NFL Top 100 Players of 2011: Re-Ranking the Top 20
There has been a lot of outrage over NFL Network's showing of the Top 100 Players of 2011, namely arguments over the placement of players, the omission of players like Eli Manning, and the inclusion of Donovan McNabb and Vonta Leech. In this slideshow I re-ordered the players that were ranked 20-1 into what I believe should be a more accurate list. When comparing players I decided based on last season and last season only.
#20: Dwight Freeney
Original Ranking: 15
I don't think this guy should be in the top 20. Sure, he perfected the spin move and is a threat as a pass rusher, but his flaw is not being able to stop the run game. Spinning and flipping around offensive linemen seems to get you a good amount of sacks, but it doesn't help when you're trying to stop a running back. Dwight Freeney lacks the ability to power through linemen and fill gaps, which is part of the reason why the Colts have such a terrible run defense.
Dwight Freeney terrorizes QBs and can rack up a lot of sacks and forced fumbles through pass rushing, but his run defense leaves a lot to be desired.
#19: Drew Brees
Original Ranking: 9
Drew Brees is overrated. There, I said it. He had a great season when he led the Saints to the Super Bowl, but last season he threw 22 interceptions and lost to the Seahawks in the playoffs. Ok well the last part was his defense's fault for forgetting how to tackle. Anyway, look at this:
Eli: 62.9% completion, 4,002 yards, 31 TDs, 25 INTs, 85.3 rating
Drew: 68.1% completion, 4,620 yards, 33 TDs, 22 INTs, 90.9 rating
Drew Brees's stats aren't that better than Eli's when you consider the fact that Eli Manning had to work with receivers like Derek Hagan when Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith were injured. But somehow the minor differences mean catapulting from not on the list to number 9. While Drew is still one of the elite QBs, I think he relied on his 2009 season a little too much.
#18: Haloti Ngata
Original Ranking: 17
I moved him a little bit back just because I think the offensive players that are left should be more towards #1. However, Haloti Ngata is the X factor of the Ravens defense. He is one of the most athletic guys in the NFL for his size, which allows him to disrupt plays and move all around the field.
Ngata's stats really don't do him justice; lots of teams have a hard time planning for him and trying to keep him away from the play. Haloti can defend passes, stop the run, and put pressure on the QB. A case can easily be made for Haloti being the best interior lineman in the game today.
#17: Charles Woodson
Original Ranking: 16
When I saw Charles Woodson, I was mesmerized by how well he did, well, everything. He can blitz and sack the QB, drop back in a zone or go man-to-man in coverage, and he isn't afraid to tackle. Although he is well into his thirties, he is still among the best defensive players in the league.
He recorded a career best 92 tackles and 5 forced fumbles last season en route to a Super Bowl win, and now has 47 interceptions in his career. The Raiders got a bargain with this pick even at 4 overall.
#16: DeMarcus Ware
Original Ranking: 12
DeMarcus Ware strikes fear into the hearts of QBs. Last year he recorded 15.5 sacks, bringing his career total to 80 sacks over 6 years. Being a Giants fan, I can say from experience it's not fun to watch Eli try to go up against this guy twice a year.
He has strength, speed, and an enormous wingspan that allows him to either take down the QB or force a bad throw. DeMarcus Ware is the Dallas pass rush by himself, and last year was just another dominant season.
#15: Nnamdi Asomugha
Original Ranking: 18
Before Devin McCourty, there was Nnamdi Asomugha. Before Revis Island, QBs refused to throw towards Nnamdi Asomugha. Now, Darrelle Revis has cemented his spot as the best corner in the league right now, but Asomugha is still the epitome of a shutdown corner.
None of the hundreds of TD passes thrown went to Nnamdi's man, and he only surrendered 10 catches to opposing receivers all year despite playing Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall, and Mike Wallace.
Nnamdi is undoubtedly the best Raider currently playing, and ever since his breakout season in 2006, Nnamdi has become one of the best players in the NFL.
#14: Julius Peppers
Original Ranking: 10
The Bears did not get to the NFC Championship because of the magic of Jay Cutler. The Bears got there largely due to their fearsome defense, which was boosted by the addition freak-of-nature Julius Peppers.
He is arguably the best defensive end in the league partially due to his extraordinary athleticism, enormous wingspan, and the fact that having 8 sacks can be considered a down year for him. His long arms allowed him to deflect a career-high 9 passes last season as well as grab two interceptions and his immense skill helped him rack up 54 tackles and 8 sacks.
Peppers is a force wherever he is placed on defense and last year he was a huge part of the Bears' appearance in the playoffs.
#13: Chris Johnson
Original Ranking: 13
Say what you want about the QBs in Tennessee, but Chris Johnson is still a monster. The most consistent member of the Titans has been a dominant runner every year of his career, and although last year Chris came nowhere near duplicating his 2000 yard performance in 2009, he still rushed for over 1,300 yards with double digit touchdowns.
That's pretty impressive for a guy who has to work with a revolving door under center and no real conceivable threat on offense besides him. Teams prepare for an entire week to face him, and but Chris's lightning speed allows him to blow right by them.
If you blinked, you missed him. One second he's getting the ball, the next second he's 20 yards down the sideline. Expect another stellar season from Chris in 2011 despite the QB issues.
#12: Andre Johnson
Original Ranking: 7
Andre Johnson is big, fast, and physical. These three traits have helped him become one of the best receivers in the league today. He can catch a pass over the middle, burn a corner down the sidelines, or block for emerging running back Arian Foster.
His spectacular beating of Cortland Finnegan also helped his intimidation factor, and corners will probably think twice about press coverage next time. He's been terrorizing defenses since he entered the league and still has many years left in him, being only 29. Although Andre's stats suffered a drop in 2010, expect him to rebound in 2011.
#11: Troy Polamalu
Original Ranking: 6
There's no question who the leader of the Pittsburgh defense is. Without Troy, the Steel curtain isn't the same, possibly due in part to the fact that Troy is the only elite member of the mediocre secondary.
However, Troy's impact can be felt all over the field. Last season, he racked up 63 tackles, picked off 7 passes, forced a fumble and recorded a clutch sack of Joe Flacco in the final minutes of a game to help seal the win.
Although Troy does benefit from the talent around him (especially in the pass rush), he combines his love of the game with an aggressive playing style and amazing instincts to firmly cement his place among the best safeties to play the game.
#10: Ray Lewis
Original Ranking: 4
Who else in this league can honestly still strike fear into the hearts of offensive players at 36 years old? Although young players Patrick Willis and Jon Beason are making a name for themselves at middle linebacker, Ray Lewis has shown no signs of slowing down despite his age, posting his best number of tackles since 2004.
He also has kept up his clutch play, shown by his stripping the ball away from Bills TE Shawn Nelson in overtime to set up a game winning field goal. People complain about Ray cracking the top 10, but at almost 40 he plays like he's 25 and has been the single most important person on the Ravens every year since 1996.
Last season was just another great season for Ray, who's ticket to Canton has already been punched.
#9: Peyton Manning
Original Ranking: 2
Many will probably be shocked that Manning, the future Hall of Famer, only barely makes the top 10 players of 2011. Frankly, this article is my opinion, and my opinion is that his play last season was not #2 material. There was that awful three game stretch in which Peyton threw 11 picks and lost all three games, nearly costing the Colts the division.
Of course, the main reason they did still take the division was because the main threat was the Jaguars. Anyway, despite all that and a wild card loss to the Jets, Manning still makes the top 10. He threw for 4,700 yards last season and managed to complete 66% of his passes with 33 TDs, showing that he's still got it after 13 years in the NFL. However, better numbers should come from Peyton in 2011, assuming last season was a wake up call.
#8: Ed Reed
Original Ranking: 5
This one is kind of a no-brainer. I must say, though, Ed Reed knows how to make up for lost time. In ten games, he picked off 8 passes (meaning with a full season he's projected to have had around 12-13) and deflected 16 more, almost making up for the less-than-stellar play of Ladarius Webb and Josh Wilson. He can also hit harder than most people think, exemplified through his flattening of Dexter McCluster in the playoffs.
What also contributes to Ed Reed's greatness, however, is his ability to make a play after the interception. He averaged 22 return yards per interception, showing that not only can he read QBs and break on the ball to make the pick, but he knows what to do with the ball afterwards. Ed Reed is one of the smartest players in the NFL today, and he will go down as one of the best safeties to ever play the game.
#7: Larry Fitzgerald
Original Ranking: 14
After Larry Fitzgerald dies, they should put his hands in the Smithsonian. No, wait, that would be creepy. However, Fitz still has some of the best hands in NFL history, despite having to try and catch passes from Derek Anderson, John Skelton, and Max Hall, whom combined for 18 INTs and 14 fumbles this past season.
The lack of a competent player under center makes it amazing that Larry Fitzgerald was able to grab 90 balls (4 more than Andre Johnson) and put up 1,137 receiving yards, which is also a testament to his incredible skill.
The lack of a run game also assures that every defense that he faced was focused on him, and yet he was still able to record another impressive season. Larry Fitzgerald keeps the Cardinals relevant in the NFC West partially because the division isn't that good but also because he doesn't need a starting-caliber QB to be productive.
#6: Darrelle Revis
Original Ranking: 8
Revis Island. Do I need to explain further? Didn't think so. Admittedly, Revis would've cracked the top 5 if he had at least gotten one interception last season.
#5: Clay Matthews
Original Ranking: 19
How was he not in the top 10 for the original list? I have no idea. Clay started last season with 21 tackles and 8.5 sacks in the first 5 games and had teams scrambling to try and find a way to keep him away from the play.
His constant presence last season allowed the injury ravaged Packers to reach the Super Bowl and then come away with a ring partially due to his clutch hit on Rashard Mendenhall in the 4th quarter which caused him to lose the football. He finished last year's season with 13.5 sacks and a 62 yard pick six among other impressive stats and stepped up when the Packers needed him most.
Matthews has established himself as one of the best young outside linebackers in the league as well as a leader on the Packers defense. Last season, Clay Matthews made a huge impact on the league which propels him to the top 5 in this ranking.
#: Michael Vick
Original Ranking: 20
I'm a Giants fan, and I still think Michael Vick got snubbed in the rankings. The MVP candidate exploded last season when he stepped in for an injured Kevin Kolb and proceeded to have the best season of his career. He was able to develop as a passer, completing 62% of his passes for 3,000 yards and 21 TDs, while still remaining a threat on the ground, rushing for 676 yards and 9 TDs.
Teams were completely unprepared for his breakout year, which allowed him to walk all over opposing defenses. While the Eagles's postseason run was stopped short by Tramon Williams' game sealing interception, Michael Vick still had an amazing year that solidifies him as a top 5 player as of 2011.
#3: Tom Brady
Original Ranking: 1
There's no denying that Tom Brady is a once in a generation player. He shattered Bernie Kosar's record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception, and ended the season with only 4 in comparison to 36 TDs. That's an incredible ratio of 9:1 for TDs:INTs.
Brady also helped the Patriots to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth, although they were beaten 28-21 by the Jets in their first game. Tom Brady definitely had a season to remember, and it will be a hard one to replicate in 2011.
However, Brady has thrived on a talented receiving core and an elite offensive line, the latter of which the top two players have not had. Brady also was not able to carry his team over the visiting Jets in the playoffs, who they destroyed 45-3 in the regular season.
#2: Adrian Peterson
Original Ranking: 3
Look, the man is a beast. Adrian Peterson, the one consistent player on the struggling Vikings offense last season, still managed to have an amazing season despite being the main focus of opposing defenses.
He rushed for 1,298 yards and 12 TDs while having to face players like Ndamukong Suh, Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, and Julius Peppers twice a year. Although he could not carry the Vikings to the playoffs, he made all the difference in the 15 games he played last year, adding 36 receptions for 341 yards and a TD to his already impressive year on the ground.
And by the way, don't even mention fumbling. Adrian Peterson fumbled ONCE last year, which was a huge improvement on his aggravating 6 fumbles in 2009.
#1: Aaron Rodgers
Original Ranking: 11
Honestly, how can the Super Bowl MVP not be number 1? Aaron Rodgers completed 65% of his passes last year for just shy of 4,000 yards with 28 TDs. He also rushed for 356 yards with 4 TDs while further establishing himself as a dual threat QB and an elite passer. Despite losing his starting TE to injury at the beginning of the season as well as many other players,
Aaron Rodgers still managed to keep his team together en route to their first Super Bowl win in over a decade. It is outrageous that Aaron Rodgers didn't even crack the top 10 on the original list, but now he gets the credit he deserves.
He has made Green Bay forget about Brett Favre and has given them a Super Bowl championship and hope for the future. There are over a thousand players in the NFL right now; not one of them is better than Aaron Rodgers.