The fun started yesterday as we kicked off our Top 101 players of 2011 with a look at numbers 101-91 and then 90 to 81. Well today, in the first of two installments, we’re going be looking at the guys who finished between 80 and 71 as we get ever closer to naming our best player in 2011.
As ever, there are some criteria to remember when looking at these rankings:
• 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.
Now let’s get part three done!
80. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos
He’s not getting any younger, but Champ Bailey is still getting the job done. One of a handful of corners in the league who is capable of tracking a team’s top receiver and not getting abused, Bailey highlighted his talent in the playoffs where he broke up more postseason passes (three) than receptions allowed (two) in the nine times teams threw at him.
Best Performance: Wildcard Round versus Pittsburgh (+2.3)
Key Stat: The notoriously stingy defender saw to it that quarterbacks only completed 54% of passes when going after him.
79. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons
After a rookie year that had something of a headless chicken vibe to it, expectations (on our end) weren’t high for Weatherspoon. Suffice to say he delivered more than expected with a season that saw him become an impact player for Atlanta playing on every down. He showed an ability to get to the quarterback (15 QB disruptions on 83 pass rushes) while also coming up to make a number of big stops in the run game. Could do with being better in coverage despite what the six pass break ups say.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus Minnesota (+4.1)
Key Stat: Finished third of all 4-3 OLBs in our run stop percentage stat, recording a defensive stop on 10.6% of all running plays.
78. Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers
After the first seven weeks of the season Rogers seemed a lock to be much higher on this list, but a far more inconsistent second half of the year (three games in the red) saw him plummet down the rankings. That shouldn’t detract from a great rebound year, though, where Rogers handled base duties at the LCB spot before moving over to the slot in the 49ers’ nickel defense. Being one of a handful of players capable of doing that without his play dropping off significantly earned him brownie points from a PFF staff who appreciate versatility.
Best Performance: Week 2 versus Dallas (+3.0)
Key Stat: For a cornerback to play 394 snaps in the slot and walk away only allowing quarterbacks to complete 52.8% of passes into his coverage is ridiculously good.
77. Jay Ratliff, NT, Dallas Cowboys
There was some wondering whether Ratliff would excel in a Rob Ryan defense. They should have known better, because wherever you put Ratliff he’s going to make plays. Don’t be fooled by his two sacks; the Cowboy nose tackle actually had the 10th-highest number of QB disruptions of all defensive tackles. What’s more, he did it while making plays in the run game. That earned him our fifth-highest rating among defensive/ nose tackles playing more than 400 snaps.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus Philadelphia (+5.6)
Key Stat: 10th in total pressures of all DT’s, he was also 10th in our Defensive Tackle Run Stop Percentage Signature Stat.
76. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Detroit Lions
While other players may get the praise, Tulloch should be the man who can take the largest chunk of credit for the improved play of the Detroit defense. The Wide-9 scheme requires a linebacker who can come downhill and take blockers on face up, cleaning up after his defensive linemen when they’re caught rushing up field. He did this and then some, also showing an ability to make plays in coverage that earned him a +11.2 grade in this regard. A true every-down linebacker.
Best Performance: Week 3 at Minnesota (+5.4)
Key Stat: Gave up 0.4 yards per snap he was in coverage. The lowest of all interior linebackers.
75. John Sullivan, C, Minnesota Vikings
Two seasons of starting had seen Sullivan grade negatively in both. We’d heard the chatter that he played hurt, but given that seems to be a universal excuse for every sub-optimal performance, thought little of it. Then he turned in a career year that had him ranked third in our center rankings. He did this chiefly with his run blocking, where he earned an impressive +16.8 grade for his efforts. Apologies Mr. Sullivan, we were wrong about you.
Best Performance: Week 8 at Carolina (+4.5)
Key Stat: Gave up just 12 combined sacks, hits, and hurries all year.
74. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
He’s not everyone’s favorite quarterback, coming off a year where he didn’t produce his best in the big games (most notably another playoff defeat) but Ryan still put in a good year. Overall we saw a series of strong performances without him really putting forward one that captured people’s attention; this on his way to finishing the regular season with our fourth-highest passing grade. His deep game was somewhat disappointing, while he wasn’t helped by 43 dropped passes, but Ryan’s accuracy in key situations did push the Falcons to the playoffs.
Best Performance: Week 11 versus Tennessee (+6.0)
Key Stat: His play under pressure regressed this year. He completed just 44.4% of passes, with a 4:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, which earned a -8.9 grade.
73. Richard Seymour, DT, Oakland Raiders
So good was Seymour that even with his 11 penalties (some of them utterly brainless in nature) he still found a home on this list. He finished the year with our third-highest grade among all defensive tackles when it came to pass rushing, and a +7.5 run defense grade as the Raider dominated his competition. Not the most consistent of players this year (he had four “in the red” games), when Seymour was on his game, he made plenty of players look completely out of their depth when going against him.
Best Performance: Week 5 at Houston (+9.5)
Key Stat: With 40 combined sacks, hits, and hurries he had the second-highest quarterback disruptions total among defensive tackles.
72. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills
This was the year where Byrd established himself as one of the league’s top safeties, with a season that earned him our third-highest grade of all his peers (+13.0). He broke up seven passes to go with his three interceptions, while only allowing 51.5% of passes into coverage to be completed. What’s more, for a player who spends most of his time playing deep (84.1% of all snaps), he notched up 35 tackles in run defense, good for 16th of all safeties. He’s a rare beast; a free safety who is active on every play.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus Denver (+3.3)
Key Stat: Missed one tackle for every 14.3 attempts; eighth-best of all safeties.
So when a rookie tackle plays badly, don’t give up on him because he may just do a ‘Bulaga’. As a rookie Bulaga won a Super Bowl but was arguably the worst starter the Packers had. A year later he’s turned himself into one of the best right tackles in the league. Finishing second among RTs in our ratings despite missing four games, Bulaga earned the third-highest run blocking grade of all tackles. What’s more, he only gave up one sack and two quarterback hits. Quite the turnaround.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus New Orleans (+5.6)
Key Stat: Had the third-best pass blocking efficiency of all right tackles after giving up 20 combined sacks, hits, and hurries on 409 pass blocks.
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