The NFL's 100 Best Current Players, 20-11

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IIJune 14, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints looks to pass against the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Go Back To Players 30-21

20.) Jammal Brown, Left Tackle, New Orleans
It’s a little ridiculous how one season on injured reserve can make people forget about you. Jammal Brown has universally been considered one of the game’s best and all of a sudden he’s fodder?

Well that is how it seems via word of mouth.

Some of those that have undertaken this stance try and justify it with the fact that Brown has recently been placed on the trading block. What these people fail to realize is that this has more do with NFL politics rather than on the field of play.

If you look at film on Brown – at least from 2006 to 2008 – you can see how great of a pass blocking force he is. In fact, I would wager that as a pure pass blocker he was far and away the league’s best.

Over that aforementioned span it is no secret that the Saints loved to throw the ball. In fact, they threw the ball so much that their quarterback surpassed 600 passing attempts in successive years. The year prior to those they still threw the ball a whopping 554 times.

While the Saints were throwing the ball so much their offensive line was easily one of the three best pass blocking units each year. Collaboratively I would say that the unit was easily the league’s best pass blocking unit over that three year span. The best and most efficient pass blocker on that unit was none other than Brown.

Brown was the left tackle for a historically good offensive line. An offensive line that only allowed 18, 16, and 13 sacks respectively over three years; two of which they lead the league in passing attempts. In those years Brown only relinquished 10 sacks combined

While he saw himself flagged for holding seven times in 2008, for the most part he was rarely penalised over that span as well.

As a result of this great blocking and discipline Brown found himself as a two time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro. Every nomination and accolade Brown has gotten in his career has been well deserved.

So than why is Brown suddenly not as good?

Oh well that’s simple. It is because his New Orleans Saints recently won the Super Bowl in a season that Brown did not play in.

While that is fine and dandy I have to say that it is a fallacious point that has nothing to do with Brown as a player. There are quite a few reasons the Saints won the Super Bowl and Brown’s absence is certainly not one of them.

It is no secret that the Saints defense improved itself drastically in comparison to it’s 2005 to 2008 incarnates.

What is also no secret is that the Saints offensive line as a whole unit played better than in the past with the exception of one position; the left tackle.

Over 1,750 snaps Jammal Brown surrendered a grand total of 10 sacks. His replacement this season – Jermon Bushrod – surrendered seven last season in only 514 snaps. There is a reason the Colts wanted Dwight Freeney healthy for the Super Bowl and it showed when he pushed Bushrod all over the field.

It’s clear that Bushrod is no Brown and that Brown’s absence from the team last year should not hurt his elite status. I didn’t forget you Brown. 

19.) Steve Hutchinson, Left Guard, Minnesota
Admittedly Steve Hutchinson isn’t the same force that he was in 2005 and 2006. However, that is merely testament to how amazing a player he was during that span and how great of a player he still is now.

Admittedly guys like Jahri Evans are on the rise and should surpass Hutchinson soon but I’m not going to punish him for an unforeseeable future. What I will do is reward Hutchinson with this placement based on his tremendous play over the past five or six years.

Over the past couple of years there has been a change in perception about the importance of the guard position. Steve Hutchinson – along with Alan Faneca – is predominately the reason for this change. With this change has come a rise in great guard play due to teams realizing their importance.

This rise has created a lot of great guards, though few, including Hutchinson, are capable of creating a run game on their own.

As I have done for the other guards on this list allow me to substantiate my stance via numbers.

In the year that brought Hutchinson’s name to prominence (2005) he had one of the best seasons ever. The Seahawks ran left guard trap 107 times for 465 yards and a ridiculous 14 touchdowns. He also had zero penalties and allowed just one-and-one-quarter sacks.

He parlayed that season into what is now the second largest guard contract in NFL history with the Vikings. In his first season in Minnesota they ran left guard trap 111 times for 512 yards and four touchdowns. Once again he had no penalties but did allow just over four sacks.

In 2007 Hutchinson received the gift of a lifetime when Adrian Peterson joined his backfield. Peterson and Chester Taylor ran left guard trap 104 times for 520 yards and eight touchdowns. He was flagged only once, for a false star,  and only allowed a three sacks.

In 2008 the Vikings ran left guard trap 118 times. On those 118 attempts they garnered 456 yards rushing and four touchdowns. They garnered 29 first downs as well to a mere seven stuffs. Once again Hutchinson was not penalised during the season. He did surrender a career high seven sacks though.

Last season Hutchinson had one of the worst seasons in his career and it was still an All-Pro caliber campaign. The Vikings ran left guard trap only 87 times for 426 yards and seven touchdowns. They also gained 31 first downs to a mere seven stuffs.

Over a five year period this means that halfbacks behind Hutchinson have run left guard trap 527 times. These 527 rushing attempts have garnered 2,379 yards rushing and 37 rushing touchdowns. I will take that over the emerging promise of other guys.

Now having Peterson in his backfield nowadays certainly does not hurt Hutchinson. However, it is clear that Hutchinson is doing his own work and opening holes despite the many different changes in scenery, backfield runners, and centers and left tackles over the past five seasons.

Will Hutchinson regress this year and not be anywhere near this high?

That is for you to decide.

What I will decide is that he’s deserving of this spot due to his play over a long span of time. Especially in a league that experiences strong fluctuation in top player performance.

18.) Charles Woodson, Cornerback, Green Bay
I don’t usually agree with the Associated Press but I have to say that they got something right recently. What the AP got right was naming Charles Woodson as their 2009-10 Defensive Player of The Year.

With all due respect to Darrelle Revis and Darren Sharper it was Woodson that had the best defensive season in the league last year. This is scary because it was arguably his worst as a Packer.

I will admit that on the surface this statement seems ridiculous. After all Woodson posted  highs in tackles, stuffs, forced fumbles, interceptions and touchdowns as a Packer. The thing is those are the paper numbers that any old individual can look up. Allow me to provide the accompanying numbers that not everyone has access to over the past four seasons for Woodson: the coverage metrics.

Allow me to state that these coverage metrics are averaged out amongst the sources that I could find for that given year. The available sources include Football Outsiders, K.C. Joymer, Stats LLC and ProFootballFocus.

In his first season in Green Bay, Woodson set the precedent for the next four years. He was only thrown at 84 times for a mere 42 completions. He allowed 494 yards receiving and just three touchdowns. On top of those good coverage numbers he totaled 59 total tackles, one sack, one stuff, eight interceptions, 12 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and scored one touchdown.

Following that ridiculously good season Woodson did even better. He allowed 35 completions on a mere 60 passing attempts for 430 yards and just two touchdowns. Woodson also added an additional 64 total tackles, two stuffs, nine passes defensed, four interceptions and he scored two touchdowns. He did all of this in just 14 games.

2008 was the season that I regard as Woodson’s best. He was thrown at only 65 times and allowed just 37 completions his way. Those 37 completions went for only 370 yards. Most importantly Woodson allowed zero touchdowns while playing cornerback (he played two games at strong safety). In terms of popular numbers he had 62 total tackles, three sacks, two stuffs, one forced fumble, 17 passes defensed, seven interceptions and he scored two touchdowns.

Finally, you are probably aware of last year’s popular numbers. Woodson posted 74 total tackles, two sacks, six stuffs, four forced fumbles, 18 passes defensed, two interceptions and he scored three touchdowns. From a coverage standpoint, however, he took a dip in the eyes of many. He was thrown at 76 times and allowed 39 completions for 448 yards and allowed six passing touchdowns.

So the reason that I believe Woodson’s 2008 to be superior to his 2009 is I prefer the coverage numbers over the few extra splash plays. Either way there is no denying what Woodson has done over the past four years as amazing.

It is for this reason that when people often cited people other than Woodson as the league’s second best cornerback I looked away in disgust. Not only does Woodson make the splash plays that the casual fan loves but since being in Green Bay he’s had excellent coverage metrics as well.

Numerically speaking Woodson’s Packer career is as such; 262 total tackles, six sacks, 11 run stuffs, eight forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 64 passes defensed, 28 interceptions and nine eight touchdowns. On top of those numbers are his passing metrics which are 153 completions allowed on 285 passing attempts in his direction for 1,742 yards and 10 touchdowns allowed too.

17.) James Harrison, 3-4 Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh 
Just one spot ahead of the Associated Press’ reigning NFL Defensive Player of The Year is the man whom he dethroned: James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I guess what this shows us is that winning this award – and actually deserving the accolade – is a sure fire way to land amongst the top players in the league.

Whether Dallas Cowboys or Baltimore Ravens fans want to admit it or not, Harrison was the clear and correct choice for the award two seasons ago. He had the best overall defensive season regardless of position. He made a thorough impact in both the run and passing game.

Harrison was capable of doing this because he was and still remains the league’s most complete 3-4 outside linebacker. It is this trait that is the reason that he finds himself so high.

When most people think about the 3-4 outside linebacker position they associate it with being a glorified defensive end. Ninety-nine times out of 100 they would be correct. Few 3-4 outside linebackers actually do more than rush the passer.

Harrison, however, is not one of those stereotypical 3-4 outside linebackers. Harrison can do it all including rush the passer, defend the run and drop into coverage all at a high level.

The other premier 3-4 outside linebackers that Harrison draws comparisons to due to production are DeMarcus Ware, Joey Porter and Elvis Dumervil.

It is clear when you watch the footage of all of the aforementioned guys that all four are great pass rushers. However, what is also clear is that Harrison is the only one that drops into coverage a significant amount of time.

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2007, Harrison has dropped into coverage about 30 percent of the snaps that he has taken. Guys like Porter, Dumervil and Ware only drop into coverage about eight percent of their snaps. This means that Harrison drops into coverage three times as much as these other guys.

As Harrison drops into coverage so much more than his counterparts it would be understandable that his production at the line of scrimmage would pale in comparison. After all Harrison has two chances for every three that these other guys do to record a sack or pressure. Such is not the case though.

Harrison ranks tied for fourth in sacks over the past three seasons with 34.5 sacks. He is only behind Jared Allen (46.5) Ware (45), and Mario Williams (35). In terms of official pressures Harrison ranks fourth over that span as well behind those three players. I feel though that I must reiterate that Harrison spends about two-thirds the time pass rushing as these guys do.

In addition to the pass rush numbers Harrison is tied with Ware for second in run stuffs – 16.5 – amongst 3-4 linebackers over that time. In terms of forced fumbles no other 3-4 outside linebacker is close to Harrison’s 18. Finally, in terms of interceptions Harrison ties for first with Suggs and Porter over that span but is the only guy with interceptions in separate seasons.

Although Harrison is the most complete 3-4 outside linebacker there are some clear things holding him back from being higher on the list.

Despite only playing for five seasons Harrison is already 32 years old. That is considered old for an NFL player. Harrison’s age has clearly affected him as he has injured himself significantly in late December for two straight seasons.

Regardless, Harrison is a clear defensive force and until his play actually declines he is an elite player.

16.) Michael Roos, Left Tackle, Tennessee
Sometimes I wish that Michael Roos would have been drafted in the top five overall for his respective draft class. Perhaps then he would get the respect that he should have been getting from day one.

Now obviously Roos was not going to be taken in the top five overall as he played his college ball at the Division I-AA level at Eastern Washington University. However, I am sure that if the 2005 NFL Draft were re-done Roos would be taken in the top 10 picks.

The reason that I wish that Roos was taken much higher is because then he would be getting undue hype based on his draft status. After all look at the individuals that Roos has had to compete with for All-Pro and Pro Bowl status over the past two seasons; Jake Long, Joe Thomas, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Jason Peters.

While the world has come to realize that Peters is only as good as his contract the first three players continue to get nation-wide recognition.

It’s not that they’re not good players but Roos has clearly been better in my opinion. Despite this it is because of the fact that they were taken in the top 10 of their respective drafts they’ve received more Pro Bowl and All-Pro notice from both the writers and fans.

The only time that Roos got noticed wasn’t just because of his own excellent play but because of team success. It’s no coincidence that the Titans had to be the league’s best regular season team for Roos to get Pro Bowl and All-Pro consideration.

Can Roos just get some props for his on-the-field play instead of the stigma attached with being a highly drafted lineman?

He certainly does from the hardcore and knowledgeable fans but it’s time the writers and casual fans started giving him his due as well.

Let’s say that allowing four sacks over a season is the bench mark needed to be an elite left tackle. Anything whole number higher than that begins a slightly inferior level.

Roos has remained above that four sack total Mendoza Line for every year of his career except for two; his rookie year and last year.

Roos has posted seasons of six-and-a-half (rookie year), three (2006), four (2007), one (2008), and five (2009) unofficial “official” sacks over his career. He has allowed a career total of 19.5 sacks over a five year career or roughly just under four sacks per season; right at the Mendoza Line. He posted these numbers all while only having two career holding penalties.

From a plain face standpoint that doesn’t seem impressive but when you realize the quarterback talent he’s had it is more impressive. For the overwhelming majority of his career Roos has blocked for Kerry Collins and Vince Young who aren’t exactly a who’s who of great decision makers.

What really impresses me about Roos is the strides that he has made as a run blocker. Once an average run blocker – even with speed halfbacks running behind him – he has turned into one of the better run blocking left tackles in the league.

Over the past two seasons the Titans have ran off-tackle left 115 times. On those 115 attempts they’ve netted 626 yards and seven touchdowns.

Again… when will Roos get his due?

15.) DeMarcus Ware, 3-4 Outside Linebacker, Dallas
I hate to get all preachy…Alright, who am I kidding? I love to get preachy! It is absolutely ridiculous how the general consensus about how good two players are in comparison to one another can change over just two seasons.

As the 2006-07 season wore down there were numerous debates as to who the league’s best 3-4 outside linebacker was. DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman were two strong candidates that emerged due to their high draft status and corresponding production. Meanwhile Joey Porter in Pittsburgh had long represented the position at it’s best and Adalius Thomas played the position differently but was brilliant.

The majority of NFL fans – both casual and hardcore – had Merriman pegged as the league’s best 3-4 outside linebacker due to his gaudy sack totals. Even after being busted for P.E.D.s and being forced to sit out four games Merriman’s 17 sack season was hard to overlook for many.

I found myself arguing that Ware was the league’s best 3-4 outside linebacker. In fact, I found myself arguing the exact same case that I did for James Harrison at spot number 17.

Ware was obviously more complete as he spent about 30 percent of his snaps in coverage. He was utilized to defend the run much more often and had half of the pass rushing attempts that Merriman did.

“If DeMarcus Ware rushed the passer as much as Shawne Merriman does he would blow away his sack totals” were the words spoken by yours truly in 2007.

Almost as if it were a stroke of destiny the following off-season Wade Phillips – Merriman’s defensive coordinator – became Ware’s head coach. Intent on using his new “toy” the way he did Merriman in San Diego Phillips began utilizing Ware as a pass rushing “Joker.”

How did Ware respond?

He outproduced Merriman in literally every single statistic relevant to the position including sacks. It has been so every single season since then.

Wade Phillips chose to use Ware the same way that he used Merriman (2005-07), Bruce Smith (1995-97), Bryce Paup (1995) and Reggie White (1986-88). As a pure pass rusher regardless of the situation. I am pretty sure it worked out well for those other guys.

With all due respect to the critics – myself included – Phillips knows what he is doing. Yes, Ware has the skill set to drop into coverage. Yes he can defend the run with the best of them. Finally, yes his football I.Q. is off the charts. However, all of those things pale in comparison to his pass rushing arsenal as Ware has every move down pat.

If you have a guy with a skill set comparable to former Associated Press’ Defensive Player of The Year winners White, Taylor, Paup and Smith why would you utilize him any other way?

I mean at times he can dominate a game and change it. Nobody remembers those guys changing games with their coverage.

This is why Ware almost always has his hand in the dirt. In a 3-4 he is the pass rushing outside linebacker. In nickel packages he puts his hand in the dirt as a defensive end.

When he isn't rushing the passer Ware still makes an impact. In limited coverage situations Ware prevented passes of 10, 20 and 30 yards last season

Ware clearly is the focal point of the Cowboys defense and has made it as good as it has been these past two seasons. For this reason he is a top player in this league.

14.) Maurice Jones-Drew, Halfback, Jacksonville
So those questions about whether or not Maurice Jones-Drew could carry the load have been answered have they not?

If you doubted Jones-Drew could carry the load than you were flat out wrong. As I said last year “Jones-Drew has virtually carried the load in the past so becoming the technical starter shouldn’t make a difference.” After all prior to becoming the technical starter Jones-Drew was touching the ball 255 times per season on average.

The reason that Jones-Drew had so many touches despite only registering four career starts prior to last year is because he is just so talented. Head coach Jack Del Rio knew that any time Jones-Drew was on the field he was going to make a difference and was a threat to score.

From his rookie season in 2006 until 2008 Jones was splitting carries with Fred Taylor. Perhaps this is why people did not view Jones-Drew on the level that they should have been. Taylor was producing rushing yardage totals akin to what Jones-Drew was.

What made Jones-Drew so great despite not having top ten rushing totals is his full compliment of talents.

Jones-Drew was utilized as a kick returner and pass catcher to make up for the lack of rushes he got due to splitting carries. Despite not being utilized full time at those respective positions Jones-Drew still had some great numbers. He was one of the best pass catching halfbacks and one of the better return men in the league.

From a receiving standpoint Jones-Drew averaged 49 receptions per season for 469 yards and just over one touchdown.

From a kick returner standpoint Jones-Drew averaged 25 returns per season for 651 yards. Additionally he scored a touchdown in two of the three seasons.

Despite limited touches over that span Jones-Drew averaged a ridiculous 13 touchdowns per season.

Despite the fact that many thought his production would falter Jones-Drew’s production was barely different as a true starter. The only thing that changes was the manner in which he had to produce.

Jones-Drew ran the ball 312 times for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns. He caught another 53 passes for 374 yards and one more score. He toted the ball 364 total times for 1,765 total yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns from scrimmage; Numbers that most backs would kill for.

Despite only starting for one whole season Jones-Drew has some of the best numbers around over a long period of time.

Over the past two seasons Jones-Drew ranks fourth in total yards from scrimmage and first in total touchdowns at the halfback position. Over the past three seasons Jones-Drew ranks fourth and second in those respective categories. Over the past four seasons Jones-Drew ranks fourth and second again in those respective categories.

Jones-Drew averages a ridiculous 1,427 total yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns per season over his career. This is despite the fact that he has only started one season.

I usually don’t make claims like this but Jones-Drew has started on his way to a Hall of Fame career. I say this given the little amount of wear and tear on his body.

13.) Jared Allen, 4-3 Defensive End, Minnesota
Jared Allen is easily the league’s best 4-3 defensive end and honestly I don’t think it’s even close. Hell, one could argue that Jared Allen is the league’s best overall defensive lineman – regardless of position – and they would have a legitimate case. For all intents and purposes I have Allen ranked as the second best defensive linemen in the league but that is due to one caveat.

The caveat holding back Allen is the fact that he has underachieved since he has come to Minnesota. Over the past two seasons Allen has failed to meet the expectations of many fans including myself

Now I want you to think about that for one second.

Allen is one of only two NFL players with an active streak of more than one season with at least 11.5 sacks.

Allen is one of only two NFL players with an active streak of three-plus seasons with double digit sacks.

Allen averages 14.5 sacks, seven stuffs, four forced fumbles, four passes defensed and one safety since per season since coming to Minnesota.

Somehow those numbers are underachieving in my book.

I would wager that if you are not a Vikings fan then your team’s defensive end would kill for those types of numbers. Hell, those numbers over one season are good but Allen did it twice all while being held back by limitations.

So how exactly has Allen been underachieving over the past couple of seasons?

Well two years ago Allen was playing with a bum knee and a shoulder. These injuries limited Allen’s bulrush abilities and his movement. Despite this he still produced at a high level and played like the league’s most complete 4-3 defensive end.

Last season was a bit different, however. Allen’s problem was that he was inconsistent. For the eight games he “showed up” in he dominated them more so than any other defensive player that dominated games last year. However, for those other 10 games the Vikings played last season Allen disappeared. It was his most inconsistent season over the past four.

However, despite those aforementioned negatives I have to allude to the fact that he still outplayed all other 4-3 defensive ends. I cannot hinge on this concept enough.

Let us assume that Allen has only been playing at 85 percent of his full abilities over the past two seasons due to injury and some other unknown reason. It makes it very feasible that Allen could be a 20 sack player if he remains healthy and plays every game at the same level. While I don’t like to project numbers –especially big ones like that – I do not think that I am being far fetched here.

Now there are some people that think Allen should not be this high because they believe him to rely on the “Williams Wall.” However, these players are completely wrong because Allen was dominating games while in Kansas City.

Since coming to Minnesota Allen’s numbers have actually been either the same or worse excluding his sack totals which have risen. However, I don’t link his rise in sack totals to the “Williams Wall” but rather his growth as a player as he notched his best pass rushing season in 2007 while in Kansas City.

This proves to me that Allen is a universal player that can make plays regardless of the talent level around him. That makes him a truly elite player and one of the best in the league; period.

12.) Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker, San Francisco
I think that this year I am going to hold off on issuing Patrick Willis any challenges.

“What are you talking about Blaq?” you might be asking in case you haven’t read my stuff in the past.

While I have liked Willis since he entered the league I have always been one of the people most critical of him. While Willis’ first two seasons in the league were very impressive they both left things to be desired before I could dub him as either complete or the best.

One such thing was to become better – at least naturally – in coverage.

What did Willis do the next season?

He only became one of the better coverage linebackers in the league.

So the next season I issued Willis the challenge of becoming more of a play maker and create more significant plays. Being able to make tackles and play coverage is great but difference makers cause turnovers and blow up plays.

So what did Willis do after I issued that challenge?

Willis simply turned in a career high 23 significant plays. While he had turned some in during his rookie season there was a clear difference between the ones this season and those in the past. Willis provided four sacks, five stuffs, three forced fumbles, eight passes defensed, three interceptions and a touchdown.

The end result of those challenges was that if Willis could master them he would easily become the league’s best at his position. While many people prematurely anointed him with this title it is clear at this point that Willis has finally fulfilled his right to this thrown.

So the reason that I’m not issuing any more challenges to Willis is because I am afraid that he will just become an unstoppable force. That and I can’t really think of anything that Willis needs to get better at anymore.

What really gets me about Willis is just how fast he has moved his overall game up to be complete. He can play like an old school hard nosed linebacker and be a tackling machine or he can play like a new age linebacker that drops into coverage and makes splash plays.

Willis came into the league making tackles and continues to do so. Over his career he averages 119 solo tackles per season and 156 total tackles per season. Like a true old school linebacker he loves to meet guys in the box; especially when there is no fullback to re-route him.

Willis made the overwhelming majority of his plays when there was not an extra player to block him at the line of scrimmage. Basically this means that with Willis you must always have an extra blocker for him.

A few years ago simply adding a blocker would minimize Willis’ impact but such is no longer the case. Now Willis is a pick your poison type of player.

If you place another blocker in the box to negate Willis than he will simply drop into coverage and affect your short passing game. His new play making and coverage abilities learned since his rookie season have opened up the San Francisco playbook. Now they can call blitzes highlighting Willis as a rover.

Even though everything about him was impressive last season there was one thing that most impressed me last year. Willis was one of the few players in the league that was consistent on a quarter by quarter basis. His quarterly splits are virtually even.

I think it is fair to say that at inside/middle linebacker it’s Willis and then everybody else.

11.) Steven Jackson, Halfback, St. Louis
At the conclusion of last season a lot of football fans chose to jump on the Steven Jackson bandwagon. What really made this something to note was the sheer number of them that were jumping back onto the bandwagon. These return visitors jumped back on because they now feel Jackson is the most complete halfback in the league.

Well I am happy to say that at no point did I hop off of the metaphorical bandwagon. I had Jackson ranked as the fourth best halfback in the National Football League last year. Very little has changed other than him moving up one overall spot in my eyes.

We all know what happened in 2006. Jackson was one of the league’s best players regardless of position. However, it goes beyond that.

Jackson had what was, in my opinion, the fourth best season – when ignoring scoring – from a halfback in league history. I even rate the season over Chris Johnson’s 2009-10 season due to the versatility in which Jackson produced 34% of his yards from catching the ball.

However, after 2006 many people’s confidence in Jackson began to falter. I am proud to note that my confidence never waned in Jackson’s overall stance because I looked at the production totals beyond a face value.

At face value Jackson’s 2007 and 2008 campaigns were admittedly pedestrian. He barely rushed for over 1,000 yards and his scoring totals went down from previous seasons. However, the key phrase to note in the opening sentence of this stanza is “face value.”

The often overlooked reality of Jackson’s 2006 and 2007 seasons is that he was one of the league’s best halfbacks on a per game basis. Jackson accomplished the tough task of averaging over 100 yards from scrimmage. In case you didn’t know it’s a yards from scrimmage league nowadays.

The fact that it’s a yards from scrimmage league is what made Jackson’s season last year so impressive to many. Jackson was fifth in yards from scrimmage last season despite an abysmal supporting cast surrounding him at just about every offensive position.

While numbers never tell the whole story these numbers pretty much indicate just how great Jackson has been. They also indicate just how much he has carried the Rams over the past four years.

Again looking to the numbers there are a couple that should be noted when discussing Jackson.

Over a two year period Jackson ranks third in yards from scrimmage at the halfback position. Over the past three years Jackson ranks third in yards from scrimmage. Over the past four seasons Jackson ranks first in yards from scrimmage and seventh in total touchdowns from scrimmage.

What these numbers don’t show is how pedestrian the Rams’ offensive line has been while Jackson has been in the league. It is the Rams’ line that is holding Jackson back.

Per Football Outsiders the Rams offensive line has ranked an average of 23rd as a run blocking unit over the past four seasons. For comparison’s sake guys with similar production have average offensive line rankings of 14th (Frank Gore),12th (Maurice Jones-Drew), 10th (Thomas Jones) and 16th (LaDaninian Tomlinson) respectively. I only imagine what Jackson could have done behind their lines.

Jackson is the league’s most complete halfback. There are little, if any, flaws in his skill set. What makes this even scarier is the fact that Jackson is 26 and arguably has not entered his prime yet.

Continue On To Players 10-1


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