Earlier today we started unveiling our Top 101 players from the 2011 season by looking at numbers 101 through to 91. Well we’re going to be counting down in batches of 10, twice a day so up next are those players who were ranked between 90 and 81.
As ever, we advise reading our criteria for selection, before commenting.
• It was based solely on 2011.
• It was based on an ethos of all positions created equal. This isn’t about the most valuable players; otherwise there would be a lot more quarterbacks. This is about looking at what is expected from a position and who most exceeded that.
It’s time for installment No. 2.
90. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens
After something of a down year, Ngata put in two really strong performances in the playoffs that prevented the unthinkable; him not making the list. The problems with the Ravens’ defender (in comparison to years gone by) were too many games where he just failed to stand out, with only seven of his 18 games earning a green grade. Still, good enough to be one of the Top 90 even if it does fall short of what we’ve come to expect from him.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus San Francisco (+4.6)
Key Stat: Flagged for just one penalty all year.
89. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
After years of being one of the league’s best, Rivers struggled at the start of the 2011. So much so that people speculated he was injured. He wasn’t, but it was worth noting that as the season went on Rivers got a lot better, with all seven of his last games being positively graded. It was too late for Rivers to salvage the Chargers, but not too late to make our list.
Best Performance: Week 17 at Oakland (+9.4)
Key Stat: Our QB accuracy percentage stat (which discounts throwaways, dropped passes, spikes and when hit as thrown as completions) had Rivers at 74.6%. Sixth-highest in the league.
88. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
The owner of our fifth-highest grade among cornerbacks didn’t get as much love this year as he deserved, probably down to notching zero interceptions. But by matching up with a team’s top receiver and allowing a completion percentage of 49.4, he did more than enough to continue his ascent to being one of the few true shutdown corners in the league.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Cincinnati (+4.6)
Key Stat: Led all cornerbacks with 17 pass break ups.
87. Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks
In the past we’ve bemoaned the lack of playmaking safeties in the NFL, and then along comes Kam Chancellor who does a great job of grabbing your attention, even if it isn’t always for the right reason (seven penalties). Chancellor finished fifth overall in our safety rankings, despite the flags, earning a positive grade for his work in coverage, run defense, and pass rushing. His four interceptions and eight pass break ups was the second highest number of pass disruptions of anyone at the position and his play in the run game was backed up by 25 defensive stops (again joint second of all safeties). Long live the safety that can make a difference.
Best Performance: Week 5 at New York Giants (+3.3)
Key Stat: Third-highest Run Stop Percentage of all safeties, registering a defensive stop on 6.3% of all running plays he was in for.
86. Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The former Bill got his big deal and set about becoming a big part of the Jaguars defensive turnaround. Only Ray Lewis, who plays in a hybrid defense, was ranked higher in our middle linebacker rankings, with Posluszny grading positively in every area. He’s one of those rare every-down middle linebackers who can more than handle his own dropping back, and so it proved earning a coverage grade of +11.9 that was better than any other linebacker in the league.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Tennessee (+5.1)
Key Stat: Missed only one in every 22.8 tackles he attempted. The third highest tackle efficiency rating of all interior linebackers.
85. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
The former Rutgers running back ended the year with our sixth-highest grade of all running backs, but in pure rushing was all the way down in 26th. That should tell you something about the help he gets from his blocking, because Rice didn’t set the world alight in yards after contact (32nd) or forcing missed tackles (32nd). What makes Rice such a good back is that he plays on every down, and this is evidenced by him leading all running backs with a +11.7 receiver grade. So important to the Ravens’ offense, when Flacco was busy letting his team down, Rice was picking up the slack.
Best Performance: Week 6 versus Houston (+4.0)
Key Stat: Second of all backs with 704 receiving yards.
84. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
One of the players the lockout really seemed to benefit, count us among those who thought Gonzalez may have been done after the 2010 season. Shame on us, because the Falcons tight end responded with the kind of season that saw only two players ranked ahead of him in our receiving rankings for tight ends. May not move as smoothly as he once did, but his ability to get open and make key catches made the Atlanta offense tick more than seemed possible. You can look past the blocking (which is in steep decline) when he plays like this.
Best Performance: Week 2 versus Philadelphia (+5.0)
Key Stat: Finished third in our Drop Rate for tight ends, missing only three of the 113 catchable targets thrown his way.
83. Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings
It’s easy to look at Kevin Williams and think he isn’t the player he was, when he was clearly and demonstrably the best there was at the defensive tackle position. That may be true, but he’s still a fine player and it’s reflected in another year that earned him the fifth-highest grade of all defensive tackles playing over 500 snaps. A complete DT, Williams earned positive marks for his work rushing the passer (+6.6) and playing the run (+12.8), helping the Vikings cope with the loss of Pat Williams.
Best Performance: Week 14 at Detroit (+3.1)
Key Stat: Ranked No. 5 on the list of combined sacks, hits and hurries of all defensive tackles with 37.
82. Andrew Whitworth, T, Cincinnati Bengals
Likely would have finished higher but for a mid season knee knock that really seemed to impact his run blocking going forward. While that led to some subpar work in the running game, his pass protection was exceptional throughout. He graded negatively just twice all year, and only one left tackle finished with a higher grade in this department. Just a shame the run blocking and penalty count (eight) let him down, but a true franchise left tackle.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus Arizona (+4.1)
Key Stat: Gave up just three sacks, three quarterback hits and 14 hurries all year. Some players have got close to that in a game.
Is this the first controversial one? Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards, completed 63.5% and ended up with a 41 to 16 touchdown to interception ratio. Surely those are the numbers of a guy who should be in the top 10? Not for us because at the end of the day, they’re just numbers. Stafford’s number certainly benefited from throwing the ball more in the regular season than any other QB (663 times) and having an out-of-this-world receiver to throw to. What concerned us about Stafford was while he finished the season hot he was pretty poor through the middle stretch of the season. Blame it on injury, but this list doesn’t recognize injury, and nor does that reasoning excuse the shocking number of bad decisions he made. However, even with that mid-season bout of extremely poor play, Stafford was good value for a spot in the top 101, after some late season work that showed exactly what he is capable of. Those last three games are the ones people will point to in saying we’re crazy but try re-watching his play away at the Bears and on Thanksgiving to get the balance.
Best Performance: Week 17 at Green Bay (+7.9)
Key Stat: Had more dropped passes than any other quarterback in the regular season (46).
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