It’s that time of the year again! How the NFL’s official “Top 100 Players of 2022” list is being revealed has been as unclear as ever, in terms of initial release date and the frequency of episodes. Yet, we do finally know it’s coming out this Sunday and so as I do every year, I wanted to provide my own version of the list.
As always, the process of putting this together is very challenging and unlike the inherently flawed system of presenting players their own list of top-20 to fill out, which invites bias for teammates and gives us players towards the end of the countdown that shouldn’t be up in that top-20 stratosphere for any person. It’s also rarely clarified that this is a ranking of players for the upcoming (2022) season, rather than a look back at what happened last year.
Either way, having to actually put this whole thing together and explain it all does leave you dissatisfied, because there are so many guys you want to get on there, but you have to just make that cut-off. Once again, this is not a question of player value and we’re working under the assumption that each player would be in a neutral situation, rather than taking the pieces around him into account. There will always be a projection factor, but generally I tried to judge where players are currently, based on evidence we already have on them.
Two parameters to consider here – the players actually have to be by all likelihood available for the full 2022 NFL season, which excludes DeAndre Hopkins and by all accounts Deshaun Watson due to suspension, along with a few other names, who are expected to not be available for the start of the season based on injury, such as Chris Godwin. And everybody must have played at least ten games across the past two seasons, which disqualifies guys like Christian McCaffrey, Michael Thomas, Ronnie Stanley,and I also grouped David Bakhtiari with them, since he’s closer to that ten-game mark than full health it appears.
Let’s dive into the list:
1. Trent Williams
Since the start of the 2010’s (once I started religiously following the NFL), I haven’t seen a player have a greater season than Williams did this past year. It may not sound as crazy, but when I say he’s clearly the best pass-protecting and run-blocking tackle in the league, just think if you’ve ever seen a player undoubtedly be the best at all of his duties for a full season. Williams was responsible for only one sack, 16 total pressures and seven penalties. In the run game, this guy takes edge defender for ride on the front-side constantly, but he can also toss DBs around like it’s nothing when they get him out in space and last season Kyle Shanahan even used him at fullback a few times, to blow linebackers out of the hole. That’s why he earned the highest PFF grade of all time for any player at 97.8.
2. Aaron Donald
The level of consistent dominance for Donald is just ridiculous. Over the last four seasons, Donald has averaged 19.5 tackles for loss, led all interior D-linemen in total pressures in in each of those and is one ahead of T.J. Watt for the most combined pressures over that stretch (211). Now, his pressure numbers have slightly decreased each of those years, but his double-team rate has also gone up pretty correspondingly, and if you look at a graphic representing percentage of double-teams (64%) versus pass-rush win rate on such snaps (23.1%), Donald stands alone in the top-right corner. We are watching one of the all-time greats here and when needed most, he took over in the Super Bowl.
3. Josh Allen
While the Bills’ 11-6 record may not quite suggest it, their point differential of +194 was number one in the league. They scored 26 or more points in all but four games and Josh routinely made big plays for them, despite being one of the NFL’s most one-dimensional offenses for large stretches. He accounted for 42 total regular season touchdowns and while Buffalo came up just short in that Divisional Round thriller against the Chiefs, he set a new record for passer rating in a playoff run (149.0). What puts him atop the other QBs is what he did as the team’s biggest weapon on the ground as well, finishing second to only Broncos running back Javonte Williams in broken tackle rate (%) and easily number one in percentage of rushes resulting in first downs, moving the chains on 54 of his 122 attempts, whilst averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.
4. Patrick Mahomes
The guy who beat Allen in that all-time thriller comes in just behind him, because as great as Mahomes and Travis Kelce were at the end of that contest, the Bills defense should have been able to stop them with 13 seconds left and the following week, it was Mahomes taking unadvised risks in the second half that largely cost them a chance to going to another Super Bowl. Now, while the Chiefs offense did sputter in the middle of the season (with a passer rating below 75 in six of seven games), I do give Pat a lot of credit for adapting his playing style to all the soft shell coverages he was facing and the offense becoming a much more efficient machinery. After all, Kansas City was number one in points per drive, third- and fourth-down rate.
5. Davante Adams
Taking Aaron Donald out of the equation, you can argue no player has been as consistent over the past four seasons as Adams. His 93.2 receiving yards per game over that stretch would rank him atop the all-time leaders list and his 47 touchdowns scored through the air since 2018 are also number one. There may be guys with greater physical features, but nobody’s able to consistently create separation and haul in passes in key moments like him. What he and Aaron Rodgers have been able to do in high-leverage moments has been incredible. Now moving on to Las Vegas, he’s looking to maintain that level of consistency he had with Aaron Rodgers with his best friend from college in Derek Car.
6. T.J. Watt
I don’t think we talk enough about T.J. tied Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks last season – which he actually did in only 15 games. That’s his second straight year of leading the league in sacks (15 in 2020), total pressures (61 and 52 respectively) and tackles for loss (23 and 21 respectively). His pass-rushing prowess is even more impressive considering how much more frequently he’s asked to drop into coverage, compared to edge defenders close to his production. In the run game, he can bench-press tight-ends to control the point of attack, but also slip inside of blockers who overset him, to create negative plays.
7. Aaron Rodgers
To me, there’s no doubt Aaron Rodgers should have won back-to-back MVP trophies. He was number one in touchdown and interception percentage, passer rating, QBR, EPA and several other statistical categories. Along with that, Rodgers didn’t turn the ball over more than once other than in the season-opener and his team won a league-high 13 games (16 played by Rodgers). When the Packers were missing easily their top-two offensive linemen, their QB just picked up opponents with the quick game on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, while I can largely defend why he was so conservative in the Divisional Round and special teams let him down in remarkable fashion, a quarterback of his caliber should not be held to ten points in a must-win situation and projecting forward, I’m concerned what losing Davante will do, considering the incredible chemistry those two had.
8. Cooper Kupp
Not only did Kupp become just the second receiver to win the triple crown (145 catches for 1947 yards and 16 touchdowns) since 1992 (along with Steve Smith Jr.), but other than Michael Thomas a couple of years ago, he’s also the only receiver to be named Offensive Player of the Year since Jerry Rice in ’93. Just once during the regular season, Kupp had less than 92 receiving yards in a game, and over their final three playoff games he racked up 28 catches for over 400 yards and five TDs. Weirdly there are still some people who look at Kupp as this limited slot receiver, but he lined up all across the formation and won at all three levels this past season. Along with getting open consistently when needed most, he’s a major key in the Rams run game, being able to work on double-teams with the tackle and other blocking duties typically reserved for tight-ends.
9. Myles Garrett
In terms of athletic freaks on defense, you can argue Garrett currently sits atop the list. However, as much as he was lauded as a draft prospect five years ago, what makes him such a great player today is the way he has developed as a player since then, particularly with how much more flexible he has become, along with the great length and power he brings to the table. This guy can set a physical edge in the run game like few others are able to and he can win as a pass-rusher from any spot along the front in a variety of ways. In 2021 he was tied with T.J. Watt at 52 total pressures, along with his 16 sacks. For him to climb even higher, I simply want to see him maintain his production during the end-stretch of a season.
10. Jalen Ramsey
Unlike another standout Rams defender in Aaron Donald, Ramsey certainly didn’t look his best when last seen in the Super Bowl, as he had issues sticking with Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase. However, I still consider him the number one cornerback in the league. After experimenting with him in the slot to start 2021, to have him closer to the ball, DC Raheem Morris realized he needed to put Ramsey back outside, so they’d be able to put him in quasi man-coverage against the opposing team’s top receiver and orchestrate the rest of the defense around it. Not only is he a great coverage asset (passer rating of 68.6 and 71.1 allowed over the past two years), but this guy is also one of the top tacklers at the position, with a miss rate of just 6.1% last year.
11. Jonathan Taylor
If there was something like this for running backs, Taylor would have won the triple crown last season (332 carries for 1811 yards and 18 touchdowns). However, what impressed me even more was that looking at the next five names in terms of carries, they averaged just 57.2 first downs on 269.2, while Taylor moved the chains 107(!) times. Not only was that 42 more times than the next-closest name, showing you his ability to keep drives going, but he’s also the premiere big-play threat at the positions, with only two other guys even cracking double-digits for 20+ yard carries (Taylor was first 14). While he certainly benefitted from playing behind one of the better offensive lines in the league, 1272 of his rushing yards came AFTER contact. Plus, he added another 360 yards and two TDs on his 40 catches.
12. Nick Bosa
I believe there’s a pretty clear trio at the top of edge defenders and Bosa is pretty much right there with the two names in front of him. Two years ago, he earned the highest PFF grade among rookies since 2014, with 16 tackles for loss and 45 pressures. After missing basically all of 2020 with a torn ACL, he returned even better this past year, being tied for lead-league with 21 TFLs and finishing just three pressures behind the league-leaders in T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett. Looking at that 49ers D-line, Bosa and Arik Armstead are the only ones who played well-above half of the defensive snaps, while number 97’s presence allowed those guys they rotated through to be in advantageous positions, while they felt comfortable playing a bunch of zone coverage, without having to send extra pressure. And oh, he’s also a textbook stack-and-shed edge-setter in the run game.
13. Travis Kelce
Similar to Davante Adams for wide receivers, Kelce does have legitimate competitors for the top spot among the position, but in terms of consistently being available, moving the chains and making big plays when needed most, Kelce earns the top spot here. Over these past four years, he has averaged 99.3 receptions for 1276.5 yards and 8.8 touchdowns. Those numbers would rank him third, second and sixth amongst wide receivers. No tight-end is even close. Kelce can be split out and turn corners the wrong way, he can slalom through the defense with the ball in his hands or elevate from catches through contact. The only reason he’s not even higher on the list is that he did drop 10 passes last year, primarily due to a lack of needed focus.
14. Ja’Marr Chase
There’s no other way to describe Chase’s rookie campaign than “ridiculous”. Just one year after his former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson set the record for rookie receiving yards, Chase surpassed that mark with his 1455. Of his 81 total receptions, 56 resulted in new first downs and 13 reached the end-zone. He had his issues with drops early on, as often discussed during preseason, with 11 during the regular year, but only one came during their final eight games and he consistently came up huge in the Bengals’ biggest games. The reason I feel comfortable already putting him above so many other great receivers is that he can take a slant 70 yards, flat out run by defenders, but also stop on a dime and convert in high-leverage moments for them.
15. Zack Martin
I was ready to put the Colts’ Quenton Nelson as the interior lineman in football over the next decade (and don’t worry, he’s coming up soon), but while him being banged up does certainly play a factor, I didn’t anticipate Martin to surpass him again. However, he played the guard position as well as anybody not named Nelson in 2021. Now at 31 years old, Martin was responsible for just one sack and 17 total pressures last season (2.7% pressure rate per dropback). And he might have been even more effective as a run-blocker, where he consistently opens up cutback lanes behind him on zone run concepts. He was limited to just ten games the year prior, but showed his value when jumping in – and excelling – at right tackle.
16. Justin Jefferson
It was a tight race for WR3, between former LSU teammates Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, but even if the latter came up just short in that competition, he’s a tremendous player. He’s not as strong as Chase maybe, but I don’t think there’s anybody who can make defenders look absolutely stupid quite like the Vikings receiver as a route-runner. Jefferson’s 3016 yards through his first two seasons are the most among all players in NFL history and he’s currently just a half yard behind Julio Jones for the most receiving yards per game ever. I can’t wait to see him be utilized more frequently in the slot and play a bigger part as a run-blocker under new head-coach Kevin O’Connell in the Cooper Kupp role.
17. Fred Warner
For a player to stand out at his position, he has to either consistently play it an extremely high level or give his team an advantage that others simply don’t. Warner combines both those things. Not only does he process plays and can get there quicker than any other linebacker, but the space he can cover in the pass game, enables them to do things that not even the Seahawks could with Bobby Wagner, who was such a key piece for that unit. Whether he’s splitting linemen in space to kill screen passes or carry a seam route by a receiver after being mugged in the A-gap, he does stuff that you typically just don’t see. While his 12 tackles for loss and passes defensed over the last two years, as well as his 6.9% missed tackle rate are impressive, numbers can’t fully grasp his effect on San Fran’s defense.
18. Justin Herbert
After the big three of Allen, Mahomes and Rodgers, I believe there’s an argument to be made for a couple of guys, but in terms of talent level, Herbert stands above the rest. After setting a new rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns, he surpassed that number by seven additional ones this past season, while cracking the 5000-yard mark through the air. He did toss 15 interceptions and his team came up an overtime field goal short of making the playoffs, but he also led five fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives each, while the Chargers defense and special teams let him frequently. Herbert made some of the most mind-boggling throws we saw all of last season and he finished the year by converting six straight do-or-die fourth downs to give his team a chance in that week 18 Sunday Night thriller against the Raiders.
19. DeForest Bucker
Looking at where fans generally conceive Buckner to be and the lack of attention he receives, I would argue he’s become one of the most underappreciated players in all of the NFL. Across his two seasons in Indianapolis, he has recorded 20 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks and 44 additional quarterback hits. However, while those numbers are more than respectable, they don’t truly illustrate his impact on the Colts defense. If you put this guy at three-technique and just ask him to attack upfield, he will constantly disrupt run plays and he can take away any space for the quarterback to step up into, but you can legitimately line him up in the A-gap and swallow double-teams, while Indy even started putting him in two-point chances over the center and used him as a set-up man on games, creating pressure opportunities for teammates.
20. Quenton Nelson
I told you that you wouldn’t have to wait for Nelson to make an appearance on this list and I had a tough time putting him outside the top-20. That’s despite missing four games last season and being less than 100 percent in a couple of others. Still, he was able to hold opposing defenders to just one sack and 15 total pressures across the 13 contests was available for. Along with that, he continued to dominate as a run-blocker, where he can ride D-tackles back into the linebacker’s lap, crush edge defenders on kickout blocks or take second- and third-level defenders on a ride, who try to get into his way when leading up into the hole. He’s still on a Hall of Fame trajectory, I believe.
21. Tyreek Hill
Other than the fact that Tyreek seemingly has lost all sense for reality, claiming Tua Tagovailoa is a more accurate passer than Patrick Mahomes and that the Dolphins are “the same exact team” as the Chiefs, I’m not worried about Hill’s ability to stay as one of the most dangerous weapons in all of football. Last season, with opponents defending Kansas City with a lot more two-high shells, we saw him catch a lot more quick passes, but his ability to make defenders miss in space consistently allowed those guys to be move the ball better than any other team in the league, while he maintains that ability to beat opponents across the field and over the top. Since his second NFL season, he has averaged 86.5 yards and 0.58 touchdowns per game.
22. Deebo Samuel
While Hill was still up there with the most explosive offensive play-makers in the league, Deebo arguably became the most versatile one. Describing himself as a “wide back”, he was frequently utilized as a true running back, averaging 6.2 yards and scoring eight touchdowns on his 59 carries. That’s on top of his 77 receptions for over 1400 yards (54.6% of those after the catch) and six more scores through the air. Whether he was used on the backside of RPOs with glance routes or hit him on digs, Kyle Shanahan would routinely create easy throwing opportunities over the field, along with quick screens and a few change-ups off those down the field, to put the pressure on his top weapon, rather than the quarterback.
23. Cam Heyward
As a guest on the Mina Kimes Show, Cam recently mentioned that it “pisses him off” for everybody to always say it’s “Aaron Donald and everybody else”, because he should be up in that category, before getting to everybody else. While I do have DeFo a couple of spots ahead of him, in terms of consistency over the last five years, you can certainly argue that he’s been number two among interior D-linemen. Over that stretch, he has averaged just under 12 tackles for loss and 28.5 combined sacks and QB hits. That’s despite being far more of a stout run-stopper than being asked to penetrate, and his rush plan heavily revolving around power, to create softer angles for those guys on the edges.
24. George Kittle
If there’s one tight-end with a legitimate case for ranking ahead of Travis Kelce, Kittle would be that guy. And while his receiving numbers are certainly impressive at 76.4 yards per game and 18 touchdowns across 52 games since 2018, what makes me say that is the value he adds as a blocker. This guy can legitimately be like a third offensive tackle on the field, driving edge defenders towards the sideline, but he also has the mobility to crush guys in back-seven, atop of the way he forces defenses to adjust to him being on the field, because he can release from that spot, but also line up in the slot and run away from safeties on wheel routes. As much fun as it is to belly-lough after burying guys in the run game, the craziest thing to me is the way he runs through grown man with the ball in his hands.
25. Joe Burrow
Looking at Cincinnati’s improbable run to the Super Bowl, we saw Burrow carry his team arguably as much as any player in the league last season. Despite playing behind a bottom-three offensive line and being sacked an NFL-high 51 times, he led the league in completion percentage (70.4%) and yards per attempt (8.9). He also finished behind only MVP Aaron Rodgers in EPA among quarterbacks (0.162) and was absolutely deadly against the blitz. However, what stands out more than anything else if how cool he was able to stay in the biggest moments and how he was able to get his team out of almost impossible situations, such as being in the grasp of Titans and Chiefs defenders, yet still somehow converting key third downs.
26. Micah Parsons
You know somebody had a phenomenal rookie season, when he immediately becomes one of the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year and receives more votes than Aaron freaking Donald. The Cowboys used Parsons as a true edge defender when they were missing guys in the lineup, but he spent the majority of snaps off the ball. Yet still, he finished just one behind the lead-league with 21 tackles for loss, and behind only T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa with his 47 total pressures, despite his 255 pass-rush snaps being significantly behind two of those three, giving him the league’s best pass-rush win rate by far (22.3% versus 17.1% for the next-closes), according to PFF. That’s along with breaking up passes to streaking slot receivers as a middle dropper and stuff like that.
27. Darius Leonard
Similar to Parsons, Leonard was an instant sensation in the NFL, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and making the first- or second-team All-Pro team all four years of his career. Last season the numbers for “The Maniac” were somewhat odd, because his “ball-production” was tremendous, as he led the league with eight forced fumbles, intercepted four passes and broke up another eight. However, he put up career-lows in terms of negative plays produced – tackles for loss (four), sacks (zero) and pressures (five). Either way, his range at that second level and ability to be an equally effective asset going forward or backwards on passing downs are major assets for a Colts D that finished number one in takeaways.
28. Justin Simmons
I believe it’s a three-man race for the title as the top safety in football and there’s a couple of other guys capable of entering that conversation. In terms of consistency over the last few years however, I put Simmons at number one for now. He just had back-to-back seasons with five interceptions, after reaching four in 2019, along with 36 other passes broken up over that stretch. He’s logged 99 or 100 percent of snaps in each of the last four seasons and become a more well-versed all-around safety, capable of running the alley against the run, cover tight-ends, drive down in quarters or patrol the deep post. Last season he had lowest missed tackle percentage of his career at 7.0%.
29. Maxx Crosby
Not to make this about another player, but I still think it’s funny how the Raiders drafted a defensive end in Clelin Ferrell fourth overall back in 2019, but the guy who has turned himself into a stalwart for that unit was their fourth-rounder from Eastern Michigan. Crosby has been an underrated player ever since he’s entered the NFL, but last season he really took off, as somebody who had phenomenal athletic testing, but his best asset has always been his non-stop motor. His eight sacks weren’t overly impressive, but only the “big three” of Watt, Garrett and Bosa had more than his 30 other hits on the QB. He also racked up 13 TFLs, had the third-highest run-stop percentage among EDGEs according to ESPN (31%), batted down seven passes and received a 91.4 PFF overall grade – the third-highest of any defensive player in 2021.
30. Chris Jones
While the Colts’ DeForest Buckner and Steelers’ Cam Heyward arguably had the best seasons of their respective careers individually, Jones fell a little bit from grace among interior D-linemen. He missed three games and was used at defensive end to start the season out of necessity, before moving back inside once they acquired Melvin Ingram. Jones was tied for the second-most tackles for loss in his career with eight, but his pass-rush numbers did slightly decrease to nine sacks and 34 pressures. Still, while he’s not at stout at the point of attack as those other guys mentioned, in terms of somebody who can win from different alignments in passing situations, only Aaron Donald has been more effective in that regard.
31. Kevin Byard
This is arguably the most instinctive defensive player in football today. Byard did lead the league with eight interceptions in 2017 and has had similarly impressive statistical season, but I thought he played the game at the highest level since coming into the league. He broke up 13 passes and picked off another five, including one returned for a TD versus the Rams in phenomenal fashion, as he started in a two-high look and timed it perfectly driving down into the flats, to undercut a speed-out by the single receiver. He also had a scoop-and-score and missed only two(!) of 90 tackling attempts (2.2% MTKL rate). His ability to anticipate plays based on film study and then allow his feel for the game to lead him to the ball is phenomenal.
32. Nick Chubb
I understand that Chubb has missed a bit of time, but over his 26 games these past two seasons, he has carried the ball 418 times for 2326 yards (5.6 yards per) and 20 touchdowns. He has only fumbled the ball three times and while not being as heavily involved as a receiver, he didn’t drop only of his 36 catchable targets over that stretch. I believe he may still be the best pure runner, in terms of setting up his blockers and manipulating lanes for himself. And once he gets rolling, he can run through bigger defenders and run past the secondary, as last season he finished second to only Jonathan Taylor with 12 runs of 20+ yards (in 14 games).
33. Stefon Diggs
After leading the NFL in catches and receiving yards in 2020, those numbers slightly went down last season for Diggs, but he did crack double-digit touchdowns and he became more efficient with his receptions, converting 64 percent of those into first downs, whilst cutting his drops down to five. He can win at all three levels of the field, is one of the best at attacking the blind-spots of defenders and playing the catch-point accordingly. He wasn’t as heavily featured in their two playoff games, but remains one of the pristine route-runners and overall targets in the NFL.
34. Mark Andrews
While Cooper Kupp won the triple-crown for receivers last season, Andrews did unofficially earn that honor for tight-ends, with 107 grabs for 1361 yards and nine TDs. He converted 75 of those receptions into first downs and dropped only three passes, which led to him being voted first-team All-Pro. Now, I have him third at the position, because he was somewhat force-fed in a Ravens offense that lacked a variety of receiving weapon and he’s not the same type of asset as Kittle for example as an in-line blocker. That doesn’t mean he’s not a tremendous player in his own right, with as many impressive grabs and vertical production as anybody at that spot.
35. Tristan Wirfs
While Wirfs has been charged with three sacks surrendered over his first two seasons, his pressure percentage of just 2.4% is the lowest among all offensive tackles since he was drafted and he’s only been responsible for 50 penalty yards. There were some concerns about his technique in pass-pro coming out of Iowa, but he’s gotten much better at not oversetting against speed, while having the sturdy and agile lower half to counter any type of rusher. His run-blocking process was never in question, as he has fit in perfectly in Tampa Bay’s gap-scheme and power-oriented approach.
36. Minkah Fitzpatrick
The former 11th overall pick by the Dolphins, Minkah was traded just two games into his second pro season, but he’s been tremendous ever seen coming to Pittsburgh. In 46 games with the Steelers, he has racked up 11 interceptions and 27 passes broken up. While his passer rating when targeted and completion percentage surrendered were the worst over his three years in Pittsburgh, he shockingly had the lowest missed tackle rate of his career, at 9.5%, despite his team allowed easily the most 20+ yard runs and him being in a lot of tough tackling situations. He’s a problem-solver and play-maker on the back-end.
37. Jaire Alexander
Even though Alexander was lost for the season with a shoulder injury four games in, he was pretty much on track for similar numbers than in 2020, with an awesome interception falling off to a post from the opposite side in cover-four against the 49ers, along with three PBUs. The year prior, he picked off only one pass as well, but he was number one three yards per target (5.4 yards) and first with 18 total passes defensed, according to PlayerProfiler. Alexander’s feel in zone coverage is tremendous, but he can be trusted to blanket the opposing team’s number on a down-by-down basis.
38. J.C. Jackson
In terms of ball-production, nobody in the league even comes close to what Jackson has done over these past two seasons, with 17 interceptions and 37 additional pass break-ups. Last year despite being targeted more frequently, his numbers in coverage actually improved to a completion percentage of 49.1%, 6.2 yards per target and a passer rating of just 46.2. While Bill Belichick is notorious for putting his top corner on the opposing team’s number two and bracketing the passing strength, the Patriots actually did ask Jackson to travel more frequently and I expect him to be in plenty of quasi man-coverage in L.A. now. His only real issue has been tackling (20 misses over the last two years combined).
39. Shaq Barrett
Another one of the largely underrated defensive players in the league, Barrett suffers from being overlooked in favor of those two Bucs linebackers and even his now-former teammate Jason Pierre-Paul to some degree. After racking up a league-leading 19.5 sacks in his breakout 2019 season – his first year in Tampa Bay – people have acted like he’s declined again, when actually he’s recorded 58, 57 and 51 pressures respectively (15 games played in the latter two). And he has come up with some huge sacks or hits on the opposing QB to change the complexity of games.
40. Tom Brady
I know, I know – I’m a hater. Every year I look at similar rankings and when I see Brady pop up in the top-ten, I know people won’t be happy with where I put him. Unlike his days in New England, the Bucs actually have become a pass-first offense, where you could see them go away from some of the condensed formation and play-action stuff, to putting the game more in their quarterback’s hands again. That’s why Brady led the NFL in passing yards (5316) and touchdowns (43). He’s still playing the game at an extremely high level, his arm is actually as strong as it’s ever been and with his un-retirement, the Bucs maintain one of the NFC favorites. However, we saw what disruptive D-lines can do to him and we forget that the Rams had held Brady & company to just six points with just seconds remaining in the third quarterback of the Divisional Round, until L.A. nearly crapped the bed.
41. A.J. Terrell
I understand that Trevon Diggs intercepted an NFL-best 11 passes and I said earlier that Jalen Ramsey was still CB1 for me, but you can argue that in terms of the basic job description for the position – don’t let the guy in front of you get open – A.J. Terrell did it as well as anybody in the league. Looking at the 86 targets his way, not only did he defend 19 of those (three INTs), but he allowed exactly half of those to be completed, with just 4.8 yards per target and three touchdowns, despite constantly being asked to trail the opposing team’s top receiver. Just once was he responsible for more than 42 yards. Those stats are from pro-football-reference.com – PFF has him with even better numbers.
42. Jessie Bates III
Dropping down eleven spots from last year, Bates didn’t quite have his best season in 2021, but he was still one of the top all-around safeties in football. He had career-lows in interceptions (one) and passes broken up (four) whilst missing a couple of weeks, but he cut down his missed tackle rate to a career-low 7.4% of attempts and his ability to control the deep post was key whenever they used that second safety as a robber or buzzed him down late. With talk about Bates’ unwillingness of playing on the franchise tag, his status for 2022 is somewhat up in the air.
43. Marlon Humphrey
The Ravens defense saw a major drop-off in level of play, due to suffering several injuries and a lack of adjustments to those schematically I would say. Particularly in the secondary, running as many blitzes with zero-coverage behind it, put a lot of stress on their DBs and when smart teams would run cross-releases and stuff like that, it was a major challenge. Humphrey missed four games himself with a pectoral injury and he certainly didn’t have his best year, but in terms of coverage numbers, they were comparable to the year prior, when he also led the NFL with eight fumbles forced.
44. Joey Bosa
L.A.’s defense structurally didn’t set up their players for success necessarily, particularly looking at their front-seven – or rather that was somewhat the issue, with them having less than six guys in the box regularly. With all the soft looks to run against, Bosa didn’t have many chances to create negative plays on early downs, resulting in a career-low five tackles for loss. However, he did crack double-digit sacks and 43 additional pressures on 333 pass-rush snaps, along with a career-best seven forced fumbles.
45. Lamar Jackson
Let’s just start like this – the Lamar Jackson hate is just absurd. Purely looking at his 16 passing touchdowns versus 13 interceptions, the numbers didn’t look very good last season, but due to not having any of their top three running backs heading into season preparations, Lamar ultimately accounted for 78.4% of the offensive production in the games he was available for. After looking to have made strides as a passer early in the year and making some incredible individual plays to win tight games, teams started blitzing the hell out of Baltimore and they simply didn’t have any solutions structurally or in terms of singular receivers winning cleanly. Lamar was 7-4 as a starter, despite having some of the worst interception and certainly the worst injury luck as a team.
46. Derrick Henry
After leading the league in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns each of the prior two seasons, King Henry was put on injured reserve eight games into the year with a foot injury. At that point, he was on track for finishing atop the list once again, with nearly 300 yards more than anybody else (937, along with ten touchdowns). He certainly didn’t look like himself in his one playoff appearance, but with a full offseason to get healthy again, he’ll be determined to return to the throne again, as the best combination of speed and power for any runner in the league. He’s simply never offered much as a pass-catcher.
47. Derwin James
Following a phenomenal rookie season, Derwin missed all but five games the next two seasons, before jumping back onto the scene as one of the top safeties in the league last year. His traditional numbers in 2021 were not as impressive as they were in his debut campaign, but as the closest defender in coverage, he was responsible for a completion percentage of just 56.7% and gave up just one touchdown compared to his two interceptions. He also reached seven tackles for loss when allowed to come upfield and despite challenging one-on-one tackling situations, as the Chargers front was vulnerable to presenting clear rushing lanes, he missed a career-low 7.1% of attempts.
48. Jeffery Simmons
I was a big fan of Simmons at Mississippi State already and after coming back from a torn ACL, that pushed him towards the end of the first round in the 2019 draft, he has improved every year. Last season he logged career-highs in snap percentage (85%), tackles for loss (12), sacks (8.5), QB hits (16) and passes batted down (six). The two most memorable moments for me however were him plowing through the line to single-handedly stop Josh Allen on a fourth-down QB sneak to win that game and his six total hits (three sacks) on Joe Burrow in the Divisional Round. He’s a bully on the interior.
49. Dalvin Cook
This guy kind of feels like the forgotten man at the running back position. You have Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb in the AFC, but in the NFC, Dalvin has stood above the rest in terms of rushing production. Over 27 combined games since 2020, he has touched the ball 639 times for 3300 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has gotten banged up every once in a while, but in terms of somebody who can press the front-side, punish a linebacker who shades too far over behind a block and then has the home-run capability to make your safeties turn and run, he’s in that class of the most dangerous backs in football.
50. Matthew Stafford
Where are all the Stafford doubters now? After getting banged around and trying to carry inferior teams for so many years in Detroit, his first year with a competent squad around him, he finished with the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL (41) and led the team to a Super Bowl trophy. Now, he was tied for the lead-league with 17 interceptions, but his 18 completions of 40+ yards were also atop the list and he led seven total game-winning drives, including the playoffs, while being complemented by a bottom-ten rushing attack among all standard categories statistically.
51. Demario Davis
Remember how I talked about the ways linebackers can stand out at their position by executing their assignments in great fashion or bringing some extra to a defense, in terms of some of the stuff they can run? Well, I don’t believe Davis quite has the range of a Fred Warner or Darius Leonard and Micah Parsons is kind of in a category of his own as this hybrid defender. However, the Saints LB put together textbook tape last season, as an absolute menace in the run game, with how quickly he pulled the trigger and shot through gaps to create stops, while tossing around running backs in protection like rag-dolls. Overall, he put up 13 TFLs, seven PBUs, three sacks and ten more QB hits on his 51 blitzes, while missing tackles in the seven-percent range for the second straight year.
52. Denzel Ward
Back in the 2018 draft, when the Browns selected Baker Mayfield first overall, Ward going three spots later was rather surprising, but that pick immediately paid off for them. Over his first four seasons (52 combined games), he has intercepted ten passes and broke up another 50. He has been responsible for a passer rating when targeting between 62.2 and 78.3 all four years and had his lowest yards per target last season (5.6). While the Browns do run a lot of two-high safety coverages, Ward did end up in one-on-one coverage against some of the top receivers regularly and more than held his own.
53. Tyron Smith
Heading into the 2021 season, I was started to get ready to write off Smith as somebody past his days as one of the premiere OTs in the game, since he had only appeared in two games the year prior and had missed three contests each of the prior four seasons. However, while he did only play 11 games once again last year, the only guy who played the position at a higher level was my overall number one player – Trent Williams. Smith was responsible for just one sack and 17 total pressures across 515 pass-blocking snaps, while earning a PFF run-blocking grade of 90.0.
54. Xavien Howard
A two-time interceptions leader (seven and ten respectively), Howard is one of those rare combinations of being able to lock up guys in man-coverage – which he’s frequently asked to play in Miami’s blitz-heavy defensive philosophy – and make plays on the ball. Last season, he picked off five passes and broke up another 16, whilst scoring touchdowns off an interception and a fumble recovery. He’s also improved as a tackler, missing just six attempts each of the last two years on 113 total attempts.
55. Joel Bitonio
As far as offensive guards are concerned, the Cowboys’ Zack Martin and the Colts’ Quenton Nelson are sort of in a tier of their own I believe, but once you get past that, those two guys in Cleveland come up next and Bitonio receives the edge from me for how good he is in both areas of the game and the consistency he’s done it with over the last four years. Across 17 games last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Bitonio allowed exactly one pressure per contest, and scored easily the best run-blocking grade (92.5) of his career.
56. Rashan Gary
This was one of my young breakout candidates for 2021. While Gary’s snap percentage went up by 20 percent, he increased to eight tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, but his other pressures are what really went up, with 47 in total. He’s a freaking wall at the point of attack trying to widen him in the run game and as a pass-rusher, his freakish athletic traits combined with the power he possesses, he’s become a problem to deal with, as he’s improved his technique. Gary capped off the year with a dominant two-sack, three-TFL performance in the NFC Divisional Round versus San Francisco.
57. A.J. Brown
Brown put up career-lows in receiving yards (869) and touchdowns (five) last season across 13 games. He didn’t deliver as many big plays down the field (career-low ten catches of 20+ yards and three of 40+ yards), but due to missing their consistent chain-mover in Derrick Henry, he had to be more of a steady contributor. He still averaged 66.8 yards per game and converted 45 of his 63 receptions into first downs, with several of those in challenging third-down situations, where everybody inside that stadium knew where the ball was going. That 49ers game immediately comes to mind.
58. Austin Ekeler
After racking up just under 1000 receiving yards as a dump-off option for Philip Rivers in 2019, Ekeler was working through a hamstring issue and missed some time the following season. Last year with a full season to play with Justin Herbert, he finally put it all together, touching the ball 276 times for 1558 yards and a tie for the NFL-high with 20 touchdowns from scrimmage. This guy is a true mismatch in the pass game, being able to shake linebackers out of their boots or work down the field, but he proved that he can get the job done as an in-between-the-tackle runner.
59. D.K. Metcalf
2021 was certainly a down-year for Metcalf and the Seahawks as a whole. In his third season, he was targeted 129 times for the second straight year, but for eight catches and more than 300 yards fewer (75 for 967), although he did reach the end-zone 12 times. However, with Russell Wilson banging up his thumb and Seattle’s aerial attack overall taking a step backwards, regression was in store for all their targets. And yet, Metcalf had the exact same amount of broken tackles (eight) and average yards after the catch (4.4), whilst cutting his drops down in half (four).
60. Alvin Kamara
While he hasn’t missed extended time in his career yet, Kamara hasn’t played a full 16 games since his rookie season in 2017. He’s been a Pro Bowler every year and a two-time second-team All-Pro. The per-game totals weren’t a whole lot lower last season compared to the year prior, but he reached the end-zone twelve fewer times (nine) and his average yards per rush went down significantly from 5.0 to 3.7. On an offense with Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris as their leading receivers and a rotating wheel at quarterback, increased focus on the guy in the backfield however.
61. Ceedee Lamb
If there’s one guy on this list, where I might have allowed my projections to sway my ultimate ranking of his, Ceedee would be the name, because I think he could really blow up this fall. Now, don’t get me wrong – he’s already an excellent receiver, catching 79 passes for 1100 yards and six touchdowns in his second season. He did provide some big plays, but it was more about moving the chains with him, converting 54 of those grabs into first downs. Lamb is really tough to mirror with his unpredictable route-running and he’s a YAC specialist, breaking 12 total tackles and averaging 5.6 yards post-snap last season. His one issue has been drops, with eight in each of his first two years.
62. Corey Linsley
I believe the distance has closed down to some degree between the top centers in football with a couple of younger guys emerging, but Linsley still ranks at the top of that list for me. While other additions certainly played their part, he was key in turning around a rough Chargers O-line, which did a much better job of protecting their young stud QB Justin Herbert. He wasn’t responsible for a single sack and allowed a pressure on just 1.48% of his snaps in pass-pro, whilst L.A. as a whole averaged 0.5 yards more per rush (4.3) compared to 2021.
63. Kyler Murray
All the offseason drama and trade rumors have somewhat taken away from the player Murray really is. While you can certainly point to the drop-off we have seen from Arizona’s offense and their young signal-caller over the latter halves of these past two seasons, I put a lot of the blame on Kliff Kingsbury’s inability to adapt his offense and the Cardinals would be foolish to not make signing Kyler to a long-term deal. His completion percentage, TD-to-INT ratio and yards per attempt have all increased each of his three years in the league, while having bailed out an offense that routinely was dead if the replacement for DeAndre Hopkins didn’t win their one-on-one on the backside, by moving around and somehow creating a secondary play.
64. Antoine Winfield Jr.
Once again, getting to the safety conversation, you kind of have those five guys at the top that people who study the game look at as having a little separation to the rest, but the next name up for me is Winfield Jr. He has been a phenomenal addition to this Bucs secondary, with the ability to use him in a variety of ways, to make coverages work, including using him as a deep middle safety when they used to rotate Jordan Whitehead down. Last season in 13 games, he forced two fumbles, intercepted two passes and broke up another six, while his yards per target and touchdowns allowed improved notably from his rookie campaign.
65. Matthew Judon
Looking back at the 2021 list, I believe Judon would have been in the 130’s to me on the original blue-print. I have always liked him as a player and he was one of the key figures for that Ravens defense over across a few years, but when he signed his big free-agent deal with New England, he really took off. Last season, he racked up 14 tackles for loss, career-highs in sacks (12.5) and additional pressures (42), to give him the fifth-highest pressure rate among EDGEs (16.0%), as the one true disruptor this defense had other than rookie Christian Barmore to some degree.
66. Ryan Ramczyk
I would say Tristan Wirfs has taken the title of best right tackle in the game today. After that, we can have a conversation about two other guys who should be next – and we’ll get to the other one soon – but Ramczyk to me has been a model of consistency, with last season being his first of five with more than one game missed and in terms of how little he loses in the run or pass game. Only once did he surrender more than two sacks in a season and his PFF run-blocking grade of 91.4 since entering the league also gives him the highest WAR (wins above replacement) for any tackle across that stretch.
67. Brian Burns
To be honest, I hoped that I could put Burns a little bit higher, because I was a big fan of his coming out of Florida State and thought he’d stay on his recent trajectory, to become one of the premiere edge rushers in the NFL. Last season that somewhat stagnated, as he put up nearly identical numbers to 2020, with 21 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, 39 QB hits, eight PBUs and five forced fumbles combined. Now, a lot of his lack of increase in production had to do with operating from negative game-script situation for a team that lost all but two of their 14 final games. He’s one of the biggest speed threats off the corner that we have today.
68. Kyle Pitts
On one hand, Pitts becoming just the second tight-end to crack 1000 receiving yards as a rookie is highly impressive, but at the same time he wasn’t really used as a TE and what he can do split out wide and beating corners as a true X might be even crazier. He only reached the end-zone once, but he did convert 41 of his 63 grabs into first downs and George Kittle was the only other tight-end by name to finish in the top 20 in yards per target (9.2). Pitts is a true unicorn with his height, speed and body control, and he was able to shine despite very limited receiving help in Atlanta. I’ll be interested to see how they use him and top-ten pick Drake London (USC) this season.
69. Wyatt Teller
While Joel Bitonio has earned the mantle of ranking ahead of Teller overall, he may be the most dominant run-blocking guard in the game today. Whether it’s riding defenders down the line on zone schemes or burying guys on different pulling assignments, he’s constantly opening up lanes for Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and others. In 2020, he was the highest-graded offensive lineman for Pro Football Focus at 93.8. He still graded out very well last season (84.9), with a nearly identical pressure rate per dropback (4.0%) and Cleveland as a team actually increased their average yards per rush to 5.1, which was tied with the Colts for number one.
70. Marcus Williams
I would call Williams one of the most underrated players in the entire league, regardless of position. In five years as a pro, he has never missed more than two games in any season, while intercepting 15 passes and breaking up another 38. As the closest defender in coverage, his completion percentage, yards per target and passer rating allowed have gone done in each of the past four seasons, while only having missed 6.5 percent of his tackling attempts over the last two. You can ask him to drive on routes in quarters, patrol the deep post or buzz down as a robber, to figure out where help is needed in man-coverage, plus he’s come up with several key stops in space for New Orleans.
71. Rashawn Slater
You must have had a really special rookie season for me to put you as my number five overall tackle after just one year and Slater truly did. The Chargers desperately needed steady presence on the blind-side of Justin Herbert and this guy falling to 13th overall in last year’s draft must have been a dream scenario for them. Slater’s 3.7% pressure rate was tied with Jedrick Wills’ 2020 mark for the lowest pressure rate allowed by a rookie left tackle with at least 250 pass-blocking snaps in a season since 2010. Not only that, but as part of that reformed left side of L.A.’s O-line, he helped them get one of the worst rushing attacks from the year prior back on track, averaging 0.5 yards more per carry (4.3).
72. Terry McLaurin
After getting a substantial new contract, I hope people finally start talking more about what “Scary Terry” has done and what he will be doing going forward. Having the likes of Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke, Garrett Gilbert and unfortunately to the lowest amount Ryan Fitzpatrick throw him the ball, McLaurin has hauled in 222 passes for 3090 yards and 16 touchdowns through 36 career games. He’s been one of the most effective deep threats in the league, with at least 15 receptions of 20+ yards, 63.5% of his catches have resulted in first downs and he’s done it with very little around him that would scare defenses, which is why he accounted for 41.8% of Washington’s total air yardage last season.
73. Lane Johnson
Despite being 32 years old at this point, Johnson remains one of the premiere athletes at the tackle position. Not only does that allow him to execute difficult blocks in the run game, but he also excels at mirroring twitchy pass-rushers. In 2021, he earned a 83.3 PFF grade (third among qualifying right tackles behind just Wirfs and Ramczyk), which is his fifth consecutive season coming away with an 80.0-plus grade, with the exception of a 2020 season when he was troubled by an ankle injury. He didn’t surrender any sacks and just seven pressures in 399 pass-blocking snaps, plus he was a huge piece in paving the way for a bullying ground game, which finished first in rushing yards (2715) and touchdowns (25).
74. Roquan Smith
Finishing top-five in total tackles each of the last two years is more of a function of playing for a team with a bad offense and having to clean up a lot of the mess, but the sheer numbers for Roquan are pretty bonkers. Over that stretch, he’s cracked the 300-tackle mark (193 solo), with 30 of those for loss, seven sacks, three interceptions (one returned to the house) and ten more PBUs. Looking at how Pro Football Focus assesses his play, they say the tape doesn’t match those, but their grading for linebackers I believe is faulty at best. Smith has surrendered a solid 4.4 yards per target and created pressure on almost exactly a quarter of his blitzes since 2020. His ability to see things before they happen and get there in time makes him one of the biggest screen-killers and best pursuit defenders in the league today.
75. Keenan Allen
While he may never quite reach that upper echelon of receivers, because he doesn’t fit the description of an overpowering outside receiver, Keenan Allen has arguably been the most productive pass-catcher in the league over the past five seasons, after struggling with injuries early on in his career. Across that stretch (missing only three combined games), he’s hauled in 519 of his 748 targets for over 5900 yards and 32 touchdowns. He does operate mostly out of the slot and Mike Williams is more so the vertical/ball-winning type for that team, but Allen is so good at finding voids in zone coverage and because of his unique step-sequencing as a route-runner, nobody covers this guy one-on-one.
76. Trevon Diggs
A defensive player who just recorded the most interceptions in a season since 1981 (11) and returned two of those to the house could certainly be higher on this list. Considering Diggs also gave up the most receiving yards in the league (907) on 16.8 yards per completion and missed 16.1% of his tackling attempts, he did surrender some big plays as well. Now, playing in a scheme that left their corners one-on-one in passing situations certainly played a part in this and I have this 75-yard touchdown by Kendrick Bourne burnt into my brain, where he perfectly funneled the receiver to his safety and was charged for it, even though it was his teammate misjudging the ball. Many people go way overboard and say he’s not a great corner, because he is vulnerable of getting turned around, but I would certainly argue in today’s explosive passing landscape being able to make big plays on the opposite side of side of football is as valuable as ever and an overall passer rating of just 55.8 is pretty damn good.
77. Creed Humphrey
Coming off their Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers, Kansas City’s front-office made it their main priority last offseason to fortify the offensive line, exhausting all possible avenues. In the draft, they were lucky to have center Creed Humphrey fall to them at the end of the second round and took a chance on guard Trey Smith’s health in the sixth round. Both started all of their 20 games and Humphrey in particular immediately to the top of his position. With just one sack and eight total pressures surrendered on an absurd 754 pass-blocking snaps, he finished behind only Rodney Hudson (who missed five games) in terms of lowest pressure percentage responsible for (1.33%). He was also outstanding at climbing up to the second level and getting hands on people in the screen game, while being tied for the second-best run block win rate for centers (72%), based on ESPN’s metrics.
78. Vita Vea
I would put Tennessee’s Jeffery Simmons kind of in that same category, but in terms of somebody who can just take 320+ pounders and move them backwards against their will, Vea is right at the top of the list. Along with that, he’s one of the freakiest nominal nose-tackles in terms of his lateral movement, so he can re-set the line of scrimmage, but then also disengage from blocks. He’s the rock that has led this team to a top-three ranking against the run for three straight years, plus if you leave him soloed up in passing situations, he will ride the guy in front of him into the quarterback’s lap. His four sacks and five tackles for loss may be career-highs, but those numbers will never be able to measure the impact he has on that group, and he did have another 12 QB hits.
79. Harold Landry
Here’s another one of these speed/bend-based edge pass-rushers I was very high on coming into the draft. Landry has continued to develop as a run-defender and did just record a career-high 14 tackles for loss last season. However, he also had his best year rushing the passer, racking up 12.5 sacks and 43 additional pressures. His ability to stress tackles with his burst off the ball, dip underneath their reach and flatten the arc, along with being able to hit those quick counters against guys who overset with that first step makes him really tough to handle once you get to those longer downs.
80. Mike Evans
I talked about Keenan Allen in this group as this ultra-consistent slot receiver and Big Mike has been that guy on the outside. He has now reached 1000 receiving yards for an NFL-record eight times to start his career and there seems to be no slowing down for him. Evans has become more effective with his targets from Tom Brady, with passer ratings in the mid-120’s when going his way each of the last two years, and he’s one of the few guys in the league they still throw goal-line fades up to, because of how dominant he is at the catch-point, scoring on 14 of his 19 red-zone targets last year. And with Chris Godwin out, the Bucs used him a lot more as a power slot, where he was a beast to cover.
81. Russell Wilson
It’ll be a bit weird to see Russell Wilson in that Bronco orange rather than with some neon green on him, but he could become the savior at the quarterback position that Denver has been looking for since another veteran, who left his team late in his career, in Peyton Manning retired. While a conversation can be had about how Russ-centric a passing offense needs to be designed and how much of his success has been based on out-of-structure plays, which you can argue some of his mobility is starting to fade away, there’s no denying the success we’ve seen him have for a decade in Seattle. Not only is he top-ten all-time with 7.8 yards per pass attempt, as one of the elite deep-ball throwers we’ve seen and he’s third in TD-to-INT (3.36) ratio behind only Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, but with last season being his first one without a winning record and just one other one with less than double-digits wins, he’s also proven that his style can get teams to the top of the mountain.
82. Kenny Clark
Even though he’s reached more sacks (four) and tackles for loss (eight) in other years, I would argue Clark had the best season of his career in 2021. The way he plugged up those A-gaps in the run game and was able to step into the lane of running backs after sticking their foot into the ground was crucial in the Packers being able to run Joe Woods’ split-safety oriented scheme that put them in plenty of light boxes, and he set the table for De’Vondre Campbell having a career year. However, where I thought he was most impressive at was rushing the passer, where he set a new top personal top mark with 28 combined pressures and increased his snap percentage to 78%, because of how he could kill pocket integrity by riding blockers backwards.
83. Trey Hendrickson
When the Bengals gave Hendrickson a 60-million dollar contract across four years in last year’s free agency, many people were questioning that move, coming off a blow-up season, in which he tripled his previous career-bests in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (12). However, I thought what he did with extended snaps justified the money and Hendrickson repaid them by putting up basically identical numbers and he actually ascended to number three (behind only Micah Parsons and Randy Gregory) in pressure rate generated at 16.6%, according to PFF. And he carried over that success to the playoffs, where he racked up 3.5 sacks and five more QB hits across their four games.
84. Elgton Jenkins
I’m sure studs like Trent Williams and Quenton Nelson could line up at different spots and still dominate, but in terms of guys on the O-line, who we have proof that they can excel across the front, Jenkins is right up there on that list. In 2019, he made the All-Rookie team as a left guard, before becoming a Pro Bowler the year after, when he jumped in at center and right tackle each for multiple games. Then last season without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, he played on the blindside at a Pro Bowl level as well, before tearing his ACL eight games in. Through his first two years (1304 pass-blocking snaps), he had only allowed one sack, and his ability to execute scoop-blocks and spring Aaron Jones loose to the outside has been a major asset in their outside zone run game.
85. Frank Ragnow
Here’s a guy who people barely even started noticing in 2020 and now is even more forgotten. Two years ago, this was the best center in the league not named Corey Linsley, Jason Kelce and maybe Rodney Hudson. With the latter two approaching the tail-end of their careers and Hudson fighting through injuries last season, I feel comfortable about putting Ragnow as a top-three guy at the position coming off a toe injury that held him to four games. Not only is he a super-crafty run-blocker, with a tremendous understanding for angles and attaching to targets in space, but in 2020 he didn’t surrender a single sack and only nine total pressures. Over the first month of this past year, he was on pace for an even higher PFF grade (86.4).
86. Jonathan Allen
2021 was certainly a disappointing season for Washington’s defense, since so many people talked about this unit becoming one of the best for the next several years, yet they finished 22nd in yards and 25th in point allowed. However, it was a career year for Allen, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time and set new personal records in sacks (nine) and additional QB hits (30), which put him right there with Chris Jones and Cam Heyward in that non-Aaron Donald stratosphere among defensive tackles. He also cracked double-digit tackles for loss and steadily started creating more disruption, despite Chase Young having a highly disappointing sophomore campaign, before ultimately getting hurt.
87. Jordan Poyer
We’ve talked about a few of these super-consistent players at receiver and offensive line in recent paragraphs. I would say Poyer has been one of those guys at the safety position, which typically sees a fair amount variance. He’s only missed two total games and starts across his five years in Buffalo and been as steady as it gets against the run and pass. This past year, he finally got the recognition he deserves, as a first-team All-Pro selection. He tied his career-best with five interceptions, set a new mark with three sacks, produced eight pressures on just 27 blitzes, had eight tackles for loss and was responsible for a career-low passer rating (42.2%) as the primary coverage defender. You can have him cover one half of the field, rotate down late and run the alley, while only having missed 9.3% of his tackling attempts over the last three years.
88. Von Miller
Let’s be clear here – Von is not the every-down defensive stalwart that we saw earlier in his career. That’s why he played the lowest percentage of snaps since 2015 (77.5%) for the Broncos and Rams last season. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t still be an impact player and was exactly what L.A. needed to win a championship. Despite not playing as many early downs, he managed to tie his second-best TFL total (19), and he really started wreaking havoc on passing downs late in the season. From week 12 on through the Super Bowl, he recorded at least one sack and multiple pressures in all but one game respectively, with six TFLs, four sacks and 11 pressures on 177 combined snaps in the postseason. Now Buffalo brought him in to help them get to the promised land.
89. Darren Waller
After two straight years of 90+ catches and more than 1100 receiving yards each in a metamorphosis on his career, Waller missed six games last season and wasn’t as effective when on the field. Still, we saw those moments where defenses had a tough time figuring out how to approach him. At 6’6”, 255 pounds, he may be the fastest pass-catchers on this offense and his ability to flex out wide as the de facto X-receiver and win on a vertical plane makes the Raiders very tough to match up against. Now with Davante Adams out there with him and demanding brackets, we could see Waller eat against single-coverage and reach the 1000-yard mark once again, because there is no one guy who can neutralize him one-on-one consistently.
90. Derek Carr
Next up we have Waller’s quarterback, who is coming off the best three-year stretch of his career now. Following his impressive 2016 season, where he could have certainly won the MVP award before breaking his leg in week 15, I thought he actually was more so overrated thanks to his individual numbers, since he was content with routinely throwing the ball short of the marker and wasn’t helping his offense extend drives. Across the past three seasons, he has tossed 71 touchdowns versus 31 interceptions, with 7.8 yards per attempt and 173 completions of 20+ yards, which ranks second behind only Tom Brady for that stretch. Most impressively, he’s led 13(!) combined game-winning drives since then.
91. De’Vondre Campbell
While the Packers had struck gold with several of their additions on the defensive front and secondary, primarily via the draft, the second level remained a problem area for them heading into last year’s offseason. While former Cowboys Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith was the name people paid attention to, once he was cut a month into the year, their one-year, two-million dollar signing of the journey man in Campbell was actually what really paid off for that unit. He became the first linebacker to be named first-team All-Pro since Ray Nitschke in 1966 and his PFF grade of 86.0 was the best for any full-time off-ball LB. His 102 solo tackles and six for loss were impressive, but it was his play in coverage that really stood out. Campbell was responsible for just 4.9 yards per target and one TD, with two picks and five more PBUs on his tally.
92. Jordan Mailata
After jumping into the starting left tackle spot for 10 games of 2020 and showing flashes, this former Australian rugby standout ascended to being one of the best offensive tackles in the game. He did allow three sacks last season, but only 18 total pressures on 437 pass-blocking snaps, whilst moving the line of scrimmage constantly for the number one rushing attack in the league. For a team that runs a lot of vertically-oriented scheme, this guy was the most powerful drive-blocker and earned the fourth-highest run-block win rate among tackles (80%) from to ESPN. That led to a 88.3 overall PFF grade — second among qualifying left tackles — in really just his first season as a full-time starter.
93. Dak Prescott
This may seem a little bit low for a quarterback that just completed 68.8 percent of his passes for nearly 4500 yards, 37 touchdowns and ten interceptions, who led his team to a division title with a 11-5 record when under center. However, he did face a fairly soft schedule and in their three games against teams that made it to at least the Divisional Round, the Cowboys went 0-3, while Dak was limited to nine points at Kansas City and struggled to put together drives until the fourth quarter against the 49ers in their Wildcard loss. Another year away from the ankle surgery should be beneficial to his mobility, but last season he only picked up seven first downs on 48 carries and fumbled an NFL-high 14 times. I think putting him just outside the top-ten of QBs is fair.
94. Adrian Amos
Underrated safeties have been one of the themes of this list and Amos is a guy who has fit that bill for two different NFC North teams. While Eddie Jackson was the big name in Chicago and now even in Green Bay, Darnell Savage may be the flashier one of the two, he’s been one of the premiere players at the position for the last four years. Over that stretch, he has picked off exactly two passes every year, broken up eight or nine in each of them and been very consistent with his coverage metrics. Last season he was officially charged with six touchdowns, but those numbers can be skewed by ending up as the closest defender without actually being responsible, and he only was responsible for five combined the previous three years, with a missed tackle rate of only 8.5% despite working from depth primarily.
95. Joe Mixon
As you can tell, running back isn’t a position represented tremendously well on this countdown. And that’s not because of the devaluation by analytics and looking at their percentage of the salary cap, but rather the few names I count as true difference-makers, who are consistently available. Of the six RBs ahead of Mixon, only Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler didn’t miss at least three games. That’s where I appreciate Mixon, who outside of 2020, when he was limited to just six games by an undisclosed foot injury, after Joe Burrow had already gotten hurt – the one year I had him in fantasy – has never missed that many games in one of the other four seasons. Last season he cracked 1500 scrimmage yards for the first time and scored 16 TDs, whilst averaging 4.1 yards behind a shaky O-line that was constantly shuffling pieces around.
96. Brandon Scherff
Ever since entering the league in 2015, Scherff has been one of the best guards in football every year basically, only missing the Pro Bowl once since his second season (when he only played half the games in ’18). He didn’t give up any sacks in 2021, but the 4.5% pressure rate he was responsible for was the highest of his career. Although his performance was hindered by a sprained MCL and still earned the highest run-block win rate among guards (77%) by to ESPN. This guy has been one of the most physical players at paving the way from the point he was drafted on and the only reason he isn’t higher on this list is that he has missed 22 games over the past four years.
97. Xavier McKinney
On a listed filled with names with other top-100 names, such as Rashan Gary, Trevon Diggs and Juan Thornhill, McKinney might have been the player I’m most proud of for calling him a 2021 breakout candidate. After appearing in just six games as a rookie as a designated nickel, he became the biggest play-maker on either side of the ball for the G-Men at safety. McKinney picked off five passes (one returned for a TD) and broke up another ten, while being responsible for three touchdowns and a passer rating in the low 70’s. Despite being utilized in deep zone coverage a lot more, he got plenty of action as a tackler (93 total), due to bad second level play for Big Blue and he managed to finish those plays well, with a solid ten misses.
98. Micah Hyde
Talking about safeties with great ball-skills, Micah Hyde has been one of the most productive players in that regard ever since stepping into the starting nickel role for Green Bay back in 2014. With Buffalo, his usage started putting him further away from the quarterback and while the Bills like having those two interchangeable safeties, where they can play cover-two or rotate strong and weak, when they go to three-deep, Micah has been more of the designated deep middle player. That’s understandable, because he is one of the most instinctive guys int that role, leaning one way and blindly executing speed-turns to fall off to a secondary target, as he feels the QB progress. That and what he can do jumping routes when he can drive down from depth, led to five picks and ten more PBUs last season, with solid coverage numbers despite an average depth of target at 12.5 yards.
99. Devin White
We’ve seen White make so many crazy plays in big games, being part of one of top NFC teams since the arrival of Tom Brady, that it’s easy to forget he’s only played three seasons in the league. His ability to linemen to the spot and the range to run down ball-carriers out to the edges is special. Having him and Lavonte David next to each other has been instrumental in finishing first twice and then third in rushing yards allowed over the last three years respectively. He has had his issues in coverage, where he’s been responsible for completion-percentages in the 75 to 83 percent range, but that didn’t include any touchdowns last season and I have seen some high-quality reps against RBs when they blitzed away from him. More importantly, not using White as part of the rush package on passing downs is a disservice to him, while he was down to “only” 3.5 sacks this past year, he racked up a career-high 31(!) pressures on about three times as many blitzes.
T.-100. Marshon Lattimore & Tre’Davious White
It felt right to me to put these two guys together, because they both entered the NFL in 2017 and were neck-and-neck in the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Now five seasons into their careers, they both have established themselves as two of the best corners in the game today, while being asked to fulfill different assignments. While I would argue Lattimore has the tougher job in New Orleans with how much he’s put in man- or match-coverage against some of the league’s top receivers, White has certainly been the bigger play-maker in a zone-heavy scheme for Buffalo, where his ability to feather off targets and make plays outside his area, as well as drive on routes in off-coverage have been fun to watch.
Last season, White missed the final six weeks and didn’t record multiple INTs for the first time in his career, with his worst missed tackle rate yet, but he was responsible for only 5.1 yards per target and no TDs. Lattimore on the other hand was much more “generous” in that regard, but held his own one-on-one versus some of the game’s best and his 22 total passes defensed were the most he’s had since his rookie year.
The next 30 names:
Patrick Surtain II
Kenny Moore II