With 10 days left until the regular season opener, this 10-part series counts down the top-200 players in the NFL. 200 might sounds like a lot, but with 53 players on 32 teams’ rosters, that’s 1696 players. Count guys on the practice squad, guys on the PUP or the IR, and guys who are free agents, but still on teams’ radar. That’s probably 2000 players. These guys are the top 10%. Positional value doesn’t matter because if it did, this list would be too quarterback heavy.
181. CB Brandon Carr (Dallas)
A dominant #2 cornerback for a few seasons in Kansas City opposite Brandon Flowers, the Cowboys took a big chance that Carr could excel without Flowers to take away opponent’s #1 receivers, giving him a 5-year, 50.1 million dollar deal usually reserved for proven #1 cornerbacks last off-season. Carr didn’t live up to that deal in his first season in Dallas, but he still played well and proved to be an asset. Best case scenario for the Cowboys is that 2012 1st round pick Morris Claiborne could develop into a #1 cornerback and allow Carr to serve the role he did in Kansas City.
182. WR Hakeem Nicks (NY Giants)
After averaging over 1000 yards per year in his first 3 seasons in the league, since being taken in the 1st round by the Giants in 2009, Hakeem Nicks was limited to 53 catches for 692 yards and 3 touchdowns on 100 targets last year by injuries. He’s now missed 9 games in 4 seasons with injuries, while being limited in many others, and has never played a full 16 game season. He’ll have to prove himself all over again this season, as he’s going into his contract year without a new deal. His next deal might come elsewhere as the Giants already made a big financial commitment to Victor Cruz this off-season and have Rueben Randle waiting in the wings.
183. CB Cortland Finnegan (St. Louis)
An up and down cornerback in his career in Tennessee, Cortland Finnegan turned a fantastic contract year into a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal with old Head Coach Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams last off-season, but didn’t live up to it in his first season with the team. He could bounce back in his 2nd year with the team, at only 29 years of age, but it’s tough to know what you’re getting from him. Still an elite slot cornerback, Finnegan is an inconsistent player on the outside because of his lack of size.
184. OT David Stewart (Tennessee)
Quietly doing his job well for years, David Stewart has been an above average right tackle, making 104 starts, since taking over in 2006. There was some concern about a fractured leg this off-season for the soon-to-be 31 year old and the Titans had interest in some insurance at one point, but Stewart looks good to go this season and should remain an above average right tackle.
185. OLB Bruce Carter (Dallas)
A budding star 3-down linebacker, Bruce Carter has played well thus far in his career, since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, despite being miscast as a 3-4 inside linebacker. Now going into his 3rd year in the league, the Cowboys have switched up the defensive scheme to a 4-3 and have brought in Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator, who has plans of making Carter his Derrick Brooks and highlighting his rare ability in space. The only thing holding him back is injuries, as he dropped to the 2nd round because of a torn ACL suffered late in his final season at North Carolina and he missed the final month of the season last year with a dislocated elbow.
186. S Dashon Goldson (Tampa Bay)
Goldson became one of the NFL’s highest paid safeties this off-season anyway you look at it, as he signed a 5-year, 41.5 million dollar deal with 22 million guaranteed with the Buccaneers this off-season, but he’s not that caliber of player. 2 off-seasons ago, Goldson had trouble finding work out of the lockout and settled for a cheap one year deal with the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio got the most out of him and he was helped by a strong front seven that made him look better than he was. He had 7 interceptions in 2011, but was one of the most frequently torched safeties in coverage and, while he improved in 2012, despite intercepting just 3 passes, he’s not the type of player who deserves the money he received this off-season.
187. RB Arian Foster (Houston)
Overrated by many because of fantasy football, Arian Foster has seen his YPC drop from 4.9 to 4.4 to 4.1 over the past 3 seasons as his blocking has gone from elite to above average to average. He’s also coming off a rough season as a pass catcher and pass protector. Now with 1115 touches in his past 3 seasons, his body seems to be breaking down somewhat so the arrow is trending even further down. His biggest asset is his ability as a goal line back.
188. WR Eric Decker (Denver)
As so many receivers do, Eric Decker had a breakout 3rd season in the league in 2012, catching 85 passes for 1064 yards and 13 touchdowns. Of course, an upgrade from Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning definitely helped, but Decker proved to be an above average receiver in his own right. He’ll see less production this season with Wes Welker stealing some of his underneath targets and the Broncos will have a very interesting decision to make on him as he goes into a contract year this off-season.
189. OT William Beatty (NY Giants)
A 2nd round pick of the Giants in 2009, William Beatty barely played a full season’s worth of snaps in his first 3 years in the league because of injury, but he played in 15 of 16 games in 2012 and was one of the best left tackles in the league, just in time for his contract year. He was given a 5-year, 38.75 million dollar deal by the Giants this off-season, a deal that could prove to be a good value if he can stay healthy and play like he did in 2012, but the Giants might have overpaid based on one good year.
190. G Chris Snee (NY Giants)
Chris Snee has been the rock of the Giants’ offensive line since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2004, starting 138 games and routinely providing above average play, with the exception of 2011, when he struggled through an elbow injury. He’s 31 now, but he should continue to be an above average starter for the Giants for at least a couple more seasons.
191. S Earl Thomas (Seattle)
Frequently mentioned as one of the top safeties in the NFL, Earl Thomas is in that 2nd tier for me because of his tendency to take bad routes to the ball and miss too many tackles (29 in the past 2 seasons), but you can’t deny his deep coverage abilities are a big part of why the Seahawks have such a strong secondary.
192. QB Robert Griffin (Washington)
He’d be higher on this list if I were more confident in his ability to stay healthy long term. Griffin looks ready to return for week 1 from a torn ACL suffered in January in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. He’s also had concussions and previous knee injuries and his frame and style of play make him a constant injury risk. Still, he was the rightful Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. Unlike Russell Wilson, his team built their offense around him and relied on him to carry them into the playoffs, with poor defense behind him, and he was significantly more accurate and careful with the ball than Andrew Luck.
193. OT Jake Long (St. Louis)
A one time, he probably would have been top-20 on this list as one of, if not the best left tackle in the game, but injuries have led to declining play from him over the past 2 seasons, to the point where he was an average player in 2012. The Rams look a risk on his upside, giving him a 4-year, 34 million dollar deal this off-season after an extensive medical exam and it could pay off. He could also be off this list entirely next season.
194. OT Tyson Clabo (Miami)
A consistently top level right tackle with the Falcons, the aging Clabo was cut this off-season, owed 4.5 million going into his age 32 season. He remains on the market for a bit, but signed a 1-year, 3.5 million dollar deal with the Dolphins that should prove to be a steal. He’s getting older, but he should still remain an above average right tackle and I think the Falcons will really miss him.
195. WR DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia)
A one trick speedster who might have peaked too early, Jackson averaged over 1000 receiving yards in his first 3 seasons in the league and looked on his way towards becoming a top level receiver, but he hasn’t been over that 1000 mark in the 2 seasons since. Defenses have caught onto him and he hasn’t really been able to adjust. He’s coming off an injury plagued season in which he missed 5 games, but he was actually on a 1000 yard pace before getting hurt and with Chip Kelly coming in and Jeremy Maclin out with injury, things are looking up for Jackson.
196. S Rahim Moore (Denver)
Best known for the Mile High Mistake that led to an eventual Broncos win in the post-season last year, Moore played one of the single worst snaps by any safety in the NFL last season at the worst time. However, that doesn’t erase what he did the rest of the year, when he started all 16 games and showed himself to be one of the better safeties in the league in the regular season. Assuming he can put that mistake behind him, the 2011 2nd round pick could have his best season as a pro in 2013.
197. TE Brandon Myers (NY Giants)
Billed as a blocking type and little else going into last season, the Raiders, desperate for talent, made him their starting tight end and he impressed in his first year as a starter. He got very little separation, but showed himself to be a great possession receiver, catching 79 of 101 targets for 804 yards and 4 touchdowns. Ironically enough, he struggled as a blocker, due to a lingering shoulder injury, but that seems to be behind him. He signed with the Giants this off-season, where tight ends are required to be able to block, and he gets to work with legendary tight ends coach Michael Pope. Eli Manning loves throwing to tight ends so Myers could be a trusty possession receiver behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
198. C Scott Wells (St. Louis)
An excellent center in Green Bay, Wells cashed in with a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal that was one of the biggest for a center in NFL history, signing with the Rams. However, numerous injuries caused him to miss about half the season and made him ineffective when he did play. Now going into his age 32 season, his best days could be behind him, but he could also have a bounce back season.
199. RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville)
After 1084 touches in 3 seasons from 2009-2011, Maurice Jones-Drew predictably suffered a Lisfranc injury early in 2012. Now going into his age 28 season, MJD is still feeling the effects of that injury, even after off-season surgery, and it’s possible he’ll never be the same back. Still, he could have somewhat of a bounce back season, which would be big for him as he’s in a contract year and will need to convince a team to take a chance on him this off-season, something plenty of other aged backs have had trouble doing lately.
200. WR Pierre Garcon (Washington)
Garcon got a 5 year, 42.5 million dollar contract from the Redskins as a free agent last off-season. However, he did that without making a Pro-Bowl or even having a 1000 yard season. The Redskins took a major chance giving Garcon that kind of money, banking on his natural athleticism and skill set allowing him to break out as the X receiver in Mike Shanahan’s offense. He definitely flashed in his first year with the team, averaging 2.94 yards per route run, 2nd in the NFL among eligible wide receivers behind Andre Johnson. However, injuries limited him to just 215 routes run (less than half of his team’s total). They seem to be behind him for the most part now so he has immense upside as Robert Griffin’s #1 receiver.