With the lockout finally nearing an end, football fans can finally know for sure that they will have football. The NFL Network put together their list of the Top 100 players of 2011 and I have done the same and will bring it in 4 parts. The first 25 players are here
Once again, here's a breakdown of the amount of players by team:
Steelers: 7 players
Packers,Ravens: 6 players
Cowboys, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Colts: 5 players
Falcons, Chiefs, Jets, Eagles: 4 players
Bears, Broncos,Texans,Dolphins,Vikings, Raiders, Chargers, 49'ers: 3 players
Cardinals, Browns, Lions, Rams, Buccaneers, Redskins: 2 players
Panthers, Bengals, Jaguars, Titans: 1 player
Bills, Seahawks: 0 players
Even though Aqib Talib has run into some off the field problems and could face suspension, the young defensive back for the Buccaneers had 6 interceptions in 2010 which was two behind league leader Ed Reed. If Talib stays out of trouble in the future, he could be a Pro Bowl corner back for the Buccaneers.
Although he missed most of the 2010 season due to injury, when Dallas Clark is healthy he is one of Peyton Manning's top targets. In 2009 he had 100 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns which earned him his first Pro Bowl appearance.
When Santonio Holmes left the Pittsburgh Steelers, many worried about whether Ben Roethlisberger had a number one reciever on the team with Hines Ward getting older. Wallace stepped right into that role in 2010 with 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns as he became a deep threat for the Steelers and one of the most exciting players in the league.
Greg Jennings had a huge impact in 2010, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance and helping the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl. Jennings had 76 catches for 1,265 yards and a career high 12 touchdowns in 2010. Jennings has a bright future ahead of him with the Packers, and him and Aaron Rodgers could become one of the best passing duo's in the league
In his first full season as starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Josh Freeman showed loads of potential. Freeman threw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns, with only 6 interceptions in 2010. The Buccaneers have worked to build a young team in the past couple years which centers around Freeman and running back LeGarrette Blount.
In only his second year in the NFL, Cam Wake had a monster season for the Miami Dolphins. Wake's 14 sacks in 2010 put him third in the NFL in sacks, behind only DeMarcus Ware and Tamba Hali. Looking into the 2011 season we will see if Wake can keep the momentum from his 2010 campaign and whether he is a one shot wonder or a pass rushing force for the future.
As I mentioned in the slide about Cam Wake, Tamba Hali was second in the league in 2010 with 14.5 sacks. In the first four seasons of his career, Hali had combined for 27 sacks but had his best season by far in 2010 with 14.5 sacks. Much like Wake, we will wait and see if Hali has continued success as a sack master in 2011.
I may take some heat for this one, but I think Asante Samuel is one of the most overrated players in the league. When you look at Samuel's stats you see that he had 7 interceptions last season and a very impressive 8 in 2009. What the simple stat line doesn't show you though, is the gambles that Samuel takes while trying to jump on picks and how often he gets beaten. Samuel is a good corner back but not one of the top like his interception total might make you think.
One member of the New York Giants solid defensive line, Osi Umenyoria, already appeared on this list. The better of the two, Justin Tuck has had over 10 sacks three times in his young career and is a two time Pro Bowler.
Since he came into the league, Jared Allen has been a sack machine. In the past three seasons, Allen has a combined 40 sacks and has become a nightmare for opposing QB's.
In 2009, Vernon Davis earned his first Pro Bowl appearance and had the best year of his young career. Davis is rising as one of the league's best QB's and has had 900 receiving yards in the pas two years with a league leading 13 touchdown catches in 2009. One thing you also need to consider when looking at Davis. He's doing all of this with Alex Smith as his quarterback.
In just three seasons in the NFL, Ryan Clady has become one of the best offensive lineman in the league. Clady was named to a Pro Bowl and was a first team All Pro in 2009. In his first 20 games as an NFL rookie, Clady had not given up a single sack which is an NFL record.
Even though he's nearing the end of his NFL career, Champ Bailey has been a dominant corner for the past decade. Bailey is a ten time Pro Bowler and a six time All Pro and has 48 career interceptions which puts him at 39th all time.
Another player on the back end of his career, Tony Gonzalez only had 70 catches in 2010 which is the lowest he's had since 2002. One of the best tight ends in league history, Tony Gonzalez may be out of the league in the next two years.
Coming in at 60, Vince Wilfork is one of the driving forces in the middle of the Patriots defense. Besides being a three time Pro Bowler, Wilfork is a three time All Pro and recorded 2 sacks in 2010.
Another big part of the Patriots defense, Jerod Mayo was a tackling machine in 2010 and led the league with 114 tackles. Mayo's breakout 2010 season was good enough to earn him a trip to the Pro Bowl and make him a 1st team All Pro.
In the past decade, Brian Urlacher has been one of the most intimidating and consistent linebackers in the league. He's probably nearing the end of his career and he missed most of the 2009 season due to injury, but Urlacher proved he wasn't done yet and in 2010 he had 97 tackles and 4 sacks.
In just three years, Matt Ryan has started to prove himself as one of the best QB's in the league. Matty Ice threw for 3,700 yards in 2010 with 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year has started his career with the Falcons by leading them to the playoffs in two of his first three years and has a bright NFL future ahead of him.
Even though he has been a bit of a problem off the field during the lockout, Rashard Mendenhall has been a great player for the Steelers on the field. Since he gained the starting job in 2009, Mendenhall has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons.
I'm probably going to take heat for this one and I'm almost certainly going to get called a homer. When I heard that Eli Manning was left off the NFL Network's list of the Top 100 players I couldn't believe Eli Manning was left off. Manning struggled at the beginning of his career but since his performance in leading the Giants to a Super Bowl, he has been a different quarterback. Manning has passed for 4,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and his 31 touchdown passes in 2010 was 4th best, only behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Sure, Eli also led the league in interceptions last season with 25 but number 2 on the interception list? Drew Brees with 22.
Eli may turn the ball of way too often but to say he isn't one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league and not in the top 100 players is ridiculous.
Santonio Holmes' performance on the field has put him among the best WR's in the league and he was payed like it returning to the Jets on a 5 year deal. Holmes missed the first four games of the 2010 season but still had 52 receptions and 6 touchdowns as Mark Sanchez's top target.
Another member of the dominant Steelers defense, LaMarr Woodley has caused a problem for opposing QB's since he came into the league, having 39 career sacks. In just three seasons Woodley has also picked up 141 tackles and is going to be a force on this defense for the next decade.
Dwayne Bowe burst onto the NFL scene in 2010 having a monster season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Bowe only caught 72 passes but had a league high 15 touchdown catches. With Matt Cassel and Bowe in place, both of these players should become a great duo with the Chiefs in the future.
Even though Peyton Hillis has only put in one good NFL season, that season and his bright future put him at number 51 on this list. Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 and I see him rushing for over 1,000 again in 2011.
Even though Vincent Jackson didn't play a whole lot in 2010 due to contract issues, wherever he plays in 2011 expect a big season from him. Jackson had over 1,000 receiving yards in both 2008 and 2009 and 16 combined touchdowns.