The Top 101 Players of 2010: No. 60 – No. 41

| May 2, 2011

Two down and three to go as we work our way to my top NFL player from the 2010 season. Last time out we saw the pick of Michael Vick surprise more than a fair few, and this time out the surprises – dipped in logic – will keep coming.

If you missed the first part, then you can find it here. While part two is also just a click away.

Otherwise sit back, enjoy, and debate today’s twenty. There’s bound to be some disagreement with such a subjective task as cross-comparing players at different positions, and this version has left a defensive player of the year candidate outside the top 50.

But let’s be honest, you have to be pretty good to get this far anyway right?

60.  Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
With a smug look on my face, I’ll remind people that while they were going crazy over Aaron Hernandez, I was typing away that Gronkowski was making the bigger impact. As the year went on, it became more and more noticeable (outside of that horror show in Cleveland) just how good Gronkowski was. Excellent fit in New England, and a real testament to the possible immediate returns on drafting the right player.
Best Performance: Week 16 at Buffalo (+3.6)
Key Stat: One of only four tight ends to grade positively in receiving, pass blocking and run blocking.

59.  Aubrayo Franklin, NT, San Francisco 49ers
He’s one of those prototypical nose tackles that teams search for but never seem to find. If he hits the open market then he’s a guy who really should get a big deal as possibly the best zero technique in the league at the moment. Yeah I said it. Not just a guy who eats up blocks, Franklin showed a real ability to make plays on the ball carrier with 42 tackles.
Best Performance: Week 2 versus New Orleans (+5.4)
Key Stat: Had the fourth highest amount of tackles of all nose tackles / defensive tackles. The three above him played over three hundred more snaps to do so.

58.  Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Say hello to the league’s new best deep threat. Built like a guy who can’t run block (and he can’t) Wallace was electrifying throughout the year. Like a more rounded version of Desean Jackson (he catches more balls thrown his way, makes more people miss after the catch, and doesn’t drop as many passes,) Wallace is a home run hitter.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus New York Jets (+2.1)
Key Stat: Caught 64.5% of passes at 21 yards a pop. Nobody with that yards per catch average in the top 15 had a better catch percentage.

57.  Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
Gates is always going to be hamstrung in our ratings to a degree. Despite what some people may want you to believe as they find a rare example of a positive block from Gates (we counted six on the year,) the Charger is an atrocious blocker. But even I, lover of the complete tight end, can look past that when I’m admiring Gates the receiver. Despite missing nearly half the season, he still ended up with our highest receiving grade for a tight end and was on course for a season for the ages. Just a real shame that injury disrupted his 2010.
Best Performance: Week 4 versus Arizona (+4.3)
Key Stat: Caught 79.4% of balls thrown his way and at 15.6 yards a catch.  These figures were best and second best of all tight ends respectively.

56.  Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers
I mean no disrespect to the man with extraordinary hair, but his 2010 wasn’t as great as some would have you believe. He got off to that incredible start and was having a defensive player of the year type season before injury really started to slow him down. He still made plays, but he got swallowed up by plenty of right tackles who really negated his threat in the second half of the year.
Best Performance: Week 1 at Philadelphia (+10.0)
Key Stat: Had 43 quarterback disruptions through the first eight games of the season, and 31 for the last 11.

55.  Jason Babin, DE, Tennessee Titans
A career underachiever, Babin blossomed in Tennessee when the Titans cut the fancy stuff and got him to use his explosiveness. What I really didn’t like about Babin was the ridiculously high (12) penalty count. That kind of thing is crippling, and it’s a testament to how good Babin was with his run defense as well as rushing the passer, that he finishes this high.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Houston (+6.9)
Key Stat: Finished the year with 64 quarterback disruptions and our eighth highest grade in run defense (+10.1).

54.  Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
Still the cream of the crop when it comes to cover safeties, Reed would likely be higher but he didn’t get on the field until week seven. Even then, he still managed to pick up eight interceptions and a further eight pass break-ups the rest of the year. You know what you’re getting with the Ravens’ safety, and it’s nearly always a play on the ball if it comes near him.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus Tampa Bay (+5.7)
Key Stat: 16 combined INTs and pass break ups led all safeties.

53.  Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
I may be wrong, but I saw enough in Joe Haden in Year 1 to suggest he’ll be regarded as an elite cornerback before too long. Watching him make up for a mistake with sheer athleticism was impressive. Watching him be so active in run defense was impressive. Watching him intercept balls like it was going out of fashion was impressive. Nearly everything I saw from Haden was impressive, and if he didn’t start the year as a nickel defender, a few more people would be talking about an impressive rookie year. Color me impressed.
Best Performance: Week 13 at Miami (+4.0)
Key Stat: Had six interceptions and 11 pass breaks ups despite only really establishing himself in the team in week 9.

52.  Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Never were truer words said when Fitzgerald commented on going from eating caviar, to eating out of the garbage. In some respects, 2010 was his strongest season to date, in others, his weakest. You don’t want to see players as good as Fitzgerald having to make do with some of the worst quarterback play you’re likely to ever see. It’s a credit to him that he did, and still somehow managed to have a 1,137 yard season, despite being able to haul in just 53.6% of the wayward passes thrown his way. Lesser men would have crumbled with the combo of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton hanging him out to dry.
Best Performance: Week 9 at Minnesota (+1.9)
Key Stat: Went from catching 66.9% of balls thrown his way, to just 53.6%.  That’s how bad the quarterback play he had to deal with was.

51.  Tramon Williams, CB, Green Bay Packers
Played excellently to earn a new deal, then faded once he got it. Then when your expectations were lowered, had a memorable postseason that is unlikely to be forgotten by many a Packer fan. Nothing like a bit of inconsistency to keep your attention. Surpassed 2009 defensive player of the year Charles Woodson as the top corner, and did so in such a sound and seamless fashion it didn’t discredit the declining Woodson.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Philadelphia (+4.1)
Key Stat: Had six pass break ups (including three interceptions) in the playoffs.

50.  Ray Edwards, DE, Minnesota Vikings
If and when free agency starts, I know where I’d be looking if I needed a big time defensive end. Operating on a defensive line full of stars, Edwards has at times flown under the radar; but, he’s always produced. The 26 year old had another great year in finishing seventh in our defensive end rankings, continually getting pressure. I for one am looking forward to seeing what he does without Jared Allen or Kevin Williams lined up on the same side as him.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Arizona (+6.8)
Key Stat: By picking up pressure on 16.59% of passing plays, he was the third most efficient pass rusher in the entire league.

49.  Andrew Whitworth, LT, Cincinnati Bengals
At times, Whitworth was exceptionally good. He had it him to shut out pass rushers and open up some big lanes for his backs. At other times, he was beaten soundly and was a non factor when the Bengals ran. It’s for this lack of consistency he doesn’t find himself any higher, because some of his better games were among the best seen from a left tackle all season. The most encouraging thing for a Cincinnati fan is that he was playing better by season’s end. A real franchise left tackle.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Cleveland (+8.6)
Key Stat: Over the final seven weeks of the season only gave up four quarterback disruptions.

48.  Josh Sitton, RG, Green Bay Packers
We were suitably impressed with Sitton throughout the season that he was our consensus All Pro choice at right guard. He really didn’t have anything to prove. Then the playoffs came and he was superb throughout, with a +1.8 rating being his lowest. That series of performances allayed any fears I had over his run blocking, which was good but not great until then. He’s on another level than all other guards with his pass protection.
Best Performance: Week 4 versus Detroit (+5.5)
Key Stat: Gave up one sack all year. In the Super Bowl.

47.  Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
If you’d make a complaint about Lewis, it’s that he isn’t quite consistent enough to show up on a week to week basis. He flashes run blocking that is as good as any tight end (we haven’t seen a tight end block as well as Lewis in Week 13,) but he’ll follow that up with some less-than-stellar performances. Consistency is holding him back from a higher ranking, and he could do with catching more balls outside of the red zone. He’s a tremendous target in that area (as his ten touchdowns show,) but needs more than 58 receptions.
Best Performance: Week 13 at Tennessee (+7.1)
Key Stat: His performance against the Titans involved the highest grade we’ve ever given to a tight end for their run blocking. Watch it and learn.

46.  Derrick Johnson, ILB, Kansas City Chiefs
If 2009 was about Todd Haley sending a message to Derrick Johnson, then 2009 worked. The talented linebacker was relegated to nickel defense while watching inferior players make a mess of playing linebacker. You can only imagine what that built up inside of Johnson, and he responded with an excellent 2010. He’s not the tackler or downhill player like a lot of the top inside linebackers, but he is as good as it gets dropping into coverage. An all around stud linebacker.
Best Performance: Week 15 at St Louis (+6.2)
Key Stat: Broke up more passes (11) than any other linebacker. Only nine cornerbacks broke up more.

45.  Marshal Yanda, RT, Baltimore Ravens
It doesn’t matter where you put Yanda on the right side, he always seems to perform. The guard become tackle had no problems making the switch, ending the year with the third highest run blocking grade we gave to a tackle. Not that he was no great shakes in pass protection, as he overcame a tough middle stretch of the season (Kroy Biermann, Charles Johnson and Cameron Wake were a bit too much for him) to finish strongly.
Best Performance: Week 16 at Cleveland (+4.6)
Key Stat: Only allowed his quarterback to get hit five times all year.

44.  Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Oakland Raiders
It may have surprised some when Kamerion Wimbley was given the franchise tag, but it didn’t surprise us. Wimbley may not be a prototypical outside linebacker given his limitations in coverage, but he more than makes up for it with his evrydown work in run defense and pass rushing efforts in sub packages. The former Brown is another one of those run defenders who do a lot of good work without needing to make a tackle. This may go unnoticed, but his 11 sack season wouldn’t have, with Wimbley causing no end of problems when teams went to multiple receiver sets.
Best Performance: Week 8 versus Seattle (+5.8)
Key Stat: Finished the year with 36 quarterback disruptions on 283 pass rushes (all the more impressive given he only missed 65 snaps all year).

43.  Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
If Pittsburgh hadn’t got to the Super Bowl, you feel the season Big Ben had may have slipped under the radar. As it is, his usual post season heroics alerted us all to what a great season he had (after an initial tricky couple of weeks.) In fact, from week nine onwards there probably wasn’t a hotter QB that Big Ben, who was the picture of consistency and continues to make players around him better.
Best Performance: Week 10 versus New England (+8.2)
Key Stat: Only a 13.6% swing in completion percentage when pressured.

42.  Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
The scary thing about Johnson is, there are still flaws in his game, and yet, he’s still this good with them. Completely dominant on some days (games against Washington and Tampa,) we did see him going missing on occasion and he doesn’t haul enough balls in. Plus, you feel a guy of his size should probably do a better job with his run blocking. That’s probably a tad harsh, and it’s only because Johnson has an elite skill set that perhaps I expect more of him. More than 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns? Yeah maybe I’m more than a ‘tad’ harsh..
Best Performance: Week 8 versus Washington (+4.9)
Key Stat: That there is no stat that tells the story about Johnson.  He’s top ten in targets (131) and yards while middle of the pack in everything else.  Maybe we should make a stat for ‘spectacular catches humans shouldn’t be able to make’?

41.  Lamarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sometimes overlooked with all the controversy around James Harrison, but Woodley just keeps on producing. Probably didn’t have as great a year as he did in 2009, but was still a force coming off the left side. Really stepped it up in the playoffs and was arguably the best Steeler on the field in their Super Bowl defeat. Always gets pressure.
Best Performance: Super Bowl versus Green Bay (+5.9)
Key Stat: Fourth most productive pass rusher in the league with pressure on 16.16% of pass rushes.

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