The Top 101 Players of 2010: No. 40 – No. 21

| May 4, 2011

Just two more parts to go in my list of the top 101 NFL players from 2010 and this list contains possibly the most controversial selection so far.
 
He would be number one or two for a lot of people, but in a world of comparing how much one player was asked to do and the relative impact you can make at each position, he was never going to do that well for me.
 
Read on to find out who. And, if so inclined, check out the 101 to 81, 80 to 61 and 60 to 41 pieces to see who else has made the list.
 
 

40.  Arian Foster, HB, Houston Texans
It may seem weird to have the NFL rushing leader this low, but rather than insult Foster, I’m paying a compliment to his offensive line. Foster had a really good year, but the run blocking he received was superb, and really paved the way for his big season. That said, Foster did a lot of good things, and was a huge threat in space to make the first guy miss (49 missed tackles show that.) Does need to work on his hands a bit, as five dropped passes are too many.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Indianapolis (+6.4)
Key Stat: You can’t touch him. Only 52.35% of his yards came after contact.
 

39.  Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings
In 2008, Williams was so much better than everyone else it didn’t seem like everyone was playing by the same rules. Now he’s not even the best Williams playing defensive tackle. I say that in jest, because Williams is still pretty damn amazing. The Vikings may have been late in drafting him, but he always shows up when he’s meant to and continues to bully offensive guards and centers. He isn’t having quite the impact he did as a pass rusher, but that just brings him down to the level of the other top players.
Best Performance: Week 12 at Washington (+8.9)
Key Stat: Has finished in our top three defensive tackle rankings for the last three years.
 

38.  Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Gives up way too many penalties (seven,) but became a clutch player for the Falcons this year. Some of his best plays came running short sideline routes to move the chains. Not necessarily great for the stat sheet, but big time short completions in tight coverage that allowed the Falcons to run the kind of offense they wanted to. Not that that’s all he’s capable of – White got into the end zone and did a good job bringing in eight of the 15 passes thrown longer than 20 yards to him (including three touchdowns.)
Best Performance: Week 7 versus Cincinnati (+4.4)
Key Stat: Only receiver with more than 120 targets to catch at least 67% of balls thrown his way.
 

37.  Antonio Garay, DT, San Diego Chargers
The worst thing about Antonio Garay’s season (besides some of his haircuts) was the way the Chargers used him. Namely, that they didn’t use him enough. He was far more productive than their two first choice interior guys in their nickel D, yet it seemed to take them all year to figure this out. In 465 snaps this year, Garay managed to pressure quarterbacks and bring down running backs with alarming regularity. Yet nobody seems to realize there wasn’t another nose tackle in the league who played as well as him. For shame.
Best Performance: Week 9 at Houston (+3.9)
Key Stat: Had only two negatively graded games all year, and none after week 7.  The model of consistency.
 

36.  Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders
No cornerback is more feared in the NFL than Asomugha. It’s the kind of fear that feeds on itself and seems to manifest as a recycling process. Player doesn’t give up much, so teams don’t throw at him.  Teams don’t throw at him so player doesn’t give up much. And so on. That’s a bit simplistic, but what isn’t is the fact that Asomugha only gave up 185 yards all season. Some cornerbacks might give that up in a single game. You may not want to visit Revis Island, but teams also hate trying to play ‘Scrabble’.
Best Performance: Week 6 at San Francisco (+2.6)
Key Stat: There were eight games this year in which Asomugha wasn’t thrown at once.
 

35.  Chris Clemons, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Among the millions and millions of transactions the Seahawks made, the most valuable may have been that of Clemons. At times, Clemons was practically unstoppable, with his beat down of Brandyn Dombrowski being the most brutal I’ve personally ever seen. It would have been nice to see it on a more consistent basis, but 2010 was a year it really came together for Clemons.
Best Performance: Week 3 versus San Diego (+14.1)
Key Stat: Picked up 18 quarterback disruptions in a single game (the aforementioned Chargers game). A PFF record.
 

34. Matt Birk, C, Baltimore Ravens
Was better in the regular season, but the magnificence of Mangold in the wild card round sees him finish ahead. Though not many people seemed to realize it, Birk has been a revelation since moving to Baltimore. Rarely gives up any pressure, and was consistent with his run blocking outside of a poor (by his standards) playoffs. For those who think Maurkice Pouncey had a better year, you’re lying to yourself.
Best Performance: Week 5 versus Denver (+3.6)
Key Stat: Only gave up seven quarterback disruptions the entire year (including playoffs).
 

33.  Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Oh brother. This is going to take some reasoning. And let me start by saying I’m not trying to be controversial, nor am I anti-Brady. He’s a great player and he did a tremendous job of what was asked of him. And if this was a look at the 100 most valuable players, he’d be a lot higher up. But it’s not, and I’ll go back to that point about what was asked of him. I heard a Pats fan use a great analogy, that Brady got the highest mark in school test, but the test he took was easier than everyone else’s. It doesn’t mean he wouldn’t or couldn’t score the highest mark, just that the playing field was different. Not buying that reasoning? Okay, it was the dancing from that carnival.
Best Performance: Week 12 at Detroit (+8.1)
Key Stat: Only Peyton Manning suffered more dropped passes than the 46 of Brady.
 

32.  Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota Vikings
The kind of player who just never gets the credit he deserves. Winfield covers, moves inside in nickel packages, can blitz and is – as Sam Monson would say – “a man who eliminates the screen pass from one side”. It’s not catchy but it is true. Not many cornerbacks go a season without giving up a touchdown but Winfield did, so who cares if he doesn’t break up a lot of passes? He doesn’t get beat an awful lot and didn’t give up a reception of more than 27 yards.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Chicago (+4.2)
Key Stat: Catches against him went for only 7.8 yards on average.
 

31.  Cameron Wake, OLB, Miami Dolphins
Just why didn’t Miami use Wake more in 2009 when he was tearing up it in a situational role? The fears about Wake in run defense and coverage never really materialized, and instead he went about pressuring quarterbacks. One of the more pleasant things was watching how Wake was able to keep going for the entire season. A late bloomer or diamond in the rough, he’s one heck of a pass rusher.
Best Performance: Week 11 versus Chicago (+6.3)
Key Stat: Dropped into coverage for just 16.04% of passing plays.
 

30.  Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets
The best center in the league, and the best center of this generation. There really isn’t another player anywhere near as good as the Jet, who played hurt and still came through the season looking a class above. If he’s healthy he’s an All Pro year in, year out. What else can you say?
Best Performance: Week 10 at Cleveland (+4.8)
Key Stat: Gave up just two penalties, both in the same game (week 8 versus Green Bay).
 

29.  Bart Scott, LB, New York Jets
It’s interesting that Scott’s inferior partner David Harris gets more of the plaudits, because the former Raven may just be one of the best defenders in the league to watch. A lot of people who don’t like Scott look at his rather pedestrian stats and point to them as a reason he’s an average player. Well Scott is so much more than numbers. He’s as physical a linebacker there is and attacks the run so much so that he simply doesn’t allow runners to go where they’re meant to. You’d be surprised how many times you watch a Jet make a play, only for the replay to show you Scott allowed them to make that play.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Baltimore (+6.9)
Key Stat: Missed only two tackles in the regular season.
 

28.  Quintin Mikell, S, Philadelphia Eagles
The biggest secret in the NFL is just how good a player Quintin Mikell is. After living in the shadow of Brian Dawkins, you would have expected him to emerge, only it’s never really happened. Why? I’m not sure, because his performance over the past two years (especially 2010) has been on another level from all other safeties. Makes plays on the ball in coverage and makes plenty of defensive stops, but it gets lost because Mikell just isn’t a highlight reel type of player.
Best Performance: Week 7 at Tennessee (+3.4)
Key Stat: Had more defensive stops, interceptions and pass breaks up than any other safety (49).
 

27.  Kareem McKenzie, RT, New York Giants
Sometimes right tackles seemed to get ignored in all the hoopla of “franchise left tackles.” But, as McKenzie did for the Giants, they play an important role, particularly in what they do in the run game. In that respect, there wasn’t a better tackle in the league that McKenzie, who may be getting older, but isn’t on the decline just yet. What people don’t often see about his game is how sound a pass protector he is, giving up just two sacks all year (both of which came in week 2).
Best Performance: Week 9 at Seattle (+4.9)
Key Stat: Missed 15 snaps all year.
 

26.  Jake Long, LT, Miami Dolphins
If he didn’t suffer a shoulder injury before facing the Bears and Julius Peppers, he’d probably be ranked higher than this. As it was, Week 11 marked a slide in his performance as he battled injury for the remainder of the season (and was still above average.) It doesn’t take away from a great start to the season where you could rely on the Dolphins quarterback facing little pressure off his blindside.  Not quite  in the class of Joe Thomas yet, but edging closer after their respective years.
Best Performance: Week 3 versus New York Jets (+4.3)
Key Stat: Before week 11 had only given up eight QB disruptions all year.
 

25.  Terrell Suggs, DE, Baltimore Ravens
I can hear people already: ”Suggs is an outside linebacker, you don’t know nothing.” The double negative isn’t the only thing wrong with that sentence – Suggs played with his hand on the ground on 76.56% of all plays. Ah, that felt good. Anyway, back to his performance. It was great. A real two way defensive end, Suggs had his best year rushing the passer in quite some while without dropping off in the run game.
Best Performance: Week 13 versus Pittsburgh (+8.0)
Key Stat: Had 42 defensive stops. Third most of all defensive ends.
 

24.  Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers
It says something that even in a down year (in comparison to his 2009 anyway) Willis still ranks so highly. You can blame that on injury primarily as his end to the season was weak by his standards, but before that he’d put down another claim to being the best linebacker in the league. Dominant in run defense, and a much improved blitzer, Willis didn’t make the plays in coverage a guy of his athleticism is used to, but by no means was he a liability. Injury really is the only thing that brings anyone close to this guy.
Best Performance: Week 10 versus St Louis (+6.7)
Key Stat: Picked up 20 QB disruptions.  A 35% increase on 2009.
 

23.  Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
The interception numbers are ugly, but when you think how many of those were tipped or punt style throws on third down to the sideline, the number isn’t near the 22 he ended up with. Instead, look at what Brees did in completing 68.1% of his throws, leading possibly the most diverse offense in the NFL while the Saints ran through running backs. It was a testament to his play that they got to the playoffs (and a testament to his defense that they lost to Seattle,) with some of the finest performances of the year.
Best Performance: Week 12 at Dallas (+11.1)
Key Stat: Only Tony Romo completed a higher percentage of passes.
 

22.  Brandon Flowers, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Not quite good enough to have an island named after him, but Flowers really came along in his third year in the league. Would be nice to see him manning up with guys, but you can’t blame the scheme on him. Maybe his most unsung attribute is his physicality in run support and his tackling (missed just one all year.) Did fade a little after a hot start to the year, but one of the best young cornerbacks in the league.
Best Performance: Week 3 versus San Francisco (+4.5)
Key Stat: Broke up 12 passes (including two interceptions) in the first 10 games of the season, and just two for the remainder of the season.
 

21.  Carl Nicks, LG, New Orleans Saints
Our top ranked guard on the year, playing like a man who got the contract Jahri Evans did a year before (to be fair Evans was that good in 2009 he deserved it.) In any case, with Logan Mankins holding out before holding out was cool, Nicks took his chance to establish himself as the league’s top guard. From Week 1 he was beating up on the Williamses from Minnesota and he never really slowed down all year. Really only that performance against Dallas (Week 12,) where Stephen Bowen showed him what’s what, let down a superb season.
Best Performance: Week 4 versus Carolina (+5.7)
Key Stat: Had 10 games graded at +2.0 or above.
 
 

  • PaulK

    The Patriots crushed plenty of good teams in part because Tom Brady almost completely stopped throwing interceptions for half a season. Perhaps your numeric system grossly undervalues the price of an actual interception versus a deliberately hard throw zinging off of a defender’s fingertips. As for Brady’s 46 dropped passes, perhaps that was partly Brady zinging hot passes into tight spots. The harder the throw, the less likely it is to be intercepted.

  • shinywalrus

    Maybe I’m being nitpicky here, but it strikes me as a little bit odd that the player with the highest run-blocking rating among offensive tackles and the 2nd highest run blocking rating among all offensive linemen under PFF’s rating system would not make the cut of the Top 100.

    You certainly did fine caveating that this wasn’t official PFF but one man’s opinion – as it should be – but that eems like a pretty big deviation.

    Of course, I am assuming that Mr. Free didn’t make it into the top 20, although that too would be a major surprise, as I wouldn’t put him in the same zip code as Jake Long.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

      More to do with what I’d want from a left tackle. Free is a beast with his run blocking, but for a left tackle to make the list I’d like for their pass protection to be better than his (which isn’t to say it’s terrible, but it’s not at the level of the other left tackles on the list)

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

    Did he completely stop throwing them because he never put the ball in harm’s way, or did just hit a run where the defense didn’t come up with the ball?

    The Bears most definitely should have picked him off in that game, more than once, yet he put up lots of yards and points and everyone calls it a great game.

    The whole point is that our ‘system’ looks beyond the simple numbers and at what actually happened.

    • PaulK

      I’ll grant you two woulda couldas. What’s still missing is another ten more woulda couldas to bring Brady down to normal.

      I’m concerned about what actually happened. The difference is that I can look at the outcome and try to figure out why. I will change the system in a minute to match the outcome. It’s my nature to see Brady’s points on the board and his overall success, and then I wonder if, now that he knows some magical Bill Belichick axioms, could he do the same low-interception magic with the Carolina Panthers next September. You start with your established grading system and you will eventually try to make your system better if clearly necessary, but in the interest of fairness you can’t tamper with your established system to match what happens. You need a consistent system from year to year.

      I happen to maintain my own power ranking system for teams, which I can’t easily change in mid-season, so in different situations I too have to carry through with my existing system, rather than change in mid-stream. I sympathize with your dilemma.

    • PaulK

      For the Bears game, per Wikipedia,
      “Game weather: 26 °F (−3 °C), snow, windy with gusts to 53 m.p.h., temps falling to low 20′s”

      As coach, I would have ordered Brady to throw more dangerous passes because no one could intercept them in such terrible weather.

  • sciz

    How many “should have been picks” did Brady have, as opposed to somebody like Brees? Remember that of Brady’s 4, one was a hail mary and another was a “punt style throw on third down.”

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    There’s a danger of it seeming to criticize Brady. When in essence we’re just comparing him to other quarterbacks. From all the games I’ve watched Brady just didn’t have to make the kind of throws other quarterbacks did. Now that’s not Brady’s fault. That doesn’t make him a bad quarterback, or worse than any guy in the league. He’s an excellent quarterback and will rightly go down as an all time great. But it means less was asked of him. Call it a product of New England having such a proficient offense that it didn’t need to drain every bit of talent out of Brady to get to 14-2. Thats what it boils down to, in 2010 other quarterbacks made more impressive plays on a more consistent basis. Not because they’re better, but because that was the situation they found themselves in.

  • palo20

    What makes Brady’s job easier than other QBs? It’s not like he’s working with the best WRs and TEs in the league although Gronk/Hernandez could make their case in the coming years. Is his job easier simply because he makes shorter throws? If it’s “easy,” why don’t other teams just do the same thing?

    I’m assuming in your system, a 15 yd deep out is worth much more for the QB than a 5 yd slant that nets 15 yds with the WR getting 10 YAC. But is that a flaw in the system? If the 5 yd slant or drag route is a product of the QB reading pre-snap coverage, finding the right matchup, throwing the ball to a perfect spot where the WR can catch and run, and not forcing the ball downfield, shouldn’t that be worth just as much as the more “difficult” 15 yd out route that netted the same yardage?

    Brady pleyed a lot like Manning last year: he simply saw the field better than any time in his career. Sure he had a lot of luck with dropped INTs, but he also had so many games where he just knew which play to audible to, he knew where to throw the ball, and he put the ball in a place where the WR could make something happen. Just because the passes are thrown under 10 yds, it should not diminish what Brady was able to accomplish last season, all against a very tough run of defenses.

    Couple examples from the past 2 years, I’d love to know how they are graded for QBs:

    2009, Week 2 Colts vs. Dolphins. Manning’s game winning TD was a WR screent to Garcon. Peyton saw the blitz, audibled to the perfect play and Garcon took it to the house. Peyton should receive immense credit for this play, but in your system is he penalized because the throw was short?

    2010, Week 13 Pats vs. Jets. Brady’s 22 yd TD to Branch on 4th and 3 is a result of Brady seeing the pre snap blitz and audibling to the right play. He audibles to a 9 man protection from an empty set! Think about that: Welker, Gronk and another WR all block down on a 4th and 3 passing play while Branch and Woodhead run a 2 man route combo. Brady hits Branch on the quick slant and he breaks a tackle or 2 for a TD. Brady’s score for that play should be through the roof, but is he penalized because Branch “did all the work?” Brady got the team into the right play, and made a perfect throw to let Branch work. That’s where I think Brady is undervalued in your system.

  • BTC6

    You start by saying “I’m not trying to be controversial,” which means you are trying to be controversial – not that I hold that against you. Sort of like starting off an insult with “No offense but…” I appreciate the fact that you’ve gone to the trouble of analyzizng over 100 NFL players and their 2010 performances. There is some great info and analysis here. But to rank Tom Brady #33 is simply asinine. Using your own analysis, while Brady is being asked to decipher high level calculus in the form of breaking down NFL defensive schemes and delivering the ball every single play, some of these guys on your list are being asked to do simple math — i.e. linemen, DBs, and WRs. It’s not like Brady had an off year in 2010 His team went 14-2 (let’s not discuss the playoffs). His QB rating was 111. He threw 36 TDs and 4 picks. He was the first unanimous NFL MVP since the AP started the award back in 1938. Poll any self-respecting NFL defensive player, and they’ll tell you to a man Brady is the toughest NFL QB to read. OK, I’ll admit in the interest of full disclosure: I am a Patriots fan. I’d have the same argument if you ranked Peyton Manning, Brees, Rodgers or Rivers this low. Brady may not be the best player in the NFL, but to rank him 33 is BS. Come on dude.

  • ohungee

    Your rationale for rating Arian Foster at #40 is laughable. Clearly you have beef with the guy. What did he do,
    kick your dog? Lets revisit Arian’s stat line for the 2010 season:

    ATT YDS AVG LNG TD REC YDS AVG LNG TD FUM LST
    2010 327 1616 4.9 74 16 66 604 9.2 50 2 3 2

    How on earth does that equate to #40 on your “top” players of 2010? Your explanation is what really baffles me. You penalize Arian because he has a good offensive line (not to mention you don’t even include Duane Brown in your top 100), but you put Kyle Williams at #3 when he is the pillar of a defense that anybody & their mother can run on (worst rated run defense in the NFL)? I would LOVE to hear your reasoning for that. I thought your website was about stats, and individual performance? If that was the case, Arian is easily a top 10 performer for the 2010 season. I’m sorry if I’m curt, but your list makes me sick to my stomach.