In part two of this season’s ranking of the top 50 players in the NFL, we bring it all home with #25 to #1. This is where the cream of the crop comes out. The faces of the league, the Super Bowl winners and MVPs, as well as the most respected players that may not get the brightest shine. All of that is represented here, as well as the biggest debates of them all.
Whenever word is dropped on who’s the best, it sparks up the most heated of all debates. What determines the best? Is it the biggest winner, the most statistically dominant or the best talent? Is it who’s hot at the moment or who’s got the best resume? All of that and more was represented by the ten voters that participated in determining this year’s top 50, and it is sure to inspire even more debate from here.
So why wait? Let’s get into it, the best of the NFL in 2011, via the CHEAP SEATS:
Vick pulled himself back into the elite of the NFL last season, but how high does he make it against his peers?
25. Joe Thomas (High 12, Low: Unranked): The biggest rock in Cleveland’s foundation is the massive protector that keeps the pressure off Colt McCoy and blows holes open for Peyton Hillis with equal ease. He hasn’t missed a Pro Bowl trip in his career, and if you’re going to beat the Browns, it’s going to have to go through another side than his.
24. Jamaal Charles (High 20, Low: 35): An unfortunate injury ended this season for him, but that’s about all that can stop KC’s speedster. Put the ball in his hands and just look downfield…and usually a long ways down it. Last season, his 6.3 yards per carry placed him only behind Jim Brown (barely) in single season effort. That’s good company for a guy entering only his third year as a starter.
23. Arian Foster (High: 19, Low: 40): The Texans ground threat came out of nowhere to go from undrafted free agent, to becoming one of the most unlikely rushing champions ever last year with 1,606 in his first full season as a starter. He’s battling a hamstring injury early this year, but once he gets right, more of the same is in store for the up and coming Texans.
Nobody had a bigger breakthrough in 2010 than Foster did in his year as a starter.
22. Patrick Willis (High: 8, Low: Unranked): The Niners could probably get away with using just one linebacker with Willis out there. Nobody racks up the tackles like the 49ers middle linebacker does. He lead the league in them each of his first three years, and when teams began to avoid anything he could reasonably get to last year (which takes some work), he set a career-high in sacks instead…and still had over 120 tackles.
21. Clay Matthews (High: 13, Low: 30): He bares a striking resemblance to both Thor and He-Man, and he plays exactly like they would in football pads. In both of his first two seasons he has reached double figures in sacks and opened up 2010 with six sacks in the first two weeks of the season.
20. Antonio Gates (High: 14, Low: 29): Oh what could have been if Gates’ health would’ve held together last year. In ten games and on just 50 catches, he hauled in 782 yards and got in the endzone 10 times. When he went down, he lead the NFL in TD grabs, was on pace to get up to 18. Let’s see if he can pick up where he left off this year.
19. Calvin Johnson (High: 14, Low: 26): There’s no other mixture of size and speed like him in the game. He’s fast enough to run past most cornerbacks, and if he isn’t, he can just dominate them physically. With Matthew Stafford finally getting healthy and being able to feed him the ball, the best is yet to come for Megatron.
18. Jake Long (High: 7, Low: 44): The Dolphins offense may come and go as far as productivity goes, but it can’t say it doesn’t have the chance with Long leading the way. The perennial All-Pro tackle is the main reason why Reggie Bush could be about to live up to his potential in Miami.
17. Philip Rivers (High: 13, Low: 27): It’s no secret he can fling the ball around the field, but last year he did more than he’s ever done, with the most depleted roster he’s ever been surrounded with. Despite his top receiver holding out, his All-Universe tight end out with injuries, a depleted offensive line and a rookie running back, he threw for a career high 4,710 yards.
Rivers has become a perennial candidate for MVP now, and carries as much weight as any QB in the game.
16. Haloti Ngata (High: 4, Low: 35): The most versatile defensive linemen in the NFL, it doesn’t matter where the Ravens place him, he makes plays. For years, he clogged the middle of the defense and was a Pro Bowler at tackle. Last year he set a career high in sacks after moving to defensive end, and still returned to the Pro Bowl.
15. Larry Fitzgerald (High: 12, Low: Unranked): The most dangerous endzone target in the game, Fitz still managed 90 catches and actually ended up with more yards than he did with Kurt Warner tossing to him the year before. Now with Kevin Kolb hooking him up way downfield again, he could easily add both a 4th year of over 1,400 yards and a 5th double digit touchdown year.
14. Michael Vick (High: 6, Low: Unranked): Vick’s renaissance took him from backup to Pro Bowl starter in under one season. He’s still the ultimate weapon in skills; has fast as a receiver and with an arm as good as any in the game. However, now he’s a better passer than ever before and has weapons around him just as quick and dangerous. The best is yet to come here.
13. Julius Peppers (High: 8, Low: 19): While he had better statistical seasons in the past, the story of Julius Peppers runs deeper than that. He’s never played better football than he is now. He’s just as dangerous running down rushers as he is chasing the quarterback and he brought an intensity that was undeniable and placed the Bears four quarters away from a Super Bowl in his first year.
12. Chris Johnson (High: 8, Low: 23): He’s the only back in the game that can say he’s going for 2,000 yards, and it’s not seen as crazy talk. Arguably the fastest player in the game, and is instantly a threat as soon as he touches the ball. He’s the all-time record holder for most yards in one season and will continue to carry the weight of the Titans world on his shoulders.
11. Nnamdi Asomugha (High: 9, Low: Unranked): So dangerous that teams don’t even throw his way. Since his eight interception breakout season in 2007, opposing QBs have only been brave enough to throw his way often enough for him to grab a total of three in the last four years. Now he moves over to Philadelphia and has a legit chance of turning that fear into the only number that counts: his first Super Bowl ring.
10. DeMarcus Ware (High: 9, Low: 21): It’s starting to seem like he can get sacks whenever he wants them. The best pass rusher in the NFL has led the league two of the last three seasons in QBs landed, and has averaged a ridiculous 13 sacks a season in his six year career. 20 of these came in one season, and it’s not a stretch to think he could top that number again.
9. Andre Johnson (High: 4, Low: 16): It’s not so much about if he’s the best receiver in the game now anymore, that’s a given. It’s more about how high up the all-time list the ninth year Texan is. He gets the job done early and often, and is one of two receivers to ever lead the league in yards two consecutive seasons (and passed 1,500 yards in each year). The other player to achieve this? Some guy named Rice.
8. Darrelle Revis (High: 2, Low: 15): Revis Island is real, and it’s lonely. The Jets cornerback is a silencer: he takes the biggest and best receivers in the game on one-on-one, and takes them out the game. For his efforts, he’s made three consecutive Pro Bowls and pushed the Jets to two straight AFC Championship games.
7. Ed Reed (High: 4, Low: 10): No player turns defense into offense as often as Reed does. He has 13 touchdowns in his career from a mixture of interceptions, punt blocks, punt and fumble returns. For all of this, his greatest act, in a career with plenty of them, may have come last season when he lead the NFL in interceptions with eight despite playing in only 10 games.
Reed sometimes seems like an entire secondary by himself, and has legit claim to being the greatest free safety of all-time.
6. Aaron Rodgers (High: 2, Low: 17): The wheeling and dealing Rodgers threw the Pack on his back and took them to the top of the NFL a year ago. He leads one of the deepest receiving groups in the game and is the most dangerous passer on the move in the game. He doesn’t waste passes either: he is the All-Time leader in both regular season and playoff passer rating, and has the lowest interception rate in NFL history as well.
5. Drew Brees (High: 3, Low: 9): The face of the New Orleans Saints has made a career of being able to thread the needle like no other QB. To date, he has a 5,000 yard season and four 4,000 yard efforts. He is tied for the most consecutive seasons with 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, and opened up this year with a 400 yard day in Green Bay against the team that succeeded his Saints as Champions.
4. Adrian Peterson (High: 3, Low: 9): He’s the highest paid runner in the game, and for good reason. There’s no player that combines power, speed and instincts like AD. He reached 5,000 yards in third fastest time in league history and passed 6,000 early this year already. He has reached at least 10 rushing touchdowns in every season of his career.
In just four years, Peterson has become one of the most revered runners in the game's history due to his rare overall ability.
3. Troy Polamalu (High: 3, Low: 8): His effect on the Steelers over the last few years is simple, yet major. When he plays, they go to the Super Bowl. When he doesn’t, they aren’t even a playoff team. In 2008, they won the whole thing. In ’09, they miss the Playoffs when he misses most of the season. He comes back last year, plays better than ever and they go back to the Bowl. He’s the very definition of difference maker.
2. Peyton Manning (High: 1, Low: 2): No player means more to his team than Peyton does. His greatness has long been defined by numbers, but now it’s shown in presence. With him on the sideline for the first time in his career, the Colts look more like a team that lives at the top of the Draft every year, than one that has taken home seven of the last nine division titles. Last year, Peyton carried the entire team on his shoulders more than ever due to a rash of injuries. Now this year, they are healthier as a whole, but one injury has sunk the rest of the ship. He should win MVP this year even if he doesn’t throw one pass.
1. Tom Brady (High: 1, Low: 2): No one came in at the top of more lists than Brady, and for good reason. It’s bigger than the 14 win, MVP season he had a year ago. It’s the fact that he makes playing the most difficult position in the game look effortless. After landing his second MVP nod with a ridiculous, record-setting 9:1 touchdown to interception season, he picked right back up where he left off in 2011, throwing for 517 yards in the season opener, the fifth best performance in League history. Point proven.
It's his world: Brady didn't get a vote lower than #2, and came in at #1 on 80% of the ballots cast.
Follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for more on the never ending debate on who’s man around the NFL week-to-week.