So what unenviable task did I set for myself this week? In my efforts to increase the amount of twitter abuse I get I decided that a Top 51 list of NFL players was the way to go… similar efforts in previous years have resulted in such heart warming feedback, how could it go wrong?
I set myself some very specific rules: 1) Anyone on injured reserve I ruled out. 2) I only judged based on 2012. And 3) I took the mantra that all positions were created equal — I didn’t want this to end up as a list of the best quarterbacks, but rather one of the best players relative to what is expected out of their positions. In other words, it’s not about value.
Now some players have missed out. It’s not a big list so I couldn’t find room for guys like Drew Brees, Jason Pierre-Paul, or even DeMarcus Ware. When the PFF staff compiles their list at the end of the year that may change, but for now it’s mine and I’m sticking by it.
Counting down from 51:
51. Gerald McCoy, DT, TB
What a difference a healthy McCoy makes to the Bucs. Lamented for his inability to stay healthy, this year he has — and he’s made plays on every down. Quick up field and able to get off blocks to make plays in the run game, he’s emerging as an elite talent.
Key Stat: His 24 quarterback disruptions are third most of all defensive tackles.
50. Kyle Williams, DT, BUF
It’s been lost amidst the struggles of the Buffalo defensive line, but Williams has been playing lights-out since his return from a 2011 season that he missed nearly all of. He hasn’t quite hit the highs of 2010, but his work rushing the passer has been nothing short of exceptional. Only one defensive tackle has a higher grade in this regard.
Key Stat: Has the second-highest Pass Rushing Productivity score of all defensive tackles courtesy of his 22 quarterback disruptions on 211 pass rushes.
49. Alex Boone, RG, SF
The 2009 undrafted free agent had 204 snaps heading into this season, spent mostly as an additional tight end. What’s worse, he spent that time behind Adam Synder so he couldn’t have been much good, right? Wrong. Boone has been a huge factor in the improvement in the 49ers’ offensive line and looking like one of the best right guards in the league. Can he keep it up? We’ll find out.
Key Stat: Already has five grades in the green for his run blocking this year.
48. Sebastian Vollmer, RT, NE
Is there a better right tackle in football right now? I’d say not. Vollmer burst onto the scene as a rookie but injuries have prevented more acclaim coming his way. Well not this year where he’s looked like a player who knows a big contract could be in his future. Physical in the run game and exceptional in pass protection, this spot is well earned.
Key Stat: Only Orlando Franklin has a better Pass Blocking Efficiency score among all right tackles.
47. Randy Starks, DT, MIA
It often goes unnoticed but Starks continues to perform for the Dolphins. The move to a 4-3 hasn’t slowed him down whatsoever and he already has 26 quarterback disruptions on the year. That has propelled him to second in our defensive tackle rankings and he’s quite rightly earning some Pro Bowl chatter.
Key Stat: His 26 quarterback disruptions are second most of all defensive tackles.
46. Doug Martin, RB, TB
You can call him whatever you want (actually scrub that, Muscle Hamster is ridiculous), but Martin is as hot as any back in the league right now. His 794 yards are the NFL’s third-best and his ability to make a defender miss and then make a defense pay are becoming quite the sight on Sunday’s. He’s really hit form recently, so the question is how long can he keep it going?
Key Stat: His 38 forced missed tackles on runs are the most in the league.
45. Branden Albert, LT, KC
So what’s going on in Kansas City can’t be much fun. They’re a bad team and yet they do have some pretty good players. Step forward Albert, the man drafted to be their franchise left tackle. With improvement every year he’s got there and so far has allowed just nine hurries on 312 pass blocks. Not the best run blocker out there, but sometimes you just have to look past that.
Key Stat: Has given up just nine quarterback disruptions in eight games to date.
44. Heath Miller, TE, PIT
One of the few truly complete tight ends left in the league, Miller isn’t the best in-line blocker but he does a more than serviceable job and is excellent out in space. Predominantly, though, he’s made his name (and this list) because of his 384 yards and six touchdowns. He just always seems to be there when the Steelers need him
Key Stat: Dropped only 4.88% of catchable balls this year.
43. Vincent Jackson, WR, TB
Normally guys who pick up 22.9 yards per reception don’t have many catches and therefore don’t have many yards. Jackson has 31 catches for 710 yards and is setting about re-establishing himself as the league’s premier deep threat and a mismatch for nearly every defensive back.
Key Stat: His 408 yards on passes aimed over 20 yards leads all receivers by 80.
42. Antonio Cromartie, CB, NYJ
When Darrelle Revis went down, we all feared for the state of the Jets’ secondary. No team could withstand that loss, but because of how Cromartie has stepped up the Jets have certainly limited the damage. Tasked with the tricky job of going up against a team’s top receiver, Cromartie has allowed just two touchdowns while intercepting three balls and defensing another six.
Key Stat: Has allowed just 41.9% of passes into his coverage to be complete. The lowest percentage of any starter.
41. Mike Pouncey, C, MIA
We promote Pouncey as an All-Pro candidate and he follows it up with his worst game of the year against the Colts. Nonetheless, the progress he’s made since a fine rookie year indicates he’s going to be one of the top centers in the league for a long time to come.
Key Stat: Given up just one quarterback hit and one hurry all year.
Turn the page to continue the countdown to number 1.