We’ve made it! Finally, the Top 10 players of the Pro Football Focus Top 101 of 2012. You’ve no doubt read along with each installment this week, but in case you’re in the market for a refresher, here’s the previous 91:
As ever, it’s important to remember the criteria that went into selecting this list:
– This is based solely on 2012 play. Nothing that happened in years prior was accounted for.
– This is created with an “all positions created equal” mantra, so it asks for a leap of faith that you assume a guard is as important as a quarterback (though there are some exceptions here with more situational roles not quite as equal).
Now let’s get to the ranking!
(Last year’s ranking in parentheses)
10. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers (20th)
The gap between where Willis was taken and when the last inside linebacker went should give you a pretty clear indication as to how much better he was than the rest. Still the benchmark at his position, he’s a true do-it-all type of defender who can handle any role the 49ers ask of him. Exceptional against the run, and with the physical talent to make the kind of plays in coverage you don’t expect from a linebacker.
Best Performance: Week 11 versus Chicago, +5.3
Key Stat: Missed just four tackles all year.
9. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans (Unranked)
Our top-ranked wide receiver in 2012, Johnson had many speculating he was on the slide after he missed so much of 2011 and got off to a slow start (numbers-wise) in 2012. But that was simply a byproduct of the Texans running so much, with Johnson incredibly productive all year long and still proving too much to handle for defensive backs trying to slow him down.
Best Performance: Week 11 versus Jacksonville, +5.3
Key Stat: Led the league with 2.82 Yards Per Route Run in 2012.
8. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins (16th)
A player who just keeps making life difficult for the quarterback, Wake finished as our top-ranked 4-3 defensive end. It should be noted that Wake isn’t just a one-dimensional player — a more-than-capable run defender, he’s earned every dollar of that contract extension that has come his way.
Best Performance: Week 4 at Arizona, +11.3
Key Stat: His 86 quarterback disruptions were the joint most of any defensive player.
7. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (Unranked)
There were plenty of question marks as Peyton Manning linked up with the Broncos. Would he be healthy enough to contribute? And, if so, could he be anywhere near as effective as he was during his time with the Colts? Well, in finishing the year as our No. 1 quarterback he answered those questions with a resounding ‘Yes’. The arm strength may not have been what it once was, but it was still enough that teams had to contend with Manning attacking them all over the field. Which is exactly what he did as the Broncos were regular season kings. Now if only the postseason went as well…
Best Performance: Week 10 at Carolina, +7.3
Key Stat: Had the third-highest Accuracy Percentage on deep balls of all quarterbacks in 2012.
6. Evan Mathis, LG, Philadelphia Eagles (18th)
It’s easy to ignore guards, but when you’re looking at an ‘all players created equal’ list, then you simply have to have Mathis this high. The Eagles may have struggled, but the continued brilliance of Mathis was unavoidable. He might not have the same impact blocks as others, but his continued ability to create movement at the point of attack makes Mathis the best guard in the league.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus Carolina, +6.8
Key Stat: Earned a positive grade for his run blocking in all bar one game.
5. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks (99th)
If you’re going to talk as much as Richard Sherman, then you need to back it up. Fortunately for the former fifth-round pick (and for Seahawks fans) their chatty cornerback did that and then some. Playing almost exclusively on the left, Sherman was outstanding in picking up the highest grade of all cornerbacks in coverage. Well deserved.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus San Francisco, +5.0
Key Stat: His combined 23 interceptions and pass deflections were the most of any defensive player.
4. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos (12th)
Miller isn’t your conventional 4-3 outside linebacker, moving into a pass rushing role in sub package defense that saw him spend only 24% of his passing snaps in coverage. However, as the 86 combined sacks, hits and hurries show, he delivers in that role, while adding a further 15 tackles for losses. You simply need to watch out for Miller on every play — if you don’t, he’s likely to hurt you.
Best Performance: Week 5 at New England, +12.3
Key Stat: Missed only three tackles all year.
3. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals (19th)
The best performance we’ve ever seen from a defensive tackle during our time grading, Atkins is setting about redefining what you can expect from his spot. How good was he? Good enough to have the highest grades in run defense and pass rushing… besides earning heaps of praise from any guard who had the misfortune of going up against him. The numbers are gaudy with Atkins, yet they’re only a piece of the puzzle that explains how dominant he was.
Best Performance: Week 4 at Jacksonville, +9.7
Key Stat: His 78 combined sacks, hits and hurries were 20 more than the next best defensive tackle.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (55th)
The highest ranking offensive player, Peterson very nearly broke rushing records we never expected to be challenged. That he did it while coming back from an injury many thought would leave him a shell of the player he was is almost an afterthought, so good was his year. Naturally, he was our top-ranked running back, led the league in yards after contact, and forced missed tackles after generally running through anyone foolish enough to try and stop him. One of those seasons for the ages we were all lucky to witness.
Best Performance: Week 9 at Seattle, +4.8
Key Stat: Had 1,184 yards on runs that went over 15 yards. The next most was 638.
1. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (54th)
Apparently Watt was playing hurt, which just makes his remarkable 2012 all the more astonishing. Breaking all sorts of records at his position, Watt is the owner of the highest PFF grade we’ve ever given out and was that rarest of defender who, no matter what you did, you simply had to account for. A force of nature in the run game and a quarterback’s nightmare while rushing the passer, we may never see a season as staggeringly excellent as what Watt produced.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Miami, +9.5
Key Stat: The 15 batted passes we credited him with are the most of any player during the PFF era.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled