The NFL's 100 Best Current Players: Players 50a-41
50a.) Nick Barnett, Inside Linebacker, GNB
I hate to keep hammering home a point that I've made six or seven times now, but a lot of players on this list are underrated.
Nick Barnett is exception to this.
I can't believe Barnett has never been selected to a Pro Bowl. Wel, it's actually pretty clear why he has hasn’t made a Pro Bowl yet.
The media has oversaturated this concept that inside linebackers must only make tackles, and that any other type of stat is irrelevant.
Nick Barnett most definetly proves this.
Barnett has made plenty of splash plays throughout his career. Unfortunately, they merely show up as tackles.
Barnett has a lot of sacks for an inside linebacker, a good amount of pass breakups, and all of his other numbers are good.
Unfortunately for Barnett, he has only amassed 100 solo tackles in his career once.
Barnett has only finished in the top 10 in total tackles twice, in 2005 and 2007.
It is no coincidence that those two years are often cited as his “best” by football analyst out there.
I believe Nick Barnett is the ultimate testament to why the tackle is fast becoming the league’s most overrated statistic, if it is not already.
It is not the quantity of the tackles that matters most in my opinion. No, it should be the quality of said tackles that matter most, and that does not show up via paper tackle totals.
Nick Barnett is most certainly about quality tackles, rather than quantity tackles, aka hopping on the pile.
Notching a tackle might be the simplest statistic to compile in the league. After all, you can trip a player by the shoelaces and record a tackle.
Barnett, however, usually records his tackles in more effective ways.
Barnett is the league’s best linebacker at reading screen passes, and has been for the past three or four years. His tackle totals against halfbacks and receivers on screen passes is ridiculous.
Barnett is also one of the few actual sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the league that can makes tackles all over the field.
In fact, he’s arguably the best at it.
Barnett has 763 career total tackles and 242 of them – or 31 percent – have come outside of the hashmarks. That’s best in the league. He also contributed 16 stuffs, nine passes defensed, and a forced fumble.
What cements Barnett as one of the league’s best linebackers overall is his seamless transition to a 3-4 inside linebacker without a hitch, all while coming off of injury.
Barnett was a dynamo as a 4-3 middle linebacker. He was capable of doing all of the above, as well as being elite in coverage.
However, as Jonathan Vilma has shown us, transitioning from the 4-3 to the 3-4 isn’t easy.
Despite the difficulty of this transition Barnett excelled last season, making 12 plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Hopefully Nick Barnett will start getting the respect that he deserves. Barnett might not be the most athletically gifted linebacker in the league, but he most certainly makes up for it with hard work. Barnett has no flaws in his game.
If Barnett had the raw athleticism of a Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis, he would easily be talked about with them.
The thing is, he probably should be in the conversation anyway.
49.) Tony Gonzalez, Tight End, ATL
How do I phrase this?
Plain and simple, Tony Gonzalez is the “G.O.A.T.”.
For those who don’t understand the modern day vernacular the above acronym means that Mr. Gonzalez is the “greatest of all time” at his position.
“Gonzo” – as some people refer to him as – is the best tight end to play in the 70-plus year history of the National Football League.
Just think about that for a second. Out of the 1,000-plus players in the league today, maybe one other player can make the claim of being the best at their position in the history of the league.
When you sit down and look at it, Gonzalez could possibly be the consensus greatest of all time.
The only real argument against him is that the progression of the game over time, and the accompanying belief that players of yesteryear would have been capable of doing the same thing.
As you can tell, though, this is an incredibly speculative argument. Speculation involves a lot of “ifs”, and we all know how that popular saying goes, right?
There are no questions about Gonzo’s overall abilities. Whether it is blocking or receiving, Tony Gonzalez has been great for most of his career.
Tony Gonzalez has been the mark for comparison at the tight end position over the last decade. If you wanted to know if your tight end was elite during the 2000s, you compared his production and blocking to Tony Gonzalez.
There are only four other players in the entire league that could have said that during that span. Those four players are all probably future Hall of Famers.
While Tony Gonzalez is on the downslide of his career, and this will probably be his last year in the league, what he brings to the table is still amazing.
Gonzalez can bring in 70-plus receptions for at least 850 yards each year. Even more impressive is the fact that he usually gets at least 100 targets, but only drops a few – as in less than five – passes per season.
Gonzalez also makes some absolutely ridiculous receptions that you would expect out of wide receivers. Just like Antonio Gates, he knows how to attack the ball at its highest point due to his basketball background.
What is great about Gonzalez is his well-roundedness.
Gonzalez has always had a multi-faceted skill set that has allowed him to be the unanimous best tight end in the league for quite some time. There were a lot of tight ends capable of snagging between 600 yards and 1,000 yard receiving in today’s league
But how many of them could open holes and be the difference maker in the run game?
Gonzalez always could.
You will find Gonzalez locating defenders and trying to clear lanes for his halfback and not giving up the point of attack with regularity.
While he no longer drives defenders off the ball, he doesn’t have to because he’s still getting the job done which a lot of receiving threat tight ends cannot.
I will say it again. Tony Gonzalez is the “G.O.A.T.”.
48.) Jason Witten, Tight End, DAL
Despite the fact that he had a “down year”, I think Jason Witten proved to the world that he is the preeminent tight end in the league. Witten’s worst season over the past three was still one of the top five at the position.
Whether you examine it from a production standpoint or from a footage standpoint, Jason Witten did everything required of a tight end to near perfection.
Vernon Davis and Brent Celek broke out. Tony Gonzalez moved into the NFC. Antonio Gates returned to form. Dallas Clark had his best season as a professional.
Despite all of the great seasons by those four guys, I would venture to say that Witten had a better year than all of these guys last year. That includes the two guys that received All-Pro nominations over Witten.
Why exactly was Witten better than them?
Simply put, Jason Witten meant more to his team’s overall offensive success than the other tight ends did.
Witten contributed heftily through his own production but through his blocking as well.
While most tight ends do their blocking with the run Witten did his blocking against the run and the pass. While it’s alright to be more willing than able Witten was very capable in the blocking game and was destroying defenders as both a pass and run blocker.
For those that watched the Cowboys last season their offense – though incredibly effective – was very predictable. Their offense ran various combinations of running plays in mixture with smoke screens for their receivers with the occasional pass to Witten or a deep throw tossed in.
Witten was involved in just about every possible offensive snap – 98.87 percent according to Pro Football Focus – that the Cowboys took this past season. This is because Witten was so valuable to every kind of playcall that the Cowboys had.
Witten was obviously important on the124 passes intended for him as he brought down 94 of them for 1,030 yards and two touchdowns. Though those numbers were good it was what he did for the hundreds of other snaps that cemented how good of a player Witten was for me.
Witten was a crucial run blocker for outside runs by the Cowboys three-headed monster in the backfield. Essentially Witten was an extra lineman on over half of his snaps taken.
When he wasn’t catching passes or blocking for the halfbacks Witten was also getting involved in the passing game as a blocker. Witten was very involved in numerous smoke screens intended for Cowboys’ receivers.
Numerous times Austin found himself getting sprung free by a Witten block to run down the field for a large gain. Not to mention the fact that Austin found a lot of single coverage due to safeties being drawn up to cover Witten.
Jason Witten is the consummate package at the tight end position and at this time I don’t think there is a single argument against him being the number one even with his lack of touchdowns last season.
47.) Joe Thomas, Left Tackle, CLE
On April 28th 2007 it seemed as if the fortunes of the current day Cleveland Browns had turned around.
In just the first round they managed to snag what appeared to be their franchise left tackle and franchise quarterback.
Hearts were abuzz in Cleveland because things were beginning to look amazing for both the immediate and long-term future. Almost as if to prove the draft was a success the Browns managed to go 10-6 that season; a record which normally would land a home playoff game. Things were looking bright for the Browns.
Unfortunately for the Dawg Pound and every other Browns fans this glimpse of things to come was more a temporary dream than a premonition.
The Browns of 2007 quickly regressed and became an average team but one bright shining moment from that 2007 team remained; Joe Thomas.
Thomas took the league by storm as a rookie as he shut down numerous pass rushing defenders and opened lanes in the running game. When everybody else began to regress Thomas showed the world that he was no fluke.
Thomas has posted unofficial “official” seasons of four-and-one-quarter (2007), four-and-a-half (2008), and six (2009) sacks allowed. These numbers are good on their own but when you realize who Thomas was blocking for you begin to realize how truly impressive his pass blocking abilities have been.
Numerous times have Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn bootlegged into an avoidable sack or simply were incapable of getting the ball out. If Thomas was taken by a team with a quarterback capable of feeling the pass rush it would be very possible that Thomas might inarguably be the best tackle in the league.
In Joe Thomas’s short career he has held several big name pass rushers to few pressures and no sacks in a game.
Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas, Mario Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jared Allen and Clay Matthews have all been held sackless. 2008 defensive player of the year James Harrison has record only one sack against Thomas in five matchups. Additionally elite pass rushers such as Mario Williams, DeMarcus Ware, Andre Carter, Dwight Freeney, Trent Cole and Elvis Dumervil have managed to record only one single sack during their games against the Browns. Of those six individuals only Williams and Freeney outright beat Thomas for a sack that was completely his fault.
With play like that it is sad to realize that Thomas is probably going to be a Brown for the entirety of his All-Pro level career.
The good news is that Mike Holmgren does have what it takes to turn that program around and hopefully Thomas can be surrounded by some players of his caliber at other positions. Either way Joe Thomas is clearly an elite player in this league and one of the best at his position.
46.) Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, DET
If you know anything about me than you know that I cannot stand overhyped players. You also know that I especially hate it when players receive said hype due to their draft stock rather than their production on the field. Most of all I hate it when a player gets so overhyped that they’re anointed as elite after just one great season.
So than how could Calvin Johnson be on this list and especially so high?
It’s quite simple, actually. Calvin Johnson is one of the league’s best receivers and I don’t feel as if it is that arguable if you watch the tape.
When Johnson came out during the 2007 NFL Draft he was considered by many as the best physical specimen at the wide out position ever.
Accompanying these measurables was an immense amount of hype due to expectations that he would storm the league the way that Randy Moss – a guy who was once considered the best physical specimen at the wide out position ever – did as a rookie.
When the Lions took Calvin Johnson in the first round it seemed as if they were sure that Johnson would be a superstar.
Though Johnson was better than Charles Rogers and Mike Williams his rookie campaign was actually not as good as Roy Williams’. I know this had to worry a few Lions fans, but they now have the last laugh.
Johnson quickly differed himself from the other three Lions’ busts at the receiver position in just his second year.
In doing so, he proved to the world that his measurables do in fact afford him the ability to be an elite receiver.
In his second season Johnson improved on every single one of his numbers. He went off for 78 receptions on 151 targets with an accompanying 1,331 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. Johnson ranked in the top five in every receiving statistic except for receptions and first downs.
Only four receivers had comparable seasons that year.
Looking at the numbers is impressive alright but the reality is that when you look at the tape you see how amazing Johnson truly was.
The fact that Johnson managed such amazing production was amazing in and of itself. The fact that he did it with five below average quarterbacks throughout the season is even more impressive.
Even more impressive is the fact that he brought in 40 percent of the teams receiving yards and 66 percent of their passing scores. None of this was the most impressive part of Johnson’s second season.
What was most impressive about Johnson’s second season was the fact that he single-handedly took over games.
He willed the Lions into the first Packers game, the Redskins game and the Colts game. The 2008 Lions went 0-16 but through no fault of Calvin Johnson.
People assume that Johnson didn’t have a good 2009 but they are wrong. Sure it wasn’t his 2008 campaign but the reality is that playing on a bum leg and with another carousel of quarterbacks he fell just 16 yards short of a second consecutive 1,000 yard season.
Like his 2008 campaign, stats do not tell the whole story.
It is clear when you watch the tape of him willing the Lions into games and making ridiculously athletic catches that Johnson is amazing. If he were in a better situation I think there’d be no doubt about his greatness.
45.) Jeff Saturday, Center, IND
Plain and simple. Jeff Saturday is the league’s best center and after re-evaluating the situation I don’t really believe that it is close.
Jeff Saturday does everything that you could want from a center and then some.
For some odd reason despite how amazing he has played since 2002 everybody continues to overlook Jeff Saturday. The reality is that Jeff Saturday has long been the league’s best center.
While other guys may get their name mentioned in the papers (here’s looking at you Associated Press) the reality is that they don’t do the same things that Saturday does. Allow me to flush out what Saturday does so effectively so that others can become as enthralled with him as I am.
For the past eight seasons Jeff Saturday has been the Colts’ second most important cog behind only future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Yes, in my opinion Jeff Saturday has been more important to the Colts’ overall success than Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Bob Sanders and whoever else you can name that puts on a uniform.
I believe that Saturday has been more important than other players for a couple of reasons.
The first of these reasons is that his consistency in the offensive line should be noted. Since 2001 Jeff Saturday has played the third most games for the Colts. The only people to play more games than him as a Colt over that time span have been Manning and Reggie Wayne.
Admittedly, Peyton Manning’s pocket awareness plays the largest role in how few sacks he has taken over time but Jeff Saturday’s pass blocking dominance would be the second biggest reason. This is why he is the lone holdout on the Colts’ interior offensive line over the years.
The second reason that Saturday is such a great player is his own field play. Jeff Saturday is inarguably one of the best blockers in the league. Since 2000 Saturday has only allowed an unofficial “official” seven-and-a-half sacks.
That equates to Saturday allowing less than a sack a season. Whats more impressive is that two of those sacks came in 2008 when he was injured.
Saturday’s run blocking is nothing to scoff at either. He has been the predominate run blocker for the Colts every single season since 2002.
It doesn’t matter if it was Edgerrin James, Joseph Addai or Donald Brown they loved to run it up the guy behind Saturday. Last season, despite an anemic run offense overall, the Colts ran the ball up the gut 81 times for 375 yards and a ridiculous nine touchdowns. They also gained 22 first downs as opposed to only four stuffs.
If you are not convinced yet about how great Saturday is than just look at what doesn’t show up in the stats. His leadership.
Saturday is the secondary playcaller on the Colts offense to Peyton Manning. The same Manning that has a potential three playcalls every time he goes to the line. Saturday must know these three and be capable of relaying the real play to the other four linemen every time. No other center has to do that.
I think his leadership was best exemplified on how badly the Colts line played without him during the 2008 season dropping their yards per carry a whole yard and failing to get many “and-1” conversions.
With all due respect to Nick Mangold you have got a ways to go before you can surpass Jeff Saturday because he is simply amazing.
44.) Jahri Evans, Right Guard, NWO
There are several reasons that I absolutely like Jahri Evans.
I met him through a friend when they both pledged the same fraternity at the same time as part of the same chapter. Evans, despite being an NFL player while everyone else were still college students was a very chill guy.
On top of being a very chill guy I love that Evans is the face of the Division II players in the league. He represents the same collegiate conference that my Alma Mater plays in; The Pennsylvania State Althetic Conference.
However, what I like the most about Jahri Evans is because he represents what hard work can net you… even if you are a Division II prospect.
From the day that he entered the league as a fourth round pick in 2006, Jahri Evans has never looked back.
In fact he quickly became the league’s premier pass blocking guard. Sure there were guys that allowed fewer sacks but the reality is that Evans was a guard on a team that always throws the ball more than 550 times a season and still only allows two sacks a season at most.
Everybody alludes to Drew Brees’ pocket presence, and rightfully so, but Brees knows that he will always have a pocket to step up into when the edges collapse. He knows this because Jahri Evans simply does not have trouble with the pass rush of interior linemen.
From a pass blocking perspective Evans has shutdown Albert Haynesworth(twice), Jonathan Babineaux(three times), Kevin Williams, Jay Ratliff and Tommie Harris. Those are some pretty elite pass rushing defensive tackles.
Though Evans was easily the league’s best pass blocking guard he had notoriously had trouble doing a guards’ first job – run blocking – throughout most of his career. This is what kept Evans from joining the truly elite group of guards in the league. Well as you can tell from Evans’ placement on this list he clearly took the steps necessary in the run blocking department.
Evans cleared lanes for Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush with relative ease this past season. Those three halfbacks ended up running for 489 yards on 117 right guard trap rushing attempts. Of those attempts 27 went for first downs and five more went for touchdowns.
Only eight times did a rush going right guard trap not go for a gain. In laymen’s terms Evans was flatout dominant as a run blocker last season.
With Evans’ improvements he became the league’s clear cut best guard in some people’s eyes. While I disagree there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he was the league’s best guard last season. If Evans can replicate his 2009-10 campaign than I would most certainly consider him far and away the league’s best guard.
Who would have thought that a fourth round pick who played collegiate football for the Bloomsburg Huskies could potentially be the league’s best guard?
Jahri Evans did… that’s who. And now he is proving it.
43.) Kris Dielman, Left Guard, SDG
I know, I know/ Kris Dielman didn’t exactly have what anyone would deam a strong year last year. So than why is he on here?
Quite simply Dielman is on here because one year – even if it is the most recent – does not overrule four others.
I know that there are plenty of pundits out there who undertake a “what have you done for me lately” stance in rating and ranking players. Despite what they think you would be foolish to not consider what a player has done over the past several years just as much as what they did in their most recent season.
I remarked earlier that Jahri Evans was the league’s best pass blocking guard since he entered the league in 2006. If this is indeed true than Kris Dielman was the second best pass blocking guard over that span. In fact, as per Stats LLC’s unofficial “official” sack statistics from 2005 to 2008 he only allowed four total sacks. This includes a 31 game span in which he only allowed half of a sack.
During this span from 2005 to 2008 I considered Dielman the leauge’s best guard. This was because in addition to being an excellent pass blocker he was a top three run blocker at the guard position as well.
In 2005 Kris Dielman was an unheralded hero due to the hype surrounding Steve Hutchinson. In that year the Chargers had a lot of success running left guard trap. They ran it 87 times for 442 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In 2006, he managed to improve upon those impressive numbers. The Chargers ran left guard trap 124 times for 617 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In 2007, the Chargers experienced some regression but still played at a considerable level. The Chargers ran left guard trap 102 times that year for 334 yards and an accompanying four touchdowns.
In 2008, the Chargers’ left guard trap production returned to prominence. They ran left guard trap 101 times for 415 yards and an accompanying four touchdowns.
For those who are not very good with math this means that from 2005 to 2008 Kris Dielman was vastly responsible for 414 rushing attempt, 1,808 yards and an additional 34 touchdowns. Those numbers are ridiculous especially when you combine them with the fact that he only allowed four sacks over that span.
So why should I suddenly decide that Dielman is not an elite player based one one “bad” year?
Even in Dielman’s “bad” year he still had some considerable –though not elite – production.
Last year Dielman saw a huge regression as the Chargers ran left guard trap a mere 45 times for only 125 yards and three touchdowns. The yards per carry totals are absolutely horrible admittedly however the touchdowns are still commendable. He also allowed a career high three sacks. When you look at all of this it is clear why Dielman had this regression.
With the Chargers moving to a pass-heavy system last year Dielman’s numbers were clearly hurt. Nick Hardwick missing most of the season didn’t help either.
With Norv Turner trading up to take Ryan Matthews it’s clear he wants to give Philip Rivers some help with the running game. As a result expect Dielman’s numbers to return to prominence proving he is still a top three guard and a top 100 player.
42.) Dwight Freeney, Defensive End, IND
Dwight Freeney is more than a simple pass rushing specialist. In fact Freeney’s pass rushing skills go way beyond simply being a stellar pass rusher.
Dwight Freeney is arguably Generation Y’s best pass rusher.
As a matter of fact I would go as far as to say that the notion isn’t that arguable.
To be the best pass rusher in a generation is an incredible accomplishment. It is something that only maybe four guys can make a claim to in the 75-plus year history of the National Football League. Being able to make a claim like this puts Freeney in the company of Hall of Famers like Deacon Jones, Reggie White and Gino Marchetti.
While Freeney’s total sacks at this point in his career fall short of guys like Lawrence Taylor, Kevin Green, Derrick Thomas, Bruce Smith and Reggie White the reality is that they are not that far behind. The act that he can be mentioned right behind guys like that is a big deal. I am in no way saying that Freeney is as good as these Hall of Famers but the fact that he is right behind them in this day and age illustrates how great of a pass rusher he truly has been.
Dwight Freeney has amassed a double digit sack season in seven of his nine professional seasons. In one of those two seasons in which he did not amass over 10 sacks he did not finish the season due to injury.
In the other season that he completed but did not notch double digit sacks he was still one of the league’s biggest terrors. When Freeney only amassed five-and-a-half sacks in 2006 he still managed to lead the league in pressures. Perhaps Freeney has done so well as a pass rusher because of his skill set which might beone of the best all time.
Dwight Freeney’s skill set might be one of the best of al time because of his nearly unblockable spin move. Freeney’s spin move might be the second best pass rush move of all time only bested by Deacon Jones’ head slap.
There are guys that have had more complete pass rush skill sets mixed with finesse and bull rush moves but Freeney’s finesse move set is ridiculous. He can spin, shake, twist, shimmy and glide out of a engage from an offensive lineman like has never been seen before.
Freeney’s amazing pass rush skillset has allowed him to create roughly one play behind the line of scrimmage per game – 114 negative plays in 117 games - over his entire career. While some guys struggle to do this over a season Freeney has done it over a career!
If the point hasn’t hit home than perhaps I simply need to allude to what happened most recently during the 2009-10 season and the postseason.
Last year Dwight Freeney logged a sack in every game he played in last year except for three. One of those three games he was severely injured. The season Freeney put together was magnificent from a pure pass rush standpoint.
Freeney rarely played non-rushing downs and still managed to be the league’s best pass rusher last year. Culminating his super season was Freeney’s dominant Super Bowl all while on a bad ankle.
Dwight Freeney is one of the best pass rushers that any NFL fan has ever seen and is obviously a top 100 player in this league.
41.) London Fletcher, Middle Linebacker, WAS
I think that it is best to summarize London Fletcher’s reasoning for being on this list through asking a series of questions…
How many linebackers in the past decade have more tackles than London Fletcher?
How many inside/middle linebackers in the past decade have more sacks than London Fletcher?
Just Brian Urlacher.
How many linebackers in the past decade have more passes defensed than London Fletcher?
Just Ray Lewis and Keith Bulluck.
How many linebackers in the past decade have more forced fumbles than London Fletcher?
Just James Farrior and Keith Bulluck.
How many linebackers in the past decade have more interceptions than London Fletcher?
Just Ray Lewis and Keith Bulluck.
Finally… How many linebackers in the past decade have more touchdowns than London Fletcher?
Just Donnie Edwards.
Essentially what I am trying to get at is the point that was finally hit home by others this past season.
London Fletcher is and always will be underrated. Despite his ridiculous numbers and the fact that he’s never been on an extremely talented defense – except maybe in Buffalo – he just made plays and never got the recognition he deserved.
Look no further than the fact that the likes of Zach Thomas and DeMarcus Ware made it over him for the team All-Decade team.
Let us break down Fletcher’s numbers a little bit more thoroughly.
Over an 11 year period London Fletcher has average 126 tackles, 2.75 sacks, four stuffs, one forced fumble, six passes defensed and just over one interception per season. Those are All-Pro numbers in a single season let alone over 11. Even more impressive is the fact that those numbers are not helped by a standout season here or there. No those numbers are just about what he has produced every season.
What is even more impressive about Fletcher is what doesn’t show up on paper. Things that don’t show up such as his ability to play coverage. Under Lovie Smith he played in a Cover Two scheme and did so at the best level in the league.
He did the same thing in Buffalo and was arguably the league’s best coverage linebacker on the inside. After coming to Washington he was asked to man up more often and did it effectively. It is hard to forget how often Fletcher manned up against elite pass catching halfbacks like Brian Westbrook for an entire game.
What is ridiculous is that Fletcher had what could be considered a “down” year last year and still played at an amazing level. What else does he have to do to get something other than a “give me” Pro Bowl for his amazingly high level of play?
At the end of the day I will just say this… there was only one better inside linebacker than Fletcher this past decade. Even as it stands there are only two that are better in my mind. Yes… London Fletcher is and was that darn good.
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