Every year NFL Network puts out a list of the Top 100 Players for the upcoming season, as voted by their peers. I have talked about the flaws of that whole process a few times already – the players only write down their top 20 players, which is understandable, but also doesn’t result in the proper results, since everybody is somewhat to put their guys on; not all players actually get to watch a lot of games, if they don’t include teams they actually face or are limited to watching highlights; and the voting concludes before the playoff are even here, which can be the only somewhat logical reason, Patrick Mahomes was only number four on the official list – even though that would still be wrong.
For the purpose of this list, I first put together my rankings of the top players at every single position, but then somewhat went off script by just writing down names in the order that they shot into my head, before comparing it with the positional rankings and trying to weigh guys against each other. And just to make this clear – these rankings are based on players regardless of their position, since otherwise would have almost half the starting quarterbacks in the league within the top 20 or so. And of course this is a bit of a projection and not solely built on what these players did this previous season, but also not about where they will be at the end of 2020.
Here is my list:
1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Aaron Donald
3. Russell Wilson
4. Lamar Jackson
5. Stephon Gilmore
6. Julio Jones
7. George Kittle
8. Quenton Nelson
9. Jamal Adams
10. Jalen Ramsey
What is there still to say about Mahomes? In just two years as a starter, he has been a league MVP and just led his team to three consecutive double-digit comebacks to get that Lombardi trophy. He is the most talented player I have ever seen and will now have the Chiefs as contenders in the AFC for the next decade, after signing that blockbuster deal. You can not tell me there are three humans on earth that are better at football than this guy.
If we lived in a world without Mahomes, Donald would be the obvious pick here for the best player regardless of position. You can easily argue that the gap between the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and the next-closest players is even bigger (since I have a QB at three), since Donald doesn’t just have the numbers despite facing constant attention, but does so much more that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, in terms of blowing up plays before they can even get going.
Wilson to me has earned his way up to being the second-best quarterback in the league. He throws those unbelievable rainbow deep balls, is elusive as it gets at extending plays as a passer and seems to always come through when his team needs him most. He has covered up a lot of issues for the Seahawks – leading his team to a winning record every single season of his career – and the only thing that can hold him back is his own conservative coaching staff.
I “only” have the league’s reigning MVP at number four, because I think there are two more proven quarterbacks and there are definitely things he can still improve upon, but holy crap, was this guy exciting last season. Lamar led the league with 43 total touchdowns and a ridiculous 9.0 touchdown percentage. His QB-record 1206 yards on the ground helped the Ravens break the all-time rushing mark for a team, but as spectacular as he was in the open field, the stats say he was also elite from within the pocket.
The reigning DPOY shows up at number five here for me and while there were other worthy candidates, Gilmore was on a different level as the other corners in the league last season. He was tied for the lead-league in interceptions and scored more touchdowns (2) than he was responsible for in coverage (1), while allowing a league-best completion percentage of 44.6 and 41.8 passer rating. Outside of a week 17 blunder, he shut down every top receiver he faced.
Julio to me is still the best receiver in the game and it’s not that close to be honest. His freakish combination of size, speed, leaping ability and hands set him apart from most guys, but it is the way he has continued to advance as a route-runner and technician that have paved his way to being an all-time great. Over the last six seasons, he has averaged 1565 receiving yards per season and his 96.2 yards per game is almost ten yards more than any player in NFL history.
The best and most complete tight-end today is Kittle. There are only five players in the entire league with more receiving yards over the last two seasons, despite seeing about 60 targets less than the five guys ahead of him, and his 1507 yards after the catch over that stretch is second only to Christian McCaffrey. As impressive as all that is, he is equally valuable as a run-blocker, being a huge factor in setting things up for the 49ers’ second-ranked rushing attack.
I know he has only been in the league for two years, but I would already take Nelson over any other interior offensive lineman in football without a doubt. When I evaluated his college tape, I thought he was a generational prospect and he has come nothing short of his expectations. Nelson has only been responsible for one sack in those two seasons combined and been named a First-Team All-Pro in both of them.
If you want to know how great Adams is, just check out the kind of compensation Seattle gave up to acquire a disgruntled player at a position that is deemed undervalued by most people. The Jets are probably happy to still get as much back as they did, but Adams was their best run-defender, coverage player and pass-rusher. He is a chess piece, that improves every area of a defense and gives them an attitude and tremendous versatility.
The one guy who can challenge Stephon Gilmore for the title as best corner in the league is Ramsey. While the numbers in coverage didn’t look quite as impressive last season, switching teams mid-season and missing four games, he still only allowed 45.6 yards per game and one total touchdown in coverage. Ramsey is one of only two or three guys at the position, who can match up with the opposing’s top receiver every single play.
11. Saquon Barkley
12. Christian McCaffrey
13. Michael Thomas
14. Khalil Mack
15. Von Miller
16. Deshaun Watson
17. Minkah Fitzpatrick
18. Davante Adams
19. Bobby Wagner
20. Travis Kelce
It was a very close race for the top back in the game, but I just had to go with the unbelievable talent of Saquon here. He is so explosive, elusive and powerful. Barkley was banged up for pretty much half of last season, but still averaged 5.4 yards per touch and 60 percent of his rushing yards came after contact, with bad offensive line play in front of him, that had him avoiding defenders as soon as he got the handoff at times. His 279 scrimmage yards against Washington in week 16 was the most since Julio Jones’ 300-yard performance in 2016.
McCaffrey comes in right behind Barkley, coming off a highly impressive season. CMac became just the third player in NFL history to put up 1000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season and also easily leading the league with 2392 scrimmage yards. Maybe even more impressive – he had eight yards more after the catch (1013) than total receiving yards. Nobody is a bigger asset running routes out of the backfield, but he has also become a much more efficient in-between-the-tackler runner.
Thomas set a new all-time record with 149 receptions last season and led the league with 1725 receiving yards. The crazy thing about that is the fact he lead all receiver in catch percentage last season at 80.5, despite being really the only guy the Saints could rely upon at that position on a weekly basis. He’s not nearly as dangerous after the catch or on vertical patterns as guys like Julio Jones or Tyreek Hill, but he is so physical and constantly comes through on third downs.
When you look at what Mack had done in the five years since his rookie season (49 sacks and 76 TFLs over four seasons), he didn’t quite live up to his lofty standards last season. With that being said, he is still the most impactful guy coming off the edge when totally healthy. He is an elite run-defender, routinely puts offensive tackles on skates and has a knack for getting the ball out (11 forced fumbles since 2018).
Similar to Mack – and as it has been like for several years now when these two have been right next to each other in any rankings – Miller had a down-year in 2019. He did not reach double-digit sacks for the first time since 2013, when he was put on IR mid-season, but I expect that to go back to normal with more help around him. His burst, ability to bend and smarts for the position will create issue for offenses once again this season.
Deshaun is just an absolute baller. Like his former college head coach Dabo Swinney said, he is Michael Jordan-like in the big moments. Over the last two seasons, he has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for just over 4000 yards on average and 52 touchdowns compared to 21 INTs over that stretch. More importantly, he gets the Texans out of the toughest situations and has led five game-winning drives in both years. I don’t think anybody else could have led this team back in that Wildcard game, other than maybe Mahomes.
After coming over from Miami via trade early last season, Fitzpatrick completely turned around this Steelers defense by bringing the secondary together and became one of the premiere play-makers in the entire league. He came up with eight takeaways and scored two touchdowns himself, with both of them completely shifting the momentum those respective games. Minkah is most valuable patrolling the deep middle of the field, but offers the versatility to play just about everywhere.
I know this may be a little bit of a controversial pick, with other guys at the receiver position deserving consideration, but to me Adams right now is the third-best receiver in the game. He came up with three yards short of cracking the 1000-yard mark due to missing four games and dealing with a banged up toe, but he came up big in two playoff games, with 300 combined yards and two TDs. Adams offers the best releases in the game, as well as beautifully setting up routes with head-nods and body language, to go with tremendous body-control.
Now that Luke Kuechly has retired, B-Wagz to me is the clear choice as the top middle linebacker in football. He displays great range and has to cover a lot of ground with how much base personnel the Hawks run. Wagner is also a very secure tackler, who led the league in take-downs for the second time in his career last season, after missing just one of his attempts the year before. What doesn’t get enough attention is his football IQ and the process of getting to the ball in the first place.
If I told you the next player has caught 200 passes for 2565 yards and 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons, you would say that’s a great receiver – since that ranks behind only Julio, Mike Thomas, D-Hop and Mike Evans. What is even more impressive about those numbers is that Kelce has averaged 9.0 yards despite that high target share. He is the premiere flex receiving tight-end, who can be moved all over the formation and create problems.
21. Fletcher Cox
22. Chris Jones
23. Chandler Jones
24. Cameron Jordan
25. DeAndre Hopkins
26. Tyreek Hill
27. Aaron Rodgers
28. T.J. Watt
29. Carson Wentz
30. J.J. Watt
In a world without Aaron Donald, Cox would be known as the best defensive tackle over the last decade. He has only reached double-digit sacks once in his career and to be fair, dipped a little last season, but the numbers will never tell the whole story as what kind of player he is. He has that quickness to shoot through gaps and show up in the backfield, but he can also bench-press 330-pounders and toss them to the side when he needs to. Just watch him destroy the interior O-line of the Seahawks and almost singlehandedly keep them in that Wildcard Round game without Carson Wentz.
Nipping at the heels of Cox is another game-wrecker on the inside of the defense for the reigning Super Bowl champs. Jones may not nearly be the same run-stopper at the point of attack, but his length and burst off the ball allow him to impact plays in a penetrating role and he is an elite pass-rusher at his position. 24.5 sacks and 49 QB hits in his last 29 games is highly impressive, but in the biggest game, he only logged on tackle and still made a huge impact, with a couple of batted passes and directly forcing a pick.
The most overlooked edge rusher and maybe overall player in the league over the last several years has been Chandler Jones. Since coming over to Arizona in 2016, he has led the league with 60 sacks and 17 forced fumbles, while also being near the top in total pressure numbers every single season. That is despite playing on one the worst defensive units over the last couple of years and having no legitimate threat up front with pretty much the entire time.
Cam Jordan is a very unique player. He has more of a 3-4 defensive end body type, rather than your typical edge rusher. He has great power and strings his hands and feet together really well, but what makes him special is the way he can read pass-sets and take advantage of weight-distribution and how far tackles open up their hips. Not only did Jordan set a personal high with 15.5 sacks last season, but he is also an excellent run-defender (15 TFLs).
Even though his trade to Arizona is still confusing for most people, when you see how little his new team had to give up, don’t let that make you think D-Hop isn’t a top-tier receiver anymore. If you take out the 2016 season, when Brock Osweiler could not have gotten the ball to his superstar receiver, even if he were just inches away, he has averaged 1369 receiving yards and 9.6 touchdowns since his rookie season. He may not as homerun-hitter, but he might be the most physical receiver off the ball and at the catch point, plus he has the best hands in the game.
Did I just say homerun hitter? Outside of Julio, I think there is an argument to be made that Tyreek is the next-best receiver in the league. He breaks the game open with his next-level speed and changes how defensive coordinators have to call coverages. However, he is much more than just a deep threat, with quick feet to stop and start on his routes, he shows great concentration when the ball is in the air and he does now shy away from the physical aspect of football.
We have not seen Rodgers play at that elite level since 2016, when he led the league in touchdown passes (40), but he is still one of the best in the game. He has lost just a little bit of his elusiveness to extend plays and does not take as many chances down the field as we are used to from him, but his quick release, ability to see the field and the arm talent to throw off platform are all still special. Just watch what he does in his second year in Matt LaFleur’s system, with added motivation.
The younger T.J. Watt stepped out of the shadow of his older brother last season, when he finished top five in sacks (14.5) and quarterback hits (36), while also leading the league with eight fumbles forced and recovering another four, to go with a couple of picks. He finished behind only Stephon Gilmore and Chandler Jones in the hunt for his first DPOY trophy and will be a terror on Pittsburgh’s ferocious defense for years to come.
At 29 is the player that shamefully didn’t even make the official top 100 list. Maybe it is people still saying Nick Foles won the Eagles their Super Bowl or they call him injury-prone, but let’s not forget Wentz set this team up with home-field advantage through the playoffs back in 2017 in an MVP-level season and he has actually missed only eight of 64 career regular season games. Last year he put the team on his back, with practice squad players catching passes and both his tackles missing multiple weeks, and led them to a home playoff game.
Closing is the top 30 is the older Watt brother. I gave the slightest edge to the Pittsburgh outside backer. He certainly the track record as one of only two guys to be named Defensive Player of the Year three times in his career, but injuries have started taking a toll on him and over the last four years, he has missed the equivalent of two full seasons. However, when he played all 16 games in 2018, he still topped his little bro with 16 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He played at a very high level when healthy last season and miraculously returned in the playoffs to make a big impact against Buffalo.
31. Marlon Humphrey
32. Derwin James
33. Mike Evans
34. Eddie Jackson
35. Alvin Kamara
36. Derrick Henry
37. Tre’Davious White
38. Zack Martin
39. Dalvin Cook
40. Nick Chubb
One of the most underrated guys on the player’s countdown is Humphrey. To me there are no five corners in the game that you can tell me are better than this guy – and I actually have him at number three. He is long and physical in press-coverage, he can move into the slot, he is a hard hitter from that position and he is like a magnet for the ball, with three interceptions, two fumbles forced and three recovered. Humphrey is only 24 years old and already near the top of football.
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently said something pretty interesting, when he tweeted that “if you put all players in a league-wide draft, Derwin James would be the top safety on every board”. To me Jamal Adams has done enough to earn the title as best player at that position and Derwin only played five games, but the Chargers superstar can do pretty much everything Jamal does, in terms of defending the run as a box-defender, blitzing off multiple spots and just being a position-less player, while also having the range to basically play free safety.
Big Mike has now become only the second receiver in NFL history alongside Randy Moss to start his career with six consecutive 1000-yard receiving seasons. He gets in and out his breaks better than you would ever think of a 6’5”, 230-pound guy, he is much more of a vertical threat than people label him as, averaging 1.5 yards more per catch than Tyreek Hill (17.5), and he obviously dominates at the catch point, while also bullying DBs as a blocker.
At 34 I have another defensive back, who has become a highly underrated player in my opinion. Somehow Eddie Jackson didn’t make the official list, which is still mind-blowing to me, because just a year ago, he was right up there among the premiere defensive play-makers in the game. His takeaways went way down on a Bears defense that took a step back, after coming up with eight of those in 2018 and scoring a league-high three defensive TDs, but he is still one of the smartest and rangiest player on the back-end we have in the game.
That third running back behind Saquon and McCaffrey was a tough choice, which is indicated by four players at that position over the next six spots, but I went with Kamara here. He recently that he basically played on one leg last season, which may be a little exaggerated, but when healthy, his explosiveness and contact balance are second to none, plus he is an elite weapon out of the backfield, who is basically un-coverable on option routes.
The next guy here is the reigning rushing leader Derrick Henry. This may seem a little low for him and he is the only one of this group to get that second contract so far, but since he is only a factor on screen plays in the passing game, I could not put him any higher. Still, what King Henry did down the stretch was unbelievable. He put the team on his back, rushing for 896 yards over his final six games in the regular season and 374 yards combined in wins over the then-reigning Super Bowl champs and the team with the best record in the league, on the way to the AFC title game.
Another corner that I just love to watch is the Bills’ Tre’Davious White. While he plays in a zone-heavy system, that doesn’t leave him on an island as much as a Stephon Gilmore or a Jalen Ramsey, he is tremendous in that role and can match up against some top receivers one-on-one. What makes him special is the ability to anticipate routes and read the receiver and the quarterback at the same time. He was tied for the lead-league with six INTs, while deflecting another 17 passes and forcing a couple of fumbles.
Martin has been as consistent as it gets. He has started all but two of his 96 career games at right guard and been named First-Team All-Pro in four of six NFL season. Over the course of his career, he has allowed just eight total sacks and he was flagged for holding just once last season and four times in the last four seasons. He is a road-grader on gap and zone schemes, while having a tremendous anchor and clamps in protector.
Did you know Dalvin Cook finished second behind only Christian McCaffrey in scrimmage yards per game? He was tremendous for Minnesota last season in that zone-based rushing attack and a real weapon out of the backfield, catching 53 of 63 targets for over 500 yards. Dalvin is so good at pressing the front-side and then transitioning in one step to cut off the backside, while also having the burst to threaten the edges of a defense, and he has become a very tough runner.
My final RB here is Nick Chubb. There were a lot of stars on this underperforming Browns team last season, but this guy was the best player for them pretty much every single week. Similar to Henry, Chubb is not the most valuable receiver, but his physical running style was the best part about Cleveland’s offense. He can run inside and outside zone, does a great job setting up power plays and not only is he patient with letting plays develop, he has great acceleration once he puts on the gas and consistently falls forward.
41. Myles Garrett
42. DeForest Buckner
43. Tom Brady
44. Ryan Ramczyk
45. Odell Beckham Jr.
46. Za’Darius Smith
47. Tyrann Mathieu
48. Lane Johnson
49. Nick Bosa
50. Chris Godwin
What happened in that week 11 Steelers game was not pretty and I’m sure people will bring it no matter what this kid continues to accomplish, but he just got a mega contract and to me is ready put his name among the elite defensive players in football. Garrett has only played 37 career games so far, but he has already put together 30.5 sacks and 32 tackles for loss, with one QB take-down per game last season. He is obviously an athletic freak, but his pass-rush arsenal has come a long way already.
DeFo is one of the most talented defensive linemen in all of football, but his technique has improved every single season and among all that talent on the NFC champions’ roster, he was named team MVP. As great as he was all the way throughout the regular season, he terrorized the interior O-line of the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The 49ers had to move on from him this offseason due to cap reasons, but he immediately a key piece for that Colts D.
He might be the GOAT, but Brady lands at number 43 for me heading into 2020. Contrary to popular belief, his arm isn’t far off from what it was when he entered the league at the start of the millennium and his pocket movement is impeccable, but what bothered me when watching him play last season, was that reluctancy to stand tall in the pocket and take the punishment in order to deliver big plays, which will be an interesting mesh with Bruce Arians’ vertical passing attack.
While there about five guys in that conversation for me right now, Ryan Ramczyk earned the top spot here. More of a luxury pick three years ago, he ended up sliding right in at right tackle and has been absolute stalwart for them ever. Ramczyk has started 47 of 48 games and improved every single season, earning first-team All-Pro honors last season, when he did not allow a single sack and had did not have a holding call accepted against him past week two.
This is the lowest I have had Odell in my rankings since his rookie season. I have never been a huge fan of the antics with him, but the media constantly bashing on him has turned me into a fan, and I believe he will make all the haters shut up in 2020. OBJ was dealing with a foot injury all of last year and the amount of miscues between him and Baker Mayfield was countless, when it comes to break off or adjusting routes on the fly. He is still one of the all-time talents.
New to the list is a guy, who was quietly getting the job done as a rotational piece in Baltimore’s defensive front for a few years, before getting a big contract by the Packers. Smith instantly went from a nice player to one the premiere edge rushers in the entire league. While he “only” finished sixth with 13.5 sacks, he led all players with 93 total pressures and also had the fourth-most TFLs (17). I love the way Mike Pettine moves him around all over the formation in Green Bay.
The one thing I actually learned from the official top 100 is the fact Tyrann Mathieu was actually named team MVP, despite playing with the best player in the entire league. As explosive as that Chiefs offense is, the difference for this team was how the Honeybadger helped turn around this defensive unit and the energy he brought to the table. Mathieu can line up in the box, cover the slot, drop into deep coverage, blitz from multiple spots and tackle in the open field.
Another guy in that tackle conversation is maybe the most athletic one of the bunch. Johnson only played in 12 games last season, but he was tremendous in those, allowing just one sack and being called for holding once, despite facing some great pass-rushers in the NFC East and the conference overall. He has the feet to seal the edges in the run game and works up to the second level as well as anybody in the league.
The top rookie on the list this year is Nick Bosa. Making the top 20 on the official list seems a little rich, but this guy was dominant from the moment he stepped onto the field. Bosa finished one sack short or cracking double-digits, but he easily blew away the rookie record for total pressures (80) and finished tied for fifth overall in the regular season, plus another crazy 22 in the playoffs. He was also tied for fifth in tackles for loss (16) and got a pick, whilst constantly playing with all-out effort.
One of the biggest breakout players last season was Godwin. I predicted this already the year prior and wasn’t wrong necessarily, when he finished with 842 yards and seven touchdowns, but he took it to another level in 2019, when he finished third in receiving yards (1333) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (9) despite missing two games. He is so tough going over the middle to get those hard-earned yards, is incredibly hard to bring down after the catch (577 YAC) and led the league in 20+ yard receptions (25).
51. Jason Kelce
52. Darius Leonard
53. Ronnie Stanley
54. Joey Bosa
55. Kevin Byard
56. Danielle Hunter
57. Mitchell Schwartz
58. Eric Kendricks
59. Jadeveon Clowney
60. Aaron Jones
The title for best center in the league has been in Philadelphia for at least the last three years and to me also for the decade. He may not as powerful as a few other guys, but the mobility to beat linebackers to the spot or can put hands on people as a puller or on screen plays allows the Eagles to do pretty much anything, while also doing a great job of recovering in pass-pro and transitioning assignments. Kelce has allowed multiple sacks just once since 2015.
There is a pretty significant drop-off between the first and second linebacker, but right now I would take Leonard behind only Bobby Wagner. Over his two years in the league (28 games), he has put together 284 tackles (including leading the league as a rookie), intercepted seven passes, forced six fumbles, recorded 12 sacks and deflected another 15 passes. “The Maniac” shows up all over the field and truly has a knack for the ball.
My top left tackle in the league is Ronnie Stanley. He took his game to another level last season, when he was named a first-team All-Pro. On 515 pass-blocking snaps, he did not allow a single sack and didn’t surrender any pressures in nine games. He also was a huge piece to the Ravens breaking the NFL’s all-time rushing yardage record (3296 yards) that had stood for over 40 years, as Stanley had the lowest percentage of negatively-graded run blocking snaps according to PFF.
Joey comes in five spots below his younger brother for me. While I believe Nick Bosa is a little more athletically gifted, Joey came into the league slightly more technically refined in his hand-usage. He may not quite have the burst off the ball like a Danielle Hunter or the ability to bend like a Von Miller, but Bosa is as complete a defensive end as we have in the game. He does a great job setting the edge in the run game and when he gets after the passer, he is so smooth with his hand-combos and finds the weakness of the tackle’s pass-sets.
Another one of those enormous snubs from the actual list is Byard, who has become one of the premiere safeties in the game. Over the last three seasons, he leads the league with 17(!) interceptions and broke up another 33 passes. The range he presents as a deep-middle safety and the confidence he has in his game, combined with extremely dependable tackling in space (just two of 86 attempts missed last season), definitely earn him a spot.
Since I just talked about Hunter, this is where he comes in. The Vikings D-end is another one of those guys, who has improved pretty much every year, since coming in as a pretty raw product from LSU. Hunter has put up 14.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons, but he massively improved his total pressure number of 97 (including the playoffs) and he actually got the ball out of the quarterbacks as well (three forced fumbles). He is an athletic phenom, who has learned to string moves together incredibly well.
We have started a bit of a run on offensive tackles here, with Schwartz coming in slightly outside the top 50. There is a good argument to be made for this guy being the best at his position, especially if you base it off that incredibly postseason run he just had, when he allowed no sacks and just one total pressure on 142 pass-blocking snaps against some of the baddest dudes on the planet. Schwartz wasn’t responsible for any sacks through the regular season either and the Chiefs averaged an NFL-best 5.93 yards per carry through the gaps to either side of him.
If you just base the list on this past season, you could argue Kendricks was the best linebacker in all of football. He has been a beast against the run pretty much since coming into the league, but what put him on a different level last season was his play in coverage. Kendricks allowed only 53.3 percent of the passes his way to be completed (very low for a LB) and broke up 12 passes, leading to a forced incompletion rate of 21.9 percent, which is more than four percent better than Luke Kuechly in his best season (who had been the previous record-holder).
Let’s get this out of the way – Clowney can be an absolute game-wrecker. However, I really struggled with his ranking, because he is such a disruptive player when on the field – which the stats simply don’t tell you – but injuries have just been too much of an issue for him. That is also a big reason why he is still signed. Yet, you can not overlook how incredibly gifted Clowney is and how much better he has gotten with his hands. That week ten game at San Francisco was the best performance from a defensive player all season long.
It’s always great when you predict a player to break out and he actually does. Jones already was on all my fantasy teams two years ago, but I said he would take another step forward in 2019 and he surprised even me. His 1558 scrimmage yards were the eight-most in entire league and he was tied for the most touchdowns at 19, while touching the ball almost 60 times less than the backs ahead of him (285 touches). He is so explosive and can just slither through defenses, while also being a true downfield threat as a receiver.
61. Shaquil Barrett
62. Ezekiel Elliott
63. David Bakhtiari
64. Keenan Allen
65. Akiem Hicks
66. Zach Ertz
67. Justin Simmons
68. Matt Ryan
69. Juju Smith-Schuster
70. Drew Brees
I always thought Barrett was a good player as part of that rotation in Denver, but when he finally got a chance to shine, that’s exactly what he did. After posting 14 combined sacks over his four season with the Broncos, he led the league with 19.5 in his first year with Tampa Bay. He also finished second in tackles for loss (19) and forced six fumbles. Watching him rush the passer, his game is built on the bull rush and long-arm, off which he can covert power-to-speed, in terms giving a little hesitation and then winning on a quick burst to the outside.
Talking about the top backs in the game, Elliott’s name doesn’t come up too often for me anymore. He still finished fourth in the league with 1357 rushing yards, but that was running behind a top-five offensive line and he just looked a step slow to what we have seen from him, without that explosion through the hole and turning those good runs into big gains. With that being said, he might still be the most complete back in the game and could return to glory in 2020.
It almost feels bad to put Bakhtiari this low, but he is still one of those five elite offensive tackles. I think what puts him as last of that group is the fact he is closer to the average in terms of his run-blocking than the other guys. Still, he has been the best pass-protector over the last four years at least, when he did not allow more than three sacks once and the lowest amount of total pressures, despite his QB finishing in the top six of time to throw in all but one of them. While he did allow two sacks through the first half of last season, from week ten all the way through the NFC Championship game, he did not surrender a single one.
If you asked me who the best route-runner in the game today was, I would probably say Keenan Allen. He is so elusive off the line, deceptive with how he sets up his breaks and he has that quick-twitch to create separation on the short and intermediate level. He does lack some vertical speed and his YACability isn’t among the best at the position, which is why he isn’t even higher, but if you need somebody to get open on third downs, this is your guy. He terrorized Darius Slay last season.
Hicks did miss missed 11 games last season, but unlike the players around the league apparently – I did not forget about him. With just one sack and five TFLs in the five games he did play, it’s understandable that he would drop in the rankings, but let’s forget that in 2018 he rivaled Fletcher Cox and Chris Jones for the league’s best D-tackle not named Aaron Donald. Hicks was a frequent visitor in the backfield, with both ten marks in QB pressures and defensive stops. His impact was felt most when he wasn’t on the field for the Bears last season and they were closer to average than number one.
While Kittle and Kelce to me are clearly in a tier of their own, Ertz is still that third guy at the tight-end position. He has been one of the most productive pass-catchers in the entire league for several years now. After setting a new record for most receptions in a season for a TE (118) in 2018, he took a little step back last year. Ertz is by far Carson Wentz’s favorite target, having lead the Eagles in both receptions and receiving yards in all four seasons the QB has been there for. Since he isn’t as much of a downfield or YAC threat as the other two guys at his position – as well as only being an okay blocker – this is where he falls for me.
Somehow I think the player just don’t respect safeties, since this is the third guy now that should have clearly made the list at that position. I have always been a fan of Simmons and called for him getting more playing time, after mostly being a backup his rookie season, when the Broncos last won the Super Bowl. His range, instincts and smarts as a single-high free safety have allowed him to become a true difference-maker. And he certainly had the stats to back it up last season, with four picks and 15 more plays on the ball.
Matty Ice has never gotten the love he deserves on this list or from people covering the league as a whole. People seem to still think about the 28-3 game and while his MVP season was more of an outlier due to playing with the game’s best offensive mind in Kyle Shanahan, he has thrown for 4000+ yards in nine straight seasons, completing exactly two-thirds of his passes for a TD-to-INT ratio of 2.26 and a passer rating of 97 over that stretch. He has pretty much always been second tier for me, but he has had to deal with some bad O-line play and a couple of questionable years of play-calling under Steve Sarkisian.
2019 was not a good season for Juju by any means. He missed four games and had less than half the production of the year prior. However, a lot of that had to do with the worst quarterback situation in the league and you don’t put over 2300 yards and 14 TDs before you even turn 23, if you aren’t a special player. With Big Ben under center in ’18, Juju finished top five in the NFL with 1426 yards and was named team MVP over Antonio Brown – which the latter let us know later on.
I know this is what will get me the most hate, but whenever people want to give me all the stats on Drew Brees, they forget to mention that he is playing behind an elite offensive line, a record-setting receiver, one of the premiere pass-catching backs and one of the all-time great play-callers. I have called him a well-oiled machine in that Sean Payton offense several times and his command of that group is impeccable, but the raw arm talent simply isn’t quite there anymore.
71. Dak Prescott
72. Demario Davis
73. Stefon Diggs
74. Marcus Peters
75. Fred Warner
76. Cameron Heyward
77. Calais Campbell
78. Grady Jarrett
79. Jaylon Smith
80. Deion Jones
I feel like the first time in his career, Dak Prescott was the driving force of this Cowboys offense, rather Zeke and that rushing attack. He set new personal marks in passing yards (4902), touchdowns (30) and yards per attempt (8.2), but the team only went 8-8. A lot of that had to do with Zeke not quite being the same and the defense struggling to stop the opposition or take the ball away, but Dak also came up small in some of their big games and will never dissect defenses like a Brady or Brees.
Davis quietly was a first-team All-Pro linebacker in 2019, thanks in large part to his great play against the pass, with 12 pass break-ups and a pick. Over his last three seasons with the Jets and Saints, he has put together 258 solo tackles, with 35 of them for loss, and 14 sacks. Davis has the speed to scrape over the top of blockers or shoot through the gap with an attitude, he allowed only 4.3 yards per target in coverage last season and missed just five tackles all year long.
Diggs is an excellent all-around receiver, but he was the best deep threat in the game last season. His 1130 receiving yards on 17.9 yards per catch made up for the third-highest share of his team’s air yardage (41.27 percentage) behind only Courtland Sutton and Michael Thomas, whilst catching 87(!) passes less than the latter one. I can’t wait to watch him catch bombs from Josh Allen, whose deep ball numbers will look a lot different with a receiver like that.
Since we’re handing out superlatives right now, Marcus Peters is the most dangerous player to throw against in coverage. When he came over to Baltimore, he immediately delivered game-changing plays, like a pick six in just his first game with the Ravens – one of three house-calls on the season. That ability to anticipate and jump routes is something opposing quarterbacks are petrified of, even though it can also lead to some gambles with unfortunate results.
I remember watching Warner coming out of BYU, who was right there as a top ten prospect at his position for me, playing SAM linebacker or almost like a big nickel, but he has transitioned beautifully to MIKE. The way he sniffs out plays, that blazing speed to shut things down and the way his play in space has translated to his coverage ability make him a special young talent. I had money on him as Super Bowl MVP and if Mahomes didn’t go crazy in the fourth quarter, I’d have a lot more money in my pocket right now. I would not be shocked if Warner is looked at as the top linebacker in all of football two years from now.
Cam Heyward has been one of the most underappreciated defensive players in the NFL for some time now. Two years ago I had him as a top 30 player on my list and while I’m happy the stats have finally caught up (29 sacks and 37 TFLs since 2017), his play has dipped a little bit since then and he was the third-best player on that unit at best. He is still one of the premiere run-stoppers and power-rushers in the game however.
Before talking about the player, is there anything “more Ravens” than trading a fifth-round pick for a guy who has been a Pro Bowler in five of the last six years. At 34 years old once the season kicks off, Campbell is certainly entering the later stages of his career, but that length and size still create major issues for anybody on the offensive line. Calais immediately improves that Baltimore pass-rush, with flexibility along the front.
Grady Jarrett is another one of those guys on the D-line, who can disrupt plays on a consistent basis. While the numbers have been pretty good for an interior player (17.5 sacks and 35 TFLs over the last three seasons), the tape is even more impressive. The way he can knife through a gap and go back-door on guys have him flash in the backfield routinely and his pass-rush has really come along. He finished last season as PFF’s number-three ranked defensive tackle.
The term sideline-to-sideline linebacker gets thrown around a lot, but one of those guys who can really run down anybody on the field is Jaylon Smith, People want to talk about how much better he was in 2018 with that duo of him and LVE, but statistically Smith was actually better, coming up with first INT, deflecting nine passes and missing a lower percentage of tackles, That entire Cowboys D struggled last season, but he is the piece they will build around for the future
And since we’re talking about rangy linebackers, let’s not forget about Jones. Coming out LSU five years ago, I personally though he was too small to play on the inside full-time, but he has proven me and many other wrong. I thought he should have been named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 after a phenomenal debut campaign and he has been the Falcons best (or second-best) defender pretty much ever since. His ability to avoid blocks in space makes us for a lack of bulk and he can cover so much ground in coverage, leading all LBs with 41 total plays on the ball since entering the NFL.
81. Joe Mixon
82. Melvin Ingram
83. Anthony Harris
84. Kenny Clark
85. Arik Armstead
86. Lavonte David
87. Harrison Smith
88. Cooper Kupp
89. Mark Andrews
90. Josh Jacobs
When I put together my list of the most underrated players at every position at the end of last season, I had Mixon as my pick for running back. He has lining up behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and still produced at a high level. Mixon is so elusive with the ball in his hands, but at 220 pounds he also features plenty of power to gain yards after contact (56.7 percent of his total in 2019). Overall he has put together 2888 yards and 17 touchdowns from scrimmage these last two years.
Ingram may not be among the league-leaders in sacks on an every-year basis, with his career-high at 10.5, but he is one of the most versatile players in all of football. This guy can move around all across the defensive front and create mismatches against pretty much anybody. Ingram is a fast ball off the edge, but he also has a devastating spin to counter inside and when he stands up and rushes against guards, his quickness is a nightmare. Going back to the 2018/19 playoffs, he had one of the greatest performances I have ever seen from a defensive player against Baltimore.
Here’s another safety who didn’t hear his name called on the official countdown. Harris was just tied for the lead-league with six interceptions and broke up another 11 passes, despite missing a couple of games last season. He is so rangy and has allowed the Vikings to play Harrison Smith primarily down low. When targeting him last season, he was credited with a passer rating of only 44.2 and he has improved so much as a tackler, missing just three attempts in each of the last two years.
The nose tackle has become one of the more devalued positions in football and a lot of those two-down run-stoppers don’t even have a job anymore, but Kenny Clark is the one guy who technically plays at that spot, but stays on the field in passing situations. Clark is an elite two-gapping run-defender, but he can also disengage to make plays in the backfield (17 TFLs) and his pass-rushing skills have caught up, recording six sacks in each of the last two seasons and 62 total pressures in ’19.
Another player who surprisingly didn’t make the list is Arik Armstead. While the people who say he is better than Buckner or Bosa don’t watch the game closely enough, but he is the guy with the most position-versatility along that front and he was actually the only one to record double-digit sacks. I was a little surprised to see the 49ers prioritize him over DeFo, but Armstead has certainly lived up to his first-round status and he has become what they hoped Solomon Thomas would be.
Talk about underappreciated players. In eight years with Tampa Bay, Lavonte David has amassed over 1000 tackles, 116 of those for loss, 22.5 sacks, 21 fumbles forced, 11 interceptions and 45 more passes defensed. And yet he has made the Pro Bowl just once in his career, which tells you how meaningless that is as a measurable for a player – to some degree like the top 100 list, which I love to follow. His instincts lead him to be ball-carrier before he can make it past the line of scrimmage routinely and David is tremendous all-around in coverage. That transition from outside in a 4-3 to now inside backer in Bucs defense was also incredibly smooth.
You didn’t have to wait look for the second Vikings safety, as Harry Hitman comes in at number 87 overall. While he is now on the wrong side of 30, he is still one of the most complete players in the league. For most of his career in Minnesota he was basically used as an edge setter in the run game as their boundary-side safety and you could rarely say he could be taken advantage of by bigger bodies. Smith has started to become more of a magnet for the ball these last three years, picking off 11 passes and breaking up another 29 over that stretch.
A guy I loved ever since watching him beat up DBs at the Senior Bowl is Cooper Kupp. Coming out of Eastern Washington, he wasn’t looked at as one of those athletic standouts, but as a rookie he came close to 900 receiving yards in that explosive Rams offense and after missing half the 2018 season, he was back even better last year. Kupp led his team in receptions (94), yards (1161) and touchdowns (10). He is faster than you think, he creates separation as a route-runner and he is one tough son of a gun.
Andrews finished fifth among tight-ends with 852 receiving yards and tied for second among all NFL players in touchdown catches. He was part of the greatest ground attack in NFL history, but when the Ravens threw the ball, he was Lamar’s favorite target. Andrews is absolutely a threat down the seams, but a lot of his production comes when curling up over the middle against zone and he is a beast in the red-zone, where you can just put the ball on the top shelf and he’ll come down with it.
While we don’t look at Jacobs as one of those guys who immediately put his name in the conversation with the elite backs in the game like a Zeke or Saquon, he almost quietly had a very impressive debut campaign. Despite missing three games and being on the field for just 45 percent of the snaps overall, he set a new rookie rushing record for the Raiders with 1150 yards. In all the metrics about individual contribution, somehow the rookie showed up all the time – number one in missed tackles forced (69), third in rushing yards over expectation (0.81) and others.
91. Budda Baker
92. Rodney Hudson
93. Brandon Scherff
94. Marshon Lattimore
95. Byron Jones
96. Amari Cooper
97. Darren Waller
98. Richard Sherman
99. Devin McCourty
100. Matthew Stafford
The first guy of this final group of ten is one of my favorites to watch in the entire league. Watching him coming out of Washington, Budda reminded me a lot of a young Tyrann Mathieu. At 5’10”, 190 pounds, he is a flying missile on the field. Even though tackles aren’t a very good statistic to evaluate players – and DBs in particular – Baker leading the league in solo tackles (104) and only missing seven percent of his attempts is pretty impressive. He doesn’t have great ball-production, but he can blitz off the edge and chase guys down, knock guys out of their cleats and he is just an eraser. There was one play against Pittsburgh in particular, where Diontae Johnson seems to have an easy touchdown and somehow this maniac comes all the way from the opposite of the field.
While Jason Kelce to me is the most complete center in the game, Hudson has easily been the most effective pass-protector at the position. In his five years with the Raiders, he has allowed just one combined sack and received the highest pass-blocking grade by PFF in all of them. Something he excels at in the run-game is executing those short skip-pulls and climbing up to the second level of double-teams to give his backs an open lane.
Since we’re giving love to the big uglies, let’s talk about another guy who has excelled over the last five seasons. Outside of his rookie season, he has allowed just 8.5 sacks and been one of the most dominant run-blockers in the game. He did have some issues with flags for holding, but he also helped pave the way for a 34-year old Adrian Peterson rush for 900 yards and Washington averaged 0.9 more in-between the guards than towards the edges.
If I had to point out somebody whose career development has been a little disappointing to me, I would mention Lattimore. After watching him as a rookie, I was ready to put him in the conversation for one of the top corners in the league for years to come, but in 2019, he was responsible for three touchdowns compare to only pick and a passer rating 90.9. Still, his feel for the position, the incredibly loose hips to recover at the break point and the overall athleticism still have me believing in him.
Another corner who took a slight step backwards last season is Jones. The catch rate and yards allowed per target were still up there with some of the best, but he also allowed three touchdowns and now has intercepted two passes in his entire career. Jones just got the biggest contract ever for a CB from Miami, because Brian Flores covets guys who can get in the face of receivers and tackle well (just one missed attempt last season). So he will have plenty of chances to lock guys down.
Let’s talk about somebody, who is still on the Cowboys. Amari Cooper is among the elite route-runners in the game and he has been one of the most productive pass-catchers in the league since coming over to Dallas. These last two years combined, he has recorded 2200 yards and 15 touchdowns, converting 72.7 percent of his receptions into first downs. The reason I don’t have him any higher is that he didn’t show up in the big games for his team – or on the road pretty much in general for that matter – and really struggled against the game’s top press-corners.
If the NFL handed out a “Most Improved Player” award like the NBA, Waller would have been right up there near the top of the list. He came into the league as an oversized wide receiver and in three seasons in the league – with one year away from the game – he caught just 18 passes for 178 yards. Last season he finished second among tight-ends behind only Travis Kelce in catches (90) and receiving yards (1145). His 9.8 yards per target were also better than Kelce and Kittle. He may not be your typical hand-in-the-dirt Y, but flexed out with his speed he is a nightmare to cover.
Another player I am much lower on than the players is Richard Sherman. I understand that the numbers for him were as good as anybody’s on this side of Stephon Gilmore and Sherm has been among the elite corners for at least half a decade, but he is now 32 and has lost some of that physical ability. He is still a great fit in that Seattle-based system, where his length and football IQ can really shine, but we also saw Sammy Watkins run right by him in the biggest moments of the Super Bowl.
Talk about aging players, who still excel in the system they are in. Devin McCourty was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year over the first half of 2019, ending up five INTs, seven PBUs and two forced fumbles. He is one of the smartest players in the entire league and a huge reason this Patriots defense has been one of the best for so many years. About to 33 years of age, there are some limitations when it comes to range and pure athleticism however.
And closing things out for me is Stafford. The Lions haven’t been relevant for most of his time there and people have been bashing on their QB throughout this team, but he has been one of the lone reasons they haven’t drafted in top five every year. For the past decade pretty much, Stafford has carried this team on his back – which he literally broke last year. He still has one of the most talented arms we have ever seen, is one of the most cold-blooded passers late in games and looked like an MVP candidate early on, in his second year in that offensive scheme, where he doesn’t have to make magic happen on every single snap.
Did not qualify:
We just have no idea about what his status was for all of 2019, other than not wanting to play for Washington. Last offseason, I had Williams just inside my top 50, right there with the Cowboys’ Tyron Smith, but both behind David Bakhtiari. Will he be the same player he was before then? The incredible power he has to go with the all-around athleticism for a guy his size give him a chance – and playing for Shanahan’s tackle-friendly offense in San Francisco should help.
This guy is one of the most talented pass-catching tight-ends in the game, but he just can’t stay healthy. Of Henry’s 191 catches in 41 career games, 98 of them have gone for first-downs and he is averaging 8.9 yards per target so far – which is right there with his division rival Kelce. However, four years into the league, he has yet to play a full 16 games and missed all of 2018. In 12 weeks last season, he caught 55 passes for 652 yards and five TDs.
This one’s fairly obvious. It’s a real bummer that Brooks will be out for the season with a torn Achilles, since he has been fighting for several injuries throughout his career and was at the top of his game in 2019. I actually had him at that top 50 range originally, before the news broke, as my third-highest ranked guard behind Quenton Nelson and Zack Martin. He is a people-mover in a run-game and like a wall to run through in protection.
All the players opting out of the 2020 season
Duh. Not that I would have put any of those guys on the list, but names like Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley and Michael Pierce aren’t too far off.
Just missed the cut:
101. Adam Thielen
102. Tyron Smith
103. Austin Ekeler
104. Kirk Cousins
105. Courtland Sutton
106. Kyler Murray
107. Austin Hooper
108. DeMarcus Lawrence
109. Chris Harris Jr.
110. Brandon Graham
111. Taylor Lewan
112. Laremy Tunsil
113. Terron Armstead
114. A.J. Bouye
115. Micah Hyde
116. Geno Atkins
117. Joel Bitonio
118. Kenny Golladay
119. Richie Incognito
120. Darius Slay