So usually I wait for the NFL Network to finish their countdown and then I can look at some of the comparisons, but for some reason they won’t start releasing episodes until two-and-a-half weeks from now. Since training camps are in full swing at that point and I want to look at position battles or maybe even look forward to specific games and such as, I decided to reveal my list now already – which is where I usually do anyway.
Like I do every year, I want to clear up the criteria first. This is a list for the top players in 2019 – therefore players who will miss several games due to suspension (Patrick Peterson for example) or injury (Sheldon Rankins to a lesser degree) won’t be included and I also put together a couple of names that I am just not sure yet about what their status for the upcoming year is. Please understand that I am looking at these players as individual talents and will not reward them fully for what they have around them in terms of teammates or coaches.
1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Aaron Donald
3. Khalil Mack
4. Aaron Rodgers
5. Von Miller
6. Julio Jones
7. DeAndre Hopkins
8. Bobby Wagner
9. Fletcher Cox
10. Saquon Barkley
The top spot goes to the reigning MVP here. It was a really close battle between Mahomes and Aaron Donald, but I had to go with the quarterback because he did some stuff we haven’t really seen before. Mahomes’ incredible arm talent, big-play mentality and ability to improvise could make him the premiere signal-caller for the next decade.
Like I already said, it was tough to ignore the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year in this conversation for who should be number one. Donald is by far the most dominant player at his position and he is on path to maybe become the greatest defensive tackle in NFL history. The stats are on another level, but it is the way he disrupts the game on snap-to-snap basis.
Speaking of dominant defenders, Khalil Mack’s impact in Chicago was definitely felt, as he made the Bears the number one scoring defense and led them to their first NFL North title since 2010. Not only did Mack earn 12.5 sacks and forced six fumbles despite missing two games, but he also is an elite run defender and continuously puts offensive tackles on skates.
This is the lowest I have had Rodgers since I started putting together these lists in 2014. It definitely wasn’t his or the Packers’ year, finishing the season with the worst record since the quarterback’s first year as a starter. However, even then he was 28 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. All the pressure was on him with a hobbled knee and I think a lot of that will be taken off by Matt LaFleur’s play-calling and the additions on defense.
You can argue about a few names of defensive players after Donald and Mack, but I went with the steady Von Miller. With the team not having made the playoffs since their Super Bowl victory, people have started forgetting about the edge rusher in Mile High – not me. Miller is still the best at bending around the corner and flattening to the QB, as he has recorded 63 combined sacks over the last five years.
Up next I went with the top two wide receivers in the league. I gave Julio the slight edge here, simply because of his of the freakish skill-set he brings to the table, when you combine physicality, leaping ability and the flat-out speed. Since 2013 he is averaging 104.6 yards per game and he quietly led the league in yards through the air once again last season.
Right behind him as the 1B we have “Nuk the Bomb”. Hopkins is pretty much equally impressive to me as Julio, but for different reasons. The numbers he has put up with the bundle of lackluster quarterbacks is mind-blowing and in his first full season with Deshaun Watson, he was second only to Julio in terms of receiving yards, despite missing weapons around him once Will Fuller went down.
At number eight we have who I think is the best stand-up linebacker in the game today. Bobby Wagner is an absolute tackling machine and he makes a bunch of impact plays in the passing game. The Seattle defense has lost so many key pieces over the years, but the constant in the middle has been Wagner and he might have had his best year yet in 2018.
Similar to Wagner, I don’t think people give Fletcher Cox the respect he deserves. A lot of that has to do with how ridiculous Aaron Donald has been for the Rams, but I don’t know how the Eagles D-tackle is not at least in the conversation for the top ten. Cox lives in offensive backfields and his numbers are starting to show what kind of monster he is.
And rounding out the top ten we have another freak of nature. I know that he is just a rookie and I would be first to tell you that you need to pump the brakes when it comes first-year players, but this guy is different. Saquon to me is already the best talent at the running back position and he is the most special guy at making something out of nothing.
11. Luke Kuechly
12. Andrew Luck
13. Russell Wilson
14. J.J. Watt
15. Antonio Brown
16. Le‘Veon Bell
17. Jalen Ramsey
18. Travis Kelce
19. Ezekiel Elliott
20. Tom Brady
This next group starts with a close second in terms of the race for best off-ball linebacker in the league. Luke Kuechly is not only a premiere run-stuffer in between the tackles, but he can also flatten towards the sideline and his football IQ shines in the Carolina’s zone coverage schemes. He is not far from 1000 career tackles and he is only 28 years old.
Once again, I had a close battle between two guys at the same position – this time it’s the number three and four quarterbacks. I gave Luck a slight edge because I think he will only be better in his second season back from that career-threatening shoulder injury. That guy is such a threat to deliver on big plays down the field and now with a strong offensive line in front this could be a special foundation.
That puts Russell Wilson at 13 and I still believe he is somewhat underrated among fans. At the start of the year when the O-line was a mess you saw the Hawks QB run himself into trouble, but as Seattle became a more run-centric offense like they were with Marshawn Lynch a few years ago, Wilson’s effectiveness was off the charts and I thought they almost took the ball out of his hands too much.
I am really happy to see J.J. Watt back healthy. The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year was top five once again with 16 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. However, he has become more of a typical edge rusher and I’m not quite sure if he will ever be that gap-slanting, back-door threat on the interior that ruins offensive gameplans the way Aaron Donald does right now.
The next receiver on the list had one of the craziest offseasons we have seen in a while. Antonio Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh and now joined Jon Gruden in the Black Hole, to be what he had in Jerry Rice once upon a time. While you can call him a diva and say his receiving totals were down a little bit, there is no way AB is not in your top five at the receiver position.
Right behind him I have a former teammate, who we didn’t see on the field at all last season. Everybody seems to have forgotten about Lev Bell, but when we last saw him play, he was the best running back in football. While he will have to mesh with a lesser O-line on the Jets, his unique running style and ability to be a team’s number two weapon in the passing game make him tremendously valuable.
It was a letdown year for the Jaguars and this offseason has been much more quiet, but I’m not giving up on this loaded young team in Duval County. Their biggest trash-talker and best player Jalen Ramsey might not speak out on opposing quarterbacks the way he did a year ago, but there is no reason he shouldn’t be supremely confident. The 24-year old is the best cornerback in the league thanks to his physicality, length, athleticism and competitive fire.
Once you get past the top three wideouts in the NFL, I think you have to look at Kelce as the next-best weapon in the passing game. Nobody stretches the seams like he does, nobody is more of a mismatch nightmare for defenses and nobody brings more versatility to the table from the tight-end position. You can let him run by linebackers, post up DBs or even leap over people off shovel passes.
While I believe Saquon Barkley is the best all-around back in the game already, Elliott might still be the best pure runner in the league. The way he can build up momentum and consistently drive his feet for yards after contact make this Cowboys zone-rushing attack really tough to stop, especially when everybody on the O-line is healthy. Zeke is the engine for the Cowboys offense.
I don’t want to seem like I disrespect a six-time Super Bowl champion, but I couldn’t put Brady ahead of all those young guys out there. I know that when it matters most he will show up and he might be the greatest playoff quarterback ever, but Brady did show signs of age last season. He doesn’t win outside the numbers as consistently anymore and even in the Super Bowl the Rams defense held him in the check until the final two drives.
21. Odell Beckham Jr.
22. Chris Jones
23. Cameron Jordan
24. Jadeveon Clowney
25. Drew Brees
26. Jamal Adams
27. Stephon Gilmore
28. DeMarcus Lawrence
29. Michael Thomas
30. Byron Jones
In one of the biggest blockbuster NFL deals in recent memory the ascending Browns added a true superstar in Odell Beckham Jr. from New York. When it comes to pure talent, he might be at the very top of the list because of the way he can separate for defenders and make the spectacular grabs. Him in an offense with Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Nick Chubb & Co will be fun.
If I gave the average fan the name Chris Jones and asked them where he played, they might not even know it. However, he has turned himself into one of the premiere pass rushers from the defensive tackle spot and just put together the most quiet 15.5-sack campaign I have seen to this point. The Chiefs were fine with letting their edge guys go because of the young stud they have inside.
Cam Jordan is another guy who I thinks gets underrated every single year. It took him a while to put together the numbers that would earn him the recognition he deserves, but even now he is not seen as the impact defender he truly is. Once again he was near the top in the NFL with 19 tackles for loss and 66 total QB pressures.
There are very few players in the league that are as freakishly talented and will just smack guys in the face the way Jadeveon Clowney will. The former number one overall pick just ragdolls tight-ends at the point of attack in the run game and he is versatile piece on passing downs, where he can put his hand in the dirt anywhere on the line or move around as a linebacker.
Once again, this might seem a little disrespectful to an MVP runner-up and all-time great quarterback, but I just have some concerns with Brees. He is ultra-efficient in Sean Peyton’s offense and when he can get the ball to Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara, but his arm fell off tremendously at the end of the year. That sequence in the Divisional Round versus the Eagles where Taysom Hill threw a perfect seam route and Drew came back to underthrow that same route badly won’t leave my mind.
Next up I got the top safety in the game today. Jamal Adams has become the true leader of the Jets defense and I just love his style of play. He puts wide receivers on their butts when they try to block him, shoots through openings like a missile as a blitzer, is extremely instinctive and just always around the ball. He is a true baller.
Bill Belichick never hands out big contracts to free agents, but back in 2017 he really wanted Stephon Gilmore and we saw exactly why last season. That dude might have had the best season of any cornerback in the league when you saw him absolutely shut down number two’s, but also take on the challenge of guarding opposing team’s top receivers.
Another guy who truly emerged these last two years and now got paid big-time is Tank Lawrence. Dallas rewarded the defensive end like a top-tier guy and I think he is among the elite at the position. D-Law always was an excellent run-defender, but he has developed some hand swipes and power rushes that have made him a terror in the passing game.
While I do believe a lot of Michael Thomas’ productivity has come from Sean Peyton’s brilliance as a play-caller scheming him open, his absurd 85 percent catch rate and clutch play on third down make him a top 30 player in the league today. He seemed to be unstoppable in some games and got defenses again and again with big catches to extend drives.
It is only fitting that I put the guy who I thought was the only one to really shut Mike Thomas down right next to him. Byron Jones had a phenomenal season and I feel like people don’t appreciate it enough. The Cowboys put a lot of pressure on him in that cover-one, press-bail three scheme that Kris Richard brought over from Seattle and Jones delivered all year.
31. Eddie Jackson
32. George Kittle
33. Alvin Kamara
34. Christian McCaffrey
35. David Bakhtiari
36. Calais Campbell
37. Akiem Hicks
38. Zach Ertz
39. A.J. Green
40. Zack Martin
While I gave Jamal Adams the slight edge as the best safety in the league, Eddie Jackson is the most dangerous at the position. The Bears defense led the league in total takeaways and their playmaker on the back-end forced eight of those, returning two interceptions for touchdowns. His range and instincts are what allows the Chicago corners to be that aggressive.
I can’t remember the last time somebody broke an all-time record and it was talked about that little as Kittle did when setting a new mark for receiving yards among tight-ends. Maybe it was because Travis Kelce broke the record earlier, but the 49ers weapon had an incredible season. He is an outstanding blocker in the run-game and a run-and-catch nightmare off bootlegs and crossers.
Next up we have the battle between fourth- and fifth-best back in the NFL. I gave Kamara a minimal edge here because I think his contact balance and ability to break tackles is a little better than what the next guy can do. The Saints superstar is a highly effective pass-catcher and a true threat to the edge in New Orleans’ outside zone rushing attack.
Just behind Kamara, we have another young dual-threat back in McCaffrey. This is another one of those broken records that wasn’t discussed enough, as the Panthers third-year man set a new mark for RBs with 107 catches on the season. That almost put him at 2000 yards from scrimmage and got him into the end-zone 13 times. He might be the best receiver who is tagged as a running back in the league today.
It’s not easy to say this, because I think there are guys at the position who are a little better all-around when completely healthy, but I can’t ignore what Bakhtiari has done protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side. He has allowed the lowest percentage of pressures among all offensive tackles and been dependable against some of the elite pass rushers in the game.
With the Jaguars defense taking a big step backwards and the title “Sacksonville” becoming less fitting last year, as they ranked tied for eighth-least in sacks recorded, nobody really talked about Calais Campbell even though he was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. He still reached double-digit sacks and put up a personal best 20 TFLs.
While the Bears defense definitely got a lot of headlines, it was Khalil Mack and those guys in the secondary that really got the glory. However, Akiem Hicks was the guy on the interior who made that entire unit go. Whether that may be penetrating in the backfield with quick arm-over moves or putting pressure on the quarterback off double-hand swipes and push-and-pull maneuvers.
When you look at tight-ends in the game today, I think there are the three big names and then there’s everybody else. Zach Ertz is that third guy and he made history himself, setting a new benchmark for catches in a season for TEs. He might not be a great in-line blocker, but he picked up 66 first downs last year and is a key piece to the Eagles offense as a coverage indicator when split out wide.
Forever underrated and somewhat even more forgotten last year – A.J. Green is still one of the best wide receivers in the game. With 13 missed games over the past three years and without the same production as some of the elite guys, he is just outside that top five group. Yet, when healthy he is a smooth strider with incredible body control and strong hands.
To finish up this group, I put up the first guard on my list. Right now I think Zack Martin deserves the top spot at the position when you look at how he moves bodies in the Cowboys zone-run game and how he can anchor against defensive linemen trying to rush the passer against him. However, there is a guy closing in on him, who is coming off one of the all-time great rookie seasons.
41. Harrison Smith
42. Keenan Allen
43. Philip Rivers
44 .Matt Ryan
45. DeForest Buckner
46. Mike Evans
47. Tyron Smith
48. Trent Williams
49. Davante Adams
50. Earl Thomas
There are two young safeties who I believe deserve to be put ahead, but after those I think Harrison Smith is still the OG at the position. The Vikings safety was so far ahead of everybody out there in 2017 and even last year he was playing at a very high level, despite their defense declining. Nobody sets the edge in the run game and patrols the middle in coverage the way Smith does.
The next receiver on my list is Keenan Allen from the Chargers. He might not be the fastest or strongest guy out there, but he is the most slippery route-runner in the league. It is so tough to get your hands on him and he can leave defenders behind in the dust when coming out of his breaks. His totals dipped a little last season due to a banged up hip at the end of the year.
Right behind Allen we find his quarterback Phil Rivers, who had another phenomenal season in 2018. While I’m a little concerned by what I saw from him in that Divisional Round game against the Patriots, when they dared him to beat them outside the numbers, he was excellent throughout the regular season. I’m talking about 28-of-29 performances against the Cardinals and furious comebacks against the Steelers and Chiefs.
Once again I felt like was splitting hairs between two veteran quarterbacks and while I gave Rivers the slight nod here, I believe Matt Ryan might be the most underrated signal-caller in the entire league. Since winning the MVP trophy in 2016, all he has done is come up one Julio Jones catch short of beating the eventual Super Bowl champions after a 2017 regular season that was filled with bad luck interceptions and come just short of another 5000-yard season while tossing 35 TDs compared to just seven INTs last year.
At 45 we have another rising star, who is only starting to receive the attention he deserves. While the 49ers defense was atrocious for most of last season, ranking near the bottom in most statistical categories, one guy stood out and the fact he did in that situation makes it even more impressive. DeForest Buckner was one of the most disruptive interior D-linemen in the league, racking up a third of San Fran’s sacks (12) and putting up 17 TFLs.
Another extremely productive guy who doesn’t get the love he deserves is Mike Evans. The Bucs’ big wideout quietly finished just behind Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins with 1524 receiving yards for his fifth straight season over 1000 in five years in the league. While he is a monster in the red-zone and jump-ball situations, his 17.7 yards per catch are even more impressive.
That brings me to my next discussion between two guys at the same position. When healthy Tyron Smith and Trent Williams are the best all-around offensive tackle in the NFL. They are incredibly large human beings, who can take edge defenders for a ride, are really tough to get around in the passing game and ridiculously nimble in space. The only reason Smith is one spot ahead is because he has been available more.
I have pretty much given you my description of Williams already. I have seen this as a battle for the number one spot between those two NFC East foes for a while now and I usually preferred Williams because I love how nasty he is in the run game. However, I can’t ignore the fact that he has missed a full 16-game season over the last six years.
I really like the debate between Mike Evans and Davante Adams and even though I put the Bucs receiver a few spots ahead, I think Tae is really freaking good. He has obviously become Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target because he is the best at releasing off the line and is a very dependable pass-catcher. 35 touchdowns in his last 45 games is also pretty strong.
Earl Thomas is coming off his second major injury as a pro and there are reasons for concern having turned 30 earlier this offseason, but let’s not forget how he played before he got hurt. Through those first four games of the year he was the best safety in all of football and a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. That’s why the Ravens gave him a big contract to be their next Ed Reed.
51. Quenton Nelson
52. Myles Garrett
53. A.J. Bouye
54. Derwin James
55. Melvin Gordon
56. Jaylon Smith
57. Joey Bosa
58. Deshaun Watson
59. Kevin Byard
60. David Johnson
Like I already said, Big Q is on his way to becoming the best guard in the game and a Hall of Famer down the road. Not only was he a first-team All-Pro as a rookie and completely transformed the Colts offensive line, when was the last time you had videos of a guard going viral, where he pancakes a total badass in Jadeveon Clowney or scream on his way to devouring somebody pulling around?
Next up we have another young star in the making. Myles Garrett put up 13.5 sacks, 12 TFLs and three forced fumbles in his second year as a pro. At only 23 years he is an athletic phenom, who kind of looks like superman and is only scratching the surface of his powers, as he is still developing his pass rush arsenal.
Just like Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell, Bouye drops a few spots from his 2018 ranking because of the decline of the Sacksonville defense. However, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that he isn’t one of the top cornerbacks in all of football. He wasn’t as good as he was the year before, when he surrendered the lowest catch rate of anybody at the position, but opposing teams still didn’t find a lot of success against him.
Here we have another young stud safety in Derwin James. The Chargers got an absolute steal in the middle of last year’s draft, when they selected the freakish Florida State DB. In his first year as a pro he was already the key piece to the Bolts’ defense, erasing seam routes, making big stops in the run game and terrorizing quarterbacks as a blitzer.
Right behind him we have his teammate Melvin Gordon, who is often forgotten in the conversation for the best running backs in the game. Since the start of his second year in the league he has averaged 106.6 yards from scrimmage and just under a touchdown per game. He is a violent runner, who can explode for big plays in both the run game and as a receiver.
There is a very clear duo at the top among off-ball linebackers with Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly, but after that there is no real consensus. I think Jaylon Smith has earned that spot with how he played last season. He might have not recorded any interceptions, but his ability to fly sideline to sideline and knock people backwards is amazing.
Some people might think I’m a little low on Bosa because of his rookie and sophomore seasons, but I think this is fair for him. I always thought he was an excellent technician and hustle player, but I don’t believe he will ever quite be among the elite pass rushers, because he doesn’t have the burst or length needed. So I can’t ignore the injury concerns either.
That loss to the Colts in the Wildcard Round really left a bad taste in my mouth, but I won’t ignore what kind of a talent and competitor Deshaun Watson is. While I wasn’t happy when he called out his offensive line following the loss, that protection really was atrocious. He only had DeAndre Hopkins for most of the season and the run game worked pretty well partially because of him. Help this man out more and he can be special.
We have a lot of really talented young safeties in the league. Kevin Byard might not be a household name quite yet simply because he plays in Tennessee, but his play has been outstanding these last two years. Not only has he recorded 12 interceptions and deflected another 24 passes over that stretch, but he also gives the Titans defense some attitude.
Man, it hurts me to put David Johnson this low, but I just can’t justify putting him ahead of any of those guys I have in front of him. After flirting with that 1000-1000 feat these last two offseasons, seeing him miss basically a full season and then not get anything going in a lifeless Cardinals offense was disappointing. I fully expect him to bounce back, but until he does I can’t put him inside my top 50.
61. Melvin Ingram
62. Chandler Jones
63. Marshon Lattimore
64. Ben Roethlisberger
65. Jurrell Casey
66. Carson Wentz
67. Geno Atkins
68. Deion Jones
69. Lane Johnson
70. JuJu Smith-Schuster
While I have Joey Bosa ahead by a few spots, I always have my eyes on Ingram when I watch that Chargers pass rush. He is so different to his running mate, not only because of his preference for the speed rush but also his ultra-confident personality. Ingram brings a ton of versatility to the table and his performance against the Ravens in the Wildcard Round was absolutely dominant, moving all around the front and winning matchups against everybody.
The next edge rusher took a little bit of a step back. In 2017 Chandler Jones led the league in sacks and tackles for loss, but he couldn’t reproduce those numbers on a team that always played from behind. However, he is still one of the top pass rushers in the league and should get a lot more opportunities to prove it this upcoming season.
Another guy, who took a step backwards – Marshon Lattimore had an amazing Defensive Rookie of the Year season, in which he played like one of the elite cover-guys in all of football. Last year he went from five to just two interceptions and had some bad showings against the likes of Mike Evans and Julio Jones inside that NFC South.
I put Big Ben here because he certainly still is in the discussion for top ten quarterbacks, but with some of his late-game decisions and behavior overall have been highly questionable, he has is now on the fringe of that group. While there are certainly still pieces around him, I need to see what he can do without Antonio Brown and (to a lesser degree) Le’Veon Bell.
As I mentioned already, Kevin Byard has becoming the voice of the Titans, but the guy who has been there the longest is Jurrell Casey. Looking for a fifth straight Pro Bowl selection, he has established himself as one of the premier defensive linemen in football. Whether it may be clogging lanes against the run of putting the heat on quarterback, he has been phenomenal.
Last year I had Wentz as a top five quarterback and one of the 20 best overall players, while also naming him the regular season MVP until he got hurt, but I have to be cautious here. Yes, he wasn’t as special last season, but he did complete almost 70 percent of his passes and had a three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio. When healthy he can be one of the young superstars in this league.
Atkins is on the other side of the spectrum, entering his tenth season as a pro with the Bengals. As the original penetrating 3-tech, he has been a nightmare for offensive linemen for a long time now, but a few of the newer guys have surpassed him. That doesn’t mean he isn’t still an awesome player. Once again he had double-digit sacks and tackles for loss in 2018.
I am a firm believer that the Falcons could have had a great season in 2018 had they not lost that many key pieces, especially on defense, and Deion Jones is the biggest of them all. The third-year man is one of the biggest difference makers in the passing game we have at inside linebacker. He has eight interceptions in 37 career games and took three of those back to the house.
Despite taking a step back personally and as a unit, I had to put Lane Johnson of the Eagles up here. When it comes to right tackles in the NFL it really only is a three-man race for who the best is and I would take Johnson ahead of those other guys. His athleticism is huge both protecting the passer and getting out on the move. He can shut down some of the most dominant pass rushers.
We have a new number one wide receiver in Pittsburgh and he will have to prove that he can get it done in that role going forward. JuJu finished top five in the league with over 1400 receiving yards. Coming out of USC I didn’t feel like he had the speed to become the type of big-play threat he has shown to be, but he now has 97-yard touchdown receptions in both of his first two years.
71. Jason Kelce
72. Casey Hayward
73. Brandon Graham
74. Trey Flowers
75. Baker Mayfield
76. Darius Leonard
77. Marshal Yanda
78. Grady Jarrett
79. Chris Harris Jr.
80. Frank Clark
The best center in the league today is the incredible Jason Kelce. His athleticism and football IQ are off the charts, when you look at how he handles stunts and blitz pick-ups as well as his brilliance as a move blocker. He is the biggest piece to how the Eagles zone run game works and his adjustments on the fly are pure genius.
Even though some lists might drop Casey Hayward a bunch of spots because he didn’t even come close to the ball-production of the previous two years (11 interceptions and 42 PBUs compared to no picks and eight deflected passes), I thought he had another really good season. He is still one of the best zone and off-man corners in the league.
It took a while for these Eagles players to come up after Fletcher Cox, but now they are just flying off the board. Brandon Graham has been one of the most underrated players in the entire for the last five years or so. The sack totals are never impressive – to some degree because he primarily rushes off the left side where quarterbacks see him more – but he is always amongst the top in QB pressures.
Let’s stay with on the defensive line with another guy whose numbers don’t tell the whole story as an inside-out presence. Trey Flowers was by far the most important player on that Patriots defense outside of Stephon Gilmore and he had some dominant games sliding inside on sub-packages beating guards. That’s why Matt Patricia brought him over to Detroit.
A close second in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Baker Mayfield instantly threw his number in the conversation for the best young quarterbacks, as he beat the rookie passing touchdown record despite only being inserted into the starting lineup in the second half of game three and he completely transformed the Browns, who we now look at as a contender in the AFC.
Let’s stay with the rookies here and who took home the honors on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Darius Leonard had a phenomenal rookie campaign, leading the league in total tackles by a fairly wide margin, recording seven sacks, four forced fumbles and two picks. “The Maniac” was all over the field for the Colts and will be a foundational piece to their success in the future.
Now entering his 13th season as a pro, Marshal Yanda is still one of the best offensive linemen in all of football. After missing out on the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2011 due to an injury in 2017, Yanda once again was one of the more dominant run-blockers and walls to get through in the passing game. He might have left the top spot for good, but he is up there with the best of them.
Another one of those underappreciated defensive linemen is Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett. It has been kind of theme for this list – but the normal stats just don’t tell the whole story. Jarrett’s ability to shoot upfield and create chaos for offenses make him a very valuable player and the reason the Falcons decided to put the franchise tag on him.
As far as all-around coverage guys go, I think Chris Harris Jr. is still up there with some of the best out there. When you get into the weeds of passer rating allowed, yards per reception and others you see that he deserves to be in that conversation. Especially when you look at how the Broncos expect him to play outside on base downs and then move into the slot as part of sub packages.
Frank Clark has improved every year he has been in the league and just made the Chiefs trade a first-round pick and some extras to replace their departed edge rushers. The former Seahawk has put together 32 sacks over his last three years and been a headache for offensive tackles, as one of the highest effort guys we have coming off the corner.
81. Jerry Hughes
82. Taylor Lewan
83. Kawann Short
84. Xavier Rhodes
85. Cameron Heyward
86. T.Y. Hilton
87. Andrew Whitworth
88. Desmond King
89. Jannick Ngakoue
90. Ryan Kerrigan
Nobody gives the Bills defense the respect it deserves. They finished first in passing yards allowed and they were one of the best units when the offense could at least somewhat move the ball. Jerry Hughes is one of those guys fans don’t really know about because he hasn’t finished with double-digit sacks since 2014, but according to PFF only Aaron Donald won his matchups in the passing game at a higher rate than the Bills D-end last year.
Here we have another offensive tackle at 82. Similar to the Eagles, I thought the Titans O-line took a step backwards after I expected them to be one of the top rushing teams and really allow Marcus Mariota to work from the pocket with two book-ends. Still, Taylor Lewan is one of the meanest run-blockers in the league and he only allowed two sacks last season.
KK Short has quietly been putting in work for the Panthers for several years now. He is a problem shooting up those B-gaps for Carolina and showing up in the backfield. While he had a bit of a down-year rushing the passer, only recording three sacks on the season, he is still a key piece in a strong Carolina front-seven.
Another guy who didn’t have the year he expected to is Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He went from first-team All-Pro in 2017 to not even making the Pro Bowl last season, as Minnesota’s defense went from number one to the bottom of the top ten in yards allowed. Individually he surrendered more completions his way and only forced one turnover.
Last year I had Cam Heyward as a top 30 player in the league after putting up huge numbers for more a base 5-tech defensive end. In 2018 those stats definitely dipped and so did his play to some degree. It was the first time it didn’t feel to me like he stood out on that Steelers D-line, but he still is a really good player and deserves a spot.
Very few players scare opposing defenses with going over the top as much as Hilton. Just ask the division rival Texans, who gave up an average of 133 yards to him in three games last season and never have been able to stop him with a healthy Andrew Luck throwing the ball. That duo is deadly and Hilton was just outside the top five in terms of yards per game last season.
A stalwart at left tackle for 13 years in Cincinnati and Los Angeles, Andrew Whitworth only started getting the recognition he deserves when he joined the high-flying Rams and finally got his first playoff victory last season. Whit will turn 38 before the end of 2019 and this is likely his final year, but he still performed like one of the top tackles in the NFL last season.
Outside of Stephon Gilmore and Eddie Jackson, there might have been no defensive back in the league who had a more brilliant 2018 season than Desmond King. Not only did he have three interceptions, including a game-clinching pick-six, and was one of the premiere slot corners in the NFL, he was also fourth in punt return average with at least 20 attempts and scored another TD that way.
Another up-and-coming pass rusher is the Jags’ Yannick Ngakoue. After 12 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2017 I expected some higher production, but like I already mentioned before – the Jaguars played a lot of games from behind and he didn’t have as many chances to rush, yet he still came up just half a sack short of double-digits and he added 33 quarterback hits.
Probably the final member of the All-Underrated team over the past five years is Ryan Kerrigan. Over that stretch he has ranked at the top in terms of run defense and total quarterback pressures for all edge defenders. The crazy thing is that he has the pure stats to back up his play as well – 60 sacks over those five years!
91. Jared Goff
92. Mitchell Schwartz
93. Alex Mack
94. Kyle Fuller
95. Joe Mixon
96. Shaq Mason
97. Ryan Ramczyk
98. Stefon Diggs
99. Adam Thielen
100. Matthew Stafford
I am sorry, but I can’t put Goff any higher than this after what I’ve seen from him against some of the top defenses in the league. Sean McVay is a genius play-caller and takes a lot of pressure of his QB by giving him easy completions off bootlegs and screen passes, but when Goff needed to adjust versus defenses like the Bears or Patriots, he turned the ball over and could not put up any points.
Outside of Lane Johnson, I think Mitchell Schwartz is the best right tackle in the league today. He has gone over 1000 offensive snaps in all seven years of his NFL career and always been a consistent performer. However, these last two years he has taken his game to another level, allowing just five combined sacks despite facing the likes of Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and others in the AFC West.
While I do believe Jason Kelce is clearly the top center in the game today, Alex Mack is probably the obvious choice for number two. Since he arrived in Atlanta, the Falcons have had one of the top zone-rushing attacks in the league when they have been healthy and the offensive line has seen a major upgrade during that stretch.
One of the best gambling cornerbacks in the league, Kyle Fuller was tied with Xavien Howard for the lead-league in interceptions with seven of those. He also broke up an additional 21 passes throughout the year due to his ability to plant and drive on the ball. However, as I mentioned before, having Eddie Jackson cleaning up behind him is what allows Fuller to be that aggressive.
When I first evaluated Mixon coming out of Oklahoma I thought his talent was worthy a top 20 selection, but that incident he had punching a woman obviously took him off the board for several teams. The Bengals might have taken some heat for selecting the person, but the player was outstanding in year two. In 14 games he went for 1464 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns.
Let’s give another interior offensive lineman some love here. While I think the tackles in that Patriots offense have been overrated due to the quick-rhythm passing game and other teams ended up overpaying for them, Belichick had no problem paying Mason big money dollars last offseason. For anybody who watches them up front, he is extremely important moving defenders off the ball in New England’s power run game that they punished people with last season and PFF actually had him as the number one overall guard in the league.
I know his name might be hard to spell, but people need to start getting to know who Ryan Ramczyk is. With a banged up Terron Armstead, he was the best offensive linemen on the Saints last season, keeping MVP candidate Drew Brees clean and cranking up one of the league’s best rushing attacks. According to PFF he allowed pressures on just 3.3 percent of his pass sets.
Up next I have the duo of Vikings receivers, who I think are much closer to each other than people think. I actually have Diggs slightly ahead of him teammate, because he is more of a big-play threat as well as a smoother pass-catcher. He has only dropped six passes in his career and went for over 1000 yards despite missing a couple of games in 2018.
However, as much as I like Diggs, I will not disrespect the production Thielen has brought to the table. Over the last two years he has amassed a combined 2649 yards trough the air despite a change at quarterback from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins. Thielen had that crazy nine-game stretch of 100+ receiving yards to start last season, but he only eclipsed that mark once from that point on.
It definitely was a down-year for Matthew Stafford under the new regime in Detroit, but I think a lot of that has to with the shift in mentality. The Lions QB was used to getting in the shotgun 35-40 times a game and pulling a rabbit out of his hat at the end of fourth quarters to win games, but with the arrival of Matt Patricia, they went to more of a run-oriented, multiple personnel offensive approaches. Let’s see if he can adjust to that, because he definitely has the talent.
Status still up in the air: Todd Gurley, Tyreek Hill, Travis Frederick, Cam Newton
With these four guys I’m just not sure about their status in 2019 and going forward.
Gurley has now scored 30 touchdowns in his last 29 games and been arguably the best running back during that stretch, but he was pretty much a non-factor in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. The reports about arthritis in his knees and the fact they traded up for a big-play back on day two of the draft is not encouraging.
Hill somehow seems to be getting off the hook because he is a superstar, but until his status is cleared up I am not putting him on my list. When on the field he is one of the most electric playmakers in the league, but when I first heard the reports on him, I thought he might never play in the NFL anymore.
Frederick had to fight through something way scarier than any 300-pounder across from him last year, when he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease before the start of the 2018 season. Now he is on his way back to a full recovery and when he is right, he is one of the top three centers in the league. I just want to see back on the field first.
And finally, Cam Newton was just outside my top 100 last year and would not have made the list going into 2019 when looking at his play when last seen in an NFL game. However, I know that his shoulder was not right and we can’t really look at him beyond the first half of the season. He did win league MVP back in 2015 and is still an incredible talent.
The next 30 names: