The Pro Football Focus Top 101 will finally be complete tomorrow, but today we still need to get ourselves down to the Top 20. After we released our 40-31 rankings earlier today (to add to the previous 101-91, 90-81, 80-71, 70-61, 60-51 and 50-41), we’re now counting down from 30 to 21.
As per the norm, we’ve used some specific criteria to help us select our players:
• 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.
Let’s count down to 20.
30. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston Texans
On the surface of our rankings this may seem a little high. Joseph’s numbers don’t stick out and he finished the year with our eighth-highest coverage grade for all cornerbacks. The Texans’ star cornerback is playing by a different set of rules to many others, though. Joseph is one of the few cornerbacks who always tracks a team’s top receiver and he nearly always does a great job of it. A fine year from a player whose talent allowed the Texans to be a lot more aggressive with their defensive scheme.
Best Performance: Week 7 at Tennessee (+3.8)
Key Stat: Allowed just 57.95 of passes into his coverage to be completed.
29. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
It’s not hard to see why the Texans paid Foster as he showed his 2010 season was no fluke. After missing two of the first three weeks you wondered if he’d be facing a down year. His 278 regular season carries at 4.4 yards a pop showed that just wasn’t the case. Foster also offers a little extra than what most backs do as a receiver. This is evidenced by his 623 yards that helped him end the year with 1,847 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Cleveland (+5.0)
Key Stat: Averaged more Yards Per Route Run than any other running back (2.35).
28. Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Finished 2011 tied for the highest grade in run defense of all inside linebackers. This was helped by racking up 50 defensive stops in the run game (only one player had more and he was on the field for more snaps). What sums up his season was a tremendous four-down goal-line stoppage of the Raiders in Week 7. Johnson also graded in the green in all but four of his games. Does anyone remember when he couldn’t get on the field in the Chiefs’ base package?
Best Performance: Week 13 at Chicago (+4.6)
Key Stat: Only one player managed more than the 66 total defensive stops he picked up.
27. Carl Nicks, OG, New Orleans Saints
The now highest paid guard in the league may not have been the best last year, but his play over the last few years certainly earned him that title. For all the talk of Nicks being a mauler, that doesn’t do justice to how good a pass protector he is, earning the best grade of any left guard in that regard. He finished second in the same position’s run blocking rankings, unable to hit the dominating heights of previous years.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus New York Giants (+4.2)
Key Stat: Graded positively in 14 games in 2011.
26. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys
Doesn’t have the biggest impact in the run game, but when you do what Ware does as a pass rusher, you can look past that. Capable of rushing from both the strong and weak side, the Cowboy presents nightmares for offenses who just can’t slow him down. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the 71 combined sacks, hits, and hurries he racked up. Graded positively in all but one game (where he scored a -0.1).
Best Performance: Week 3 versus Washington (+4.6)
Key Stat: His 42 defensive stops were the second-most of all 3-4 outside linebackers.
25. Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore Ravens
It wasn’t just that Webb was fantastic in the regular season (he picked up our second-highest coverage grade), it was his play in the playoffs that pushed him up the list. In the postseason he allowed just four receptions for 41 yards and picked up three interceptions which set him apart. Capable of tracking a receiver, playing in the slot, or shutting down one side of the field, Webb fully earned his big deal and is on the verge of defining himself as a shutdown corner.
Best Performance: Divisional Playoff versus Houston (+4.4)
Key Stat: One of only two starting cornerbacks to play the entire year and not give up a single touchdown.
24. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
Finished with “only” 1,569 yards after, at one stage, appearing on course to shatter records. Welker is still the type of slot receiver that teams just cannot slow down. His 13 drops are too many, but his excellence in the slot (he was second in slot yardage with 1,203 yards) and what he offers Tom Brady (his quarterback had a 116.2 rating throwing to him) highlights what he brings to the table. You know what you’re getting with Welker who was only targeted on 11 passes over 20 yards all year.
Best Performance: Week 3 at Buffalo (+7.7)
Key Stat: Had 22 more receptions (122 to 100) than the next closest receiver.
23. Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
There isn’t a better 4-3 defensive end in football than Trent Cole. He plays the run exceptionally well and is always getting at the quarterback. The most complete player at his position, Cole finished with a +40.4 grade. So why so low? Well, he missed a couple of games and when he came back it took him a few weeks to find his form. In that time the Eagles season effectively ended, which hurt his stock. Nonetheless, a fine year when you put it all together.
Best Performance: Week 2 at Atlanta (+10.8)
Key Stat: Finished top of our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat for defensive ends, and seventh in our Run Stop Percentage.
22. Chris Myers, OC, Houston Texans
While Myers has been consistently one of the top centers in the league, this year took us a little by surprise as he took his game to another level. One of the more athletic centers in the league, his ability to move laterally and to the second level were big reasons the Texans dominated the AFC South. He ended the year with the highest overall grade of all centers and thoroughly earned his new contract with Houston.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Indianapolis (+8.0)
Key Stat: Graded positively with his run blocking in 15 games.
Whie he’s not much of a blocker, Graham’s athleticism caused all sorts of problems as teams tried to figure out how to slow him down. They weren’t able to, though, as he finished with 1,310 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. That was good enough to land our second-highest grade of all tight ends in the regular season and he didn’t shy away from making plays in the postseason. In an offense that’s as diverse as the Saints’, it’s telling that Graham has become the biggest difference-maker.
Best Performance: Week 5 at Carolina (+3.2)
Key Stat: Picked up more Yards Per Route Run than any tight end (2.41)
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