The Biggest Snubs, Surprises from NFL's Top 100
The complete NFL Top 100 for 2021 was finally unveiled Saturday when the NFL Network released the last 10 players and where they stood.
Now that the list is complete, it's time to look back at some of the year's most controversial choices.
While many of these selections are subject to wide-ranging criticism, some inclusions and absences stand out as more egregious than the rest.
This piece will focus on the best talents not to be ranked by their peers following an excellent 2020 season, as well as the most shocking inclusions who earned a questionably high ranking in relation to their efforts.
With that in mind, here are the biggest snubs and surprises from the 2021 NFL Top 100.
Snub: C Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions (Unranked)
Only a handful of offensive linemen can claim both a Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro appearance in a single season, but Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow just accomplished both feats during his particularly impressive 2020 campaign.
Despite those incredible efforts, the 25-year-old wasn't considered a Top-100 player by his peers. Ragnow's low-profile position could have had an impact, but the list had plenty of centers with the inclusion of Corey Linsley (No. 60), Ryan Kelley (No. 69) and Jason Kelce (No. 92) this year.
It also didn't help that the Lions had a collectively tough season, winning only five games and finishing last in the NFC North for the third consecutive time.
Regardless, Ragnow would have had a tough time finding a way to contribute more on a personal level., He didn't allow a single sack across his 900-plus snaps last year. PFF graded his efforts out at a fantastic 80.3, a mark above all but two centers in 2020.
While being left off the NF'’s Top 100 list isn't great, Ragnow can still claim he's the league's highest paid center after cashing in on a four-year, $54 million contract extension earlier in the offseason.
Surprise: LB K.J. Wright, Free Agent (No. 67)
K.J. Wright was the only player to make the NFL Top 100 this year that is still unsigned. The linebacker became a free agent this offseason following a decade with the Seattle Seahawks.
It was an interesting time for Wright to finally make an appearance on the Top 100 list, especially given his relatively lofty inclusion as the league’s supposed 67th-best player.
Although Wright still had a respectable stat line of 86 tackles, 10 passes defensed, two sacks, one forced fumble and one interception, he has lost a good amount of athleticism in recent years. His football IQ has been helping stave off Father Time, but Wright's snap count dropped to a career-low 86 percent for a season in which he participated in all 16 games.
At age 32, Wright is fading into the twilight of his career. He's still mulling his options for 2021 and should be a useful contributor with whichever team he lands with, but the linebacker should can no longer be considered a cream of the crop option at the position.
With so many other quality linebackers making names for themselves right now, this selection feels more like a nod to Wright's body of work over his career than his 2020 performance alone.
Snub: LB Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears (Unranked)
Roquan Smith was left off the Top 100 list for the third year in a row. And for the third consecutive season, the NFL Top 100 list has been devoid of one of the game's best middle linebackers.
Smith has been one of the most consistent players at his position since coming into the league with the Chicago Bears three years ago. He had arguably his best year in 2020, becoming the only player in the league with at least 100 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions.
An intriguing comparison for Smith is Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers, another standout 24-year-old middle linebacker from the 2018 class. Warner was voted onto the Top-100 at No. 21 after racking up 125 tackles (five for a loss, 79 solo), two interceptions and a sack in 16 games, firmly establishing himself as one of the league's best cover men at his position.
Smith finished the 2020 campaign with 139 tackles (18 for a loss, 98 solo), two interceptions and four sacks across 16 games while having an outstanding campaign in coverage.
To add insult to injury, Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts' Darius Leonard also made the Top 100 out of the middle linebacker spot, coming in at No. 25 and No. 37 respectively. Neither player had more overall tackles, solo tackles, tackles for losses, sacks or interceptions than Smith last year.
Smith seems to be the odd man out among the league's elite linebackers, but another strong defensive performance in 2021 could finally get him onto this list.
Surprise: S Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals (No. 19)
Budda Baker has one of the most polarizing placements on the list this year.
The Arizona Cardinals safety carved out a useful role as a hard-hitter around the line of scrimmage, but his game lacks refinement in other areas. His peers still clearly felt those contributions are noteworthy, as Baker not only made this list but also was ranked as the league's 19th-best player.
Baker's ranking places him ahead of every other safety in the league, including fellow Top 100 selections Jamal Adams, Justin Simmons, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Tyrann Mathieu, Quandre Diggs and Jessie Bates, a group that includes some elite all-around talents.
Baker has become known as one of the NFL's biggest hitters during his four seasons with the Cardinals. His highlights have helped him become a household name while also becoming the highest-paid safety in history after inking a four-year, $59 million extension in 2020.
The Cardinals paid Baker big despite his poor pass-defense skills. Even last year, when he was playing the best coverage of his career, he only earned a 68.9 PFF coverage grade.
PFF ranked Baker as the 16th-best safety in the league last year, a far cry from being a top-20 overall player in the NFL.
According to Revenge of the Birds, Baker took umbrage with his placement on PFF's list, stating the following in a since-deleted tweet: "I don't even want Pff mentioning my name anymore honestly. Site been a hater since college lol."
While Baker has made some big plays since turning pro, his most well-known highlight is one that he would like to forget. The safety was memorably hunted down by Seattle Seahawks wideout DK Metcalf on what appeared to be a surefire pick-six.
If Baker evolves into a better coverage safety, he would be a no-brainer choice to rank near the top of the NFL 100. Until then, he's better placed on the list's lower rungs for being too one-dimensional.
Snub: WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team (Unranked)
Terry McLaurin has emerged as one of the best young wideouts the league has to offer, but his peers don't consider him in the upper echelon just yet.
While the 25-year-old only has two seasons under his belt, one has to wonder what else this rising star needs to accomplish to earn a spot on the list.
McLaurin improved on a brilliant rookie season in almost every way, upping his receptions (58 to 87), targets (93 to 134) and receiving yardage (919 to 1,118). Although he didn't find paydirt as often—scoring just four times compared to seven in 2019—he still established himself as a playmaker for Washington.
Perhaps most notably, McLaurin accomplished all those individual accolades while having four different quarterbacks throwing him the ball in 2020.
There is still plenty of room for improvement here, but McLaurin's latest performance was statistically better than several other wideouts who made the Top 100. For example, both Corey Davis and Jarvis Landry ended up on the list, but neither receiver eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark or reeled in anywhere close to as many receptions.
Washington is still seeking a franchise signal-caller to build around, but the club did acquire veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick earlier in the offseason, opening the door for more production from McLaurin.
Surprise: WR Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills (No. 96)
Cole Beasley has been making headlines for everything but his play this offseason, but his peers still felt the wideout was a Top 100 player for his on-field work.
Beasley's rise from an end-of-roster afterthought early in his career with the Dallas Cowboys to an important slot receiver for the Buffalo Bills is a great rags-to-riches story, but ranking him as one of the NFL's better players is going a bit too far.
There's an argument to be made that the 32-year-old deserves this status. He just set career-best marks for receptions (82), targets (107), receiving yardage (967) and first downs (53) in his ninth year as a pro. He's become a solid option for Josh Allen, who is now the second-highest-paid quarterback in football.
Still, it's hard to imagine Beasley would have the same impact without having one of the top signal-callers throw him the ball each week.
The Allen-Beasley battery has seen the field for 30 of 32 possible regular-season games since the wideout joined Buffalo in 2019. That connection helps boost Beasley's production significantly, especially when compared to a guy like Terry McLaurin and other gifted athletes at the position who still produce despite lacking a consistent quarterback.
With so many great wideouts failing to crack the list—five 1,000-plus-yard receivers were left off—Beasley's inclusion was a surprise.
Snub: DE Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers (Unranked)
The Carolina Panthers have one of the most promising defensive lines in the league thanks to the development of edge-rusher Brian Burns. The 23-year-old took a major leap forward last season, showing the world why the club was wise to use a first-round selection on him in 2019.
Unfortunately for Burns, his contributions weren't deemed worthy of his first NFL Top 100 appearance.
This wasn't Burns' first snub either, as he was also overlooked for the Pro Bowl. He finished the 2020 campaign with 35 tackles, nine sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defended but still wasn't one of the defensive ends picked to represent the NFC.
It was a surprise given Burns produced more quarterback takedowns than the three players who did get selected: Cameron Jordan (7.5), Chase Young (7.5) and Brandon Graham (8.0). Burns' 21 quarterback hits also led the group, and only Young produced more forced fumbles (four) in 2020.
All three of the NFC's Pro Bowl defensive ends also went on to make the NFL Top 100 in 2021.
If Burns can stay healthy—something he struggled with as a rookie—and continue to produce at a high level this season, it will be difficult to keep him out of the Pro Bowl and off the Top 100 next year.