June 11th, 2007 on Football's Future's Forums, IGN, Helmet2Helmet Forums, ESPN Forums, GameFAQs Forums, a little no-named poster and blogger made a list entitled "The NFL's 50 Most Influential Players..." The response to the topic went on for numerous pages on each forum and resulted in various arguments and even won an award. However, it cemented the poster's legacy on a few of those forums. That blogger/poster was none-other than yours truly and 365 days after that post, on June 10th, 2008 the topic returned for a second consecutive year, adding an addition 30 players to make it "The 2nd Annual NFL's 80 Most Impactful Players". This one was met with much less criticism and was an even more renowned hit than the previous incarceration. Just like the 2008 incarnate, this list will be posted in descending order, Of the three years that I have done this, the 2009 incarnate is the hardest list to compile. There were so many individuals that emerged onto the impact scene over the past one or two seasons. Additionally, there are a few players that have fallen out of grace or on the verge of doing so, thus making it hard to perfectly place individuals on the list. Furthermore, let me reiterate what I have to every year... this is not a "Best Players" list. This is a "Most Impactful" list in which the 100 players explained, and the additional honorable mentions, don't have to be the best at their position, but rather have a considerable impact on the other 21 players on the field during the majority of the snaps that they take.
Here are some key things to consider when viewing this list before going off on me about my decisions...
- In order to make the list, as stated above, they don't have to be the best at their position (though most are).
- The key aspect is that the player has some large form of impact on the other 21 players on the field.
- Consistency is very important, however, recency and severity play a larger role in this year’s list than any other year's list
- I did not compile this list fully of my own wishes, but rather also incorporated some aspects of popularity/general consensus in including certain players at high levels, or including them at all
- Importance to the team is important once again. If there are numerous other people on their unit on the list it could affect their positioning
- Position plays an important role... QuarterBacks, Left Tackles, Nose Tackles, etc have gotten somewhat of a preference over others.
- Like last year, positioning isn't as important as the number purely seems. Player 84 isn't much more impactful than player 89. A large distance between players is where there's an obvious difference.
#. Name, Pos, Team('08 Ranking, '07 Ranking)
With that said, here come the honorable mentions...
Antoine Winfield, CornerBack, MIN - Rashean Mathis, CornerBack, JAX - Leon Washington, Specialist, NYJ - Thomas Howard, Outside LineBacker, OAK - Brian Dawkins, Free Safety, DEN - Luis Castillo, 3-4 Defensive End, SDG - Devin Hester, Kick Returner, CHI - Bradie James, Middle LineBacker, DAL - Marques Colston, Wide Receiver, NWO - Mike McKenzie, CornerBack, FA - Joshua Cribbs, Special Teamer, CLE - Chad Pennington, QuarterBack, MIA - LaMarr Woodley, Outside LineBacker, PIT - Owen Daniels, Tight End, HOU- Gary Brackett, Middle LineBacker, IND- Dallas Clark, Tight End, IND- Bob Sanders, Strong Safety, IND - Chris Hope, Strong Safety, TEN - Chris Johnson, HalfBack, TEN - Casey Weigmann, Center, DEN - Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, KNC - Tanard Jackson, Free Safety, TAM - Aaron Rodgers, QuarterBack, GNB - David Stewart, Right Tackle, TEN - Torry Holt, Wide Receiver, JAX - Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, GNB - Matt Hasselbeck, QuarterBack, SEA - Reggie Bush, Specialist, NWO -
100. James Farrior, Middle LineBacker, PIT(NR,NR)
Impact: Unquestioned Leader Of 2-time Super Bowl Winning Defense
Argument: James Farrior may very well be the most underrated Defensive Leader in the NFL. While everybody knows the big name players on the Steelers, James Farrior is the cog that makes this defense work. Since Farrior has joined the Steelers in 2002 and became their Defensive Captain they’ve finished 1st in Defense three times. In that span Farrior has received votes for Defensive Player Of The Year twice, once finishing in second. Additionally, no Inside/Middle LineBacker has made more tackles near or behind the Line of Scrimmage during that span, including a ridiculous 14 Stuffs in 2003. But it’s not just Farrior’s ability to make plays near the Line of Scrimmage that makes him so impactful; Farrior has a knack for coverage within the tackle box making him one of the elite coverage LineBackers in the league. Additionally, within the past three seasons, Farrior has been asked to help provide pass rush up the middle, and has done so very well. Farrior has a huge arsenal at his utilization that makes him, in my opinion, the 2nd best 3-4 ILB behind future Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis.
99. Matt Forte, HalfBack, CHI(NR,NR)
Impact: An Entire Offense By himself/A Franchise Focal Point
Argument: If Matt Forte repeats the success of his rookie campaign, you may very well see Mr. Forte becoming the quickest person to make the top 10 of this list. Conversely, you may not see Matt on next off-seasons’ rendition. Regardless, as it stands right now, the only reason he is this low is because it has only been one season… but what a season it was. In his first NFL season Matt Forte may not have had a flashy Yards per Carry number, but he finished in the top 3 players in Yards from Scrimmage with a grand total of 1,715 and only fumbled once. However, it should be noted that the two individuals that placed higher than him only had 4% of their Yards from Scrimmage come from Receiving Yardage. Perhaps even more impressive is that Forte finished 12th in Touchdowns from Scrimmage on an anemic offense. Forte was the most versatile player in the NFL in the 08-09 season. In fact, Forte was the Bears’ number one rusher, as well as their best Receiver. What’s most impressive about that latter fact is that a significant number of his receptions came when he was lined up as a Wide Out.
98. Zach Miller, Tight End, OAK(NR,NR)
Impact: Future Of The Raiders Offense
Argument: Let me begin by stating that if the criteria to make this list weren’t what they indeed are, then this would probably be Owen Daniels’ spot. However, this isn’t meant to be a 100 best players list, but rather the 100 most impactful. Zach Miller is a young Tight End on an offense that is focused around a young QuarterBack and HalfBack. What is the biggest friend to a young QuarterBack and also to a young HalfBack? None other than a Tight End, and that is exactly what Miller is… a friend to JaMarcus Russell and the stable of HalfBacks that reside in Oakland. Miller is an excellent short yardage target for Russell (made evident by his 74 targets within 20 yards), and a reliable one at that (made evident by the 48 grabs). In the JaMarcus Russell era of the Oakland Raiders, Zach Miller has been his favorite target, bar none, and has rewarded him with 1,200 yards and 100 receptions. Miller, however, isn’t just a reliable receiver. He is an excellent blocker… one of the better blocking receiving Tight Ends, made evident by the success of the Raiders rushing attack, mainly Justin Fargas’ success since Miller was drafted.
97. Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, DEN(78,NR)
Impact: A Young Wide Receiver That Makes His QuarterBack Look Elite
Argument: Newsflash to Jay Cutler… if you want to be in the NFL in five years, you’ll stay in Denver. If you get traded, hope you find a WR as talented as Marshall because he is your security blanket. Want proof? Look at the number of targets per Wide Receiver over the last two seasons… Brandon Marshall finishes 1st in 2007 and 1st in 2008. That’s because Cutler forces passes into him, and Marshall just comes down with them, even if he’s getting facemasked. In ’07 Marshall accounted for 36% of Jay Cutler’s passing attempts, and even though Eddie Royal was targeted 128 times in 2008, Marshall accounted for 29% of Jay Cutler’s passing attempts. Perhaps what makes this most impressive is the fact that Marshall missed two games in ‘08, and still led the league in targets. Perhaps more impressive is that 73 of those targets were with Jay facing a blitz, pressure, or getting hit and 39 of them were grabbed for 539 Yards and 28 accompanying First Downs. Brandon Marshall’s athleticism makes Jay Cutler look elite.
96. Kellen Winslow II, Tight End, TAM(23,HM)
Impact: Young Versatile Tight End That Spreads The Field
Argument: It is no coincidence that Kellen Winslow was disgruntled with the Cleveland Browns organization, underperformed, and then Braylon Edwards fell short of proposed goal of 1,300+ Yards and 16+ Touchdowns. In fact, Edwards fell way short, and that was because Winslow wasn’t there to take the heat off of him. Unfortunately because of Winslow’s lack of play in the 2008 season, and a lack of understanding as to how he’ll be utilized on the Buccaneers offense, his positioning on the list has drastically fallen. However, at the end of the day, what Winslow brings to the table keeps him on the list. Winslow averages four Receptions per Game, as well as an additional 55 Receiving Yards per Game for his entire career. His ability to run every route in the tree and stretch defenses aided in turning the Browns Offense into an elite one in 2007, and will aid in the development of a Buccaneers offense that currently has no designated QuarterBack and a stable of capable HalfBacks that Winslow can block, greatly I might add, for. Bringing in 60% of his targets and 35% of those for first downs for his career don’t hurt either.
95. Yeremiah Bell, Strong Safety, MIA(NR,NR)
Impact: The Best Pure In-Box Safety In The NFL
Argument: If Bob Sanders gets credit for revolutionizing the Colts Run Defense, than Yeremiah Ball should get credit for doing the same for the Dolphins Run defense. Bell has been with the Dolphins for five seasons, mostly on a string of one-year contracts, and started all 16 games in two of them. It is no coincidence that when he didn’t start all 16 games the Dolphins field a bottom-half-of-the-league run defense. In 2005 in which Bell was primarily a special teamer, the Dolphins were ranked 17th against the run. The following year, when, after five games Bell became a starter and the Dolphins shot all the way up to 8th. The following season Bell would be injured in the first game of the season, and the Dolphins would go on to become one of the worst Run Defenses in NFL history. The following year with Bell back as a starter? 10th. Last season Bell attributed 45 tackles in the box vs. the run. All together, in his last 33 starts Bell has contributed 190 Tackles, 23 Passes Defensed, 3 Sacks and 6 Forced Fumbles.
94. Terrell Suggs, Outside LineBacker, BAL(NR,NR)
Impact: Versatile X-Factor In An Elite Defense
Argument: Everybody loves to talk about Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and to a lesser extent, Haloti Ngata as a key focal point of why the Ravens Defense is so good, but numerous people tend to forget Terrell Suggs. In fact, let me take this chance to acknowledge that Ed Reed doesn’t have to be versatile because of the versatility presented in the front seven in Baltimore, mainly by Suggs. Under Rex Ryan, the Ravens were the only NFL Defense capable of fielding any formation that they wanted due to the versatility of Suggs and others. Capable of playing the 3-4 OLB, 4-3 DE and 4-3 SLB, Suggs provides matchup problems for Offensive Lineman around the league. Suggs may not be an elite pass rusher, but he is the most consistent 3-4 OLB against the run. Ignoring his rookie campaign as a situational pass rusher, Suggs averages 8 stuffs per years. Over his six year career Suggs averages 15.5 plays behind the Line-of-Scrimmage per year… that may very well be a Hall-of-Fame pace.
93. Julian Peterson, Outside LineBacker, DET(62, NR)
Impact: Versatile 4-3 OLB With Impact At Three Levels
Argument: Seahawks fans can say whatever they want to say, but the fact of the matter is, at the Strongside LineBacker position, Julian Peterson gets the job done. Peterson was recently traded to the ailing Lions in order to fix their obviously week back seven on the Defense, and looks to do so immediately. Usually with a trade, one team wins out, however, as Corey Redding is emerging as an elite DT, I would say the trade was fair, regardless of what those in Seattle think. Peterson, when playing the SLB position provides plays behind the Line-of-Scrimmage, in the box, and downfield in coverage. Now, admittedly, he has lost a step, but even with all the wear and tear on his body, Peterson is still one of the best 4-3 Outside LineBackers, SAM or WILL, in the NFL. While he won’t prevent the pass from getting to the TE or Receiver anymore, he won’t give up the yardage after the catch like the Lions LineBacking Corp was notorious for doing all last season. However, because of this decline, he declines 31 spots.
92. Richard Seymour, 3-4 Defensive End, NWE(NR, 22)
Impact: Versatile 5-Technique Capable Of Providing Pass Rush
Argument: I can only think of two truly great 5-Technique with pass rush skills; all-time Sack leaders Reggie White and Bruce Smith. While Seymour is no Bruce Smith, please believe that he has a great skillset for pass rushing, as evidenced by his average of 5 sacks per season, excluding his injury-filled 2007 campaign. However, as we all know, a 3-4 Defensive Ends primary job is to occupy blockers for the Outside LineBacker to get to the QuarterBack and close the running lanes in order to tackle the HalfBack. Seymour has done this well through his entire career, minus a short period in late 2006 and most of 2007. His and Vince Wilfork’s ability to occupy 3 or 4 blockers per play have allowed Ty Warren to look better than he actually is. Additionally to this, since 2001, players playing the ROLB position behind Seymour have put up 44 QB Sacks, or 5.5 per season. In combination to his 5 sacks per season, this allows for Seymour to be responsible for 10.5 Sacks per season in addition to helping make Ty Warren look elite.
91. Michael Griffin, Free Safety, TEN(NR, NR)
Impact: Young Safety With Range At 2 Of The 3 Levels
Argument: First let it be known that, like Matt Forte, Michael Griffin’s position on this list is based on last season, but completely contingent on his success in the 2009-2010 season. If he doesn’t mirror his success he will not make the list next season, however, if he does he could see a 50+ spot jump in positioning. Additionally, it was hard to pick between Griffin and Finnegan. However, Griffin was very impressive with his range, whether he was responsible for half of the defensive back field in Cover 2 responsibilities, or almost all of it in Cover 3 responsibilities. Griffin was also capable of playing effective man coverage in the few times he was asked to in 2008-09, and did so almost exclusively in his rookie campaign spending a lot of time at the CornerBack position. Griffin brought in 7 Interceptions, tying him for second in the NFL last season. Once Griffin can get a well-rounded game that includes of all the skills required of an elite Hybrid Safety, he could be the future at the position.
90. Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, NWE(67,NR)
Impact: Far And Away The Best 3rd Down Chain Mover In The NFL
Argument: For some reason I don’t really like Wes Welker, but you have to respect him. I didn’t really think he would find his way back onto this list this year, but he sure proved me wrong. Wes Welker, while not one of the better overall WRs in the NFL, still manages to be one of the best in the league due to his ability to catch the ball, move in traffic, and move the chains. You can look at last year’s numbers in order to see how ridiciulous he was in 2007, but even with Matt Cassell at the helm, Welker still kept producing to the tune of 111 receptions for 1,165 Yards and 3 Touchdowns. However, on 3rd Down Welker gave Defenses fits by hauling in 25 receptions on 33 Targets for 258 Yards, 18 First Downs and 2 TDs. Additionally, against the Blitz, Welker brought in 41 of 57 targets for a ridiculous 493 Yards and 24 First Down which doesn’t seem impressive until you realize that of those 493 yards 342 of them were after the catch. Welker has quickly become one of the two most reliable WR in the league.
89. Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver, IND(66,NR)
Impact: Only Elite Skill-Position Player Left In Indianapolis For Manning To Work With
Argument: I will admit it. Reggie Wayne did not originally make this list. In fact, I’m still not sure if I truly feel he deserves to be on this list, but I know the general public does feel as if he deserves it. However, after further evaluation, I figured that, Wayne does have the credentials to be on the list, and, as of last year, he is the only truly elite skill-position weapon that Peyton Manning has anymore. Addai is rumored to not be renewed, Anthony Gonzalez doesn’t have the makings of a superstar, and I can’t tell you who’s in the slot. That leaves rookie Donald Brown who’s success came in college… So who is Manning left to depend on to place the ball in their hands? Reggie Wayne. Over the past two seasons as Peyton Manning’s Flanker/No. 1 WR, Wayne has been thrown at 286 times and brought in 186 of them for 2,655 Yards, 135 First Downs, and 16 TDs. Throw in the fact that Wayne still has a top 5 pair of hands in the NFL and he, alongside Manning, is the reason that the Colt’s Offense remains great.
88. TJ Houshmandzadeh, Wide Receiver, SEA(76,NR)
Impact: NFL’s Best Possession WR That Makes Other Skill-Position Players Look Better
Argument: All off-season I’ve been hearing about how Carson Palmer is going to return to greatness now that his arm is healed and how he’ll lead the Bengals back out of below-mediocrity. I’m sorry, but I don’t see that happening now that this guy has left for the city of Coffee and Rain. Palmer is an elite talent, but it was Houshmandzadeh’s ability to go over the middle, run picture-perfect routes and catch just about anything thrown at him that helped make Palmer look so good. Housh doesn’t exactly spread the field like the other WRs on this list, but he does make it possible for the other Wideouts on his team to do so. Housh was targeted 46 times for 31 Receptions on 3rd Down and gained 344 Yards and 3 TDs. Against the Blitz Housh was targeted 54 times for 30 receptions, 338 Yards and 3 TDs. This means most of his production was on 3rd Down vs. The Blitz. That’s a security blanket. His 16 Receptions for 225 Yards on 22 Targets over the middle is far and away better than the next guy.
87. DeAngelo Williams, HalfBack, CAR(NR,NR)
Impact: Young Staple of The Panthers Run Game For Years To Come
Argument: Like Matt Forte, Mr. Williams needs to repeat his success from the 2008 season in order to remain on this list, and possibly move up. In fact you might call me a hypocrite for allowing Adrian Peterson to move all the way up to the number 15 position after his rookie season when Williams’ first year as a starter saw him produce totals of 1636 Yards From Scrimmage and 20 Touchdowns From Scrimmage on a mere 295 Touches. Hell, that production, if mirrored is worthy of a top 10 position on this list. However, Williams’ ranking on this list is affected by a few things, the first of which has already been mentioned in that it was his first time doing it, making it an anomaly at this point. The second factor effecting his positioning is that he split carries. But let’s not use this paragraph to get down on Williams; let’s explore what he actually did. The aforementioned numbers posted would be worthy of MVP and OPOTY honors in any other season. Williams’ running single-handedly kept the Cats in their two biggest games of the year(TB and @NYG)
86. Plaxico Burress, Wide Receiver, FA(HM,NR)
Impact: Security Blanket/Lynch Pin For A Super Bowl Caliber Offense.
Argument: Be honest, last season, prior to Week 12, when Plaxico Burress shot himself, did it not look like the Giants had the making of a small dynasty? I mean, they’re a young team, with a strong defense, strong run game, and Eli Manning had finally become something other than “Peyton’s Brother”. They were 10-1, best in the league, averaged 29.9 Points Per Game, best in the league, and 367 Yards Per Game, 3rd in the league. Along the way they had beaten the four teams that would play in the Conference Championship Games as well. They were, factually, the best team in the NFL at that point. However, once Burress went down, things changed. The Giants began to lack a deep threat and strong run blocker. After he went down the Giants averaged 18.2 Points Per Game and 326 Yards Per Game and went 2-4. Based on his individual numbers alone, Burress probably doesn’t even make this list, but when you look at the end result of a potential dynasty falling flat on its face, one could argue he’s way too low.
*As a footnote, let me apologize for the NYG logo in the background, but it was the only one available.*
85. Darnell Dockett, 3-4 Defensive End/4-3 Defensive Tackle, ARI(NR,NR)
Impact: Versatile D-Lineman That Allows The Cardinals To Employ Their “Multiple Defense”
Argument: Admittedly, coming into the season, I wasn’t really aware of who Darnell Dockett was. I mean, he made my 2nd-Team All-Pro list last year, but I thought it was just a stop gap in which he would have one outstanding year like a lot of guys do. But, boy I was wrong. Dockett is, quite possibly, the league’s 2nd most versatile Defensive Lineman, and while the first two get props here and there, nobody is really singing Dockett’s praises. However, Dockett is a player with immense versatility in his game, capable of playing the 3-4 Defensive End, the 4-3 Under Tackle, and the Nickel Package Defensive Tackle. Not many players, if any other ones, in the NFL can do that. His rare blend of size and speed allow him to kick inside to be a good run defender and pass rusher in the 4-3, kick outside to be a good run defender in the 3-4, or remain as an outside defender in Nickel packages and play the run and the pass effectively. His 19 Sacks, 24 Stuffs and 3 Interceptions throughout his career should emphasize these points.
84. Lance Briggs, Outside LineBacker, CHI(NR,NR)
Impact: The Prototypical Weakside LineBacker That Makes Chicago’s Tampa 2 Run
Argument: Let me begin my stating that I don’t know how Lance Briggs has been excluded from this list two years in a row. Oh wait, now I remember… strong lobbying from Chicago Bears fans telling me that because Briggs couldn’t play the MIKE in the Tampa 2 he isn’t as good as Urlacher. Well I’m going to sit here and tell you that, Lance Briggs was the better of the 2 LineBackers in 2006 and here again in 2008. The WILL LineBacker’s role is to slip in and out of traffic at the Line of Scrimmage against the rush, and play coverage against HalfBacks and Tight Ends in the passing game. Nobody in the NFL does this as well as Lance Briggs. Briggs is capable of making plays behind the Line of Scrimmage against ball carriers (44.5 Career Stuffs), and is stout in coverage, as evidenced by being number one in pass defense metrics in the NFL during the Bears’ Super Bowl appearance year. Briggs also has a propensity for making big plays, evidenced by his 48Passes Defensed, 9 Interceptions, and 4 TDs in his career.
83. Michael Turner, HalfBack, ATL(NR,NR)
Impact: Franchise Staple That Betters The Franchise QuarterBack
Argument: Allow me to be the first to apologize to Michael Turner. As I said when I named him to one of my All-Pro team’s this post-season, Turner proved me wrong in thinking he could not handle the load as a #1 in the NFL. Turner came out in his first game as the Falcon’s franchise HalfBack and took the league by storm, and never looked back. Like Williams and Forte, his positioning is only so low because it’s only been one year. Don’t get me wrong, Matt Ryan did one hell of a job this past season, but don’t kid yourself in thinking he was not helped by Turner’s 383 Touches last season. That’s a ridiculous number of touches for a HalfBack, and is almost guaranteed to make a QuarterBack look good. His 1,700 Yards and 17 Touchdowns didn’t hurt either. Turner provides a franchise that was in turmoil with a staple next to it’s QuarterBack for years to come. With Tony Gonzalez added to the mix, and Ryan having a full grasp of the playbook next season, look for Turner to do more on less touches. Oh, and Panther’s fans, he’s higher than Williams because he carries the load alone.
82. Aaron Smith, 3-4 Defensive End, PIT(68,NR)
Impact: One Of The League’s Best Run Defenders, Regardless of Position
Argument: In case I need to refresh your memory on just how good Smith is, perhaps you need to check out the link to last year’s list and read his criteria for the 68th spot last season. Smith is on that elite level with about 4 or 5 other guys when it comes to stopping the run, where, you’re better off not running in their direction at all. But, the argument existed that last season might have been a fluke because there was nothing really ever to measure it against. To that I provide evidence of the Steelers 2004-05 15-1 campaign and their recent Super Bowl run in which Smith played an integral role in both years. In 2004-05, despite losing Casey Hampton for 9 games, the Steelers Defense only allowed 83 Yards Per Game on the ground. They mirrored something similar to these stats this past season when Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel were down for a few games. Despite being the only starter left on the D-Line for the Steelers during that run, they were still one of the league’s 3 best Rush Defenses. Aaron Smith is an incredible run defender.
81. Kris Jenkins, 3-4 Nose Tackle, NYJ(NR,NR)
Impact: Focal Point Of The Jets Defense, Regardless Of What They’ll Run
Argument: We all know the story by now… Kris Jenkins is traded to the Jets in order to become their Nose Tackle and succeeds. Heck, that’s evidenced by the fact that the Jets Defense went from allowing 135 Yards Per Game on 4.2 Yards Per Carry(bad enough to rank 29th) to allowing 94 Yards Per Game on 3.7 Yards Per Carry(good enough to rank 7th). That’s about as drastic a change as you can make at the Nose Tackle position. However, as you know, Jenkins has previously been playing the 4-3 Nose Tackle, and at one point was very elite at the position. Rex Ryan is very adept at employing Defenses capable of giving the opposition multiple looks. Kris Jenkins is no Haloti Ngata and while he hasn’t said anything about doing such a thing in New York, there is a very real chance that he might attempt such a thing due to Jenkins’ abilities in both systems, therefore making the Jets a Defense to look out for in 2009-10 thanks to Jenkins. Look for him to make an impact as a Pass Rusher and Run Stopper next year.
80. Robert Mathis, Defensive End, IND(NR,NR)
Impact: One of Two Consistent 4-3 Right Ends; But He Can Silently Take Games Over
Argument: I’m going to go ahead and say that I, like many people, tend to forget about Robert Mathis. Not only may he be the best Defensive End in Indy(I’m not saying he is), he may be one of the best overall Defensive Ends in the league, regardless of side. As many people know, the success of the Tampa 2 Defense is contingent on quite a few things, and one of those two things is that the book ends are capable of providing pressure on the QuarterBack without receiving lots of help, if any. The two guys in Indianapolis manage to do that, and do it very well. Everybody knows about Dwight Freeney and his infamous spin move, but many don’t remember Robert Mathis and his combination of finesse and power moves that make him the most consistent Right Defensive End in the NFL. Mathis averages 10 Sacks, 3 Stuffs, 5 Forced Fumbles, and 2 Passes Defensed Per Season as a starter. Mathis is a turnover producing machine that keeps the Colts anemic Defense in many games, like the Week 13 contest @ Cleveland.
79. Casey Hampton, Nose Tackle, PIT(49,42)
Impact: Still An Elite Nose Tackle That Continues To Anchor Pittsburgh’s Run Defense
Argument: First, First, Thirteenth, First*, Third, Third, Third and Second… These numbers represent the respective rankings from 2001 to the present for the Pittsburgh Steelers Rush Defense. It’s no secret that, since 2001, the anchor behind such a Defense has been Casey Hampton. While Hampton may no longer be the premier prototype at the position, he still remains a prominent Nose Tackle in today’s NFL and does his job very damn well. His ability to clog the A-Gaps allows for player no. 100, James Farrior, to make so many plays near the Line of Scrimmage. His ability to occupy Pulling Guards also allows for the Steelers Outside LineBackers to make plays against the run all over the place. While Hampton doesn’t provide the versatility of a Kris Jenkins, there is no denying that he is one of the league’s 10 best Run Defenders that requires a double team on 40+ Offensive Snaps per game.
78. Dwight Freeney, Defensive End, IND(NR,NR)
Impact: In The Opposition’s Backfield Every Single Game
Argument: I know, I know, I know Colts fans… you guys feel that, in reality, Dwight Freeney is a much better book end than Robert Mathis due to a multitude of factors. But, due to Freeney’s inability to produce for the past two seasons before this one, whether it was due to injury or just down play, in contrast to Mathis’ consistency, they’re going to remain close on this list. Freeney is a guy who made me think about making this list in the first place, but then proceeded not to make the last two because of his down years in which it looked as if his career might have been on the downslide. As with Mathis, in the Tampa 2, great pass rushing book ends are very important, and Dwight Freeney, since coming into the league, has been one of the better ones, even with his two down years. Freeney has 99.5 plays behind the Line of Scrimmage for his 89 Career Regular Season games. That means that, at least once per game, Dwight Freeney is making a play behind the Line-of-Scrimmage. Those are Hall of Fame pace numbers if he can keep it up.
77. Mario Williams, Defensive End, HOU(HM,NR)
Impact: A Franchise Player With A TRUE High Motor.
Argument: Last season Mario Williams enjoyed breakout success and Texans fans were lobbying as hard as possible in order for him to make the list, to which I replied that Williams needed to do it again… and he did, so here he is boys. While I can’t be convinced he’s the best Defensive End in the league, I was convinced by his play that he’s worthy of this list. Williams is a young superstar with a lot of time in this league, and I expect him to spend all of that time in Houston playing for this franchise because that’s the type of character he has. While I don’t think that Williams is as complete as most seem to do, it doesn’t change the fact that, he is one of the few players who’s play remains good throughout the entire game, rather than tail off. In fact, Williams did his best against the run when the opposition’s HalfBacks got more carries. Additionally, Williams recorded all of his Sacks from the 2nd Quarter and on. I don’t believe in the term “high motor”, but if it did exist than Mario Williams is the guy with it.
76. Brian Urlacher, Middle LineBacker, CHI(43,29)
Impact: Versatility Allows Him To Become An In-Box LineBacker And Still Succeed
Argument: I’m going to say that, at this point, Urlacher’s placement on the list is to avoid backlash from Chicago fans. A year after he had the best year of his career through actually living up to his coverage abilities from college, Urlacher regressed last season, but was still a force to be reckoned with in the box. Urlacher still fulfilled his duties as the MIKE in the Tampa 2 last season by making a few plays 20+ yards downfield, and even picked off an underthrown pass 40 yards downfield, but Urlacher’s domain at this point in his career is a 15 by 6 Yard area from 5 Yards behind the Line of Scrimage to 10 Yards away in between the hash marks. Despite not being able to rush the passer this past season, Urlacher supplanted that with the ability to get to the ball carrier behind the Line of Scrimmage. Inside the “box” defined by the Hash marks and 10 yards away from the Line of Scrimmage is where Urlacher works best and will spend the rest of his career succeeding.
75. Vince Wilfork, 3-4 Nose Tackle, NWE (51,NR)
Impact: The Staple Of The Patriots Defense
Argument: Excluding last season, the Patriots have finished top 10 against the run every season since Vince Wilfork has arrived in town. Now the end position isn’t as impressive as Casey Hampton’s totals, so why is Hampton not above Wilfork? It’s simple actually, while it doesn’t seem impressive, Vince Wilfork is capable of doing more than simply corralling blockers and freeing up holes for the other Linemen and LineBackers in New England. He is capable of making plays himself, which is something most other Nose Tackles don’t do. Wilfork manages to make it to the QuarterBack about twice a season from the 3-4 Nose Tackle position which is ridiculously hard to do. However, the most important aspect of Wilfork’s play is that he’s been the only good, consistent and healthy factor in New England’s Defense for the past 2 and a half seasons. When you consider that hey, like Seymour, makes Warren look elite as well, then his impact is a no brainer.
74. Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver, ARI(NR,NR)
Impact: The Best Red Zone Target In The NFL
Argument: It’s easy to overlook Anquan Boldin with the recent “emergence” of Larry Fitzgerald… in fact, I did so in compiling this list. It wasn’t until a very convincing argument from MVP Khodder that I realized what an egregious mistake I made by not placing Q onto this list. Like two receivers previously mentioned, Welker and Houshmandzadeh, Boldin has been the “other guy” on his team this past season or two, despite being very good in his own right. In fact, Boldin provides third down and Blitz efficiency that rivals that of Houshmandzadeh and Welker with 37 Receptions on 53 Targets for 442 Yards, 22 First Downs, and 4 Touchdowns against the Blitz and 25 Receptions on 34 Targets for 201 Yards and 4 Touchdowns on 3rd Down. But the reason Boldin, a late comer onto this list, isn’t positioned in the same place as the aforementioned Wide Receivers is because he provides a threat that the other two haven’t consistently … in the Red Zone. Boldin has produced 16 Red Zone TDs in his past 24 games. 3 Times in his career he has posted at least 5 in a Season.
73. John Abraham, Defensive End, ATL(NR,NR)
Impact: This Generation’s Best Pure Pass Rusher
Argument: John Abraham could very well be in the top 10 on this list like Jason Taylor was in 2006 or Jared Allen was in 2007… but the problem is he is a one-dimensional player. However, that one dimension is ridiculously good. I don’t’ think that it is too farfetched to say that Abraham is this generation’s best pure pass rusher. Unfortunately, he is often-injured and plays lackadaisically against the run. However, when Abraham plays a full season he averages 12 Sacks a season. Even in his incomplete seasons he averages 6 Sacks. Per every 16 Games in his career Abraham averages 11.89 Sacks a season. That is a ridiculous pace. Any team that can get John Abraham healthy for an entire season is guaranteed to receive a guy that will produce double-digit Sack totals, and as a result will generate considerable double teams. Those double teams allow players such as Jonathan Babineaux to look much better than they actually are, even when watching them in game.
72. Kirk Morrison, Middle LineBacker, OAK(41,NR)
Impact: Versatile Coverage LineBacker Capable of Playing The Run Effectively
Argument: I know, I know Raiders fans… Kirk Morrison had a down year. Heck, I’ll even acknowledge that last Season he missed a few tackles, however, those were a result of him attempting to recover due to the front four not doing its job. Keeping this in mind, in combination with his 2006 and 2007 campaigns, Morrison deserves this list. Honorable Mention, Thomas Howard was the team’s best Run Defending LineBacker last Season, but Morrison was no slouch, and still provided excellent coverage against the run. Despite the absolutely horrid play of Kelly, Warren and Sands in front of him, the Raider’s only allowed slightly under the team average for Yards Per Carry up the middle thanks to Morrison and his 93 Tackles in the box against HalfBacks. While Howard could make this list, it’s Morrison’s role as a MIKE combined with his 2 previous campaigns that keeps him on the list.
71. Tommie Harris, Defensive Tackle, CHI(52,HM)
Impact: 3-Technique That Makes His LineBackers Look Great
Argument: The last Bear that will make this list, Tommie Harris’ impact can be seen in the production that Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs bring to the table. Without Harris in the starting Lineup Urlacher begins to look lost or scared when approaching the Line of Scrimmage and Lance Briggs’ production in the box begins to fall. Harris is the premier 3-Technique/Under Tackle in the NFL when it comes to creating lanes to rush the passer, because he, himself, does it better than everyone else and does is consistently. Harris, despite not being healthy for an entire Season for the past three Seasons has had the pass rushing effect of any other Defensive Tackle in the NFL. Harris is also no slouch against the run either. When it comes down to it, Harris is an elite D-Lineman in today’s NFL; He’ the best Pass Rushing 3-Technique in the league, and he has a good presence against the run that aids Briggs and Urlacher tremendously.
70. Asante Samuel, CornerBack, PHI(33,45)
Impact: The Best BallHawk At The CornerBack Position In the NFL/Capable of Scoring/Best Post-Season CornerBack
Argument: Should I even really have to make an argument for him? Samuel made the list two years ago because of a tremendous “breakout” Season in which he moved from coverage CornerBack to Ballhawk CornerBack and he has never looked back. Asante Samuel just has a nose for the ball when it is in the air. Sure, he may give a Touchdown here or there, but he makes up for them numerous times by giving his offense opportunities by taking the ball away. As stated in his impact last Season, Asante Samuel is a guaranteed 4 to 8 turnovers per Season, and turnovers change games. Additional to those Interceptions is the fact that you can throw in Samuel’s gambling style to bat down 18 or so balls a Season as well too. But it’s not as if Asante Samuel is an Antonio Cromartie-type player, because he can cover as well when he’s in a Zone system. He picks off well thrown passes and has a knack for returning them. Should post-Season and regular Season statistics merge, Samuel would be amongst the top for return TDs, but since they don’t, he’ll settle being at the top for post-Season return TDs.
69. Maurice Jones-Drew, Specialist, JAX(63,NR)
Impact: The League’s Premier Specialist
Argument: What the hell is a “Specialist” you might be asking. Well, that’s why MJD is on this list, despite only having started 4 games three years into his career. I fully expect MJD to leap into the top 40 next Season now that he is a full-time Starter. In short, he is worth that new incredibly high contract that he just received. Why? Well it’s because, as one of only two good/great specialists in the NFL, Jones-Drew does it all. However, unlike the other Specialist, Leon Washington, Jones-Drew is provided numerous opportunities and, as a result, posts large numbers as well. Maurice Jones-Drew, or MJD as he’s known around forums around the net, has posted 1389, 1175 and 1377 Yards From Scrimmage over the past three seasons. Additionally, when you throw in his return yardage to the mix, Jones has provided 1670, 1986 and 1801 total Yards, for an average of 1,819 total Yards and 13 Touchdowns per season . The return numbers will dwindle as he becomes a full-time starter, but the total Yards and TD totals should remain high.
68. Jon Beason, Middle LineBacker, CAR(NR,NR)
Impact: A Premier MIKE with Sideline-to-Sideline Range That Isn’t Afraid To Be A Leader Vocally And Via Performance
Argument: Last season you may recall when compiling this list that a young guy by the name of Patrick Willis made this list because he was one of the true “Sideline-to-Sidline” LineBackers in the NFL, when the term gets thrown around way too often for guys who rarely make plays outside of the box. Well, there must be something in the water, because his draft-class mate, Beason, had a season similar to Willis’ rookie year along the sidelines in ‘08, and did it with tremendously less opportunities to do so. Jon Beason, last season made a ridiculous 36 Tackles along the Left and Right Sidelines, 1.5 of which were plays in which he tackled the ball carrier behind the Line of Scrimmage. He also recovered a fumble and defended a pass along the sidelines. Beason provides Carolina with a young staple on it’s Defense that is capable of tracking down any ball carrier, as well as letting his teammates know that he’s leading them into battle.
67. Chad Clifon, Left Tackle, GNB(28,30)
Impact: Fleet-Footed Finesse Left Tackle That Protected The Franchise’s Hero And Now The Future
Argument: Prior to last season it was believed that Chad Clifton was the best pure pass-blocking Left Tackle in the NFL, but many debated this with the belief that Brett Favre’s quick release had a huge impact on his Sack totals. After looking at his 2008-09 Sack totals one might be inclined to believe that, but if you view the film on the season, than it’s just not true. Even when you factor in his 7.5 Sack season last year, Clifton only gives up a Sack once every four games. Hell, even with giving up 7.5 Sacks on the season, Clifton only allowed Rodgers to be Sacked once every 77 drop backs, while being on an island every game except for the Texans game. That is what you want and need in a Left Tackle when they are blocking for your Franchise QuarterBack, whether it’s the Franchise Legend, or the upcoming Super Star.
66. Nick Barnett, Middle LineBacker, GNB(47,NR)
Impact: Leader Of A Strong Defensive Unit With Impeccable Range
Argument: As I said last season, Nick Barnett is one of the few Sideline-to-Sideline LineBackers in the NFL, and even though he only played in 7 games this season, he still managed to make plays along the sidelines. With that said, Nick Barnett isn’t merely on here simply because of that. Nick Barnett is on here because he’s a difference maker. The second he went down, the Packers Defense looked markedly different with AJ Hawk at the Middle LineBacker position. That’s because Nick Barnett, is a coverage LineBacker, like Hawk, but has the ability to make plays near the Line of Scrimmage, and is better than every other LineBacker in the NFL at reading the screen pass and stopping it before it makes it back to the Line of Scrimmage. The second Barnett went down the Packers began to allow 2.5 more Points Per Game. However, Barnett must return to form after this injury or he, like Morrison, could find himself no longer on this list.
65. DeMeco Ryans, Middle LineBacker, HOU(26,NR)
Impact: Is His Respective Organization’s Defense
Argument: With all due respect to Mario Williams, who’s versatile ability to line up on either the left or right side is, quite possible, the best thing the Texans Defense has going, the Texans Defense goes and comes, like most Defenses with it’s Middle LineBacker… in this case DeMeco Ryans. It’s no coincidence that, despite fielding it’s best offense in Franchise history, as well as it’s best Defense, in terms of talent, in the franchise’s history, that the Defense was worse than the year prior, and didn’t make any drastic jumps. Why is it no coincidence? Well, quite simply, because DeMeco Ryans had his worst season as a Pro, and as a result, so did the Texans Defense under the Ryans/Williams/Akoye regime. That is how much of an impact that Ryans has on the Texans. If he isn’t playing well, even if Williams is, the Defense itself isn’t playing well. He is that kind of a leader, that kind of a captain, and that kind of an impact player. With Ryans playing the way we all know he’s capable of, and the offense being elite, look for the Texans to make noise in 2009-10.
64. Patrick Willis, Middle LineBacker, SNF(57,NR)
Impact: The Future Of The LineBacker Position
Argument: Whether you love his production or hate the fact that he’s overrated in many circles, Patrick Willis is a phenom that, one day, will be the best MIKE LineBacker in football under Mike Singletary’s tutelage. He has all the intangibles and has even displayed some of them. When many people said Willis needed to get better in coverage last off-season, he did just that. Now people make criticisms about him taking on the Line of Scrimmage, and I fully expect him to work on that this off-season and get rid of the criticism. That’s the type of player Willis is. A hardnosed football legend in the making. While his numbers may not seem indicative of it, Willis’ 2nd NFL season was much better than his first one because he was a player teams had to avoid in the run game, and the passing game… in only his 2nd season. Teams learned, the hard way, that if you run at Willis without a FullBack he will be the one tackling your HalfBack. Willis needs to just working on attacking the Line of Scrimmage and remaining a force later on in the ballgame vs. the run in order to be the consummate NFL LineBacker.
63. Brad Butler, Right Guard, BUF(72,NR)
Impact: The Buffalo Bill’s Entire Run Game
Argument: The Bills will miss Peters on the outside, but they still have their best Offensive Lineman, because Butler is one of the league’s better Guards. Why is that? Because he’s already one of the better Pass-Blocking Guards, affording a mere 2.5 Sacks over the past 29 games that he’s played in, but he’s one of the better Linemen in terms of forming holes for his HalfBacks. As I stated last year, Butler doesn’t blow his guy off the Line of Scrimmage, but he just makes holes, even if he’s pushed back. In ‘07 the Bills’ ground game averaged 4.0 Yards Per Carry, but behind Butler they averaged 5.1 YPC and achieved 33% of their 1st Downs behind him as well as 3 TDs. Despite being injured for most of the season in ’08, yet still playing in 13 games, the Bills ran Right Guard Trap with Butler 68 times for 342 Yards(5.0 YPC) and 2 TDs compared to 8 times for 10 Yards(1.25 YPC) in the 3 games he was out. In those 3 games without him they only average 69 Rush Yards Per Game and 4.3 Rushing First Downs A Game.
62. Barrett Ruud, Middle LineBacker, TAM(NR,NR)
Impact: A Complete LineBacker With Few, If Any, Flaws
Argument: I’m going to go ahead right now and say that Barrett Ruud is currently what the media thought Brian Urlacher was for some time… a great MIKE in a Tampa 2 with strong coverage abilities, the ability to play the run, and, above all, a playmaker. In fact, Barrett Ruud might be one of the quintessential LineBackers in this league, but what’s bad about it is that nobody is talking about him. Ruud has shown signs of being a Sideline-to-Sideline LineBacker, with 28 Tackles , 2.5 Stuffs and a PD along the sidelines. Ruud is capable of shedding blocks, taking on FullBacks in the I-Formation to get to the HalfBack or simply getting through the line in SingleBack formations and making the tackle. He is excellent at reading the screen pass, and succeeds at playing deep coverage and making plays on the ball in deep coverage. I don’t know why I slept on Ruud all season, because going back and looking at him, Ruud, quite possibly, had the best season for all MIKE LineBackers bar none.
61. Ronnie Brown, HalfBack, MIA(NR,NR)
Impact: He Is The Dolphins Offense And Strongly Responsible For Their Turnaround
Argument: I keep hearing how Chad Pennington should be on this list because the Dolphins rarely turned the ball over, despite the fact that Pennington was responsible for the majority of their turnovers. People say that Pennington was the deciding factor between 1-15 and 11-5. Sorry people, the decisive factor was the return of Ronnie Brown to health. With Brown during 2007 the Dolphins were contenders, averaging 22.7 Points Per Game on the legs of Brown who was leading the league in rushing. After he went down, they only eclipsed that total once, against the lowly Bengals. That, my friends is impact. However, Brown returned to the league deciding to continue his tear that he started in the 2007 season, and had help from Offensive Coordinator, Dan Henning. Henning employed the Wildcat formation he once used in Carolina, but saw marked success because of Brown’s skillset. Brown was touching the ball some 20-odd times a game, and caused Defensive Coordinators to gameplan around him every week. This wildcat formation is what won the Dolphins so many games as they went 2-5 when losing the time of possession battle.
60. Trent Cole, Defensive End, PHI(HM,NR)
Impact: Complete 4-3 Defensive End Capable Of Doing It All
Argument: With all the teams making the hoopla about switching over to the 3-4, I wasn’t shocked when I heared an extremely late April Fool’s joke stating the Eagles would be switching over. That’s because they have this guy. While other teams are moving over 4-3 DEs that can merely rush the passer, Cole can drop into coverage, rush the passer, and plays the run better than almost all other 4-3 DEs. I’ve had the fortune of living in Philadelphia and thus watching Cole play for the past 3 seasons. In his first season splitting time I knew that Cole would be a superstar when he was part of a 2-Line rotation as the 2nd/3rd DE in Philly and then Jevon Kearse went down with an injury and Cole was the only player to play in both rotations after that. While Cole had, what was in my opinion, a down year due to his inability to get past some of the better pas blockers in the NFL, it doesn’t change the fact that, he makes plays behind the Line of Scrimmage against QuarterBacks and ball carriers. And in Philly’s Zone Blitz, he’s the premier end at dropping into coverage.
59. Jordan Gross, Left Tackle, CAR(NR,NR)
Impact: An Elite Pass-Blocking Left Tackle With Skills In The Run Game
Argument: For years, right after Jon Runyan, Jordan Gross was one of the league’s premier Right Tackles. As a result the Carolina Panthers figured that they could make a 2nd attempt move him to the Left Tackle and see if he could play it at an elite level this time around. Gross hasn’t disappointed the Panthers yet, turning in an All-Pro performance one season after being franchised. However, Gross hasn’t shown any signs of losing the Right Tackle mean streak that most Left Tackles do not have. Although Gross is still a good pass blocker, evidenced by his 3 Sacks allowed last season, he is still an incredible run blocker like most Right Tackles. In the Panthers immensely strong run game which featured a lot of runs betwe