PFF's Top 101 of 2012: 101 to 91
Every year the PFF team gets together, and every year there is mayhem.
Getting six individuals to put together an inherently subjective list of the top 101 players in the NFL in 2012 is a grueling process, but once again we’ve reached our destination.
Now some things are pretty important in understanding the criteria for the 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 an important as a quarterback (there are some exceptions here with more situational roles not quite as equal).
So without further ado, let’s count from 101!
(Last year’s ranking in brackets)
101. Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings (Unranked)
Spoiler alert: Walsh is the only special teams specialist to make the list this year. That makes him the first and only kicker to be selected to a PFF Top 101, and it wasn’t a choice without its detractors. However, when you nail 10-out-of-10 kicks from 50 yards or more you put yourself in with a chance of making this list and the record-breaking Walsh did just that. A truly special year for this kicker.
Best Performance: Week 15 at St Louis, +5.8
Key Stat: His 10 successful attempts from 50 yards or more are the most in any season by any NFL player ever.
100. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens (Unranked)
If this list were built solely on those four postseason games that culminated with the Ravens’ quarterback hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, then Joe Flacco would rank right at the very top. But it’s not, and there were 16 other games that can’t be discounted where Flacco struggled with accuracy for a Ravens team that stumbled into the playoffs. Flacco was truly special in the playoffs, showing the kind of poise and knack for the big play that was integral in his team winning it all.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus New York Giants, +6.8
Key Stat: Owned a stunning 16 touchdowns to zero interception ratio on all balls thrown at least 20 yards in the air.
99. Reggie Nelson, S, Cincinnati Bengals (Unranked)
Jaguars fans will be disappointed to see Nelson here after he failed to live up to his drafting in Jacksonville. Since moving to Cincinnati he’s really blossomed into a fine safety and 2012 was a great example of his growth. His work in coverage was what saw him make this list, finishing fourth overall in our safety rankings after allowing just 231 yards into his coverage all season while having the flexibility to line up deep or in the box, earning just two negative grades all year.
Best Performance: Wild Card Round at Houston, +2.5
Key Stat: Spent 34.1 percent of his snaps lined up in the box. Nelson was more than just a deep safety.
98. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos (80th)
So the playoffs didn’t really go well for Bailey who struggled to stop Torrey Smith getting in behind him. Yet one game, however important it is, doesn’t undo a season’s worth of good work. Bailey was still up to the task of matching up with a team’s top receiver, and he only allowed 40 regular season receptions, including just one touchdown. A fine year with a horrid end.
Best Performance: Week 15 at Baltimore, +4.3
Key Stat: Just 4.27 percent of his coverage snaps ended with him giving up a first down or touchdown. That is the sixth-lowest of all cornerbacks for 2012.
97. T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns (Unranked)
Playing in Cleveland doesn’t always lend itself to having your performances rewarded with nationwide praise. So while you don’t often hear the name of Ward mentioned among the better safeties in the league, don’t think that’s a reflection on what he did in 2012. A real force in the box, Ward is more than just adequate in coverage, allowing just 12 receptions into his coverage all year.
Best Performance: Week 12 versus Pittsburgh, +3.7
Key Stat: Missed just one tackle for every 17.5 he attempted in 2012. That was the second best number of all safeties.
96. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (Unranked)
The scary thing about Bryant is that even with 1,382 yards he could have had so much more. A quite fantastic end to the season shouldn’t make you forget a somewhat inconsistent start where big plays mixed with equally big disconnects with his quarterback. His final eight games though, including that game versus New Orleans, should put all the NFL on notice for 2013.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus New Orleans, +4.2
Key Stat: His five touchdowns on passing thrown over 20 yards in the air were second most in the entire league.
95. Jurrell Casey, DT, Tennessee Titans (Unranked)
You know what you’re going to get with Casey, and that’s one heck of a run stuffer. Sure the glory and the fame go to the guys who bring the quarterback down, but the ability of Casey to not just eat up blocks, but get off them and make plays is near unmatched. A real find for the Titans.
Best Performance: Week 9 versus Chicago, +4.7
Key Stat: His 29 defensive stops in the run game were the third-most of any defensive tackle.
94. Jared Veldheer, OT, Oakland Raiders (Unranked)
It wasn’t a pretty year for Raiders fans but they can at least be happy to see Jared Veldheer develop into a very impressive left tackle. A decent run blocker, Veldheer responded from his disappointing outing against Atlanta and midseason slump to finish the season playing as well as any tackle in the league. With the Raiders not giving him a lot of help it’s commendable that he gave up just five sacks all year.
Best Performance: Week 10 at Baltimore, +5.0
Key Stat: Gave up just 14 combined sacks, hits and hurries in his final eight games of the season.
93. Sam Shields, CB, Green Bay Packers (Unranked)
If Shields had featured more than the 742 snaps he managed then he’d have finished a lot higher, such was the level of his performance. He excelled in press coverage allowing just 47.7 percent of balls his way to be complete while intercepting three passes and deflecting another seven.
Best Performance: Wild Card Round versus Minnesota, +3.6
Key Stat: Was beaten for just 14 combined first downs and touchdowns all year.
92. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens (85th)
The Ravens Rice didn’t get this selection on the back of his running between the tackles. His 1,143 yards are nothing to be sniffed at, but Rice would only finish 19th in our pure running back rankings as he more or less took what the opposing defenses gave up. Where he did excel was catching the ball out of the backfield where he was our top-ranked back and added 478 yards and one incredible fourth down conversion. An extremely important asset to the Ravens.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus Cincinnati, +3.1
Key Stat: Only Darren Sproles had more targets than the 80 he was afforded.
91. Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts (Unranked)
Allen wasn’t even the first tight end the Colts selected in the 2012 draft, but he’s the one who made the biggest impact as a rookie. In an age where his position seems to be moving towards more of a receiver role, Allen was a refreshing reminder that you can still find players that do it all. Earning positive grades in every facet of his game, the third-round pick demonstrated that he warrants being on the field for every down.
Best Performance: Week 15 at Houston, +5.1
Key Stat: Stayed into pass protect on 111 occasions and gave up just four quarterback disruptions all year.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled