The NFL's 100 Best Current Players: Players 70-61
70.) Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver, BAL
“Well the division officially belongs to Baltimore now.”
Those were the first words to escape my mouth (or rather my fingertips) as I found out that the Ravens had acquired Anquan Boldin on March 5, 2010.
Wide receiver was the only position that the Ravens hadn’t hit on this decade besides quarterback (which they hit on with Flacco) and I knew that bringing in one on the level of Boldin was bad news for the entire AFC.
Remember everything that I had said about Marques Colston in an earlier player write-up?
All of those things can be applied to Boldin and then some.
Everybody knows about Larry Fitzgerald after what he has pulled off for the past two seasons but it is no secret that Boldin (or “Q” as he was known in Arizona) was considered the better overall receiver by the coaching staff prior to the 2008 season.
While Wes Welker is the best wide receiver in the league after the catch, one could argue that that is primarily because of his system.
With Boldin, there is no such argument. You know that he makes plays after the catch with his raw athleticism and strength, as well as sheer determination. It is for this reason that Boldin has amassed over 500 yards after the catch in four separate seasons.
In two of the three seasons that he did not he did not amass 1,000 total yards due to injury, he still finished with nearly 400 yards after the catch. With all due respect to other receivers who are great after the catch, nobody comes close to Anquan Boldin.
Boldin is excellent at working the underneath routes and runs the in route, out route, and curl routes in the tree to perfection. As a result, he is money underneath and usually catches a pass unless it is an errant throw by the quarterback.
When he finally got decent quarterback play (from Kurt Warner), he brought down a ridiculous 70 percent of his intended targets over a three-year period. That is ridiculous, as a lot of receiver struggle to simply achieve that percentage for one season.
Boldin is also arguably the premier chain mover at the wide receiver position in the league as well. Over his career, he has brought in 586 receptions and of those, 363 have resulted in first downs, once again proving his physical style of play.
In addition to all the aforementioned aspects, Boldin is also one of the premier run-blocking receivers in the NFL. That should be a welcome addition in Baltimore, as they are a team that loves to impose their will with the run game.
Boldin to Baltimore was a match made in heaven for both sides and will be a nightmare for the AFC for years to come.
69.) Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, MIA
I guess that I owe Brandon Marshall an overdue apology.
Though he has had decent production in the past, I had remarked that a lot of his production was a result of being forced the ball.
For comparison’s sake, over a two-year period, Marshall had over 40 more targets than receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss, yet he could not mirror their production anywhere other than receptions.
When Jay Cutler fled town, I believed that Marshall’s production would decline even in Josh McDaniels’ receiver-friendly system. When Marshall’s pre-season problems emerged with the coaching staff, I was all but sure that his production would decline.
Marshall managed to shut me and his remaining critics up, at least temporarily, by doing things that he had previously been incapable of doing.
Marshall produced double-digit touchdowns for the first time. He produced an 1,000-yard season despite not being the most targeted wide receiver in the league for the first time in three seasons. Finally, Marshall did what truly elite receivers are capable of doing: taking over games.
The ability to take over a game is something that is needed to truly be considered an elite receiver in the NFL. I can only think of seven other wide receivers who have taken over games regularly over the past two or three seasons.
What made Marshall’s ability to take over games so impressive were the stages on which he began doing so. Marshall made the biggest plays of his short career in successive weeks against two eventual post-season teams in games with large meaning behind them.
In Week Four in a tight game against the Cowboys, Marshall had been contained by their talented duo. Marshall was only contained until the fourth quarter, though, as he eventually made the game-winning catch.
He outleaped Terrence Newman then proceeded to outmaneuver six Cowboys defenders on his way to the end zone for what was the decisive score. Everyone watching the game, from the players to the fans, could feel the impact and emotion of this play.
The following week against the “rival” Patriots, Marshall effectively single-handedly kept the Broncos in the game from an offensive perspective. While they were down 10-0, Marshall managed to score and keep the game close in the first half.
In the fourth quarter, with the Broncos trailing, Marshall made one heck of a play. After making a catch, he beat both Jerod Mayo and Leigh Bodden to the pylon for the game-tying score.
Marshall’s play in those two weeks was instrumental in the Broncos' undefeated start to the season.
If Marshall can learn to get his head on straight, he could turn out to be something special and make plays like these with regularity.
68.) Vincent Jackson, Wide Receiver, SDG
When the Chargers took a flyer on a physical dynamo in the late second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, they knew that he would be a project. They also knew that if this project grew to meet expectations, that it would become a top 100 player in this league.
Four years later, that project is Vincent Jackson, who has most certainly grown into a top 100 player in this league.
With his measurables of nearly six-and-a-half feet tall and 230-plus pounds it is rare to find a receiver of Jackson’s build in the league. These measurables made him a guy who not only has a tremendous vertical jump but accompanying deep speed to get downfield for big plays too.
Over time, the potential of this package even became apparent to Chargers’ fans.
Jackson showcased his talent late during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. To close out the 2006 season, Jackson had a string of five games where he produced 15 receptions for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
He showed more potential to close out 2007, as during the post-season he produced 18 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns. The problem was he never matriculated his production over an entire season…until 2008.
In 2008 when Jackson went off for his first 1,000-yard season a couple of die-hard Chargers fans around the Internet proclaimed him as a top 10 wide receiver. Most NFL fans called them crazy and for good reason.
Although his play was high, his statistics didn’t seem that great nor had he shown consistency. After the 2009 season, though it would seem that those Chargers fans can now get the last laugh.
Jackson is one of those elite receivers who are capable of taking over games as he did against the New York Giants last season.
In one of the closer games last season people credited Philip Rivers with the comeback effort to beat the Giants, but it was the excellent adjustments made by Jackson that won that game for the Chargers.
The thing about Jackson that is most impressive is his ability to step up to his competition. Sure his overall numbers aren’t as impressive as the other elite guys but what he does that others don’t it step up to the level of competition he is facing.
Over the past two seasons, Jackson has beaten Nnamdi Asomugha (twice), Corey Webster (twice), Leon Hall (twice), and Brandon Flowers (twice) for touchdowns. All four of those guys are among the top 20 cornerbacks in this league.
In addition, while he didn’t best Darrelle Revis in their Divisional Round matchup, he made some plays against him that other receivers would be incapable of making. In fact, I’d wager that Revis would attest that Jackson was one of his toughest matchups of the season.
Jackson may very well be the league’s premier big play receiver. Everybody loves to swoon over Philip Rivers, but the fact is his deep-ball accuracy matriculated when Jackson emerged. It’s no coincidence.
Few wide receivers can stretch a field the way Jackson does, and that is why he’s a top 100 player.
67.) Dallas Clark, Tight End, IND
Dallas Clark is a mystery wrapped in an enigma all tumbled up in a conundrum.
Clark is this short and stocky guy with a very odd build that you would think would be excellent for blocking but not for being a pass catcher.
Obviously the irony isn’t lost on anybody who has watched Clark play as he is barely willing or able to block but is a tremendous pass catcher.
Clark was a major cog in the Colts’ passing attack during its strongest years between 2003 and 2006.
With Harrison and Wayne being matchups requiring special coverage considerations, Clark served as an ever-important matchup problem for the opposition.
With limited defenders as it is because of the coverages that the receivers drew, Clark was almost always lined up against linebackers.
No linebacker in this league can cover Dallas Clark for an entire game. You wouldn’t think that for a guy who is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.
Even though Harrison was no longer a Colt last year and his replacements on the season were two rookie receivers, Clark still served as an important cog in the Colts’ passing offense.
In fact, in the years since Harrison’s decline, Clark has stepped it up big time, receiving over 100 targets every year for the past three seasons. This last season allowed for Clark to finally amass 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
With Clark emerging as the Colts second option over the past two or three seasons, he has shown the world that he can create for himself.
In the past Clark would line up against cornerbacks and in other odd spots you wouldn’t find most tight ends. We see Clark do this a lot now as the number two option in Indianapolis and still beating cornerbacks one-on-one.
While most tight ends would be utilizing their height and weight advantage to do this, Clark uses his actual receiving skills.
Clark may not be a complete tight end, but as I have said for a few other players on this list, what matters most is what you bring to the table.
Clark brings matchup problems that no other tight end in the league does.
Sure there are better blockers and guys with more production, but at the end of the day, those guys don’t play what is essentially a wide receiver in a bulky body.
66.) Joshua Cribbs, Specialist, CLE
For those that still may not know a “specialist,” or at least for the way that I use the term, is an individual that contributes effectively in several aspects of the offensive spectrum for their team.
They can catch passes from the receiver position, run with the ball from behind the line of scrimmage like a halfback, return punts and kicks for large gains and are a threat to score at all of these positions.
Since these players have such a profound effect on the game, they are growing in popularity and importance in the league. In fact, about one of every five NFL rosters has a considerable “specialist” on it that does more than simply return kicks and punts.
Of this elite tier of “specialists,” the one that clearly stands above the rest due to his consistency, overall health, and general impact is Joshua Cribbs.
At one time or another since entering the league, Cribbs has lined up at quarterback, halfback, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner, and special teams gunner. The return-man options are clearly Cribbs’ forte, but last season, it didn’t matter what position he was playing as he was the best option for the Browns’ offensively.
The 2009 Browns’ offense is quite possibly the worst offense that we have ever seen.
Remember the ineptitudes of the 2007 49ers defense?
It doesn’t even compare.
The Browns scored 25 touchdowns on the season. They were held without a touchdown in 42 of 64 quarters on the season...or 10.5 of 16 games.
In being held without a touchdown, they did so for eight straight quarters in Weeks Two and Three. They were held without a touchdown for five straight quarters in Weeks Five and Six. Finally they were held without a touchdown for one calendar month between Weeks Seven and Ten.
Over the last five weeks of the season, they experienced an offensive explosion averaging 24 points per game. It is no coincidence that this offensive explosion coincided with Joshua Cribbs getting more overall touches.
Over this span, he averaged 45 yards from scrimmage per game and contributed an additional 130 all-purpose yards per game. From an all-purpose perspective, Cribbs placed the Browns in scoring position often or scored for them.
Of those aforementioned 25 touchdowns on the season, Josh Cribbs scored five of them.
When you include the ridiculous amount of return yardage and the amount of time he set the Browns up in scoring position, it’s easy to say Cribbs was responsible for about a quarter of their offense. All of this despite the limited number of snaps he took.
The Browns only won five games last year. Four of those wins came to help close out the season's final five games. Joshua Cribbs played a crucial role in all four of those late season victories.
65.) Wes Welker, Slot Receiver, NWE
I know exactly what you are thinking…
“There is no way in hell that Wes Welker is better than the five or so receivers that you have listed below him!”
You know what?
I agree with you…
Welker’s placement on this list does not mean that he is a better receiver than the guys he is listed above. Rather, this placement means that he is better or more effective at what he is asked to do than those guys at what they are asked to do.
Wes Welker may not be as fast as a Steve Smith or be able to jump as high as a Randy Moss, nor does he receive the coverage looks of an Andre Johnson, but none of that matters…
It doesn’t matter because Wes Welker embodies everything that is right with today’s NFL players. He’s not the most talented, not very strong, doesn’t have the best set of hands and isn’t very dynamic in the way you would first think of receivers.
He doesn’t have to be, though, because of his almost unrivaled work ethic and football mentality. Well, those and a set of accompanying moves with the ball in his hand.
I will admit that I was a heavy advocate of the “Welker is a product of a system” viewpoint. As a matter of fact, I still believe that he is a product of the system.
That said, it became clear to me and millions of others during Week 17 and Wildcard Weekend that though Welker may be a product of a system, he is also an integral cog of said system.
Though Julian Edelman filled in nicely and had some nice stats, those who watched the game realized that he is no Wes Welker. Without Welker, the Patriots offense quickly deteriorated.
While I wouldn’t officially call Wes Welker the best receiver in the league after the catch, he is most certainly the best after the catch from a technical standpoint.
Since joining the Patriots, Wes Welker has 650 more yards after the catch than the next closest receiver. Essentially, that is one whole season's worth of yards after the catch.
What is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Welker’s abilities is his incredible efficiency. Sure Welker is never asked to go deep, but what he does is impressive.
Welker has caught a ridiculous 75 percent of his intended targets over the past three seasons. This would be an NFL record if such a record were kept.
You can call Welker a product of a system, but the fact is he does what he does greatly.
64.) Carson Palmer, Quarterback, CIN
Carson Palmer is another player on this list who might get me some flack, but I have to stick to my guns.
When I used to compile the list of “100 Most Impactful Players,” Carson Palmer was a mainstay for the first two years. In fact, it was only because of injury that he was removed from the third year’s rendition of the list.
If this were still the “100 Most Impactful Players” list, then Palmer would have definitely made the cut and probably had an even higher placement. Instead, Palmer will just have to settle for being one of the league’s 100 best players.
When examining Palmer’s career the first thing to do (at this point) is to view it in two separate parts; the “High Flying Era” and the “Post-2008 Era.”
The first of these two eras takes place from Palmer’s third year in the league (his second starting) to his fifth year in the league.
During this era, Palmer showcased signs that he could possibly be the greatest of all time when it was all said and done.
In fact, I don’t think there has been a quarterback with a quicker and more developed start to their career in the first five years than Palmer.
From years three to five, Palmer ran a no-huddle offense that was very similar to what Peyton Manning (a two-time MVP at the time) and Jim Kelly (a la the K-Gun) had run.
Palmer was responsible for just about every single offensive call the Bengals made that year. He was responsible for every single offensive audible called and he was responsible for all no huddle calls.
What is scary is that he was running the offense every bit as good as Manning was running at the same time.
For that three-year period, Palmer was one of the league’s premier decision makers. He was a 4,000-yard and 25-touchdown lock during those years.
It wasn’t just the numbers that made Palmer so impressive, though. It was the ways in which they were compiled in that hurry-up offense and what they eventually led to; a playoff berth.
During the “High Flying Era,” Palmer took the Bengals to the post-season for the first time in 14 seasons.
In the “Post-2008 Era,” Palmer brought the Bengals back to the post-season by reviving the “Cardiac Cats.”
Palmer led game-winning drives in Weeks Three, Four, and Five. In fact he should have had a game-winning drive in Week One if not for Brandon Stokely’s miracle catch.
People can point to the defense and run game for the Bengals all they want last season but they only went as far as Palmer's arm (and sometimes legs) could take them in fourth quarters. Without his fourth quarter play, the Bengals would have finished third in the division and missed the post-season.
With the Bengals bringing in Antonio Bryant and taking Jermaine Gresham in the first round, it’s clear that they know what I know.
With some offensive talent around him, Palmer WILL win you games, even if he has to do it single-handedly. This makes him a great quarterback and a top 100 player.
63.) DeAngelo Williams, Halfback, CAR
When DeAngelo Williams emerged during the 2008-09 campaign he showed us that he was more than the guy who looked good because DeShaun Foster sucks.
Williams showed us that he was very capable of being an elite halfback in this league, but the question being posed by fans was “can you do it again?”
Simply put, it is not rare to see a halfback or wide receiver to have one year of elite production and then figuratively disappear off of the face of the planet.
DeAngelo Williams showed us that his 2008-09 campaign was no fluke last year and has cemented the fact that he is a top 100 player in this league and a top 10 halfback.
I like Williams. I don’t like him as much as those that feel he is an unquestioned top five halfback but I believe that he is still easily one of the best in the league.
Sure his “sophomore” campaign was not as impressive as the year prior (even if you ignore his injury) but the point I am trying to hammer home was that he solidified his consistency.
He showed the world that he can produce back-to-back 1,100 yard seasons and is capable of reaching the end zone multiple times. Because of this I liken Williams’ to the “new” Clinton Portis, all the way down to his running style.
Portis had some of the best vision I have ever seen for a back in the modern age. and DeAngelo Williams now holds that title amongst all active halfbacks in my opinion.
You can look at all the stats such as yards per carry or first downs and stuff to judge an aspect like this. However, the best thing to do this is the eyeball test.
Regardless of which one of these methods you use, you will find that Williams knows how to find the best hole more often than not. Additionally, he will hit that hole hard for a gain.
What makes Williams so dangerous is more than his ability to find holes, though. It’s his raw athleticism, combined with an overall freshness provided by learning the game for two seasons on the bench.
Williams has an excellent blend of power and speed that is definitely some of the best in the league. From a pure athletic specimen standpoint, there are few halfbacks superior to him in the league.
Williams can make contact at the line when he wants to and then turn around and outrun people to get to the end zone. This kind of athleticism allowed him to carry the offense in games during the 2008 season such as against Tampa Bay or the New York Giants.
Since becoming a full-time starter, Williams ranks fifth in total yards from scrimmage with 3,005. He also ranks fourth in total touchdowns over that span as well with 30.
The players he is up there with are all elite players, and that makes Williams an elite player. Elite players are certainly top 100 players.
62.) Michael Turner, Halfback, ATL
I know I know… How can I rank Michael Turner above DeAngelo Williams?
Well, simply put there are numerous reasons as to how and why players end up on this list and where they end up on this list. After all, this is a heavily opinionated piece of work.
Michael Turner, in my opinion, based on the last two seasons has, in various ways, impressed me more than DeAngelo Williams. I have Turner over Williams in my halfback ratings and therefore chose to stick to my guns when compiling this list.
Now as for why Turner deserves to be on this list…
Just two seasons ago, I was calling Michael Turner one of the leauge’s most overrated players. I didn’t understand how the Falcons could offer a guy who had one career start back in 2004 a big money contract to be an NFL starter.
On top of that, in the limited playing time I had seen him play in, I saw absolutely nothing to suggest that he could be a good halfback.
In 2008, he proved me “wrong” by lighting the league on fire.
It is without a doubt that for that year Michael Turner was a top four halfback in the NFL. After all he produced 1,700 rushing yards and an accompanying 17 touchdowns.
Numbers like those are hard to come by in today’s NFL and as a result he was thrust into numerous people’s top 10 halfback lists. His 2008 campaign as a whole is the first reason why Michael Turner makes this list.
The second reason why Michael Turner makes this list is how much the Falcons’ offense suffered without him this previous season.
Turner may have started the season slowly in that he was having trouble eclipsing four yards per carry, but he did compensate by scoring lots of touchdowns.
Because Turner was starting so slowly, I began to think maybe he was a one-year wonder. He then rattled off three dominant games in which he ran for over 100 yards on more than seven yards per carry.
Unfortunately for Turner and the Falcons, he then went down with an injury.
Turner was only capable of playing for two more games the rest of the season and barely saw the field in those games because of his injury. It was during that span that I was capable of realizing how good of a player that Turner actually is.
While Turner’s backups (Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling) are both very talented they didn’t provide what Turner did…the ability to take over games.
Turner’s absence made things a lot harder on the Falcons offense, as much of its potential went out of the window.
Some may disagree with Turner’s positioning but to that I say “just wait” because I believe that if Turner stays healthy. he will light the league on fire.
61.) Nick Collins, Free Safety, GNB
It is ridiculous how quickly the landscape of the National Football League can change.
Just about two years ago, I was saying that Nick Collins, Michael Turner, and DeAngelo Williams were all incredibly average (if that) players who were nothing special.
Now two years later, the three of them are all top 100 players in this league without a doubt. I thinking nothing is more indicative of how fast the NFL changes.
When I was talking about Collins during that time, I was labeling him a bust.
I looked at Collins’ measurables from his combine and was wondering how exactly he turned out to be more Jason Allen than Troy Polamalu.
I mean the guy had all the tools to be elite with a sub four-and-four-tenths forty-yard dash, a 40-inch vertical, and numerous other high levels of athleticism displayed via combine metrics.
Sure, Collins was a “project,” as he was a converted cornerback coming out of a Division 1-AA program and that could have slowed his development.
However, at the end of his third year, there was expected growth that never truly materialized. Even worse is that Collins was taken 51st overall in a draft that included players like Lofa Tatupu, Kerry Rhodes, and Kirk Morrison as late first day picks.
Well the “project” finally began to flourish during the 2008 season to the point that I (and more importantly the Associated Press) awarded him second team All-Pro honors.
Additionally, he made the Pro Bowl in 2008. All of those accolades will deserving come with the type of season that Collins had in 2008.
He was lights out in zone coverage and even played man well when asked. He played the free safety role the way it was meant to be by snagging seven interceptions and defending an additional 15 passes.
He returned a ridiculously high three of those interceptions for touchdowns and did most of this with half of the starting secondary missing.
With defensive guru Dom Capers coming to town, Collins’ development could have either hit a large snag or improved ten-fold. As you can tell by Collins’ spot on this list, it did the latter.
Collins is now an elite defensive back without question, as he snagged over six interceptions for a second consecutive season.
That alone isn’t the impressive part. It was that the secondary was depleted again and even in his new role, he had success.
With the more complex looks on defense, Collins got to creep into the box a little more for blitzes and as a result, he brought about four plays behind the line of scrimmage, compared to zero during his first Pro Bowl season.
At age 26, Nick Collins is already a young all-star and could very well become the league’s new Ed Reed.
Last I checked, that will keep you as a top 100 player in this league for quite a few years.
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