The NFL Elite: Part 4, 20-11

Posted: July 22, 2010 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NFL

Over the past 3 days I’ve been breaking down the top 50 players in the NFL, in preparation of NFL Training Camp starting up next week. So far many of the greatest players currently, including some sure-fire Hall of Famers, have been listed. Now as the countdown continues with the next tier even more irreplaceable players are listed. These are the guys that are essentially on the no-trade list. The faces of franchises and guys that you know will be adding to their Pro Bowl total every year, barring any catastrophic injury or the league locking out (lets not talk that up yet). Lets get back into the countdown with a guy who has been the most feared and effective defender in Maryland for many years now….

20. Ray Lewis-Linebacker-Baltimore Ravens: (2009-134 tackles, 95 solo, 3 sacks)

At 34 years old Ray showed no signs of slowing down in 2009 and is perhaps the most feared defender in the NFL. He was elected to his 11th Pro Bowl, a record for an interior linebacker. His total tackles was good for fourth in the game. His career total of 1,700 plus tackles ensures his spot in Canton, where he may be recognized as the greatest of all players at his position in history.

Arguably the best ever at his spot, at 35 Ray is still the leader of the Baltimore attack.

19. Randy Moss-Wide Receiver-New England Patriots: (2009-83 receptions, 1264 yards, 13 TD)

Randy bounced back from a slow (by his standards) 2008 campaign, bolstered by the return of Tom Brady. His 13 touchdown catches were tied for best in the NFL. yardage total was good for fifth best in the league. He moved into second place all-time in touchdown catches and made his seventh Pro Bowl as well. He says this year will be his last in New England, but you never know what to expect with him, other than some of the best receiver seasons ever.

18. Ben Roethlisberger-Quarterback-Pittsburgh Steelers (2009-4,328 yards, 26 TD, 66.6% completions)

“Big Ben” had his best statistical season in 2009, despite the Steelers suffering from a Super Bowl hangover all season. He set career highs in completions, yards and completion percentage, in the process setting a single season Steelers passing yardage record. He’s been invaluable to the Steelers since he joined the league, and that value will be put to the test to start 2010, as he serves a six game suspension for misconduct during the off-season.

17. Antonio Gates-Tight End-San Diego Chargers (2009-79 receptions, 1157 yards, 8 TD)

Gates is the example of combining size, speed and hands at the tight end position. He continued his reign as the league’s best tight end by setting a personal best with 1,157 yards in 09. The season also marked his sixth consecutive season with at least eight touchdown catches. He made his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, after having his first primarily healthy campaign in the last few seasons.

With his size and speed combination, Gates is a match up nightmare for any defender.

16. Dwight Freeney-Defensive End-Indianapolis Colts (2009-24 tackles, 19 solo, 13.5 sacks)

The blazing fast pass rushing of Freeney has been a problem for quarterbacks for years now. A relentless player, with a non-stop motor, he finished tied for third in the League in sacks last season and gutted through an injury filled second half of the year all the way to the Super Bowl. At 30, he is the all-time sacks leader in Colts’ history & has averaged 9 sacks as season over his career.

15. Jared Allen-Defensive End-Minnesota Vikings (2009-50 tackles, 42 solo, 14.5 sacks)

Finished second in sacks in 09 and his total of 72 over the past seven years is the most by any player. In his two years in Minnesota, he has brought the QB down 30 times. Along with Pat and Kevin Williams, he is a member of the league’s best defensive line.He has played a crucial role in the emergence of Minnesota’s defense as more than a run stopping force.

14. DeMarcus Ware-Linebacker-Dallas Cowboys (2009-57 tackles, 45 solo, 11 sacks)

The most versatile defender in the NFL, Ware is unquestionably the best outside linebacker, regardless of 3-4 or 4-3 alignment. Has recorded 31 sacks in the last two years, with an amazing 20 in 2008. He has never missed a game in his six-year career and despite leaving the previous week’s game on a medical cart, he delivered two fumble forcing sacks against Drew Brees to end the Saints’ undefeated run.

13. Joe Thomas-Tackle-Cleveland Browns

Thomas the complete package at tackle and unquestionably the best the league has to offer. Equally dominant against the pass or the rush and despite constant change at the quarterback position in Cleveland, he has been the constant in protection and has never missed game. For his excellence he has never missed a Pro Bowl in his three-year career either.

Despite playing in an annual mess in Cleveland, Thomas is the standard for all offensive linemen.

12. Andre Johnson-Wide Receiver-Houston Texans (2009-101 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 TD)

After having a breakout 2008 campaign with 115 catches for more than 1,500 yards, Johnson recorded nearly an identical 2009 output. He uses his unrivaled mix of speed and size to separate from most double teams and joined elite company by becoming the only receiver in NFL history not named Jerry Rice to lead the NFL in reception years in consecutive seasons. His total was more than 200 yards above the next best total and took 20 less catches.

11. Patrick Willis-Linebacker-San Francisco 49ers (2009-152 tackles, 114 solo, 4 sacks)

The best linebacker in the game. In his first three seasons he has twice led the NFL in tackles, with 174 in 2008 and 152 last year. He finished second with 141 during his sophomore campaign. He added in four sacks and three interceptions to his 09 resume, and there really no way to avoid him on the field. The leader of one of the most improving defensive units in football and has already been called one of the two best linebackers he’s ever seen by 49ers’ Head Coach Mike Singletary, a legend at the position himself.

Under Singletary's guide Willis has become the league's best at linebacker within his first 3 years.


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