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The Top 50 Players at the NFL's Midseason Mark

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 31, 2013

The Top 50 Players at the NFL's Midseason Mark

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Who is the best player in the NFL this season? That answer might be more complicated than you think.

    Everyone thinks they know who the best player is, but what if you take away previous success, ignore future potential and look solely at this season's production and impact? Is Peyton Manning still having an MVP-caliber season if you remove his past success? How about Tom Brady?

    At the halfway point of the season, we're updating our Top 50 players list. And remember, this is based only on the first eight weeks of the 2013 season.

     

    All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

50. Trent Williams, Offensive Tackle, Washington Redskins

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    Trent Williams has emerged as one of the most well-rounded offensive tackles in football this season. He's backing that up on the field with production, which has been the result of high-level film work. 

    The Washington offense has been slow to take off, largely due to lingering effects from Robert Griffin III's knee injury, but Williams has been a bright spot for the team. Whether it's opening rushing lanes or protecting Griffin's blind side, Williams has been a sure thing all season.

49. Kiko Alonso, Linebacker, Buffalo Bills

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 45

    TacklesSacksINT
    4114

    A legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Kiko Alonso has hit the ground running in his first NFL season.

    The former Oregon Duck has been a terrorizing force at inside linebacker. Whether it's in pass coverage—where he has four interceptions in eight games—or against the run, he simply makes big plays.

    The second-round pick has been solid throughout his first season, showing the athletic ability, instincts and toughness to be a longtime fixture on the Top 50 list.

48. Sheldon Richardson, Defensive End, New York Jets

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    The New York Jets hit paydirt when they added defensive end Sheldon Richardson in the first round of the 2013 draft class. Since Week 1, he's been an impact player, solidifying the defensive line and providing the type of pressure that the team lacked in previous seasons.

    Unlike most rookies, Richardson hasn't hit a wall yet to see his play regress. Instead, he's getting better each week. His quarterback hurries and tackles continue to remain steady, even as offenses start to pay more attention to the stud athlete.

47. Julius Thomas, Tight End, Denver Broncos

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    Previous Ranking: No. 47

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    Julius Thomas has been among the NFL's biggest surprises so far this season. And as long as Peyton Manning keeps targeting him in the red zone and up the seam, Thomas' stock will continue to rise.

    A big, fast mismatch at tight end, he has been one of the most unstoppable pass-catching threats in the league. While he's not much of a blocker, the Broncos don't need him to be with Manning's quick-strike ability in the passing game.

    Thomas' unique tools and consistent production are proof that he's more than an early-season fluke.

46. Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %YardsTDINTPasser Rating
    33821162.4%2,61716694.7

    Matthew Stafford didn't make the cut after four weeks of play, but since then he has established himself as a legitimate top-50 player. Weeks 4-8 showed Stafford answering critics with big-time throws, a comeback win against Dallas that will go down for the ages and the type of instincts that too often faded under pressure.

    Stafford will still throw the occasional interception, but he's moving much better in the pocket to avoid sacks and is generally playing smarter football. Taking his entire season into account, there's no way to keep him off the Top 50 list.

45. Jason Hatcher, Defensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    Jason Hatcher wasn't seen as a sure thing when the season began. In fact, many listed the defensive tackle position as a question mark for the Dallas Cowboys. Eight weeks later, it's clear that defensive tackle is not a weakness for the team.

    The long, lean Hatcher has made an easy transition from 3-4 defensive end to a pass-rushing position in Monte Kiffin's defense. And he's producing, too. Hatcher's seven sacks and 21 hurries make him a top-tier performer after just eight games.

44. Sean Lee, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

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    Previous Ranking: No. 44

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    Inside linebacker Sean Lee hasn't received a ton of national coverage, which is unfortunate. At midseason, he has to be considered a contender for the All-Pro linebacker spots usually reserved for Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

    Lee is a multi-talented player on defense. The Cowboys are getting production against the run and exceptional pass coverage that has resulted in four interceptions and three passes defended on the year.

    The Dallas defense isn't great as a unit, but Lee and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher are both deserving of high praise for their underrated performances.

43. Derrick Johnson, Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Previous Ranking: No. 38

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    Derrick Johnson has become a mainstay on lists such as this one, and for good reason. The former Texas Longhorn has been a consistent performer at middle linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs—on some terrible teams and some contenders. This season has been his Sistine Chapel. 

    Conducting the league's top-ranked defense has not gone unnoticed. Johnson may be outproduced by Justin Houston and Tamba Hali when it comes to quarterback sacks, but his play between the hashes in coverage and against the run is what allows the Kansas City defenders to attack off the edge as hard as they do.

    Make a short list of the best inside linebackers in football, and Johnson better be on it.

42. Frank Gore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    The San Francisco 49ers offense hasn't always been exciting this season, but with Frank Gore in the backfield, it has been powerful.

    He has stepped up to fill the gap left in the offense with receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out. Without his top two receivers, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled at times, leaving the offense in Gore's capable hands.

    The veteran running back hasn't disappointed, sparking a five-game winning streak with the 49ers scoring at least 30 points in every game.

41. Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive End, New York Jets

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    Previous Ranking: No. 39

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    It used to be that 3-4 defensive ends did not produce the kind of quarterback sacks and hurries that we're seeing from Muhammad Wilkerson. Those days are gone. What's left in their wake? Athletic freaks who can set the edge against the run and rush the quarterback all the same.

    Wilkerson isn't the first superhuman to line up in a 5-technique, but he's doing it as well as anyone right now. His vision, burst off the snap and raw power when met by an offensive lineman are unreal. Put it all together, and you have a defensive end who is a nightmare for offensive coordinators to scheme around.

40. Jordan Cameron, Tight End, Cleveland Browns

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    Previous Ranking: No. 50

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    Jordan Cameron's ability to remain a consistent producer despite the quarterback play in Cleveland is remarkable. Few players would be able to withstand the play of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell without seeing a drop-off in production and impact, but Jordan has done it.

    The next in a long line of former basketball players-turned-tight ends, Cameron is a mismatch for defenses thanks to his length, speed and strong hands. Until NFL defenses learn how to stop someone with his rare abilities, he will continue to haunt opponents.

39. Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings

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    Previous Ranking: No. 28

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    Jared Allen is a great player who is hidden on a bad team, but that's what lists like this are for: to unearth studs we're overlooking nationally.

    He has been a force for the Minnesota Vikings defense. At home in his right defensive end spot, Allen has been all over the field in key games. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, he posted three sacks in the team's win. He added four quarterback hurries against the Chicago Bears in Week 2 and three hits on Eli Manning and the New York Giants five weeks later.

    If you want consistency and production, Allen has you covered.

38. Terrell Suggs, Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens

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    Previous Ranking: No. 42

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    The idea of a do-it-all defender is awesome but rarely seen. Unless you watch Terrell Suggs. The Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher routinely terrorizes offenses from his spot on the edge of the defense. He's on pace for another great season.

    His eight sacks in seven games puts him in the top tier of all pass-rushers so far this season, but unlike many of his peers, he adds tackles against the run, too. While other edge-rushers will attack the backfield and focus only on the quarterback, Suggs is talented enough to stop the run on his way to the quarterback.

    That talent and production make him a no-brainer inside the Top 50.

37. Alterraun Verner, Cornerback, Tennessee Titans

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    Previous Ranking: No. 35

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    2248

    When we think of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, names like Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis quickly come to mind. But who's next? When looking at 2013 play, you have to choose Tennessee Titans corner Alterraun Verner.

    He isn't unlike Revis in his ability to shut down opposing wide receivers. On the year, he has pulled down four interceptions and broken up eight passes, and he is allowing just 36 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. While those aren't quite Revis Island numbers, the two players are similar in their physical style of man-to-man coverage.

    Verner may not have instant name recognition for the casual fan, but his play makes him a favorite on film.

36. Eric Berry, Safety, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Previous Ranking: No. 33

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    Eric Berry has made the Pro Bowl in every season that he's been healthy, so it's not like he's an unknown player. But NFL fans may not know just how good he has been this season compared to years past.

    He is playing his best football through eight weeks, showing the run-stopping ability that was missing from his game earlier in his career. And against the pass, Berry is still quick enough to keep pace with tight ends and slot receivers while packing a punch when it's time to make a tackle.

    The Kansas City defense has many good players on it, and Berry is making his case as the most promising of them all.

35. Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans

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    Previous Ranking: No. 17

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    In a season where Matt Schaub has struggled, been hurt and was eventually benched, wide receiver Andre Johnson is still producing and impacting the game.

    Whether it's Schaub or Case Keenum at quarterback, Johnson's ability shines. He's one of the best route-runners in the NFL, and that shows up in his ability to beat man coverage and gain separation even as he enters the last half of his career.

    Johnson's numbers are unlikely to compete with other elite receivers, but that's on the quarterback play around him. His talent is still as good as ever.

34. Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

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    Previous Ranking: No. 16

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %TDINTYardsPasser Rating
    30520567.2%1472,22394.2

    The Atlanta Falcons might not be playing well this season, but that's not Matt Ryan's fault. Especially when you consider that he's excelled without Julio Jones and Roddy White for much of the year.

    Ryan has survived behind a patchwork offensive line without a run game, and he has kept the Falcons competitive on offense despite their 2-5 record at midseason. Ryan, in ways similar to Tom Brady's struggles this year, has seen his play fly under the radar of NFL fans.

    This will be a forgettable year for Falcons fans, but those paying attention have seen that Ryan is earning his keep.

33. Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    20512561%1341,62899.0

    Russell Wilson somehow is getting lost in the shuffle this season with so many great quarterbacks taking the field. He shouldn't be.

    While his statistics might not be elite when compared to Peyton Manning and others, he's putting up top-level numbers and impact on a weekly basis. Oh, and the Seattle Seahawks are 6-1 with both offensive tackles and two wide receivers injured.

    Wilson has been playing with a less-than-stellar cast around him, and he's not seeing a drop-off in production or impact. He's earned his way into the Top 50.

32. Nate Solder, Tackle, New England Patriots

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    Previous Ranking: No. 24

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    The New England Patriots have one of the NFL's best-kept secrets at left tackle. At 6'8", Nate Solder is a former tight end, and he has been a consistent stud on the edge of the offensive line. And not just when he's protecting Tom Brady. Solder has been phenomenal in the run game this season as well.

    Check out his play against the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Atlanta Falcons, and you'll see him dominating the edge and springing the New England rushing attack.

    It's easy to just focus on Brady when the Patriots are playing, but take a look at their big left tackle and you'll be impressed.

31. NaVorro Bowman, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers

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    Previous Ranking: No. 22

    TacklesSacksHurries
    52211

    It's easy to overlook NaVorro Bowman, given the talent surrounding him on the San Francisco 49ers defense, but there's a reason this fourth-year player is likely to earn his third straight All-Pro selection this season.

    He is the kind of athlete who every NFL team wants at inside linebacker.

    He's fast enough to play in coverage and run down backs, but he's tough enough to step inside an A-gap and take on blockers to stop the run. And Bowman isn't just traits; he backs it up with the numbers that validate his placement inside the Top 50.

30. Patrick Willis, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers

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    Previous Ranking: No. 13

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    3620

    If you could piece together the perfect inside linebacker, the result would look very close to Patrick Willis. The San Francisco 49ers captain and middle linebacker, Willis hasn't been as productive this season due to injury, but when he's on the field, there is no mistaking his impact.

    Since coming back from injury, he has been on a tear, notching 21 tackles and 11 stops in three games. While he doesn't get the quarterback sacks or pressures for which outside linebackers are praised, he is the game's best at tracking the ball and stopping the run.

29. Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    Dez Bryant has been unstoppable this season. That's undeniable. NFL defenses haven't found the recipe to stopping Bryant, who brings an unreal mixture of size, speed, strength and toughness to the position.

    His athletic traits combine to produce numbers that put him on pace for 90 catches, 1,200-plus yards and 16 touchdowns. The Cowboys offense has been up and down at times, but Bryant has been a constant threat at wide receiver.

28. Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    If a non-quarterback is to win MVP this year, Jamaal Charles is the favorite after eight weeks. 

    He has been the catalyst for a Kansas City Chiefs offense that has rolled to eight straight wins. While you may hear mostly about the Chiefs defense, the offense has been quietly dynamic and productive so far this season.

    That goes back to Charles and his dual-threat ability. He's averaging four yards per carry and has added another 383 yards receiving on 41 catches. As far as offensive weapons go, he has been the most dynamic of them all for Kansas City.

27. DeMarcus Ware, Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys

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    Previous Ranking: No. 19

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    DeMarcus Ware might not make a season's end list—depending on his recovery time from injury—but there's no way he can be left off the Top 50 for the first half of the year.

    Although he played in just six games, he was on pace for another great season before injuring his quad. His four sacks at the midway mark don't project out to a great season, but when you break down his play during games in which he was healthy, Ware still grades out as a top performer.

26. Cameron Jordan, Defensive End, New Orleans Saints

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    Previous Ranking: No. 21

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    Few players started the year off as hot as New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan did. That hot streak earned him a ranking of No. 21 after four weeks. Since then, he has still been deadly.

    The Saints defense allows Jordan to play in space, and he answers with production in pass-rushing and run-stopping situations. With his experience playing both in-line and on the edge, he is uniquely qualified to be a three-down force against offensive tackles.

25. Evan Mathis, Guard, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Previous Ranking: No. 26

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    The Philadelphia Eagles offense is still undergoing the transition from Andy Reid's West Coast scheme to Chip Kelly's spread-out, uptempo system, but Evan Mathis has excelled in his new role.

    The Eagles left guard is quick, explosive and powerful and rarely misses his man when asked to kick out or pull on rushing downs. If you prefer to grade your offensive linemen on pass protection, Mathis has surrendered just one sack all season. And that's with three different quarterbacks taking snaps in the Philadelphia offense.

    He has established himself as the premier guard in the NFL this season.

24. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

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    Previous Ranking: No. 10

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    You don't have to like Ndamukong Suh, but you can't ignore his ability. He may be a dirty player at times, but when he's focused and controlled, few can stop him. That's been the case this season.

    Suh hasn't posted record-breaking sack numbers, but he's one of the most disruptive players in the game so far this season. His quickness and strength off the ball make him unblockable as a one-gap penetrator. And as he matures on the field and develops into a smarter player, he'll become much more productive against the run.

    He might not assault any record books this season, but he's busy assaulting every quarterback that the Lions face. 

23. Geno Atkins, Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Previous Ranking: No. 29

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    Defensive tackle Geno Atkins can't be judged by stats alone—not when every offensive coordinator is scheming to stop him. His play must be judged by impact, and in that area he's among the most influential defenders in the game. That said, his raw numbers are pretty good too.

    Atkins is the premier 3-technique pass-rusher in the game today. His quickness off the ball makes him nearly unstoppable. Even when offensive linemen can get their hands on him, he's able to counter with his own hand use and break away to the quarterback.

    Atkins' numbers may not be the best in the league, but few players can match his impact.

    Update: Unfortunately, the NFL Network's Michael Silver reported that early indications are that Geno Atkins tore his ACL against the Dolphins in Week 9. 

22. Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    The San Francisco 49ers offense has limped through the first eight weeks of the season without wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree. Fortunately, the bright spot in the passing game has come from tight end Vernon Davis, who has emerged as the team's go-to receiver.

    Davis has long been known as a dangerous playmaker, but this season he's proved his ability as a consistent weapon and not just an occasional big-play threat. Davis, who is averaging almost 18 yards per catch, has kept the 49ers passing game going almost single-handedly. 

21. LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Previous Ranking: No. 31

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    We've heard so much about Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia, and many automatically reference the quarterback play in his scheme. But the real story has been the run game and Kelly's use of LeSean McCoy.

    McCoy leads the NFL in rushing after eight weeks, with a surprising 98-yard cushion between him and Jamaal Charles. He's doing it with a 4.7 average per carry and an eye-popping 29 missed tackles caused. He might not receive attention because of the Eagles' struggles, but he's on track for an All-Pro season.

20. Earl Thomas, Safety, Seattle Seahawks

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    Previous Ranking: No. 20

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    No safety in the NFL is playing better than Earl Thomas right now. And it's not all that close.

    He is the perfect model for today's safety. He's quick enough to keep up in coverage, tough enough to lay the wood on ball-carriers and smart enough to read quarterbacks and jump routes. Thomas is a one-man wrecking crew on defense.

    Turn on any Seattle game from this season, and Thomas is sure to jump off the screen early and often.

19. Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints

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    Previous Ranking: No. 18

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    Accept no imitations. Jimmy Graham is still the best tight end in football. 

    With so much hype surrounding Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and other young playmakers at the position, it's almost easy to forget about Graham. NFL defensive coordinators wish they could forget him. Graham continues to dominate as a receiving threat in the Saints' spread-out offensive system.

    Few teams have an answer for Graham on defense, which is why he's able to consistently post jaw-dropping numbers week after week. As long as he stays healthy, the 2013 season will be an All-Pro campaign for him.

18. Dontari Poe, Nose Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Previous Ranking: No. 14

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    Dontari Poe has made a solid case for Defensive Player of the Year through eight weeks. His play in the middle of the Kansas City Chiefs defensive line is a huge reason for the team's 8-0 record through the first half of the year.

    Poe started to flash his brilliance late last season, but in 2013 he's been unbelievable. His combination of quickness and strength hasn't been matched by an offensive lineman yet. And when offenses commit to stopping him, they open pass-rushing lanes for Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on stunts and blitzes.

    The nose tackle position might not be sexy, but Poe is a must-watch player.

17. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

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    Previous Ranking: No. 15

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    24916767.1%1542,191108.0

    It may seem crazy to rank Aaron Rodgers way down the line at No. 17 overall, but the play on the field has been a little inconsistent. At least for him.

    When we last ranked Rodgers, he came in at No. 15 overall, and that was fresh off a two-interception game at Cincinnati. Since then, his play has been a lot better—he has had three out of four games with a passer rating over 105—but we've also seen the rise of other great players. His play has improved, but he falls a little due to players like Robert Mathis, Andrew Luck and Drew Brees moving up the rankings.

    If we were talking about most talent and brightest career upside in the league, Rodgers would be in the top five.

16. Tamba Hali, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Previous Ranking: No. 23

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    The Kansas City Chiefs have a roster loaded with defensive superstars this season. The one who has been doing it the longest is arguably doing it the best this season.

    Tamba Hali has long been a known stud as a pass-rusher, but never has he produced at this rate. Notching 10 sacks and 41 hurries in eight games puts him on pace for a near-record-breaking season.

    If he keeps heating up like he has been—he had three sacks in both Week 6 and Week 7—Michael Strahan may need to worry about his single-season sack record.

15. Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %TDINTYardsPasser Rating
    20213164.9%1251,55297.6

    Cam Newton has arrived. Or maybe he already did, but the 2013 season will mark the year when people stopped doubting his ability.

    He has passed for 1,552 yards, limited his turnovers and added another 229 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. And as the Panthers open up their offense to him, Newton gets better each week.

    The development shown from Week 4 to Week 8 has been inspiring. If he can keep it up, he'll be ranked higher than No. 15 overall at season's end.

14. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

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    Previous Ranking: No. 30

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %TDINTYardsPasser Rating
    27118367.5%1952,290109.2

    It didn't take long for Drew Brees to remind folks that he's just as good as that Manning guy in Denver and Mr. Gisele in New England. While Peyton and Brady get most of the national credit, Brees just keeps doing his thing in New Orleans.

    What's scary about the 2013 season is that Brees has a talented cast around him. Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham make up a dangerous receiving corps. The run game is equally scary, which causes defenses to respect play-action passes—something Brees does better than anyone in the league.

    However you want to grade him—wins, stats, impact—Brees is proving that he's still very much elite.

13. Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

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    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

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    22413660.7%1031,57491.3

    My colleague Aaron Nagler will be quick to tell you that wins are not a quarterback statistic, and he's right. That said, the Indianapolis Colts wouldn't have taken down three of the NFL's elite teams—the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks—without Luck at quarterback.

    His brilliance has kept the Colts in games in which they don't belong, and without him there's no way this team would be 5-2 with marquee wins over the NFL's elite.

12. Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Previous Ranking: No. 2

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    NFL offenses must pick their poison when playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Do you put a tight end on the edge to help block Justin Houston or Tamba Hali? Do your guards step inside to help block Dontari Poe or fan out to stop the edge-rushers? And who stops Derrick Johnson?

    So many talented players on one unit have opened doors for athletes to shine. Justin Houston is shining the brightest.

    The former Tennessee defensive end enjoyed a good 2012 campaign, but he's already bested his 10 sacks and 27 hurries from last season—in half as many games.

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

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    Previous Ranking: No. 27

    CatchesYardsTD
    467345

    A.J. Green has entered the conversation for the NFL's best wide receiver, and he's not leaving anytime soon.

    He currently ranks No. 9 overall in receptions but is No. 2 in yardage thanks to his 16 yards-per-reception average. With that, he's breaking defenses and opening up opportunities for the rest of the Cincinnati offense. While Green is drawing double and triple looks from defenses, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert are finding one-on-one coverage they can beat.

    Green's impact comes not just in numbers, but in the decoy he creates for the rest of his teammates. Whether due to skill, potential or numbers, Green has to be considered one of the best in the game.

10. Darrelle Revis, Cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Previous Ranking: No. 11

    TacklesINTPD
    2014

    Darrelle Revis is back, and he's as good as ever.

    Even in a zone defense that does little to utilize his talents and ability in man coverage, the former New York Jet is making a huge impact this season. Revis is allowing just 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, one of the better numbers you'll see for a zone-coverage cornerback.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be misusing their best player, but Revis' impact is still felt, with NFL quarterbacks trying to avoid going to his side of the field altogether. 

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

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    Previous Ranking: No. 7

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    J.J. Watt is having his quietest NFL season to date, and he still ranks as a top-10 player and elite defensive lineman. That alone should tell you just how special the Houston Texans defensive end is.

    Watt is a dynamic player, adding tackles, sacks, quarterback hurries and swatted passes on the regular. What makes him so valuable is that he make some type of impact on nearly every play.

    That might be drawing a double-team or dropping the quarterback for a big loss, but on every snap, Watt is doing something to stop the offense. 

8. Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers

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    Previous Ranking: No. 8

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %YardsTDINTNFL rating
    24818474.2%2,132155111.5

    It's safe to say that Philip Rivers is back. Ranked No. 8 overall after four weeks, he looked like an MVP candidate, but there were still doubters.

    After seeing him hit highs and lows over the last two seasons as a passer, you had to be cautious when evaluating his potential. But here we are, four weeks later, and Rivers is playing even better.

    The San Diego Chargers are hidden in a top-heavy AFC West, but through eight weeks, they're still a playoff favorite as a wild-card team. That's a huge credit to the consistently effective play of Rivers this season.

7. Joe Thomas, Tackle, Cleveland Browns

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 6

    SnapsPenaltiesSacks Allowed
    56771

    You and I both know that the Cleveland Browns offense is not good. And yet, hidden at left tackle is an elite player. And not just an elite tackle, but a top-tier NFL player regardless of position. Joe Thomas, ladies and gentlemen, is worth the price of admission.

    He hasn't played with a great supporting cast, and yet he's protected the Browns quarterbacks—Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell—better than any other pass-blocker in the game.

    Want dominance in the run game? Check out Thomas in Week 2 versus the Baltimore Ravens and take notes on how a left tackle should look in today's game.

6. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 4

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %YardsTDINTPasser Rating
    30717155.7%1,8249674.9

    When evaluating Tom Brady this season, it's important to note that his receivers have dropped 28 passes in eight games. That's the second most in the NFL behind the Detroit Lions' 30 drops. Brady's numbers and on-field play would look a lot different when you add in a possible 28 more catches by his young wide receiver crew.

    He hasn't seen the same protection this year either, as the Patriots have surrendered 23 sacks. For comparison's sake, the team gave up just 28 throughout the regular season and playoffs last season.

    These may sound like excuses, but the reality is that Brady is doing more with less this season. His numbers won't impress fantasy football fans, but he's the only reason the Patriots are winning games this season.

    Don't believe me? Watch their games against the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins.

5. Richard Sherman, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 3

    TacklesINTPD
    2443

    Why do NFL quarterbacks continue to throw passes in the direction of Richard Sherman? The Seattle Seahawks' star cornerback is the best in the league this season at stopping offenses and frustrating wide receivers.

    His four interceptions might not seem great—even though he's tied for the league lead. But consider that those interceptions came on just 40 passes thrown his way. That means he has picked off 10 percent of all passes thrown in his direction. 

    When not intercepting passes, Sherman holds opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 53.6. That's No. 4 in the league among starting corners.

4. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 9

    CatchesYardsTD
    478217

    If anyone has a suggestion on how to stop Calvin Johnson, please send it my way and copy in all NFL defensive coordinators. Because all of our ideas aren't working.

    Johnson is once again dominating NFL defenses. Just one season after setting the single-season yardage record for a receiver, he is at it again. Already this season, he's bested his five touchdowns from last year, and while his yardage can't compare to last year's 1,964 yards, he's on a solid pace for more than 1,600 yards and 94 catches. Not too bad, huh?

    He does all this with every coordinator and player on defense knowing that they must stop him. The fact that he's able to keep producing when everyone knows the ball is coming his way is what validates Johnson's ranking as the best skill player in the game.

3. Robert Mathis, Outside Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

    TacklesSacksHurries
    181122

    Where was Robert Mathis after four weeks? Unranked in the top 50 players. When that piece was published, Mathis had notched four sacks. The next day he went off for a three-sack performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then posted a two-sack game against Seattle the next week.

    When you step back and put it all together, Mathis has been amazing on a weekly basis. As a pure pass-rusher, he's been able to duck, drive and beat top-tier offensive tackles like Joe Staley and Eugene Monroe while taking advantage of matchups against lesser tackles to the max.

    The Colts defense won't get a ton of credit, but in games against elite teams—the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks—Mathis produced five sacks. Other than Andrew Luck, Mathis has been the single most important player for the Colts this season.

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

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 5

    TacklesSacksHurries
    171031

    Many NFL defenders have been dominant thus far in 2013, but none has made the impact that Robert Quinn has made in St. Louis.

    Playing right defensive end, Quinn is going head-to-head with the best blocker on each team's offensive line, but that hasn't stopped him yet. And he hasn't been facing scrubs, either. So far this year he has recorded a sack against Pro Bowlers Joe Staley (San Francisco) and Duane Brown (Houston) while adding a three-sack game twice (in Weeks 1 and 8).

    Looking at numbers, impact and disruptions, Quinn would get my vote right now for Defensive Player of the Year.

1. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Previous Ranking: No. 1

    AttemptsCompletionsComp %YardsTDINTPasser Rating
    33323771.2 %2,919296119.4

    Peyton Manning is having a career year in 2013, showing that even as his physical skills decline, his mental ability and vision on the field are excellent.

    He remains the most impactful player in the NFL, whether it's leading comeback wins, getting his team out to a huge lead or outdueling top quarterbacks in a shootout. He's getting the job done each week, even with his left tackle injured.

    Manning is the clear-cut choice for midseason MVP and our No. 1 overall player.

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