NFL1000: Ranking the Top 1,000 Players at Midseason
When we expanded the NFL1000 concept and hired a talented group of scouts to analyze every player for each week of the 2016 NFL season, the goal of that first wave of analysis was to assemble a cogent, repeatable scouting system with a transparent process. We also wanted to give our readers an idea of how we saw things week to week.
Hopefully, we’d bust myths, spot trends and unearth hidden gems.
Halfway through the season, we’ve done that. Now, we have a ton of performance data, and we can give you a sense of how things have gone for every NFL player at the Week 8 line. To that end, here are our NFL1000 midseason grades. These marks are averaged for each player through the first half of the season from their week-to-week scores.
Not only does this give us an idea of how things stand at every position, but it also lets us know who’s the best at each positional attribute. And this is a hidden value to the methodology. Since we’re not using one number for a player’s entire performance, we can drill down and discover new things. Which receiver runs the best routes, and who’s the best blocker? Which cornerback is best in the slot? Which safety? Which punter is the best tackler? (Yeah, we keep track of that, too).
One directive we had from the start is there are no legacy scores. Which is to say, Darrelle Revis doesn’t get a pass for being Revis if he gets lit up—and that’s happened more often than we expected. That’s why he’s our 22nd-ranked cornerback. If Russell Wilson doesn’t throw a touchdown pass for a month, we don’t increase the grade and assume he’ll snap out of it. That’s why he stands as our 17th-ranked quarterback.
Perhaps the most fun part of the first half from our end (and hopefully from yours) is the ability to discover players who were previously under the radar. Concerned about the New England Patriots’ decision to trade Jamie Collins, perhaps their best defensive player? That might be mitigated if you’ve followed out write-ups on rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts, who’s shown an increasing aptitude for pass coverage.
Wondering which rookie center has made the biggest difference to his team: Ryan Kelly or Cody Whitehair? We’ve been on that since Week 1.
Who’s been the best undrafted or low-drafted rookie? Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick, probably has that sewn up, but how about San Diego Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown (Round 5), who’s been rising in our rookie review since he hit the field? Or Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (Round 5), who’s performed excellently in Ezekiel Elliott's shadow, perception-wise?
Did anyone think end Yannick Ngakoue of the Jacksonville Jaguars would have been so effective? We’ve been talking about him for weeks.
It’s been a fun ride so far, and we’d like to thank you for your interest and feedback (both positive and negative). Here are the NFL1000 Midseason Grades, and here’s to a stellar second half!
All advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
All punter stats are courtesy of self-charting from punter scout Chuck Zodda.
The NFL1000 team was given a series of attributes to rate for every player in their positional review. Using a scale starting at zero and going up to anywhere from 10 to 40, based on the position and attribute, our scouts have rated each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years.
Our evaluators were given specific positional assignments based on their fields of expertise.
- Doug Farrar: Lead scout
- Cian Fahey: Quarterbacks
- John Middlekauff: Running backs/fullbacks
- Alex Kirby: Wide receivers/tight ends
- Mark Schofield: Wide receivers/tight ends
- Duke Manyweather: Offensive tackles
- Ethan Young: Offensive guards/centers
- Joe Goodberry: AFC defensive ends
- Justis Mosqueda: NFC defensive ends
- Charles McDonald: Defensive tackles
- Zach Kruse: 3-4 outside linebackers
- Derrik Klassen: 4-3 outside linebackers
- Jerod Brown: Inside linebackers
- Kyle Posey: Cornerbacks
- Ian Wharton: Cornerbacks
- Mark Bullock: Safeties
- Chuck Zodda: Special teams
Every NFL player with snaps in offensive and defensive roles is observed and graded based on a multitiered process that marks specific attributes by position. As we're combing through All-22 footage to assess each performance, there are additional factors to consider.
We'll adjust for opponent based on the notion that the cornerback we're grading is doing a better job if he's shutting down Antonio Brown than if he's negating the efforts of a seventh-round rookie receiver.
We'll also adjust for players with multiple responsibilities in a single game and over the course of time.
Think of guys such as J.J. Watt and Michael Bennett on the defensive line—how they seamlessly switch from gap to gap. Or how cornerbacks such as Chris Harris and Tyrann Mathieu dominate outside and in the slot. Or how receivers such as Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald bedevil those cornerbacks from multiple field positions.
That's more important than ever in today's NFL, and we pay attention to it.
We will not adjust for injuries. If a player is underperforming because of an ailment, that's part of his performance, fair or unfair.
Grading any player is a subjective process, but with a series of attributes per position and a specific direction as to what to grade and how, we'll work to make it as definitive as possible.
Top 50 Overall at Midseason
That football is won or lost in the trenches is one of the game’s oldest platitudes. Based on our half-season grades, the value of the guys who line up across from each other on both sides of the ball couldn’t be much more apparent.
Of the top 10 highest-graded players through Week 8, the first eight are linemen of some stripe, if you throw Jadeveon Clowney’s outside linebacker classification to the side and consider he’s essentially a gap-rusher.
Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith is our top man, and that honor is well-deserved. Smith gives up occasional pressure, as any offensive lineman will, but there’s no tackle with his combination of strength, agility, nastiness and technique.
At the No. 2 spot, Aaron Donald has taken the title of Most Effective Defensive Lineman from J.J. Watt and is beating every opponent over the head with it. Donald has had an extended stretch of unblockability. For him to have three sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 22 hurries when he’s double-teamed as much as possible is an incredible achievement.
Where you might get the initial hint that this is an atypical list is when you scan the names in search of the first quarterback: There he is, Aaron Rodgers, at No. 13.
Yes, the quarterback position is the most important, but as the NFL1000 grades are performance-based, and we factor in positional importance already with specific numbers, there’s no additional juice for QBs. They have to earn their way to the top just like everybody else, and through the first half, the NFL has been more about the lines than anything.
One trend we’ve been watching closely is the increasing effectiveness and consistency of the best NFL defenses and defensive players. The Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings are led by their defenses, and our top 50 is littered with players from those units.
Are there great offenses this year? Sure. The Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints have a lot to brag about. But do you see one offense dominating defenses every week, as in years past? Not unless Tom Brady continues his revenge tour, or Ezekiel Elliott (799 yards) continues to challenge Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record (1,808 yards), will you see one offense stand apart the way defenses have.
And the best thing about the NFL1000 is that if and when that trend shifts, we’ll be here to tell you all about it.
Here are the top 50 players through Week 8:
|3||Jadeveon Clowney||3-4 OLB||HOU||84.0|
|7||Muhammad Wilkerson||3-4 DE||NYJ||82.0|
|11||Von Miller||3-4 OLB||DEN||80.8|
|24||Chris Harris Jr.||CB||DEN||79.4|
Despite the narrative that has engulfed him on occasion this season, Aaron Rodgers is still the best quarterback in the NFL. The coaching staff and lack of viable receiving options have deflated Rodgers' numbers, but besides the New York Giants game, he has played to his standards.
In a predictable turn of events, Cam Newton is his closest competitor, as he continues to offer huge value as both a passer and runner. Tom Brady might have been atop the rankings had he played the full season, but even with a late start, he has done enough to rank in the top five. Sam Bradford and Philip Rivers round out the top five. Both have endured one bad game but have excelled otherwise.
Dak Prescott has outshone fellow rookie Carson Wentz because of his stronger first five weeks, while Brock Osweiler has been a disaster as a big-name free-agent addition. The 5-3 Houston Texans are still in a position to compete for a playoff spot despite Osweiler's poor play, so he should have every opportunity to turn his season around.
The same can't be said for Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick—two high-profile names who rank toward the bottom of the league. Bortles and Fitzpatrick have regressed after enjoying 2015 seasons where their numbers flattered their actual performances.
- Top Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
- Most Accurate: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
- Best Arm: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
- Best Under Pressure/Run Threat: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
- Best Decision-Maker: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
- Acc: Accuracy (Graded out of 25)
- Arm: Arm Strength (Graded out of 25)
- Press: Pressure/run threat (Graded out of 20) (Pressure weighted at 15, run threat at 5)
- Dec: Decision-Making (Graded out of 20)
- Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
- Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
Injuries have been a consistent theme for star running backs in 2016. Adrian Peterson is expected to miss the season after tearing his meniscus. After attempting a return from an ACL injury in 2015, Jamaal Charles went back on injured reserve, and his career is in peril.
Others, such as Ameer Abdullah (foot surgery) and C.J. Anderson (torn meniscus), have serious injuries that put their seasons in jeopardy, while stars such as Doug Martin, Jonathan Stewart and Carlos Hyde have missed time with various setbacks.
The best ability is often availability, and many talented players have missed a lot of time.
Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson have established themselves as the best, most complete runners in the league, however. There is nothing these two guys can’t do, and in 2016, the ability to dominate in the passing game has separated them from the pack. It’s not hyperbole to call Bell and Johnson Hall of Fame talents who should destroy NFL defenses for years.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones selected a running back in the top five of the 2016 draft, which many pundits considered bold. But it turns out he nailed it. Ezekiel Elliott is a star, he leads the league in rushing and is a major reason why the 6-1 Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East. He is getting stronger with every game and is as complete a young running back the league has seen in years.
DeMarco Murray should be the Comeback Player of the Year. Only behind Elliott in rushing yards with 756, Mu