On April 30th, the NFL is going to begin airing its Top 100 Players of 2011 as voted on by the players themselves. It will be an interesting show for sure, and as always, we can count on a great presentation by NFL Films, but it’ll be one list I personally will be taking with a pinch of salt.
I’ve found that end of year awards and top-whatever lists tend to reward those who get themselves on the most highlight reels or play at the glamour positions. They don’t tend to look at the guys who facilitate big plays through consistent, solid work all year round. We’ll see if the players fall into this trap when judging their peers.
It’s easy for me to deride a list from a far. So, in order to substantiate my claims, I, Khaled Elsayed (@PFF_Khaled on twitter for those who want to send abuse my way) am putting out my own list: the top players from the 2010 season. It won’t take into account anything that has happened before or since, and be forewarned, it’s going to include some selections that may be head scratching. But, that’s the beauty of these things, right?
So without further ado, here’s my Top 101 players of the 2010 NFL season (note: the views expressed in these articles don’t necessarily reflect the views of Pro Football Focus.)
101. Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings
It may seem weird to be starting off with a receiver that had less than a 1,000 yard season, but don’t let that fool you; Harvin had an exceptional year. Primarily tasked with the duty of catching a ball for little yardage and turning it into a lot, the Viking receiver battled injuries and was still able to remain productive.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Arizona (+3.3)
Key Stat: Forced 11 missed tackles as a receiver, two as a runner to lead all receivers with 13 combined missed tackles.
100. Danieal Manning, S, Chicago Bears
After years of being a disappointment since the Bears drafted him, the light switch finally went on for Manning. My colleague wrote about him at great length, so I won’t say too much other than what more do you want in a cover safety than someone who provides deep help, and comes up to support in run defense?
Best Performance: Week 6 versus Seattle (+2.7)
Key Stat: Allowed just 55% of passes against him complete, and no touchdowns.
99. Anthony Fasano, TE, Miami Dolphins
I can hear the Dolphin fans lambasting me know. And with good reason. Since his initial year in Miami, Fasano hasn’t put up the kind of numbers an elite receiving tight end would … because he isn’t an elite receiving tight end. He’s a competent one, but such a good all round player that to look at his reception tally doesn’t do justice to Anthony Fasano: tight end. Each day of the week and twice on Sunday’s I’ll take tight ends that can block just as well as they catch when building an offense.
Best Performance: Week 6 at Green Bay (+2.9)
Key Stat: In the last three years has finished 4th (2010), 7th (2009) and 2nd (2008) in our tight end rankings.
98. Cullen Jenkins, DE, Green Bay Packers
‘Club Hand Cullen’, as I affectionately started calling him behind his back, gets his spot in my top 100 solely on the back of his ability to rush the passer. Let’s be honest, he’s a bit of a beast in this regard and despite having to wear a club over one hand, still finished the regular season third in our 3-4 defensive end pass rushing ranking (try saying that with a mouth full). What propelled him onto the list was his work in the post season, particularly his work against Chicago where he terrorized their interior line.
Best Performance: Week 3 at Chicago (+3.9)
Key Stat: Had 46 quarterback disruptions on 411 pass rushing attempts.
97. Wade Smith, LG, Houston Texans
If I don’t mention this he’ll kill me. Ben Stockwell you were right. Yes Pro Football Focus’ Chief Analyst called the Smith move the best piece of free agent business after examining Smith’s performances for the Chiefs in 2009. Inserted at left guard for the Texans, he was in a class of his own when it came to denying pressure up the gut. Outside of a rough stretch during the middle of the season, a big part of Arian Foster’s superb year.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Indianapolis (+4.8)
Key Stat: Gave up less than one quarterback pressure per game (including six games where he gave up no pressure at all).
96. Chad Greenway, OLB, Minnesota Vikings
Had some shaky moments this year (most noticeably in coverage during the Week 11 game against Green Bay) but continues to be one of the best strong side linebackers in the league. Would like to see him rediscover the 2008 consistency that has seemingly left his game these past two years.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Arizona (+3.4)
Key Stat: Missed just 6.67% of tackles attempted.
95. David Hawthorne, OLB, Seattle Seahawks
Sometimes injuries can be blessings in disguise. Without Lofa Tatupu getting injured we wouldn’t have witnessed David Hawthorne break out in 2009 with a superb year. Maybe we wouldn’t have even seen him take the weak side linebacker spot in 2010 if Leroy Hill hadn’t been dealing with personal issues. But we did, and for that we’re thankful. Hawthorne was only held back by a two down role that limited his playing time. When on the field, there weren’t many better at going downhill and getting to the ball carrier.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus San Francisco (+3.8)
Key Stat: Makes a tackle for every 8.87 plays he’s in on. That number may not mean a lot, but it’s good.
94. E.J. Henderson, MLB, Minnesota Vikings
I was among a number who doubted E.J. Henderson could return after another horrific injury looked to derail his career. I was among a number of people who were wrong. Now, he didn’t look quite as good in coverage (you’d like for him to give up less than five touchdowns) but his work in run defense was stellar. So good was this grade that it bested all middle linebackers in the league, with Henderson a reliable force for a shaky Minnesota team.
Best Performance: Week 6 versus Dallas (+4.8)
Key Stat: Missed only seven tackles all year.
93. Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons
He’s not the biggest, baddest, or even best cornerback in the league, but Grimes is a gamer. That may see him gamble at times and get beat, or miss more tackles than he should, but the man from Shippensburg just knows how to make plays. That’s what 2010 was about for the Falcons’ cornerback who outperformed the expensive Dunta Robinson with some savvy play.
Best Performance: Week 15 at Seattle (+5.0)
Key Stat: Broke up 16 passes. Second most in the entire league.
92. James Anderson, OLB, Carolina Panthers
Where did this year come from? Anderson wasn’t bad in 2009, but you hardly noticed him. Then 2010 rolled around, and with the Panthers forced to rotate, Anderson broke out as a playmaking linebacker. He got to the quarterback, broke up passes and made a shed load of tackles as Carolina once again looks to have struck gold with a linebacker.
Best Performance: Week 8 at St Louis (+5.6)
Key Stat: Picked up 19 quarterback disruptions (including six sacks) on 127 blitzes.
91. Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions
Until this year I never really bought into the hype when it came to Cliff Avril. He put up some good numbers as a rookie, but didn’t impress in year two. I figured he’d catch on as a situational player. Not so, as 2010 was the year Avril really came off age. He’s neither the best nor worst run defender in the league, but in a defense that asks him to get up field quickly he excelled at getting to the passer. Watch out for that left side of the Lions’ defensive line.
Best Performance: Week 13 versus Chicago (+7.7)
Key Stat: Picked up pressure on 30.14% of third down plays. The highest in the league.
90. Jarret Johnson, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Johnson is somewhat of an anomaly in the PFF ratings, because he rushes the passer far more than any 4-3 outside linebacker should (the Ravens run a hybrid that is primarily 4-3.) So he gets hurt by an inability to generate consistent pressure, though his 26 quarterback pressures suggest he is no slouch in this regard. What I like about Johnson is what he does in run defense, and that’s more than that could ever show up through tackling numbers. He has this Bart Scott-like ability to influence runners by not allowing them where they want to go, and is simply too much for most backs and tight ends to deal with.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus New Orleans (+5.7)
Key Stat: Ever wonder why tackle numbers mean little when talking about some players? Johnson had just 48 in the regular season.
89. Paul Soliai, NT, Miami Dolphins
At the start of the season the Dolphins defense worried me, particularly at the nose tackle spot. It shouldn’t have. Now, by placing the franchise tag on Soliai, I feel confident they’re set for at least another year. This is even after a slow beginning where I doubted his ability to be a solid starter. But as the year went on, he got better and better, with his final nine weeks of the season being among the best in the league. We’ve seen a lot of 3-4’s use guys who are a bit more explosive, so it’s nice to see a guy like Soliai who can close off running lanes.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Buffalo (+4.2)
Key Stat: Until the last week of the season hadn’t been called for a single penalty. Then he was flagged for three. Go figure.
88. James Farrior, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers
What you have to like about a player like Farrior, is how well he does everything. You want him to get after the passer, he can blitz with the best of them. Ask him to drop into coverage and he’ll respond by not giving much up. Get him engaged with an offensive lineman and he’s able to shed blocks and make plays. A real complete inside linebacker, and too often overlooked.
Best Performance: Week 9 at Cincinnati (+3.7)
Key Stat: Picked up 30 quarterback pressures on 221 blitzes.
87. Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers
After eight weeks of the season, I didn’t see how Jennings was going to make any list like this. In an offense like that of the Packers the only thing he was doing was disappointing fantasy owners, with half of his games producing less than 40 receiving yards. But gradually he got going, and his season took off with a 152 yard day against Minnesota. He followed that with two weeks of 100+ yards, as well as big days to end the season when the Packers were fighting for the playoffs. It was a fine end to a season, and one that he followed into the post season on his way to picking up a Super Bowl ring.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus New York Giants (+3.8)
Key Stat: Had no ‘In the Green’ (positive of more than +1.0) grades through first eight weeks of season, and six for the remainder.
86. Dawan Landry, S, Baltimore Ravens
I was among those who thought Dawan Landry would never be the same after his serious spinal injury in 2008. He was so bad in 2009 that you started to think that perhaps his promising career was going to be cut short. Fortunately it turned out Landry just needed a year to get back into the groove and find his form on the football field. The Ravens strong safety isn’t the best in coverage (five touchdowns given up), but he’s a lot better than people seem prepared to give him credit for in run support. You don’t end up making 31 defensive stops (5th most of all safeties) without having something about you. Would be nice to see him making more of his blitzing opportunities though.
Best Performance: Week 13 versus Pittsburgh (+2.3)
Key Stat: Missed just 7.22% of attempted tackles.
85. Shaun Ellis, DE, New York Jets
It wasn’t until Shaun Ellis brought Tom Brady down twice in the playoffs, that he really began to get credit for the year he had. The would-be free agent may be approaching 34 years of age, but at times he was quite dominant and it was easy to see why he was the only every-down defensive lineman the Jets used. A great turnaround for a player who looked spent in 2009.
Best Performance: Week 3 at Miami (+6.0)
Key Stat: Had 46 quarterback disruptions on the year.
84. Brian Urlacher, MLB, Chicago Bears
You really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. The Bears’ linebackers were terrible without Urlacher to hold them together, so while Urlacher makes this list because of his own play, he also jumps a few places because his presence clearly brought the best out of Lance Briggs too. The Bears’ MLB may not have had the interceptions to show it, but he’s still in a different class in coverage to most middle linebackers and was better than remembered in run defense. Sometimes a year off can really be rejuvenating.
Best Performance: Weeks 1 and 13 playing Detroit (both +5.4)
Key Stat: Broke up eight passes.
83. Chris Myers, C, Houston Texans
Not a Texan fan favorite, but one of mine at the center spot. In what was generally a bad year for offensive linemen, the run blocking of Myers was one of those highlights I’ll remember. He dominated both times against the Colts, but could have done with being more consistent, and not giving up quite as much pressure in the passing game.
Best Performance: Week 17 versus Jacksonville (+5.9)
Key Stat: Had seven ‘In the Green’ Games of above +1.0, but four ‘In the Red’ grades of -1.0.
82. Desmond Bishop, ILB, Green Bay Packers
I’ve never really seen the appeal of A.J. Hawk, so it was more annoying to watch Bishop come in to partner with Hawk and outplay him to such a degree that made me wonder what the Packers coaches were doing. How could they have Hawk in over the excellent Bishop? From Week 5 onward, Bishop was a breath of fresh hair – making plays all over the place before slowing down a tad late in the year. There aren’t many guys who can attack the run, drop into coverage and pressure the quarterback. Bishop is one of them.
Best Performance: Week 5 at Washington (+7.7)
Key Stat: Only blitzed the quarterback 91 times but picked up 23 quarterback disruptions. A truly amazing ratio.
81. Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans
The touchdown-to-interception ratio (24:12) isn’t the best, but don’t let that fool you as to how good a quarterback Matt Schaub has become. Consistently above average, Schaub’s only real struggles came when he faced pressure (his percentage dropped off,) but with a Texans line giving him plenty of time, it didn’t impact too negatively.
Best Performance: Week 10 at Jacksonville (+7.1)
Key Stat: Completed 61.9% of passes when blitzed and just 45.1% when pressured.
[Tune in again for the second part in this series on Saturday, April 30.]