Top-200 NFL Players: 51-75 (2014)

51. S Earl Thomas (Seattle)

Some people consider Earl Thomas the top safety in the NFL. Thomas has never graded out higher than 8th among safeties on Pro Football Focus, doing so in 2011, and finishing 10th in 2013, including 4th in pure coverage grade. There’s something to be said for the fact that Earl Thomas hasn’t missed a game in 4 seasons in the league since being drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and that he’s only going into his age 25 season. However, Jairus Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, not Thomas. The big difference: In 5 seasons, Byrd has missed 22 tackles, while Thomas has missed 55 tackles in 4 seasons, including 31 over the past 2 seasons alone. That might sound like splitting hairs, but when we’re talking about best safety in the NFL, that type of thing matters. Thomas is still a fantastic football player though.

Last year: 190

52. G Marshal Yanda (Baltimore)

Yanda had a down season last season, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked guard. Yanda has played right tackle and right guard in his career. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked guard in 2012 and their 3rd ranked guard in 2011. At right tackle, he ranked 6th in 2010 and 5th in 2007 as a 3rd round rookie. In 2008, he played right guard and only played in 5 games because of injury, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked guard despite playing just 350 snaps. No one played fewer snaps than him and graded out higher. In 2009, he was limited to 405 snaps and 7 starts at right guard because of some limited time at right tackle, where he played well, and some more injuries, but he still graded out 17th at his position, with no one grading out higher than him and playing fewer snaps. Going into his age 30 season, Yanda has a very good chance of bouncing back from his “down” season.

Last year: 32

53. CB Brent Grimes (Miami)

The Dolphins signed Brent Grimes to a 1-year, 5.5 million dollar contract last off-season, as he was coming off of a torn Achilles, and it worked out. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked cornerback last season and the Dolphins rewarded him with a 4-year, 32 million dollar deal this off-season. That’s a lot of money for a player going into his age 31 season that has Grimes’ injury history, missing 19 games from 2011-2012. It was a good deal though. When healthy, Grimes is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked cornerback in 2010, 3rd ranked in 2011, and 2nd ranked in 2013. He joined Antoine Winfield, Brandon Flowers, and Jason McCourty as the only 4 cornerbacks to grade out in the top-10 in 3 of the last 4 seasons.

Last year: NA

54. MLB Luke Kuechly (Carolina)

Luke Kuechly won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, though I don’t think he deserved it. Kuechly definitely had a great season, but he’s not nearly as flawless as people seem to think he is. As good as Kuechly is against the run, he can struggle in coverage. Only one middle linebacker allowed more completions than Kuechly. Putting up a ton of tackles is great, but it’s an overrated stat because not all tackles are equal. If you’re tackling a guy after a 9 yard completion, you’re not doing a lot of good. Kuechly had just 39 tackles for a “stop” against the run, meaning a tackle within 4 yards of the line of original line of scrimmage on first down, 6 yards on 2nd down, or the full distance on 3rd or 4th down. He did this on 325 run snaps, a rate of 12.0% that was 7th among eligible middle linebackers. That’s certainly not bad, but considering his run play is his best attribute, it’s hardly Defensive Player of the Year material. All this might sound like nitpicking, but nitpicking is what you have to do when picking a single defensive player for an award. Still, he’s a very good player who graded out 8th at his position last season and 7th in 2012.

Last year: 88

55. CB Jason McCourty (Tennessee)

McCourty has graded out in the top-11 in each of the last 3 seasons, the only cornerback in the NFL who can say that, and the 2009 6th round pick has graded out in the top-20 in each of the past 4 seasons, joining Joe Haden has the only other cornerback who has done that. Part of that is that he’s been so good against the run and run stopping ability is easily a cornerback’s least important trait. He was Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked cornerback in 2011 and 2nd ranked cornerback in 2012 in terms of run grade. Still, he was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked cornerback in coverage grade in 2013 and 16th ranked cornerback in coverage grade in 2010. He’s graded out above average in coverage in every season in the league. He’s a well-rounded cornerback, though he isn’t quite as good as his overall grades would suggest he is.

Last year: 156

56. S TJ Ward (Denver)

Ward is one of the best safeties in the NFL. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th and 6th ranked safety in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the only safety in the NFL to finish top-6 both seasons. He was also 13th in 2011, despite missing 8 games with injury. That was really his only injury plagued season as he missed 2 games in his other 3 seasons combined, playing 54 games in 4 seasons, starting each of them and grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010. Kam Chancellor and Eric Berry give him some competition for the title, but, in my opinion, Ward is the best strong safety in the NFL. His strength is obviously the run, but he holds up in coverage as well. The Broncos got a steal by signing him to a 4-year, 23 million dollar deal this off-season. He undoubtedly gave them a discount because they were a contender, after he spent the first 4 years of his career on a losing team in Cleveland.

Last year: 155

57. WR Brandon Marshall (Chicago)

Marshall is as steady as they come, with 7 straight 1000 yard seasons in which he’s missed a combined 4 games.  He hasn’t always been dominant, grading outside of the top-10 on Pro Football Focus in 4 of 7 seasons as a starter, and he’s had issues with drops, dropping 91 passes in 7 seasons. However, he’s been dominant since coming to Chicago (grading out in the top-8 in both seasons). He’s averaged 2.32 yards per route run over the past 7 seasons and he’s caught enough passes to make up for the drops. Last season, he was actually Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver by a large margin. That was mostly because of his absurd run blocking grade and that’s obviously not his primary job, but he was still Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked pass catching receiver and the fact that he can dominate on the outside on running downs is a nice added bonus. He’s been Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver in run blocking grade 3 times in 7 seasons.

Last year: 53

58. QB Tom Brady (New England)

Tom Brady arguably had the worst statistical season of his career last season, completing 60.5% of his passes (lowest since 2003), for an average of 6.92 YPA (lowest since 2003), 25 touchdowns (lowest in a full season since 2006), and 11 interceptions, a QB rating of 87.3. That QB rating was the 4th worst of his career and the lowest since 2003, when the NFL’s rules didn’t favor the quarterback nearly as much as they do now. Those numbers were all significant declines from 2010-2012, when he completed 64.7% of his passes for an average of 8.02 YPA, 109 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions, a QB rating of 104.6. Part of the issue was Brady’s lack of supporting cast offensively. However, part of the issue was also Brady himself. Brady was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked quarterback, which is very good, but he was 3rd in both 2011 and 2012. The decline he’s showing is a concern considering as he’s heading into his age 37 season.

Last year: 10

59. OT Tyron Smith (Dallas)

Tyron Smith was the 9th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and he’s panned out. He graded out 3rd in 2011 and 7th in 2013, with a down 2012 season in between, when he graded out slightly below average. He played right tackle as a rookie, had some growing pains at left tackle in 2012, but then put it all together last season. Only going into his age 24 season, Smith is one of the better young left tackles in the game. The Cowboys gave him an 8-year, 98 million dollar extension this off-season and have him under contract through 2023 at 109 million dollars total.

Last year: NA

60. DE Sheldon Richardson (NY Jets)

The 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Richardson won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, excelling against the run. Richardson’s 52 solo tackles were 2nd most at the 5-technique defensive end position behind all-everything JJ Watt and he also had 16 assisted tackles, which led the position, and missed just 4 tackles. As good as JJ Watt was, he missed 7 tackles. Richardson also had 41 “stops” which also came in 2nd at his position, again behind Watt. 32 of those stops came on run plays, on 325 run snaps, a rate of 9.8% that was 7th among eligible 5-technique defensive ends. He also did a great job of tying up multiple blockers when asked. For his work against the run, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 3-4 defensive end against the run and 5th overall. He wasn’t nearly as impressive as a pass rusher, with those aforementioned 4 sacks. He also had 5 hits and 24 hurries on 509 pass rush snaps, a rate of 6.5%. That isn’t that bad and he only graded out slightly below average in this aspect on Pro Football Focus. I don’t have much doubt that he can continue to be an elite player in 2014, possibly even better than he was as a rookie.

Last year: NA

61. C Ryan Kalil (Carolina)

Ryan Kalil was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked center last season, in his first year back after being limited to 292 snaps in 5 games with a foot injury in 2012. Prior to the injury, he was one of the best centers in the league, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked center in 2009, 7th ranked in 2010, and 7th ranked in 2011. Now that he’s healthy again, he’s gone back to being one of the best centers in the league.

Last year: 50

62. OT Eugene Monroe (Baltimore)

Monroe has been a top-16 offensive tackle on ProFootballFocus in each of the last 3 seasons, maxing out as #6 in 2011. He graded out 16th overall this season, but playing even better once he was traded to Baltimore. The Baltimore “version” of Monroe was the #12 offensive tackle this season. Even if we use his composite grade for the 2013 season, Monroe is still one of just 4 offensive tackles to grade out in the top-16 on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons (Joe Thomas, Michael Roos, Andrew Whitworth). He’s one of the better blindside protectors in the game and the Ravens got him on a great deal, re-signing him for 5 years, 37.5 million dollars this off-season.

Last year: 113

63. G Andy Levitre (Tennessee)

The Titans signed Andy Levitre to a 6-year, 46.8 million dollar deal last off-season. He had a “down” year in his first year with the team, but he was still a huge asset, grading out 13th at his position. The only reason last year was a “down” year for him is because he graded out 6th at his position in 2011 and 9th at his position in 2012. Even still, only Evan Mathis and Josh Sitton also have graded out in the top-13 in each of the last 3 seasons among guards. The 2009 2nd round pick has made all 80 starts in 5 years in the league and graded out above average in all 5 seasons. He should have another strong year this year.

Last year: 76

64. QB Philip Rivers (San Diego)

After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013 though, completing 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, a QB rating of 105.5, tying his career high. He led the Chargers to the playoffs with a record of 9-7, pulling an upset in Cincinnati in the first round. The Chargers were able to do this despite a defense that ranked 28th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.36% rate, because Rivers led an offense that was 2nd in the NFL moving the chains at a 78.26% rate. His age is a concern, as he goes into his age 33 season, and so is the fact that he lost offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, but he’s an ideal fit in head coach Mike McCoy’s offensive system.

Last year: NA

65. MLB Stephen Tulloch (Detroit)

Stephen Tulloch had a phenomenal 2013 season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked middle linebacker. He has done this kind of thing before, as he graded out above average as a starter in every season from 2008-2011, maxing out at 6th overall in 2011. He struggled in 2012, grading out below average, but only because he was playing through a serious knee injury. He bounced back in a huge way in 2013 and should continue to play really well in 2014.

Last year: NA

66. OLB Tamba Hali (Kansas City)

Hali was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker last season. He was 17th in 2012, in a down year, but otherwise he’s been a dominant edge rusher since converting to rush linebacker in 2009. He was Pro Football Focus’ 9th, 1st, and 4th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2009, 2010, and 2011 respectively. In 2010, he had arguably the most impressive season in terms of purely rushing the passer of any player in the last 5 years as he had 17 sacks, 16 hits, and 64 hurries on 543 pass rush snaps, an absurd 17.9% rate (basically he was pressuring the quarterback on more than a 1/6 of his pass rush snaps). The biggest issue with Hali is his age as he goes into his age 31 season. He’s shown some small signs of decline over the past two seasons and he could have a down year this year, considering guys like Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, and Dwight Freeney have done similar things at similar points in their careers.

Last year: 120

67. DT Marcell Dareus (Buffalo)

Marcell Dareus was the 3rd overall pick in the loaded 2011 draft and is now going into his 4thseason in the league, only his age 25 season. The Bills already picked up his 5th year option and for good reason. He’s played both 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 nose tackle in his career, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked defensive tackle in both 2011 and 2012 and their 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2013. The scheme switch in Buffalo shouldn’t affect him and he could be even better in his 4th year in the league. He has some minor off-the-field concerns though.

Last year: 120

68. OLB Brian Orakpo (Washington)

Brian Orakpo bounced back in a big way from a torn triceps injury that limited to him to 87 snaps in 2012. Last season, Orakpo graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker and showed a fantastic all-around game. He graded out above average as a run stopper, pass rusher, and in coverage, grading out 9that his position as a pass rusher, 4th as a run stopper, and 2nd in coverage. The 2009 13th overall pick was also Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2011. The Redskins franchise tagged him this off-season, as they obviously didn’t want him to get away, though they were unable to agree to a long-term deal.

Last year: 93

69. OT Duane Brown (Houston)

Duane Brown is one of the better offensive tackles in the game. Last year he was Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked offensive tackle in a “down” season. Brown was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked offensive tackle in 2012, 5th ranked offensive tackle in 2011, and 19th ranked offensive tackle in 2010. Even after last year, he’s still one of four offensive tackles (Andrew Whitworth, Joe Thomas, and Sebastian Vollmer) who has graded out in the top-24 in each of the past 4 seasons. The 2008 1st round pick has graded out above average in every season since 2009, after a rough rookie year.

Last year: 11

70. G Larry Warford (Detroit)

I argued Larry Warford should have been Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. Warford played every snap one of Detroit’s 1158 offensive snaps as a rookie. Warford didn’t allow a single sack from the right guard spot and only allowed 5 quarterback hits and 10 hurries, while committing just 4 penalties this season. Warford played every snap over a 16 game season and only allowed his man to even get close to the quarterback 15 times. In fact, he only allowed more than 2 quarterback pressures in a game once and that was against Cincinnati, when he was frequently matched up with all-everything defensive tackle Geno Atkins, before Atkins’ injury. On top of that, the right guard gap produced 4.77 yards per carry for the Lions, a team that averaged just 4.04 yards per carry overall. As a result, Warford was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked guard and was an obvious Pro-Bowl snub. He’s obviously still a one year wonder, as he was a rookie last year, but I’m confident he can have another dominant year.

Last year: NA

71. S Kam Chancellor (Seattle)

Kam Chancellor has graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons he’s been in the league. He didn’t start as a 5th round rookie in 2010, but he’s graded out 5th, 20th, and 12th in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively.  Both Thomas and Chancellor complement each other so well. The big 6-3 232 pound thumping Chancellor plays within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on 69.2% of snaps, 5th most in the NFL among eligible safety, while the rangy 5-10 208 pound Thomas plays within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on just 12.6% of snaps, 6th fewest in the NFL. While Thomas might be overrated, Chancellor might actually be underrated.

Last year: 159

72. C Chris Myers (Houston)

Chris Myers is also one of the top centers in the game. Myers has been a top-11 center on Pro Football Focus in every season since 2007, the only center in the game who can say that. He maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked center in 2011 and graded out 6th last season. He’s always been a better run blocker than pass protector, but he did struggle as a pass protector last season, grading out 30th out of 35 eligible in that aspect, as opposed to 2nd as a run blocker. He’s going into his age 33 season, but interior offensive linemen can often play well even in their mid-30s. His declining pass protection is a concern, but he should still have a solid season.

Last year: 28

73. DE Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay)

The Buccaneers signed Michael Johnson to a 5-year, 43.75 million dollar deal. Johnson is an incredibly athletic defensive end who went in the 3rd round out of Georgia Tech in 2009 because a lot of his tape didn’t match his athleticism. He eventually put everything together in 2012 in the contract year of his rookie deal, as he recorded 13 sacks and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked 4-3 defensive end. The Bengals franchise tagged him instead of giving him a long-term deal because they wanted him to prove it again. At first glance, he doesn’t appear to have proven it, recording just 5 sacks, but he also added 16 quarterback hits and 40 quarterback hurries on 575 snaps (a 10.6% pass rush rate, as opposed to 10.3% in 2012), to go with 7 batted passes. Add in the fact that he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end against the run and you have a guy who was much better than his raw sack totals. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 defensive end.

Last year: 158

74. CB Vontae Davis (Indianapolis)

The Colts re-signed Vontae Davis to a 4-year, 39 million dollar deal this off-season. That might not pan out, as Davis has an inconsistent past. Vontae Davis had a dominant contract year last year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked cornerback and 2nd in terms of coverage grade. However, the Colts are overpaying him based on his contract year. That type of move doesn’t usually end well. Davis was a 1st round pick in 2009 by Miami and he’s never been able to consistently put it all together. He had a solid rookie year on 709 snaps, grading out 26th among cornerbacks, and then looked like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2010, grading out 12th. However, he missed 4 games with injury in 2011, fell down to 37th, and then got traded to Indianapolis, where he graded out 74th in 2012. He put it all together for his contract year, but I’m skeptical he can keep that up.

Last year: NA

75. WR Alshon Jeffery (Chicago)

Alshon Jeffery didn’t have an impact until his 2nd season in Chicago. The 2012 2nd round pick graded out below average on 445 snaps as a rookie, but was dominant on 973 snaps last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked wide receiver. He caught 89 passes for 140 targets (63.6%) for 1421 yards on 601 routes run, an average of 2.36 yards per route run. He isn’t as proven as Marshall and he didn’t draw as much coverage as Marshall did last season, but he was more productive than him in the passing game last season. Like Marshall, he’s a big bodied receiver at 6-3 216 and can push smaller defensive backs around, grading out above average in the run blocking game. Going into his 3rd year in the league, Jeffery could easily be just as, if not more productive next season.

Last year: NA

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