The Biggest Early Surprises from NFL's Top 100 Players

Alex KayContributor IAugust 16, 2021

The Biggest Early Surprises from NFL's Top 100 Players

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    NFL Network began unveiling its annual NFL Top 100 list on Sunday evening, releasing Nos. 100 through 41. While these players aren't the absolute best the league has to offer, the majority of them are All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections who rate among the premier options at their respective positions.

    While most of these selections—which were determined by a survey of current NFL players and based on performances from the 2020 season—aren't too controversial, there are a few shocking results found among the 60 names revealed.

    The full list won't become clear until August 28, but it is already apparent that some of these selections aren't congruent with recent production. A handful of players should have been ranked much higher due to sterling showings during the 2020 campaign, while others should have been much lower or left off entirely after their play left something to be desired.

    With that in mind, here are the biggest surprises on the 2021 NFL Top 100 list so far.

No. 98: OG Brandon Scherff, Washington Football Team

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Brandon Scherff is one of the elite interior offensive linemen in the NFL. Despite this, he barely made the NFL Top 100 list.

    Scherff has been in the league for five years, earning Pro Bowl nods in four of those seasons. He finally broke through and earned a first-team All-Pro nod in 2020, becoming the first Washington player to receive the honor since Matt Turk in 1996.

    The 29-year-old played under the franchise tag last year and failed to come to terms on a long-term contract with Washington this offseason. He'll play out the 2021 campaign with an $18 million salary after being tagged again.

    Scherff is poised to become one of the highest-paid guards in the league when he finally hits the open market, and perhaps the highest-paid. He should have been ranked higher.

No. 95: CB Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White has earned a reputation as one of the league's top playmaking cornerbacks. Despite this, he barely made the NFL Top 100 list.

    White, an All-Pro in each of the last two seasons, has been instrumental in Buffalo's rise from the league's basement to Super Bowl contender. He's been a fixture on the defense since being selected No. 27 overall four years ago, racking up 238 tackles, 54 pass deflections, 15 interceptions, four forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks.

    PFF noted that 17.1 percent of targets thrown into his coverage have resulted in either a pass breakup or pick. He's a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks to deal with and helps the Bills win games in a big way. 

    There aren't many cornerbacks Buffalo would swap White out for, so his ranking of No. 95 is just too low.

No. 91: WR Corey Davis, New York Jets

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Corey Davis was a reliable wideout during his time with the Tennessee Titans, but he never reached the level of production expected from his lofty draft status.

    Davis, the fifth overall pick in 2017, finished up his rookie contract with the Titans having never made a single Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. He never reached the 1,000-yard receiving mark either, despite having ample opportunity to by playing at least 14 games in each of the last three seasons.

    One team that likely agrees with Davis' ranking is the New York Jets, who signed the 26-year-old to a hefty three-year, $37.5 million contract in March. Davis is projected to be a top option in a revamped New York receiving corps that also added veteran pass-catcher Keelan Cole and second-round rookie Elijah Moore this offseason.

    While Davis' strong hands and all-around talents make him a great No. 2 option, he's being paid to produce like a No. 1. Unless his chemistry with first-year quarterback Zach Wilson is off the charts, it's unlikely he'll put up the type of numbers a receiver on this list should.

No. 90: S Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Jessie Bates III has quietly emerged as one of the most reliable free safeties in the NFL.

    While his peers only ranked him as the league's 90th-best player, Bates' play has rated among the best at his position. The ball-hawking safety has been one of the few bright spots for a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has struggled mightily in recent seasons.

    In 2020, the 24-year-old accumulated 109 tackles, 15 passes defensed, three interceptions and a forced fumble while starting all 16 games for the third consecutive year.

    For that impressive showing—which resulted in the highest PFF grade of any safety in the league—Bates was named to an All-Pro team for the first time in his career, even though he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. It seems that Bates will have to show out in once again 2021 to earn more recognition and respect.

No. 72: WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Considering the NFL Top 100 is based on how a player performed during the prior season, ranking Michael Thomas at No. 72 is far too high.

    Thomas participated in only seven games—starting in five—as he dealt with a lingering ankle injury for much of the 2020 campaign. When he was on the field, Thomas failed to recapture the form that made him a back-to-back first-team All-Pro in 2018 and '19.

    The 28-year-old tallied up a pedestrian 40 receptions for 438 yards last season, failing to reach the end zone for the first time in his career. This was a drastic dip for a player who set a single-season record with 149 receptions in 2019 and found paydirt 32 times over his first four years.

    It's understandable that Thomas, who ranked No. 5 on this list last year, is still respected around the league. But given that this list isn't based on career performances, he should have been excluded entirely this time around.

No. 68: RB Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Josh Jacobs has been good at one thing during his brief tenure in the NFL: scoring touchdowns.

    The Las Vegas Raiders running back has scored 19 of them over his first two seasons, including 12 last year. While it's a notable figure, it's largely a product of his coaching staff's scheme.

    The 23-year-old has benefitted tremendously from a Vegas system that relentlessly feeds him the rock in the red zone. Last year, Jacobs tied for the most carries inside the opposition's 10-yard line with 35. 

    While Jacobs has done well near the goal line, he simply hasn't added much else of value as a pro.

    Jacobs is a rather one-dimensional back, contributing little in the passing game and failing to create the type of home run plays that other high-scoring rushers often provide. His yards-per-carry average dipped from 4.8 as a rookie to 3.9 last year. While he improved somewhat as a receiver, Jacobs only mustered a middling 33 receptions for 238 yards in 15 games.

    With a long rush of 28 yards across his 273 totes last year, Jacobs doesn't seem to have what it takes to become a dynamic playmaker in the NFL. He's a plus option in the red zone, but that shouldn't translate to being named one of the league's best players.

No. 67: LB K.J. Wright, Free Agent

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    K.J. Wright was a force to be reckoned with during much of the decade he spent with the Seattle Seahawks. While Wright deserves accolades for his standout career, the outside linebacker has seen his skills diminish in recent years and is no longer in the upper echelon of NFL players.

    It's a bit bizarre that Wright finally finds himself on the NFL Top 100 list during the first training camp he's been unemployed in his pro career. His contract with Seattle expired after the 2020 season, and he's yet to find a new home despite the new season starting in less than a month.

    Wright should catch on with a club after posting decent numbers last year—he totaled 86 tackles, 10 passes defensed, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception—but it remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank. The 10-year veteran saw the field for 86 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps in 2020, his lowest snap-count share in any of the five years for which he participated in all 16 games.

    The 2016 Pro Bowler has been reliable, but teams seem leery about his ability to continue producing at age 32, especially after he suffered a serious knee injury in 2018. Wright said in July there is still a chance he returns to the Seahawks for an 11th season, but he is keeping his options open and waiting for the right offer.

    Regardless of where he ends up, Wright should be a factor in 2021. It's doubtful he'll put up top-100-level production, however, and it seems that the linebacker's best days are behind him.