NFL1000: Ranking the Top 1,000 Players at Midseason

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutNovember 4, 2016

NFL1000: Ranking the Top 1,000 Players at Midseason

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    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.


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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    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. 

    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

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    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:

    NFL1000 Midseason Top 50 Overall
    RankPlayerPos.TeamMidseason Avg.
    1Tyron SmithLTDAL85.4
    2Aaron DonaldDTLA84.4
    3Jadeveon Clowney3-4 OLBHOU84.0
    4Trent WilliamsLTWAS83.6
    5Lane JohnsonRTPHI82.5
    6Jason PetersLTPHI82.4
    7Muhammad Wilkerson3-4 DENYJ82.0
    8David BakhtiariLTGB81.3
    9Le'Veon BellRBPIT81.3
    10Fletcher CoxDTPHI81.1
    11Von Miller3-4 OLBDEN80.8
    12Jason VerrettCBSD80.8
    13Aaron RodgersQBGB80.7
    14Joe ThomasLTCLE80.6
    15David JohnsonRBARI80.5
    16Reshad JonesSSMIA80.5
    17Marshal YandaOGBAL80.4
    18B.J. FinneyOGPIT80.0
    19Jerrell FreemanILBCHI80.0
    20Luke KuechlyILBCAR80.0
    21Cordy GlennLTBUF79.8
    22Zack MartinOGDAL79.4
    23Marcus PetersCBKC79.4
    24Chris Harris Jr.CBDEN79.4
    25Cam NewtonQBCAR79.3
    26Bryan BulagaRTGB79.3
    27Kam ChancellorSSSEA79.3
    28Devin McCourtyFSNE79.1
    29Marcus GilbertRTPIT79.0
    30Kawann ShortDTCAR79.0
    31Sharrif FloydDTMIN79.0
    32Sam BradfordQBMIN78.8
    33Ndamukong SuhDTMIA78.6
    34Harrison SmithFSMIN78.3
    35Tom BradyQBNE78.3
    36Joe StaleyLTSF78.1
    37Philip RiversQBSD78.0
    38Senio KelemeteRTNO78.0
    39Eric KendricksILBMIN78.0
    40Bobby WagnerILBSEA78.0
    41Dont'a HightowerILBNE78.0
    42Rodney McLeodFSPHI78.0
    43Drew BreesQBNO77.9
    44Ezekiel ElliottRBDAL77.9
    45Darian StewartFSDEN77.8
    46Geno AtkinsDTCIN77.6
    47Donald PennLTOAK77.5
    48Josh SittonOGCHI77.5
    49NaVorro BowmanILBSF77.5
    50Eric WeddleSSBAL77.4


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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    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 Scorers

    • 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


    Grading Scale

    • 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


    NFL1000 Midseason Quarterback Rankings
    1Aaron RodgersGB19.422.714.014.61080.7
    2Cam NewtonCAR17.223.015.313.81079.3
    3Sam BradfordMIN19.521.313.714.31078.8
    4Tom BradyNE20.519.514.014.31078.3
    5Philip RiversSD18.
    6Drew BreesNO18.620.314.614.41077.9
    7Ben RoethlisbergerPIT17.821.314.513.51077.2
    8Andrew LuckIND17.521.614.113.51076.8
    9Matt RyanATL17.118.614.514.41074.6
    10Ryan TannehillMIA18.020.912.912.91074.6
    11Eli ManningNYG16.420.113.613.31073.4
    12Tyrod TaylorBUF15.520.314.513.01073.3
    13Matthew StaffordDET15.921.313.612.31073.0
    14Carson PalmerAZ16.320.413.113.11073.0
    15Dak PrescottDAL15.719.414.113.71073.0
    16Derek CarrOAK16.321.811.512.41071.9
    17Russell WilsonSEA17.419.411.313.61071.7
    18Jay CutlerCHI15.721.312.712.01071.7
    19Marcus MariotaTEN15.819.113.813.01071.6
    20Alex SmithKC16.318.612.414.01071.3
    21Jameis WinstonTB13.618.313.913.41069.1
    22Carson WentzPHI15.418.612.612.31068.9
    23Colin KaepernickSF14.019.513.511.01068.0
    24Geno SmithNYJ16.519.011.011.01067.5
    25Trevor SiemianDEN15.417.912.311.61067.1
    26Brian HoyerCHI15.017.211.512.71066.3
    27Joe FlaccoBAL13.919.610.712.11066.3
    28Cody KesslerCLE15.417.811.811.01066.0
    29Andy DaltonCIN14.518.110.512.51065.6
    30Case KeenumLA14.117.711.611.01064.4
    31Derek AndersonCAR15.518.510.010.01064.0
    32Kirk CousinsWAS14.417.510.810.61063.3
    33Drew StantonAZ13.317.710.011.01062.0
    34EJ ManuelBUF15.317.710.09.01062.0
    35Blake BortlesJAX13.017.711.110.01061.9
    36Josh McCownCLE13.016.510.511.01061.0
    37Charlie WhitehurstCLE14.
    38Brock OsweilerHOU13.117.410.110.31060.9
    39Ryan FitzpatrickNYJ13.015.910.110.61059.6
    40Matt BarkleyCHI14.
    41Paxton LynchDEN13.
    42Landry JonesPIT12.
    43Blaine GabbertSF10.616.410.28.21055.4

Running Backs

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    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