Earlier this week, the NFL released its final 10 players on its #NFLTop100 list. This is a list that examines the league’s 100 best players heading into the season – as voted on by the other players.
You know a list like that is going to be quarterback-heavy and saturated with skill position players. I tried to be well-rounded in my list, although I did include 13 of the 32 starting quarterbacks. After all, it’s a quarterback-driven league. Look no further than the high-scoring 2016 Super Bowl, a battle between MVP Matt Ryan and arguably the #GOAT in Tom Brady.
I didn’t focus solely on the 2016 season for my list. J.J. Watt missed most of the year, but I would be foolish to leave him out or even rank him outside of the top 10. He’s perennially been one of the most dominant forces in the game, and he has no injury history outside of ’16. You’ll see him squarely in my top five.
Likewise, Dak Prescott was one of the most efficient quarterbacks this past year. On a play-by-play basis, he was probably a top-five player in the NFL. But he’s not the first rookie quarterback to take the league by storm (see Griffin III, Robert), and he needs to prove he can duplicate his success before I can rank him over proven playmakers.
On my top 100 list, I included the NFL Network’s ranking in parentheses; NR means Not Ranked.
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (1)
Five Super Bowl championships, four Super Bowl MVPs, and two regular season MVP awards have Tom Brady in the discussion as the game’s greatest player ever. At 39 years old, Brady showed no signs of slowing down in 2016, breaking the NFL’s single-season record in touchdown-to-interception ratio (28:2), and leading a 25-point comeback in the Super Bowl. His offense lost All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to a season-ending back injury, but Brady didn’t miss a beat, making legitimate weapons out of Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Martellus Bennett. There will come a day when Brady’s production will hit a wall, but it doesn’t seem to be anytime soon; in fact, he’s openly discussed playing for 5-7 more years. He’s already enjoyed a stellar offseason, seeing his team add a pair of underrated pass-catching backs and tight end Dwayne Allen to go with field-stretching wide receiver, Brandin Cooks. Brady also has the sport’s most innovative coach ever. If anyone can do it, it’s Brady.
2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (35)
Injuries finally resulted in a lost season for three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who played in just a handful of games before a back injury sidelined him for the remainder of 2016. But when he’s healthy, Watt is this generation’s Reggie White, a one-man wrecking crew capable of taking over a game from the defensive side of the ball. You can tell by my ranking that I fully expect Watt to return to superstardom form.
3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (6)
After an uncharacteristically slow start to his 2016 campaign, Aaron Rodgers showed why he’s a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Rodgers led the Green Bay Packers to six consecutive wins to close out the regular season, culminating in an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, and he did so largely without a running game. He tossed 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, at one point throwing 319 consecutive passes without being picked off. Rodgers’ penchant for throwing Hail Marys is unprecedented, and his pinpoint accuracy and scrambling ability means the Packers are never out of a game as long as he’s under center.
4. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams (15)
Aaron Donald manages to fly under the radar because he plays for the Los Angeles Rams, but don’t underestimate his dominance. Donald was PFF’s best overall player in 2016, and he provided ridiculous pressure from the interior defensive line – eight sacks, two forced fumbles, and countless more quarterback hurries. He should have been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year this past season, and he presents a strong case to taking Watt’s crown as the best defensive player.
5. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
Antonio Brown is the closest thing the NFL has seen to Jerry Rice’s prime since Rice himself. Brown had a quiet 2016 season by his standards, but when a 106/1,284/12 statline classifies as ‘quiet’, you know you have one of the all-time greats. Brown has amassed a ridiculous 481 receptions, 6,315 yards, and 43 receiving touchdowns over the last four seasons, and he hasn’t missed a game due to injury during that span. This year, he became the sixth wide receiver in the modern NFL to earn First-Team AP All-Pro status three consecutive seasons. Trade rumors ramped up a bit this offseason due to Brown’s ill-timed Facebook video, but a lucrative five-year extension should keep him in Pittsburgh through the duration of his prime.
6. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos (2)
Some players see drastic declines in their on-field performance after signing lucrative contracts, but not Von Miller. Fresh off willing the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl trophy, Miller earned a $114 million deal, and then backed it up by recording 13.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He’s now played all 16 games in three straight seasons, and he’s still just in the prime of a Hall of Fame career.
7. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (9)
On-field durability will probably always be Le’Veon Bell’s biggest obstacle to overcome, but when he’s able to suit up on game day, he’s simply unstoppable. Before missing the majority of the AFC Championship Game with an injury, Bell had collected 1,431 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns over the previous eight games. The word ‘patient’ has been overused when describing Bell’s unique running abilities, but no single word best describes what he does with the ball in his hands. Re-signing Bell to a long-term deal should be Pittsburgh’s number one priority going forward.
8. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (3)
In both the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, Julio Jones showed the football world just how dominant he can be. His 9/180/2 performance in the NFCCG was one of the greatest by a wide receiver in NFL postseason history, and he had an incredibly athletic sideline catch two weeks later that should have sealed a Super Bowl victory. For the 2016 season, Jones recorded 1,409 receiving yards in just 14 games, once again leading the league in receiving yards per game, and don’t forget his absolutely ridiculous 300 receiving yards against Carolina in Week 4.
9. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (16)
While fans were enamored with Tom Brady’s record-setting efficiency or Aaron Rodgers’ second-half streak, Drew Brees just did what he always does. The soon-to-be 38-year-old put up his fifth 5,000-yard campaign, adding 37 touchdowns and setting a single-season record with 471 completions. In typical New Orleans Saints fashion, the organization surrounded Brees with a halfhearted attempt of players on the other side of the hall, but don’t blame Brees for a missed postseason berth at the helm of the league’s 31st ranked scoring defense.
10. Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders (5)
Whether you pick Von Miller or Khalil Mack as the AFC West’s most dominant pass-rusher, either way, you have a player who almost can’t be blocked with just one lineman. Mack’s 2016 numbers were simply ridiculous – he had 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries – and the deserved DPOY winner helped the Oakland Raiders secure a long-overdue playoff berth.
11. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (23)
Injuries got the best of Rob Gronkowski in 2016, as the three-time All-Pro suited up for just eight games before landing on season-ending injured reserve with a recurring back injury. Gronk’s dominance is in his red zone prowess and his ability to create impossible mismatches for defenses, but he’s also a superb blocker. Given his medical history, we may have witnessed the peak of Gronkowski already.
12. Luke Kuechly, MLB, Carolina Panthers (20)
The 2016 campaign was a rough season for Luke Kuechly, as he endured yet another concussion and missed the season’s final six games. It’s the second straight year he’s missed extensive time due to concussions, putting his long-term health in serious jeopardy. Still, Kuechly is a freakishly talented middle linebacker when healthy. He’s fast enough to keep up with wide receivers and running backs in coverage, and he’s excellent against the run. Remember when he had a pick-six in consecutive playoff games in 2015? That’s rare stuff for a linebacker.
13. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks (21)
There aren’t many true shutdown cornerbacks in the modern NFL, but Richard Sherman is as close to being one as you’ll find in this day. Sherman recorded four interceptions, a fumble recovery, and 13 passes defensed during the regular season. He’s now made four Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro squads, and started all 96 games since joining the league in 2011. That’s consistency that’s tough to find at any position, let alone cornerback in a league that favors the passing game. Would you trade a player like that?
14. Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants (8)
There’s no denying Odell Beckham, Jr.’s talent. He’s an amazingly exciting playmaker with the ball in his hands, capable of scoring from everywhere on the field. He’s also an off-the-field headache in the mold of Terrell Owens. It’s not a problem when he’s hauling in seven passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. But when he posts a 4-28-0 statline in a playoff loss, it’s an underwhelming end to what was otherwise an All-Pro-caliber season.
15. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (12)
How good was David Johnson in 2016? If not for the underwhelming play of Carson Palmer, Johnson would have been in the thick of the NFL MVP discussion. The second-year back gained 100 yards from scrimmage in the season’s first 15 games, a feat that had never been accomplished in the league’s history. Seven times he scored multiple touchdowns, finishing with a league-best 20, and he rivals Le’Veon Bell as the best all-around back in the game.
16. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (10)
Despite coming up on the losing side of the Super Bowl, a legitimate case could be made that Matt Ryan had one of the five greatest quarterback seasons of all-time. He was simply lethal as a passer in 2016, averaging a ridiculous 9.3 yards per attempt and posting the fourth-highest single-season passer rating in league history. He posted a 120+ passer rating in each of his final seven games, and would have been a Super Bowl champion if not for a pair of ill-timed sacks or a historic defensive collapse. Much of Ryan’s success is obviously owed to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and that’s what keeps Ryan from cracking my top 10. If he can duplicate his success next year – or come close – he will move up these rankings.
17. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns (25)
For 10 years now, Joe Thomas has been the model of excellence at his position. He’s never missed a game. He’s never missed a snap. He’s been voted to the Pro Bowl team every year of his career. At 32 years old, he’s entering the twilight of his NFL career, but Thomas has shown no signs of slowing down. He tied a career-low by committing just two penalties all season. When he finally hangs it up, he will be an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
18. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (17)
A hamstring injury ended A.J. Green’s 2016 season prematurely, costing him 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. When Green did play, he was having arguably the best season of his career – his 964 receiving yards in just 10 starts had him on pace for close to 1,600 yards. He’s made it a clean sweep so far of Pro Bowl invitations, earning six such awards in as many seasons.
19. Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys (18)
The best player on the Dallas offensive line could be any of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, or Travis Frederick, but considering Smith plays the toughest position, he gets the nod. The former first-round pick was drafted at age 20, so even with 92 career regular season starts and four Pro Bowls to his name, he’s still well in the prime of his career.
20. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins (47)
Trent Williams is pushing Tyron Smith as his conference’s best offensive tackle, and 2016 was arguably his finest year yet. Pro Football Focus rated Williams as the most efficient tackle in the NFL on a per-play basis, grading him as a 92.8. At this point, all that keeps Williams from moving up these rankings is his on-field availability; he’s missed at least one game in five of his seven seasons since being drafted.
21. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (51)
Andrew Luck rebounded from a frustrating 2015 season to throw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns for an Indianapolis Colts team that was done in by its bottom-10 scoring and total defense. GM Ryan Grigson did Luck no favors in terms of his offensive line or defensive support, and that’s a big reason Grigson was recently fired. Luck’s talent is evident, but it will be difficult for him to take the Colts back to the playoffs without better teammates around him, and he’s been dealing with too many injuries as of late.
22. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (7)
Not since Adrian Peterson has the football world seen a running back come in and dominate as a rookie like Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott was playing behind a world-class offensive line, but don’t underestimate his production this year. Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards (1,631), and did so while playing just 15 games. He also found the end zone 16 times and nearly broke 2,000 all-purpose yards.
23. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals (19)
This year, Patrick Peterson became just the second player in NFL history (Joe Thomas was the first) to play all 16 games and make the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons. Peterson is a traditional lockdown corner who can cover the opposition’s No. 1 wide receiver, and he’s still largely in the prime of his career.
24. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers (67)
This past season, Greg Olsen did something that no tight end had ever done before – he accumulated 1,000 receiving yards for the third year in a row, and he did so while being the primary target for his team’s passing offense. Olsen has long been one of the game’s most underrated players. He doesn’t get injured and he’s as reliable as they come.
25. Chris Harris, CB, Denver Broncos (63)
Slot cornerbacks don’t get much better than Denver’s Chris Harris. He’s long dominated the PFF player ratings, this past year finishing as the top overall cornerback in the NFL with a 92.9 grade. Harris fueled a Broncos defense that was every bit as dominant as the 2015 Super Bowl champion squad; in fact, this year’s team allowed six fewer touchdown passes and over 200 fewer passing yards.
26. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks (30)
Earl Thomas’ value to the Seattle Seahawks has been apparent during his career – from 2012 through 2015, they led the league in scoring defense every year, earning two Super Bowl appearances and holding the greatest offense in NFL history to eight points. Thomas missed his first-ever action this season, and the team wasn’t the same – Seattle finished third in points allowed and had no answer for Matt Ryan in the NFC Divisional Game.
27. Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens (43)
The league’s best guard has made six consecutive Pro Bowls and possesses the versatility to play both guard and tackle. Yanda missed three games in 2016, but even at age 32, Yanda should have a few more years of dominant inferior line play.
28. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs (13)
Free-agent safeties of Eric Berry’s caliber don’t hit the open market very often, and Kansas City was smart to ink him to a $78 million deal this offseason. Berry is a flat out playmaker, as he recorded four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns in 2016. He single-handedly snatched a victory from a near-loss when he picked off league MVP Matt Ryan’s two-point attempt and returned it for the first-ever pick-two.
29. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills (27)
The trade to Philadelphia didn’t slow LeSean McCoy’s performance one bit; in fact, he’s the league’s leading rusher (2,162 yards) since Chip Kelly dumped him to Buffalo two seasons ago. McCoy averaged a ridiculous 5.4 yards per carry in 2016, his third such season with at least 1,000 rushing yards and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average.
30. Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs (76)
Justin Houston missed the majority of 2016 with a torn ACL, but he’s still an elite pass rusher when healthy. Houston picked up four sacks in just five games this past season, and he has 54.5 in his last 59 games. He’s an integral part of a Kansas City Chiefs defense that is one of the game’s elite.
31. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (26)
Don’t be surprised if Travis Kelce is the game’s best tight end by the end of 2017. Kelce led his position in receiving yards (1,125) this year, at one point securing 100 yards six times in a nine-game span. He’s a 6’5″, 255-pound beast to cover and he possesses borderline wide receiver speed with a 35-inch vertical. It’s not easy to find a way to shut down a player of his skill set.
32. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (24)
Five seasons into his NFL career, Russell Wilson has never missed a game, and he’s already established himself as one of the game’s all-time great dual-threat quarterbacks. This year, Wilson shouldered more of a load in the passing game than ever before, setting career bests in completions, attempts, and passing yards. He can be streaky for periods of time, but next to Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, he’s probably the active QB most general managers would take to build their team around.
33. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (29)
Mike Evans took that next step forward in 2016, becoming a complete receiver and soaking up targets in the passing game. The 6’5” Evans finished with a 96/1,321/12 statline, proving himself to be more than just a red zone threat but a bonafide No. 1 option for Tampa Bay.
34. Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys (58)
A former Notre Dame left tackle, Zack Martin is tremendously athletic for a guard. Since he entered the league, Dallas has ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards all three seasons, with two top-two finishes. Martin has never missed an NFL game and he’s been to the Pro Bowl every season of his career.
35. Ndmaukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins (55)
Ndamukong Suh is still the dominant force he was with Detroit, but he’s subject to more criticism given his $100 million contract with Miami. Suh has recorded 11 sacks from the interior line position the last two seasons, and he helped the Dolphins finally capture a playoff berth in 2016. He should be a Hall of Famer after he retires.
36. Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seattle Seahawks (39)
There are a slew of tremendous defensive players on Seattle, and Bobby Wagner is quickly emerging as one of the elite middle linebackers in the league. Wagner started all 16 games in 2016, recording 4.5 sacks and two takeaways. He’s still just 26 years old and one of the leaders of a top-tier defense.
37. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans (NR)
It’s a shame that the prime of DeAndre Hopkins’ career is being wasted by quarterbacks such as Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, and others. Hopkins never formed a connection with Osweiler in 2016, finishing with just 954 receiving yards and four scores. The talent of Hopkins is clearly there – he has a 1,500-yard receiving campaign on his resume with four different quarterbacks – and with better QB play, he will re-establish himself as one of the game’s elite players at his potion.
38. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Los Angeles Rams (NR)
Even at age 35, Andrew Whitworth is still one of the game’s elite offensive linemen. He’s made consecutive Pro Bowls and missed just two games in the last eight years. Whitworth has also contributed at guard in addition to tackle, and that versatility puts him high up this list. He was an underrated offseason signing for the Los Angeles Rams.
39. Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles (38)
Fletcher Cox is going to need elite production to justify that nine-figure deal. This past year, he wasn’t as good as he was the previous season, but Cox still registered 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He’s now suited up for all 64 games over the last four years, and he’s a good pass-rusher as well as run-stopper.
40. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals (68)
Geno Atkins took some time to regain the form he had before his 2013 ACL injury, but it’s safe to say he’s completely back. Atkins has played all 48 games since the injury, earning a Pro Bowl selection each season. Atkins leads his position by averaging 10 sacks since ’15.
41. Michael Bennett, DE/DT, Seattle Seahawks (46)
A run of interior defensive linemen isn’t complete without Michael Bennett, a player that some say is the most dominant player on the Seattle defense. Bennett was Bill Belichick’s biggest problem in the Seattle-New England Super Bowl. He can play virtually anywhere on the line, and he’s recorded 15 total sacks in 27 games since the start of 2015.
42. Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings (74)
Harrison Smith has long been one of the more underappreciated safeties in the NFL, as he can cover wide receivers and defend against the run. Smith’s numbers didn’t stand out in 2016, but he fueled a Minnesota defense that started out as the game’s stingiest unit before a late-season collapse.
43. Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, Houston Texans (49)
Three years after going first overall in the 2014 NFL draft, Jadeveon Clowney has emerged as a legitimate franchise defensive player. He can rush the quarterback, but he’s also exceptional against the run, and when the Houston Texans get J.J. Watt back next year, opposing offensive coordinators won’t know how to stop Watt and Clowney off the edge.
44. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (61)
With all the hype that rightfully goes to Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Odell Beckham, Jr., it was smallish downfield threat T.Y. Hilton who led the NFL in receiving yards (1,448) in 2016. Hilton may be undersized, but he’s put together an impressive three-year run. Only four players have more yards than Hilton since ’14, and Hilton has averaged an impressive 16.1 yards per reception.
45. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys (87)
Remember when Dallas was mocked for drafting Travis Frederick in the first round in 2013? When you love a player, you do what you can to take him, and that philosophy seems to have worked out well for the organization regarding this selection. Frederick is an integral part of a dominant Dallas offensive line. He’s never missed an NFL start, earned Pro Bowl nods in each of his last three seasons, and was just rewarded with the first of what should be many AP First-Team All-Pro honors.
46. Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars (83)
In the history of the National Football League, there haven’t been too many men like Calais Campbell, a 6’8″ physical freak who can line up at both tackle and end on the defensive line. Campbell has averaged 7.5 sacks and five passes defensed since becoming a full-time starter in 2009. It seems that Jacksonville has added a slew of talented defensive players via free agency over the last few years, but with Campbell, they get a stud lineman still in his prime.
47. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (52)
There’s a wealth of talented interior defensive linemen right now, and Gerald McCoy holds his own when compared to any one of them. He’s working on a streak of five consecutive Pro Bowl selections, and played a key role in a late-season Tampa Bay playoff push.
48. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers (22)
A future Hall of Famer, Ben Roethlisberger has seemingly gotten better with age. His home-road splits are alarming, but he’s throwing touchdowns at his highest rate ever and getting rid of the football quicker. Roethlisberger began his career as a caretaking game manager; now he’s a downfield vertical passer who makes the Pittsburgh offense hum.
49. Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore Ravens (NR)
The San Diego Chargers and Eric Weddle went through a messy divorce, but the Baltimore Ravens emerged as winners via free agency. Weddle didn’t miss a beat on his new team, making a slew of impact plays (four interceptions and a forced fumble), while rating as PFF’s top overall safety in 2016.
50. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers (48)
The return of Jordy Nelson to full health (2015 torn ACL) fueled Aaron Rodgers’ MVP performance. Nelson may be on the wrong side of 30 years old, but he’s still one of the NFL’s most complete receivers. He averaged nearly 100 yards and a touchdown per game during Green Bay’s six-game winning streak to close out the year, and led all players with 14 touchdown grabs for the season.
51. Landon Collins, S, New York Giants (28)
Following a subpar rookie season, no one could have expected what Landon Collins did in year two. Collins was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, recording 100 tackles, four sacks, and a ridiculous six takeaways, including one of the greatest pick-sixes you’ll ever see. Collins is still just 23 years old and looking like one of the best ballhawks in the game.
52. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs (32)
Marcus Peters has established himself as one of the best ballhawks to hit the league in quite some time. He’s already recorded 14 interceptions; he’s the only player since the mid-1990s to pull off that achievement in his first two years. Peters also recovered three fumbles in 2016, giving him a ridiculous 17 career takeaways in just 31 games.
53. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks (NR)
The torn patellar tendon injury that Jimmy Graham suffered in 2015 is one that has ended the career of many players. That makes Graham’s bounceback campaign even more remarkable. He caught 65 passes for 923 yards and six touchdowns in 2016, coming close to putting up his third 1,000-yard season. Since trading for him, the Seattle Seahawks have struggled to naturally incorporate Graham into their offense, but this past year was a step in the right direction.
54. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles (NR)
A former college tight end who went undrafted into the NFL, Jason Peters has carved out quite an incredible career for himself. He’s now made the Pro Bowl every single year since 2007, missing just once – when he suffered a double Achilles’ tendon rupture (2012) that would have ended the career of a lesser player. Peters’ false starts were up this past season, but he still rated as the eighth-best offensive tackle in the game (per PFF). Not bad for a 35-year-old player, and he deserved the contract extension he just received.
55. Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks (34)
A safety who is built like a linebacker, Kam Chancellor’s defining play of the 2016 season was covering Rob Gronkowski one-on-one with the game on the line in a Seattle win in Week 10. Chancellor has now struggled with injuries in consecutive seasons, missing nine total games over the last two years, but when he’s on the field, he’s probably the best strong safety in the league.
56. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (11)
Derek Carr was a league MVP candidate until suffering a broken leg late in the year; he still finished seventh in the NFL in ANY/A (7.20) and eighth in passer rating (96.7). Carr led Oakland to its first playoff berth in over a decade, rejuvenating the career of Michael Crabtree and establishing himself as one of the game’s elite franchise quarterbacks.
57. David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers (97)
The best player on his team’s offensive line, David DeCastro paved the way for a rushing attack that went all the way to the AFC Championship Game. DeCastro is still in the prime of his career and coming off consecutive Pro Bowls and three straight seasons of 16 starts.
58. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati Bengals (NR)
Carlos Dunlap has always been a great pass rusher but he showed an uncanny ability in 2016 to defend the pass. Dunlap registered eight sacks and three forced fumbles, although his most impressive statistic was his ridiculous total of 15 passes defensed from the defensive end position.
59. David Bakhtiari, OT, Green Bay Packers (NR)
David Bakhtiari was a liability early in his career, but now he’s one of the premier left tackle in the league. Bakhtiari didn’t miss a start in 2016, and after averaging 6.5 sacks allowed and nine penalties for his first three seasons, he dropped those figures to three and five. Bakhtiari’s performance showed why the Green Bay organization felt so comfortable giving him a four-year extension prior to the year.
60. Linval Joseph, DT, Minnesota Vikings (NR)
Linval Joseph is quickly becoming one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles. His four sacks and three forced fumbles showed that he can get to the quarterback, but Joseph is at his best when defending against the run.
61. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans (75)
A former backup tight end and H-back in San Francisco, Delanie Walker has blossomed as the everyday starter in Tennessee. Walker tied for the team lead in receptions (65) in 2016, and he’s averaged 926 receiving yards for the last three seasons. Walker has been Marcus Mariota’s security blanket, and that trend should continue
62. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (45)
The Arizona Cardinals have changed Larry Fitzgerald’s role, as he now operates in more of a slot receiver position where he uses his size to create mismatches for opposing nickel cornerbacks. It hasn’t changed Fitzgerald’s effectiveness though. He racked up a ridiculous 107 catches in 2016, playing all 16 games at a ripe-old age of 33 years old. The only receiver in history with more catches at that age is the great Jerry Rice, and Fitzgerald trails just Rice in Pro Bowls (10) at his position. Fitzgerald has announced he’s returning for the 2017 campaign, which means we’ll see at least one more year of this generation’s best receiver.
63. Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans (72)
There’s a shortage of quality left tackles who are still in their rookie contract; after a breakout year three campaign, Taylor Lewan may be the NFL’s best tackle among players aged 25 and younger. Lewan started all 16 games in 2016 for the first time in his career, even catching a touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible play. Lewan rated by PFF as the seventh-best overall offensive tackle and the second-best when it comes to run-blocking.
64. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks (90)
Long one of the NFL’s most underrated players, Doug Baldwin is finally starting to get recognition around the league for his stellar play. Baldwin, who hasn’t missed a game since 2012, posted career highs in receptions (94) and receiving yards (1,128), while earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Baldwin has an uncanny rapport with Russell Wilson, and does all the little things that make a receiver great.
65. Josh Sitton, G, Chicago Bears (NR)
The Green Bay Packers curiously released Josh Sitton prior to the 2016 season, and he signed on with the division-rival Chicago Bears. Sitton was instrumental in the success of rookie running back Jordan Howard, earning his fourth Pro Bowl bid in the process. He’s still in the prime of his career and the best player on a rapidly-improving Chicago offensive line.
66. Jurrell Casey, DT, Tennessee Titans (86)
Jurrell Casey is one of the more underappreciated defensive players in the league. He’s a versatile 305-pounder who can line up as both a 4-3 tackle and a 5-technique end in a 3-4 scheme. Casey has now been selected to consecutive Pro Bowls, which means voters are catching on to his excellence.
67. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (44)
Where do you rank Cam Newton right now? Supercam followed up a 2015 MVP campaign and Super Bowl appearance with a frighteningly awful performance this past year. Newton posted the league’s lowest completion percentage (52.9), at one point posting a sub-50.0 mark in four consecutive games. He’s still a dual-threat player, capable of serving as his team’s goal-line runner. However, the hits and concussions are starting to pile up on Newton, who needs to become a better pocket passer to survive in this league.
68. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins (62)
Cameron Wake’s brutal Achilles injury should have been a career-ender, but don’t tell that to Wake. The former undrafted free agent/CFL star rebounded to pick up 11.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, and his first career interception. The result was Miami’s first playoff appearance since Wake joined the team.
69. Olivier Vernon, DE, New York Giants (NR)
Cameron Wake’s former teammate signed a mammoth free-agent deal with Big Blue, and rebounded from a slow start to the season to register 7.5 sacks in his final nine games. Vernon was instrumental in the New York Giants’ late playoff push, also chipping in as one of the best run defenders in the league
70. Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins (59)
Carolina GM Dave Gettleman shocked the NFL world by releasing All-Pro corner Josh Norman last offseason, this after he had already applied the franchise tag. As a result, Norman latched on with the Washington Redskins to a five-year, $70 million deal. Norman wasn’t quite as dominant as his 2015 self, but he still started all 16 games, racking up three interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles, while PFF rated him as the 13th-best cover corner in the game.
71. Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta Falcons (40)
After an unspectacular rookie campaign, Vic Beasley blossomed into one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers in 2016, all the meantime transitioning from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Beasley terrorized opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 15.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and a fumble return touchdown. What keeps Beasley from ranking higher are his limitations in the running game; if he can improve that aspect of his play, he’s going to skyrocket up this list.
72. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (31)
Matthew Stafford was probably stretched as a league MVP candidate for the majority of 2016, but still, the former first overall draft pick has become a different quarterback under current offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Stafford set career bests in interception percentage (1.7) and QBR (70.7), also tying a league record with eight fourth-quarter comebacks – and he did all that without the services of Calvin Johnson (retired). Stafford is still young enough that he will be operating this Detroit offense for another 8-10 years.
73. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers (73)
Philip Rivers is still one of the game’s most consistent quarterbacks and a top-10 signal-caller who should eventually make the Hall of Fame. Age may be catching up to him though; he’s now seen alarming downward trends in the second half of the last three seasons, none more so than 2016 when he tossed 14 interceptions over the final seven games. Rivers should see a boost next year with the return of Keenan Allen to the active roster.
74. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos (37)
Aqib Talib enjoyed by far the finest season of his career in 2016. Despite suiting up for just 13 games, he earned his first All-Pro selection and graded out as PFF’s second-best overall cornerback, trailing just teammate, Chris Harris. Talib is a big-play machine in the secondary, having scored a league-leading five interception touchdowns since ’14.
75. DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans (33)
After a season to forget in Philadelphia, DeMarco Murray experienced a career rejuvenation behind Tennessee’s underrated offensive line. Murray rushed for 1,287 yards and added a dozen total touchdowns. Life was easier for Murray with dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota taking snaps under center, but Mariota also benefited from Murray’s hard-nosed grinding run style.
76. NaVorro Bowman, ILB, San Francisco 49ers (NR)
This stat may surprise you: Since 2010, there are only three NFL players to earn four First-Team All-Pro selections. Their names are Joe Thomas (5), J.J. Watt (4), and Bowman (4). Remarkably, Bowman has only been a starter for four of the seven possible years – he was a backup in 2010, missed 2014 due to injury, and missed most of 2016 due to injury. The key for Bowman will be rebounding once again from a devastating injury, but if he can do it, San Francisco has a building block for its future.
77. Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants (96)
For each of the last two seasons, Damon Harrison has been PFF’s top run defender; this, despite changing schemes, teams, and even conferences. Harrison was a 3-4 nose tackle for the New York Jets in 2015 and smoothly transitioned to a 4-3 role with the New York Giants this past year. Harrison’s pure size (350 pounds) means he’s capable of requiring double teams on any given play, and this made life easier for Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul on the outside.
78. Kelechi Osemele, G, Oakland Raiders (95)
It’s risky to give a free agent offensive lineman $60 million, but the Oakland Raiders did it and reaped the rewards. After years of underrated play for Baltimore, Kelechi Osemele cashed in with Oakland and thrived at guard. Osemele protected Derek Carr extremely well, not allowing a single sack in pass blocking all year. The result was the Raiders’ first postseason appearance since 2002.
79. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots (99)
A Super Bowl hero as a rookie, Malcolm Butler is now a bonafide No. 1 cover corner for a team that again won a championship. Butler has the ability to shadow the opposition’s top receiver, which makes him an asset for Bill Belichick’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. In 2016, Butler picked up four interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries. An offseason of trade rumors may or may not have been all talk, but for now, Butler is a Patriot.
80. Alex Mack, C, Atlanta Falcons (NR)
Matt Ryan won the 2016 NFL MVP award and deservedly so, but don’t understate the importance of a quality center in a high-powered offense. Free-agent addition Alex Mack was a godsend for the Atlanta Falcons, proving superb play from a position that hasn’t seen a quality snapper since the days of Todd McClure. Mack earned his fourth Pro Bowl appearance and then played the entire Super Bowl with a cracked tibia.
81. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (60)
At just 28 years old, Dez Bryant has now struggled to stay healthy for each of the last two seasons, missing time during that span due to a hairline fracture in his knee (2016) and a bone graft in his foot (2015). Lower-leg injuries are never good for a receiver, but Dez is still an elite playmaker when he’s on the field. He proved that during Dallas’ NFC Divisional game against Green Bay, snagging nine balls for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-tying score with four minutes to play.
82. Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders (53)
After a terrific rookie season, Amari Cooper was at times the No. 2 receiver on Oakland in 2016, losing targets to former free-agent signee, Michael Crabtree. Cooper still finished with an impressive 83/1,153/5 statline, although he was particularly ineffective down the stretch, failing to top 100 yards in each of his team’s final eight games and putting up a dismal 10 yards on 10 targets in the playoff loss. Connor Cook certainly deserves the bulk of the blame for the postseason performance, and expect Cooper to take that next step forward with a healthy Derek Carr in 2017.
83. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos (NR)
The consensus among NFL fans seems to be that Demaryius Thomas is no longer an elite receiver; while he may not be the game-changing force he was under 2012-2013 Peyton Manning, DT still put up 1,023 yards on 90 catches with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch throwing to him. Thomas has now suited up for every game since ’12, and he’s now just the fifth receiver in history to post five straight seasons of 16 starts, 80 receptions, and 1,000 receiving yards.
84. Leonard Williams, DE, New York Jets (NR)
Leonard Williams’ development into a star has seemingly made either Muhammad Wilkerson or Sheldon Richardson expendable. Williams racked up seven sacks and two forced fumbles from a 5-technique position in 2016, also earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Considering he’s still just 22 years old, Williams has an extremely bright future.
85. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins (65)
Concussions have been Jordan Reed’s biggest downfall as of late, and they threaten to derail his career. Reed has never played all 16 games in a season, but he’s still seventh in receiving yards over the last two years. Only Tyler Eifert had snagged more touchdowns than Reed (17), who is athletic enough at just 235 pounds to line up wide and on the line.
86. Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers (NR)
Carolina Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman loves his pass-rushing defensive linemen, and Kawann Short is about to be paid handsomely. Short was picked a round after 2013 first-rounder Star Lotulelei, but Short is likely to be the one to receive the big payday. Short’s sack total dipped from 11 in ’15 to just six this past season, but he’s still a valuable interior defender who can get constant pressure up the middle.
87. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins (70)
It’s surprising what the Washington Redskins are doing with Kirk Cousins. He’s not quite an elite quarterback, but there are a lot of things to like about Cousins, a former fourth-round afterthought in the notable RGIII draft. Cousins broke out in 2015, but then followed it up with another impressive campaign this year. He nearly reached the 5,000-yard club and finished fourth in the NFL in ANY/A (7.45), a statistic that makes note of Cousins’ underrated ability to not take sacks. Cousins is an upper-echelon quarterback, and he’s capable of winning a championship with the right pieces around him.
88. Janoris Jenkins, CB, New York Giants (54)
Typically cornerbacks don’t live up to high-priced free-agent deals, and Janoris Jenkins’ five-year, $62 million contract with the New York Giants looked like a colossal overpayment. Jenkins went on to turn in his best year yet, registering three interceptions and an impressive 18 passes defensed. He’s always had a tendency to give up the big play, but cut down on that for a secondary that allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes in the league.
89. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys (14)
Rookie quarterbacks don’t typically do what Dak Prescott did in 2016, and rookie fourth-round quarterbacks never do what he did. Prescott threw 23 touchdowns to just four interceptions in the regular season, posted a 67.8 completion percentage and 104.8 passer rating, and did all that knowing one bad performance likely would give the job back to Tony Romo. If Prescott can prove his ’16 performance was no fluke, he will skyrocket up these rankings.
90. Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Arizona Cardinals (85)
It’s difficult to say Bill Belichick made the wrong move by trading away premier pass-rusher Chandler Jones; after all, Belichick and the New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl. Still, Jones has continued to thrive, even on a new team. For the 2016 Arizona Cardinals, Jones racked up 11 sacks and four forced fumbles to go with a pair of fumble recoveries.
91. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons (NR)
It’s amazing that the Atlanta Falcons managed to reach the Super Bowl with their best cornerback on injured reserve. When healthy, Trufant is a promising player who can shadow opposing No. 1 wide receivers. Trufant is eligible for a big payday this offseason, and should receive at least the $62 million that Janoris Jenkins received.
92. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, Arizona Cardinals (NR)
The Honey Badger has earned this ranking largely for his performance in 2015; he missed six games due to injury this past season and didn’t provide as many impact plays when he was on the field. When Tyrann Mathieu is on his game, he’s a special player. He’s undersized but can play that rare hybrid corner/safety role that allows him to cover wide receivers, play the run, and blitz the opposing quarterback. Mathieu has never been able to stay healthy at the NFL level, but if he can suit up for all 16 games, his ranking will climb.
93. Joe Staley, OT, San Francisco 49ers (NR)
The San Francisco 49ers are a pitifully-constructed roster, but Joe Staley is still one of their cornerstones. His streak of five straight seasons of 16 games started and Pro Bowl appearances came to an end, as Staley missed three games due to a hamstring injury in 2016. Staley is now 32 years old, but recent history has shown offensive tackles can play well into their mid-thirties (see Jason Peters and Joe Thomas). If the Niners can find themselves a franchise quarterback, Staley should be able to provide several additional seasons of solid protection.
94. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings (66)
Xavier Rhodes took that next step forward in 2016, recording five interceptions, a 100-yard pick-six, and 10 passes defensed, and that will put him in strong position to receive a long-term contract extension this offseason. Rhodes also rated by PFF this past year as the top run defender for his position, and that’s why he is one of the most complete cornerbacks in the game.
95. Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers (100)
Remember Joey Bosa’s ugly holdout at the beginning of the season? It didn’t seem to affect him too much once he got on the field. Bosa recorded two takedowns of Derek Carr, 2016’s hardest quarterback to sack, in his first-ever NFL game. Bosa ended the year with 10.5 sacks in just 12 games, and put up at least one sack in each of the final five contests.
96. Kyle Long, G, Chicago Bears (NR)
Football greatness runs in the Long family. Kyle Long is the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Long, and he’s off to a fine start to his own career. Kyle made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three NFL seasons, filling in at right guard the first two campaigns and then sliding to right tackle for 2015. Long moved back to his natural guard position in ’16 and missed half the season due to a multitude of injuries, but he’s still a borderline top-five guard in the league.
97. T.J. Lang, G, Detroit Lions (NR)
T.J. Lang played well enough in 2015 that the Green Bay Packers found Josh Sitton expendable, as they made him a veteran cap cut in the offseason. Curiously enough though, the Packers let Lang sign with the Detroit Lions; how often does a team lose both Pro Bowl guards to division rivals in the same offseason? Lang has the ability to play every position on the offensive line except center, and PFF rated Lang as the eighth-best overall guard in 2016 and the second-best in terms of pass-blocking.
98. Casey Hayward, CB, San Diego Chargers (64)
Casey Hayward was essentially a one-year starter for the Green Bay Packers, thriving more as a nickel corner since being drafted in 2012. Hayward signed a free-agent deal with the San Diego Chargers this past offseason, and performed at an incredibly high level. Hayward led all defensive players with seven interceptions, also putting up a ridiculous 20 passes defensed.
99. Sean Lee, MLB, Dallas Cowboys (79)
Staying healthy has always been key for the Dallas Cowboys’ talented linebacker. After playing in just 17 of a possible 48 games from 2012-2014, Lee has suited up for 29 of the last 32 contests. This past season was his best work as a pro; he earned a First-Team AP All-Pro selection and recorded 93 tackles for a Cowboys defense that quietly led the league in rushing yards allowed and finished fifth in points allowed.
100. Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots
Brandin Cooks has straight-line, game-breaking speed, and he put that to good use in 2016. Cooks secured the league’s longest touchdown reception of the year, a 98-yarder, but also managed to stretch the field en route to an 87-yard score. He won’t be with Drew Brees anymore, but going from Brees to Tom Brady has to be pretty fun. Cooks is the most talented outside receiver this team has had since Randy Moss. That’s not saying Cooks will catch 23 touchdowns next season, but he’s going to put up big numbers if he stays healthy.
SEA DE Cliff Avril
CHI RB Jordan Howard
TEN QB Marcus Mariota
PHI S Malcolm Jenkins
JAC WR Allen Robinson
NO DE Cameron Jordan
CAR OLB Thomas Davis
WAS OLB Ryan Kerrigan
KC WR/KR Tyreek Hill
NE S Devin McCourty