As is the case every year, the PFF Analysis team gets together to discuss who they think were the best players in the NFL. The end result is a list of the Top 101 players in a process that strains friendships, features many heads banging against tables and ever so occasionally sees some obscenities thrown out.
You see our analysts take pride in what we do and aren’t just going to put something out in a flippant fashion. This is our awards show where we do our best to acknowledge the performances of NFL players that really deserve recognition.
Now before looking at the list there are some important things to understand regarding the criteria for selection:
– This list is based solely on 2013 play. Nothing that happened in previous years or may happen in the future is accounted for. This isn’t about class or talent; it’s about form throughout 2013.
– This list is created with an “All Positions Created Equal” mantra. So you won’t see 32 quarterbacks heading the list, even though that is the most valuable position, instead seeing how guys played relative to what is expected from their position. You might disagree with this for doing a Top 101 list which is your right, but this is how we’ve done it for the past three years and will continue doing it. This way every player has a fair shot at getting the respect they deserve.
– A repetition because it’s often the most misunderstood: this is not a list about talent or a lifetime achievement award. It is solely, 100% based on what happened between the opening kickoff of the 2013 regular season and the final snap of the Super Bowl this past February. Anything outside those dates does not matter.
101. Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints (Unranked)
One of the least-publicized top-quality receivers in the league, Colston is still an incredibly productive weapon even with the toll eight years can take on a big-bodied receiver operating significantly out of the slot. A fantastic option over the middle (throughout the year he caught 62 of his 88 passes between the numbers), he consistently moves the chain in New Orleans.
Best Performance: Week 14, CAR @ NO, +4.8
Key Stat: Finished the year with the fifth highest amount of yards of any wide receiver from the slot (590) while also finishing fourth in that area with five touchdowns.
100. T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns (97th)
Ward would finish 2013 as our third-ranked safety overall, but our voters clearly felt it was a bigger priority for safeties to excel in coverage. That is why Ward, who had the highest run defense grade of any man at his position, saw others overtake him here. That’s not to say Ward was poor in that area with his +4.8 coverage grade indicating he more than held his own covering the shorter and intermediate areas, just that it wasn’t his specialty.
Best Performance: Week 15, CHI @ CLE, +4.6
Key Stat: 29 defensive stops in the run game were five more than any other safety.
99. Jake Long, OT, St. Louis Rams (Unranked)
We were collectively among those who questioned the Rams’ investment in Long. Two years battling injuries and form meant it was reasonable to wonder if Long was ever going to be the player he once was. Well there’s no shame in being wrong as before his season was cut short three snaps into Week 16, Long was back to his best and then some, posting just two negative grades and the seventh-highest grade of all left tackles.
Best Performance: Week 8, SEA @ STL, +5.9
Key Stat: Finished the year with the second-highest run-blocking grade of all left tackles at +14.8.
98. Phil Loadholt, OT, Minnesota Vikings (Unranked)
The only right tackle to make the list, Loadholt would finish the year our second-ranked overall right tackle (behind Zach Strief, but with a much better run block grade). He’s become the prototype right tackle, more than good enough with his pass protection and able to generate substantial movement in the run game. Throw in getting penalized just three times and he’s delivered on his contract so far.
Best Performance: Week 17, DET @ MIN, +4.1
Key Stat: Graded negatively with his run blocking just three times all year.
97. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (41st)
At times Green is breathtaking. His stretch of five back-to-back 100-yard games helped further the feeling that his work after the catch (14 missed tackles) is nothing to be scoffed at. On talent alone he would certainly be higher but his form in 2013 was patchy at times, with only half of the games he was involved in resulting in a grade in the green for his receiving work.
Best Performance: Week 16, MIN @ CIN, +4.2
Key Stat: Green caught 15 passes on balls aimed over 20 yards in the air, good for second of all wide receivers. More impressively he turned those 15 receptions into 586 yards, good for the most deep yards of any wide receiver.
96. Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers (15th)
Something of a fall for Weddle this year who had a tougher season as the Chargers struggled overall to field a competitive secondary. At times that left Weddle doing an awful lot and had him more exposed than you’d like any safety to be. That led to some up-and-down displays with Weddle grading in the green seven times, but also earning six red marks with his 15 missed tackles a bad number by anyone’s standards. Still we’re not laying into the guy because you don’t finish seventh overall in our safety rankings without making a host of plays.
Best Performance: Week 13, CIN @ SD, +4.1
Key Stat: Didn’t allow a single touchdown into his primary coverage all year.
95. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers (Unranked)
When Polamalu was good this year, he was very good. Have a look at his best performance grade to see that. But when he was bad? Well he did enough damage that a potential Top 50 spot was never in the cards. Two outings in particular (the trip to New England and hosting of Detroit) stand out in that regard, but his play was good enough the rest of the year that he still warranted a place in the Top 101. Managing his biggest snap count since 2008, there’s life in the old dog yet.
Best Performance: Week 12, PIT @ CLE, +5.6
Key Stat: Eight combined interceptions and pass breaks up were second most of all safeties.
94. Cliff Avril, DE, Seattle Seahawks (Unranked)
One of the prizes of the 2013 Free Agent market, Avril became a feature of the Seahawks’ prominent nickel package where he would pick up 64 combined sacks, hits and hurries. That was good enough for the fourth-highest Pass Rushing Productivity score of the year, demonstrating just how effective he was. In the modern NFL where pass rushing is so important, that helps us look past Avril acting as a backup in the team’s base defensive packages, with his ability to get to the quarterback amongst the best in the league.
Best Performance: Week 4, SEA @ HST, +5.4
Key Stat: A three-hit, six-hurry display in the Super Bowl.
93. Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans (Unranked)
Verner was on his way to a higher ranking with some excellent work in his first 10 games of the year that saw him earn just the one negative grade (and a -0.3 at that). But he fell off some as the season closed, unable to make the kind of plays that saw him catch the eye of everyone initially. Still, all told, it was a fine year for Verner who allowed just one reception for every 15 snaps in coverage (fifth-best in the league).
Best Performance: Week 4, NYJ @ TEN, +4.2
Key Stat: 19 combined pass break ups and interceptions were the most in the league.
92. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (Unranked)
While it would only be his second-highest ranked performance of the year, it was the work Hilton did in the playoffs that propelled him onto this list. Our voters certainly gave extra weighting when players picked up their game in the postseason. Hilton was a great case as he turned two games into a playoff-best 327 yards with two touchdowns for good measure. Hilton is someone who can really take the top off a defense.
Best Performance: Week 17, JAX @ IND, +4.0
Key Stat: Didn’t drop a single pass that was aimed over 20 yards in the air all season.
91. Damon Harrison, NT, New York Jets (Unranked)
Quite the year from “Big Snacks” as he feasted on his competition. Acting as an early-down run-plugging machine, Harrison couldn’t be moved at the point of attack and had the playmaking ability to shed blocks and make a ridiculous amount of stops around the line of scrimmage. Comfortably finished the year our top-ranked defensive tackle against the run, and while he offered little rushing the passer (10 quarterback disruptions all year) it wasn’t hard looking past that to find a spot for him here.
Best Performance: Week 6, PIT @ NYJ, +5.0
Key Stat: His 13.2 Run Stop Percentage was the highest score of any defensive tackle.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled