2012 Top 51 NFL Players (so far)
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.
40. Jonathan Goodwin, C, SF
It’s hard to remember a trio of players on the interior of an offensive line playing as well as the 49ers have right now. Goodwin has improved markedly since his first year in San Francisco and his run blocking has him pushing for end-of-season awards.
Key Stat: Graded positively with his run blocking in every game but one (where he score a flat 0.0).
39. Justin Houston, OLB, KC
Houston would probably be a lot higher on this list but for the Chiefs’ continual decision to drop him into coverage. For a guy who generates as much pressure as he does, it’s absurd that he spends 40.1% of his passing plays not rushing the passer. Still he hasn’t let that affect his performance, and has made plays in every phase of the game.
Key Stat: No 3-4 outside linebacker has a higher Pass Rushing Productivity than the 14.8 he has managed.
38. Vernon Davis, TE, SF
People point to his receiving yards and think Davis is having a down year. He’s still incredibly dangerous when he gets the ball in hand and more importantly, has cut out the mental mistakes that have plagued his career. No penalties, one drop, and some excellent run blocking — he’s become the player many wanted to crown him as before he was ready. More important to the 49ers than any number could indicate.
Key Stat: Has caught 78.1% of the balls thrown his way.
37. Jon Sullivan, C, MIN
I was among many who wondered if Sullivan would be able to replicate his strong 2011 season that had us raving about him. Well, the fact he’s so high up this list should indicate he’s still producing. Strong at the point of attack and able to move defensive linemen, he epitomizes the improvement the Vikings’ line has made in recent years.
Key Stat: Currently our top-ranked center on the year.
36. Calais Campbell, DE, ARZ
Last year Justin Smith upstaged him and this year it’s J.J. Watt, but Calais Campbell is damn fine player. Incredibly productive on every down, he’s gone from a guy who generated a lot of pressure, to a player who can (and does) do it all. Regularly commands a lot of attention from offenses, but has still managed to make 24 defensive stops and bat four passes.
Key Stat: Has made a stop on 8.8% of all running plays he has been in on.
35. Lance Briggs, LB, CHI
The work Briggs has done in coverage really needs to be seen to be believed. Two pick-sixes and another four passes defensed — cornerbacks would kill for those numbers. He’s not quite had the same impact in recent weeks, but then if he did we’d be talking about him as a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Key Stat: Has given up just 0.73 yards per snap in coverage.
34. Richard Sherman, CB, SEA
The Sherminator impressed as a rookie and has followed that up with some excellent work as the Seahawks’ left cornerback. At times he bends the rules pretty far, but the physical corner knows how to work it and has only given up two penalties this year. Allowed one long touchdown but has more than made up for that with three picks and six pass defenses.
Key Stat: Allowing just 52% of throws into his coverage to be complete.
33. Jairus Byrd, S, BUF
There aren’t many safeties who twice make plays to win a game (as Byrd was forced to do against Arizona). A true play-making safety, he looks primed to fill the void Ed Reed leaves when he retires. So very good in coverage that you can look past some of the bad angles he takes in the run game.
Key Stat: Given up just 90 yards into his primary coverage this year.
32. Eric Weddle, S, SD
The last line of the Chargers’ defense, Weddle so often cleans up the mess those in front of him leave. When he’s not doing that he’s showing some great instincts for the ball, making breaks that have led to him adding two more interceptions to his growing career total. For a guy who often plays as deep as he does, he really finds himself involved in a lot of run plays thanks to his excellent recognition skills.
Key Stat: When he lines up in the box, has a stop on 17.4% of run plays, the most of any safety.
31. Mike Iupati, G, SF
If you take a guard in the first round he better end up playing like Iupati. One of the best in the league, he punishes defenders at the line of scrimmage and when he gets to the second level. Owner of the second-highest run-blocking grade of all guards, the only negative are the four penalties he’s been responsible for.
Key Stat: His 98.2 Pass Blocking Efficiency score is the third best of all left guards.
Turn the page to continue the countdown to Number 1
30. Marshal Yanda, G, BLT
Just got himself in ahead of Iupati, though his performance against Cleveland (where he missed six snaps and then looked less than 100%) almost cost him. Yanda has been the best right guard in the league for a while now and is enhancing his reputation rather than living off it.
Key Stat: Has given up just four quarterback disruptions all season.
29. Joe Staley, LT, SF
On the surface of things, giving up five sacks is never good for a tackle. But that’s where numbers in isolation can be misleading. Indeed, Staley has only given up 15 quarterback disruptions all year and is far and away our highest-graded run-blocking tackle.
Key Stat: His +15.2 run blocking grade is 4.2 points more than any other tackle.
28. Trent Williams, LT, WAS
I remember when Williams looked massively out of his depth as a rookie. Now he just fends off pass rushers with the kind of ease you’d expect from a man taken fourth overall. The five penalties aren’t ideal, but he’s one of these rare tackles who can do a job in pass protection and contribute in the run game. Taking the step to elite status.
Key Stat: His 97.2 pass blocking efficiency is fourth of all left tackles.
27. Marshawn Lynch, RB, SEA
The man who created ‘Beast Mode’. Since that earth-shaking run Lynch has become a more consistent — and, therefore, dangerous — back, with him well on his way to his best year yet. His hands will always be a question mark, but with 32 forced missed tackles and 513 yards after contact, he’s a scary proposition for any defense.
Key Stat: Has graded positively with his rushing in all bar one game this year.
26. Clay Matthews, OLB, GB
We may find out just how important Matthews is to the Packers if he has to miss an extended period of time. Our top-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker makes big play after big play rushing the passer but also does a lot of good work in the run game that goes unnoticed. Incredibly productive when you consider how unproductive those around him are.
Key Stat: Leads all 3-4 outside linebackers with 42 quarterback disruptions.
25. Charles Johnson, DE, CAR
Johnson is really starting to find his best form and, if his performances from the last two weeks are anything to go by, will only finish higher when this list gets redone at the end of the year. Disappointed after getting paid last year, but the Panthers have stopped messing about and kept him rushing from the left side and he’s already repaying them with 44 quarterback disruptions.
Key Stat: Is picking up a quarterback pressure on 17.6% of pass rushes.
24. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT
As long as Big Ben is healthy the Steelers will always have a chance. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. With some improved protection around him, Ben is playing as well as ever.
Key Stat: Completing a league leading 62.5% of passes under pressure.
23. C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF
The most explosive back in the league, when Spiller touches the ball you get the impression something dangerous is about to happen. If you don’t believe me, the 7.2 yards per carry average he’s managing should. Cuts like very few can even dream of and is a nightmare for defenders in space. Elusive and then some.
Key Stat: Is attempting to break our Elusive Rating. Currently has a league-leading 115 score in this regard.
22. Ryan Clady, LT, DEN
Only a fool would say that Clady doesn’t benefit from playing with Peyton Manning. His ability to get rid of a ball quickly makes the job of a tackle that much easier. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Clady, in a contract year, isn’t playing lights out. He’s given up just six hurries on 306 pass blocks snaps and allowed just two knockdowns of his quarterback. His run blocking rarely excites, but this is a tackle at the top of his game.
Key Stat: Leads all tackles with a pass blocking efficiency of 98.5.
21. Evan Mathis, LG, PHI
For those who wondered why the Eagles paid Mathis so handsomely after what amounted to one season’s worth of production, you need only watch him run block. He’s not rested on his laurels and while he’s given up more penalties (four) and pressure (14) than you’d like, he’s done a great job of not letting the circus around him impact his play.
Key Stat: Has graded positively in every game.
Turn the page to continue the countdown to Number 1
20. Duane Brown, LT, HST
Our top-ranked tackle gave up his first sack since 2010 against the Bills. Still he’s only given up 12 quarterback disruptions all year and is perfectly utilized in a Texans zone blocking scheme that makes full use of his athletic ability. Not many tackles are able to have the impact he does in the run game.
Key Stat: Graded positively in pass protection in all but one game this year.
19. Eli Manning, QB, NYG
He hasn’t quite been as clutch as we’ve come to expect recently, but the younger Manning started off the season on fire. Performance against Pittsburgh is a concern and will be very interesting to see if it’s the beginning of a true slump, or just a blip. He’s been prone to both in the past.
Key Stat: Has taken a sack on just 8.8% of plays he is pressured on. Lowest of all quarterbacks.
18. NaVorro Bowman, ILB, SF
Way back when the 49ers opted to let Takeo Spikes go I thought them crazy. Spikes was playing at a high level and Bowman was relatively untested. Well he showed why San Francisco could do that with an excellent 2011 and has built on that this year. As good a run defender as you’re going to get from the linebacker spot, he gets off blocks as well as anyone and has a real nose for the ball carrier. May never be an elite cover guy compared to his peers, but has a closing speed that sees him react well to things in front of him.
Key Stat: Has made a defensive stop in the run game on 13.3% of plays he was on the field for.
17. Daryl Washington, ILB, ARZ
Washington continues to make plays for the Cardinals even if his reckless abandon style has seen him miss 11 tackles already this year. At times has struggled in coverage but his inside linebacker leading 62 tackles and eight sacks show just how much of a playmaker he is.
Key Stat: Has picked up 17 quarterback disruptions on 86 blitzes.
16. Patrick Willis, ILB, SF
Still the premier 3-4 inside linebacker, just about leading our rankings in this regard with his consistently excellent play. Sharing the stage with Bowman hurts his numbers, but with just three missed tackles and some good work in the pass game, he’s the most complete linebacker in the game.
Key Stat: Given up just 0.83 yards per snap in coverage while making a defensive stop on 11.2% of running plays.
15. Roddy White, WR, ATL
The early career bust, White has become one of the most dependable targets in the league, improved all the more by not suffering this year from his usual case of the dropsies (just two). His body control and ability to make catches along the sideline and in close coverage are about as good as it gets, and a big part of the Falcons’ successful start to the year.
Key Stat: Has dropped just 4.08% of catchable balls. That number was 13.04% last year.
14. Peyton Manning, QB, DEN
While nobody is hotter than Manning right now, it did take him a while to get going and that’s why he finds himself this far down the list. No doubt if he carries on playing the way he did against Cincinnati he’ll be jumping up come the end of the season.
Key Stat: Is adjusted accuracy percentage of 81.8% is the highest in the league while this figure on deep passes (55.9%) this higher than any other quarterback in the league.
13. Rob Gronkowski, TE, NE
The fun-loving Gronk has already scored seven touchdowns, forced five missed tackles, and amassed the highest run-blocking grade of the year of any tight end. He’s an every-down threat and contributes whatever the game plan. Those six drops have hurt a little, but he more than makes up for them with the rest of his game.
Key Stat: His 2.31 Yards Per Route Run is the joint most of any tight end.
12. Brandon Marshall, WR, CHI
Sometimes things just work out. Marshall was a contributor for the Dolphins but he never reached the heights that he has in his first eight games in Chicago. The only legit threat in a passing attack that was inconsistent at best before he got there, he’s proven to be the weapon Jay Cutler was desperately in need of. Will always drop passes but his 68.6% catch percentage and 13.5 yards per reception negate that.
Key Stat: Leads all receivers with 2.94 Yards Per Route Run.
11. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
After stellar showings against Indianapolis and St Louis it looked like Aaron Rodgers was getting back to his best. Two unconvincing performances since have you wondering where that guy is who almost led the Packers to an undefeated regular season is. That said he’s not playing badly. His adjusted accuracy percentage of 80.1% is third best in the league and he’s got the Packers to a spot their competitive.
Key Stat: Receivers have dropped 30 passes, the second highest amount for any quarterback.
Turn the page to continue the countdown to Number 1
10. Geno Atkins, DT, CIN
The best defensive tackle in football, Atkins is by some distance our top-ranked tackle and an easy choice to be the first player in the Top 10. It’s not just that he is as good as it gets when it comes to getting pressure, but he’s dominant in the run game as well. He currently leads both categories in our grading and is the gold standard at the position.
Key Stat: Has more quarterback disruptions (28) than any other defensive tackle and is tied for the most stops in the run game (16).
9. A.J. Green, WR, CIN
Missed out on our Mid-Season All-Pro team and promptly made me (who lobbied against him) look rather foolish with another inspired display against Denver. Without any real weapons around him, Green continues to rack up touchdowns and yardage like it’s going out of fashion. Playing as well as anyone right now and has even cut back on the penalties from his rookie year.
Key Stat: Quarterbacks have a 107.3 rating throwing to him.
8. Tom Brady, QB, NE
New England lose a few very close games and people start to doubt Brady. Well the Patriot is behind only one in our rankings, is challenging teams all over the field and not letting the 24 drops his receivers have made get him down. Yet to grade negatively in a game it’s should scare plenty of teams to know there’s more to come from Brady.
Key Stat: 13.8% of passes he has attempted have been over 20 yards in the air. Fifth highest in the league.
7. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN
The Miracle Man. Says he isn’t at 100% yet but is running as well as he ever has. Leads our rankings with the highest rushing score of all running backs. Runs through tackles, cuts past defenders, and is generally unstoppable. Just an amazing talent.
Key Stat: 50.6% of his yards have come on runs over 15 yards (he has 18 of them; most in the league).
6. Charles Tillman, CB, CHI
He just seems to be getting better with age. His ability to force fumbles is quite frankly ridiculous, but that’s not the only reason he’s on this list. No, he very rarely lets players get in behind him and he does it while going up against the opponent’s top receiver. There aren’t many players who can come close to shutting down Calvin Johnson the way he has in his career.
Key Stat: Is allowing just 0.75 Yards Per Cover Snap; second best among all starting cornerbacks.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, ATL
It still feels like some can’t put his playoff failures in the past, waiting for Ryan to fail and the Falcons to falter. Neither has happened and Matty Ice is our top ranked quarterback on the year so far and a leading candidate for the MVP award. Seems to save his best for when crucial situations and has really benefited from a more aggressive offense.
Key Stat: Is averaging 7.9yard sper attempt. Fourth highest in the league.
4. Von Miller, OLB, DEN
Could he replicate his rookie year? Well no, but only because he’s bettering it. At times last year Miller was nothing more than a pass rusher (a very, very good pass rusher). Now he’s a complete player who makes plays at a rate that it’s hard to keep up with. His grade is nearly three times as much as the next best 4-3 outside linebacker.
Key Stat: Has 44 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 226 pass rushes. That equates to a 15.6 PRP rating that is the best in the league.
3. Cameron Wake, DE, MIA
Wake has been very good for a long time. In fact, since the days where he was a situational rusher he’s excelled. Some struggle with increased playing time, but he’s only gotten better and now regularly feasts on right tackles. The sacks are coming so more recognition is as well, but this is nothing new from the former CFL star. He’s always been this productive.
Key Stat: Leads the league with 55 quarterback disruptions.
2. Percy Harvin, WR, MIN
The Vikings finally seem to have caught up to what we’ve known for quite a while. If you get the ball in the hands of Percy Harvin things are going to happen. He already has 542 yards after the catch, a number that is 172 more than Wes Welker behind him. He’s shifty, he’s explosive, and because of the limitations of Christian Ponder, we haven’t been able to see him do consistent damage all over the field. Scary.
Key Stat: Has forced 22 missed tackles as a receiver. That’s 13 more than the next best.
1. J.J. Watt, DE, HST
The top dog. The main man. ‘Mr. Number One’. Call him what you want, but there was really no other place I could go. His lowest grade on the year is a +4.5 and he’s already equaled the record for most batted passes in a year (10). More than a one-tricky pony, he’s an every-down force of nature that is the most productive and destructive player in football.
Key Stat: Leads all 3-4 defensive ends with a 10.5 Pass Rushing Productivity score and a 20.3 Run Stop Percentage.
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