NFL1000: Ranking the Top 100 NFL Players at Midseason

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2017

NFL1000: Ranking the Top 100 NFL Players at Midseason

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    When we talk about the greatest players in the NFL at any given time, there are several parameters to consider. Some players are buttressed by their schemes. Some are held to higher expectations by those around them. Other are negatively affected by their teams and/or schemes, which makes evaluation a more subjective process.

    The key to deciding player value is to isolate a player's talents and liabilities regardless of scheme and supporting talent as much as possible. Then, it's easier to pinpoint the players who have the potential to succeed regardless of their surroundings.

    Our team of NFL1000 scouts has evaluated players by assigned positions all season, using its expertise to deduce the best and most effective in the league regardless of context. At the midpoint of the 2017 season, our scouts focused on the players who've had the most positive effects on their teams through the first eight weeks.

        

    Our scouting team:

    Lead scout: Doug Farrar
    Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield
    Running backs/fullbacks: Mark Bullock
    Receivers/tight ends: Marcus Mosher
    Offensive line: Ethan Young
    Defensive line: Justis Mosqueda
    Linebackers: Derrik Klassen
    Secondary: Ian Wharton

    Here are the NFL1000 Top 100 players through the midpoint of the 2017 season.

Notable Omissions

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    There was a lot of discussion about the players selected and their rankings among our team of scouts, and the Top 100 list represents the opinions of the entire NFL1000 group. As you can expect, there were a few stragglers who didn't quite make the cut. Among those players:

    • Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
    • Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos
    • Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Denver Broncos
    • Mark Barron, LB, Los Angeles Rams
    • Ryan Ramczyk, LT, New Orleans Saints
    • Kevin Byard, S, Tennessee Titans
    • Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo Bills

    The following players would have likely made the Top 100 list if their injury situations were not prohibitive.

    • Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
    • Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns
    • Jason Peters, LT, Philadelphia Eagles
    • J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
    • Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston Texans
    • Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts

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    100. Emmanuel Ogbah, DL, Cleveland Browns

    Justis Mosqueda: Emmanuel Ogbah is having a season similar to Jadeveon Clowney's 2016 campaign. While he's not posting great sack totals (two), no one has made more tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage against the ground game this year. Despite Cleveland's 0-8 record, he's been a bright spot in 2017.

        

    99. T.J. Watt, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Derrik Klassen: T.J. Watt was drafted to be a franchise pass-rusher, but he can be more than that. In addition to his four sacks, Watt has emerged as the type of 3-4 outside linebacker who can thrive in coverage. His versatility will set the foundation for the Pittsburgh defense for years to come.

        

    98. Jerry Hughes, DE, Buffalo Bills

    Justis Mosqueda: A move back to a 4-3 scheme opened up an opportunity for a second prime in Jerry Hughes' career. The Bills, who are two plays from being undefeated, wouldn't be where they are without Hughes. Matt Kalil and Jake Matthews might still be seeing Hughes in their nightmares after recent matchups against him.

        

    97. Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Derrik Klassen: The key to succeeding at linebacker is not size or strength but keen awareness and a ferocious mentality. Lavonte David is fearless, is lightning-fast, can flow sideline to sideline and can crash the line of scrimmage. His intensity sets the tone for the Tampa Bay defense.

        

    96. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos

    Ian Wharton: The Denver defense has been doing the heavy lifting again this season, and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is a key cog for one of the league's best secondaries. He continues to reign as the gold standard for slot corners with a rare blend of foot quickness, anticipation and route recognition.

        

    95. Tim Jernigan, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

    Justis Mosqueda: The Eagles flipped third-round picks with the Baltimore Ravens for interior defensive lineman Tim Jernigan, who is in a contract year. If Philadelphia can extend Jernigan, it made one hell of a deal. Jernigan, who had to be the leader on the interior line when Fletcher Cox missed time earlier in the season, has looked like a top-20 defensive lineman on a week-to-week basis.

        

    94. Ryan Kerrigan, LB, Washington Redskins

    Derrik Klassen: Ryan Kerrigan is an artist whose work will not be appreciated until his career is finished. In his seven years in the NFL, Kerrigan has averaged roughly 10 sacks per season, and this season he is on pace to reach double digits for the third time. With some other shake-ups throughout the Washington defense, Kerrigan's consistency and production is needed.

        

    93. Michael Brockers, DT, Los Angeles Rams

    Justis Mosqueda: Michael Brockers isn't making many penetrating plays this year, but someone has to eat space for blitz-heavy Los Angeles. Brockers is the man who does the dirty work so inside linebackers and Aaron Donald can get one-on-one looks in the A- and B-gaps.

        

    92. Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants

    Justis Mosqueda: Despite experiencing a bit of a drop-off in terms of production, Damon "Snacks" Harrison is still one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. A year-and-a-half into a five-year deal, Harrison continues to look like a run-stuffing steal for New York.

        

    91. Kenny Clark, DT, Green Bay Packers

    Justis Mosqueda: Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the longest-tenured defensive coordinator in the NFL, loves penetrating nose tackles in the mold of B.J. Raji. Kenny Clark, a second-year first-round pick who is only 22 years old, fits that mold perfectly. Clark plays sideline to sideline at 314 pounds. You don't often see someone that size fly to make backfield tackles outside the numbers.

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    90. Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

    Mark Schofield: It never looks pretty, but despite an unorthodox throwing motion, Philip Rivers still puts the football where it needs to be on time and usually with good rhythm and anticipation. The Chargers have lost four one-score games, but Rivers has put Los Angeles in position to win games late.

        

    89. Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears

    Ian Wharton: After spending the 2016 season on injured reserve, Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller wasn't guaranteed to make the roster this season. He's responded by playing as well as any off-ball corner not named Marcus Peters. Fuller can still improve his turnover output, but he's preventing offensive production in an unexpected manner.

        

    88. Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks

    Justis Mosqueda: The loss of defensive end Cliff Avril hurt the Seahawks, but they were one of the few teams that could sustain such a setback because of who they already had: Michael Bennett. The all-around end who also kicks inside on third down is still one of the best 4-3 defensive linemen in the league. That zone defense relies on generating pressure with just four defenders, and Bennett does his part.

        

    87. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens

    Derrik Klassen: That a pass-rusher can still perform and lead his team in sacks at 35 years old is incredible. Through eight games, Terrell Suggs has a team-high 4.5 sacks and has been a force on the edge against the run. How many more seasons Suggs has left is tough to say, but right now, he is still a problem for opposing teams.

        

    86. Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Derrik Klassen: Ryan Shazier was one of the first bricks to be laid in the youthful foundation of the Steelers defense. A first-round pick in 2014, Shazier has developed each season and blossomed into a rangy, menacing anchor. He can float around in coverage as well as shoot through gaps against the run. He is a prototypical new-age linebacker.

        

    85. Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

    Mark Schofield: Marcus Mariota remains the main ingredient for an offense that can attack in a variety of ways. Whether in the running game, the zone-read game or even with a more vertical passing attack, Mariota is the perfect triggerman for the Titans, and his ability to use his legs as a weapon keeps opposing defensive coordinators guessing.

        

    84. Michael Pierce, DT, Baltimore Ravens

    Justis Mosqueda: If you don't know who Michael Pierce is, you're not alone. The second-year undrafted free agent wasn't on the radar of the NFL before his 2016 season. His development next to Brandon Williams made it possible for the team to move on from Tim Jernigan, a successful 2014 second-round pick, this offseason.

        

    83. Preston Smith, LB, Washington Redskins

    Derrik Klassen: Preston Smith lives in opponents' backfields. Most importantly, he is a force off the edge, often rushing from the blind side and creating chaos. Smith has also been great against the run as a quick penetrator, which is rare to see from edge players.

        

    82. Rodney Hudson, C, Oakland Raiders

    Ethan Young: Despite the Raiders' inability to get the ground game going, Rodney Hudson has balled out this year. He's the cream of the crop at the position in terms of pass protection and has kept Derek Carr clean from interior pressure all year.

        

    81. Brian Orakpo, OLB, Tennessee Titans

    Derrik Klassen: Statistically, Brian Orakpo is having an unlucky season. His 1.5 sacks do not accurately represent how often he is disrupting quarterbacks and causing pressure. Sometimes pass-rushers hardly connect despite tons of pressures—or vice versa—and that has been the case for Orakpo.

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    80. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Mark Bullock: The fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft has been every bit as good as advertised. Leonard Fournette's physical running style wears down opposing defenses as he repeatedly lowers his shoulder to run over would-be tacklers. That opens up opportunities to attack tired defenses late in games. He's been the focal point of the Jaguars offense, taking much of the burden off quarterback Blake Bortles.

        

    79. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Justis Mosqueda: While he's a bit of a one-sided player right now, Yannick Ngakoue's influence on the Jaguars defense is undeniable. The second-year pass-rusher will need to play the run more consistently in the future, but his 14.5 career sacks speak volumes.

        

    78. Brandon Carr, CB, Baltimore Ravens

    Ian Wharton: Despite being 31 years old and having changed teams for the first time since 2012, Brandon Carr is having one of the best years of his career with the Ravens. He's been a perfect fit in Baltimore's press-man scheme and has shown better ball skills than ever. He's on pace for a career-high six interceptions and has been a lockdown corner across from Jimmy Smith.

        

    77. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders

    Mark Schofield: Derek Carr and the Raiders got off to a good start but have cooled in recent weeks. Their passing game has focused more on the short and intermediate areas of the field, and it has shown, as Oakland seems to have taken a step back offensively after the 2016 season. But when they incorporate more vertical concepts, as they did in a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr and the rest of the offense can have success.

        

    76. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Baltimore Ravens

    Derrik Klassen: C.J. Mosley is always in the right place at the right time. Against the run, Mosley can work in the gap or as a stack player. Additionally, he is brilliant in coverage and allows the safeties behind him to play more freely because he locks down the middle of the field. Mosley's game is not sexy, but it sure is valuable.

        

    75. Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers

    Justis Mosqueda: After signing a deal worth more than $16 million per year, Kawann Short became a national name. His play was one reason why the Panthers made the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. That same defense is propelling the 2017 team while the offense struggles. Short, an under tackle, is the team's MVP at this point.

        

    74. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Ethan Young: It's been another solid year for the best Pouncey brother. His ability to sustain blocks has been pivotal to the success of Le'Veon Bell's patient running style over the years, and this season has been no different.

        

    73. Jurrell Casey, DT, Tennessee Titans

    Justis Mosqueda: The Titans are one of the worst teams in the NFL in terms of backfield penetration, and they'd be much worse if Jurrell Casey wasn't in town. Playing for the most brandless defense in the league, the undersized lineman continues to prove he's been a steal for basically his entire career.

        

    72. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

    Justis Mosqueda: The Dolphins are now four deep at defensive end, which has translated particularly well against the run this season. Cameron Wake is a big reason for that while also being by far the biggest influence against the pass, too. With the year he's having at 35 years old, Wake is pushing himself into the Hall of Fame conversation.

        

    71. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Los Angeles Rams

    Ian Wharton: While head coach Sean McVay deserves the majority of credit for the Rams' turnaround, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been similarly spectacular. He's deployed a more aggressive Trumaine Johnson, and Johnson's responded with a great campaign. Johnson is one of the most effective physical corners in the league and is more than capable of shadowing high-end receivers.

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    70. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

    Mark Schofield: Similar to Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford seems to be operating in an offense that is not playing to his strengths. Stafford can thrive in a more downfield passing game, but right now, the bulk of the Lions offense is run near the line of scrimmage. Even in this system Stafford has put up decent numbers, with 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Letting him be more aggressive might be the key to unlocking the potential in the Detroit offense.

        

    69. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks

    Derrik Klassen: Bobby Wagner is not a product of the talent around him in Seattle. Rather, Wagner is one of the key cogs that makes the system hum. Few linebackers are as developed in coverage as Wagner is, and he is a commander against the run.

        

    68. Taylor Lewan, LT, Tennessee Titans

    Ethan Young: Taylor Lewan has turned into the tone-setter for one of the premier offensive lines in the league. He may get more schematic help than the average blue-chip blindside protector, but his play strength, technical aptitude and mirroring ability are among the best in the league.

        

    67. Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings

    Derrik Klassen: Anthony Barr is enjoying a fantastic bounce-back season. Last year, Barr did not appear to be healthy and was playing with caution. The star linebacker has returned to form this season, reasserting himself as a world-class do-it-all linebacker.

        

    66. Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks

    Ian Wharton: Earl Thomas is again among the top safeties in the league, anchoring the back end of the Legion of Boom. Thomas has already matched his 2016 production in four fewer games and should be an All-Pro candidate once again. He possesses rare speed, reaction time and instincts at a position with few playmakers leaguewide.

        

    65. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins

    Mark Schofield: The Redskins' record might not reflect this, but Kirk Cousins is putting together an impressive season. Cousins is among the league leaders in adjusted net yards per attempt with 7.3, which places him sixth, and he has completed 67.9 percent of his passes. Washington will face yet another decision about the quarterback this offseason, but with Cousins' play so far, he might force the organization's hand again.

        

    64. Todd Gurley II, RB, Los Angeles Rams

    Mark Bullock: Sean McVay has done a terrific job getting Gurley back on track after his down season last year. Gurley has worked in space far more often, and he's shown off his physical prowess as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He's already produced four 100-yard rushing performances in seven games this year after he had zero in 2016.

        

    63. Trey Flowers, DL, New England Patriots

    Justis Mosqueda: The Patriots have struggled getting into the backfield over the last two years. Trey Flowers, who went from college backup to mid-draft pick to Patriots starter, has to be "the guy" on a weekly basis. Because of that, Flowers sees plenty of attention on Sundays, but that doesn't seem to be slowing him down much.

        

    62. Josh Sitton, RG, Chicago Bears

    Ethan Young: The Bears have had to rely on Jordan Howard and the ground game a lot this year and in turn, Josh Sitton and Chicago's volatile offensive line. Though the rest of the front has run hot and cold, Sitton has been a steadying force as the Bears have gone with heavier and heavier running scripts.

        

    61. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

    Justis Mosqueda: In 20 years, we'll be telling our kids Brandon Graham was much better than his numbers indicated. For whatever reason, Graham's incredible amount of pressures and quarterback hits have never translated to high sack totals. Until they do, he's just the most talented defensive lineman on a defensive line that may be the best in the NFL.

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    60. Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings

    Marcus Mosher: Before a groin injury sidelined him, Stefon Diggs was one of the most impressive receivers in the league. In the first four weeks of the season, Diggs caught 22 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns. At 23 years old, Diggs is on the path to stardom—assuming he can stay healthy and the Vikings can find a reliable quarterback.

        

    59. Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

    Justis Mosqueda: After a slow start to his career, Everson Griffen has separated himself from other mid-draft pass-rushers by putting up some of the best sack totals in the NFL. Soon, he may even lead the league in sacks. With Dwight Freeney past his prime, no one has a better spin move than Griffen.

        

    58. Akiem Hicks, DE, Chicago Bears

    Justis Mosqueda: Akiem Hicks broke out last year but didn't show up on the public radar until he signed a $48 million extension in September. He's one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in football and could be the Bears' best overall player. Remember his name. He's not going anywhere.

        

    57. Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

    Marcus Mosher: After a bad start to his NFL career, Nelson Agholor has exploded in a big way in his third year, exceeding his production from each of his first two seasons in just eight games this year. Now primarily playing as the Eagles' slot receiver, Agholor will not likely ever be a No. 1 receiver, but he's showing he can be a complementary piece in an elite offense.

        

    56. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears

    Mark Bullock: Jordan Howard is quietly having a strong second season in the NFL. He's in a poor situation, with the Bears starting a rookie quarterback and having no threat at receiver. But Howard continues to carry the offense, executing the zone scheme almost perfectly. He runs with great vision and balance, which allows him to cut back and burst upfield to keep his unit ahead of the chains.

        

    55. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

    Ethan Young: Don't listen to the siren songs about the Cowboys offensive line being done. Travis Frederick is putting together another consistently dominant season. He's the engine of the train Ezekiel Elliott has rode through opposing teams all season, and even with the constant shifting next to him at left guard, he is still his usual self.

        

    54. Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders

    Marcus Mosher: Despite the Raiders' struggles as an offense and as a team, the 30-year-old Michael Crabtree has produced. He has played second fiddle to Amari Cooper in terms of targets this season, but he has just one fewer catch (33 to 34), more yards (411 to 404) and twice as many touchdowns (six to three). While the rest of the offense has been unstable, Crabtree has been the only reliable option.

        

    53. Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings

    Ian Wharton: The Vikings have an elite defense with talent on all three levels. Safety Harrison Smith is a major reason why, as he's provided his usual box presence in addition to snagging three interceptions already. His ability to cover slot receivers and tight ends and drop into zone has made him the most well-rounded safety of 2017.

        

    52. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

    Marcus Mosher: Like the rest of the Packers receivers, a lot of Davante Adams' production was tied to the health of Aaron Rodgers. When Rodgers was healthy, Adams was performing like a low-end No. 1 receiver. But in his absence, Adams' production has dropped off significantly. In a contract year, Adams will need to find a way to be productive with Brett Hundley at the helm in the second half of the season.

        

    51. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys

    Justis Mosqueda: As a 23-year-old in 2015, Demarcus Lawrence recorded eight sacks. But the 2014 second-round pick's 2016 season was derailed by a four-game suspension and then an injury. This year, he's leading the league with 10.5 sacks. Lawrence will be a free agent this offseason, and it's possible no one has made themselves more money this year.

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    50. Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs

    Derrik Klassen: Justin Houston kicked off the season by looking like a efensive Player of the Year candidate. Though he had slowed down a bit in the few weeks before Monday's two-sack showing against the Broncos, he is still a weapon. Houston is best known for his work as a pass-rusher, but he dominates the line of scrimmage against the run and can drop into coverage when need be.

        

    49. Telvin Smith, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Derrik Klassen: No other linebacker shoots gaps like Telvin Smith. Smith, who signed a $44.4 million extension last week, is putting together the best season of his career. He has fully developed his sense of timing as a gap-shooter, and he is better in coverage than he has ever been. Smith is a quiet superstar.

        

    48. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

    Ian Wharton: Last year, there were concerns Richard Sherman was on the decline as he played off the line of scrimmage more, but the first half of 2017 has quelled that noise. Sherman's been dominant again as a press specialist and playmaker.

        

    47. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Justis Mosqueda: The Hard Knocks hangover has hit almost everyone in Tampa but Gerald McCoy, which shows you how consistent he is. McCoy is one of the league's best under tackles and plays in a 4-3 scheme that utilizes his strengths. There aren't many all-around defensive linemen, but that's McCoy, who was the third overall pick in 2010.

        

    46. Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints

    Ian Wharton: Marshon Lattimore entered the NFL as a superstar. The rookie has been one of the best corners in the league, helping stabilize the Saints defense into a respectable unit. With his ability to mirror receivers of any mold, Lattimore is as impressive of a rookie corner as any in the last decade.

        

    45. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston Texans

    Ian Wharton: It's rare for 33-year-old corners to still be in the league, but Johnathan Joseph continues to be an excellent starter for the Texans. The off-ball specialist has mastered positioning; he's rarely far enough from a receiver for a quarterback to target his man, but he also plays far enough off that he rarely loses to faster playmakers.

        

    44. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

    Justis Mosqueda: Before Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins was the prototype for the undersize 4-3 defensive tackle. If not for Donald blowing everyone out of the water, Atkins would still hold that title. Along with Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson, Michael Johnson and Jordan Willis, Atkins is part of one of the best defensive line rotations in the league.

        

    43. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

    Mark Schofield: The case could be made that Dak Prescott is having an even more impressive 2017 season than his breakout rookie campaign. Prescott remains such a difficult quarterback to defend, with his ability to make precision throws to all levels of the field even when on the move. He is among the premier young quarterbacks in the league.

        

    42. Lane Johnson, RT, Philadelphia Eagles

    Ethan Young: There is not a better right tackle in football than Lane Johnson. He has top-level traits across the board, with his fluidity in pass protection and leverage ability in both blocking facets chief among them. The impact he has on his team is arguably the most pronounced of any offensive lineman in the league, as the Eagles are a completely different team without him.

        

    41. Chandler Jones, OLB, Arizona Cardinals

    Derrik Klassen: Chandler Jones is the rare top-notch pass-rusher who does not win with elite speed and explosion. Instead, Jones is a dominant force because he has long arms and overpowering strength. He can be the first to engage and wins battles early, which springs him toward the quarterback in a hurry. Jones has recorded at least one sack in six of his seven games this season.

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    40. Malik Jackson, DL, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Justis Mosqueda: Malik Jackson is the "other" blockbuster defensive lineman on the Jacksonville Jaguars. After years of investment at the position, the team has loaded that line with incredible talent, between Jackson, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler and now Marcell Dareus. Jackson, like everyone else on that line, could not be in a better situation.

        

    39. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

    Marcus Mosher: Despite not having the statistical year that he's accustomed to having (just one touchdown on 56 targets), Julio Jones is still one of the biggest threats at the receiver position in the NFL. If the Atlanta Falcons want to get back on track, they would be wise to get their star receiver more involved in the offense. He's just too good of a weapon to be this underused.

        

    38. Linval Joseph, DT, Minnesota Vikings

    Justis Mosqueda: There aren't many nose tackles in the NFL who are both amazing space-eaters and penetration players. The Minnesota Vikings have one of those aliens in Linval Joseph. While they've never found a great defensive tackle to pair alongside Joseph, he's been one of the most consistently great linemen in the league over the last few years.

        

    37. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

    Mark Bullock: Elliott struggled to get going to start the season. However, over the past few games, Elliott has begun to look like the player that led the league in rushing yards last season. He's running with more decisiveness and has the spring back in his step that enables him to make dynamic cuts. His season could be in jeopardy with the suspension looming over his head, but that possibility did not play into his ranking here.

        

    36. Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

    Justis Mosqueda: Joey Bosa has 19 sacks in 20 games as a professional. At this rate, he'll become one of the league's most prolific sack artists. Along with Melvin Ingram, he's part of the best pass-rusher pairing in the NFL right now. Bosa-Ingram could be as close as any team is going to get in replicating peak Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

        

    35. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

    Marcus Mosher: Put simply, Travis Kelce is a star. Through eight games, he has three games of over 100 receiving yards and has four touchdowns. With Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Kelce all in the fold, the Chiefs have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. As a receiver, Kelce has no flaws in his game.

        

    34. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

    Ian Wharton: Although Xavier Rhodes set a career high in interceptions last year, he's playing his best football this year. He's reached elite, lockdown status, and opposing quarterbacks have little interest in even trying him. Rhodes just needed to find the right balance with being aggressive and grabby.

        

    33. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

    Marcus Mosher: When Rob Gronkowski is healthy, there is no player in the NFL that is tougher to cover. While it's clear that he's not 100 percent, Gronkowski is still the biggest difference-maker for the Patriots outside of Tom Brady, and Gronk's health and play will likely determine whether they can repeat as Super Bowl champions.

        

    32. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals

    Ian Wharton: Although Patrick Peterson has been overshadowed as the Arizona Cardinals have disappointed, he's back on top of his game. Offenses have thrived attacking everyone else in the Cardinals secondary, but not Peterson. He's still at his best when shadowing top receivers in press coverage, a rarity in today's defensive strategies.

        

    31. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

    Ian Wharton: After blitzing the league with 14 interceptions in his first two seasons, Marcus Peters is finally being avoided by offenses. Though his volume numbers are down, he's cut down on mental mistakes that lead to big plays and is now a refined technician in addition to the golden standard for playmaker at the corner position. Peters simply has unmatched instincts that lead him to the football.

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    30. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

    Derrik Klassen: The only time Von Miller has ever recorded fewer than 11 sacks in a season was when he only played nine games in 2013. Miller is once again headed for double-digit sacks this season. Though there have been other great pass-rushers over the past decade, none match Miller's burst and bend around the edge. He is a generational player.

        

    29. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

    Marcus Mosher: This season, Tyreek Hill set out to be the Chiefs' No. 1 receiver and show that he's not just a gadget player. And through eight games, Hill has shown he can be a star not just as a returner, but also as a receiver. Hill is still inconsistent, but he's one of the most dynamic weapons the league has seen in quite some time.

        

    28. Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Ravens

    Ian Wharton: Often overlooked due to a seemingly constant string of injuries, Ravens corner Jimmy Smith has been as dominant as any player at the position. He's incredibly effective in press coverage, boasting nearly perfect technique, patience and timing consistently. Smith will be deserving of his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro nod if he closes out the season as well as he's started.

        

    27. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints

    Justis Mosqueda: Cameron Jordan is one of the few 3-4 defensive ends, instead of a 3-4 outside linebacker, to succeed in a transition to 4-3 defensive end. He hasn't had much help since his move, and the loss of Nick Fairley this offseason and the lack of assistance from first-round defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins only compounded that, but you only have to turn on his game against the Detroit Lions to point out why he's one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL.

        

    26. DeForest Buckner, DL, San Francisco 49ers

    Justis Mosqueda: DeForest Buckner was the best rookie defensive lineman in the NFC last year, and he's avoiding a sophomore slump. With injuries to both Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, two first-round pick defensive linemen, Buckner now has to shoulder the load for the 49ers in the immediate future.

        

    25. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

    Marcus Mosher: Jordy Nelson was on fire in the first month of the season, catching six touchdowns passes in four games. But since the loss of Aaron Rodgers, his impact has decreased dramatically. In his past two games, Nelson has just seven catches for 73 yards.

        

    24. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

    Marcus Mosher: Part of the reason quarterback Carson Wentz is playing so well is because of the improvement of his receivers, and no single player has improved more than Zach Ertz. He leads all tight ends in touchdowns (6) and is second in receptions (43) and yards (528). Ertz has suddenly become one of the most dangerous tight ends in the NFL.

        

    23. David DeCastro, OG, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Ethan Young: David DeCastro has long been a solid staple of the Steelers OL, but he's taken his play to another level this year. His hand technique in the run game is where the biggest improvement has been, as it has allowed him to play with leverage more often rather than from within his frame, giving him more opportunities to unleash his top-tier physical gifts on opponents.

        

    22. Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots

    Marcus Mosher: Brandin Cooks has just 33 catches for the Patriots in eight games, but he's been exactly the player the team wanted when it traded for him. Cooks makes a living by stretching defenses and making big plays down the field (averaging 17.1 yards per catch this season). Expect him to become an even bigger part of the Patriots offense in the second half of the season.

        

    21. Melvin Ingram, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

    Justis Mosqueda: After battling through injuries to start his career, Melvin Ingram has posted at least eight sacks in three straight season for the Chargers. Los Angeles' decision to give him a four-year, $64 million contract looks like a great one, as you could argue he is a top-five pass-rusher in the sport.

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    20. Cameron Heyward, DL, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Justis Mosqueda: If not for the season Calais Campbell is having, we'd be discussing Cameron Heyward as the "big end" dominating the NFL in the absence of J.J. Watt. Pittsburgh has one of the most dominant front fives in the NFL, and there is no one on that line more valuable than Heyward. He might be a bargain for the entirety of the six-year, $59 million deal he signed in 2015.

        

    19. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

    Mark Schofield: Russell Wilson is a magician in the pocket. Playing behind an offensive line that continues to struggle to protect him, Wilson's athleticism and play-strength enable him to mask many mistakes and errors up front. Even while trying to find time to throw in the pocket, Wilson has put together impressive numbers and is ranked in the top 10 in adjusted net yards per attempt and quarterback rating, per Pro Football Reference.

        

    18. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins

    Ethan Young: Durability may end up being the story of Trent Williams' season. Washington's left tackle has had a solid season thus far when on the field, but until he gets completely healthy, it will be hard for him to reach the dominant levels of play he had last season.

        

    17. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

    Marcus Mosher: With quarterback Deshaun Watson at the helm (and wide receiver Will Fuller opposite on the other side), DeAndre Hopkins' elite skill set has finally been unlocked. He consistently wins at the catch point, he's dynamic after the catch, and he's one of the best route-runners in the league. Through seven games, Hopkins has seven touchdowns, and he has the potential to score a half-dozen more if Watson can continue to play at this elite level.

        

    16. Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys

    Ethan Young: We talked about how Zack Martin needed to take a step forward in consistency to reach both his top-tier potential and the hype train that surrounds him, and he's done that this. After some hiccups down the stretch last year, Martin has returned to his premier ways and firmly placed himself in the conversation as the best offensive lineman in the league.

        

    15. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

    Mark Bullock: It's clear the Falcons offense has missed Kyle Shanahan this year, but Freeman has still been able to replicate similar production to last season. He's as good as any back in the NFL in the zone scheme with his vision to make the correct cut and the ability to burst through the hole and into the secondary. Steve Sarkisian would be wise to try to lean on him a little more going forward as the offensive coordinator looks to find a spark for a Falcons offense that has fizzled so far this year.

        

    14. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Mark Bullock: Defenses have keyed in on stopping Bell and the Steelers run game this season, but that hasn't prevented him from being productive. Despite his 3.9-yards-per-carry average, he's still second in the NFL in rushing yards and has been relied upon heavily as Ben Roethlisberger has had some issues this year. Bell's vision, patience and explosive cutting ability are all elite, and that has enabled him to produce big plays when the Steelers need them most.

        

    13. Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders

    Derrik Klassen: Khalil Mack is a blunt force weapon. Mack directly attacks those who try to stop him, whether it be when rushing the passer or defending the run. He beats up on those across from him, using an array of savvy moves and careful footwork sequencing before going for the kill. If there is a conceivable way for an edge defender to beat his blocker, Mack has done it before.

        

    12. Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys

    Ethan Young: Tyron Smith is the definition of a blue-chip player. His overwhelming frame and physical gifts are clear coming off the bus, but it's his improvement in his hand placement at the point of attack and approach angles in pass pro that have sharpened that raw ability and brought his game to new heights over the last two seasons.

        

    11. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

    Mark Schofield: As stated by our own Doug Farrar, Drew Brees is a "master of his environment." Despite two losses to open the season, Brees and the Saints have won five straight games and are serious contenders in the NFC South, and with Brees playing at a high level, there is no reason to think New Orleans cannot challenge for a division title. The difference with this Saints team and some teams of the past is that with the added talent on both sides of the football, it can win games even if Brees makes a mistake or two.

10. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Against the Seattle Seahawks' league-best defense Sunday, Deshaun Watson became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns and run for more than 50 yards in a single game. The four passing touchdowns put Watson's total at 19 for the season, which is the most any rookie has ever thrown through this point in a debut campaign.

    Imagine what he might have done had he started the Texans' opener instead of Tom Savage.

    It's highly unusual for any college quarterback to come into the NFL with a skill set that's entirely transferable right away. It takes a ton of development on the quarterback's side and a willingness on the part of the coaching staff to bend its schemes to what the player can do. Watson has obviously put in the work, but his success in the pros is also on head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff, who have sprinkled in all kinds of options, misdirections and fakes to make Watson more comfortable and keep defenses more on edge. This helped Watson at Clemson, and it helps him now.

    But this wouldn't work if Watson wasn't a talented and evolved passer capable of running an NFL offense. The Texans aren't simplifying what they're doing for Watson's benefit; they're instead moving the goalposts and adding concepts that feature his mobility while asking him to be a full field-reader. Watson is getting better at that on a weekly basis, and the ways in which he carved up Seattle's defense were huge tells. Watson had no fear of targeting receivers blanketed by Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas because he has faith in what he sees, and he's able to take his mindset and execute it on the field.

    Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman told Watson that he played the best game this iteration of the Seattle defense ever has seen, and this iteration of the Seattle defense has seen a lot. The rest of the league had better get used to thisa new quarterback king is putting his legacy together.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

9. A.J. Bouye, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Logan Bowles/Getty Images

    Through the first three years of his career, undrafted Central Florida alum A.J. Bouye started just eight games. He instead saw most of his time as a reserve in the Houston Texans' talented secondary. He managed five interceptions in those eight starts, and when injuries to that secondary put him in place to start 11 games in 2016, Bouye made the most of it.

    With his ability to read routes and play both man and zone concepts, Bouye became the Texans' best pass defender, allowing 47 catches on 92 targets for 468 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and an opposing quarterback rating of 59.5 through all of 2016, including the postseason. Bouye was especially effective in the postseason, and since 2016 was a contract year for him, he had a high likelihood of breaking the bank in the offseason.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars came calling, hoping to pair Bouye with Jalen Ramsey to create the NFL's next true shutdown cornerback duo. After signing a five-year, $67.5 million contract with $26 million guaranteed, Bouye is having an even better year in 2017. While Ramsey is Jacksonville's aggressive shutdown cornerback, Bouye is the pure technician, the one who can play bail coverage just as well as he can be a force defender or trail a receiver 30 yards downfield through every point of a route. This season, he's allowed just 18 catches on 45 targets for 261 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and an opponent passer rating of 41.1.

    It took Bouye a while to show what he could do in the NFL, but there's no doubting his talent now.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

8. Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Through most of his career, the narrative on Alex Smith was clear: He's a risk-averse game-manager who won't make many mistakes and will keep your team in the game, but he also won't make many big plays. He doesn't have the arm for that. That may have been true in prior years, as Smith routinely churned out efficient numbers but few explosive passing plays.

    That's all changed in 2017, though. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and his staff have used their personnel to open things up with more deep route combos and read-option elements to force defenses to focus on the line of scrimmage. Suddenly, Smith is in charge of the NFL's most dangerous offense, and the numbers speak out. With a more conventional offense in 2016, Smith attempted 46 passes of 20 or more air yards all season, completing 15 for 521 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptionsroughly in line with his career output.

    This season, it's a far different picture. Smith has already attempted 31 deep passes, completing 18 for 746 yards, seven touchdowns and no picks. With the addition of rookie running back Kareem Hunt and the development of receiver Tyreek Hill, Smith has been asked to combine the West Coast offense concepts he has learned under Reid and the option looks he ran under Urban Meyer at Utah.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

7. Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    Calais Campbell was a dominant defensive lineman for the Arizona Cardinals from 2009 through 2016, putting up heavy sack and pressure totals as well as fine run-stopping all along the formations in Arizona's hybrid defenses. A base 3-tech tackle, Campbell has always had the size, strength and technique to beat offensive linemen everywhere from straight-over nose tackle to defensive end.

    When Campbell signed with the Jaguars in the 2017 offseason, defensive coordinator Todd Wash had a different ideahe would use the 6'8", 300-pounder as a case defensive end and allow him to devastate offensive tackles with bull-rushes and hand moves. It's worked to tremendous effectwatching Campbell work off the edge is a thing of beauty as he uses his power and speed in space to get to the quarterback on an alarmingly regular basis. He has already tallied a career-high 10 sacks along with five quarterback hits and 20 quarterback hurries. And he's just as dominant as a run-stopper, peeling off blocks to deal with running backs inside and outside the formation.

    Campbell occasionally will move inside on passing downs when the Jaguars go to their sub-package sets, but he's become one of the league's best defensive ends with a fundamental position change in his 10th NFL season. It's a rare achievement at an age when many edge-rushers are losing their steam.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

6. Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    It seems strange in retrospect, but Toledo's Kareem Hunt was the sixth running back selected in the 2017 NFL draft. All Hunt has done halfway through his rookie season is lead the league in rushing yards (763) and yards from scrimmage (1,070). He gained over 100 total yards in each of his first seven NFL games, and he has become a mainstay of the league's most dangerous and diverse offense.

    Though Kansas City selected him 86th overall in the draft, Hunt blasted past any small-school concerns from the start. He's a sudden, explosive runner with great vision and acceleration, and he can run just about any route you'd like as a receiverfrom simple screen and swing passes to wheel and circle routes to seam routes downfield. Hunt has become one of the NFL's best route-runners among running backs in a hurry, providing the same kind of potential value in that department as David Johnson does in Arizona and Le'Veon Bell does in Pittsburgh.

    Behind a marvelous offensive line and in an offense that asks its skill players to be as versatile and effective as any in the NFL, Hunt has found the perfect home for his skill set.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

5. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Carson Wentz attempted 607 passes in his rookie season, the second-most for any first-year quarterback in NFL history behind only Andrew Luck. Head coach Doug Pederson and his staff wanted to give Wentz more balance in the run game and better targets to throw to in his second season, and they did so by signing running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Alshon Jeffery in free agency. They also moved receiver Nelson Agholor to the slot after trading Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills in August, and they brought in even more help Tuesday by trading a fourth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for running back Jay Ajayi, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    The difference in personnel and strategy has benefited Wentz enormously. He's already thrown 19 touchdown passes to his 16 last season, and he has just five interceptions to his 14 thrown in 2016. An efficient rushing attack has allowed Wentz to rely on play action more effectively, and as a runner himself, he has the size and speed to either make defenders miss or bowl right over them.

    But the most glaring improvement in Wentz's game this year is what he does with his route concepts and at the line of scrimmage. He's a full field-reader now, capable of looking safeties off his primary target and nailing pinpoint throws into tight windows. In and out of the pocket, he sees downfield well, evades pressure and resets his body to throw, and he has far more confidence in the targets around him. In only his second season, Wentz has become one of the league's better quarterbacks, and he's a primary reason his team has the best record in the NFL.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

4. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    It doesn't matter what you saddle Antonio Brown with. If Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt, Brown still will catch passes from backups. If Roethlisberger is wildly inconsistent, as he has been in the 2017 season and through the second half of the 2016 campaign, Brown will still grab those errant passes with highlight catches at a higher rate than most receivers. If the targets around him aren't effective enough to force double-teams and bracket coverage away from him, Brown will get through those coverage and still make plays.

    Brown has always been fast, but that isn't what makes him so dangerous against any defense. His primary attribute is a route-running ability that's second to none in the NFL. Whether he's foot-faking his way out of press coverage at the line of scrimmage, working an option route to beat a slot defender or juking a zone cornerback out of his shoes on a go route, Brown knows more ways to beat pass defenders in space than any other NFL receiver.

    That's why, even with Roethlisberger's occasionally wonky days, Brown leads the league in receptions (57) and receiving yards (835), and his 14.6 yards per catch average is his highest mark since 2011.

    Antonio Brown came into the league out of Central Michigan in 2010 with all of the physical tools you'd want in a No. 1 receiver, but his mastery of the intricacies of his position has made him an all-time great.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

3. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    That the Jacksonville Jaguars have the NFL's best defense in 2017 may come as a surprise to those used to the franchise's ineptness over the last decade, but the team has been building this defense for a while, both in the draft and through free agency. Perhaps the most crucial move was the selection of Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft. Ramsey played multiple positions for the Seminolessafety, a slot or "Star" position and some outside cornerback.

    But it wasn't until he reached the NFL that he became a full-time outside guy defending against No. 1 receivers, which makes his ascent all the more remarkable. In just his second NFL season, Ramsey has become one of the league's most dominant cornerbacks with an elite combination of size, speed, aggressiveness and awareness in space. Aggressive to a fault in his rookie season, Ramsey has refined his technique and can now cover any receiver through every part of a route, time the jumping of a route at the last split-second or physically overwhelm the receiver he's responsible for covering.

    This season, Ramsey has allowed just 19 catches on 42 targets for 216 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and an opposing quarterback rating of 41.4. He and fellow Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye form the NFL's best coverage duo, and Ramsey has the potential to be the league's next great shutdown corner for a good, long time. He may already be there.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    After the New England Patriots traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, Tom Brady became the only quarterback on their roster. The Pats will fix that in time, but when you have Brady, you don't need much more. Odes to his greatness have been penned for years, but if there's one thing we may underestimate about Brady, it's his ability to adapt to seemingly any circumstance.

    In 2017, Brady's primary issue has been opponent pass pressurehe's been pressured on 33 percent of his dropbacks this season, up from 30.9 percent in 2016. He was sacked just 15 times last season, and he's already been taken down 21 times in 2017. The root cause for this isn't a decline in Brady's offensive line or any other pass protection; it's the season-ending knee injury receiver Julian Edelman suffered in August. Edelman was Brady's primary short and intermediate receiver, and h ewas the best runner of the option routes all over New England's playbook.

    Without Edelman, Brady has to throw deep more often, taking more five- and seven-step drops to do so, and that leaves him more vulnerable to pressure. Has this affected his game? Well, he leads the league in attempts (309), completions (206) and passing yards (2,541). He's thrown just two interceptions to 16 touchdowns, and when he's under pressure, he's completed 56.5 percent of his passes, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

    Among the reasons Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history is his unprecedented ability to change his game and remain dominant no matter his circumstances. There is no precedent for it.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

1. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Pass-rushers come in all sorts of different sizes and shapes. Generally, the most dominant pass-rushers make their living on the edge of the formation, dealing with offensive tackles, tight ends and running backs. It's much harder to get after the quarterback consistently when you're playing on the inside of the formation all of the time, facing multiple offensive linemen and double-teams on a regular basis.

    Aaron Donald is the NFL's best and most effective pass-rusher. That would be impressive if he was rushing off the edge. It's doubly so when you consider that he plays the majority of his snaps as the Rams' 3-tech tackle, working between the guard and tackle. He is the focus of every opposing offensive line, and teams will scheme all week to deal with him. However, nothing ever works in terms of strategies to stop him.

    This season, in Wade Phillips' one-gap, multi-front defense, Donald has 40 total pressures, leading all interior defenders. That's more than all but one 4-3 defensive end (Melvin Ingram) and all but one 3-4 outside linebacker (Von Miller). To rack up this much pressure at Donald's position year after year represents an exceedingly rare specialty. Donald beats linemen every possible waywith leverage, upper-body strength, speed around the blocker and an array of hand moves that are nearly impossible to stop.

    Moreover, with his ability to fire through gaps and wrap up ball-carriers, Donald is one of the league's best run-stoppers. There is no defensive player with his skill set and effect, and there is no more dominant player on a game-to-game basis in the league. That's why, at the 2017 season's midpoint, Aaron Donald is the top player in the NFL1000 Top 100 Players rankings.

    NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

        

    All advanced statistics via Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.

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