So next up we’re moving it along and getting to those who finished between 70 and 61.
As ever this list is built on some strict criteria, so it’s worth remembering;
– This is based solely on 2012 play. Nothing that happened in years previous 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 an important as a quarterback (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 brackets)
70. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers (48th)
Some might remember the end of the Steelers’ season for a couple of costly interceptions from Big Ben. But that does a disservice to the work he did in getting Pittsburgh to a place where they were in contention for the playoffs. Roethlisberger overcame some lackluster pass protection to make the kind of big plays that only he can. If not for injury things could have been very different, not only on this list, but for the Steelers’ season.
Best Performance: Week 14 versus San Diego, +7.3
Key Stat: His +14.8 grade under pressure was the highest of all quarterbacks.
69. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers (Unranked)
Since his breakout 2010 season saw Johnson get a mega contract he hasn’t quite looked like the same player. However, after a disappointing 2011 he was a lot closer to his best, even if his work in the run game was something underwhelming. Instead, it’s the work Johnson did rushing the passer that really stood out, where his pass rushing grade was the second-highest of all 40-3 defensive ends.
Best Performance: Week 10 versus Denver, +5.6
Key Stat: His 75 quarterback disruptions were the third-most of any 4-3 defensive end.
68. Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions (Unranked)
When Fairley was on the field there were few better players. But therein lie one of the two problems with him (the other were the ridiculous 11 penalties). He managed only 511 snaps. In some ways that makes the +19.2 grade he got all the more impressive, and acts as a nice tease for what the Lions can expect in the upcoming years. A real fine player whether he’s rushing the passer or hunting down ball carriers.
Best Performance: Week 11 versus Green Bay, +7.3
Key Stat: His 9.4 Pass Rushing Productivity rating was the second-highest score of all defensive tackles.
67. Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs (28th)
While the Chiefs suffered a disappointing 2012, it wasn’t for the efforts of Johnson. As impactful against the run as any defender in the league, Johnson was as good as it gets finding his way to the ballcarrier. Whether he be working through traffic or shedding blocks, it was an exhibition of what makes a great run defender in the 3-4.
Best Performance: Week 10 at Pittsburgh, +5.9
Key Stat: His 60 defensive stops in the run game were the most of any inside linebacker.
66. Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas Cowboys (Unranked)
If you had predicted one Cowboys outside linebacker to make the list before the year, odds are it wouldn’t have been Spencer. However, the Cowboys’ franchise player had his best season as a pro where he delivered on a far more consistent basis then he’s more recognizable partner in crime. His return of 40 quarterback disruptions was extremely healthy, while his work setting the edge was really what set him apart from the crowd.
Best Performance: Week 10 versus Philadelphia, +4.8
Key Stat: His 41 stops in the run game were 11 more than the next best 3-4 outside linebacker.
65. Derrick Morgan, DE, Tennessee Titans (Unranked)
Sometimes players get overlooked, and when you start breaking down the production and performances of Morgan, you can’t help but feel he’s one of those guys. The former first-round pick looks fully recovered from a torn ACL he suffered in his rookie year, and responded with a staggering 30 quarterback takedowns (nine sacks and 21 hits). You’d like to see him make more plays in the run game, but he’s far from a liability there.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Chicago, +6.0
Key Stat: His 30 quarterback hits were the fifth-most of all defensive players in the league.
64. Chris Harris, CB, Denver Broncos (Unranked)
It’s not easy being a slot corner in the NFL, so Harris deserves extra credit for handling business on the outside and coping extremely well when moving inside in the Broncos’ sub-package defense. The former undrafted free agent took his chance with both hands when Tracy Porter went down hurt, and backed up his excellent coverage work with some fine play in the run game. A complete defender already.
Best Performance: Week 13 versus Tampa Bay, +4.8
Key Stat: Gave up just 0.83 yards per slot coverage snap, sixth-lowest of all defensive backs.
63. Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens (Unranked)
There’s a lot of talk about Boldin being a guy that can’t get open. Be that as it may, he’s still a guy who (with defenders all over him) makes tough catches that move the chains. And it was that ability that was one of the key differences in why it was the Ravens, and no other team, that won the Super Bowl last year. Really stepped it up in the postseason and that’s why he makes the list.
Best Performance: Week 4 versus Cleveland, +3.3
Key Stat: Including the playoffs, dropped only three passes all year long.
62. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys (Unranked)
While there was a sentiment that Witten benefited from simply been throw to a lot (146 times to be precise), there’s no denying he turned many of those catches into significant plays for the Cowboys. What’s more, Witten backed up his receiving with some fine blocking, even after overcoming an injury that most felt would see him miss considerable time.
Best Performance: Week 8 versus New York Giants, +7.0
Key Stat: His 56 combined first-down and touchdown receptions were the 14th-most of any offensive player.
61. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks (Unranked)
The rookie Wagner wasn’t ticketed for an every-down role, but such was his performance that it wasn’t long before he had earned one. For some, the extra work might lead to a worse performance, but not the Seahawk middle linebacker who would finish the year our highest ranked middle linebacker. He’s not the complete product yet, and that’s a very good thing for Seattle.
Best Performance: Week 14 versus Arizona, +5.9
Key Stat: His 14.4 Run Stop Percentage was the best of all inside linebackers.
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