Top-200 NFL Players: 1-20

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

1. DE JJ Watt (Houston)

At 23 years of age in his 2nd year in the league, playing with torn ligaments in his elbow, Watt had what defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called the “absolute best” season by any defensive lineman in NFL history. Phillips would know, considering he’s been in the NFL since 1976 and has coached DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Clyde Simmons, who, along with Watt, have combined for 6 of the 13 highest single season sack totals in NFL history.

I haven’t seen as much football as Phillips, but I’m inclined to agree with him. While his 21 sacks don’t break the single season record, Watt had those 21 sacks despite being an interior defensive lineman, having to fight through more junk to get to the quarterback. You can’t say that about any other player who has ever had as many sacks in a season as Watt did last season. He also had an NFL record 15 batted passes and played the run incredibly well. His 57 solo tackles not only led his position and not only led all defensive linemen in 2012, but they came for an average gain of 0.16 yards by the ball carrier, best in the NFL among players at any position.

I can definitely understand why Phillips sees it as the greatest season a defensive lineman has ever had. He won the Defensive Player of the Year, winning 49 of 50 votes, and he should be the heavy early favorite to repeat in 2013, with another year of experience and a healthy elbow. He’d join Lawrence Taylor, Joe Greene, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Ray Lewis as the only players to win the award multiple times and join Taylor as the only one to win it in back-to-back seasons (he did it in a strike shortened season). At the end of the day, he could surpass Lawrence Taylor’s record 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards. Watt might not improve on 2012, but that will only be because it’s tough to improve on the best. There’s no non-quarterback I’d rather start a team with, hands down and he deserves to be tops in this list.

2. DT Geno Atkins (Cincinnati)

If it weren’t for JJ Watt, Geno Atkins would be getting a lot more attention. A 4-3 defensive tackle, Atkins was almost as good as Watt in all aspects of the game last year, recording 16 sacks in the process, an incredible number for an interior defensive lineman. While Watt pretty much broke ProFootballFocus’ rating system by recording the first ever 100+ rating in its history, Atkins had the second best grade in its history. He’s also been doing it longer as the 2010 4th round pick has been great for 3 years, even as a rookie when he wasn’t yet a starter. Going into a contract year, he signed a 5-year, 55 million dollar extension this off-season and he’s one of the few players in the NFL who is a bargain at that rate. He’s a defensive end in a defensive tackle’s body at 6-1 303.

3. OLB Von Miller (Denver)

I might have put Von Miller 2nd if it weren’t for his recent 6 game suspension. That’s concerning both because he’ll miss 6 games, but also because he’s probably a mistake away from a yearlong suspension. Still, he’s supremely talented and will be missed big time by the Broncos when he’s gone. He’s had 31 sacks in his first 2 seasons in the league, purely as a sub package rusher and, in base packages, he’s as good as any linebacker against the run and also holds his own in coverage. He was the only player to steal a vote away from JJ Watt for Defensive Player of the Year last year and rightfully so.

4. RB Adrian Peterson (Minnesota)

Adrian Peterson would be #1 on this list if I were more confident he could even come close to what he did last year in 2013. Of the 28 other players to ever rush for 1700+ yards in a season, only 3 exceeded their rushing total the following season. The average 1700+ yard rusher rushed for 615 fewer yards the following season. Sure, some of them got seriously hurt, but it’s not like it would be impossible for Peterson to do so and even when you take out the 4 players who didn’t make it to 200 carries the following season, they still averaged 474 yards fewer the following season. On top of that, those players also averaged 7/10ths of a yard fewer per carry, going from 5.1 yards per carry to 4.4 yards per carry. Now, Peterson is definitely not going to have a bad year. In fact, he’s still my pick to lead the NFL in rushing, but you can lead the NFL in rushing with 1600 yards. He’s the top ranked running back and offensive player though. He’s earned that.

5. QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)

In his last 45 games, including playoffs, Aaron Rodgers has completed 1026 of 1510 (67.9%) for 12738 yards (8.4 YPA), 122 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 901 yards and 8 touchdowns on 175 carries in those games. He’s gone 35-10 in those 45 games, winning an MVP and a Super Bowl in the process. He’s the NFL’s all-time leader in interception rate and QB rating to boot. He’s the best quarterback in the NFL and will continue to keep this team in Super Bowl contention as long as he’s under center.

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6. DE Cameron Wake (Miami)

Cameron Wake is the highest ranked of actually a surprisingly high amount of undrafted free agents on this list, but how he slipped through the cracks is the most baffling. Wake went to Penn State of all places, where he was a linebacker at Linebacker U, though he’d move to defensive end at times in passing situations. Wake was a final cut of the Giants in 2005 as an undrafted free agent and eventually ended up in Canada, where he converted to defensive end and had an absurd 39 sacks in 2 years and won Defensive Player of the Year twice. That got him back on the NFL’s radar and he signed with the Dolphins before the 2009 season. Wake was incredible as a reserve that season, recording a sack, hit or hurries on a ridiculous 24.6% of his pass rush snaps. He turned that into a starting job in 2010 and has emerged as arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL over the past 3 seasons as a starter, playing both rush linebacker and defensive end in the process, with 42 sacks in 3 seasons, including a career high 17 in 2012. On top of that, he’s excellent against the run.

7. MLB Patrick Willis (San Francisco)

I’ve said this a bunch of times throughout this series, but there isn’t a middle linebacker in the NFL that compares to Patrick Willis. You could even argue he deserves to be higher on this list for that reason. He’s been the best middle linebacker in the NFL pretty much 6 years running, dating back to his Defensive Rookie of the Year season as the 11th overall pick in 2007. He’s made both the Pro-Bowl and All-Pro team in each of his first 6 years in the league and, at age 28, he could conceivably do that over the next 6 seasons as well. I don’t like to call players future Hall of Famers before they’re 30, but Willis is a Future Hall of Famer, perhaps on the 1st ballot.

8. WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit)

Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yardage record last season, shattering it you could even say, as his 1964 receiving yards were over 100 more than Rice’s 1848 in his 1995 season. He actually surpassed Rice’s mark in week 16. However, it’s not a fair comparison. It’s easier to get open as a receiver nowadays with all of the rule changes. Also, Rice’s 49ers passed 644 times, as opposed to 740 times for the 2012 Lions. Johnson was actually only 4th in the NFL in yards per route run last season, tied with Michael Crabtee, behind Andre Johnson, Pierre Garcon (who ran a lot fewer routes), and Brandon Marshall. He’s still the best wide receiver in the league though. The 96 catches for 1681 yards and 16 touchdowns he had in 2011 seem like a statistical floor for him at this point.

9. G Evan Mathis (Philadelphia)

Of all the top-10 players on this list, Evan Mathis is by far the most overlooked, even by his fellow players, who didn’t even vote him to the top-100 players. He’s also never made a Pro-Bowl or an All-Pro team. However, he’s been by far the best guard in the NFL over the past 2 seasons, allowing 1 sack total (the only sack the 2005 3rd round pick has allowed in 53 career starts) and dominating in the run game. Part of the reason why he’s overlooked is because he wasn’t really much before coming to the Eagles in 2011, a solid starter in 2009 for the Bengals and a reserve in 2010. He played so well on a one year deal in 2011 that he was given a 5-year, 25.5 million dollar deal last off-season and he played so well in a repeat season in 2012 that now that deal even looks like a bargain.

10. QB Tom Brady (New England)

Even going into his age 36 season, Brady himself probably won’t significantly decline this season. He’s shown no significant signs of decline. Last season was the worst of his past 3 seasons as he “only” completed 63.0% of his passes for an average of 7.6 YPA, 34 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, but those were still all at or above his career averages. Over the past 3 seasons, he’s completed 64.7% of his passes for an average of 8.0 YPA, 109 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. His supporting cast could hurt him a little, but at the same time, no one has done the next man up thing in the receiving corps better than Brady. Remember, from 2001-2007 Brady had 5 different leading receivers in 7 years and only Randy Moss, who the Patriots got for a mere 4th round pick, ever did anything of note before or after joining forces with Tom Brady. Aside from Moss, those receivers were Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell, David Givens, and Deion Branch.

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11. OT Duane Brown (Houston)

I’m giving Duane Brown the edge as the top left tackle in the NFL, as he’s been better than Joe Thomas over the past 2 seasons and more consistent than Joe Staley. A great zone run blocker in Houston’s system, Duane Brown is even better in pass protection. Sacks aren’t a tell all stat, but from week 16 of the 2010 season to week 7 of the 2012 season, he didn’t allow a single sack, 27 games including playoffs.

12. CB Richard Sherman (Seattle)

Richard Sherman/Darrelle Revis is the debate for the top cornerback in the NFL. I have Sherman a little bit higher only because he’s not coming off a torn ACL like Revis. Revis had been playing better for longer than Sherman before getting hurt so he has the higher upside of the two, when talking about their 2013 expectations, but few things are safer than a 25-year-old cornerback who has allowed less than 50% completion over his first two years in the league and 5 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

13. C Nick Mangold (NY Jets)

Since being drafted in the 1st round out of Ohio State in 2006, Nick Mangold has been the best center in the NFL. He didn’t have quite as good a season as he’s used to in 2012. Minnesota’s John Sullivan was better, but I’m giving Mangold the nod for consistent excellence. When you spend a 1st round pick on a center, you have to hope he turns out like Mangold because it’s just not worth the pick if you’re just getting a solid starting center. Mangold looks on his way to the Hall of Fame. It’s a shame he’s stuck on the Jets right now.

14. CB Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay)

Though he’s coming off a torn ACL, Darrelle Revis has allowed 153 completions on 371 attempts (41.2%) for 1946 yards (5.2 YPA), 8 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, while deflecting 62 passes, and committing 13 penalties over the past 5 seasons. That’s a QB rating allowed of 45.3. No one else even comes close to that and he does it despite shadowing the opponent’s #1 wide receiver on every snap, something that most #1 cornerbacks don’t do anymore. Apologies to Richard Sherman, but he’s the only cornerback in the NFL who, when healthy, you can legitimately build your defense around. Sherman is a safer bet at a younger age with less of an injury history, but at his best, no one is better than Revis. Players like him are almost never available and, when they are, they are usually sold for a price that doesn’t meet their value because that’s simply not possible. It was a perfect storm that led to the Jets trading him, the cornerback equivalent of Peyton Manning being available last off-season.

15. C John Sullivan (Minnesota)

As I said in Mangold’s write up, John Sullivan actually outplayed him last season. Sullivan has actually been one of the top centers in the NFL over the past 2 seasons, doing his best work in 2012, when he was a huge part of Adrian Peterson’s 2000+ yard season. Peterson averaged 6.4 yards per carry running between the center and right guard last season, even higher than his season average of 6.0 yards per carry. On top of that, he had just 12 combined allowed sacks, hits, hurries, and committed penalties, tied for best in the NFL among centers.

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16. DT Kyle Williams (Buffalo)

In 2010 and 2012, Kyle Williams was one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, with an injury plagued 2011 season in between. In 2010, he was a nose tackle who dominated on the nose in base packages, but also led the defensive line in snaps played and was very productive as a penetrating pass rusher in sub packages and obvious passing situations. In 2012, he was a defensive tackle in a 4-3 and appeared to be a better fit for that position, though he can play anywhere. This year, the Bills are moving to a hybrid scheme and he’ll play some nose tackle, some 4-3 defensive tackle, and some 5-technique defensive end. There might not be a more versatile high level defensive lineman in the NFL.

17. S Eric Weddle (San Diego)

This is the first and only Charger on the list, making the Chargers the only team in the NFL with just 1 player in the top-200. They’re better than teams like Oakland and Jacksonville who only have 2 because they have better quarterback play and because their top-200 player is ranked much higher than anyone on the Raiders or Jaguars, but it just speaks to the lack of talent in San Diego as a result of years of poor drafting by AJ Smith and poor player development by Norv Turner and his coaching staff. Weddle, however, is the best safety in the game.

18. QB Peyton Manning (Denver)

Peyton Manning surprised everyone last season, coming off of 4 neck surgeries, with a completely different team after being cut, completing 68.6% of his passes for an average of 8.0 YPA, 37 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, all better than his career average. In terms of QB rating, it was the 2nd best season of his career, behind only his then-record-setting 2004 season, in which he threw 49 touchdowns. It’s possible that the addition of Welker can lead to an even further improved Manning, but I don’t find it that likely that Manning will surpass the arguably 2nd best season of his career in what is his age 37 season. It’s more likely that regression to the mean and normal diminishing physical skills for a 37-year-old who has recently had a serious injury lead to an inferior 2013 as compared to 2012 for Manning. Sure, Manning’s mean is still one of the best in the game, but I don’t buy that he’ll be improved over last season just because of Wes Welker’s presence on the slot. Aaron Rodgers’ and Tom Brady’s post-season success is the primary factor that puts than above Manning.

19. WR AJ Green (Cincinnati)

Since 2005, 28 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 40 catches for 557 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. As a rookie in 2011, AJ Green 65 passes for 1057 yards and 7 touchdowns, the most receiving yards of any 1st round receiver in that timeframe. In 2012, he improved on that, catching 97 passes for 1350 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s done all of this before his 3rd year in the league, when receivers normally break out and, going into only his age 25 season, he should continue to get even better. He’s the best receiver this side of Calvin Johnson.

20. OT Joe Staley (San Francisco)

I mentioned Joe Staley in Joe Thomas’ write up. He was probably the best left tackle in the game last season, but he’s not my highest ranked left tackle because he’s only really had one season on that level. In 2011, his first Pro-Bowl season, he wasn’t really that great yet. I have one left tackle ahead of him because of his recent consistency and you can argue that Thomas is deserves to be ahead of him because of his longer term consistency.

Go on to 21-40

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Top-200 NFL Players: 21-40

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

21. OLB Clay Matthews (Green Bay)

All Clay Matthews has done since being drafted in 2009 is show himself to be a blue chip rush linebacker, getting after the quarterback at a high rate, but also playing the run well and dropping into coverage and covering a tight end when needed. He is credited with 42.5 sacks in 4 seasons and even his down 2011 season, in which he had just 6 sacks, is deceiving, as he was double and triple teamed more than maybe any edge rusher in the NFL, with no one even remotely of note opposite him. He also had a good amount of hits and hurries, despite that low sack total. Looking at his career numbers shows that 6-sack total to be an outlier anyway. He received a 5-year, 66 million dollar deal this off-season, going into his contract year, and he’s one of the few non-quarterbacks in the NFL deserving of that kind of money.

22. OT Joe Thomas (Cleveland)

I’ll get into this more when I talk about a couple of other left tackles in the top-20, but I found it hard to sort out the top of the left tackle list. Joe Thomas has been the best pass protecting left tackle in the NFL since being drafted in 3rd overall in 2007, but he’s not a great run blocker. Duane Brown has been the best overall left tackle in the NFL over the past 2 seasons combined, but I don’t think he was the best in either season, as that honor would go to Jason Peters in 2011 and probably Joe Staley in 2012. Jason Peters is lower on this list because he’s older and coming off a serious injury, but Staley has a very strong claim to being the best left tackle in the game. I’m nitpicking and putting Thomas just outside of the top-20, in favor of two guys who have been better all-around than him over the past 2 seasons.

23. TE Jimmy Graham (New Orleans)

The default top tight end in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski being a serious medical question, Jimmy Graham isn’t anywhere near the blocker Gronk is, but he’s just as good as a receiver. You can nitpick his blocking all you want, but his 2292 receiving yards over the past 2 seasons are the most in any two consecutive seasons ever by a tight end. Only 27 in November, Graham will probably be the highest paid tight end in NFL history when he gets paid and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next off-season (though the Saints can franchise him very cheaply, unless he appeals to be tagged as a wide receiver). The receiving numbers he’s put up over the past 2 years as impressive for a wide out, let alone for a tight end. He’ll get upwards of 10+ million per year.

24. DE Calais Campbell (Arizona)

Then a freakishly athletic 6-8 290 pounder, Calais Campbell only fell into the 2nd round in 2008 because of a down final season at the University of Miami and a disappointing Combine, during which he “only” ran a 5.00 40 because he was out of shape. However, Campbell has grown into his frame even more and the 6-8 305 pounder has had no issue with motivation in the NFL, blossoming into one of the top 5-technique defensive ends in the NFL. He’s had 28 sacks in the last 4 seasons, while playing the run extremely well, and has not become complacent, even after signing a 5 year, 55 million dollar contract last off-season. He’s also swatted 18 passes at the line of scrimmage in the past 2 seasons, the most of anyone not named JJ Watt.

25. DT Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay)

In his first two years in the league in 2010 and 2011, McCoy, the 3rd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, played very well when on the field, but missed 13 games with injury. In those 13 games, the Buccaneers went 3-10 and allowed 30.2 points per game. In the 19 games he played, they went 11-8 and allowed 22.1 points per game. That wasn’t all him, but a lot of it was. He stayed healthy for the entirety of the 2012 season and had a better season than anyone not named Geno Atkins, better than Ndamukong Suh, drafted one spot higher than him, has ever had. As a result, the Buccaneers allowed just 24.6 points per game and went 7-9. I’ll need to see him stay healthy again, but I have no doubt that he’ll have another similar season in 2013 if he does.

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26. S Jairus Byrd (Buffalo)

Byrd would be in the top-20 here, as the best deep safety in the game, but he’s dealing with plantar fasciitis which will either limit him or cause him to miss games this season. The problem crept up after he returned to practice from an extended holdout after being franchise tagged this off-season, yet another player to get hurt after a holdout and/or not play as well following a holdout. That being said, he deserves every cent of the money he was demanding (more than the 5 year, 41.25 million dollar deal Dashon Goldson got from Tampa Bay). He and San Diego’s Eric Weddle have a chance to be this decade’s Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu (though on more obscure franchises) and I have no idea why the talent scrapped Bills don’t want to commit long-term to him.

27. RB Jamaal Charles (Kansas City)

I can’t shake the feeling that Jamaal Charles is a top-3 back in the NFL in terms of talent. Yes, he’s had injury issues and has never been trusted by a Head Coach to carry the load, but remember who he’s had as Head Coaches, Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, and Romeo Crennel. Sure, he’s had just 784 carries in 5 seasons, but his career 5.8 YPC is MOST ALL-TIME of back with more than 500 career carries and the guys directly below him are either Bo Jackson or wore leather helmets. Why do his coaches never give him the ball?! You might not think things will get better with Andy Reid coming in, but, while Andy Reid hates to run the football, when he does, he’s faithful to one back and his playbook has enough passes to backs that Charles should be able to surpass his career high of 320 touches in a season. He’s my pick to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage, like Brian Westbrook did under Reid in 2007.

28. C Chris Myers (Houston)

Once the top center in the NFL this side of Nick Mangold, Chris Myers is outside of the top-20 for two reasons. The first is that he’s coming off of a bit of a down season, which is a concern going into his age 32 season. He was still very good, but slipped enough that you can use his 2012 season to nitpick him, which, at this stage of the list, you really have to do. The second nitpick is you have to wonder how much of his success can be attributed to the Texans’ zone blocking scheme. Myers was just a 6th round pick in 2005 and didn’t have a ton of success before arriving in Houston.

29. DE Muhammad Wilkerson (NY Jets)

His breakout year was overshadowed by the play of JJ Watt and the Jets’ general ineptitude, but any other year, Muhammad Wilkerson might have been the best 5-technique in the game. A fellow 2011 1st round pick like Watt, Wilkerson showed all of that ability as a rookie, particularly in the run game at 6-4 315, where his run stop percentage of 10.9% was 3rd only to Watt and Justin Smith. He was also a very solid pass rusher when needed. I’ll need to see it again from him, but he has 1st round talent so I have little doubt he can continue this type of strong play. Not yet even 24, Wilkerson is going to get big bucks whenever he gets paid. He’ll be eligible for an extension next off-season, going into a 2014 contract year.

30. MLB Derrick Johnson (Kansas City)

I’ve mentioned several times throughout this series that no middle linebacker rivals Patrick Willis. Derrick Johnson is the only one who comes close. A 2005 1st round pick, Johnson actually looked like a bust early in his career, but you can credit two things for his emergence as an All-Pro caliber linebacker over the past 3 seasons. The first was the Chiefs’ switch to a 3-4, which allowed Johnson to move inside to middle linebacker, rather than playing 4-3 outside linebacker. The second was being put in Todd Haley’s doghouse in 2009, which seemed to be the wakeup call he needed. He would sign a 5-year, 34 million dollar extension the following season and even still appears to be drastically underpaid, compared to what other top middle linebackers have gotten on their 2nd contracts over the past few seasons.

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31. TE Rob Gronkowski (New England)

He’d be a top-10 player on this list easily, if he wasn’t coming off 5 surgeries in a calendar year stretch. He’s still expected to be ready to go fairly early this season, possibly as early as week 2 or 3, so we’ll see what kind of player comes back. His injury history is concerning, especially considering he has a history of back problems dating back to his days at the University of Arizona that dropped him in the draft. However, he’s so good when healthy that even Tom Brady misses him. While Brady actually played better WITHOUT Aaron Hernandez last year, he played noticeably worse without Gronkowski last year. Brady completed 65.1% of his passes for an average of 7.6 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while leading the offense to 35.8 points per game and a 7-3 record in the 10 games where Gronk played and wasn’t limited. In his other 8 games, he completed just 58.7% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA, 17 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while leading the offense to 31.6 points per game and a 6-2 record. He’s scored an absurd 36 times in his last 35 games and his 2011 numbers (90/1327/17) would be great for a receiver, let alone a 6-6 265 tight end who blocks like a 6th offensive lineman.

32. G Marshal Yanda (Baltimore)

Versatility is what gives Marshal Yanda the edge over a bunch of other talented guards below him. Not only he has been arguably the best guard in the NFL this side of Evan Mathis over the past 2 seasons, but he was a phenomenal right tackle in 2010, as well, arguably the best in the game. It has to be very nice for the Ravens to know that they can count on him to play well there if needed, but his best position is right guard.

33. QB Drew Brees (New Orleans)

The nit I pick with Brees to keep him outside of the top-20: his lack of road success. Brees owes some of his recent success to the Superdome. He’s never won a road playoff game. Since 2008, his road QB rating has been at least 20 points lower than his home QB rating in 3 of 5 seasons. And before joining the Saints, he was really not that great, certainly not in comparison to what he is today. Injuries weren’t the only reason why he was so available before the 2006 season. There’s no denying he’s an elite, top level quarterback, but I have Brady, Rodgers, and Manning (in some order) ahead of him.

34. WR Dez Bryant (Dallas)

As so many receivers do, Dez Bryant broke out in his 3rd year in the league in 2012, catching 92 passes for 1328 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. The freakishly talented wideout was even better in the 2nd half of the season, catching 50 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns, a sign that he could be even better in 2013. He needs to avoid mental mistakes both on and off the field, which is what’s plagued him throughout his collegiate and professional career, but there might not be a better receiver this side of Calvin Johnson than Dez Bryant when he’s going right. The best news for the Cowboys: he’s yet to even turn 25.

35. C Will Montgomery (Washington)

It’s hard to find many centers who played better in 2012 than Will Montgomery did. Breaking out in a huge way in the Redskins’ new offense, Montgomery was a nasty zone blocking offensive lineman and a huge part of the reason why the Redskins rushed for so many yards and were deadly on offense. I’ll need to see it from him again, but I’ve seen enough to put him this high.

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36. CB Brandon Flowers (Kansas City)

How the Chiefs got 6 Pro-Bowlers without Brandon Flowers being one of them in 2012 I’ll never know. One of the most consistently top level cornerbacks in the NFL over the past 4 years, Flowers has somehow never made a Pro-Bowl, despite frequently matching up with opponent’s #1 receivers and holding them around 50% completion. The Chiefs signed him to a 5-year, 50 million dollar extension 2 Septembers ago and let Brandon Carr, their talented #2 cornerback, walk the following off-season, when he actually got more money from the Cowboys than Flowers got from the Chiefs. Considering Carr seemed a little overmatched at times in his first year as a #1 cornerback with the Cowboys in 2012, I’d say the Chiefs made the correct choice.

37. TE Jason Witten (Dallas)

A machine, Witten is one of the most dependable players in the NFL regardless of position. He hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year in 2003, signing a waiver to play through a ruptured spleen week 1 of last season and his worst season since his rookie year was 2006, when he still caught 64 passes for 754 yards and 1 touchdowns. Since 2004, his 2nd season in the league, he’s averaged 86 catches for 956 yards and 5 touchdowns per season and only going into his age 31 season coming off a career high in catches, I see no reason why that wouldn’t continue. He’s also been consistently one of the best blocking tight ends in the game. He gets overlooked because he’s so consistent, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better all-around tight end in the NFL over the past 8 or so years.

38. RB Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)

As a mere rookie, Doug Martin emerged as a complete feature back from the word go. He rushed for 1454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries, while catching 49 passes for 472 yards and another score. As is the case with all running backs, his ability to replicate that in 2013 is dependent on whether or not he stays healthy. He does have a history of injuries from his days at Boise State, but he was still an incredible find with the 31st pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, after the Buccaneers traded back into the first to grab him, jumping ahead of the Giants, who were ready to take him one spot later.

39. G Josh Sitton (Green Bay)

A collegiate offensive tackle at the University of Central Florida, Josh Sitton was converted to guard in the NFL, after being drafted in the 4th round in 2008, and has not looked back, proving to be an absolute steal for the Packers (what else is new?) in the process. Since taking over as the Packers’ starting right guard in 2009, Sitton has been one of the most consistently top level guards in the NFL. He’ll move to left guard this season, which is a risk because he was already established at his previous position, but it could pay off. He’s a tremendous pass protector for an interior offensive lineman, allowing just 9 sacks in 4 seasons, and the Packers need all the help they can get protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blindside.

40. S Reshad Jones (Miami)

A nondescript player in his first two years in the league, Jones, a 2010 5th round pick, broke out in a huge way in 2012, playing pretty much on the level of top safeties Eric Weddle and Jairus Byrd. Those other two are higher than him on this list because they have more than one good season under their belt, but the Dolphins are banking on him having plenty more seasons like he just had. They gave him a 4-year 30 million dollar extension this off-season, after just one good season. It’s certainly a risk, but it’ll be a relative bargain of a deal if he can keep this up.

Go on to 41-60

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Top-200 NFL Players: 41-60

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

41. OLB Aldon Smith (San Francisco)

Including playoffs, Aldon Smith has 37 sacks in 32 1/2 games with Justin Smith healthy, but didn’t record a single sack in the 5 1/2 games that Justin missed. Aldon is a very talented pass rusher in his own right, but when Justin is healthy, no top level edge rusher has as clear a path to the quarterback as Aldon. That has to be taken into account if we’re comparing him to guys like Von Miller, Cameron Wake, and Clay Matthews.

42. G Carl Nicks (Tampa Bay)

One of the best guards in the NFL, Carl Nicks outperformed superb teammate Jahri Evans in New Orleans and was paid accordingly, getting a 47.5 million dollar deal over 5 years with 31 million guaranteed with the Buccaneers last off-season. Unfortunately, he broke his foot and missed the final 9 games of last season. We’ll see how he bounces back, but we might have to wait as Nicks has contracted MRSA in his surgically repaired foot and is in doubt for the first month of the season.

43. RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)

A first round pick in 2007, Marshawn Lynch was given up for dead by the Bills, going to the Seahawks for just a 4th rounder. He struggled in his first season in Seattle, with the exception of the beast mode run in the post-season against the Saints, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, but in 2011, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 285 carries with 12 touchdowns. In 2012, he improved that to 5.0 yards per carry on 315 carries with another 11 touchdowns as Russell Wilson’s arm and rushing ability took the defense’s attention off of Lynch. Everything has gone about as well as the Seahawks could have hoped when they acquired him in 2010, with the exception of a DUI last off-season. It looks like a change of scenery was all the 2007 1st round pick needed. His only real flaw is he’s caught just 51 passes in the last 2 seasons.

44. DE Justin Smith (San Francisco)

Over the past 2 years, Justin Smith has been more important to the 49ers’ defense than Aldon Smith. Not only is he a significantly better run stopper, but his ability to command double teams and free up space for Aldon is a big part of the reason why Aldon has so many sacks over the past few seasons. It’s no coincidence that when Justin got hurt last season, missing 2 ½ games and limited in 3, Aldon didn’t record a sack in his final 5 ½ games, after recording 20 in the first 13 ½ games of the season. As a result, the vaunted 49er defense allowed 31.8 points per game in those games. That’s slightly skewed by the fact that, with the exception of a week 17 game against Arizona, they faced all playoff teams in that stretch, including New England, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle, and Atlanta, but the injury really did hurt them. The reason Aldon is ahead of Justin here though is that Justin turns 34 this season and is coming off a serious injury. That has to be taken into account. There will come a time when he’s not Justin Smith anymore. The 49ers drafted Tank Carradine in the 2nd round for this reason.

45. DE Jason Pierre-Paul (NY Giants)

On paper, JPP regressed off a breakout 2011 in 2012, recording just 7 sacks after 17 the previous season, but when you take into accounts hits and hurries, he was actually a more efficient pass rusher in 2012 than 2011. On top of that, he was one of the best players at his position in the NFL against the run. Only going into his age 24 season, JPP still has limitless upside and is a true blue chipper. Unless he’s slowed down by the back surgery he had this off-season, expect a significant uptick in sacks this season. He’s returned to practice already and is tentatively expected to be in the lineup week 1, though he might not play a full set of snaps.

46. G Mike Iupati (San Francisco)

A small schooler from Idaho who drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Larry Allen, Mike Iupati was drafted by the 49ers 17th overall in 2010. He wasn’t bad at all in his first 2 years in the league, but broke out last year in his 3rd year in the league, showing his upside and showing why he was drafted so high and why he drew such lofty comparisons. Only 26, Iupati still has room to grow as a player. I don’t know if he’ll ever be Larry Allen, but he’s already one of the top guards in the NFL.

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47. RB CJ Spiller (Buffalo)

Spiller could easily be top-10 on this list next year and a legitimate challenger to Adrian Peterson as the top running back in the NFL. Adrian Peterson wasn’t the only running back in the NFL in exceed 6.0 yards per carry last season. Spiller did so as well, though he did it on 207 carries, 141 fewer than Peterson. Still, Spiller rushed for 1244 yards and 6 touchdowns. Only Adrian Peterson had more than his 12 runs of 20+. Including his receiving yardage, Spiller was 6th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, despite just 250 touches. This season, he’ll be in for a monster workload, with backup Fred Jackson aging and new Head Coach Doug Marrone instituting a run heavy offense. He’s never taken on a huge workload at any level, so that’s the concern, but if he can stay effective and healthy over 350+ touches, he’ll probably lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage. For what it’s worth, though he was billed as someone who could struggle with injuries as a pro because of his size at 5-11 200, Spiller has missed just 2 games in his 3 year career, since the Bills took him 9th overall in 2010.

48. WR Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona)

One of the great receivers of his generation, Larry Fitzgerald has sadly never really had great quarterback play, except for those couple Warner years, but he’s always produced. From 2005-2011, Fitzgerald averaged 94 catches for 1309 yards and 10 touchdowns per 16 games. Last year, however, was too much for even him to handle as Arizona’s pathetic quarterback play limited him to 71 catches for 798 yards and a career low 4 touchdowns. He’ll probably bounce back this year. Carson Palmer isn’t a great quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, but he can get the ball to Fitzgerald. It is fair to knock Fitzgerald down a little bit off of last season though. Teammate Andre Roberts almost out-produced him, catching 64 catches for 759 yards and 5 touchdowns and doing so on 40 fewer targets and 80 fewer pass snaps.

49. G Jahri Evans (New Orleans)

I’ve mentioned his former teammate Carl Nicks already, but Evans is no slouch either. He doesn’t have the average yearly salary that Nicks does, and rightfully so, but he signed a 7-year, 56.7 million dollar deal 3 off-seasons ago that has a higher maximum value than Nicks’ and he’s one of the few guards in the NFL worth that kind of money. Along with teammates Brian La Puente and Ben Grubbs, also high on this list, the Saints might have the best interior offensive line in football.

50. OT Ryan Clady (Denver)

He struggled in 2011 with Tim Tebow taking by far longer than any quarterback in the NFL to get rid of the ball, but that’s not totally his fault. He’s otherwise always been very good since being inserted at left tackle immediately as the 12th overall pick in 2008. A strong contract year in 2012 led to a 5 year, 52.5 million dollar extension, which he received this off-season after being franchise tagged. He owes about 10% of that to Peyton Manning, who has the easiest blindside in the NFL to protect, but he’s a very good left tackle in his own right and top level blindside protectors do not come cheap.

51. C Ryan Kalil (Carolina)

Arguably the top center in the NFL at one point, Kalil is a little farther down on this list than that would suggest because he missed the final 11 games of last season with a Lisfranc injury. We’ll see how he returns, but he should be fine and his presence will be a welcome sight for a Carolina offensive line that struggled without him last season. His return is part of the reason why I like Carolina as a breakout team this year. Kalil signed the richest contract ever by a center 2 off-seasons ago, getting 49 million over 6 years after being a rare center who got franchise tagged.

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52. MLB NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco)

A 3rd round pick in 2010 out of Penn State, NaVorro Bowman has developed to the point where the 49ers sometimes leave him on the field instead of Patrick Willis in packages with 6+ defensive backs. He’s not better than Willis, but he’s firmly in that 2nd tier below him. His 5-year, 45.25 million dollar extension, signed last off-season after just 2 years in the league, is barely less than the 5-year, 50 million dollar extension Willis signed in 2010. However, that has more to do with Willis’ deal being a forward thinking bargain than anything. When you compare Bowman to other middle linebackers who have gotten similar contracts, Jon Beason, David Harris, James Laurinaitis, Lawrence Timmons, Bowman is better than all of them.

53. RB Ray Rice (Baltimore)

There isn’t a more well-rounded and durable running back in the NFL than Ray Rice. In 4 years as a starter, Rice hasn’t missed a game and has totaled 5066 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns on 1109 carries. On top of that, he has averaged 69.5 catches per season, totaling 278 catches for 2440 yards and another 6 touchdowns. Few running backs are worth the kind of contract Ray Rice got last off-season, 35 million over 5 years with 21 million guaranteed, but Rice is because of his durability and versatility.

54. WR Brandon Marshall (Chicago)

Since breaking out in 2007, in his 2nd year after being a 4th round pick out of Central Florida, Marshall has caught 592 passes for 7446 yards and 43 touchdowns in 6 seasons, despite playing with Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore under center. The reason he isn’t higher is because he’s been traded twice and didn’t net his former team a first rounder in either deal. He tends to wear out his welcome in places after a few years with all of his shenanigans.

55. QB Eli Manning (NY Giants)

Eli Manning threw for 4933 yards in 2011, but other than that, he has never thrown for more than 4021 yards in his career. He’s put up “only” above average numbers in his career, completing 58.6% of his passes for an average of 7.1 YPA, 211 touchdowns, and 144 interceptions, but he’s also gotten hot and led his team to two Super Bowl titles. That can’t be ignored. I’ll take the consistent excellence of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or even brother Peyton Manning over him, but he’s on top of that next tier.

56. OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson (NY Jets)

He gets lost in the media circus that is the Jets, but Ferguson is one of a few true blue chip talents the Jets have on their roster. I’ve already detailed Antonio Cromartie, but they also have another two in the top-40. Oddly enough, they don’t have a single other player in the rest of the top-200 and after those 4, can you really count on anyone else on their roster as a starter? It’s a very top heavy roster. But I digress. Ferguson, the 4th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, has been everything he was supposed to be and is a blue chipper at one of the most important positions in football. Hopefully someday he’ll have a real quarterback to protect.

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57. RB Alfred Morris (Washington)

Mike Shanahan’s latest running back find, Alfred Morris channeled his inner Terrell Davis as a mere 6th round rookie in 2012, rushing for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns on 335 carries. There are 3 concerns here though, which is why he isn’t higher. One, he doesn’t provide anything in the air, catching just 11 passes all year. Two, it’s fair to wonder, considering Shanahan’s history, if Morris is more a product of the zone blocking system than anything. Three, it’s also fair to wonder how much of his success Morris owes to Robert Griffin’s ability to take off and run. We’ve seen time and time again backs perform better with mobile quarterbacks by their side, from LeSean McCoy/Michael Vick to Chris Johnson/Vince Young to Willis McGahee/Tim Tebow to Marshawn Lynch/Russell Wilson. Morris averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in his one game without Griffin last season. I’ll also need to see it again from him.

58. DT Nick Fairley (Detroit)

Yes, Nick Fairley ahead of Ndamukong Suh. Fairley actually played better than Suh last season when he was on the field, but he didn’t start the season as a starter and made just 7 starts all season. He started his final 5 games before missing 3 games with a shoulder problem, a shame considering he was playing as well as anyone in football before he got hurt. He’ll be the full-time starter this year, his first year as a full-time starter since being drafted 13th in 2011. He had top-3 talent, but fell because of lack of scheme versatility and off the field problems. If he can stay motivated and stay healthy (he’s missed 9 games in his first 2 seasons with injuries), and stay out of trouble (he’s a strike away from a significant suspension), he can be as good as any defensive tackle this side of Geno Atkins. You can bet the Lions are happy to have both him and Suh, the best defensive tackle duo in the NFL bar none, but I think Fairley is a little better than Suh right now.

59. CB Charles Tillman (Chicago)

Charles Tillman is best known for being great at forcing fumbles, but he’s a very strong cornerback in coverage as well. He did force 10 fumbles last season, but he won’t do that again. That kind of thing is very fluky and, while I do believe that Tillman has special fumble forcing abilities, he had forced just 7 in the previous 2 seasons and had never once gone above 6 before last season. However, he’ll still be a tremendous asset in coverage, even in his age 32 season. He’ll be a free agent this off-season so the Bears will have a big decision to make.

60. DE Greg Hardy (Carolina)

Though he only had 4 sacks, Greg Hardy had a very strong first year as a starter in 2011, getting consistent pressure and playing the run well, but that was nothing compared to 2012, when he upped his sack total to 11 and showed himself to be arguably the most well rounded defensive end in the NFL. At 6-4 290, he has the ability to line up inside on passing downs and essentially let the Panthers use 3 defensive ends at once. A 6th round pick in 2010 who fell because of work ethic concerns, Hardy has capitalized on his upside in big way as a pro. He obviously wants a long-term deal going into his contract year in 2013, but even if he doesn’t get one, he’ll get paid somewhere next off-season, assuming he keeps it up. The Panthers might have no choice but to franchise him.

Go on to 61-80

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Top-200 NFL Players: 61-80

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

61. MLB Sean Lee (Dallas)

A 2nd round pick in 2010, Sean Lee only fell out of the 1st round because of a history of injury problems. He had a strong first two years in the league and was on his way to a breakout year in his 3rd year last season, but injuries reared their head again as he missed the final 10 games of the season with a broken toe. Capable of being as good as any middle linebacker in the NFL aside from Patrick Willis, the Cowboys didn’t want to take any chances letting him breakout in his contract year, driving up his price, or letting him leave elsewhere. They signed him to a 6-year 42 million dollar deal with 16 million guaranteed and another 9 million available through incentives. It’s worth it if he can stay healthy, but we’ll have to see if he can do that.

62. DT Ndamukong Suh (Detroit)

As a rookie, Ndamukong Suh had 10 sacks as the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, after recording 12 sacks in his final season at Nebraska, finishing 4th in Heisman voting and becoming the first defensive player in history to win AP Player of the Year. Suh won 48 of 50 votes for Defensive Player of the Year that 2010 season. However, he didn’t become a complete player until last season, when he drastically improved his run play, in addition to continually showing well as a pass rusher, recording 8 sacks and consistently generating pressure. He’s one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL.

63. WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver)

As so many receivers do, Demaryius Thomas had a breakout 3rd season in the league in 2012, catching 94 passes for 1434 yards and 10 touchdowns. Of course, an upgrade from Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning definitely helped, but Thomas was producing even with Tebow under center, catching 35 passes for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final 7 games with Tebow, including playoffs, after putting early career injury problems behind him. There might be not a more physically imposing wide receiver this side of Calvin Johnson, and that’s saying something considering the physical gifts guys like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and AJ Green possess.

64. CB Joe Haden (Cleveland)

Taking over as a starter midway through his rookie year in 2010, the 7th overall pick out of Florida, Joe Haden, played fantastic as a rookie in half a season starting. He carried that over into 2011 and then again in 2012. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl in 2011 because he’s a Brown and he didn’t make it in 2012 because he was suspended for 4 games with Adderall and ineligible, but there’s no denying, when he’s on the field, he’s a Pro-Bowl caliber cornerback and he’s only going into his age 24 season. He’ll make a Pro Bowl soon and probably a lot of them.

65. DE DeMarcus Ware (Dallas)

A future Hall of Famer, DeMarcus Ware is coming off of arguably the worst season of his career. He wasn’t quite the same pass rusher he usually was and struggled mightily against the run. He also committed a position leading 9 penalties. He moves to 4-3 defensive end for the first time in his professional career this season and there are some concerns about his ability to play the run in that scheme. He’s going into his age 31 season so possibly last season might be a sign of things to come. He’s still a fantastic player, but I don’t have him as high at his position as other people do.

66. MLB Bobby Wagner (Seattle)

Luke Kuechly won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season and it wasn’t completely undeserved, but I think fellow rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner actually had the better rookie season. The 2nd round pick out of Utah State may have had fewer tackles than Kuechly, but he recorded a stop on a higher percentage of his run snaps than Kuechly (a stop is defined as a tackle within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage on 1st down, 6 yards of the line of scrimmage on 2nd down, or the full distance on 3rd or 4th down). Wagner led all middle linebackers with a run stop on 14.4% of running plays. On top of that, he started 16 games at middle linebacker, as opposed to 12 for Kuechly and played better in coverage. I don’t think either team would trade their young middle linebacker for the other, but I think Wagner is the better player.

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67. G Alex Boone (San Francisco)

A talented collegiate offensive lineman, Alex Boone went undrafted in the 2009 draft because off of the field problems, which included, but were not limited to vandalism and alcoholism (usually at the same time). The 49ers converted him from right tackle to right guard last off-season and plugged him in at their hole at right guard, which seemed like a weird move because very few 6-8 players succeed at guard. However, it turned out to be a genius move, as Boone was one of the top few guards in the NFL, possibly even better than more heralded teammate Mike Iupati. I’ll need to see it from him again and he’ll need to stay out of trouble, but he had a fantastic 2012 nonetheless.

68. OT Michael Roos (Tennessee)

Overlooked because of his position, Michael Roos has been consistently one of the top left tackles in the game for many seasons and might even have an outside case at the Hall of Fame, considering how well he’s played. I don’t know a single left tackle in the game who has been playing as well as Roos has for as long. A 2nd round pick in 2005, Roos has started 127 games in his career and been, for the most part, superb. He only has 1 Pro-Bowl to show for it, but he made the All-Pro team 3 times, which is not only more selective than the Pro-Bowl and has a more educated voted base, as it’s voted on by the writers. Going into his age 31 season, Roos still has it going and should continue playing well for another 2-3 years. A decade as a top-3 left tackle should get you Hall of Fame consideration and Roos could end his career with that on his resume.

69. CB Lardarius Webb (Baltimore)

The debate for the top cornerback in the NFL is between Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis, but, in 2011, Lardarius Webb was just as good, not surrendering a touchdown all season and establishing himself as a true top level #1 cornerback. He earned a very, very reasonable 6 year deal worth 53 million for his efforts last off-season. Webb was on his way to a similar season in 2012, but went down for the season with a torn ACL fairly early. It’s a concern because he has a history of leg and knee injuries. We’ll see how he bounces back in 2013. The Ravens won the Super Bowl without him and, with him and Terrell Suggs (more on him later) recovering from significant injuries, the Ravens could be even better defensively in 2013 than they were in 2012 (at least in the 2012 regular season) despite all of their losses.

70. DE Charles Johnson (Carolina)

Charles Johnson, a 3rd round pick in 2007, broke out in his contract year in 2010 and was rewarded with a 6-year, 76 million dollar contract with 32 million guaranteed. That was a lot of money to give someone who had just one good season to that point in his career, after 3 nondescript seasons to start his career. It was barely less money than former Panther Julius Peppers received the previous off-season from the Bears, which was at the time the highest paid contract ever given to a defensive player. However, the risk paid off as Johnson has been just as good in 2011 and 2012 as he was in 2010, if not better. He’s emerged as one of the top few edge rushers in the NFL, though he does struggle against the run.

71. C Brian La Puente (New Orleans)

A solid center in his first year as a starter in 2011, Brian La Puente broke out as one of the top centers in the NFL in 2012 in his 2nd season as a starter. It’s a long way to have come for the 2008 undrafted free agent out of California. I’ll need to see it again from him, but he could easily be one of the top few centers in the NFL.

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72. TE Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta)

As sure fire Hall-of-Famer as a player can be, Tony Gonzalez will get in on the 1st ballot 5 years after he retires. He completely revolutionized the tight end position, ranking 7th all-time with 14,268 receiving yards with a good shot to finish in the top-5 when he retires. That’s by far the most of any tight end in history. Only Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe also has over 10,000 yards among tight ends all-time. He almost retired this off-season, but he decided to return and give it one last run at a Lombardi on the reigning NFC #1 seed. He certainly still can play, catching 93 passes for 930 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. He might not match those numbers, going into his age 37 season, but he’ll still be an asset in the passing game. For what it’s worth, he’s become a terrible run blocker as he’s aged.

73. OLB Jerod Mayo (New England)

A first round pick in 2008, Jerod Mayo has emerged as the top non-rush, three-down outside linebacker in the NFL, with rare ability in space and in coverage. He was a little out of position at 3-4 middle linebacker early in his career, but now that he’s moved to the outside in the Patriots’ 4-3, he’s arguably the best player in the NFL at his position after Von Miller, who rushes the passer on passing downs and isn’t a true three down linebacker.

74. CB Antonio Cromartie (NY Jets)

A solid #1 cornerback in San Diego, off the field problems forced him out of town, going to the Jets for a conditional 3rd round pick. With the Jets, he was one of the top #2 cornerbacks in the NFL, opposite Darrelle Revis. However, when Revis got hurt last season, Cromartie took over Revis’ role and all of his duties and looked like a mini-Revis, allowing fewer than 50% completion matching up with opponents’ #1 receivers. He was one of the top coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. We’ll see if he can keep that level play up again in 2013.

75. DE Derrick Morgan (Tennessee)

A first round pick in 2010, Derrick Morgan missed most of his rookie year with a torn ACL, playing in just 4 games. He returned in 2011, but was not effective at all, struggling to return from that injury and looked on his way towards being a bust. However, he turned it all around in 2012, capitalizing on his upside and breaking out as one of the best all-around 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL. He didn’t post huge sack numbers, but got very consistent pressure and played well against the run as well. As long as he doesn’t get hurt again, he should continue being the player he was supposed to be when the Titans drafted him.

76. OT Andrew Whitworth (Cincinnati)

The fact that Andrew Whitworth never made a Pro-Bowl until 2012 is everything that’s wrong with the Pro-Bowl. How are fans supposed to pick a left tackle when they don’t have an easily available method of evaluating left tackles? A 2nd round pick in 2006, Whitworth has made 102 starts in his career and few left tackles have been better than him as a pass protector over the past 3-4 seasons. Maybe only Joe Thomas has been better than him in that aspect. You can nitpick his run blocking, which is why he isn’t higher on this list, but he’s out there to protect the quarterback’s blindside. One minor concern is he’s going into his age 32 season.

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77. G Andy Levitre (Tennessee)

As a free agent this off-season, Levitre got 46.8 million over 6 years from the Titans, which is a lot for a guard, but it’s still less than Carl Nicks, Logan Mankins, and Jahri Evans and Levitre is right there in that tier below them. The 2009 2nd round pick has never missed a start and can play left tackle in a pinch. His best position is obviously left guard though, where he’s dominated over the past two seasons.

78. WR Julio Jones (Atlanta)

Since 2005, 28 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 40 catches for 557 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. As a rookie in 2011, Julio Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yards and 8 touchdowns, only behind draft-classmate AJ Green and Dwayne Bowe in that time period. He did that despite missing 3 games with injury. In 2012, He improved on that with 79 catches for 1198 yards and 10 touchdowns in 16 games. He’s done all of this before his 3rd year in the league, when receivers normally break out and, going into only his age 24 season, he should continue to get even better. He’ll forever be compared to draft-classmate Green and, while he might not be as good as him, few are.

79. OT Jason Peters (Philadelphia)

In 2011, there wasn’t a better left tackle in the game than Jason Peters, stout in pass protection, punishing as a run blocker, and the best pull blocking offensive lineman in the game. A 6-4 340 pounder who moves like the former tight end he is, Peters went undrafted out of Arkansas in 2004, but has blossomed in his new position in the NFL. The only reason he isn’t much higher on this list is he’s coming off a completely lost 2012 thanks to two torn Achilles. We’ll see how he comes back from that going into his age 31 season in 2013.

80. DE Anthony Spencer (Dallas)

On paper, it looks like 2007 1st round pick Spencer broke out last season, with 11 sacks, after just 21.5 combined in his first 6 seasons combined, but that’s the flaw with looking at just sack numbers. Previously a rush linebacker, Spencer was one of the best run stoppers in the league at his position even before last season and always got consistent pressure. There’s a reason he was franchise tagged before last season and then again this off-season. Last season, he was arguably a better all-around player than much more heralded teammate DeMarcus Ware. He’ll convert to defensive end this season, back to his collegiate position for the first time in his career. The Cowboys don’t want to give him a long-term extension, going into his age 30 season in 2014, but if he continues to play like this, he’ll get paid somewhere.

Go on to 81-100

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Top-200 NFL Players: 81-100

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

81. OLB Terrell Suggs (Baltimore)

The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, and a deserving one at that, Terrell Suggs missed 8 games with injury in 2012 and struggled mightily when on the field. I’ll give him somewhat of a pass though since he was somehow playing through two otherwise season ending injuries, a torn Achilles and a torn biceps. Assuming he hasn’t ruined his body going into his age 31 season, he should have a bounce back season.

82. S Devin McCourty (New England)

A first round pick out of Rutgers in 2010, McCourty burst onto the scene as a rookie, making the Pro-Bowl and the All-Pro team, and receiving 2 Defensive Rookie of the Year votes, the only player to steal votes away from Ndamukong Suh. McCourty had a down year in 2011, along with the rest of the Patriots’ defense, but bounced back to an extent in 2012. Still, with Alfonzo Dennard emerging as a starter and Aqib Talib coming in, the Patriots moved McCourty to safety. Ordinarily, this is a positional downgrade for a cornerback, but it turned out to be one of the best things that could happen to McCourty as he emerged as one of the top deep safeties in the NFL, allowing just 5 completions in 8 games at the position and showing ball hawking abilities as a center fielder. In his first full season at the position in 2013, McCourty has the chance to break out as one of the top few safeties in the NFL.

83. CB Tim Jennings (Chicago)

On paper, it would appear that Tim Jennings broke out last season, leading the NFL in interceptions with 9, after accumulating only 7 thus far in his career, but that’s the flaw with only looking at interception totals. Jennings was actually a great cornerback the year before, starting all 16 games and not surrendering a touchdown all season. He just didn’t get any recognition because he only had 2 interceptions. He’s unlikely to even come close the matching those 9 interceptions in 2013, but he won’t need to do that to have a successful season in coverage.

84. RB LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia)

LeSean McCoy looked like the 2nd coming of Brian Westbrook, only healthier, in 2010 and 2011 with the Eagles, playing 30 of 32 games and totaling 3296 yards from scrimmage and 29 touchdowns. McCoy struggled by his standards along with the rest of the Eagles’ offense in 2012, averaging just 4.2 yards per carry and scoring just 5 times (3 of which were in the air). He also was limited to 200 carries and 12 games by injury. However, he’s an excellent fit for Chip Kelly’s offense and should have a bounce back year and then some in 2013, on what should be a better Eagles offense.

85. TE Greg Olsen (Carolina)

A 1st round talent, Olsen finally put it all together last season, catching 69 passes for 843 yards and 5 touchdowns. Once Cam Newton got over his 1st half of his sophomore season slump, Olsen got even better, catching 40 passes for 496 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final 9 games. Steve Smith is another year older so Olsen could see even more targets and if Newton starts passing on the goal line more often instead of running to preserve his body, look out. He’s also an adequate run blocker.

86. DE Jared Allen (Minnesota)

A likely future Hall of Famer, Jared Allen is credited with 117 sacks in 9 years, including 22 in 2011, which almost broke the single season record. He’s only behind John Abraham, who is 4 years older, among active players in sacks. Like the other 4 active NFL players with 100+ sacks, Allen is getting older, going into his age 31 season and he wasn’t quite as good as he usually is in 2012, but he’s still one of the better defensive ends in the NFL. I have him ahead of the slightly older Julius Peppers, but behind the slightly younger DeMarcus Ware. John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, the other two members of that group, took a while to get signed this off-season and are off this list. Allen will be a free agent next off-season and he should be greated by a much stronger market, barring injury, even if he doesn’t end up returning to the Vikings.

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87. DT Henry Melton (Chicago)

Drafted as an oversized defensive end in the 4th round out of Texas in 2009, Henry Melton, at one time a collegiate running back, has since been converted to defensive tackle. The 6-3 290 pounder is undersized, but he’s a great fit for Chicago’s defensive scheme and he actually isn’t bad against the run. He’s also a rare pass rusher for an interior defensive lineman and has rare movement abilities, as you can expect out of a one-time collegiate running back. He’s emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL over the past 2 seasons, leading to the Bears franchise tagging him this off-season. He wasn’t able to reach a long-term deal, so he’ll be a free agent again off-season, but he’ll get paid somewhere.

88. QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)

Sure, he’s never made the playoffs without a top-3 scoring defense supporting him, but he’s also 8th all-time in career QB rating, 6th among active quarterbacks, and he was a very big part of 2 Super Bowl winning teams and a Super Bowl runner up. He’s not a top-top level quarterback, but he’s right in that Joe Flacco tier.

89. MLB Luke Kuechly (Carolina)

After the Panthers moved Luke Kuechly from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, the Panthers allowed just 21.2 points per game over the final 12 games of the season, which would have ranked 12th in the NFL over the whole season, despite playing 8 top-16 scoring offenses in that time period. They allowed 27.3 points per game in their first 4 games. That’s not all Kuechly, but a lot of it is. Kuechly is a little overrated based purely on his tackles total. Of his 161 tackles, only 67 of them were within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage on first down, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance on 3rd and 4th down. I argued that Casey Hayward and Bobby Wagner were more deserving of Defensive Rookie of the Year, but you’d still have a hard time finding a handful more promising young defensive players than Kuechly.

90. S Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh)

Troy Polamalu has missed 22 games over the past 4 years and in those 22 games, the Steelers have allowed 20.2 points per game. With him, however, they allow just 15.5 points per game. As good as their defense is, he might be their single most important defensive player when healthy because he can impact the game with his mere presence. He’s only going into his age 32 season, so he shouldn’t be done and luckily injuries haven’t sapped his abilities when he has been able to suit up. He’s still been very effective when on the field. It’s just a matter of staying healthy.

91. WR Andre Johnson (Houston)

Going into 2012, Andre Johnson was 31 years old and coming off a season in which he played in just 7 games with injury. However, the Texans unexpectedly got a vintage year from Andre Johnson in 2012, as he caught 112 passes for 1598 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading the NFL in yards per route run with 3.01 and ranking 2nd in the NFL in yards overall behind Calvin Johnson (who played over 200 more pass snaps). Those yards were actually a career high and those catches were 2nd in his career, pretty impressive considering he has 818 catches for 11,254 yards over 10 seasons. He’s probably a future Hall of Famer, but Johnson has still missed 12 games in the last 3 seasons and is going into his age 32 season. The concerns about him before last season had merit. They just didn’t prove to be an issue, but they could be this season.

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92. QB Joe Flacco (Baltimore)

Throughout his 5 year career, Flacco has been a very inconsistent week to week quarterback, but an incredibly consistent year to year quarterback, proving himself to be a slightly above average quarterback and nothing more. His completion percentages have always fallen between 57.6% and 63.1%. His YPAs have always fallen between 6.7 and 7.4. His touchdowns have always fallen between 20 and 25 (with the exception of his rookie year) and his interceptions have always fallen between 10 and 12. Of course, that all changed in the post-season last year, as he completed 57.9% of his passes for an average of 9.1 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions, en route to a Super Bowl victory. While I don’t expect him to keep that up, I do expect him to have his career best regular season this year. Bryant McKinnie and Jim Caldwell will continue to have a big impact. He’s not a top level quarterback like Manning or Brady or Rodgers or even Brees, but I consider him an elite quarterback comparable to guys like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

93. WR Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay)

When the Buccaneers signed Vincent Jackson for 55.5 million over 5 years last off-season, I didn’t think it was a good move. Jackson had been showing for years that he cared about money more than anything, even holding out for 10 games in 2010, and, after going to what seemed like an inferior team with an inferior quarterback, it was very possible he could coast. Besides, the history of wide receivers switching teams was not good. Instead, Vincent Jackson proved to be a great fit with Josh Freeman, a better downfield thrower than Philip Rivers, a physically declining quarterback playing behind a poor offensive line. On top of that, the Buccaneers now seem like a better team than the Chargers. Jackson caught a career high 72 passes for 1384 yards and 8 touchdowns. We’ll see if he can keep that kind of play up in his age 30 season in 2013.

94. OLB Brian Orakpo (Washington)

Before going down for the season with a torn pectoral week 2 last season, Brian Orakpo was one of the better emerging young pass rushers in the NFL. Fortunately, he suffered that injury in the season before his contract year. Orakpo will need a strong performance in 2012 to prove he’s still the same player, but I have little doubt he can bounce back. He’ll get paid somewhere this off-season and the Redskins may have no choice but to franchise tag him, as a team starved for talent defensively.

95. C Mike Pouncey (Miami)

The lesser known of the two Pouncey twins, Mike broke out as one of the top level centers in the NFL in 2012, the player brother Maurkice supposedly is. The 2011 15th overall pick was the highest drafted interior offensive lineman in 13 years at the time. Whenever you take a center in the first round, especially that high, you have to hope he becomes one of the best players in the NFL at his position and Pouncey looks well on his way towards doing so. The future is very bright.

96. MLB Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh)

In 2010, Lawrence Timmons looked like someone who could possibly challenge Patrick Willis to be the top middle linebacker in the NFL, or at least on the same level as Willis. He struggled in 2011 thanks to injury, both his own injuries and injuries to rush linebackers that forced him to move to rush linebacker, where he struggled mightily to get to the quarterback, playing out of position. He bounced back to an extent in 2012, but he wasn’t quite the same player he was in 2010. Still, he’s firmly in that 2nd tier of middle linebackers, with the incomparable Patrick Willis on his own in the top tier.

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97. G Ben Grubbs (New Orleans)

A rare first round pick as an interior lineman in 2007, Ben Grubbs lived up to expectations with the Ravens, showing himself to be one of the consistently top level guards in the NFL. He signed a 5-year, 36 million dollar deal with the Saints as a free agent last off-season and picked up right where he left off. Considering the type of money other top level guards like Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks have gotten, Grubbs was a great value.

98. DE Mario Williams (Buffalo)

Despite coming off a torn pectoral, Mario Williams received the richest contract ever for a defensive player last off-season, signing a 6 year, 96 million dollar contract with the Bills. It wasn’t completely undeserved, but the Bills definitely had to pay a “Buffalo Tax” to get him to come to a non-premium NFL destination. Williams got off to rough start, but was much better after getting wrist surgery during the Bills’ bye and it showed. After their week 8 bye, the Bills allowed just 23.1 points per game, as opposed to 32.4 points per game before the bye. Even that 23.1 points per game figure is skewed by two very poor defensive performances against two of the better offenses in the NFL (New England and Seattle). Excluding those two games, they didn’t allow more than 24 points after the bye and they were generally a solid defense. Williams had 8 sacks in those 9 games, after 3 in the first 7, and was significantly better against the run as well.

99. OT Trent Williams (Washington)

The 4th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Trent Williams has turned into everything the Redskins were expecting him to be in 3 years in the league, joining a large group of talented young left tackles that will be protecting blindsides for the next decade. An excellent offensive lineman in both facets of the game, Williams is one of the few bright spots on Washington’s offensive line. The only knock on him is he’s already been suspended once for substance abuse and is one slip up away from a season long ban.

100. QB Matt Ryan (Atlanta)

Matt Ryan is my highest ranked quarterback who hasn’t won a Super Bowl. He’s just 1-4 in his career in the playoffs, but I think it’s unfair to judge his entire career just on 5 games. I think it’s absurd to suggest that 5 games is enough evidence to prove that a quarterback who is generally great in the regular season randomly becomes worse in the post-season. He’s faced the eventual NFC Super Bowl representative in all 4 losses. In his career in the regular season, he’s completed 62.7% of his passes for an average of 7.2 YPA, 127 touchdowns, and 60 interceptions and has a career regular season record of 56-22. He’s coming off the best season of his career, under new Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter. He was also the most efficient he’s ever been on a per play basis, ranking 5th in the NFL with a 99.4 QB rating. I don’t think the Falcons’ defense is good enough for them to win a Super Bowl this year, but Ryan will get his ring soon enough.

Go on to 101-120

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Top-200 NFL Players: 101-120

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

101. MLB Brian Cushing (Houston)

The Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2009, Brian Cushing had a down year in 2011, thanks largely to a 4 game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. However, Cushing picked up right where he left off in his 2nd full season in the NFL in 2011, emerging as one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL, showing he wasn’t just a product of whatever performance enhancer he tested positive for. He was on his way to a similar season in 2012, but was lost for the season with a torn ACL week 5. In 11 games without him, the Texans ranked 18th in opponents’ scoring and 13th in opponents’ yardage, after starting the season as the top yardage and scoring defense in the NFL, a huge part of why they started 5-0. Part of that has to do with how poor his backups were, but there’s no denying that Cushing is one of the better middle linebackers in the NFL. Assuming he’s healthy, he could have a huge impact on the Texans this season.

102. WR Victor Cruz (NY Giants)

An undrafted free agent in 2010, Victor Cruz burst into the scene for the eventual Super Bowl winning Giants in 2011, catching 82 passes for 1536 yards and 9 touchdowns, after not catching a single pass as a rookie. Even in a “down” year in 2012, Cruz caught 86 passes for 1092 yards and 10 touchdowns, even with Hakeem Nicks struggling and missing time with injury opposite him. As a restricted free agent this off-season, the Giants opted to re-sign him to a very reasonable 6-year, 45.9 million dollar deal, essentially forcing Nicks to play out his contract year in the process. I think they made the right choice.

103. CB Champ Bailey (Denver)

One of the few players on this list drafted in the 90s, Champ Bailey, a 1st round pick in 1999, has made 12 Pro-Bowls in his career, a record for cornerbacks, and will probably be a 1st ballot Hall of Famer after he hangs them up. Going into his age 35 season, a steep decline in play could be right around the corner and his age 36 contract year in 2014 could be his final in the NFL, but Bailey is still playing like a #1 cornerback, at least as of last year. People remember him being torched in the playoff loss to Baltimore, but that was not representative of the type of season he had. Everyone is allowed a bad game or two. Bailey just picked a bad time for his.

104. C Alex Mack (Cleveland)

Any time you take a center in the 1st round, you have to hope he becomes one of the top few centers in the NFL. Otherwise, it’s just not worth taking a center that high. Mack, a 1st round pick by the Browns in 2009, hasn’t quite been that good, but he’s still a fantastic center on one of the sneaky best offensive lines in the NFL. He’ll be a free agent this off-season if not extended before then and whenever he gets paid, it’ll probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of the deals that Scott Wells (4 years, 24 million, 13 million guaranteed), Chris Myers (4 years, 25 million, 14 million guaranteed), and Max Unger (4 years, 24 million, 12 million guaranteed) have gotten over the past two off-seasons.

105. CB Patrick Peterson (Arizona)

Patrick Peterson made the Pro-Bowl as a rookie as a return man, but the 5th overall pick was actually terrible in coverage. However, that’s to be expected for a rookie defensive back and Peterson was light-years better in that aspect in 2012. He might not have quite deserved the Pro-Bowl nod as a cornerback he received, but he’s a supremely talented cornerback who just turned 23 and could easily emerge as a top-5 cornerback this season. On top of that, he’s a deadly return man, who returned 4 punts to the house in 2011. The Cardinals might not keep him in that role going forward, in order to avoid risking injury, but they’re also experimenting with using him on offense from time to time too so maybe they just want to get everything they can out of him. His skill set makes him better suited to play offense than maybe any cornerback in the NFL.

106. OT Jared Veldheer (Oakland)

The Raiders might be the worst team in the NFL. They really have two good players and that’s about it and when they lost Jared Veldheer with a triceps injury, they were left with one. Fortunately for the Raiders and for Veldheer, he’s expected to be able to return sometime later this season. Before the injury, he was one of the better young left tackles in the game and would have commanded a ton of money as a free agent next off-season if he had kept it up. A season ending injury would have been devastating, but if he can come back later in the season and show himself to be the same type of player, he’ll still get paid somewhere. I don’t know how the Raiders can let him get away this off-season. He could be franchise tagged.

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107. OLB Justin Houston (Kansas City)

A talented pass rusher, Justin Houston fell to the 3rd round in the 2011 NFL Draft because of a failed drug test at The Combine, but he showed himself to be a very solid player in 6 starts down the stretch that season. He carried that over in 2012 as a full time starter, showing himself to be a good pass rusher and a better all-around player than teammate Tamba Hali. He doesn’t just get to the quarterback. He can stop the run and cover as well.

108. WR Roddy White (Atlanta)

One of the most consistent players in the NFL, Roddy White hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in the first round in 2005 and has had at least 85 catches, 1150 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns in each of the last 6 seasons, averaging 94 catches for 1296 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns per season during that timeframe. Sure he’s going into his age 32 season and he’s going to start declining over the next few seasons and I’d rather have his teammate Julio Jones than him, but you can bet the Falcons are glad they have both.

109. DT Haloti Ngata (Baltimore)

A 6-4 340 pounder with rare movement skills, Ngata frequently leads the Ravens’ defensive line in snaps played and has the ability to play defensive tackle, nose tackle, and 5-technique in the Ravens’ hybrid defensive scheme. He’s coming off of a down season with shoulder and knee injuries, but he should bounce back in 2013. He’ll play primarily nose tackle for the first time in his career, but the Ravens will still get him in positions to rush the passer in sub packages.

110. OLB Lance Briggs (Chicago)

Arguably the best three down non-rush outside linebacker of the last decade, Lance Briggs has quietly built a Hall of Fame case next to Brian Urlacher in Chicago, making 7 straight Pro-Bowls, a streak that ended last season, and earning All-Pro honors in 2005, 2006, and 2009. He’s going into his age 33 season, but was still playing at a very high level last season, despite being left off the Pro-Bowl roster.

111. G Rob Sims (Detroit)

A 2006 4th round pick, Rob Sims broke out in 2009, but, because he had only made 31 of 48 possible starts from 2007-2009, the Seahawks dealt the injury prone left guard to the Lions for a 5th rounder, a 7th rounder, and a roster bubble defensive end, as a restricted free agent in the 2010 off-season. Sims was given a 4 year extension during the 2010 season, worth only about 7 million, but he’s greatly outperformed that in 3 years with the team, picking up where he left off in 2009 and staying healthy in the process. He’s quietly one of the best guards in the NFL and a rock on Detroit’s offensive line.

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112. RB Chris Johnson (Tennessee)

He’ll never live up to his 2009 breakout year, in which he rushed for 2006 yards and 14 touchdowns on 358 carries, making him, at the time, the 6th player in NFL history to rush for over 2000 yards (Adrian Peterson has since joined the club). With an extra 503 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns on 50 catches, he set the NFL record for yards from scrimmage that year, his 2nd year in the league after being drafted in the first round in 2008. However, it’s okay that he hasn’t come close to that feat again. It’s really, really hard to do. It’s very possible that Adrian Peterson will never have a season like he did in 2012 either. Johnson is still a very talented running back, who has missed just 1 game in 5 seasons, totaling 6888 yards and 44 touchdowns on 1463 carries (4.7 yards per carry), while catching 230 passes for 1658 yards and another 4 touchdowns. He doesn’t do a great job of creating on his own and he does too much dancing in the backfield, but there isn’t anyone in the NFL more explosive through the hole when there is one. His success is largely tied to the play of his offensive line for that reason, but fortunately for him, thanks to off-season additions of Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, the Titans have one of the best offensive lines in the game.

113. WR Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City)

Bowe has caught 415 passes for 5728 yards and 39 touchdowns in 88 games in his career, despite playing with Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn at quarterback. No matter your opinion on Alex Smith, you have to acknowledge he’s the best quarterback Bowe has ever played with. Bowe got a 5-year, 56 million dollar contract this off-season, after being franchise tagged last off-season. That deal compares favorably to the deal Tampa Bay gave last off-season to Vincent Jackson, who, up to that point in his career, had caught just 272 catches for 4754 yards and 37 touchdowns in 92 games at a similar age, despite the luxury of Philip Rivers in his prime under center. Jackson received 55.5 million over 5 years. In 2012, Bowe could surpass his career highs of 86 catches (2008) and 1162 yards (2010), though the 15 touchdowns he caught in 2010 remain largely a fluke.

114. OT Eugene Monroe (Jacksonville)

He took a little bit to get the feel of the NFL game, but that’s nothing rare and the 8th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft has turned into one of the better left tackles in the game over the past few seasons. He did allow 9 sacks in 2011, but that had more to do with Blaine Gabbert’s inept pocket presence than anything. He’s going into his contract year without a new deal this off-season and, even after using the 2nd overall pick on Luke Joeckel, they can’t let him get away, even if it means they have to franchise tag him. Joeckel could be a very good offensive tackle down the road, but he can still be an asset for them at right tackle because of how many teams can attack the quarterback from both sides of the formation nowadays and the Jaguars are in no position to let a talent like Monroe get away. He’s one of just two Jaguars on this list and the highest ranked one.

115. DE Chris Long (St. Louis)

Chris Long has emerged as one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the NFL, at times being the most efficient pass rusher in the entire league, but he’s always struggled against the run. Obviously, this is a passing league and getting to the quarterback is more important, but he’s not well-rounded enough to be ranked higher on this list. The 2nd overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, Long’s pass rush ability earned him a large contract last off-season, a 4 year deal worth 50 million.

116. C Ryan Wendell (New England)

Formerly a talented reserve interior lineman, Ryan Wendell broke out in his first year as a starter in 2012. He wasn’t great in pass protection, but there might not have been a better run blocking center in the NFL and that’s what’s more important for a center. He and fellow Fresno State alum (and fellow top-200 player) Logan Mankins helped pave the way for the Patriots to rank 7th in the NFL in rushing yardage. The Patriots averaged 4.7 yards per carry between the left guard and center this season.

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117. MLB Daryl Washington (Arizona)

The Cardinals took a chance giving Daryl Washington an extension just two years into his career last off-season, paying him a total of 32.5 million over 6 years. However, it appeared to pay off last season as the 2010 2nd round pick blossomed into one of the best all-around middle linebackers in the NFL. Not only does he play well against the run and in coverage, but there’s not be a better blitzing middle linebacker in the NFL, as he had 9 sacks last season, after 5 the previous season. No team blitzes their middle linebackers more than the Cardinals and they don’t get a lot of pass rush from the outside, so he’s a huge asset to them. However, Washington has been suspended for the first 4 games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and he was also arrested this off-season on two counts of aggravated assault. That could lead to further suspension down the road when the case is resolved. He could be a slipup away from being cut, but fortunately the deal he signed is team friendly so they could cut him without much penalty in that scenario. Obviously, they’d prefer he stay out of trouble and on their roster because he’s a big time asset when on the field.

118. CB Johnathan Joseph (Houston)

Joseph was once part of a talented cornerback duo in Cincinnati with Leon Hall, but the Bengals opted to re-sign Hall over him. Joseph ending up getting even more money than Hall, the de facto #1 cornerback when the two were teammates, to take over as a true #1 cornerback in Houston, receiving a 5-year, 48.75 million dollar deal last off-season. In his first season in Houston in 2011, he thrived in the role, emerging as one of the true top level cornerbacks in the NFL, but he suffered a groin injury early in 2012, which sapped his effectiveness and caused him to miss a couple games with injury. He’s an obvious bounce back candidate this season and, along breakout star Kareem Jackson, he gives the Texans one of the better cornerback duos in the NFL.

119. DE Julius Peppers (Chicago)

A likely future Hall of Famer, Julius Peppers officially has 111.5 career sacks, 3rd most among active players, making him just one of 5 active players with 100 career sacks. He signed what was at the time the most lucrative contract for a defensive player in NFL history in the 2010 off-season, going from the Panthers to the Bears for 84 million over 6 years with 42 million of that guaranteed. He’s going into his age 33 season and on the decline, but he’s still one of the better pass rushers in the NFL.

120. CB Casey Hayward (Green Bay)

Casey Hayward might be the Packers’ 3rd cornerback, but because of injuries and how frequently the Packers are in sub packages, Hayward still played about 63% of the Packers defensive snaps. He was amazing when on the field and probably deserved to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, even though he wasn’t a full-time player. Allowing 0 touchdowns to 6 interceptions and 44.6% completion, his 31.1 QB rating allowed was not the best in the league among players who played more than 93 snaps (Darrelle Revis). He also was not penalized all year and missed just 3 tackles. He could be a starter in his 2nd year in the league in 2013, even with two talented cornerbacks ahead of him on the depth chart and the future looks bright for the 2012 2nd rounder out of Vanderbilt.

Go on to 121-140

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Top-200 NFL Players: 121-140

1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200

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.

121. OLB Tamba Hali (Kansas City)

Tamba Hali was one of the better 3-4 rush linebackers in the NFL from 2009-2011, after the Chiefs changed up their defensive scheme, but he struggled by his standards in 2012, not getting as consistent pressure as he usually does, exposing his flaws in coverage and against the run. I think teammate Justin Houston is the better and more complete player, especially with Hali going into his age 30 season, but Hali could easily have a bounce back year and the Chiefs have to be really happy to have both players.

122. G Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati)

The Bengals made a surprise move trading down and passing on an opportunity to draft David DeCastro in the first round in 2012, taking Kevin Zeitler instead later in the first. So far, it appears to have paid off, as DeCastro missed most of his rookie year with a freak injury and Zeitler emerged as one of the better interior offensive linemen in the league as a rookie. DeCastro could still pan out and challenge Zeitler, but for now, the Bengals appear to have made the correct move.

123. DT Marcell Dareus (Buffalo)

The 3rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Dareus has not been as good as the guys drafted around him (Cam Newton, Von Miller, AJ Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Nick Fairley, Ryan Kerrigan, and Nate Solder were top-17 picks that year and all are on this list already, with most ahead of Dareus). However, that’s not his fault. Dareus has been a very good defensive lineman in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 thus far in his career and, not 24 until November, Dareus still has plenty of upside going into his 3rd year in the league.

124. DE Michael Bennett (Seattle)

Bennett excelled as a situational defensive lineman in 2011, playing well against the run and as a pass rusher while providing the versatility to play both defensive end and defensive tackle at 6-4 274. Bennett took over a bigger role in 2012, leading the Tampa Bay defensive line in snaps and showing himself to be one of the best, most versatile, and well-rounded defensive lineman in the NFL. A shoulder injury forced him to settle for a one year prove it deal in Seattle this off-season and he’s since developed a toe injury, but the deal could prove to be a smart deal for both sides. Bennett could have a very good season for the Seahawks on the defensive line, for a very reasonable rate of 4.8 million, and it could very well be a launching pad for Bennett to get a bigger contract next off-season.

125. WR Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis)

Wayne turns 35 this November. Over the next 2-4 years, Wayne can be expected to go from top flight receiver to complementary player to gone. That’s just what happens to receivers around this age. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Wayne already showed some signs of slowing down in the 2nd half of last season, catching “just” 45 passes for 520 yards and 2 touchdowns.

126. RB Matt Forte (Chicago)

One of the best all-around running backs in the game, Matt Forte has rushing 5327 yards and 26 touchdowns on 1262 carries (4.2 YPC), with another 267 catches for 2325 yards and 9 touchdowns as a receiver in 5 years in the league and he’s only missed 7 games in the process. That’s pretty impressive considering the lack of supporting talent he’s had around him in Chicago and with an improved offensive supporting cast in Chicago, the feature back could have his best year yet in 2013, provided he stays healthy, as is always the case with running backs. Going into his age 28 season, there’s some minor concern that he prematurely ages.

127. WR Steve Smith (Carolina)

Like with Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith is an aging receiver who has had a great career. He’s a year younger than Wayne, but could just as easily begin his decline this season. Unlike Wayne, who is 14th all-time in receiving yardage and seems bound for the Hall of Fame someday, Steve Smith is 23rd all-time and is a much longer shot for Canton, especially given the strict standard for wide receivers.

128. OT Russell Okung (Seattle)

After an injury riddled first two years in the league, the 6th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Russell Okung, finally put it together in 2013, allowing just 1 sack. He did commit 13 penalties, but he’s still one of the premier left tackles in the game when healthy. I’ll need to see him do it again and stay healthy again in 2013 though.

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129. RB Stevan Ridley (New England)

They certainly have the running back talent to do so. 2011 3rd round pick Stevan Ridley rushed for 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 attempts last season. The Patriots’ strong passing game and offensive line undoubtedly helped, but he’s still a good back in his own right. The Patriots hadn’t had anything like him at the running back position since Corey Dillon was in his prime. Before him, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a plodder and nothing else. Before him, Laurence Maroney was inconsistent, ranging from solid to all kinds of crap. It hadn’t been since Dillon’s final season in 2006 that the Patriots had a back with Ridley’s explosiveness. He makes them an incredibly balanced offense, probably the most balanced in the NFL.

130. OT Nate Solder (New England)

A swing tackle as a rookie in 2011, the 17th overall pick saw significant action, playing at both right tackle and left tackle and wasn’t bad. However, when Matt Light retired this past off-season, Nate Solder took over on the blindside and immediately was one of the best blindside protectors in the NFL. Going into his 3rd year in the league, things should only continue to get better for him. He looks like a franchise left tackle for the next decade.

131. OLB Paul Kruger (Cleveland)

A solid situational and rotational player through the first 3 years of his career, the 2009 2nd round pick broke out in his first year as a starter in 2012, especially down the stretch, with 14 sacks in his final 12 games, en route to a Super Bowl victory. Of course, he only had 1 sack in the final 8 games of the season and really didn’t play well until Terrell Suggs came back from injury to take the pressure off of him. He’s signed a very lucrative 5-year, 40.5 million dollar deal with the Browns this off-season, but unfortunately he doesn’t get to bring Suggs with him. He could prove to be an overpay and someone who the Browns bought too high with.

132. CB Kareem Jackson (Houston)

For the first two years of his career, Kareem Jackson, a 2010 1st round pick, looked like a bust and was on the verge of losing his starting job. However, he turned in a fantastic 3rd year in the league in 2012. Not only did he keep his starting job, but he excelled, allowing less than 50% completion and taking over as the #1 cornerback from time to time with Johnathan Joseph missing time and struggling through a groin injury. With Joseph back healthy this year, the Texans have one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL and I won’t rule out Jackson becoming better than the big money Joseph sometime in the next 2 seasons. That could lead to a big payday for him either on an extension next off-season or as a free agent the following off-season.

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133. C Max Unger (Seattle)

Max Unger signed a 5-year 25.5 million dollar contract last off-season, going into his contract year. That is one of the richest contracts for a center in NFL history and to that point in his career, it didn’t look like he deserved it. However, Unger broke out as one of the top centers in the NFL this season, so I guess credit the Seahawks for having the foresight to lock him up ahead of time. I’ll need to see it again, but he might be one of the top few centers in the NFL.

134. OLB Lavonte David (Tampa Bay)

Lavonte David’s rookie year was overshadowed by fellow linebackers Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, but the 2nd round rookie was almost just as good. A true three down linebacker, David makes up for his lack of size with rare movement and coverage abilities. Going into only his 2nd year in the league, the future is very bright for him.

135. G Jon Asamoah (Kansas City)

The Chiefs had 6 Pro-Bowlers on their 2-14 team last season, which sounds ridiculous, but it really wasn’t. They’re a talented team, but when you are as poorly quarterbacked and lose the turnover battle as badly as the Chiefs did in 2012, that talent gets hidden. Jon Asamoah wasn’t one of those Pro-Bowlers, but he might have deserved to be. The 2010 3rd round pick is one of the better young offensive linemen in the league and could be even better in his 4th year in the league in 2013, which also happens to be his contract year.

136. DT Jason Hatcher (Dallas)

Hatcher had a breakout year as a 5-technique defensive end with the Cowboys last season, but the Cowboys will be transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this season, meaning Hatcher will be moving to defensive tackle. While he was a perfect fit for a 3-4 at 6-6 290, with the size to hold up against the run and the length, quickness, and pass rush ability to get to the quarterback, it’s unclear what kind of success he’ll have at defensive tackle. He should continue getting pass rush, but could struggle against the run. Then again, if there’s any 4-3 he’s a good fit for, it’s Monte Kiffin’s, which prefers movement ability over size.

137. WR Marques Colston (New Orleans)

Marques Colston gets a reputation for being injury prone and he has had a bunch of knee surgeries, but he’s only missed 10 games in 7 seasons and he’s been nothing if not reliable. With the exception of 2008 (when he played a career low 11 games), he’s caught 70 passes for 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns in every season of his career. Last season, he once again had big time production, catching 83 passes for 1132 yards and 10 touchdowns while not missing a game. He signed a very reasonable 5-year 36.3 million dollar deal last off-season, probably taking a hometown discount in the process.

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138. DT Kevin Williams (Minnesota)

One of the better interior defensive linemen of his era, Kevin Williams could end up in Canton someday. However, he’s on the decline right now. The Vikings used a 1st round pick on Sharrif Floyd this past April, a sign that Williams is unlikely to be retained as a free agent next off-season, going into his age 34 season in 2014. The Vikings have also said they want to keep his snaps down to 30-40 per game this season, a steep drop from the 52.2 per game he played last season. He should still be an asset and an above average player for the Vikings this season, but he’s in the beginning of the end of his career.

139. OT Matt Kalil (Minnesota)

Kalil’s rookie year was overshadowed by all of the great performances by rookie offensive skill position players like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, Doug Martin, and Alfred Morris, but that’s just how it works with Matt Kalil. He looked every bit the franchise left tackle he was supposed to be when the Vikings took him 4th overall, after Luck, Griffin, and Trent Richardson.

140. QB Cam Newton (Carolina)

As a rookie in 2011, Cam Newton completed 60.0% of his passes for an average of 7.8 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, while adding another 706 yards and 14 scores on the ground. He led the Panthers to 25.4 points per game in the process. He struggled to start his sophomore season in the league in 2012, completing just 57.0% of his passes for an average of 8.1 YPA, 6 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, while rushing for 347 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Panthers scored just 18.6 points per game in those 8 games. However, in the final 8 games of the season, he completed 58.4% of his passes for an average of 7.9 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while rushing for 394 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Panthers scored 26.0 points per game in the process. The first half of last season looks like just a blip on the radar and going into his 3rd year in the league, the former #1 overall pick could have his best season ever. I’d take him over Kaepernick right now because Newton is more experienced.

Go on to 141-160

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