PFF's Top 101 of 2013: 90 to 81
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 best players in a process that strains friendships, features many 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 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 so that 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.
90. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (21st)
In a lot of ways this was the most difficult season Brady has endured in a long while. Losing his top targets either permanently or for most of the season injured left him with a cast of receiving options that represented something of a drop off. So he should be commended for fighting through it to have another fine year even if his performances tended to range from the sublime (check his best performance) to the ridiculous (a -6.6 grade versus the Jets in Week 7).
Best Performance: Week 9, PIT @ NE, +6.1
Key Stat: Brady earned the second-most yards in the league when using play action with 1,527.
89. DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (Unranked)
Jackson had a lot of questions to answer on the field after two less-than-stellar years and a big contract on the books. While he has ultimately been released by the Eagles, it had little to do with his play where he would reemerge as one of the premier deep threats in the league. More than this, he would also lead the league in yards running crossing routes and finished in the Top 15 in terms of screen yardage. Washington fans will be hopeful of seeing more of the same.
Best Performance: Week 15, PHI @ MIN, +4.3
Key Stat: Quarterbacks had a 124.4 rating when throwing to Jackson. The highest of any wide receiver targeted at least 70 times.
88. Trent Cole, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles (Unranked)
2012 was something of a down year for Cole who, for the first time in a long while, began to look human. The underrated edge rusher spent a career productively playing at end so we were among those wondering if he could regain his fine form of yesteryear when switching to the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme. While he didn’t quite hit those heights, it was a fine bounce-back year as Cole led the team with 52 quarterback disruptions while also impressing against the run. That earned him the seventh-highest grade of all 3-4 outside linebackers and a spot on this list.
Best Performance: Week 13, ARZ @ PHI, +6.7
Key Stat: Cole’s 31 defensive stops against the run were second most of all 3-4 outside linebackers.
87. John Sullivan, C, Minnesota Vikings (26th)
He wasn’t able to match his 2012 season as he battled back from offseason surgery. A strong finish to the year showed that Sullivan was more than a one-season wonder and worthy of a spot in the Top 101. After turning his first eight games into a +4.5 grade, he was much stronger down the stretch as he finished the year with six grades in the green (something he replicated with his run blocking).
Best Performance: Week 17, DET @ MIN, +3.1
Key Stat: Sullivan graded negatively just four times all year.
86. Will Hill, S, New York Giants (Unranked)
It remains to be seen when (or if) we’ll next see Hill on an NFL field given his well documented off the field problems that look like ending his Giants career and leading to a third NFL suspension. Which makes it all the more a shame after he put forth a truly tremendous season in an otherwise rotten year for the Giants. Missing just four tackles and getting beat for one touchdown, Hill didn’t make the kind of highlight-reel plays that will wow Pro Bowl voters, but his consistency and lack of mistakes were that of a player maturing on the field. A true disappointment he couldn’t mirror that off it.
Best Performance: Week 8, NYG @ PHI, +3.8
Key Stat: Missed just one of 38 attempted tackles in coverage, the second best tackling percentage of all safeties to attempt at least 25 tackles in the passing game.
85. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati Bengals (Unranked)
You’re never short on words when it comes to Burfict. He would finish 2013 our third-ranked pure outside linebacker and he did that despite being flagged for an incredible 14 penalties. To put that in perspective, the next most was six. But that’s what you have to take with Burfict, the rough with the smooth. Fortunately, the smooth was so impressive you can deal with it as the Bengal became the every-down playmaker many predicted his off the field issues would prevent him from being. It didn’t, though, and he has this ranking to prove it.
Best Performance: Week 11, CLE @ CIN, +7.0
Key Stat: His 0.82 yard per snap in coverage allowed was third lowest of all 4-3 outside linebackers.
84. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals (Unranked)
They said he was too slow and that his problems off the field would prevent him making any sort of impact. They were wrong. Mathieu proved an immediate contributor as both an early downs safety and sub package slot corner. That’s a lot to ask out of any player let alone a rookie, yet you’d never guess that Mathieu was making his debut given his assured performances that saw him pick up just one negative grade. He would likely have been higher but for his season-ending ACL injury during the Week 14 game against St Louis.
Best Performance: Week 12, IND @ ARZ, +2.7
Key Stat: Mathieu picked up 12 quarterback disruptions, 18 defensive stops, two picks and six pass breakups in a season that saw him making plays all over the field.
83. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals (Unranked)
The Bengals’ franchise player didn’t put up the attention-catching numbers he did in 2012, but his play was (in our eyes at least) a step up. Grading out as our fourth-ranked 4-3 defensive end on the year, it was Johnson’s complete play that really impressed us. Not only did he end up with 61 quarterback disruptions (12th most of his peers), but his run grade was only bettered by Rob Ninkovich. That’s why the Buccaneers paid the big bucks for him.
Best Performance: Week 3, GB @ CIN, +8.1
Key Stat: Johnson’s 25 defensive stops against the run were 6th most of all 4-3 defensive ends.
82. Alex Mack, C, Cleveland Browns (Unranked)
The dependable one. Mack has rarely performed at such a level that he would stand head and shoulders above the other centers, but his consistency (he’s never been ranked outside the Top 10 since entering the league) is commendable. What’s more, 2013 actually saw him push for end of year awards with a strong effort that had him with the fourth-highest grade of all centers. Graded in the red just once all year (as Dontari Poe gave him some problems) he was as reliable as ever.
Best Performance: Week 6, DET @ CLE, +3.4
Key Stat: His 751 snaps in pass protection were the most of any center.
81. Sheldon Richardson, DE, New York Jets (Unranked)
There was a lot of expectations on the rookie Richardson and with 906 snaps the Jets weren’t easing him into anything. While his pass rushing production was at times not reflective of how much he was on the field, you can’t say the same with his work in the run game. His nonstop motor and relentless pursuit of plays saw him finish with the second highest run defense grade at his position. A fine start to a career and if he can improve his pass rushing then a higher ranking in future years is to be expected.
Best Performance: Week 13, MIA @ NYJ, +4.0
Key Stat: His 41 defensive stops were second-most of all 3-4 defensive ends.
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