs) has opened a new door for the elusive, agile running back. He's sprinted through the door and taken off for daylight every chance he's had.

    McCoy's 468 yards rushing are best in the NFL through four games—a pace that he will be favored to keep up as long as he can stay healthy.

30. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

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    The Line

    Drew Brees, when you look at his entire career and even his upside for 2013, would rank higher than No. 30 overall if you wanted to talk about the best players in the NFL based on talent or projection. Since we're ranking players based on 2013 play thus far, he comes in lower than you might expect.

    That's not to take anything away from Brees, who is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, but rather to point out the upcoming talent around him in the NFL. So why the low ranking for No. 9?

    The four interceptions thrown hurt, but Brees also looks more hesitant in the pocket. That's to be expected with a new left tackle protecting him, but it's still noteworthy. That said, if his Week 4 performance is any indicator of future success, Brees will be back in the top 10 before midseason.

29. Geno Atkins, Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Line

    Few players, at any position, perform as well as Geno Atkins does on a regular basis. The Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle is worth the big money the team paid him this offseason. Maybe even more.

    The war daddy is currently second among defensive tackles with 2.5 sacks, but he's added three quarterback hits and 10 hurries. Those numbers are down from his 2012 pace, which saw him net 12.5 sacks, but his impact is being felt all the same.

    Sometimes impact can't be measured in numbers. Atkins draws attention in the middle of the line, which opens up lanes for the rest of his defensive line. His talent, production and mere presence are huge.

28. Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Line

    Jared Allen seems like a mainstay on these lists, and for good reason. He continues to produce as a pass-rusher regardless of his age.

    Allen already has 3.5 sacks this season, but that alone doesn't sum up his impact on the Vikings defensive line. Add in his nine quarterback hurries and five quarterback hits, and you have a better handle on the play of the ageless wonder.

    Allen's play can't always be appreciated through sheer numbers, but anyone watching his game knows he belongs here.

27. A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Line

    If you were to say that A.J. Green is the best route-runner in the NFL, I wouldn't disagree. If you were to say that A.J. Green was poised to become the best all-around wide receiver in the NFL, you wouldn't be crazy.

    Green has uncanny abilities for a young receiver. He's physical yet smooth. He's fast but powerful. And as he learns the intricacies of the position—like the sneaky push-off—we'll continue to see him rise in the ranks of the position.

    Given a more consistent quarterback, there is no limit to how high Green could rank.

26. Evan Mathis, Guard, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Line

    The best offensive guard in football right now, Evan Mathis of the Philadelphia Eagles is the highest-ranked interior offensive lineman on the top 50.

    A tailor-made guard for the pulling, moving scheme that Chip Kelly brought to the NFL, Mathis continues to dominate opponents just like he did in Andy Reid's offense. What we're seeing from Mathis is accuracy when asked to hit moving targets, strength to drive the line and the awareness to make the right block when facing a tough decision.

    Mathis, right now, is the picture of what an NFL offensive guard should play like.

25. Matt Forte, Running Back, Chicago Bears

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    The Line

    Matt Forte probably isn't the most physically gifted running back in the NFL, but through four games, he's been the best.

    As the go-to back in Marc Trestman's West Coast offense, Forte has been used as both a runner and receiver, and he has excelled doing both. His 320 yards rushing and three touchdowns in four games have allowed the Chicago offense to become more multiple—something aided by his 23 catches.

    Forte isn't Adrian Peterson in terms of talent, but so far in 2013, he's out-producing the superstar running back.

24. Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle, New England Patriots

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    The Line

    Nate Solder has been amazing in both pass protection and run-blocking this season. Want the numbers to back that up?

    According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Tom Brady has dropped back 166 times in four games. Solder hasn't allowed one sack. On run downs, the Patriots have gone off tackle 39 times for 165 yards. To say Solder has been perfect would be hyperbole, but also pretty darn close.

    Solder is making his way into the upper echelon of left tackle play. Through four games, he looks like a legitimate All-Pro.

23. Tamba Hali, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Line

    In today's stat-driven NFL we focus on some stats and ignore others. The quarterback sack is king of defensive stats, but people forget that hurrying the quarterback can have just as large an impact if it forces a turnover or poor throw or allows another defender to close on the sack.

    Tamba Hali does both exceptionally well.

    His total of three sacks in four games is very reputable, but the 26 quarterback hurries really drive home the point. That's nearly seven hurries per game, folks.

    Hali has long been a high-level pass-rusher, but he's come alive in 2013 and is producing at an alarming rate.

22. NaVorro Bowman, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers

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    The Line

    Losing Patrick Willis would cripple most defenses, but not when you have NaVorro Bowman there to step in for him.

    When Willis and Bowman are playing next to each other, there is no better one-two punch at inside linebacker in the NFL. With Willis out, Bowman arguably becomes his equal. Blessed with unreal athletic ability and vision, Bowman is a menace on inside and outside runs. He's also allowed to show more pass-rushing skills when Willis is sidelined—and that's an underrated aspect of his game.

    Bowman gets lost in the many shadows on this 49ers defense, but he's quickly gaining the respect and attention nationally that he deserves.

21. Cameron Jordan, Defensive End, New Orleans Saints

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    The Line

    Some players are a better fit in a particular scheme, and once placed in that scheme, they flourish—like Cameron Jordan.

    Coming out of Cal, it was obvious that the big defensive end was athletic enough to move around in the NFL, but his natural fit was as a 3-4 defensive end. With the addition of Rob Ryan in New Orleans, that's where Jordan has found himself. And he's been brilliant.

    With all-around ability that makes him a threat on every down, Jordan is putting together All-Pro performances week after week. With four sacks, 16 hurries and three additional quarterback hits, Jordan's numbers look as good as his film.

20. Earl Thomas, Safety, Seattle Seahawks

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    The Line

    I wrote this summer about how Earl Thomas was the ideal safety to shut down the dual-threat attacks the NFL was moving toward. He's done a great job backing that up on the field.

    Thomas is the rare safety who can stop the run and move with great quickness in coverage—and that's why he's the highest-ranked safety on the top-50 list. Few players, regardless of position, have the mix of athletic ability and intelligence that Thomas possesses. And he's only getting better.

    With two picks, 23 solo tackles and a handful of impact plays, it's easy to see why Earl Thomas is our top safety.

19. DeMarcus Ware, Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys

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    The Line

    Another season, another DeMarcus Ware performance that shows why he's the best pass-rusher of the last decade.

    Ware has turned in a quiet four sacks this season and continues to show why he's a dominant force off the edge. Even a move to a 4-3 defense under Monte Kiffin hasn't affected his play—if anything he might be better this season now that he's healthy after a banged-up 2012 season.

    Four sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and four quarterback hits show that both in the box score and on film, Ware continues to be a huge impact.

18. Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints

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    The Line

    Voted as the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month, tight end Jimmy Graham has been one of the most dominant football players in the game throughout the early parts of the season. This should be no surprise.

    Graham excels in the New Orleans Saints offense, in which he's allowed to run many option routes and connect with super-smart quarterback Drew Brees. The two are an ideal duo, and with Graham's athletic ability and knack for high-pointing the ball in traffic, it's easy to understand why he ranks as the league's best tight end through four weeks.

17. Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans

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    The Line

    Andre Johnson does not age. Or he's the football version of Benjamin Button and is somehow getting younger as he gets older. Either way, he's good. Really good.

    Johnson, at age 32, is tied for the league lead in receptions with 32. He's added 368 yards to match those catches, and while he hasn't scored yet, that's more a credit to the run game in Houston and Matt Schaub's struggles in the red zone.

    Johnson continues to be one of the best—if not the best—route-runners in the game. He's smooth out of breaks and impossible to diagnose in his first few steps. Young receivers everywhere need to learn from the best while they still can.

16. Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

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    The Line

    If you ever needed proof that wins are not a quarterback stat, check this out.

    The Atlanta Falcons are 1-3. Matt Ryan has thrown for the third-most yards, fourth-most touchdowns and just three interceptions and has a passer rating of 97.7. The Falcons' record can't be blamed on Ryan.

    The franchise quarterback has been electric all season, working the ball to Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez with ease. Ryan is actually playing the best football of his career—doing so with no running game to speak of and a patchwork offensive line.

    That's more than reason enough to get him ranked in the top 20 players of the season thus far.

15. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

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    The Line

    If you were starting an NFL team from scratch, there's a good chance Aaron Rodgers would be the first player drafted. His talent is unquestionably great, but so far in 2013 he hasn't been better than the quarterbacks ranked ahead of him. At least not yet.

    Rodgers' numbers are very good, especially through three games, but his play hasn't been the same. With three interceptions in as many games, Rodgers is playing more recklessly than we've seen previously. That may even out, but in the first quarter of the season, you have to downgrade him slightly.

    That's not to say Rodgers isn't great—I feel like he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL—but in a ranking based only on this season, he can't be in the top 10.

14. Dontari Poe, Defensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Line

    If you ever need proof that players cannot be completely judged in their first season, look at Dontari Poe.

    The Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle struggled in the beginning of his 2012 rookie season, but by the end of the year, he was showing promise. Now in his second year, he's dominating.

    The abilities that made Poe such an intriguing draft prospect have come to life on the football field. He's too quick for most centers to handle one-on-one, but he's powerful enough to split double-teams and still get pressure on the quarterback.

    Playing a position that rarely sees high sack numbers, Poe has already posted 3.5 this year. The most sacks a nose tackle had in all of 2012 was five, by Buffalo's Kyle Williams.

13. Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers

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    The Line

    An injury has limited Patrick Willis to just 2.5 games this season, but in limited time his impact has been huge.

    Willis remains the best all-around inside linebacker in the game thanks to his vision, quickness and instincts both before and after the snap. With so much talent around him on the defense, you won't see Willis posting huge tackle numbers like he used to, but he's still every bit as dangerous on the field.

    With unreal athletic ability and awareness, Willis is the model by which all incoming inside linebackers are judged.

12. Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons

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    The Line

    It's not fair to put wide receivers in a category with Calvin Johnson when it comes to physicality, but Julio Jones is quickly moving in that direction.

    Jones has emerged as one of the toughest players in the game to defend. Similar in many ways to Johnson, his sheer size, speed and strength are damn near impossible to stop. And it's showing up on the stat sheet now too.

    In four games, Jones has nabbed 33 catches (second-best in the league) and added 481 yards and two touchdowns to that resume. He's not quite unstoppable yet, but it won't be long before he's earned that label.

11. Darrelle Revis, Cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Line

    It didn't take Darrelle Revis long to get back to top form.

    After missing most of the 2012 season with a knee injury, Revis resurfaced in Tampa Bay and has picked up right where he left off in New York. NFL quarterbacks are still wise to ignore his side of the field, or else they'll be the victim of a pick. Just ask Carson Palmer.

    Revis is sneaky smooth on the edge, and with his athletic ability and instincts, he's still one of the game's best defenders. The scary thing is that Revis is getting smarter with age. Once he gets his full speed back following knee surgery, he'll be challenging Richard Sherman for the top cornerback spot.

10. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

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    The Line

    Is Ndamukong Suh a dirty player? Kind of. Is he a dominant player? Absolutely.

    Suh will get his penalties and fines—they're a given—but he'll also completely change the way an offense schemes to play the Detroit Lions.

    In his fourth pro season, Suh is really starting to get it. He's playing the run as well as he ever has while being more aware in pass-rushing situations. His two sacks may not point to that observation, but his eye-popping 22 quarterback hurries are proof that Suh is making noise in the backfield.

9. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions

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    The Line

    Calvin Johnson may not have the best numbers of all NFL wide receivers, but he's the one defenders least want to see lined up across from them. His impact on the game—as a target and as a decoy—is enormous.

    The man they call "Megatron" has 21 catches for 312 yards, but he's added four touchdowns to those numbers. Remember, in 2012 he had just five all season. Johnson is beating double coverage better this year, and Matthew Stafford is doing a better job throwing to him open in the end zone.

    That should scare you, fans of the NFC North. And so should Johnson, because he's even better this year.

8. Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers

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    The Line

    The resurrection of Philip Rivers' career might be the biggest thing in the NFL that no one is talking about. Yet.

    Playing under head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Rivers looks like the guy who used to toss for 4,000 yards in his sleep while winning 10 games a year. That player had disappeared, or died, the last few seasons under Norv Turner, but he's back.

    Rivers is playing confidently again. Credit the offensive line, credit Eddie Royal, credit a healthy Antonio Gates and credit Rivers for not giving up and throwing in the towel when his career started to nosedive. Few players in the NFL can rebound once things start going downhill, but he has. And the San Diego offense has been explosive with him under center.

7. J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans

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    The Line

    How good is J.J. Watt?

    Pro Football Focus ranks him as the best 3-4 defensive end in the game with a score of 27.9. The next-highest-ranked player, Cameron Jordan, is scored at 15.5. That huge gap between Watt and the next-best player is real.

    Watt dominates the game on every down—something that's incredibly rare for defensive ends today. He can rush the quarterback from inside or outside the offensive tackle and stop the run, and he has that crazy ability to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage.

6. Joe Thomas, Offensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns

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    The Line

    Lost in the sadness that is the Cleveland Browns, it's sometimes easy to forget about the talented players who have been toiling away on the depth chart. Joe Thomas has a chance to go down as the best offensive tackle of this decade, but too often he's overlooked because of the team he plays for.

    In 2013, Thomas has not allowed a single sack—and that's with Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer in the backfield. No disrespect to the two quarterbacks, but they're not exactly Drew Brees in the pocket.

    Thomas has dominated in pass protection and in the run game, showing a versatility that's rare in a day and age when most teams are throwing the ball every chance they get.

5. Robert Quinn, Defensive End, St. Louis Rams

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    The Line

    In today's NFL, we see a lot of dominant pass-rushers. Add Robert Quinn to that list.

    Playing right defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, the young pass-rusher has accumulated numbers in 2013 that few can compete with. Five sacks, six quarterback hits and 10 quarterback hurries in just four games? That's unreal.

    Quinn is just scratching the surface too. He's still winning mostly with athletic ability and a hand slap. Once he has time to really develop and learn to use leverage and double moves, the rest of the NFL is in big trouble.

4. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

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    The Line

    It may seem like Tom Brady is ranked here purely on reputation, and his numbers this year may give that argument some validity. But look closer at the numbers before you jump to conclusions.

    Brady has thrown the ball 158 times this year. He's had 11 passes dropped. That's good for the fifth-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football FocusBrady, playing with the worst talent around him of his career, is still producing (seven touchdowns, two interceptions) and winning ballgames.

    The Tom Brady Haters will see this and scoff, but instead, they should try actually watching him play. Then they would see that Brady is still one of the best in the game.

3. Richard Sherman, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks

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    The Line

    You may not like Richard Sherman, but I can guarantee you would if he played for your favorite team.

    The big, physical cornerback does talk a big game, but he backs it up on the field with lockdown coverage and big plays in bright lights. Sherman doesn't back down from the best wide receivers in the game, and his play doesn't drop off when facing elite targets.

    On the year, Sherman has allowed a passer rating of just 38.7, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)He's yet to allow more than three catches in any game while locking down the top players in the league on a regular basis.

    If you don't think Sherman is the best cornerback in the game, please, find someone who can truly match up with him.

2. Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Line

    Justin Houston doesn't have the national attention yet, but he should very soon.

    A stud pass-rusher in the Kansas City Chiefs' 3-4 defense, Houston has straight-up abused folks this season. In four games he's sacked the quarterback 7.5 times—tied for most in the league—and added another 11 quarterback hurries.

    Houston's impact on the Chiefs defense has been monumental the last two seasons, but in a revamped scheme this year he's wrecking havoc on offensive linemen. On name recognition alone you might not think Houston belongs here, but check out the game film from the team's four games, and it's quickly apparent that he does.

1. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos

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    The Line

    The No. 1 player in the NFL so far this season really isn't debatable. Peyton Manning has been as close to perfect as a quarterback can get.

    In four games he's thrown for 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. That four-per-game rate puts him on track to throw 64 touchdowns this year, which would crush Tom Brady's record of 50 thrown in 2007. Manning, at age 37, is simply unreal.

    The Broncos are currently the best team in the AFC largely because of Manning—and when you're the best quarterback in the league by a healthy margin, you have to be the No. 1 player in the game. Manning is, and he's earned every bit of it.