What fun would it be to talk about anything if we agreed on everything? Luckily for those that appreciate a good back-and-forth, the PFF team was not near a consensus on many of the players discussed while assembling the big list. As a result of those differing opinions and the varying level of support each player received along the way, there were a number of talented NFL-ers that missed out despite having legitimate cases for their inclusion.
Already having detailed some omissions who Neil and Khaled favored, we look at two more players who fell just short of a spot in PFF’s Top 101 of 2011. Sam Monson takes up for Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart and Cardinal rookie Patrick Peterson here in Part 3 of The Missing Players.
The Case for Jonathan Stewart
Sam Monson: There is a case to be made that Jonathan Stewart is one of the best HBs in the NFL. He may not get the press of the big-name runners, but he usually outperforms them in the carries he is given.
This season he was our fourth-ranked runner, a hair behind Maurice Jones-Drew, and he did it on fewer than half the carries, averaging 5.5 yards every time he toted the rock. Over the past four seasons he is comfortably out ahead of the pack as the most elusive HB in football and this season he only extended that mark, forcing a ridiculous 52 missed tackles from just 189 total touches.
Stewart has found himself in a crowded backfield. With the Panthers intent on loading up with backs and pounding the ball (so much so they’ve even had that phrase worked into their new uniform collars), Stewart is losing out on carries to backs he is outperforming by some margin. DeAngelo Williams may have rushed for more yards and touchdowns from his greater number of carries, but Stewart forced 31 more missed tackles. Only four players forced more last season and the fewest total touches of that group was 313, a full 124 more than Stewart. If he was given the kind of workloads the top backs are given, we wouldn’t even need to have this discussion, but even in his role sharing the carries Stewart has been so spectacularly effective that he deserves a space on the list. The most elusive HB in football over the past four seasons isn’t showing any signs of slowing.
In response …
Ben Stockwell: If he got more carries I don’t doubt that Stewart would have made this list, but at the end of the day he was the superior partner in Carolina’s running back by committee scenario who also profited from having the league’s best running quarterback in the shape of Cam Newton. He never had more than 14 carries in a game last season and that’s not enough to judge his ability to carry the load which is crucial for a top level running back and for a player to be counted among the very best in the league. The body of work is the biggest issue, but his blocking that simply isn’t good enough either. Much like Robert Mathis earlier in the week, if a one-dimensional, situational or committee player is to make the Top 101 list, they have to have put in a truly extraordinary season and Stewart’s very good campaign falls short of that.
Khaled Elsayed: I think Stewart is a quality back and I get your reasoning for including him, but he just wasn’t used enough to earn a selection. It’s a shame because he’s clearly capable for the reasons you’ve pointed out, but it’s the Panthers’ fault he’s not making the PFF 101 … not Ben’s, Neil’s or mine. They limited him to 142 carries and they played their part in seeing he only got four rushing touchdowns. Love the player, but he’s wasted to a degree in Carolina.
Neil Hornsby: There are a number of players in the NFL who did superbly well in limited exposure (Malcolm Floyd, Jared Gaither, Derek Landri, etc.), but you won’t find any of them on our list of the 101 best and for me Stewart falls into this category; 142 attempts in a whole season isn’t enough. Another issue is, particularly for a guy with a complementary role, he has to do better as a pass-protector and a sack, a hit, and 10 hurries allowed on 102 blocks is simply too much.
The Case for Patrick Peterson
Sam Monson: Patrick Peterson’s rookie season was so impressive that he was actually on the list at one time, before a last-minute change of heart bumped him for fear that too much stock was being placed in a “gimmick” rather than his play at corner. That gimmick, of course, is the small matter of an all-time-record-setting season as a punt returner, an area of play that can decide games, swing momentum, and will some day likely land Devin Hester in the Hall of Fame.
Hester is the NFL’s career leader in punt return touchdowns with 12. Patrick Peterson is now 18th on that list after just his rookie year, and a quarter of the way to matching Hester’s total. No other player last season was within 150 yards of him in punt returns, he averaged a pretty monstrous 15.9 yards per return, and won a game in overtime with a frankly ridiculous 99-yard walk-off return for a touchdown. That’s before you get to the nature of the touchdowns themselves. Hester has often had the benefit of some truly excellent special teams blocking in Chicago, but at least two of Peterson’s returns were utterly spectacular–involving broken tackles, moves into space, and outright pace to get the scores. He was a two-time player of the week, a Pro-Bowler and an All-Pro by the end of it all.
The “gimmick” Patrick Peterson had was turning in an one of the greatest punt return seasons ever, and there aren’t too many people on this list that can claim to have registered on all-time lists.
In response …
Ben Stockwell: The fundamental question with Peterson is this: can I weigh what essentially boils down to 10 snaps on special teams (slight hyperbole, maybe) against 1,000 snaps on defense and decide that those 10 outweigh the 1,000? As a return specialist there is no doubt that Peterson was a difference-maker this season, but he wasn’t simply a return specialist for the Cardinals, he was also supposed to be a lockdown corner on defense. He was a letdown in this regard and I simply cannot see past it. It was a tough decision because those returns are really very difficult to ignore, but so are his coverage grade and coverage stats which really do not stack up favorably for him.
Khaled Elsayed: He’s a punt returner. Sure he made plays that changed games, but what about the 1,142 snaps on defense that earned him our eight-lowest grade of all cornerbacks (that included 10 penalties). Heck his punt returning is skewed by those highlight reel plays–what about the fumbles and the fact he didn’t even lead the league in average yards per punt return. I know returners can change the game, but by essentially saying he deserves to be in on the back of four touchdowns, we’re discrediting players who were more consistent and the special teams units that helped him score those touchdowns.
Neil Hornsby: I didn’t even vote for him as the Pro Bowl returner as he only returned punts and not kickoffs, so don’t get me started about how poor he was as a corner. Obviously if returning punts makes him a one-trick pony it certainly was a rather superb show, but I’m not going to be swayed by a few unbelievable plays. There were some kickers who probably won more games than Peterson and certainly did their overall job better and if we can’t find room for them, I certainly can’t come close to voting Peterson in.