NFL: The Top-50 Players

Owen MunroCorrespondent IJune 28, 2008

Writers and admirers of the NFL often like to list their thoughts on the best players in the NFL today. It isn't common that you don't see a list of some sort, breaking down the best players, overall, or by position.

Many think they have the key to the door that unlocks many answers, but are batted down in mid-air. As I was sitting here tonight, I realized I had never done a breakdown of the top players, nor have I ever given my opinion.

Well, tonight, that changes. Here is my list of the "Top 50 Players in the NFL".

1. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots: I feel Brady really proved himself last season. Breaking a variety of records is one thing. Another thing, is winning the big game, something that eluded the Patriots last season.

You have to think they’ll come back hungrier than ever, with Brady leading that pack. I don’t care how old these guys may be, it’ll be another year of smash-mouth football, something rarely seen.

2. LaDainian Tomlinson, Running Back, San Diego Chargers: People felt that LT had an off year last year, like he wasn’t himself. These people are either just realizing that Tomlinson may just be human, or feel he isn’t human, he is a superman, and they demand 1,800 yards on the ground every year. The scary thing is, he still carried for 1,474 yards on 33 less carries. Through the air? 475 yards, only 33-yards less than last year's total.

3. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts: Is it really right to label Manning as a choker, for the second time, because he couldn’t beat the Chargers? Another guy who may have had a “down” year, but it was still exceptional.

If Marvin Harrison is able to return to full strength on the field, the Colts are a good bet for another division title, and possibly another Super Bowl appearance. The AFC really is turning into a juggernaut.

4. Champ Bailey, Cornerback, Denver Broncos: How is it that three of the top four players had so-called “down years”, but still fill up more than half of the top-five players? I think you have to look past stats, and look towards the impact they make, in some cases.

It’s spot on for Champ Bailey, in this case. Bailey is still the best cover corner in the NFL, and he still doesn’t get the respect I believe he deserves. Age may become a problem, though.

5. Randy Moss, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots: A year ago today, Randy Moss probably wouldn’t have cracked the top-50. His reputation looks to have been restored, and so has his love for the game. You can’t deny those 23 touchdowns either, can you?

6. Bob Sanders, Safety, Indianapolis Colts: Well, six players down, and we have yet to see an NFC player. Why is that? You really can’t be sure, especially when the casual fan looks at it, and then sees that an NFC team won the Super Bowl.

Well, anything can happen, I guess, and it looks like it has here. When Bob Sanders isn’t injured, he is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, evident by his DPOY in ‘07.

7. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings: “All-Day” is a threat every down of the football game. He really reminds me of a more explosive Eric Dickerson. Injury concerns have brought him down a drop or two, but I think he is good enough for this ranking, right now. Let’s hope he can continue that dominance he showed last year.

8. Kevin Williams, Defensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings: I’m going to downplay the hate I know I’m going to get here. Most people probably haven’t even heard of Kevin Williams; let alone whom he plays for. Well, here is a brief look on him. He’s strong, big, and can stop the run. He is a plug in the middle, along with Pat Williams. Oh yeah, he is fast enough to penetrate the interior line and get to the QB. Scary good.

9. Carson Palmer, Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals: He and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were really the only bright points last season, which saw a usually solid team in Cincinnati flounder. He is quite easily the third best quarterback in the league. Now, if he can only get some run support.

10. Mario Williams, Defensive End, Houston Texans: If “Super Mario” is the real deal, he’ll show it to us this year by matching, or bettering, an extremely strong 2007 season. He was the DPOY halfway through the year, but started to sputter a bit towards the end of the campaign.

11. Shawne Merriman & DeMarcus Ware, 3-4 OLBs, San Diego Chargers & Dallas Cowboys: These men are tied for the best 3-4 outside linebacker, in my opinion. Both possess badass speed off the edge, and are good enough to support the run defense. In order to be a dominant player like these two, you have to be able to be multi-dimensional, like these two.

12. Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys: T.O. has always been one of my favorite players. When he is both healthy and not talking smack, or displaying his theatrical skills. He is big, strong, fast, and really everything you look for in a top wide out. He's never afraid of the middle, and he can tear it up with his speed.

13. Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings: Let’s hope that Jared Allen’s worst days are behind him. Let’s hope that he will never resort to the man who repeatedly drove drunk and almost ruined his career. Let’s hope that he can be everything that we hoped for after an amazingly stellar year in ‘07. I never really noticed how jacked Minnesota’s D-line is now. Wow!

14. Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Tackle, Tennessee Titans: Haynesworth was a rock in the middle of the Titans' rock-solid defensive unit. When he isn’t involved in a head-stomping incident, or isn’t injured, he has the talent to take over a game, which is very hard to do these days in the NFL.

15. Brian Westbrook, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles: Westbrook is my third running back for two reasons: the ability to explode and take over a game, and his dynamic ability to catch, run, hell, even pass. If injuries didn’t catch up to him, we could be talking about who’s better: Westbrook, or LT?

16. Walter Jones, Left Tackle, Seattle Seahawks: He is getting up there in age, but his ability to block so well when Matt Hasselbeck drops back, and his improving efforts to block for the glut of running backs the Seahawks now have, has him here as my top rated tackle.

17. Ed Reed, Safety, Baltimore Ravens: Don’t worry kids, I haven’t forgot about everyone’s favorite safety, Ed Reed. Also getting up there in age, Reed is still very, very good, fast, and rangy. The second-best safety for a few more years, I would say. 

18. Dwight Freeney, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts: I really don’t like the injury Freeney sustained, and I think it may be hard for him to overcome and ever become fully healthy. It could become a chronic problem.

If he doesn’t get that injury, he is probably sandwiched between Carson Palmer and Mario Williams at the cusp of double digits.

19. Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers: It never helps when you lose your top quarterback, have a late-drafted rookie come in, as well as no help on the other side of the field. Smith is constantly doubled, but his versatility and overall skill doesn’t go unnoticed to me.

20. Steve Hutchinson, Left Guard, Minnesota Vikings: There is a reason why Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor have open daylight all the time. The overall offensive line in Minnesota is simply outstanding, and it starts with Birk, McBride, and Hutchinson anchoring the left side.

21. Brian Urlacher, Linebacker, Chicago Bears:  One thing I noticed this year about the Bears was the defense. In the past two or three years, the defense was always a top-three unit, and was always all over the opposition. This year, it really didn’t seem the same. That accounts to Urlacher having a down year. He is the heart and soul of Chicago.

22. Steven Jackson, Running Back, St. Louis Rams: Jackson is a banger, and although he had some injuries, and a relatively down year, he is still a top-five back in this league, and can provide a powerful home-run hitter. If he returns to ‘06 form, look out. Durability could be a concern though.

23. Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts: Wayne excelled as the go-to guy in the Indianapolis offense last year. He has moved into the upper echelon of receivers right now. He went up 200 yards from ‘06, and caught 104 balls.

24. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback, Oakland Raiders: Asomugha is going to continue to be overlooked in the Raiders' pass defense. With most of the attention going to DeAngelo Hall, look for Asomugha to match or surpass his 2006 total of eight interceptions.

25. Antonio Gates, Tight End, San Diego Chargers: Gates is going to be continually ranked as my top tight end for what seems like the next four or five years. He plays like a wide receiver, and has proven to play through injury. I don’t think even Tony Gonzalez can compare.

26. Charles Woodson, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers: Woodson is getting up there in age (as is Al Harris), but he doesn’t seem to be losing too much talent. He is continually in the discussion of who is the best corner behind Champ Bailey.

27. Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers: Willis may already be the best 3-4 inside linebacker in the game today, and he is only a rookie. He covers the field extremely well, and is a very hard tackler. He is a Merriman or Ware, except on the inside.

28. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints: I think because the Saints cooled down as a team after a blazing hot season two years ago, Brees has been overlooked. But both years in New Orleans, Brees has put up Pro-Bowl quality numbers, and has done it with an average running attack.

29. Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans: Here is another example of a guy who would be a real force to be reckoned with, if he could stay healthy. Injuries again limited him, allowing Johnson to play just nine games last season. He still put up 851 yards.

30. Chad Johnson, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals: Let’s put aside the concerns of him holding out, or not playing for the Bengals. Johnson still has top-five receiver skills. It really all depends on if “Ocho Cinco” wants to put them to good use. He has all the weapons he needs.

31. Tommie Harris, Defensive Tackle, Chicago Bears: Harris was just extended another four years, which proves he was a main cog in the unit that was No. 1 for about three years. He has underrated quickness, and can still carry the defense on his back, especially against the pass. He's decent against the run.

32. Braylon Edwards, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns: He and Kellen Winslow Jr. are beginning to make a mark on the NFL. A pair of up-and-comers on an up-and-coming team is never a bad thing. Look for Edwards to prove his worth as a top-10 receiver.

33. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger still gets a lot of negative criticism for his accident two years ago, and that translates onto hate on the field, which I feel is unwarranted, considering his great year last year.

34. Aaron Kampman, Defensive End, Green Bay Packers: He isn’t the heaviest end we’ve seen in history, but he is very good at defending against the run and rushing the quarterback. He is light on his feet and has a lot of speed. The Packers are lucky to have a multi-purpose guy like this.

35. Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals: Both Fitzgerald and Boldin are big-bodied guys who are very tough to defend, and both command a lot of attention. I feel Boldin will be better in the long run, but right now, the nod goes to Fitz as Arizona’s top man.

36. Jason Witten, Tight End, Dallas Cowboys: Witten is a do-it-all kind of guy. He excels in both blocking and pass catching, and he demands double teams, thus opening up all kinds of lanes for the plethora of talent that Dallas possesses in the running and passing game.

37. Osi Umenyiora, Defensive End, New York Giants: I had a tough time deciding who was better, Umenyiora and Kampman. Ultimately, I feel Osi is unproven without Michael Strahan there to demand attention as well, whereas Kampman isn’t. I’d like to see Umenyiora play the solo card, then make another decision.

38. Ernie Sims, Linebacker, Detroit Lions: Sims is a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker, one of the first in my rankings so far. Very fast, and can cover sideline to sideline, and is often amongst the leaders in tackles. The three forced fumbles are nice as well, especially on an otherwise mediocre defense.

39. Marcus Trufant, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks: Some people might have a hard time believing me when I say Trufant led the NFC last year in total interceptions with seven. He is a great corner who often goes unnoticed. He's one of the more underrated players in the game.

40. Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback, San Diego Chargers: Usually, I would like to see more production than one year before announcing them as a top-50 player, but I think Cromartie has done enough. Anyone who picks off Peyton Manning three times has to be doing something right.

41. Jason Peters, Left Tackle, Buffalo Bills: Should I have Jason Peters a little lower on this list? Maybe. The fact of the matter is that Peters does his job, and does it well, which is good enough for me. He's a solid all-around tackle.

42. Devin Hester, Cornerback/Special Teams, Chicago Bears: I have Hester on this list as a kick returner, in large part because teams feel they can contain him, when they really have no chance. If coaches think they can kick it to him like any normal player, they're dead wrong. Any guy who can change a game on one return is good enough to be on this list.

43. Lofa Tatupu, Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks: One of the main reasons the Seahawks possess such great talent on defense has to be because of Tatupu. He has a natural love of the game, and he is a tackling machine. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and always gives 100%. I have the benefit of watching him each week.

44. Asante Samuel, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles: People feel that Samuel is overrated, and he was just made to look good in New England. Others feel that Samuel is just hitting his prime now and is a top-five corner in the league. I don’t agree with the latter, but I also don't buy the first point either.

45. Vince Wilfork, Nose Tackle, New England Patriots: Wilfork is arguably the best 3-4 nose tackle in the league right now, and he is the perfect component to the system. He takes up tons of space, and commands double, and sometimes, triple teams. Enough said.

46. Kellen Winslow Jr., Tight End, Cleveland Browns: Winslow, like mentioned in my thoughts on Braylon Edwards, is an up-and-coming threat, but I don’t think he’ll ever match the production of his father. He possesses great skills to do so, though.

47. Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals: A lot of debate could be made on who should go here, should this be the last receiver I have on this list. I like Boldin’s size and speed, and his fearlessness of going over the middle. Not a classic possession receiver, but he plays like one.

48. Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants: I hate the player. I really hate both Peyton and Eli, but I’ll put away my bias for long enough to give Manning a spot here. He did earn the Giants a Super Bowl ring, and he essentially was unstoppable when the playoffs rolled around.

49. Tony Gonzalez, Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs: Gonzalez is fading into the sunlight, into the distance, but not without still having outstanding years. He is another one of those players where, if he has a bad year, you could never tell it with his statistical output.

50. Terence Newman, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys: “T-New” was given the big payday this offseason, but I don’t think that will take anything away from the way he plays. An aggressive player who can really play smash-mouth football. I have nothing but good things to say about Newman.

And of course, these are just some of the many that are well known, and can play football. I'm sure there are lots of variations of these types of lists, and I'd love to hear feedback from you guys, and your thoughts on the list. Cheers!


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