Wednesday, July 31, 2013

NFL 2013: Top 200, #20-1

20.) Aldon Smith (OLB-SF)

Aldon Smith's 19.5 sacks and 27 hurries are just incredible numbers. He was almost as good a year ago (more hurries, fewer sacks). He has more sacks through two seasons than anyone ever (it helped that he played more games than Reggie White, but still). However, there is one dark mark on Aldon Smith's career so far: he had no sacks when Justin Smith was hurt late in the year. He barely had hurries. Apparently he was injured as well, but he was Superman without his cape with Smith missing.  Everybody needs something to work on.

19.) Richard Sherman (CB-SEA)

Sherman backed up a great 2011 season with an equally good 2012 season. Sherman took more chances, which accounts for his 22 passes defended and 8 interceptions, but his raised yards allowed per pass (5.4 in 2011 and 7.1 this past year, rank went from #7 to #30). Sherman cut down on his penalties and played better against the run as well. Richard Sherman per play may not have been quite as good as his great 2011 season (although he gets credit for matching that level), but he made more impact plays. If he can alternate back and forth than he can get to that Revis level.

18.) Nick Mangold (C-NYJ)

Ho hum, another great year from Mangold. He's not at the level he was back in 2010 (when I had him ranked 7th the following offseason), but that is mainly age and also that Sanchez is worse and more skittish now than then. Mangold was penalized just twice, and was noted for just 1.5 blown blocks on run plays. Mangold goes against some really good defensive tackles (Wilfork, Kyle Williams in the AFC East alone), and owns all of them. It is sad that this monster has been playing in New York and is still somehow underrated.

17.) Carl Nicks (G-TB)

Carl Nicks season was cut short after seven games with a mysterious toe injury. It may have not been mysterious, but it seems odd to miss nine games because of a toe. Anyway, he was still really good in his first year in Tampa Bay, and New Orleans really seemed to miss him as well. Nicks was marked for one penalty and just four blown blocks on passes, which is better than it looks since Josh Freeman was awfully easy to get pressure on.

16.) Haloti Ngata (DE-BAL)

Ngata continued his calm mastery of the position of the new age Richard Seymour. He's not allowed the free range of JJ Watt, and his job is to push through double teams, and he still does that about as good as anyone in the game. His 9 QB hits and 13 hurries are better than what he had a year ago, and his sacks stayed consistent. You want the best example of how much Haloti Ngata means to that team, just watch how badly the Ravens defense played after Ngata's injury in the Super Bowl. The true value of a player is what happens when he is gone.

15.) Drew Brees (QB-NO)

Drew Brees went from having one of the greatest seasons by a QB ever to having one of the strangest. He broke Marino's passing yardage record again, but this time with no fanfare. The 19 interceptions might have something to do with that. The strangest part of Brees' season was his completion percentage dropping to 63.0% coming off of a season with a 71.2%. Brees should get better with the return of Payton, but he has always been a bit of a risk taker (22 INTs in 2010 as well). Can he return to being a Top-10 player? Easily, but I don't think Brees + Payton necessarily = Top-10.

14.) Darrelle Revis (CB-TB)

Darrelle Revis, before his ACL injury against San Francisco, was having another stupid good year, with a 74% success rate and 3.4 yards allowed. That latter number would have been by far #1 in the NFL for corners. Yeah, he's still that good. The one question is if he can return from injury at near that level. He will never approach 2009 level because no one ever will for a long, long time, but Revis' consistent greatness throughout his six year career is just staggering. He is, and should be, a Hall of Famer.

13.) Rob Gronkowski (TE-NE)

Rob Gronkowski, much like his QB, will probably never replicate his amazing 2011 season. Part of that is because of league offensive levels in that season, but for Gronkowski, the other is that he is hard to count on to play 16 games. His continuous arm injuries late in 2012 were worrisome, but the reoccurrence of his back injury that ended in another surgery might be the bigger issue. Once you get past all that, you are left with a player who has a chance to be the best TE of all time having another stellar season when healthy. All that matters is how many games he will be healthy for.

12.) Geno Atkins (DT-CIN)

Geno Atkins had the best season for a 4-3 DT since probably Warren Sapp in 2002. I could be forgetting someone, but not many 4-3 DTs have ever had 13 sacks, not to mention 30(!) more hurries, in a season before. He was also very good against the run, ranking #5 in stop rate. He was as active as any 4-3 DT that I have seen. The best part is this was just his 3rd season, and at just 25 he can keep this level for quite a while. There were a lot of incredible single seasons last year, and Atkins is really the first in the Dominant 12 that are to come.

11.) Andre Johnson (WR-HOU)

Andre Johnson was the best receiver in the NFL in 2008-09, and then was very good but injured in 2010-11. Well, he was healthy for the first time since '09, and while he wans't the best receiver, he had an incredible season. Having 1,598 yards on 112 catches at 31 is ridiculous. The fact that it wasn't the best season of his career (that was 2008 - 115 catches for 1,575 yards) says even more about what an incredible player Johnson has been. By DYAR, his season was 95% as good as Calvin Johnson's. By the way, note to Matt Schaub: please start throwing to Johnson in the red zone. His low TD totals are the only thing holding him back from surefire HOF status.

10.) Von Miller (OLB-DEN)

Von Miller potential suspension has kind of left the public radar, and it wasn't for PED abuse, so the numbers are real. Of course, they look propped up. He was the best pass rusher outside of the Gyarados named Watt, with 18.5 sacks and a ridiculous 41 hurries. He was #2 in the NFL with 39 defeats, which is a Top-20 mark going back to 1991. Of course, he was also the best run stopping linebacker in the NFL, with the #1 mark in yards allowed per run for them at 0.4 yards. Playing alongside an offense that gets leads helps his cause, but he would be a star on the Jaguars as well. He is just too good, too freaking good. 

9.) Joe Thomas (T-CLE)

Joe Thomas overall stats may look average, with his three sacks allowed and fourteen blown blocks (8 on passes, 6 on runs), but as Football Outsiders notes, he had only one blown block per 73.6 snaps, which led all Left Tackles, and he was on a line that wasn't that great around him in a defensive heavy division (he had to block Paul Kruger, James Harrison and Michael Johnson two times each). Because he was a Top-5 pick, Thomas gets the love that most left tackles on perennially bad teams don't get, but Thomas does deserve it.

8.) Tom Brady (QB-NE)

There are positives and negatives to take from Brady's 2012 season. The positive is that he was still an advanced stats' dream QB, leading the NFL in DVOA and DYAR for QBs. The bad news is that he had accuracy issues for the first time in a while, as his 63.0% completion percentage was his lowest since 2006. Many people are bringing up that 2006 season as a comp for this year with all the new receivers Brady has to break in, but Brady is so much better than he was in 2006 that there is no comp to what Brady will be this season. No one knows, but he will come as close to making it work as all but three or four QBs.

7.) DeMarcus Ware (OLB-DAL)

This was Ware's worst season since either 2009 or 2006. Of course, that 'worst season' included 11.5 sacks and 22 hurries, with a #7 ranking in both stop rate and yards allowed per run. Basically, the worst Ware can play in his peak is as good as most other pro-bowlers. Ware is a special, special player, and although his peak might be over at 31, he could still fly up that all-time sack leaderboard. The one question for Ware is how he will transition to playing a 4-3 DE, but he has good enough size to play that well, and with a Hall of Fame talent like Ware it is easy to see him doing anything well.

6.) Patrick Willis (ILB-SF)

Another high-volume season with stellar pass coverage and limited but very effective pass rushing performance for Patrick Willis. He is in that stage where he could probably play a lot worse and still get First Team All-Pro on reputation alone, but Willis keeps earning it. My favorite Willis memories are when he perfectly covers guys from Jordy Nelson to Aaron Hernandez to Anquan Boldin capably as a ILB. I have never seen a ILB that can be so agile in pass coverage. Just a wonder to watch.

5.) Calvin Johnson (WR-DET)

I remarked on Andre's low TD totals, but I was shocked to find out that Calvin Johnson had just 5 TDs last year. The TD number is the main reason that Football Outsiders liked his 2011 season more than his 2012 one (he had 16 that year). But the fact that his 2011 season was good enough to be about as good as his 2012 season is part of the reason why Calvin Johnson is so amazing. It isn't like he really raised his game in 2012 to get the numbers he got, it is just that he was thrown to 43 more times. Since the Lions like to throw it ~700 times a year, Calvin could end up threatening that Jerry Rice career yards record. Although, at 28, he's only 35% of the way there.

 4.) Peyton Manning (QB-DEN)

I'll be honest, when Manning threw back-to-back-to-back interceptions against Atlanta I was worried that the Peyton I knew would ever be back. It took a while for him to get going, but by the end of the year he was the best QB in the NFL for 2012. His outlook is even more positive, as he's even healthier and stronger now than he was in August 2012, and the addition of Welker gives him the best receiving corp he has had since 2004, when he had what I still consider the best season by a QB ever. It is still amazing to think that he was a Free Agent. I once wrote that if LeBron thought he was important, he should look at the ratings if Peyton Manning was ever a Free Agent and held a 'The Decision'. Of course, Manning is too classy to have a televised announcement with ESPN, but like LeBron, he had a great fist year in his new digs. Can he follow the LeBron model and win a title in year 2?

3.) Adrian Peterson (RB-MIN)

One of the goals of this list is to try to take 'value' out of this. If I didn't, I would have six or so QBs in the Top-20. I still think Peyton Manning was the Most Valuable Player, since QBs are inherently more valuable than RBs. I do, however, think Adrian Peterson was a better player in 2012. What he did was staggering, with a 6.0 yards per carry on 348 carries, which is just stupid. He had 1,598 yards on 235 carries with 10 TDs in his last ten games, which is even more stupid - that's a 376/2557/16 line for a whole season. Why I don't think he's as valuable as Manning is that his team still just went 6-4 in those 10 games, but he was still the best offensive player in the NFL last season, and the only modern RB who is a surefire Hall of Famer.

2.) JJ Watt (DE-HOU)

'Not a human being'...'Kaiju'...'Tyranosaur'...'living Kaiju'...Reggie White'...'Gyarados'. These are the ways I've referred to Watt so far. In honesty, none of them do it justice. JJ Watt wasn't only the leader in sacks leaguewide playing as a 3-4 DE. He wasn't only the guy who had the best season at batting down balls ever, with 18 of them (more than many have in 5 years). It wasn't just that he was unequivocally the best run stuffing d-lineman in the NFL, rating #1 in both stop rate (98%, which is basically absurd) and in yards allowed (-0.2 yards, which is more absurd as it means his average run tackle was BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE). No, he was the guy who did all this despite being double teams constantly and despite everyone in the world knowing all of this. The only reason he isn't #1 is because he's only played two seasons and although he was very good for a rookie, he wasn't great as a rookie. Still, we may never see another defensive season like that. Our only hope to see one is for an actual Kaiju to play in the NFL.

1.) Aaron Rodgers (QB-GB)

Considering his Super Bowl run at the end of 2010, Aaron Rodgers has been the best QB in the NFL over the past three seasons. Historically, QBs don't have really long runs as the best in the NFL (although they can be a Top-2/3/4/5 for a long time, like Peyton). Aaron Rodgers will at some point start throwing interceptions at a human rate and have seasons with QB ratings under 100 (he's only done that in his rookie season). Soon, the hits he takes will take their tole. Of course, maybe he is a magician, and considering the way he can throw on the run to his right or left at ease that could be true. Aaron Rodgers will have to play that way this year with Jennings gone and his O-Line still something of a mess, but he gives the Packers a chance to win any game and every game. There still is no better QB in the NFL, and since he was about 90% as good as he was when he put together one of the five best QB seasons ever in 2011, he retains his perch on this list. JJ Watt, though, is coming to get him, figuratively and literally.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NFL 2013: Top 200, #50-21


50.) Demaryius Thomas (WR-DEN)

Well, Josh McDaniels seems to do much better drafting wide receivers than QBs. Demaryius Thomas didn't really have a chance with Tebow spraying balls everywhere, but Peyton Manning comes in and Demaryius becomes dominant. His 67% catch rate is excellent for a guy that was hovering around 50% up till this year. Thomas was able to run more intermediate and short routes, including sweet screen pass TDs in the opener and the divisional round loss. Thomas will probably retain his targets more than Decker with the arrival of Welker, which should do nothing but make him even better in 2013.

49.) Larry Fitzgerald (WR-ARZ)

Larry Fitzgerald struggled in the relative sense in 2010-11 with the Kolb's and Hall's and Anderson's as his QBs (90-1137-6 and 80-1411-8 those two years), but he couldn't continue that magician trick to the Skelton's and Lindley's. Fitzgerald was the worst, by DYAR, WR in the NFL in 2012, which shows you just how interconnected football is. With Carson Palmer, who is an actual living QB with some amount of talent, Fitzgerald should have a nice season for once.

48.) Vernon Davis (TE-SF)

There was a story coming into the playoffs that Davis was upset about how he was marginalized in the offense with Kaepernick at QB. Of course, he had a great playoffs, especially the final two games, and those stories go away. He is still the most gifted TE in the NFL outside of Gronkowski, but Davis never misses games. His catch rate has always been good, and his playoff performance portends some big things for Vernon Davis in 2013.

47.) Vince Wilfork (DT-NE)

The days of true Nose Tackles are dwindling as most schemes want players who can play both the nose and the 4-3 DT (which WIlfork can do), but Vince was about as good as they come. He's been less of a pass rushing threat since the Patriots moved to more of a base 4-3, but his run defense is as good as ever. He still commands double teams all the time. The Patriots picked him over Richard Seymour, and it is hard to say they failed in that choice in any way.

46.) Terrell Suggs (OLB-BAL)

I still think Terrell Suggs came back too soon as he was not even close to normal Terrell Suggs for the portion of the regular season he did play. He was back to being about 80% of prime Suggs in the playoffs and he should be all the way back this year, but it was sad seeing Suggs as muted as he was for much of 2012. With Pual Kruger, they need the 2011 Suggs back, when he was second in the league in hurries and had an all-around dominant season. We could get it, and as a lover of the Ravens defense, I hope we do.

45.) NaVarro Bowman (ILB-SF)

Patrick Willis vs. NaVarro Bowman is such a close contest. In the Bowman section (which is still to come), I'll talk more about him in generalities, so here I'll do a comparison. Both are surprisingly mediocre in FO's run defense metrics, but amass such a huge amount of plays it hardly matters. Bowman and Willis were essentially equals in pass coverage, which is so important given the rising importance of teh slot and TEs in NFL offenses. Bowman was used less as a blitzer and had a few more broken tackles. Basically, instead of being about as good as possible for a 3-4 ILB like Willis, Bowman was about 90% as good.

44.) Jake Long (T-STL)

Jake Long had his worst year at the wrong time (heading into free agency). Of course, his worst year was still quite good and he got paid nicely, but Jake Long definitely had his worst season. Of course that season means that he gave up four sacks and 14 pressures, instead of like two sacks and 10 pressures. He did have one of his best run blocking seasons. The Rams are counting on him to save the promise of Sam Bradford. Big job, but he should be able to do it.

43.) Earl Thomas (S-SEA)

Defensive Backs from Texas are a precarious selection in the draft, just see the careers of Quentin Jammer (long, underwhelming career for a #5 pick), Aaron Ross and Michael Huff. Earl Thomas has ended all that little trend quite nicely. He had a great rookie season in 2010 and has gained steam since then. Teams just avoid throwing to Thomas, as his 26 targets are incredibly low for a Free Safety, which speaks to how well he takes away deep routes. Thomas is the guy who allows Browner and Sherman to play the way they play. He's the glue that holds that whole thing together.

42.) Brandon Marshall (WR-CHI)
Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler can make some sweet, sweet music together. His advanced stats aren't too pretty mainly because no one else can even make decent music with Jay Cutler, so Marshall was targeted 195 times. He was a great red zone threat (11 TDs) and at times was uncoverable. The other advantage of pairing Marshall and Cutler is that with Jay, Marshall seems to act better. Maybe that is just coincidence and Marshall has his mental issues that he has alluded to under control. Either way, Marshall seems happy and in control off and on the field.

41.) Calais Campbell (DE-ARZ)

Calais Campbell had an excellent season for a 3-4 DE. Of course, we live in a world where JJ Watt exists in human form, so it gets lost, but 6.5 sacks with 18.5 additional hurries is other-worldly as a DE. He was very good against the run once again and was more active than any 3-4 DE other than a certain Houstonian. To further to Watt comparison, he was 2nd in the NFL in tipping passes with 7. So what if Watt had 160% more. Campbell shouldn't be compared to Watt but be compared to his role, where he is about as good as any team should expect.

40.) Jamaal Charles (RB-KC)

Lost in what Adrian Peterson was doing, Jamaal Charles returned from an ACL tear with another stellar season. He still has the highest yards per carry in NFL history at 5.8. Of course, last year it was 5.3, so that number will eventually drop down as his career goes on, but he remains one of the few every-down backs in the NFL. He has never been any sort of dynamic receiving threat which is odd given his speed, but one cannot be perfect. Charles should have a nice season given that he had no help on that Chiefs offense in 2012.

39.) Logan Mankins (G-NE)

Through injuries and age, it is likely Mankins will slip to being the 2nd or 3rd best Patriots lineman soon, but he continues to be an exceptional guard. He was pinned with just 0.5 sacks and 3.5 pressures allowed all year long (he did play only 10 games, but those numbers are still great). With his performances in previous years, he still holds a super high ranking in my mind, and when he is on the field he still performs well, but he doesn't seem as quick as he used to. Still, his career is a testament to how good Dante Scarnecchia is as an O-Line coach.

38.) Matt Ryan (QB-ATL)

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco will be linked for being drafted in the same draft back in 2008, and now Flacco has a ring, while Matt Ryan finally got his first playoff win. Because of the 'TEH RINGZZ' argument, many have Flacco as the better player, but that is insane. Ryan threw it more often than ever in 2012, and not only held his value over more throws but had his best season to date, with a career high 68.6% completion percentage and a career high yards per attempt. And then, in that same playoff loss to the 49ers, Matt Ryan was almost undoubtedly the best player on the field that day. His time is coming, and even if it isn't, he is still better than Joe Flacco.

37.) Antonio Cromartie (CB-NYJ)

Football Outsiders' notes that Antonio Cromartie is one of just two Corners to be in the Top-10 of both success rate and yards per pass allowed in two of the last three seasons (the other in Asante Samuel). This year he was exactly #10 in both, but he was without Revis alongside him for much of this year. Without Revis, Cromartie needed to step up and he did just that, playing some of the best football of his life. He was even good in run defense. If he just remembered the names and ages of his kids two summers ago, he probably would have been thought of a lot better around the league by fans.

36.) Jason Pierre-Paul (DE-NYG)

Jason Pierre-Paul fell from 16.5 sacks in 2011 to 6.5 in 2012, so why does he only fall six spots? Because his hurries only fell by .5 (from 25 to 24.5), so that sack total, like a batter who has an abnormally low BABIP, is bound to go up next year. He was better as a run defender in 2012 than in 2011. He didn't get as much help from the surrounding players in 2012. Jason Pierre-Paul had some lingering issues (though that could be deflection) and is still just 24. There is no reason to believe that the 2011 season is as good as he will ever get. There is far less reason to believe that 2012 is his true level of play.

35.) Marshawn Lynch (RB-SEA)
In a league with few every-down backs, Lynch is right up there with any in the NFL. He had a career best 5.0 yards per carry, as he flourished after the Seahawks switched to a more read-option attack. He had the 2nd most DYAR of any running back (behind you-know-who), and this was all after a very good 2011 season without the benefit of Wilson and a good passing game to take pressure off of him. Lynch is even an awesome red zone back; not many holes in his game overall.

34.) Tamba Hali (OLB-KC)

Tamba Hali actually had his worst season in some time, but given his incredible play with no help from 2010-11, I can forgive 'just' 9 sacks and 15.5 hurries. Hali is now 30, and while that position generally ages well, his peak might be over. He looked a step slower at times in 2012 and this was with legitimate players around him in the defense like Justin Houston. Still, as a reward for peerless performance with no help, Hali is always a star in my book.

33.) Chris Long (DE-STL)

Chris Long was picked #2 in the same draft that Jake Long was picked #1. Of course, Matt Ryan was picked #3, but it is hard to say the Rams failed with the Chris Long pick. He led the NFL with 33.5 hurries in 2012, and if he turns even 25% of those into sacks he could get around 17-18 sacks in 2013. Of course, he's a dominant run defender for a 4-3 DE, which is basically just the cherry on top of an amazing Sundae. 

32.) Justin Smith (DT-SF)

Yes, Justin Smith had a down year plagued with late-season injuries. Of course, he was downright dominant in 2011 after years of good to very good play before that, so we can excuse his year with 11 hurries and 61 run stops as a flukey low year. That is still a very good year for a 3-4 DE that isn't always allowed to play as freely as JJ Watt. Of course, Justin's real impact was felt when he was out and the 49ers defense semi-fell apart.

31.) AJ Green (WR-CIN)
AJ Green was downright dominant early in the season, but fell of a bit late. Of course, so did Andy Dalton, and as Larry Fitzgerald proves every day in Arizona, when a receiver suddenly falls off it is often because of the QB. AJ Green also gets the Steve Smith treatment where he gets double teamed every play as the Bengals have few other targets worth caring about. He still has more physical gifts than any receiver not named Johnson or Jones, but he needs to get on page even more with Dalton for it all to come together.

30.) Marshal Yanda (G-BAL)

Marshal Yanda had about as good of a year at Guard as possible. He didn't allow a sack and was noted for just one blown block on a running play as per Football Outsiders. If you want to pick a bone with him it is the six penalties, but those fluctuate (he had far less in 2011). The Ravens line has gone through a lot of change over the past three seasons, but Yanda's been a constant and about as good a constant as the Ravens could have hoped for.

29.) Ndamukong Suh (DT-DET)

The worst thing that happened to Ndamukong Suh (other than repeated Personal Foul penalties) was his 10 sacks as a rookie. He only had 4 in 2011 and now 8 in 2012, but that doesn't mean he is any worse. He had a ridiculous 27.5 hurries in 2012 (after 18 in 2010 and 24 last year), and he had his most dominant run season yet, ranking #4 in stop rate out of all lineman. His best stat might be his 22 QB hits, which was up from 7 his first two years. Ndamukong Suh in many ways had his best year yet. If that team can just start winning close games, he might get back on that HOF track once again.

28.) Charles Tillman (CB-CHI)

Peanut Tillman was a trendy DPOY pick before JJ Watt went all Reggie White on the NFL, but Tillman's season was still quite special. He had a ridiculous 10 forced fumbles. Sure, that is a fluke, but it still happened. My favorite Tillman stat is that he has six interceptions over the past two seasons, and returned five of those for TDs. He ranked #7 in yards per pass allowed, which is the mark of a true Cover-2 coverage maven. Considering the success of guys like Champ Bailey and Ronde Barber, it is conceivable to see Tillman playing quite well for some time to come.

27.) Ben Roethlisberger (QB-PIT)

It is unclear whether Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense really fits what Tood Haley is trying to do (namely, throw short more), but Ben had another really nice season, with a 26-8 TD-INT ratio. Ben also cut his sacks down to a new low. As long as Ben can stay healthy, which is a huge question mark, he remains the most underrated QB in the NFL, which is shocking considering he has two rings and a better playoff win % than Tom Brady (10-4 > 17-7). He is becoming more and more of a pure pocket passer, but as his stats show, he can do that damn well.

26.) Ray Rice (RB-BAL)

Ray Rice definitely looked tired in the playoffs, as Bernard Pierce behind the same line ran a lot better in the AFC Title Game and Super Bowl, but Ray Rice remains the best dual-threat at running back in the NFL. He had 61 catches on 83 targets to supplement his constantly great running and underrated blocking. Bernard Pierce will continue to steal attempts away from Rice, but that may keep Rice fresh later in seasons. Now if only he could stop fumbling in playoff games...

25.) Duane Brown (T-HOU)

Duane Brown's reputation is built off his great play from 2010-11, and while he was very good in 2012, he wasn't excellent as he was those two years. He gave up three sacks and had 7 blown blocks on running plays. These are fine numbers for all but like five left tackles, but he is one of those five. Chances are it was a fluke. He is still just 28, meaning that he should have another four years or so at this high, high level. 

24.) Cameron Wake (DE-MIA)

It is time to start realizing just how good Cameron Wake has been since he came into the NFL back in 2009. This past year was his Magnum Opus, though. 15 sacks, 27.5 hurries, incredible activity in the run game (admittedly to average results), just unbelievable play all year long. He made a seamless transition to a 4-3 DE after spending his first three years as a 3-4 OLB. Bill Parcells didn't do a whole lot great in Miami other than signing Chad Pennington and not ordering his team to stop running the gimmick that was The Wildcat, but Cameron Wake should be his lasting memory of his Miami tenure, unearthing this gem from Canada.

23.) Julio Jones (WR-ATL)

Greg Little, Brandon Weeden and a pick used in the package for Phil Taylor. That is what Cleveland got in the trade that allowed the Falcons to pick Julio Jones. The Falcons were slammed for the deal then, but when he went off on the 49ers for 11 catches and 182 yards and two TDs in the NFC Championship Game (I was wrong when I said Matt Ryan was the best player on the field), no one sent the Falcons apologies. We all should. Jones will soon take over from White the plurality of Matt Ryan's targets, and that will only be a good thing for the Falcons. They have the best under-30 WR in the NFL not named Megatron.

22.) Eric Weddle (S-SD)

Move over Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, there is a new best safety in the NFL. Eric Weddle had a very good year in 2011. In some ways, against the pass Weddle was better in 2010 & 2011 than this past year (he was Top-10 in success rate and yards allowed in both years, dropped to 15/8 in 2012), but this was the first time Weddle was great against the run. He was Top-10 in both stop rate and yards allowed on run plays. He was avoided more this year, the sign of a truly great safety. Weddle is just entering his Age 28 year, so there is a long time left to pad that resume. Because of the team he plays on he will likely never get the praise he deserves, but he is undeoubtedly the best safety in the NFL right now.

21.) Ryan Clady (T-DEN)

Ryan Clady had his best year in 2012. Of course, the job of a Left Tackle when Peyton Manning is your QB is a bit easier than when Tim Tebow is your QB. He was noted for just one sack and just four blown blocks in the run game, which was the lowest of any full-time Broncos starter. He barely got any help all year long thanks to the help Orlando Franklin needed on the other side, but Clady still managed to play well enough that the Broncos had no choice but to sign him Long Term.

Monday, July 29, 2013

NFL 2013: Top 200, #100-51


100.) Robert Griffin III (QB-WAS)

Robert Griffin was really great in his first season, but he had a lot of help. First, he was incubated in a passing scheme that almost shied away from tough throws. He led the league in % of attempts that were screen passes. He fattened up his passer rating by a bunch of non conversions of safe throws on 3rd down. Still, his running impact made that zone-read offense work. He made those lineman seem better. He made Alfred Morris look better. He has a brilliant arm when given the opportunity. Robert Griffin needs to get better, but that doesn't mean I'm hating on his awesome rookie season. I hope he recovers from that knee injury. I hope he's terrorizing every team but my teams for years to come.

99.) Robert Mathis (OLB-IND)

Robert Mathis, much like Dwight Freeney who ranked a lot lower, was a career 4-3 DE plugged into a 3-4 OLB position. His transition there worked and didn't. Given his slight frame and reputation, it was shocking to see how good he was against the run (ranking #10 and #11 in Football Outsiders' two main rush defense statistics). On the other side, he wasn't as good rushing the passer. He did get eight sacks, but didn't get too many pressures outside of those sacks. Mathis fared better in the 3-4 than Freeney, and it could be that in his second year playing it he will adjust better to the pass rush aspect of his role.

98.) Jonathan Sullivan (C-MIN)

Jonathan Sullivan was a lot better in 2012 protecting Christan Ponder than he was opening holes for Adrian Peterson, which is bizarre. Football Outsiders' has him for more blown blocks on run plays than any other center. That sounds bad, but his one sack allowed, two penalties and just 3.5 pressures allowed are great, especially when protecting a QB like Ponder. He's only 28, so he still has some more years left in his prime, which is a nice thought for a Vikings fan.

97.) Bobby Wagner (ILB-SEA)

Bobby Wagner performance in his first year is lost in the impact of the plays he had. He didn't have many sacks or pressures, and wasn't great at stoning runners near the line. No, where Wagner's value came from was the incredible volume of those numbers. He made more plays than almost any linebacker in the league, constantly around the ball. The recognition was there, but the speed and reaction wasn't, which is why he didn't have the splash plays. Those are coming.

96.) Andy Levitre (G-TEN)

Andy Levitre was the top free agent guard this past offseason, and the Titans swooped him up in hopes of him helping turn around their run game to the consistent force it was back in 2009-2010. Of course, it would help if Levitre's main skill was run blocking, which it isn't. Levitre main value comes in him being about as good a pass protecting left guard as their is the NFL. His run blocking is OK, but with the state of the Titans line and Chris Johnson, they needed a premier run blocker. Jake Locker should be ecstatic with the Levitre pickup, but CJ1K, and more importantly his fantasy owners, might not be.

95.) Brian Cushing (ILB-HOU)

If you want to pinpoint the moment that the Texans dropped from 'best team in the NFL' to 'team that could be exploited by any really well planned offense', it was when Brian Cushing tore his ACL on a cut block last year. Cushing had a great 2011 season and started out really well in 2012 as well (very good numbers in run and pass defense), but one cut block by Matt Slauson and it all ended. He's back and supposedly healthy, and if so the Texans might just become more than just JJ Watt on defense.

94.) Champ Bailey (CB-DEN)

It's amazing that Champ Bailey was so good in his 12th season in the NFL (playoff game against Torrey Smith aside). He was a Top-20 corner in both success rate and yards per play allowed, and ranked #15 in stop rate against the run. For a corner to do this at 35 is close to unprecedented. The Broncos have planned wisely to potentially make up for any slip by Bailey this season, but at this point would anyone even be shocked if that slip doesn't come and he continues being great?

93.) Brandon Flowers (CB-KC)

Brandon Flowers was staggeringly good in 2012 for an outside corner by Football Outsiders' metrics (#6/#5 in success rate and yards per play allowed). Of course, this was off the heels of some less than stellar seasons, so 2012 either was the start of a turnaround or a fluke season to intrigue those who still think he can be something special.

92.) Chad Greenway (OLB-MIN)

This is a legacy pick for someone who could well drop off the list by 2014. He is getting older and is now slightly injury prone. Greenway's best trait used to be his incredible versatility, and while the Vikings still use him as a Jack of All Trades, he doesn't do any of those particular trades as well as he used to. He still had a tidy 25 defeats (tied for 12th in the NFL), but he was in the mid-30s two seasons ago.

91.) Tim Jennings (CB-CHI)

For years, Tim Jennings was one of the Colts that Colts fans loved to hate on. He was terrible, he couldn't tackle, he was everything wrong with the Bill Polian way of building a team. That's what he was known for in Indy. Well, I guess Polian wasn't too wrong. Jennings has been damn good since coming to Chicago, and he had his best season yet in 2012. The 9 interceptions probably isn't repeatable, but his 21 passes defended is. He gets targeted a ton, but held his own with a Top-25 success rate. Since I never believed any of those three statements at the beginning, I'm happy Jennings is having himself a nice little career.

90.) LaMarr Woodley (OLB-PIT)

LaMarr Woodley had another injury plagued campaign in 2012 and for the first time there were rumblings that Woodley's injury issues may be due to lack of work and not just bad luck. He swears he is in the best shape of his life after rededicating himself, and unlike the scores of 35-year old baseball players that give that same hollow claim, Woodley is still just 29. He almost can't do any worse than 6 hurries in a half season and his run defense play didn't slip. There is reason to believe he will turn it around.

89.) Muhammad Wilkerson (DE-NYJ)

Muhammad Wilkerson was the Jets 1st round pick in 2011, and he had a great second season, being one of the most disruptive 3-4 DEs in the NFL. Actually, if you take away the Tyranasaur named JJ Watt, he was probably the best. His 19 hurries are in the neighborhood of Watt, and his run defense metrics were Top-10 level. The Jets have waited for a premier front seven player for their 3-4 and they finally found one in Wilkerson... just in time for Rex Ryan to probably get fired after this season.

88.) Andrew Luck (QB-IND)

If Andrew Luck once again is statistically below Wilson and Griffin in efficiency in 2013, then maybe I'll move him below those other two, but Luck didn't have any of the help that Wilson (defense, running game) and Griffing (running game), and won the most games (tied with Wilson), with by far the most responsibility. He threw it a ridiculous amounts of time, and when you factor just how much he threw it, his 18 interceptions don't look too bad. With hopefully better o-line play in 2013, we might see his numbers match just how good he is.

87.) Michael Roos (T-TEN)

Michael Roos is nearing the end of his career, but he still has what made him great in the past: great technique and great feet. His not the physical giant that Walter Jones or Jonathan Ogden was, or even what Joe Staley or Joe Thomas is, but Michael Roos has been able to ably defend Vince Young and then Jake Locker's blindside, and those are two QBs that aren't really known for their quick release.

86.) Vincent Jackson (WR-TB)

Vincent Jackson didn't make Josh Freeman into a good QB (not many are that good to accomplish that feat), but Josh Freeman didn't make Vincent Jackson into a bad WR. Jackson still was able to get open deep more than anyone with his average speed should. His 19.2 yards per reception was higher than any year when he was with Philip Rivers. He reduced his drops and had his best YAC season yet. Vincent Jackson was the rare great major WR Free Agent signing. Too bad for that whole Josh Freeman part.

85.) Daryl Washington (OLB-ARZ)

Daryl Washington followed up his breakout 2011 season with an even better 2012 season, as he led the Cardinals with nine sacks. He only had 8 additional hurries, so that sack number is probably higher than we should expect going forward, and it would be nice if he was better in his run defense responsibilities, but that wasn't his role in Ray Horton's defense. No, his role was to rush the passer from the unconventional spot a 3-4 ILB, and he did it as well as any other at that position in a while. His overall numbers were about as good in 2011, so this isn't a fluke year.

84.) Mike Iupati (G-SF)

Mike Iupati made his first all-pro team, but he was actually better in most ways in 2011. His play dipped when Kaepernick took over, especially in the run game. He was still great in pass protection, giving up just 1.5 sacks, but he also had an increase in penalties. Iupati is still a key cog in a totally loaded line (there are a few 49ers lineman to come), and being just 26, he still has time to get better.

83.) Jerod Mayo (ILB-NE)

Jerod Mayo, by Football Outsider's numbers, were quite middling in 2012, but he had a really nice 2010-2011 by Football Outsiders. Mayo also did more as a pass rusher in 2012 than he did previously. He's in that Bobby Wagner stage where he just made a bunch of plays, and was an incredibly sure tackler, and even though very few of the plays he made were for few yards, the fact that he made so many is still truly valuable.

82.) Hakeem Nicks (WR-NYG)

Hakeem Nicks struggled with injuries again and it is getting close to the point where we have to wonder if he's just injury prone at this point. For Eli Manning and the Giants offense, I hope that isn't true. He missed just three games in 2012, but was noticeably less than 100% for basically the entire season. He didn't have the explosiveness in 2012 than he had in spades in 2010-2011. If he's healthy, he can make Eli Manning a better player, he can make Victor Cruz a better player, and he can help the Giants avoid another 2nd half slump. They need Nicks healthy.

81.) Jarius Byrd (S-BUF)

Jarius Byrd is the first player who's Football Outsiders' charting numbers are totally colder on him than my perception of Byrd. The only huge number Byrd put up is his 20 defeats, which are really high for a true Free Safety. Byrd has basically nothing around him of true value in the Bills back-seven (a term I like to think I coined for the linebackers and secondary), so he could easily be avoided or tasked with too much in coverage, which seems the case at times. Still, he's reaching the potential he flashed with a nine-pick rookie season in 2009.

80.) Julius Peppers (DE-CHI)

The Bears had the best defense in the NFL last season. For much of the year, it was playing at a historically good level, the levels once reached by the 2008 Steelers and 2002 Bucs. Peppers was a big part of that incredible early season performance by the defense. His sacks and hurries dropped off as the season wore on, but the same is true of every part of the Bears defense. Still, solid play against the run with 11.5 sacks and 14.5 hurries all the while being double teamed whenever possible is still really good.

79.) Percy Harvin (WR-SEA)

Percy Harvin's nine-game season in 2012 was good enough that if you extrapolate that season over 16 games, he would have been among the Top-5 in DYAR. His 73% catch rate is damn good, considering Ponders' was just 62.2% overall. He was used more efficiently this season with mostly short routes, which is exactly what the Seahawks need and what they'll do with him. Health is obviously the only question mark, and with reports of a possible strained hip, it hasn't started well, but there is a reason why Percy Harvin was talked about as an MVP candidate when the Vikings started 5-2.

78.) Lardarius Webb (CB-BAL)

Until his injury, Lardarius Webb was having a phenomenal season, with close to league leading success rates and yards allowed, with close to league leading stats in run defense as well. He was able to play as a top slot nickel and play well outside. He was the future star of the Ravens defense, and then that ACL tore. If he returns to pre-injury level, he's going way up this list, but it is hard to see someone return that quickly, that well from an ACL injury.

77.) Wes Welker (WR-DEN)

In a way, the people who think Welker was a product of New England as well as the people who think he won't miss a beat in Denver will both be right. Because of Decker and Thomas, he won't catch as many passes, but then again, the last two times Manning has had a viable slot receiver to play with (Brandon Stokley in 2012 and Austin Collie in 2010) had the two highest catch rates in the past five years and had insanely efficient seasons. That is what I would expect from Welker, to be used more downfield than he ever was in New England.

76.) Anthony Spencer (OLB-DAL)

Anthony Spencer had just one half sack less than DeMarcus Ware in 2012, and had a higher stop rate against the run by Football Outsiders, and even was quite successful dropping back in coverage. So, why is he ranked (spoiler) about 60ish spots lower than Ware? Because Ware had 22 hurries and Spencer had 12, and because Spencer doesn't command the attention that Ware does. Still, Spencer had a fantastic year and his trajectory is trending up while Ware's may be beginning to trend down.

75.) Jonathan Joseph (CB-HOU)

Jonathan Joseph struggled with injuries for much of 2012 which accounted for the notable slip in his play. He was never fully healthy even when he came back, and his numbers struggled for it, but one average season isn't enough to counteract his great 2011 season or his solid play before that in Cincinnati. He still transformed that Texans defense, and did it even before JJ Watt became a living Kaiju.

74.) Nate Solder (T-NE)

Solder, like most Patriots' first-round picks, has been extolled as the next line of Belichick genius since his being drafted, but unlike Brandon Meriweather or Patrick Chung, I don't think the similar routine of everyone realizing they aren't all that good will happen with Solder. His 20 hurries allowed are a problem, but his lack of actual sacks allowed and his dominant run blocking as a Left Tackle has made him worth the hype.

73.) Patrick Peterson (CB-ARZ)

When Patrick Peterson was drafted, he was seen as a future star with a slight emphasis on the future, that he was still a little raw. Well, the future only took one year to come. He was OK as a rookie (great in Special Teams), and he just improved to being great as a sophomore. Oddly, he was bad in special teams, but his real value is his play as a corner. He was #11 in success rate despite getting targeted all the time. He showed great ball skills, nabbing seven picks. Peterson is a star in the making.

72.) Roddy White (WR-ATL)
Roddy White went from an only above average 2011 season, where the effects of being force-fed the ball from Matt Ryan finally started to take its toll, to being an efficient machine in 2012 as Ryan finally realized that the way to maximize Roddy White is not to throw it to him 10 times a game. His targets plummeted from 180 in 2010-11 to 143, but his catch rate was a career high, as was his yards per catch. White will continue to benefit from the emergence of Julio Jones, and since he was never all that fast, his advancing age shouldn't be too hard to overcome.

71.) Ike Taylor (CB-PIT)

Ike Taylor is 33, which makes sense since he was there in the days of Kendrell Bell. He's seen so many Steelers defenders come and go and remains a really good player. He has been asked to play more man in recent years, which he's taken to quite well. His pass defense numbers were both in the Top-20, and they were outright dominant in the second half of his abbreviated season. He has always been a great tackler, which shows in him allowing 3.9 yards per rush in his direction. The late season injury is a concern going forward, but that was the first injury of note for Taylor.

70.) Anthony Davis (T-SF)

Anthony Davis isn't as good in pass protection as his reputation makes people think, but he's been absolutely dominant in run blocking for two years now. He had just two blown blocks on run plays according to Football Outsiders, which is really insane. It is his 16.5 blown blocks on passing plays that is more worrisome. Still, out or a right tackle, you would take sometimes careless pass protection for dominant run blocking.

69.) Jason Witten (TE-DAL)

The good news: Jason Witten set the NFL record for catches in a season by a Tight End with 110, and did it with a tidy little 74% catch rate, so he wasn't getting Roddy White targets. The bad news: he caught those 110 passes for just 1,039 yards, giving him an ugly (even for a Tight End) 9.4 yards per catch, and his blocking is slowly getting worse. Still, he's about as good as any Cowboys fan, as well as Tony Romo, could have hoped for at 32.

68.) Lance Briggs (OLB-CHI)

When does Lance Briggs start to get some sort of love as a Hall of Fame candidate? He had another stellar season, with 7.5 hurries (his most in years), great pass coverage numbers, including 8 passes deflected, and 25 defeats. Briggs is seemingly ageless, doing this all at 32, while basically not missing a snap. He's not the candidate Urlacher is, but I think Briggs is definitely a strong, strong candidate in his own right. It is just hard to see them putting two LBs from the same team in when neither won a Super Bowl.

67.) Antoine Winfield (CB-SEA)

Antoine Winfield had one of those seasons that shouldn't be possible for a 36 year old corner that has played his career in such a physical manner. He was #8 in yards per pass allowed, and ranked in the Top-10 in both run defense stats for corners. He wasn't close to this good in 2010-11, which is why he's down here in the 60's. Still, he's the best #3 corner in the NFL, which is how he'll play in Seattle. Of course age is a concern, but when you can be the most active corner in the NFL at 35, age might not really be a question.

66.) Lawrence Timmons (ILB-PIT)

Timmons took a step forward when LaMarr Woodley took a step back (and James Harrison took three steps off the team) with his best season to date. LeBeau used him as a blitzer more in 2012 than ever, and he responded with 6 sacks and 19.5 hurries, the most for any inside linebacker. His run and pass defense numbers are all good. There's no real weakness in his game, and he has a dynamic ability as a blitzer that the James Farriors and Larry Foote's never really had. That's a dangerous mix for opposing offenses, especially if Woodley finds his game again.

65.) Sebastian Vollmer (T-NE)

Sebastian Vollmer's back may be a ticking time bomb, as that is the only explanation of why no one even attempted to sign him when he was a UFA this past offseason. Still, as of now he is healthy and is arguably the best RT in the NFL. He actually had a slightly down 2012 season, but was outright dominant in 2011 which he was undoubtedly the best right tackle in the NFL. In Brady's advancing years he needs great protection more and more and Vollmer has consistently given it to him.

64.) Max Unger (C-SEA)

Unger quietly has played four seasons in the NFL, dating back to the gone-but-often-forgotten Jim Mora year in 2009, but like so many other Seahawks, his game has exploded in the Pete Carroll era. He allowed 0.5 sacks in 2012, while being penalized just twice all year long. Supposedly he was invaluable at making line calls and working with Russell Wilson, and as we've seen so many times, the Center-QB relationship can be as important as any on a team.

63.) Dashon Goldson (S-TB)

Dashon Goldson was probably overranked on my list last year (this is why I don't write where the player was ranked a year ago), but he went out and had a better season in 2012 than he did in 2011. He ranked #3 in both of Football Outsiders' pass coverage metrics. He was probably the best free safety in the NFL last season. He takes his talents to Tampa, where they'll need him and Darrelle Revis to shore up one of the worst pass defenses I've ever seen. It will take all of Goldson's considerable skill to stop Julio Jones from going OFF against the Bucs.

62.) Arian Foster (RB-HOU)

Arian Foster seemed a bit overrused at times in 2012, but still managed to have a good year even with the up-and-down play of the Texans offensive line and teams gameplanning more and more to stopping Foster and not the Schaub passing game. He was used less in the passing game, but I think that could change with better O-Line play allowing Foster to go out to run routes. With a hopefully healthy Ben Tate being in the backfield, Foster should be used less in 2013, which could make him as good as he was in 2011-12.

61.) Eli Manning (QB-NYG)

Obviously, he didn't keep his level from his breakout 2012 season. Some of this was the nagging injury to Hakeem Nicks and the continuing decline of the Giants O-Line, and some of it was just bad luck. It is unlikely that Manning goes three straight games without a passing TD again like he did last year, just as it is more likely Hakeem Nicks stays healthy in 2013 than not. Eli Manning will probably never put up Aaron Rodgers type numbers, but he should put up Matthew Stafford numbers while being more efficient and less voluminous.

60.) Reggie Wayne (WR-IND)

Reggie Wayne didn't have great efficiency numbers, but a lot of that is Andrew Luck trying to force him balls when he wasn't really open. He had a ridiculous 196 targets last year. That number will probably go down, but his overall numbers might not drop as much as a 35 year old WRs' numbers would. He is closing in on getting HOF numbers, something that I never imagined happening when Peyton Manning first had his injury back in 2011. Of course, I never expected him to be this good this late in his career.

59.) Luke Kuechly (ILB-CAR)

Luke Kuechly was an absolute monster in 2012, probably the best rookie season by a linebacker since Patrick Willis in 2007. Luke Kuechly had a ridiculous 96 stops, and 27 defeats, made more impressive that just one of those was a sack. He just made a slew of really great tackles. His pass coverage numbers are good also, ranking #14 in success rate. Rookie LBs that have dominant seasons generally are future stars, and Luke Kuechly definitely seems to be in that mix. For once, the 'most NFL-ready player' in a draft was absolutely NFL-ready.

58.) Joe Staley (T-SF)

Joe Staley was arguably the best run-blocking left tackle in the NFL, and when you consider that the QBs he blocked for aren't exactly the best at avoiding sacks (Kaepernick is better than Smith, but it isn't like he's a Manning). His six penalties as a left tackle is another number that must be delighting the face of Jim Harbaugh. He built off a breakout 2011 season with another great All-Pro season.

57.) Clay Matthews III (OLB-GB)

Clay Matthews, welcome back to being awesome. After a so-so 2011 (following two great seasons to start his career), Clay Matthews was a pass rushing monster once again. 13 sacks, 20 hurries, with good play against the run, add that all up to his past successes, and the fact that he is constantly double teamed given the other OLBs are Erik Walden-types, and you get a great player. Matthews dropped into coverage less than ever, but he's even shown that skill in the past.

56.) Ed Reed (S-HOU)

Is this ranking partially based on what Reed has done for most of his career and not his decidedly slightly above average play last year? Yes, and I'm OK with that. Ed Reed real value was in how he made every QB the Ravens faced in the playoffs avoid throwing deep. Kaepernick didn't, and Reed promptly picked him off. At his age, he isn't much of an upgrade over Glover Quin in Houston, but his overall leadership should still be valuable for the Texans.

55.) Asante Samuel (CB-ATL)

Asante Samuel, by Football Outsiders, was about 95% as good as Darrelle Revis from 2008-2011, but his play finally slipped a bit in 2012. He is still decidedly average in run support, but that makes him a bit underrated in that area since most people believe he is allergic to tackling. Samuel still ranked Top-10 in success rate, but he gave up more yards per attempt this season than most. Samuel needs to sustain his level of play from 2012 at the least since the team lost most of their other established corners.

54.) Eric Decker (WR-DEN)

Eric Decker was one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL in 2012, with his 392 DYAR tied for 3rd in the NFL, behind just Dez Bryant and the two Johnsons. His 69% catch rate on 123 targets is really impressive for a guy who doesn't have the best of hands (7 drops). His numbers will probably suffer more than Demaryius Thomas with the arrival of Welker, but Manning in the past has shown the ability to get three different WRs looks at once, and Decker can play the Reggie Wayne of 2004 role for the 2013 Broncos about as well as Reggie could.

53.) Jimmy Graham (TE-NO)

Jimmy Graham couldn't come close to matching his ridiculous 2011 season, as his catches dropped by 14, his yards by 328, his yards per catch by 1.6, and his DVOA and DYAR dropped as well. Two things keep his ranking this high. First, his 2011 season counts. I can't just imagine that away because he had merely a good season and not an all-time season. Reportedly, he was slightly injured last year, but most people that have a drop in production like to cite injuries to explain them. He is still a matchup nightmare, and with Sean Payton back, he might get more looks.

52.) Joe Flacco (QB-BAL)

I gave Eli Manning a really nice bump after his stellar, Super Bowl winning 2011 campaign, and Flacco gets a more moderate bump for his. The main reason is that while Flacco's playoff performance this year was great, his regular season most certainly wasn't. Flacco, in my opinion, just needs to become the focal point of that offense. There is a reason he hasn't thrown for 4,000 yards yet, but most of the reasons aren't his talent. It is there. The playoff Joe Flacco is real, but whether he can leverage the playoff success into a dominant season remains to be seen.

51.) Justin Tuck (DE-NYG)

Justin Tuck definitely took a step down from a dominant 2011 season, but he was still a top interior pass rushing force. He had 10.5 hurries, mostly from the interior of the line. Tuck's run numbers were down, but his impact was more felt with all the other Giants lineman having really good seasons against the run. At 30, he could be nearing the end of his peak, but what a peak it was. And to think people were confused why the Giants signed him for six years right before Super Bowl XLII.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NFL 2013: Top 200, #150-101

You know the drill, here's the second 50 of the Top-200


150.) London Fletcher (ILB-WAS)

London Fletcher is entering that Mariano Rivera zone where you expect him to be about the same for another 15 years. His play against the run declined quite a bit in 2012, but his pass coverage was as good as ever. He was great in impact plays, with five interceptions (which led the Redskins) and two sacks in the Week 17 win over Dallas. With Ray Lewis gone, Fletcher becomes the dean of NFL Linebackers, and knowing him, he might hold that until Patrick Willis takes over in 2020.

149.) Doug Martin (RB-TB)

 Doug Martin was really good in 2012. How good? Only two rookie running backs ever had more yards from scrimmage as a rookie. One is a Hall of Famer (Eric Dickerson), and the other is a potential borderline Hall of Famer playing in one of the best offenses (Edgerrin James). Martin was unusually good at receiving for a rookie running back, with a 70% catch rate. Opposing defenses will plan on stopping Martin more in 2013, so it will be interesting to see if his second season is as good as the second seasons of those two guys.

148.) Donte Whitner (S-SF)

Donte Whitner was awesome in 2011 and merely good in 2012. Splitting the difference puts him about here for 2013. His numbers against the run were fine, but he was more of a liability in pass coverage, notably in the Super Bowl. Still, 2012 was the outlier among his last few seasons, and one season doesn't make a trend. He still is just 28, so there is reason to believe that 2013 will be closer to his normal level of play.

147.) Chris Harris (CB-DEN)
Chris Harris was a Top-20 corner against the run and a Top-20 corner against the pass. To do all of this in the lost makes it even more impressive. He's probably going to be playing the slot again with Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie manning the outside spot, and that is where Chris Harris thrives. He was borderline brilliant at times in 2012, and he was one of the few players on Denver's defense to play well in their Divisional Round loss to Baltimore.

146.) Kyle Rudolph (TE-MIN)

Kyle Rudolph was basically the only dependable weapon that Christian Ponder had in the passing game after Percy Harvin got hurt, and the Vikings seemed to know it. They used him all over the field, as a slot receiver, on the outside, in-line and even as a fullback. He was even a far better blocker than people realize. Rudolph size makes him a Gronk-like monster in the red zone. If he ever had a Brady-like person throwing him the ball, the whole country might realize.

145.) Devin McCourty (S-NE)

Devin McCourty's stats are a little confusing since he played about half the season as an average corner and then switched to Free Safety which he played really well. McCourty was awesome at cornerback in 2010 and then putrid at corner in 2011. Well, he split the difference and changed the position and returned to something resembling the rising star he was a rookie. McCourty at least limits the long completions the Patriots hemorrhaged in 2011 and early 2012.

144.) Antonio Brown (WR-PIT)
Antonio Brown, because of Mike Wallace's up-and-down play and the lack of any run game, had a down year in 2012, but there is a reason why the Steelers chose him over Mike Wallace, and that reason is 100% because he is cheaper. Antonio Brown is a fine route runner, a perfect fit for that offense that asks a lot of him (screen passes by the dozen), and even blocking, which he is really good at. If Ssanders can stay healthy and that run game get an actual lead back, he could return to what he was in 2011.

143.) Antoine Bethea (S-IND)

 Antoine Bethea somehow hasn't made an interception since 2010. That's hard to believe, but it underscores just how easy it is to pass on the Colts outside secondary players underneath. Bethea still keeps that secondary from being the worst in the league with his range deep. His role has changed as the defense has, and he's actually allowed to enter the box these days, but that hasn't changed his effectiveness.

142.) Philip Rivers (QB-SD)

It is hard to describe Rivers' 26 TD 15 INT season in any other way than this: the worst season a used-to-be-brilliant QB has had in a long time. You can easily make the argument that entering the 2011 season, Philip Rivers was right there with Aaron Rodgers as the best under-30 QB in the league. Since then, Rodgers has become a future Hall of Famer and Rivers has stalled and now started to decline. Still, with targets that could stay healthy, his play should get better. He's far from bad, and while he's in risk of falling off the list with another bad season, I have a feeling 2013 will be better than 2011 or 2012.

141.) Maurkice Pouncey (C-PIT)

The great overrated man, Maurkice Pouncey is finally coming close to the odd super-hype he received as a rookie in 2010. His blown blocks are still higher than other top-flight centers, but he's limited his penalties and stayed healthy for the first time in his career. He's young at a position that ages better than most o-line positions and with the upcoming starters David DeCastro and Mike Adams, the Pittsburgh O-Line may finally get good enough to extend Roethlisberger's career.

140.) Alfred Morris (RB-WAS)

The zone-read works with any QB that has a speed of Griffin, but the real key is having a running back capable of making defenses focus on him. If Morris wasn't any good, that offense doesn't work at all. Morris, however, is really good. He was overused a tad, so it will be interesting to see if he flames out like other Shanahan guys, but the one he most resembles, Clinton Portis, remained a damn good player for quite a while.

139.) Carlos Rogers (CB-SF)

Carlos Rogers had a statistically odd season. He did really well in average yards per play allowed, ranking in the Top-20 in that against both the run and pass. However, his success and stop rate was #61 against the run and #47 against the pass. It's hard to understand how this works, but I guess he just made a lot of decent plays for medium gains. Rogers is getting older in age, but his game has never truly been about speed. In that defense, he should stay good for a few more years at least.

138.) Derrick Johnson (ILB-KC)

Derrick Johnson put up another solid, if slightly less than spectacular season playing for another bad Cheifs team. He didn't get the recognition that his defensive mates Tamba Hali and Justin Houston got, but wasn't that far off performance wise from those two. He was great against the run again, and while he was rarely asked to rush the passer, he managed to put up 26 defeats, which had him tied for 13th, a list full of top players. 

137.) Robert Quinn (DE-STL)

Robert Quinn had a breakout second season, with 10.5 sacks and 13 more hurries. That second number lags far behind his (higher ranked) opposite side rusher in Chris Long, but let's remember that Quinn is just 23. He and Chris Long make up the best current 4-3 DE duo and Quinn's play should only get better. Jeff Fisher never really had two three-down DEs in his time in Tennessee, but he has that now and he'll be loving it.

136.) Antrel Rolle (S-NYG)

Antrel Rolle might just be the most underrated Free Safety in the league. He's never going to get the credit he deserves mainly because he was a semi-disappoint at corner in Arizona, but ever since his arrival in New York, he's yet to miss a game and been one of the only stable presences among that up and down secondary. He was great against the pass in 2012, ranking Top-20 in both success rate and yards per pass allowed. He even put in some fine work at nickelback. Great player, the final star in a line of them from the U.

135.) Gerald McCoy (DT-TB)

Gerald McCoy is known for being the guy picked right after Ndamukong Suh. He was injured for much of 2011, and while he stayed healthy in 2012 he still isn't as dynamic as what many expected. Much of his success and praise has been garnered from those "he's disruptive and creates plays for others", but those types of things are generally founded in truth. They are in this case, as McCoy was just that for a defense that played great against the run during 2012.

134.) Frank Gore (RB-SF)

Frank Gore can't keep doing this forever, right? He came back from two disappointing seasons in 2010 and 2011 with a great 2012. His success wasn't even a byproduct of the switch to Kaepernick, as his numbers were actually better when Smith was the starter. Gore was used really effectively in the run game, with a 78% catch rate which is great even for a running back. The 2012 season might have been a last ride in the sunshine for Gore as he's crossed the deadly 3-0, but what a ride it was.

133.) Matt Schaub (QB-HOU)

There's a lot of things I don't understand about the criticism of Matt Schaub of his performance late last year when the Texans slumped to a 1-3 finish. The main one was that he was a game manager type and couldn't carry the offense, that he couldn't succeed without a running game. Well, I direct you to the 2009 Texans. That year, Schaub went 396/583 (a 67.9% completion rate), for 4,770 yards (which led the league - 8.2 y/a, 2nd in the NFL), and 29 TDs. The Texans run game that year? They had a 3.5 yards per carry. That was a long time ago, but I think his average year was more about no alternative to Andre Johnson and an injury.

132.) Matt Kalil (T-MIN)

Matt Kalil comes in and Peterson runs for 2,097 yards. Cause and effect? Probably not, but Kalil had a great rookie season at Left Tackle. He was great in pass protection all year, in a division filled with really good edge rushers. His run blocking got a lot better as the year wore on. His six penalties are really good for a rookie Left Tackle. He didn't miss a snap and was basically as good as the Vikings could have hoped for when they picked him 4th overall.

131.) Lavonte David (OLB-TB)

Lavonte David's rate and yards allowed numbers don't spell that of a rookie sensation, but what does is the sure number of date points. His 79 stops were in the Top-20 league wide, and his 30 defeats ranked fifth in the NFL. The Tampa Bay D-Line was good enough in run defense that if a runner got to David's level, it was already some distance downfield, but if he did, David tackled him, almost every time.

130.) Matthew Stafford (QB-DET)

Matthew Stafford is an study on how we perceive QBs. He was known first for being oft-injured, until he wans't (much like Matt Schaub). When he finally had his first fully healthy season, he threw for 5,000 yards and was seen as an upcoming mega-star. In 2012, he stayed healthy again and nearly threw for 5,000 yards again, but somehow that became a disappointment. In the end, the Lions may do better not having to throw it 720 times in 2013 and let Stafford get some rest on that arm. In the end, though, Stafford is still really good firmly placed in the Top-10 of NFL QBs.

129.) Steve Smith (WR-CAR)

Steve Smith will probably never have a true 2nd receiver alongside him to take away double teams. I think Panthers fans should just move on from the idea of that ever happening. It is finally starting to effect Steve Smith, as his catch rate dropped to near 50% (it was below 50% in 2010, but those Panthers were terrible at QB). Steve Smith can still somehow get open deep despite being the only good receiver on Carolina, but NFL teams may get better at stopping that too.

128.) Dennis Pitta (TE-BAL)

I had a debate on the interwebs with a Ravens fan about who would replace the Anquan Boldin role in their offense after his unceremonious departure. He finally landed on Dennis Pitta as his answer, and honestly, it makes a lot of sense. Pitta is not a great blocker (they have Ed Dickson for that), but he is great at using his body as a receiver. He was great in the playoffs last year, including what arguably was the biggest non-Jacoby Jones hail-mary catch they had, with a catch on 3rd and 11 backed up on the Ravens 4 yard line in OT. Flacco has good chemistry with Pitta, and with Boldin gone an 80-catch season is not that ridiculous.

127.) Jordan Gross (T-CAR)

This is more of a reputation pick than anything else. Jordan Gross is not what he once was (the key cog of the NFLs best run game from 2008-2009, and really good in 2011), but he still isn't all that bad. He still gets penalized incredibly infrequently for a left tackle, and doesn't give up many sacks while protecting a pretty sackable QB. Gross is really old now, as he started Super Bowl XXXVIIII as a rookie ten years ago, and for him to be close to very good ten years on is a testament to his ability.

126.) Jason Hatcher (DE-DAL)

Jason Hatcher, in a world where JJ Watt didn't exist, would be considered probably the best pass rushing 3-4 DE in the NFL. He had 22 hurries and 11 hits by Football Outsiders numbers, which is stellar for someone at that position. Of course, it would be nice if he was better than merely good against the run, as that is where he's more needed in a lineup that already has really good pass rushers. I guess he'll play that Warren Sapp role in Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense, but Sapp was dominant against the run as well.

125.) Louis Vasquez (G-DEN)

 Louis Vasquez, in all honesty, had about as good a season as you can expect from an under-the-radar guard. He didn't commit one penalty all year long. He allowed just a half sack, and Football Outsiders has him down for just nine blown blocks (really good for someone who played 1,017 snaps). The scary part is blocking for Peyton Manning is even easier than blocking for Philip Rivers. He has a chance to get a lot higher on this list in 2014.

124.) Jared Veldheer (T-OAK)

He came from little Hillsdale College four years ago, in the last Al Davis draft of his life. That draft wasn't great (not a surprise given most of Davis' drafts in the 2000s), but getting Veldheer in the 4th round was a steal. He's developed into a rock-solid left tackle, being good in the run game and great in pass protection. He has surprisingly quick feet for someone of his size. Reggie McKenzie rid the Raiders of almost all of Davis' picks from his last few years, but Veldheer was and is a keeper.

123.) Mike Wallace (WR-MIA)

Mike Wallace was really average in 2012, totally miscast in Todd Haley's scheme. Of course, most of the Steelers receivers were miscast in that scheme, but that is a discussion for another day. I'm giving Wallace something of a pass because he was, in all seriousness, arguably the best receiver in the NFL over 2010-2011, with 132 catches for 2,450 yards and 18 TDs, Wallace was the league's premier deep threat at receiver. The Dolphins are banking on his 2012 being fully about scheme mismatch and not about a falling off into his future level.

122.) Russell Wilson (QB-SEA)

Seems low for a guy who had a 100.0 passer rating and was among the best QBs in the second half of the season? Yeah, it probably does. But other than possibly Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Russell Wilson had one of the easiest jobs of any rookie QB. He had a monster running game, a very good o-line and a dominant defense. Luck had none of these things, and RGIII had the first and somewhat the second. I still wonder about Wilson if Lynch gets hurt or his o-line gets hurt. Or it may be East Coast Bias.

121.) Russell Okung (T-SEA)
Replacing a living legend is never easy, especially when that living legend happens to be the best player in your franchises history. That is what Russell Okung walked into in 2010, replacing (though hot directly) Walter Jones, a probably first-ballot Hall of Famer. Okung struggled through injuries but finally stayed healthy in 2012 and played at a pro-bowl level. He was always talented and good, but staying on the field for the whole season, and having a great offense around him gave him the national exposure. He needs to cut down on penalties (11 in 2012), but he was great at stopping pass rushers, especially early in the year when Wilson was still being covered up.

120.) Thomas Davis (OLB-CAR)

I don't know if any defensive player in the NFL performed in the way they were asked of any better than Thomas Davis. His job was to cover tight ends and slot receivers, and he was probably the best or second best (after Patrick Willis) linebacker in the NFL in pass coverage, ranking #6 in success rate and #2 in yards allowed. He was bad against the run, but that isn't part of his job description the way he is used. Finally healthy after rotten luck regarding ACLs, it was great to see Davis playing as well as he did again.

119.) Colin Kaepernick (QB-SF)

What's there to say that hasn't been said. Kaepernick is probably the most physically gifted of the three zone-read QBs that lit the NFL on fire during the second half of last season. I think RGIII is more dynamic, but more of an injury risk. Kaepernick is bigger, stronger and has a true cannon. The one worry I have is what happens if he doesn't have a run game. Also, his red zone numbers are quite bad, as he struggles with timing throws in crowded space (what normally happens in the red zone). He had no idea what to do when blitzed quickly in the red zone late in the Super Bowl. Still, having that as your only negative is quite good.

118.) Casey Heyward (CB-GB)

Casey Hayward quietly had an incredible rookie season at corner for the Packers. He wasn't targeted a whole lot, but when he was, he gave up nothing. Hayward ranked #1 in success rate among defensive backs and #5 in yards per pass allowed. Even his run numbers were good. If he has a season close to that in 2013, he's moving way, way, WAY up this list. The Packers found their Woodson replacement.

117.) Sean Lee (ILB-DAL)

Sean Lee's injury ultimately doomed the Cowboys defense in 2012, but he was really good up till that injury. Lee could really explode playing the MLB role in Kiffin's Tampa-2, as his instinctiveness and coverage abilities are perfect for that defense. As miscast many of the lineman are in that defense, Lee is perfectly fitted into his future role. As long as he stays healthy (and last year was his first injury-plagued season) he should continue to be a star.

116.) Trent Williams (T-WAS)

I'll never forget Trent Williams for making Roger Goodell call him 'Silverback' when announcing that he was picked in the 2010 draft. It took him blocking for RGIII for him to jump to 'really good', but he was really good in 2011, allowing just 4 sacks and just 9 hurries for a QB that needs blind side protection more than most. As long as he lays off the hooch (he was suspended for four games in 2011), the Redskins have their Left Tackle to go along with their QB.

115.) Ryan Kalil (C-CAR)

Kalil got hurt midway through 2012, which might have had as much to do with the run game deteriorating as anything else. He was awesome when he did play (didn't give up a sack and just two pressures), and he has been very good for years, but at his age and position, injuries could become a recurring concern. For now, he stays as the best Kalil brother, but my money's on that changing by 2014.

114.) Jahri Evans (G-NO)

Jahri Evans job is more important than most guards. Because Drew Brees is short (if you don't know, so is Russell Wilson), he needs a clean pocket in front of him to see throws more than other QBs (who are tall enough to easily look over their lineman). Evans lost Carl Nicks alongside him, but was great once again in 2012, if a little worse than before. It hurts to go from being the 2nd best guard to the best one, and have more responsibility placed on you, but Evans was able to be about as good in pass protection as before. Where he fell of a tad was in run blocking.

113.) Mario Williams (DE-BUF)

After getting a massive contract, Williams season in 2012 was seen as a relative bust, and it was worse than his usual standards in Houston, but Williams got the brunt of the blame for what was honestly the failure of the rest of the Buffalo defense to play well. Williams himself was among the bust run stopping DEs in the NFL, and did record 10.5 sacks with 18 more hurries. He looked a step slower at times, but it is easier to look a step slower when the rest of the team isn't helping you out all that much.

112.) Darnell Dockett (DT-ARZ)

Darnell Dockett, as he's admitted himself, was miscast in Ray Horton's scheme (one can only hope the same thing doesn't happen to the talent that is Jabaal Sheard), as he was asked to plug blockers in the run game and deflect blocking attention away from everyone else, which is why his 1.5 sacks isn't as bad as that number would suggest. He was still excellent against the run and got a fair amount of hurries. Age is a question at this point, but in a new scheme were he hopefully will be used in a better way, should allow Dockett to return to being one of the premier 3-4 DEs in the NFL.

111.) Tony Gonzalez (TE-ATL)

Maybe it is because of Rob Gronkowski's un-holy start to his career that Gonzalez had his best season in years (and decided against retiring), trying to put the career TEs numbers out of reach. Gonzalez was an average posession receiver in 2010-2011, but he turned back the clock with a great 2012 season, with his highest catch rate of his career, catching 75% of the passes thrown his way. For someone his age to rank #1 in DYAR for TEs is just stupid. Sure, it was only because Rob Gronkowski got hurt, but that is part of Gonzalez's brilliance, as he's missed two games in his career.

110.) Kevin Williams (DT-MIN)

Kevin Williams was really good last year. There's no point in discussing his merits for this list. The more interesting one is discussing his merits for the Hall of Fame. He's now played ten seasons, all but one at Defensive Tackle. He's missed just four games in his career, and put up 56.5 sacks and been a first-team all pro five teams. That is the resume of a pretty close to sure-fire Hall of Famer. Somehow I feel like he's been massively underrated.

109.) Paul Kruger (OLB-CLE)

Paul Kruger might be Jarrett Johnson, Adalius Thomas or any of the other OLBs that played opposite Terrell Suggs and next to Ray Lewis, or he may be different. Who Knows? For Cleveland's sake, I hope he does what he did in 2012, which was be one of the best run defenders in the league at OLB, while also forcing a tidy 21 hurries. Kruger is still just 27, so his best years should be coming. The problem was those last two sentences could have been said about Adalius Thomas, too.

108.) Justin Houston (DE-KC)

Justin Houston is overshadowed by Tamba Hali (for good reason, Hali is awesome), but he jumped another level in 2012, with 10 sacks (actually one more than Hali), and 22.5 pressure (7 more than Hali). Of course, it helps explain this when teams were double and triple teaming Hali last year, but that is still great production from a OLB who is just 24. Andy Reid hasn't had a layer like Justin Houston in a while, a guy that I wish the late Jim Johnson could have used in a number of imaginative ways.

107.) D'Brickshaw Ferguson (T-NYJ)

Ho-Hum, another solid year from Brick. It's becoming lost in the woefullness of Mark Sanchez, but D'Brickshaw Ferguson has put up about 4-5 very good years in a row. He's not great, and probably never will be, but he rarely gets penalized (just two last year), doesn't get straight out beat for sacks, and is great in the run game. Not much more you can ask from a Left Tackle.

106.) Troy Polamalu (S-PIT)

Troy Polamalu is really starting to get hampered by injuries, which is not surprising given the Bob Sanders-ian way he's played safety. Last year was the nadir, where he missed ten games, but when he did take the field Polamalu played his best since in a while. In 2011, the story on Troy was that he was past his prime. In 2012, it was that he's still great, but only for so many games. His pass coverage numbers are ridiculous (77% success rate, 3.4 yards allowed - both Top-5 numbers) but he didn't play enough to qualify. Therein lies the issue with Polamalu.

105.) Dez Bryant (WR-DAL)

105 may seem low, but I have ranked just 14 receivers ahead of Bryant. Of course, that may seem like a lot, but there are a glut of really good receivers in the NFL right now. Also, while Bryant has the gifts to be incredible, and played like that at times in 2012, there were some notable issues with Bryant. First, was his penchant to dominate bad defenses and go away against good ones. The only Top-half defense he played well against was Baltimore (which was worse at the time - that was the game Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in mid-game) and Chicago (where he put up most of his yards in garbage time, and had a notable error where he failed on a hot-read that led to a pick six). There's still work to do, but the potential is there.

104.) Daryl Smith (ILB-JAX)

Daryl Smith missed almost all of 2012, but he was so good in 2010-2011 that he still gets a spot on the list. He's back in Jacksonville where his best play was, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the old Daryl Smith again. He led the NFL in defeats just two seasons ago, and is still relatively young. He'll get lost in Jacsonville on a terrible team, but seeing him play linebacker is worth at least giving 1% of your NFL attention to the Jaguars.

103.) Jordy Nelson (WR-GB)

Injuries shortened Nelson's season to just 12 games, but this was his first major injury in the NFL. It's clear to this point that Nelson is the top outside WR for the Packers, and his incredilbe timing with Aaron Rodgers (cue up about a dozen back-shoulder throws to Jordy over the years) should allow him to do an admirable job playing the Jennings role. Nelson is hyper-efficient, getting the 6th best DVOA for wideouts a year after leading all wideouts. If he stays healthy, he could have a monster season in 2013.

102.) Elvis Dumervil (OLB-BAL)

Elvis Dumervil should be perfect in Baltimore. With Terrell Suggs, among many other good run stuffers, Doom can focus on what he does best, rush the passer. His 11 sacks and 23 hurries aren't at the Von Miller level (because Dumervil is not a God amongst Men), but it is better than any non-Suggs OLB for the Ravens since Adalius Thomas. He's getting older, but should fit perfectly in Baltimore. This means nothing about his play, but it still is shocking that a fax machine snafu has landed him in Baltimore.

101.) Victor Cruz (WR-NYG)

In 2011, when he was healthy, an d more importantly when Hakeem Nicks was healthy, he was the most dynamic slot receiver in the league. And not in the "he's dynamic because we have to come up with a reason why getting rid of Welker makes sense" way that Amendola is, but in the 18.7 yards per reception way. That dropped in 2012 to the still respectable 12.7 yards per reception. What Cruz really showed in 2012 was that he wasn't a one-year wonder. There was no way he was repeating the ridiculous 2011, but he held his own as the focus of opposing defenses. He's not going away, especially with that shiny new contract.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.