PFF’s Top 101 of 2011 was a hot topic with our readers and, as is to be expected with that sort of undertaking, there were plenty of questions surrounding particular rankings and omissions.
Our analysts shared their thoughts on some players they would have liked to see make the list (Neil, Ben, Sam, Khaled), but the PFF Faithful had some names to add as well. This week’s PFF Mailbag addresses some of the many responses we collected.
If you’ve got a question you’ve been dying to ask–or something that has just popped up–please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may get answered in a future edition of the Mailbag.
I felt Roddy White was a notable absence on your Top 101 players of the 2011 season. He combined great stats and was extremely important to the Falcons’ offense and didn’t see a drop-off in stats or worth to the team in spite of the addition of Julio Jones in the first round of last year’s draft. What’s the reason behind White missing out when Hakeem Nicks made the list? – Joe Martin
Ben Stockwell:Based solely on the regular season you might think it harsh that White misses out, his receiving grade was better than Victor Cruz’ (who made the list) and he gained more yards than Cruz’s teammate Hakeem Nicks. However, that wasn’t the sole deciding factor for our list–in our opinion, including the playoffs comfortably pushed the Giants’ duo beyond White who was the beneficiary of a massive number of targets inflating his numbers.
His efficiency numbers as a receiver don’t matchup with those players who made the list. While he might have had a 100-catch season, his catch percentage was in the range of players like Kevin Ogletree, Sidney Rice, and Andre Roberts. With a top line quarterback that’s a pretty low number and his 15 drops are far too high, irrespective of the passes that he caught.
It was an excellent season for wide receivers and White really gets the short end of the stick because others performed in the playoffs. Once again White and the Falcons fell short while others had tremendous postseasons to separate themselves on our list. Based solely on last season, as this list was, White only just misses out, but he and the Falcons didn’t do enough last year.
Surely Tony Romo was the most obvious omission from your Top 101 players of the 2011 season? Sure the interceptions against Detroit were bad, but can he really be held accountable for those blown leads to take him off of the list? He must have been very close to making it. – Landius Alexander & Johnny Thompson
Ben Stockwell: Our own Khaled Elsayed voiced his belief that Romo should have made the Top 101 before our 101 went live, so you Cowboys fans have an ally here at PFF towers. It certainly is a tough call and the direct comparison is with another QB, Philip Rivers, who himself had some poor games early in the season but finished strongly and just made the cut.
Both had their inconsistencies, both had head-scratching moments, but Rivers got closer to his absolute best for long stretches while Romo didn’t. After some shocking mistakes early in the season to cost the Cowboys what proved to be crucial victories, he cut out a lot of the errors but that came at the expense of elevating his team to a higher level. Those at the bottom of the list, Rivers and Cam Newton, showed the ability in 2011 to elevate their team with their play while Romo didn’t.
Did we find out that the team around Romo wasn’t good enough? Perhaps. But he has made the difference with similar teams in the past and his baseline grading this season was too close to zero (average as a passer). Had he been producing a consistent baseline of good games, that might have helped the Cowboys pick up those crucial couple of wins to remove the pressure from that final outing in New York where Romo was once again comfortably outplayed in a crunch situation.
How is it possible that Cruz came out above Nicks? There are certain things Nicks does that don’t fit into statistics. Up until about game 14 teams were double-teaming Nicks and this opened up the field for the other wide receivers and tight ends, Cruz being the main beneficiary. Once defenses started to pay more attention to Cruz, his yardage dropped and watching Nicks is like watching an artist; he is a master of his craft. Cruz looks like a wild rabbit running around–he has no finesse to his game. Cruz is like looking at a kid who plays football on the playground; his technique is shoddy and needs a lot of work. I see some other ones on the list that are also a little odd, but I think that Nicks has been totally overshadowed this season by Cruz’s Cinderella story. – Ilyse Mosse
Sam Monson: I think the Giants had a perfect three-deep receiver set for much of the season. Hakeem Nicks is a physical monster, who is very tough to match up with and can turn short throws into big plays. Victor Cruz is a quick, nifty player who can get deep or work inside and make big plays and Mario Manningham was impressive for a third wheel to the group.
I don’t agree with your assessments in a couple of areas. Firstly, I don’t buy the assertion that Nicks was being doubled for most of the season, rather I think that he just hadn’t had the level of impact that Cruz had by that point. Toward the end, Cruz became the primary focus of defenses, and that opened things up for everybody else. That, coupled with hitting form at the right time allowed Nicks to have a monster postseason, but the key is that they both benefited each other.
The other area I think you’re off is saying that Cruz has sloppy technique. Part of the reason for his success is that he has some of the finest route-running and fakes in the entire league, and is doing things with remarkable sophistication for a player as young and inexperienced as he is. You can see a few examples of that in this article.
Both players were fantastic, and virtually unplayable for parts of the season, and they tended to alternate when that was, in part because defenses were constantly trying to cover both guys. To have two receivers as high as they were is an impressive feat for the Giants, and in the end we just felt that over the entire season Cruz had a bigger impact than Nicks. He did, after all, gain more yards, score more touchdowns, have more catches and for a higher average, and force more missed tackles.
I’m surprised there were no fullbacks on the list. You started out with the premise that “all positions were equal” and then ignored an important, yet diminishing, part of many teams’ running games. I understand why you would ignore fullbacks if the list were not position-neutral, but when your list attempts to measure players on a list designed not to compare positional importance, but importance within the position, I would expect to see some blocking mavens. I’m confused, for example, why your list would include the 17th ranked CB (Chris Gamble, with a grade of 7.4), but not Vonta Leach or Jed Collins (with grades above 10) – Arif Hasan
Sam Monson: We definitely considered fullbacks for the list (and you named the two players who came up in the discussion), but in the end we just didn’t feel that either was dominant enough this season to force his way in. The first thing to point out, though, is that the grades are not comparable across positions (so a +10.0 grade for a FB is not necessarily better than a +7.4 grade for a CB).
In a league where running–and more importantly, power-running–seems to be decreasing, fullbacks may be diminishing in importance, but we’re still fans of crushing lead blocks, and would be more than happy to give a truly dominant fullback a spot on the list. The trouble with both Leach and Collins, however, is that they were both too inconsistent or incomplete in terms of what they brought to the table, and we couldn’t justify putting one on the list for a good-but-not-great season of lead blocking, compared with truly impressive seasons like those from Erin Henderson.
Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford both threw for more than 5,000 yards last season. Both players threw for at least 10 more touchdowns than Eli Manning, had better completion percentages, and better QB ratings. You have Eli Manning inside the Top 10, ahead of Tom Brady at 13, and Stafford all the way down at 81. What gives? – Francois Hernandez
Sam Monson: One of the reasons we do what we do at PFF is because statistics can lie and badly misrepresent what actually happens on the field. A 90-yard touchdown can be a perfect pass from a quarterback into tight coverage that hits his receiver in stride, or it can be a terrible decision that bounces off the hands of a defender into the lucky hands of a running back who takes it to the house. Those two throws are obviously dramatically different, but go down exactly the same in the stat sheet. That’s obviously an extreme example, but I am just making the point of how different the same statistics can be.
We grade each play made by a quarterback through the season, so, in addition to the stats, we have a far more accurate picture of their play. Both Brady and Manning finished the season way ahead of Stafford in grading and, in truth, a couple of huge late games (that meant little to some) inflated Stafford’s numbers to some degree, which explains his lowly ranking. Brady finished the regular season with a higher grade than Eli, but the Giants’ passer leapfrogged him in the playoffs, where he was fairly spectacular.
Regardless, we decided that the additional handicap of the New York pass-protection was enough to distance the two players. While Brady was passing behind a pretty good pass-protecting unit, no QB in the NFL faced more pressure than Eli Manning, and he led the NFL in accuracy on throws under pressure. Manning had to do what few quarterbacks would be capable of doing and, if anything, he got better the longer he had to do it, saving his best game for the biggest stage of all, the Super Bowl.
If all positions were truly “created equal” for your Top 101 players of 2011, shouldn’t there have been a place for Andy Lee? – Andrew Schaefer
Ben Stockwell: Both of San Francisco’s special teamers, Lee and David Akers, almost made my own article for my two players who missed out. Special teamers are overlooked by everyone and we may be guilty of oversight of the impact of both Lee and Akers on the 49ers this season.
Akers misses out comfortably in terms of efficiency, he may have set an NFL record but only making 85% of his field goals takes a little of the shine off of that. There’s no doubt that Lee’s punting was pivotal to the 49ers’ work in winning the field position, but separating Lee from his special teams unit to make an indisputable case for him being amongst the best 101 players from the 2011 season is tough. Players like Blake Costanzo and C.J. Spillman were as important to Lee as he was to them. We’ve seen outstanding performances from punters in the past that were either lost on teams without great coverage units or defenses to take full advantage of the field position that a punter gets them.
He was certainly–in my mind–a potential snub for our top 101, but the ultimate question came down to whether I felt Lee had a better season than an outstanding corner like Richard Sherman, a quality linebacker like Erin Henderson, or a rookie phenom like Cam Newton. I’m not sure I could make the argument that Lee, irrespective of the position he plays, had a better season or was more important to his team than those players at the bottom of our list.
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