The Top 101 Players of 2010: The Top 20

| May 6, 2011

So here we are. The top twenty. The guys who in my opinion played their positions better than any other.

We’ve already seen players like Tom Brady, Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger drop in a list that does its best not to over value quarterbacks, leaving us with a top twenty that features just four passers. It also features players from teams who owned the first three picks in the draft, which goes to show you that even if you’re team sucks, it doesn’t mean you have to.

The pieces leading to this point can be found here: 101 to 81, 80 to 61, 60 to 41, 40 to 21.

So, this marks the end of my journey to my best player of the 2010 season. A journey that was filled with controversy and struggles in trying to weigh players at different positions against each other.

Without further ado …
 

20.  Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers
What got him the nod over Willis was his better all around play. So while he didn’t have the impact in blitzing that Willis did, he made more plays in coverage and was a little bit more consistent in run defense (his playoff performances didn’t hurt either.) Really built on his strong 2009 campaign to effectively show us all that he’s the heir apparent to James Farrior, and a guy the Steelers can rely on for years to come. How do they keep producing these linebackers?
Best Performance: Week 2 at Tennessee (+5.2)
Key Stat: Didn’t give up a single touchdown, while breaking up six passes (including two interceptions).
 

19.  Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos
Came out and said the torch had been passed to Darrelle Revis, and then with Revis holding out and injured, took his opportunity to reclaim his throne. May not be the player he once was (gave up four touchdowns) but can still dominate receivers, and is a truly complete cornerback. That’s why Denver was never going to let him hit free agency. Still got it.
Best Performance: Week 3 versus Indianapolis (+3.2)
Key Stat: Only missed one tackle all year.
 

18.  Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
There was a stretch of play where you began to question the longevity of Peyton Manning, only for the face of the Colts to respond in brilliant fashion as he guided Indy to the playoffs once again.  Certainly wasn’t always at his best, but losing two of his three top targets, his number one running back and still trying to make do with a terrible offensive line can be too much even for the best of players. No team is as dependent on one player.
Best Performance: Week 17 versus Tennessee (+8.6)
Key Stat: Had more passes dropped than any other quarterback, but also dropped back from center more (697 times) than any other.
 

17.  Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
With an injury that should have limited his production, and an ejection from a game after a punch-up with Cortland Finnegan that prevented him from racking up more yards, Johnson put forward a strong case to being the best receiver in the league. Just doesn’t ever seem to play poorly, and was the model of consistency in a Texans team that was anything but. If he’s 100% healthy (and this year he wasn’t) there may not be a way of stopping a man with his physical attributes at the WR position.
Best Performance: Week 6 versus Kansas City (+3.8)
Key Stat: Dropped just 6.52% of catchable balls.
 

16.  DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys
Dallas may have struggled, but DeMarcus Ware just continues to astound. 79 times he pressured the quarterback this year, and while his work in run defense dropped off, that figure is a ridiculous amount of pressure for one man to get. Remarkably spent only 11.48% of passing plays dropping into coverage, as Dallas got really predictable in how they used him.
Best Performance: Week 2 versus Chicago (+11.3)
Key Stat: Had an ‘In The Green’ pass rush grade of +1.0 or more in 13 out of 16 games.
 

15.  Adrian Peterson, HB, Minnesota Vikings
Maybe I over value Peterson. Perhaps I’ve come to accept his poor blitz pick up and sloppy play as a receiver, and am focused too much on what he does as a runner. Because, as a runner, there really isn’t another like him. The problem is all too often his offensive line prevents us from getting to see what he can really do – they block as poorly as “Purple Jesus” deters blitzers. It makes the 1,298 yards and 4.6 yard per carry average all the more superb.
Best Performance: Week 13 versus Buffalo (+4.8)
Key Stat: Forced 53 missed tackles all year.
 

14.  Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens
It really use to bore me when people waxed lyrical about Haloti Ngata. It still does a bit because most don’t even get the player he has become (for instance he is most definitely not a nose tackle despite what some would have you believe.) What he is though is a physical force who is capable of manhandling offensive linemen in a way few others can. It’s just a shame his most consistent season ended with a whimper as he struggled a bit down the stretch. Don’t tell him I said that, I don’t want him to “Big Ben” my nose.
Best Performance: Week 5 versus Denver (+4.1)
Key Stat: Had a superb 47 defensive stops on the year.
 

13.  Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears
I’d be lying if I said I thought Peppers would live up to the contract the Bears gave him. But credit to him, he did and shoved all those “taking plays off” criticisms down the throats of those who dared speak them. What made Peppers so great wasn’t necessarily his pass rush (which was more than good enough) but his work for the Bears run D. He was immense in this regard and it’s what earned him such deserved praise throughout the year.
Best Performance: Week 3 versus Green Bay (+6.1)
Key Stat: Had a positive grade in 17 out of 18 games for the year.
 

12.  Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
There’s only so much one player can do, and that is why the Chargers didn’t make the playoffs. Rivers had some issues in the second half of the season that took the shine off a tremendous year where he coped with seemingly no receivers and some poor protection (the beating he took against Seattle, yet carried on, was a real testament to his toughness.) About time he was recognized as the elite quarterback he is.
Best Performance: Week 14 versus Kansas City (+7.6)
Key Stat: Faced pressure on 34.86% of passing plays.
 

11.  Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
The only thing you could ever really hold against Witten was a lack of touchdowns. Then he goes and puts nine on the board in 2010. So I ask, what more could you want in a tight end? The man who has topped (by some distance) our tight end rankings the past two years remains the prototypical TE, and what others should aspire to be. He doesn’t drop passes, is a big target for his quarterbacks and is on another level when it comes to his blocking. It’s rare to find a tight end who can do either the receiving or blocking part of their job as well as Witten does both.
Best Performance: Week 5 versus Tennessee (+4.5)
Key Stat: Has dropped just 4.39% of catchable balls the past three years.
 

10.  James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ignoring the penalty controversy, Harrison may be my favorite outside linebacker in the league. He can rush the passer, play the run and drop into coverage. There isn’t a more complete defender in the NFL. It’s why the Steelers can let him drop back on 41.39% of plays, and still count on him to produce plenty of pressure. A player who could line up for any team and immediately make them better.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Atlanta (+7.6)
Key Stat: Had more tackles (65) than any other 3-4 outside linebacker, while creating pressure on 14.68% of plays, and allowing 20 receptions on 328 plays in coverage.
 

9.  Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Hali is about as one dimensional a player as it gets, but boy has he mastered that dimension. Of course I’m referring to his pass rushing, where the Chief was unrelenting in picking apart poor tackles on the left and right side. You’d like him to be a tad more complete, but his ability to get pressure was better than anything I’ve ever seen.
Best Performance: Week 3 versus San Francisco (+9.1)
Key Stat: Had more pressure (95 QB disruptions in regular season) and on a higher percentage of passing plays (18.13%) than all other players.
 

8.  Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Am I kidding you? Matt Ryan over Brady, Manning, Brees and others? Less yards than all, more interceptions than some. Just how exactly did Ryan end up so high? Well, playing quarterback to me is more than the statistics, and what Ryan did, with his ability to make clutch throws on key downs was allow Atlanta to run an offense that made them competitive. Without his running of a ball control offense, this team lacks the talent to be a play off contender, let alone a participant. The playoff defeat will remain a black mark against him, but his ability on third down and his sideline throwing was breathtaking at times.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Tampa Bay (+9.1)
Key Stat: Only spiked the ball once all year. Matty Ice.
 

7.  Jamaal Charles, HB, Kansas City Chiefs
He may not be the pure runner Adrian Peterson is, but Charles may be the most dangerous guy in the league. His line couldn’t open up holes big enough for Thomas Jones, but when they gave Charles the slightest hint of a running lane he was gone in a flash. Now I can understand not wanting to wear him out, but when a guy is picking up 6.3 yards per carry, you need to get him the ball more than 231 times. Breathtaking back.
Best Performance: Week 8 versus Buffalo (+4.6)
Key Stat: A running back who thrives in space, Charles only broke 33 tackles while picking up 48.7% of yards after contact. Defenses, swarm to him and don’t give him a chance to burn past you.
 

6.  Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers
How can a Panther end up this high? Pretty simple really. Johnson was awesome. With Julius Peppers gone, the former Georgia Bulldog built on his cameos since entering the league to make life beyond hard for the right tackles of the NFL. What was so impressive about Johnson, was that despite coming off the field rarely, he never let up and seemed to get stronger and stronger as the year went on. The Panthers need to keep a hold of this guy.
Best Performance: Week 14 versus Atlanta (+6.2)
Key Stat: Led defensive ends in defensive stops (48) and quarterback disruptions (81).
 

5.  Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver Broncos
Now Lloyd isn’t the best receiver in the league, but anyone who tries to convince you he wasn’t the best for 2010 isn’t being honest. Made a number of circus catches while dealing with some inconsistent quarterback play, and yet only dropped four passes all year. His 18.8 yards per catch average was as impressive as it was shocking as Lloyd victimized teams on deep and intermediate routes. Can he keep it up? For now, who cares, just appreciate a marvelous season.
Best Performance: Week 4 at Tennessee (+4.1)
Key Stat: 42.4% of his yards came on throws over 20 yards.
 

4.  Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
Cole got some press this year for his performances, but he still doesn’t get the credit he’s due. People will note that he’s an impressive pass rusher (he’s beyond impressive) but they rarely give him his due for his all around game (I suspect because of his size.) The 28 year old is one of the most active players in the NFL; always doing something to influence the play. He destroyed so many tackles that it’s more noteworthy when he didn’t (Week 16 being the only game he graded negatively for pass rushing.)
Best Performance: Week 6 versus Atlanta (+8.0)
Key Stat: Picked up pressure on 15.2% of all pass plays.
 

3.  Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills
If there is one player I love to sing the praises of it’s this man. Underrated and not getting the love he deserves, Williams didn’t get my choice for PFF Defensive Player of the Year, but got everyone else’s. Put in the greatest defensive tackle display I’ve ever seen against Pittsburgh and earned the praise of the Patriots who recognized him as one of the hardest players to play against. What’s more, he did this in two different schemes and with so little talent around him. I’ve written so many plaudits about Williams it would be impossible not to repeat myself, but this was truly a season for the ages and it’s a travesty so few have recognized it.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus Pittsburgh (+12.6)
Key Stat: Only 17 defenders (all linebackers) had more defensive stops than Kyle Williams.
 

2.  Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers
After 2009, I sat with PFF founder Neil Hornsby and we discussed Smith, saying there was no way he could replicate his phenomenal 2009 season. He did. He didn’t generate quite as much pressure (though 56 quarterback disruptions is nothing to be sniffed at) but was absolutely dominant in run defense. Has found his optimal role in San Francisco and has made beating guards up look passé, such is the regularity and ease at which he does it. It’s a shame Smith doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His play from Week 6 to Week 12 was as good a run as you’ll see from any position.
Best Performance: Week 10 versus St Louis (+5.9)
Key Stat: Had an incredible five games rated at +5.0 or above.
 

1.  Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The MVP of the Super Bowl and now the top dog in Khaled Elsayed’s 2010 Player Rankings. Just when you think life can’t get any better. The poster child for letting a quarterback sit and learn, Rodgers continue to impress. Missed some time with concussions but made up for that with a series of exquisite postseason performances. Rarely had a bad outing and most importantly (for me at least) pushed his team on and stepped up in a big way when they needed him to. Brett who?
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Dallas (+11.6)
Key Stat: Completed 62.9% of passes when blitzed.
 
 

  • shula13

    I generally like your top 100 list, but really confused that you left Jake Long off the list. Perhaps he had some injury issues last year, but the man is certainly a top 100 player. Also Cameron Wake on the Dolphins year in 2010. I’d rate both guys ahead of many of the players on your list.

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

      31 and 26 my man, both made the list in the 40-21 article :)

  • tom

    Ryan and Manning over Brady or for that matter Kyle Williams over Brady? I didn’t notice any WR/RB/TE’s from Patriots on your list, so just how did Brady manage a 14-2 record, 36 tds, 4 int’s with a 32nd rated defense on third downs? He took the team down the field and scored early and often, requiring opposing offenses to put the ball in harms way to catch up, yielding a ton of turnovers.

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

      It’s an understandable point tom, I’ll have a more explanatory article looking at why Brady is highly regarded by myself and PFF, but not as much as the rest of the world is. Should be out next week, and while it won’t change peoples minds, I think they’ll understand (and agree to disagree) on where we’re coming from.

  • fatmosh

    Not a single Buc, eh?

    How’d they end up 10-6? :-)

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

      I’d say if I was doing a 201-102 list there’d be quite a few Bucs. And next year I imagine some of the young guys will step it up more, primarily the trio of Freeman (who was very close to making the list), McCoy (who has star potential) and Blount (who was only held back by his limited time/ one dimensional role). On a personal note I do think that 10-6 slightly flattered the Bucs, who were much better than expected but managed to pick off all their wins against teams with losing records (bar the game against the Saints). They lacked that little bit up front for my liking (and promptly went out and addressed it in the draft).

  • woodson21

    Great list. Only thing I can argue with is putting Sitton higher.