The Pro Football Focus Top 101 ranking is well underway now, and before continuing the countdown we suggest you get caught up on what has gone before with these links to the previous installments:
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 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 as 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)
30. Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears (Unranked)
While Marshall was productive in Miami, he never really did hit the heights they had hoped for. That wasn’t a problem in his first year in Chicago though. Reconnecting with Jay Cutler like the two had never been separated, Marshall found the end zone 11 times and turned his 181 targets into 118 receptions and 1,508 yards. That Marshall had to break 17 tackles to help him get those tell you just how physical he was.
Best Performance: Week 5 at Jacksonville, +3.7
Key Stat: With 2.76 Yards Per Route Run, Marshall had the second-most of any receiver who ran at least 250 routes.
29. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals (57th)
In the past we’ve viewed Campbell as someone who does his best work rushing the passer. Consider that evaluation changed as the Cardinals’ defensive end really upped his game to become a complete player. Despite missing time he still finished third in our 3-4 defensive end rankings and was a guy opposing offensive coordinators paid a lot of attention to. A real destructive player.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Detroit, +6.3
28. Devin McCourty, DB, New England Patriots (Unranked)
What made the year of McCourty all the more remarkable was that he wasn’t just excellent at one position, but two. With the Patriots struggling at safety he made the switch and didn’t let the midseason change impact his performance, finishing in the Top 15 overall rankings at both positions. With great range and a nose for the ball, McCourty is a star wherever you line him up.
Best Performance: Week 1 at Tennessee, +2.9
Key Stat: Allowed just 0.2 Yards Per Snap in Coverage while lined up at safety. The lowest of all safeties to play at least 200 snaps in coverage.
27. Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Unranked)
After a couple of so-so years in San Diego there was some understandable concern about how much the Bucs paid Jackson, and whether he could live up to it. To say that he did would be an understatement. Despite some at times woeful quarterback play, Jackson bailed out his Josh Freeman with his ability to get downfield and make plays. The league’s premier deep receiver returns.
Best Performance: Week 2 at New York Giants, +4.1
Key Stat: Caught 17 passes of balls aimed over 20 yards in the air. Second-most in the league.
26. John Sullivan, C, Minnesota Vikings (75th)
Our top-ranked center on the year, the Vikings’ running game wasn’t just about Adrian Peterson. No, center Sullivan deserves a lot of credit for building on his breakout 2011 to have an even better year where his ability to get defenders going where he wanted rightfully gets him inside the Top 30.
Best Performance: Week 16 at Houston, +6.3
Key Stat: Flagged for just two penalties all year.
25. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills (72nd)
Is there a better deep safety in the league than Byrd right now? A legitimate playmaker that quarterbacks have to be mindful of on every down, Byrd comfortably finished the year our top ranked cover safety. Now, the way he’s used may not make him the most complete safety out there, but he’s so good at what he does you can’t help but appreciate the Bills’ franchise player.
Best Performance: Week 11 vs Miami, +5.3
Key Stat: Intercepted five passes and wasn’t beaten for a touchdown all year.
24. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers (38th)
“The Claymaker” just continues to impress year after year. What’s more is that he does so despite being in a defense that lacks weapons in the front seven and sees him garnering a huge amount of attention from offensive coordinators. Matthews handled the switch to the right side well, and has shown himself a guy capable of doing it all, regardless of down, and regardless of how the Packers use him.
Best Performance: Week 6 at Houston, +6.0
Key Stat: Had the third-highest Pass Rushing Productivity score of all 3-4 outside linebackers.
23. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (Unranked)
The rookie third-rounder looked a little out of his depth early on in the season but from Week 5 onward he was something else. With just five interceptions the remainder of the season (including one hail mary in the postseason) Wilson was efficient at times and dynamic at others as defenses struggled to get to grips with him. His 2012 season proved all the doubters wrong.
Best Performance: Week 16 vs San Francisco, +7.7
Key Stat: Had the fourth-highest Accuracy Percentage of all quarterbacks.
22. Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills (Unranked)
After missing nearly all of 2011 some wondered if Williams would take time to find his best form. Outside just a couple of disappointing games, they needn’t have worried. Williams missed out on finishing second overall in our defensive tackle rankings only because of penalties, displaying the same kind of every-down talent he has for a long time. As is always the case, Williams was making plays at a relentless pace throughout the entire season.
Best Performance: Week 10 at New England, +6.8
Key Stat: His 65 combined hits, sacks, hurries and defensive run stops were third-most of all defensive tackles.
21. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (13th)
Brady would finish the regular season as our third-ranked quarterback, but his inability to up (or maintain) his game in the postseason ensured he couldn’t finish any higher. For the first 16 games of the season he was in fine form, dissecting defenses as he threw for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
Best Performance: Week 3 at Baltimore, +7.4
Key Stat: Led the league with 288 completions when getting rid of the ball within 2.5 seconds of the snap.
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