This 8-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.
- DE JJ Watt (Houston)
Last year: 1
JJ Watt won the Defensive Player of the Year award last season for the 2nd time in 3 years and probably should have won it in all 3 seasons. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ top rated player in each of the last 3 seasons. Those ratings aren’t necessarily meant to be compared across positions, but Watt has been so much better than everyone else that it’s a fairly safe assessment to make. With Watt over the past 3 seasons, we’ve witnessed a stretch of dominance by a player that hasn’t been seen since Reggie White’s prime at the most recent. The only season in his career when he didn’t grade out #1 at his position was his rookie year in 2011, when the 11th overall pick “only” graded out 5th among 3-4 defensive ends. Last season was arguably the best season of Watt’s career and his rating on Pro Football Focus reflected that, though the ratings are not meant to be compared across seasons either, which is why I said arguably.
Justin Houston did have more sacks than Watt last season, 23 as compared to 21, but Watt plays a position where it’s tougher to get to the quarterback. Also, while Houston had just 8 quarterback hits, Watt had 44. No one else had more than 21 in the NFL at any position. Watt added 54 quarterback hurries, which is actually less than Houston’s 56, and in terms of overall pass rush productivity (sacks + .75 hits + .75 hurries divided by pass rush snaps), Houston was actually the better of the two at 15.7 as compared to 15.0, but, again, Watt plays a much tougher position from which to get to the quarterback. No 3-4 defensive end other than Watt was better than 9.7 in pass rush productivity. Watt’s position is also more important to run defense than Houston.
Watt wasn’t nearly as good at his position against the run as he was as a pass rusher, but he still ranked 4th in that aspect this season. He’ll never be as valuable as a top quarterback and he probably won’t even make the playoffs again until his team figures out the quarterback situation, but he’s definitely the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL. He’s easily the biggest reason why the Texans ranked 10th in opponent’s rate of moving the chains last season, as the Texans didn’t have a single player other than Watt finish in the top-10 at their position. Extended for 100 million over 6 years last off-season, Watt is locked up through his age 32 season in 2021 and at a very reasonable price, considering Justin Houston and Ndamukong Suh got 101 and 114 million respectively over 6 years.
- OLB Justin Houston (Kansas City)
Last year: 10
Houston might not be quite as good as Watt, but I still have him #2. Justin Houston played all 16 games in 2014, after missing 5 games with an elbow problem in 2013. Houston finished 2013 as the #1 3-4 outside linebacker on Pro Football Focus despite missing so much time and picked up right where he left off in 2014, finishing #1 again by nearly a double margin, putting up a near record breaking 22 sacks. A 2011 3rd round pick, Houston has graded out 13th, 4th, 1st, and 1st among 3-4 outside linebackers in his career. The Chiefs didn’t let him hit free agency this off-season, giving him the franchise tag and eventually a 6-year, 101 million dollar extension. Houston will be a feared presence for the Chiefs off the edge again in 2015 and for the foreseeable future.
- OT Joe Thomas (Cleveland)
Last year: 3
Since being drafted 3rd overall in 2007, Thomas has made 128 of 128 starts and graded out as a top-10 offensive tackle in all 8 seasons, including 4th overall in 2014. With 5 All-Pros and 8 Pro-Bowls, Thomas’ career is on a Hall of Fame track. It’s just too bad he’s had to spend that career in an offense habitually without talented skill position players. Only going into his age 31 season, another dominant year should be on its way.
- OLB Von Miller (Denver)
Last year: 28
The 2nd overall pick in 2011, Miller won Defensive Rookie of the Year and then followed it up by finishing 2nd to JJ Watt in defensive player of the year voting in 2012. Miller missed 7 games with suspension and a torn ACL in 2013, but still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 4-3 outside linebacker, despite the limited playing, making it 3 straight seasons as the #1 player at his position to start his career. Miller “slipped” to 2nd last year in his return from the ACL injury, but he remains one of the best defensive players in the entire league. After playing a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position in Denver’s old 4-3 and playing in a 3-4 at Texas A&M in college, Miller is a natural fit for Denver’s change scheme. I’m excited to see the combination of him and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
- QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)
Last year: 13
In case there was any doubt, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, something he proved last season. With Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees aging and Andrew Luck not quite there yet, Rodgers could keep that title for a couple years, at least. In 2014, Rodgers completed 65.6% of his passes for an average of 8.43 YPA, 38 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, quarterbacked a team that moved the chains at a 79.38% rate, best in the NFL, graded out #1 among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, won the NFL’s MVP, and came close to knocking off the Seahawks in Seattle in the NFC Championship game and going to the Super Bowl.
It was about as good of a return from injury as the Packers could have expected from Rodgers after he missed 7 games and most of an 8th game with a broken collarbone in 2013. The Packers went 2-6 without Rodgers in 2013 and they are 18-6 with him over the past 2 seasons combined. Even in 2013, when injuries limited him to 592 snaps, he still graded out 8th among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out better at the position. Since 2009, Rodgers has graded out 4th, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 1st respectively among quarterbacks, with his only season out of the top-5 coming in an injury shortened season.
Over that time period, Rodgers has only missed 9 games with injury, so he’s usually durable. He’s completed 66.3% of his passes, for an average of 8.41 YPA, 197 touchdowns, and 43 interceptions since 2009, winning 64 of 86 games (74.4%). He’s also added 1577 yards and 16 touchdowns on 309 carries on the ground (5.10 YPC), as he simply doesn’t have a weakness in his game. He’s going into his age 32 season in 2015, but that’s nothing for a top level quarterback. Plenty have had great success at that age and beyond. He could easily be the best quarterback in the NFL again, led the NFL’s top offense again, and pick up his 3rd MVP.
- DT Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay)
Last year: 4
The 3rdoverall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Gerald McCoy has graded out above average in all 5 seasons of his career and has beaten early career injuries problems to grade out 2nd, 1st, and 2nd in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. After missing 13 games with injury in 2010-2011 combined, he’s missed just 3 over the past 3 seasons. The Buccaneers locked McCoy up on a 7-year, 95.2 million dollar extension this off-season, which looked like a bargain when Miami paid 114 million over 6 years for a comparable player in Ndamukong Suh. The only defensive tackle to grade out in the top-2 at his position in each of the last 3 seasons, McCoy very much makes the Tampa Bay defensive line respectable by himself.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (New England)
Last year: 30
At this point last year, Rob Gronkowski was coming back from a torn ACL and was a serious injury concern. When he had January 2014 surgery on that knee, it was his 7th surgery since November 2012, including 5 on a twice broken arm, and one on his back. When Gronk was limited to 7 games in 2013, only 3 of those 9 missed games were because of the torn ACL, as he missed 6 games to start the season with arm and back problems. Throw in a significant high ankle sprain that limited him severely in the Super Bowl after the 2011 season and the fact that his back problems dated back to his collegiate days at the University of Arizona, when he missed an entire season with a back injury, and you had a guy that, even only going into his age 25 season, looked like damaged goods and someone who might never be the same again.
Instead, Gronk was Pro Football Focus’ best tight end by a wide margin in 2014, winning Comeback Player of the Year in the process. He finished 15th in the NFL in receiving yards and had 116 more yards than Greg Olsen, who was 2nd among tight ends in receiving yards this season. That was despite the fact that he wasn’t 100% to start the season, catching just 13 passes for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first 4 games of the season, and despite the fact that he didn’t play in a meaningless week 17 game for precautionary reasons. That means that Gronk had an 11 game stretch in which he caught 69 passes for 977 yards and 9 touchdowns from the tight end spot. The Patriots moved the chains at an 80.87% rate in those 11 games (and went 10-1), as opposed to 65.47% in their other 5 games (2-3), propelling them to finish 6th in the league on the season in rate of moving the chains.
Gronk made it through the whole season injury free and was nothing less than he’s always been when on the field, possibly the most valuable offensive skill position player in the NFL (excluding quarterbacks). He’s caught 294 passes for 4231 yards and 49 touchdowns in his last 57 games and he averages 2.41 yards per route run in his 5 year career. For comparison, Jimmy Graham averages just 2.08 yards per route run over that same time period and Gronkowski is a significantly better blocker. He’s easily the top tight end in the league.
In games where Gronk plays over the past 4 years (since Gronk’s 2011 breakout year), Tom Brady completes 65.1% of his passes for an average of 7.80 YPA, 114 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions, including playoffs. When Gronk doesn’t play, over that stretch of time, Brady completes 58.1% of his passes for an average of 6.84 YPA, 30 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. That’s a significant dropoff in production and there’s enough sample size on both sides to confidently attribute a lot of the difference in Brady’s production to the big tight end. If he can stay healthy, Gronkowski can have a truly special career.
- WR Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh)
Last year: 47
With Calvin Johnson nursing injuries last season, Brown took over the mantle of the best receiver in the NFL and, with Johnson getting older, it’s possible Brown keeps that title this season. Brown doesn’t win with height/weight/speed like Johnson at 5-10 186, but he has dependable hands, is the best route runner in the NFL, and is tough to take down in the open field. Brown led the league in catches and receiving yards last season, catching 129 passes (2nd most in a single season in NFL history) on 178 targets (72.5%) for 1698 yards and 13 touchdowns on 638 routes run, an average of 2.66 yards per route run, 7th in the NFL among eligible receivers.
His 5 drops give him a remarkably low drop rate and his 17 broken tackles were the 4th most in the NFL by a wide receiver. He’s not a one year wonder either, grading out 3rd at his position in 2013 (1st in pass catching grade), catching 110 passes on 159 attempts (69.2%) for 1499 yards and 8 touchdowns on 609 routes run, an average of 2.37 yards per route run, 7th among eligible receivers. He also ranked 7th among wide receivers overall in 2011, one of three 1000+ yard seasons in 5 years in the league.
Perhaps most impressively, Brown has caught at least 5 passes in 33 straight games (including playoffs), which demolished the previous NFL record of 19. Remarkably consistent, Brown has morphed into the top receiver in the NFL since Mike Wallace left Pittsburgh two off-seasons ago, proving the Steelers made the right choice by re-signing Brown to a 5-year, 41.96 million dollar extension 3 off-seasons ago and letting Wallace leave on a 5-year, 60 million dollar contract the following off-season. It was a risky move by the Steelers because Brown had only played 2 seasons in the NFL before he got the extension, but it paid off in a big way as that contract might be the best value in the NFL, not including rookie contracts.
- DE Michael Bennett (Seattle)
Last year: 15
Guys in the secondary like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor get a lot of the credit in Seattle, but defensive lineman Michael Bennett is arguably as valuable as or more valuable than any of those three. He’s been a top-7 4-3 defensive end in each of the last 4 seasons, including a career best #2 last season, dominating as both a run stopper and a pass rusher at 6-3 274. The 4 year, 28.5 million dollar deal Bennett signed with the Seahawks last off-season rivals Antonio Brown’s deal for team friendliest in the NFL.
- WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit)
Last year: 6
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson missed 3 games with injury in 2015 and was a decoy in another 2 (catching just 3 passes for 19 yards) because of a severely sprained ankle. In the 11 games he played healthy, the Lions moved the chains at a 72.59% rate, as opposed to 68.92% in the other 5 games. I think we can attribute most of that to Megatron. When healthy, he still put up great numbers, catching 68 passes for 1056 yards and 8 touchdowns in 11 games, which extrapolates to 99 catches for 1536 yards and 12 touchdowns over 16 games. Those are absurd numbers, but Johnson averaged 95 catches for 1564 yards and 11 touchdowns per season from 2010-2013, so those numbers are just another day at the office for him. He “only” averaged 2.29 yards per route run in 2014, but, if you take out the 2 weeks he played hurt, that average becomes 2.46. From 2010-2013, he averaged 2.37 yards per route run, best in the NFL over that time period.
Despite playing two games at significantly less than 100% last season, Johnson still finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked wide receiver on 705 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out better at the position. If you throw out the weeks he was hurt, he graded out 3rd among wide receivers. Johnson graded out in the top-5 among wide receivers in every season from 2010-2013, something no one else can say, and now he’s graded out in the top-7 in each of the last 5 seasons, again something no one else can say. There are some people who think that, with Johnson going into his age 30 season and coming off of an injury plagued season, that we’re starting to see the beginning of a decline with him. That may be true and guys like Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and even Dez Bryant may be better than him, but he’s still one of the best players in the NFL and having him healthy all season will be a big boost to this team.
- G Marshal Yanda (Baltimore)
Last year: 52
Marshal Yanda, while older, has been one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL over the past few years. Last year, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked guard, after uncharacteristically grading out 15th in 2013. Prior to 2013, he graded out in the top-5 at his position in three straight seasons, 2011 and 2012 at right guard and 2010 at right tackle. Even going into his age 31 season, he’s one of the most dominant players in the NFL.
- DE Cameron Wake (Miami)
Last year: 11
Free agent acquisition Ndamukong Suh isn’t Miami’s only dominant defensive lineman, as defensive end Cameron Wake is one of the best edge rushers in the game. He graded out 3rd among 4-3 defensive ends in 2009, 4th among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2010, 1stamong 3-4 outside linebackers in 2011, 1st among 4-3 defensive ends in 2012, 3rd among 4-3 defensive ends in 2013, and 1st among 4-3 defensive ends. The only issue is he’s going into his age 33 season. However, I’d call him the best defensive end in the game if not for his age and he’s yet to show any sort of signs of decline so I think we can count on another dominant year from him. Him and Suh on the same defensive line is going to be a nightmare for opponents’ offenses.
- CB Chris Harris (Denver)
Last year: 106
A 2011 undrafted free agent, Harris has improved basically every year he’s been in the NFL, to the point where he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the entire NFL right now. Harris graded out 22nd as a rookie (on 465 snaps), 5th in 2012, 8th in 2013, and 1st in 2014. He joins Richard Sherman as the only player in the NFL to grade out in the top-8 in each of the last 3 seasons on Pro Football Focus. Harris shook off a January 2014 torn ACL like it was nothing, en route to his career best 2014 campaign, during which he received a well-deserved 5-year, 42.5 million dollar extension in December ahead of free agency. Arguably the top cornerback in the NFL, he’s already a great value.
- G Josh Sitton (Green Bay)
Last year: 19
Sitton is arguably one of the best guards in the NFL. The 2008 4th round pick has made 94 of 96 starts since 2009 and graded out 8th, 5th, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, and 4th respectively in the 6 seasons since then. No other guard has graded out in the top-8 in each of the last 6 seasons, or even come close to that. He’s graded out above average in every season he’s been in the league and, only going into his age 29 with minimal injury history, he’s still in the prime of his career. He should be dominant again in 2015.
- WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver)
Last year: 40
Thomas has put up absurd numbers over the past 3 seasons, playing all 48 games, catching 297 passes for 4483 yards and 35 touchdowns. Playing with Peyton Manning at quarterback and being a target monster has definitely helped him, so his numbers could see a little bit of a dip this season if Manning has a down year, but he’s graded out 2nd, 5th, and 5th among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in his own right in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. No other wide receiver has graded out in the top-5 in all 3 of those seasons. The 2010 1st round pick was also productive with Tim Tebow in 2011, as he had 35 catches for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final 7 games, including playoffs. That’s 80 catches for 1703 yards and 9 touchdowns extrapolated over 16 games. Along with Antonio Brown and Calvin Johnson, you can make a case for him as the best wide receiver in football. The Broncos kept him on a 5-year, 70 million dollar extension this off-season, after franchise tagging him.
- MLB Luke Kuechly (Carolina)
Last year: 54
Kuechly, the 9th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, has graded out 7th, 8th, and 1st among middle linebackers in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively and is among the best in the game at his position. Only going into his age 24 season, Kuechly might just be entering his prime. The Panthers made him the highest paid middle linebacker in NFL history this off-season, by giving him a 5-year, 62 million dollar extension.
- CB Richard Sherman (Seattle)
Last year: 9
Richard Sherman has made 48 of 48 starts over the past 3 seasons and 58 in 4 seasons in the league, since the Seahawks grabbed him as a steal in the 5th round in 2011. In 4 seasons in the league, he’s graded out 16th, 2nd, 5th, and 3rd from 2011-2014 respectively. He’s the only cornerback in the league to grade out in the top-5 in 3 straight seasons and is firmly in that top tier of cornerbacks with Darrelle Revis and Chris Harris.
- DT Ndamukong Suh (Miami)
Last year: 34
Suh is a fantastic football player, one of the best defensive tackles in the game, and arguably one of the best players in the NFL regardless of position. He’s been a top-4 defensive tackle on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons, joining only Gerald McCoy as the only two players who can say that. That being said, he was definitely overpaid on a 6-year, 114 million dollar deal, with 60 million guaranteed. That is too much for any non-quarterback, except for maybe JJ Watt, but he’s on his own level. Even Watt got “only” 100 million over 6 years. Still, Suh is a fantastic player who will really help the Dolphins.
- RB Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh)
Last year: NA
Le’Veon Bell will miss the first 2 games of the season with a suspension for marijuana possession and a DUI. That’s bad news because, when Bell got hurt in Pittsburgh’s week 17 game last season, knocking him out for the playoffs, it made the Steelers a noticeably different offense, leading to a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round. Bell’s importance to the Steelers wasn’t just proven in the Baltimore loss. It should have been evident all year, as the 2013 2nd round pick broke out as arguably the best running back in the NFL during the regular season, a big part of the reason for Pittsburgh’s offensive dominance. He’s still just a one year wonder, after averaging just 3.52 yards per carry as a rookie, but I think he was the best running back in the NFL last season, apologies to DeMarco Murray.
Murray obviously was the NFL’s leading rusher with 1845 yards, 484 more than Bell who was in 2nd with 1361. However, that’s largely because Murray had more carries, 392 to 290. Bell’s 4.69 YPC was very comparable to Murray’s 4.71, even though Murray ran behind a Dallas offensive line that ranked 2nd in run blocking grade on Pro Football Focus, while Pittsburgh’s ranked 9th. Murray was also much more useful on passing downs, grading out better in pass protection and pass receiving.
Bell’s 83 catches for 853 yards (basically wide receiver numbers) help make up for the difference in yardage totals between Bell and Murray, as Murray caught just 57 passes for 416 yards. Murray only finished with 55 more yards on 69 more touches. While Murray had the higher pure running grade on Pro Football Focus last season (still behind Marshawn Lynch though) Bell was Pro Football Focus’ #1 overall ranked running back. Even as a rookie when he averaged a low YPC, he still graded out above average overall, ranking 31st among running backs, largely because of 45 catches for 399 yards.
- S Eric Weddle (San Diego)
Last year: 31
Chargers also have arguably the best safety in the game in Eric Weddle, someone who has been there since the Chargers drafted him in the 2nd round in 2007. Weedle has graded out in the top-6 among safeties in every season from 2010-2014 on Pro Football Focus, the only safety in the NFL that can say that. Earl Thomas and Devin McCourty might be better deep safeties, but I don’t know if there is a better all-around safety than Weedle. He grades out well both against the run and against the pass and has played about half of his snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage and half outside of 8 yards in the last 2 seasons.
- RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)
Last year: 108
Over the past 3 seasons, Lynch has rushed for 4153 yards and 36 touchdowns on 896 carries, an average of 4.64 YPC and he’s been even better than his numbers suggest as, like Wilson, he has to deal with a poor offensive line and a receiving corps that rarely draws double teams. The fact that the Seahawks finished 9th in rate of moving the chains last season on offense despite just 4 players who played more than 300 snaps and graded out above average on Pro Football Focus (Lynch, Wilson, Doug Baldwin, and Max Unger) is a testament to how good both Wilson and Lynch are.
Lynch has graded out 5th, 4th, and 2nd on Pro Football Focus in those last 3 seasons respectively and his 221 broken tackles on carries lead the NFL over that time period. He’s also the only running back in the NFL to grade out in the top-5 among running backs on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons. There’s a case to be made that he’s been the best running back in football over the past 3 seasons, despite what guys like Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, and LeVeon Bell have done over single seasons over the past 3 years.
One issue is that he’s going into his age 29 season with 2033 career carries. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 career carries. That suggests that Lynch has about 2, maybe 3 good years left in the tank and that possibly his best days are behind him. The only other issue is that Lynch isn’t a great pass catcher, as he has just 96 catches over the past 3 seasons and hasn’t graded out above average as a pass catcher on Pro Football Focus since his rookie year in 2007. That’s nitpicking though and he should still have a strong year in 2015.
- C Nick Mangold (NY Jets)
Last year: 136
Mangold is going into his age 31 season, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet, grading out 1st among centers last season, making it 8 straight seasons where he’s graded out above average. He’s been in the top-2 among centers in 6 of those 8 seasons and in the top-6 among centers in 6 of those 8 seasons and could easily do so again this season. Even though he’s played so well, Mangold’s age is a concern and he might not be quite as dominant in 2015, though he should still play very well.
- CB Darrelle Revis (NY Jets)
Last year: 12
Revis finished 3rd among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus in 2008, 2nd in 2009, 18th in 2010, 1st in 2011, 1st in 2013, and 4th in 2014, with a torn ACL in 2012 that didn’t slow his career down in between. He’s bounced around from the Jets to the Buccaneers to the Patriots back to the Jets over the past few seasons for a few reasons. He tore his ACL in 2012 and then was traded to the Buccaneers for a 1stround pick ahead of his contract year. Tampa Bay then let him go rather than paying him $16 million in 2014 and the Patriots did the same this off-season, rather than paying him $20 million in 2015. However, he’s arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, one of the best players in the entire NFL, and absolutely deserves long-term security, even going into his age 30 season, which he got on a 5-year, 70 million dollar deal. He’s yet to show a single sign of slowing down thus far.
- DE Calais Campbell (Arizona)
Last year: 21
Calais Campbell is arguably the Cardinals’ most indispensable player on either side of the field (only behind maybe the quarterback Carson Palmer). He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 defensive end last season and has graded out in the top-4 in each of the last 4 seasons at the position, something no one else can say. Only going into his age 29 season with just 7 games missed in 7 seasons in his career, I see no reason that can’t continue next season. Aside from JJ Watt, he’s arguably the best 3-4 defensive end in the game.
- WR Odell Beckham (NY Giants)
Last year: NA
Beckham finished his rookie season in 2014 with 91 catches for 1302 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing valuable off-season time and doing so in just 12 games. That’s incredible and virtually unheard of for a rookie. Even in the golden era of passing offenses in the past 10 years, the average first round rookie wideout has averaged just 48 catches for 703 yards and 4 touchdowns. Transitioning from being a collegiate receiver to an NFL receiver is really tough, even for the most talented of players. Only 11 rookie wideouts have had a 1000+ yard season in the last 20 years. 1302 yards in 12 games is absurd.
Beckham’s 108.8 yards per game led the NFL. And it wasn’t like Eli was just forcing him the ball as he was targeted just 129 times (14th most in the NFL), catching 70.5% of them for 91 catches, that as opposed to just 2 drops. Beckham also caught 12 touchdowns and only 2 balls intended for him were intercepted. Eli had a 127.6 QB rating throwing to Beckham this season, 4th best among eligible wide receivers, meaning Eli’s quarterback rating was 35.5 points better when throwing to Beckham than it was overall, the best margin by an eligible wide receiver this season. Beckham’s 2.74 yards per route run were also 4th in the NFL. For his efforts, he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked wide receiver as a rookie, including 2nd in pure pass catching grade, meaning he basically played at an All-Pro level, despite missing 4 games with injury. If you take out the first 4 weeks of the season, he was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver both overall and in pass catching grade.
Beckham was even better down the stretch as he started to get a feel for the offense. Beckham had 85 catches for 1233 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final 10 games of the season and 60 catches for 842 yards and 9 touchdowns in the final 6 games of the season. The latter translates to 160 catches for 2245 yards and 24 touchdowns over a 16 game season, which would break all sorts of records. Even Beckham isn’t good enough to put up those kinds of numbers, but it’s just another reminder that Beckham could easily be more productive in his 2nd season in the league in 2015. It’s usually hyperbolic to say that someone with 12 career games played is one of the best players in the NFL regardless of position, but, in this case, it’s true.