PFF's Top 101 of 2012: 80 to 71
Yesterday we brought you the first two installments in our yearly Pro Football Focus Top 101 NFL players of 2012.
In case you missed it, those pieces looked at those player our analysis team ranked in the 101-to-91 range, and others who finished between 90 and 81. Now we move onto those that finished in the 80-to-71 area, but before we do let’s remind you of the criteria we’re using;
– 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)
80. Anthony Davis, RT, San Francisco 49ers (Unranked)
If we’re completely honest, we didn’t see this coming from Davis. He had some big problems his first two years in the league, but it all came together for him in Year 3 as he played his part in the 49ers’ dominant offensive line. There are the occasional meltdowns (such as against the Giants), but for the most part you rarely noticed Davis in the passing game, and couldn’t help but be impressed by his punishing blocks in the run game.
Best Performance: Week 17 versus Arizona, +5.8
Key Stat: Graded negatively in just three of 19 games all season long.
79. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (3rd)
Given that Brees led the league in yardage and touchdowns thrown, this plummet down the rankings must be viewed as something of a disappointment. We all know he’s capable, and there were games where he flashed the kind of talent that saw him finish third last year. But too many costly picks meant he was nowhere near that spot this year, as the Saints and their quarterback struggled to deal with the consequences of “BountyGate”.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Tampa Bay, +6.2
Key Stat: His 1,234 yards on deep passes led the league during the regular season.
78. Brandon Moore, RG, New York Jets (Unranked)
While Moore is remembered for Mark Sanchez running into his backside, he should be remembered for another excellent season from the perennially underrated guard. Even though he gave up just 20 quarterback disruptions and was flagged for only four penalties, it was actually his work in the run game that made him stand out, especially a fine end to the season.
Best Performance: Week 15 at Tennessee, +5.0
Key Stat: Graded in the green in his final nine games of the season.
77. Jason Hatcher, DE, Dallas Cowboys (Unranked)
Of all the players on the Cowboys’ defense, Hatcher isn’t a guy who you automatically think of as being one of their best players. That is changing though after his breakout 2012. Coping with his most significant amount of playing time (784 snaps), by the end of the year you were wondering just why it took him so long to have such a prominent role. Stepped up on every down.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus New Orleans, +4.3
Key Stat: His 42 quarterback disruptions were third-most of any 3-4 defensive end.
76. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (Unranked)
Season 2012 was something of a glimpse at what Graham is capable of, as he got on the field for only 435 snaps. That, and that alone, was why he didn’t finish any higher because he was outstanding when he was on the field. Finishing as the most productive pass rusher in the league, Graham was near unstoppable when he got on the field.
Best Performance: Week 15 versus Cincinnati, +6.2
Key Stat: Turned his 205 pass rushes into 45 combined sacks, hits and hurries. That gave him the best Pass Rushing Productivity rating of any defensive player.
75. Tarrell Brown, CB, San Francisco 49ers (Unranked)
Much has been made of the performance of the 49ers’ cornerbacks as they struggled in the playoffs, but bemoaning the defensive backs doesn’t do justice to the year Brown had. Three picks were never going to grab the attention of the masses, but here’s a player who was targeted a massive 113 times and yet gave up only 69 receptions and just one touchdown. The former fifth-round pick really came good this year.
Best Performance: Week 8 at Arizona, +5.1
Key Stat: The 17 combined interceptions and pass deflections were seventh most of all defensive backs.
74. Daryl Washington, LB, Arizona Cardinals (Unranked)
The Cardinals’ Washington obviously earned a lot of acclaim for his perfectly timed blitzing that saw him walk away with nine quarterback sacks and a further four hits. The downside was that he did miss 17 tackles and was susceptible to giving up some plays in coverage. A true impact player though who has made himself integral to the Arizona defense.
Best Performance: Week 5 at St Louis, +6.9
Key Stat: His 61 defensive stops were the second-most of any inside linebacker.
73. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (Unranked)
There aren’t many things more worrying for a defensive coordinator than watching Jones with the ball in his hands reaching top speed. Capable of getting in behind your defense, taking a screen all the way, or turning a crossing route into a big gain, there isn’t much Jones can’t do.
Best Performance: Conference Championship versus San Francisco, +4.1
Key Stat: His quarterback had a 109.6 quarterback rating when throwing to him.
72. Antonio Smith, DE, Houston Texans (Unranked)
You know what you’re going to get with Antonio Smith, in theory. Lots of pressure, lots of penalties and lots of bad work in the run game. Only Smith largely cut out the negatives that have thwarted his game in years gone by, all while continuing to generate an absolute ton of pressure. Given who he plays with on that defensive line it’s easy to forget about just how productive he was in 2012.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus Minnesota, +6.6
Key Stat: His 47 combined sacks, hits and hurries was the second most of any 3-4 defensive end.
71. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers (Unranked)
The 49ers bell cow was expected to see his role diminished as San Francisco brought in a powerful veteran (Brandon Jacobs) and explosive rookie (LaMichael James). It didn’t. Instead, Gore walked away with a healthy 1,214 yards at 4.7 per carry, responding exceptionally well to the blocking ahead of him. What’s more, he saved his best football for the postseason where his three games saw him return with a +7.3 grade. Nice work all round.
Best Performance: Divisional Playoff versus Green Bay, +3.9
Key Stat: His 16 runs over 15 yards were sixth-most in the league.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled