Top 100 NFL Players of 2011: An Answer to NFL Network
The NFL Network has invested a sizable chunk of money, production hours and broadcast time to their series of the Top 100 Players in the NFL, voted on by the players.
We love the show, but there's an obvious bias and lack of information at hand for players to vote for their peers.
What are NFL players doing on Sunday? They're at work and are not able to see more than highlights of the other games happening during that same time. When the players do see film of their peers it's in a cut-up form and generally offensive players only see the opposing defense. Tom Brady doesn't see much of Peyton Manning.
With that in mind we've taken the task of composing our own top 100 for 2011.
How were the players ranked? Much like the NFL Network list this is purely one man's opinion. Each player was "graded" on their previous production, age, injury history and their potential for 2011.
100. Kris Dielman, OG, San Diego Chargers
Surprised to see our list start with an interior offensive lineman? Get used to it.
Kris Dielman has made four straight Pro Bowls and was All-Pro in 2008 and 2009. He's one of the best guards in football.
The powerful San Diego offense is largely attributed to Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, but too many sleep on the play of the talent up-front in the Chargers offense.
99. Aaron Smith, Defensive End, Pittsburgh Steelers
Aaron Smith has never received the accolades that he should. He has been named to just one Pro Bowl despite being named to the Sports Illustrated 2000s All-Decade team.
While most 3-4 defensive ends do not put up jaw-dropping stats, it's their play in stopping the run and controlling the gaps that make the rest of the defense stand out.
Smith is the guy responsible for keeping blockers from getting to All-Pro outside linebacker James Harrison.
98. Champ Bailey, Cornerback, Denver Broncos
A future Hall of Famer, but his best days are long gone. Champ Bailey is still a solid No. 2 cover man and an irreplaceable leader.
What he has accomplished in his career will surely place him within the discussion for a top-five cornerback all-time.
He's a 10-time Pro Bowl player and a three-time first team All-Pro.
97. Michael Griffin, Strong Safety, Tennessee Titans
Michael Griffin has been named to two Pro Bowls and he was named a 2010 second-team All-Pro in his young career.
Griffin set a career high with 86 tackles in 2010 and appears to be hitting his stride. The future is bright in Tennessee for this defensive leader.
96. Tramon Williams, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers
Tramon Williams is a season or two away from being an All-Pro cornerback. He is a perfect fit for the Packers' scheme and will continue to gain more respect from NFL quarterbacks as he matures and ages into his role opposite Charles Woodson.
Williams is a key reason the Packers were the NFC's best defense in 2010 and ranked No. 2 in the entire NFL.
His six interceptions were tied for third best in the NFL.
95. Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
Greg Jennings made his first Pro Bowl in 2010 after being named to the All-Rookie team in 2006.
Jennings' numbers will only go up as the Packers add more weapons around him and find ways to improve their running game.
With rookie additions Derek Sherrod, Alex Green and Randall Cobb to the offense, Aaron Rodgers should have more time in the pocket and the defense will have to worry about players other than Jennings.
94. Rashard Mendenhall, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashard Mendenhall is becoming the backbone the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is built on.
In 2010, Mendenhall posted his second straight 1,000-yard season and almost doubled his touchdown production from seven in 2009 to 13 last year.
The Steelers' plan in 2011 will be more of the same. And we expect big numbers from No. 34.
93. Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens
Anquan Boldin hit the ground running in the NFL, being named the 2003 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and selected to three subsequent Pro Bowls.
Since that time things have slowed down, but Boldin's physical style of play and acrobatic catching ability still make him one of the NFL's best.
92. B.J. Raji, Defensive Tackle, Green Bay Packers
In 2010, B.J. Raji had the most productive season of any nose tackle in the league, racking up 39 tackles with 6.5 sacks and three passes defensed.
With 2010 being his first season of dominance we have kept Raji down lower on our top 100 than most would suggest, but we do believe he will continue to rise until he's considered the best nose tackle in the game at some point in time.
Just not yet.
91. Jason Peters, Offensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Jason Peters has made five straight Pro Bowls and he has three times been named an All-Pro.
Regarded by many as one of the most athletic left tackles in football, we are major fans—we just need to see a little more consistency before he moves into the discussion with Joe Thomas and Jake Long as the best in the NFL.
Peters is a solid tackle and a very good football player, and will be a major part of what we see as a five-year window for Philadelphia to win a Super Bowl.
90. John Abraham, Defensive End, Atlanta Falcons
John Abraham is enjoying a jump-start to his career in Atlanta. There's a direct line between Abraham's play and a win for the Falcons.
Abraham's 2010 season led him to receive a Pro Bowl invite and All-Pro honors. His 102.5 sacks are good for No. 2 among active players and No. 21 all-time.
89. DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
An All-Pro as a punt returner and two-time Pro Bowler, DeSean Jackson is part of a very exciting offense in Philadelphia.
In three seasons Jackson has added 24 touchdowns for the Eagles as a receiver, runner and return man. His ability to do it all in the Philadelphia offense is a big reason for their continued success as the roster evolved from a veteran team to a youthful group.
88. London Fletcher, Inside Linebacker, Washington Redskins
A rare undersized inside linebacker for a 3-4 defense, London Fletcher defies the odds every Sunday.
He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000 and 2010. Even more impressive, every season between 2000 and 2010 he had at least 87 tackles.
Fletcher is a picture of consistency, leadership and instincts.
87. Richard Seymour, Defensive Tackle, Oakland Raiders
Richard Seymour won three Super Bowls in New England and was named to five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.
Since moving to Oakland, he has made one Pro Bowl after moving to defensive tackle. Seymour remains the example of how a 3-4 defensive end should play. He's also done pretty well as a three-technique tackle for the Raiders.
86. Kyle Williams, Defensive Tackle, Buffalo Bills
Kyle Williams is not your prototypical nose tackle, but his 2010 season earned him a Pro Bowl and a second-team All-Pro vote.
Williams is quietly becoming one of the best zero-technique tackles in football. He's a favorite of SI's Peter King and flourished in the Bills' 3-4 defense in 2010.
85. Robert Mathis, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts
Robert Mathis has made it to three straight Pro Bowls and just might be the best defensive end on the Colts' roster.
He currently ranks No. 9 on the active player sack list and has been a top-10 sacker three times in his career.
At just 30 years old, Mathis has several good years ahead of him to continue putting up jaw-dropping sack numbers.
84. Andre Gurode, Center, Dallas Cowboys
Andre Gurode has made five straight Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams as a center since 2007. As a member of the Dallas Cowboys he has started 122 games at guard and center.
Few players can show the consistency that Gurode has since making the move to center. While Pro Bowls may be popularity contests as much as anything, being voted to five straight is impressive.
83. Brandon Flowers, Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
Brandon Flowers' young career changed when the Chiefs hired Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator.
Since then, and after making a move to left cornerback, Flowers has blossomed into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
His seven interceptions and 37 passes defensed over the last two seasons are evidence enough that No. 24 is emerging as a rightful heir to the thrown as best cornerback in the AFC West.
82. Dallas Clark, Tight End, Indianapolis Colts
He may be slowing down some late in his career, but Dallas Clark is still the best receiver on the Colts roster.
It's a travesty, in our opinion, that Clark has been named to just one Pro Bowl and one All-Pro team in his career. This is while amassing 393 catches for 44 touchdowns.
81. Leonard Davis, Guard, Dallas Cowboys
Leonard Davis has three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro selection under his belt since being labeled as a bust in Arizona.
After being drafted No. 2 overall in Arizona, Davis was moved around between guard and tackle and never found a home despite starting 95 percent of his games as a Cardinal.
Once he signed in Dallas, Davis became a fixture at right guard and has emerged as one of the best run blockers in the NFL.
80. Ryan Kalil, Center, Carolina Panthers
A Pro Bowl alternate in 2009 and 2010, Ryan Kalil is perhaps the most important player on the Panthers' entire roster.
Kalil has started 44 straight games at center for Carolina and has become a team leader. His ability to work with multiple quarterbacks over the last two seasons is an encouraging building block for the Panthers as they attempt to rebuild the roster.
79. Chris Snee, Guard, New York Giants
Chris Snee fits the model of what every offensive guard should be like. He's big, tough and plays consistently every down.
Snee has not missed a start in six years and has become a model for others to mirror at right guard.
Snee is a three-time All-Pro, gaining one first-team selection and two second-team nods in his career.
78. Justin Smith, Defensive End, San Francisco 49ers
Justin Smith is the epitome of a lunch-pail player. While he does receive plenty of recognition on payday, Smith is quietly one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in football.
A Pro Bowler in 2009 and 2010, Smith's never had more than 8.5 sacks in any one season but is still considered one of the best defensive ends in football due to his ability to stop the run and anchor the end of the line.
77. Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins
Brandon Marshall holds the NFL record for catches in a game (21) and is one of only five players in NFL history to catch at least 100 passes in three consecutive seasons.
Give Miami a better quarterback and Marshall will shoot up this list.
Marshall has averaged a staggering 82 catches per season over the course of his five-year career. If he could keep his nose clean off the field and if Miami finds a more consistent quarterback situation, it would be easy to see Marshall becoming one of the best in the NFL.
76. Osi Umenyiora, Defensive End, New York Giants
Twice a Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro, Osi Umenyiora could dominate if he could maintain consistent play. He goes from elite to average every other year.
Osi's 60 career sacks are good for No. 90 all-time and No. 17 among active defenders. He is young enough to make a huge impact if he can stay healthy and gain consistency.
75. Darnell Dockett, Defensive Tackle, Arizona Cardinals
A Pro Bowler in 2008, 2009 and 2010, Darnell Dockett is the leader on the Cardinals' young defensive line.
His steady play in spite of the many moving parts around him over the last two seasons, as well as his outspoken ways on Twitter, have raised the average fan's knowledge of Dockett.
Since moving to defensive end before the 2009 season Dockett has been on a tear. His play in the 3-4 hybrid defense the Cardinals favor has been stellar.
74. Jordan Gross, Offensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers
Jordan Gross has quietly put together a very good career. He's been an All-Pro, a Pro Bowler and received the team's 2010 Ed Block Courage Award.
Since settling in at left tackle before the 2008 season, Gross has become among the best left tackles in football. Had his 2009 season not been cut short by injury we believe he would have been a Pro Bowl player in that season as well.
73. Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
We are willing to bet the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins would love to have Wes Welker back.
Not a physically dominating player, but he is smart, tough and the perfect target for Tom Brady and the Patriots' spread offense.
Welker is averaging 80 catches per season since coming to New England—including a league-leading 123 in 2009 that still stands as the second-most catches ever in a season.
Welker has made three straight All-Pro teams and Pro Bowls.
72. Michael Turner, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons
An underrated runner and key to the Falcons' success offensively, Michael Turner will only post bigger numbers as Atlanta's passing attack becomes more versatile now that they have added rookie Julio Jones to the equation.
Turner has made two Pro Bowls since joining Atlanta in 2008 and has also led the league in carries during those two seasons. He's been top-three in rushing yards twice as well.
71. Leon Hall, Cornerback, Cincinnati Bengals
A second-team All-Pro in 2009, Leon Hall has elite talent. With a better pass rush in Cincinnati, his stats will improve.
Hall has started 48 games in Cincinnati, racking up 59 passes defensed and 13 interceptions during that time.
His play in man coverage, and his ability to separate the receiver from the ball, make Hall one of the NFL's best in one-on-one situations.
70. Matt Schaub, Quarterback, Houston Texans
Fantasy football players might want Matt Schaub higher.
His statistics are off the charts, but he remains one of the more up-and-down players in the NFL. Schaub spent his first two seasons in Houston, missing five games each year. He has since gone two years without missing a game to injury, but the fear remains that he could go down at any time.
Once Schaub can lead Houston to the playoffs, he may be higher on our list.
69. Asante Samuel, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
Asante Samuel has made four straight Pro Bowls. He's been selected to an All-Pro team. He's twice led the NFL in interceptions.
But he will also give up maddeningly big plays at times. Samuel may be No. 5 among active players in terms of interceptions but he has to get better in pressure situations before we move him up our list.
68. Frank Gore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
Frank Gore has the talent to lead the NFL in rushing, but he has trouble staying healthy for all 16 games.
Just once in six seasons has Gore played in every game for the 49ers—a season in which he finished third in rushing yards with almost 1,700 yards on the ground.
Gore literally has it all. He could make a run at the NFL's best if he could just stay healthy.
67. Brian Orakpo, Outside Linebacker, Washington Redskins
Hidden on a bad defense, Brian Orakpo is one of the best outside linebackers in football. Orakpo has been a Pro Bowler in his two NFL seasons.
Averaging almost 10 sacks per season, Orakpo's numbers would be better if the Redskins had a legitimate defensive lineman who could draw double teams and keep the linebackers free.
66. Arian Foster, Running Back, Houston Texans
From undrafted to the 2010 rushing title, Arian Foster is what's good about the NFL.
And to think he was available to every NFL team twice (undrafted, cut by Houston, signed to Texans' practice squad).
Foster would ultimately be higher on our list but we need to see him repeat his 2010 performance while sharing carries with Ben Tate.
65. Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers
On a team with a better quarterback, Vernon Davis would be an All-Pro every year. He has unmatched athletic ability and potential but no one to get him the football consistently.
Davis will do well in new head coach Jim Harbaugh's West Coast offense and will likely be seen as the 49ers' No. 1 target in the passing game.
What's forgotten and not seen in the numbers game is that Davis might be the best blocking tight end in the NFL.
64. Lawrence Timmons, Inside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Lawrence Timmons has yet to receive the level of attention of some of his star teammates on defense, but he is the team leader in tackles and an emerging star at inside linebacker.
During his first full season as a starter in 2010, Timmons posted 95 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
Timmons should give the Steelers faith in the future of the defense once James Farrior retires.
63. Shaun Phillips, Outside Linebacker, San Diego Chargers
Shaun Phillips exploded on the scene in 2006 with 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Between 2007 and 2009 he struggled to match the success of his coming-out party in '06—averaging just eight sacks per season.
In 2010, Phillips emerged again as a sack master with 11 sacks and 47 tackles. He was also voted to his first Pro Bowl.
62. Eric Berry, Strong Safety, Kansas City Chiefs
In 2010, Eric Berry had the best statistical season for a safety in the modern era. Berry was elite in college and he has carried over that talent well to the NFL.
Berry made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, totaled over 70 tackles and had four key interceptions in big moments.
The future is bright for Berry, who nearly cracks our top 60 largely on his potential.
61. Adrian Wilson, Strong Safety, Arizona Cardinals
Four times a Pro Bowler and three years as an All-Pro, Adrian Wilson is deserving of mention as the best safety in the NFL.
Much of what Wilson does so well does not show up in a stat line, but on film he is hard to miss. Wilson's leadership, toughness and consistency are a big part of what is a very good defense in Arizona.
60. Lance Briggs, Outside Linebacker, Chicago Bears
Many forgot that Lance Briggs is a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. Perhaps he gets lost playing next to Brian Urlacher.
Whatever the reason, you cannot overlook the numbers put up by Briggs in the last seven years.
His 705 tackles, 12 interceptions and 10.5 sacks will stand up against any other outside linebacker in the NFL during that same time span.
59. Jon Beason, Inside Linebacker, Carolina Panthers
Able to play inside or outside linebacker, Jon Beason is constantly around the football. He's been rewarded with three Pro Bowl trips and two years as a second-team All-Pro.
As the Panthers try to rebuild their roster and give the franchise a kick-start, it will be Beason leading the charge on defense. As team captain he will lead by example in turning things around in Carolina.
58. Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback, New York Jets
Taking into account his on-field accolades only, Antonio Cromartie is an elite cornerback. People may not like him as a person, but you have to respect his play.
It can be argued that other cornerbacks have better numbers, but the simple fact is that most NFL quarterbacks simply avoid throwing to his side of the field.
Cromartie may very well be one of the most underrated players in the league today.
57. Brian Urlacher, Inside Linebacker, Chicago Bears
Brian Urlacher is one of the most recognized linebackers in the history of the NFL. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame once his career ends.
As a leader of the famed Bears defense, Urlacher backs up his leadership with top-notch play on the field.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time First-Team All-Pro, Urlacher may rank behind only Ray Lewis as the premier middle linebacker of this generation.
56. Elvis Dumervil, Defensive End, Denver Broncos
Had he not been injured in 2010, Elvis Dumervil may be much higher on our list. In 2009, he was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro.
The challenge for Elvis will be making the move from outside linebacker to defensive end this season as Denver transitions from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense.
Dumervil is slightly undersized for the position, but if protected by a big defensive tackle on the inside he should do just fine.
55. Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts
Despite his age, Reggie Wayne remains one of the best wide receivers in football. His consistency and production throughout his career are remarkable.
Wayne is a five-time Pro Bowler and one-time First-Team All-Pro. He has compiled an amazing amount of catches, yards and touchdowns over his career—many of which rank him in the top 10 active players in terms of statistics.
What's better, Wayne's best season came in 2010 with 111 catches and 1,355 yards receiving.
54. Dwight Freeney, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts
Six Pro Bowls, three All-Pro seasons and being named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade team mark the excellence of Dwight Freeney's career in Indianapolis.
Freeney is No. 4 among active players with 94 sacks and could very well break the 100-sack mark in 2011.
In nine seasons Freeney has only failed to register 10 sacks in two seasons, one of which he was injured for seven games.
53. Maurkice Pouncey, Center, Pittsburgh Steelers
Rookies are not supposed to step in at center and anchor the offensive line to a Super Bowl appearance.
Maurkice Pouncey did on his way to a Pro Bowl invite and selection to the All-NFL second team by the Associated Press.
Few rookies have ever played as well on the offensive line so early in their career. Pouncey's future is incredibly bright.
52. Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
If you were to list the best quarterbacks age 25 and under, Matt Ryan would have to be No. 1.
I would love to put Ryan much higher on this list based on potential alone, but I couldn't bring myself to rank him ahead of the other more established and accomplished quarterbacks ranked higher.
We do predict Matt Ryan will top this entire list at least once in his career.
51. Cameron Wake, Outside Linebacker, Miami Dolphins
Cameron Wake exploded on the scene in 2010 with a Pro Bowl and All-Pro season. While we have limited ranking players based solely on one good season and a load of potential, Wake has "something" that makes him stand out perhaps more than any other young outside linebacker.
The sky is the limit for this former CFL player.
50. LaMarr Woodley, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
A Pro Bowler, All-Pro and Super Bowl champion, LaMarr Woodley's name is rising up our board of the NFL's best.
Since becoming a starter in 2010, Woodley has had at least 10 sacks every year in the Steelers' powerful 3-4 defense.
We have a firm belief that Woodley will soon be pushing Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware for the title of best outside linebacker in the NFL.
49. Tamba Hali, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs
If LaMarr Woodley does not emerge as a threat to DeMarcus Ware and Clay Matthews, Tamba Hali either will or already has.
Hali ranked second in the NFL during the 2010 season with 14.5 sacks and appears to be just hitting his stride in the Chiefs 3-4 defense.
As Hali becomes more familiar with the outside linebacker position—2010 was just his second year there—the sky is the limit on what he can do.
48. Justin Tuck, Defensive End, New York Giants
A Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2008 and 2010, Justin Tuck has unlimited potential. The problem is that sometimes, like in 2009, he forgets to turn it on for whatever reason.
Stuck right in the middle of 12- and 11.5-sack seasons is a head-scratcher of a season where Tuck only posted six sacks and 46 tackles.
We believe 2009 was more of an exception than the rule with Tuck, but it does keep us from ranking him higher.
47. Steve Hutchinson, Guard, Minnesota Vikings
Steve Hutchinson has been named to seven Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro teams and the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team. He's one of the best guards to ever play the game.
What more needs said about this future Hall of Famer?
46. Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
There was a time when Maurice Jones-Drew took a backseat to Reggie Bush in the Pac-10 and was seen by most as a situational player in the NFL.
That almost seems laughable now.
Jones-Drew's stock has exploded since the beginning of the 2009 season. He was named the NFL Alumni Running Back Player of the Year in 2010 and has made the last two Pro Bowls.
45. Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Like him or not, Michael Vick is nearly unstoppable at quarterback. His 2010 season was one of the best comeback years we've ever seen, which is why he was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
What Vick was able to accomplish in 2010 after not starting since the 2006 season was simply amazing. And that's coming from someone who is not a big fan of Vick as a person.
44. Jerod Mayo, Inside Linebacker, New England Patriots
The leader of the Patriots defense, Jerod Mayo is as solid as any player in the NFL. He's been the Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro.
As the Patriots have moved from a veteran team to a youthful defense, Mayo has emerged as the perfect answer to the loss of Tedy Bruschi at middle linebacker.
For New England to win a fourth Super Bowl they will need to keep Mayo in the middle of their defense.
43. Ed Reed, Free Safety, Baltimore Ravens
When Ed Reed decides to retire from the NFL it will be a sad day.
Few players in the history of the game have been able to provide the excitement that Reed brings to the defensive side of the football.
In return for that excitement he has been rewarded with seven Pro Bowls and five First Team All-Pro selections.
Reed's play has dropped off in the last few seasons, but he remains a safety who can completely alter the course of a game.
42. Alex Mack, Center, Cleveland Browns
In what may surprise some people, Alex Mack is our No. 2-ranked center for the 2011 season.
In two seasons as a starter, he has allowed 1.75 sacks. Total.
Mack was voted as a Pro Bowler for the first time, but definitely not the last, in 2010.
41. Jason Witten, Tight End, Dallas Cowboys
Jason Witten has made seven Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and he has twice won the NFL Alumni Tight End of the Year Award.
You could easily argue that no other tight end means more to his team that Witten. So why isn't he rated as our No. 1 tight end?
As great as Witten is, there is one tight end who has done more.
40. Jamaal Charles, Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs
If Jamaal Charles can repeat his awesome 2010 season, he will move way up this list in a hurry.
In 2010, Charles posted 1,467 rushing yards—good for No. 2 in the league, a Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro recognition.
Charles has the speed, strength and offensive line to be very good for a long time.
39. Trent Cole, Defensive End, Philadelphia Eagles
A two-time Pro Bowler, Trent Cole's stock is on the rise. He's among the best young defensive ends in the NFL.
Firmly entrenched at right defensive end in Philadelphia's 4-3 defense, Cole is routinely double teamed by opposing offense. And yet he's still wildly productive.
Cole is averaging 11 sacks per season over the last four years and is already inside the top 20 list for sacks among active players.
38. Jay Ratliff, Nose Tackle, Dallas Cowboys
A three-time Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro in 2009, Jay Ratliff is quietly one of the best 3-4 defenders in the league.
Ratliff is our second-highest ranked Cowboy for something that doesn't have a statistic (yet): double-teams drawn.
While stats are not what make up Ratliff's reputation, he does post great numbers for a nose tackle and is regarded as one of the quickest zero-technique players in the game.
37. Roddy White, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
As Matt Ryan emerges, so does Roddy White.
After a rough start to his career, White exploded in 2007 with 83 catches and six touchdowns. Since Matt Ryan's takeover in Atlanta, White is averaging 100 catches and 10 touchdowns per season.
White and Ryan have a chemistry that could carry Atlanta to a Super Bowl title.
36. Jahri Evans, Guard, New Orleans Saints
Jahri Evans won't get mentioned along with the best guards in the NFL, but he should.
Evans has made the last two Pro Bowls and been an All-Pro in both seasons.
When combined with fellow guard Carl Nicks, the two make up what we believe is the best guard duo in the entire NFL.
35. Nick Mangold, Center, New York Jets
Nick Mangold has been one of the best at his position since entering the league. He'll get an argument from us as the best center in the NFL—which is where we rank him today.
Mangold has made three Pro Bowls and been selected to two First-Team All-Pro teams in his brief career.
Another great note concerning Mangold: He's never missed a start during his five-year career.
34. Steven Jackson, Running Back, St. Louis Rams
Steven Jackson could arguably be listed higher than this. He has amazing physical ability, but has been trapped on a bad team.
That's changing with Sam Bradford and other youngsters in town.
Jackson has posted more than 1,000 yards rushing every year since 2004—doing more in six seasons than most running backs do in an entire career.
Jackson is currently No. 6 on the active player rushing yards list.
33. Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
A three-time Pro Bowler and 2010 NFL Alumni Quarterback of the Year, Philip Rivers is heading toward the top of the list of best quarterbacks.
In five years as the starter for San Diego, Rivers has not missed one start. His 97.2 career quarterback rating is No. 2 among active players—ahead of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.
32. Terrell Suggs, Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens
Terrell Suggs continues to get better the older he gets. His 11 sacks in 2010 were the second most in his career and also helped drive the Baltimore defense toward a third straight playoff birth.
Suggs has suffered some from moving around too much in his career—he's played defensive end, right outside linebacker and left outside linebacker—but seems to have found a home on the left side.
A fun fact: Suggs' three highest sack totals all came while playing left outside linebacker.
31. Troy Polamalu, Strong Safety, Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu could be higher on this list if he were able to stay healthy. Polamalu was named the 2010 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year despite missing two games.
Polamalu's best season may have been this past year, when his gutty play led the Steelers to a Super Bowl berth. His seven interceptions, in just 14 games, were good for No. 2 in the NFL.
Turning 30 this year will not slow down No. 43.
30. Michael Roos, Offensive Tackle, Tennessee Titans
In his five years as a starter, Michael Roos has only given up 17 sacks and has never missed a start.
Roos has quietly been one of the best left tackles in the business, something he was recognized for with a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection in 2008.
Give the Titans a better quarterback situation and a higher-profile offense, and Michael Roos would be a household name.
29. Ryan Clady, Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos
Clady tore his patella tendon right before the 2010 season. This limited his mobility all season, causing too many to write him off and forget him when talking about the best offensive tackles in football.
We haven't forgotten.
Clady was an All-Pro and Pro Bowler before the 2010 season. We even had him in the discussion as the best left tackle in the game before his injury.
Clady will be back in to his All-Pro form in 2011 and will quickly reclaim his spot among the best tackles in the NFL.
28. Logan Mankins, Guard, New England Patriots
Logan Mankins made the Pro Bowl in 2010 after playing in only nine games. While the Pro Bowl can be seen as a fan-voted game that means nothing, it's still an impressive feat.
Protecting Tom Brady and propelling an unknown runner, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, to a 1,000-yard season are worth some notice too.
Mankins is hands-down the best guard in football.
27. Mario Williams, Defensive End, Houston Texans
Mario Williams' short career has been brilliant. He's a three-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro twice during his five NFL seasons. Williams holds the Texans' all-time single-season sack record with 14 sacks in 2008.
The big question is how will Williams do when moved to outside linebacker?
That's what the Texans and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips plan to do in 2011. Their hope is that Williams can produce at a DeMarcus Ware level.
Time will certainly tell.
26. Vince Wilfork, Nose Tackle, New England Patriots
A disclaimer: Vince Wilfork may be my favorite player in the NFL today.
As the 3-4 defense becomes more prominent, other NFL teams will look for a Wilfork clone to clog the middle of their defensive line.
A three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, Wilfork is the best nose tackle in football.
25. Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
There may not be many players in the NFL more physically gifted than Larry Fitzgerald. When looking at production only, you have to be amazed at the level of play Fitzgerald achieved with Kurt Warner as his quarterback.
During the 2010 season, his production fell off only due to the poor play of the Cardinals quarterbacks. A five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Fitzgerald is still in the top tier of wide receivers in the NFL.
24. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson's career cannot be judged by statistics. When looking at the whole of his career, you must consider that Johnson has never played a full season with a legitimate franchise quarterback.
On talent alone, Johnson is rated in our top 20 players. Given a healthy Matthew Stafford at quarterback for a full season, he could easily rank as the best receiver in the NFL.
His 77 receptions for 1,120 yards and 12 TDs during 2010 were all the more impressive considering it was Shaun Hill throwing him the ball the majority of the time.
23. James Harrison, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harrison has been named to four straight Pro Bowls, had three All-Pro seasons, and was the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
His play at outside linebacker has been the constant force for the Steelers defense since signing with the team in 2004.
As Harrison ages, the Steelers will be hard-pressed to replace his production and leadership.
22. Antonio Gates, Tight End, San Diego Chargers
Antonio Gates' career has been a testament to how wrong scouts and general managers can be at times. This is a player who was undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft. By 2004, he was a Pro Bowler.
Gates is a seven-time Pro Bowler, five times an All-Pro and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
He's a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
21. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions
Ndamukong Suh graded out as our No. 1 player in the 2010 NFL Draft and as the second-best prospect we ever scouted (behind Peyton Manning).
As a rookie, Suh took the NFL by storm. His play earned him a number of accolades and awards.
Suh was named to the All-Pro team. Due to his successful rookie season, Suh was named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year, the Pro Football Weekly and Pro Football Writers of America Rookie of the Year, the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year and the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
20. Ray Lewis, Inside Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
Lewis continues to defy logic by playing at an incredibly high level, even late into his career. Lewis is arguably the best middle linebacker to ever play the game.
When you look at Ray Lewis' career accomplishments, it is easy to see why he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer:
- Lewis has been named to a record 12 Pro Bowls for an inside/middle linebacker
- Named to 10 All-Pro teams
- Super Bowl XXXV MVP
- Two-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year
- Three-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year
- Two-time NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year
- NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
- 20 sack/20 interception Club—Quickest to reach (113 games)
- 30 sack/30 interception Club—Quickest to reach (204 games)
19. Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings
Jared Allen continually ranks as one of the best defensive ends in football.
He has been named to three Pro Bowls and in those years he was also an All-Pro. He has four straight seasons of double-digit sacks under his belt as well.
Allen has tallied 83 sacks since the 2004 season.
18. Joe Thomas, Offensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns
Joe Thomas ranks as our No. 2 overall offensive lineman.
His play during four seasons in the NFL has been elite from the first game. In four seasons, he's allowed only 19.25 sacks and committed only 21 penalties. During his rookie season, he was named to the Pro Bowl and he has been every year since.
Four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections later, Thomas is building a Hall of Fame career.
17. Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees ranks as our No. 5 quarterback on the list of 100 best players in the NFL.
Where he may rank No. 1 is on a list of the best people in the NFL.
Brees has made five Pro Bowls, been an All-Pro twice, won a Super Bowl as the MVP of the game and was the 2010 AP Male Athlete of the Year.
He also resurrected a city by leading the Saints to a Super Bowl win, something no one would have ever thought possible before Brees signed with the Saints.
16. Clay Matthews, Outside Linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Clay Matthews III did not waste any time making his mark on the NFL.
After being drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Matthews was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. His 2010 sophomore season was even better, with a second Pro Bowl berth, NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors and a Super Bowl win.
Matthews' potential is unlimited. In Green Bay, he will become the focal point of a defense that is stocked with enough players to keep the Packers in Super Bowl contention for years to come.
15. DeMarcus Ware, Outside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware is everything you would want in an outside linebacker.
In 104 NFL games, he has recorded 448 tackles, 87.5 sacks, 66 tackles for a loss, 26 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one of which he returned 69 yards for a touchdown), 19 passes defended and one interception, which he returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
All of this adds up to Ware being the best outside linebacker on our list.
14. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
Few things can stop Adrian Peterson. Prior to the 2010 season, his penchant for fumbling kept him from reaching the level of greatness that many predicted for him.
In four seasons as a pro, Peterson is averaging 1,446 yards per season. At this pace, he'll shatter every NFL rushing record if he can stay healthy.
In his short career, Peterson has racked up a room full of awards:
- AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2007)
- Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year (2007)
- Four-time Pro Bowl selection ( 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)
- Two-time first-team All-Pro selection ( 2008, 2009)
- Two-time second-team All-Pro selection ( 2007, 2010)
- FedEx Ground Player of the Year Award (2008)
- Pro Bowl MVP (2008)
- Bert Bell Award (2008)
13. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
Big Ben has won two Super Bowls, been the NFL Rookie of the Year and been named to one Pro Bowl in his short career. As Tom Brady and Peyton Manning near the end of their Hall of Fame careers, Roethlisberger is hitting the stride of his own Hall of Fame career.
Too often, Roethlisberger is left out of talks about the best quarterbacks in the NFL. We contend he's in the top four.
12. Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
In three NFL seasons, Chris Johnson has made three Pro Bowls, been a first-team All-Pro selection, been the 2009 NFL Alumni Running Back of the Year, set the single-season record for yards from scrimmage (2,509 yards in 2009) and was the 2009 NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Once the Titans get a stable quarterback under center to deter defenses from placing nine and 10 tacklers in the box, Johnson's numbers will shoot back up near 1,500 yards per season.
11. Haloti Ngata, Defensive Tackle, Baltimore Ravens
Haloti Ngata is the best player in the NFL that no one talks about.
He's been to two straight Pro Bowls, been a first- and second-team All-Pro and has been an anchor of the Ravens defense for the last five years. Ngata was also selected to the 2010 All-Fundamentals team by USA Football and the NFL Players Association.
As Ray Lewis and Ed Reed become less important to the Ravens' success, Ngata and Terrell Suggs become the best players on this defense.
10. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
It's Rodgers who has the highest quarterback rating of any active quarterback. And it's Rodgers who has been flawless since taking over for a legend.
Rodgers has been brilliant since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. His play resulted in him being the only player in NFL history to have 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two starting seasons.
A Super Bowl win in 2010 was just the beginning for Rodgers.
9. Charles Woodson, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers
Charles Woodson is the unquestioned leader of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. His value is not judged in stats alone, but in heart and leadership.
Woodson's career awards read like a Hall of Famer's. A seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Charles Woodson is the best cornerback in the history of the NFL in our eyes.
8. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
What more can be said about Peyton Manning?
In 2009, he was listed by The Sporting News as the No. 1 player in the NFL today and Fox Sports named him player of the decade. In 2010, he was named the eighth-best player in NFL history, according to the NFL's top 100 show, and he was the only active player in the top 10.
In many years, he would be listed No. 1 or No. 2 on our list of the best players in the NFL. Age, a bad offensive line and too many missed passes in 2010 led us to moving Manning down the board slightly.
Manning has four to five good years left in the tank. He could easily stay in the top 10 for the remainder of his career.
7. Julius Peppers, Defensive End, Chicago Bears
Is Julius Peppers the best defensive end in football?
That's what is at stake here. We believe he is.
Peppers' accomplishments make for a long list of awards and achievements. He's been to six Pro Bowls since 2004 and was named to five All-Pro teams during that time.
Since signing in Chicago last summer, Peppers has looked rejuvenated. With a better team around him, Peppers will regain his elite status in the eyes of NFL fans.
6. Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans
If you were to sit down and sketch out the perfect wide receiver, Andre Johnson would be the result.
He has the hands of Jerry Rice, the size of Michael Irvin and the deep speed of Randy Moss all rolled into one unstoppable package.
Through the 2010-11 NFL season, Johnson currently ranks first all-time in NFL history in receiving yards per game (79.7) for a career. He has twice led the NFL in single-season receiving yards and has been named to four All-Pro teams along with five Pro Bowls.
5. Darrelle Revis, Cornerback, New York Jets
Darrelle Revis has made his mark on the NFL during his four seasons as a New York Jet. Many consider Revis to be the best cornerback in the NFL. It's hard to argue otherwise.
He is a three-time Pro Bowler, twice an All-Pro and was the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Year.
That 2009 season was regarded by most as the best season ever for a cornerback. Revis racked up 47 tackles, six interceptions and an amazing 31 passes defensed.
While he is not the No. 1 cornerback on our board, he's very close.
4. Jake Long, Offensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins
Jake Long is your prototypical left tackle. He's what every NFL general manager wants and needs on his offensive line. And that's why he is our No. 1 offensive lineman and No. 2 overall offensive player.
In 2009, Long yielded only four sacks and he was ranked the second-best offensive tackle, behind Joe Thomas of Cleveland. His 2010 season was less impressive due to poor play of the quarterbacks in Miami, who far too often held the ball longer than they should have.
Long remains the model by which all incoming offensive linemen will be judged.
3. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback, Oakland Raiders
In 2010, Asomugha was selected as a member of the Fox Sports and USA Today NFL All-Decade teams. This was after playing in only seven seasons during the decade.
Asomugha is a four-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro. Asomugha allowed just 10 receptions on the 27 passes thrown his way during the 2010 season and most importantly, Asomugha did not give up a touchdown all year.
Darrelle Revis may receive the hype, but NFL quarterbacks simply stay away from Nnamdi Asomugha.
2. Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Willis backs up the hype with his play on the field.
As a rookie, Willis led the NFL in tackles, and earned first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors while being named the 2007 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Willis has earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors all four years he has played in the NFL.
If we were asked to start a new franchise tomorrow and had to pick one offensive player and one defensive player, Willis would be our guy on defense without a second thought.
1. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots
In 2010, Brady became the first unanimous choice for the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player Award since the AP began using a nationwide panel of media members who cover the league. This capped a season in which Brady led the Patriots to an NFL-best 14 wins.
Brady has won three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP awards, two AP NFL MVP awards and became the quickest to achieve 100 regular-season wins with a laundry list of other awards and records.
You can look at records, statistics and wins to measure Tom Brady against the best players ever. He stands up with any of them.
Brady deserves mention not only as the best player in the NFL today, but as the best player in the NFL ever.