PFF's Top 101 of 2014: 10 to 1
As is the case every year, the PFF Analysis team gets together to discuss who they think were the best players in the NFL last season. 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 2014 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 2014.
– 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 2014 regular season and the final snap of the Super Bowl this past February. Anything outside those dates does not matter.
10. Von Miller, ED, Denver Broncos (68th)
Just another season of excellence as we have come to expect from Miller. Back on a full 16-game schedule, Miller recorded 74 total pressures, the second-best season of his short career in that regard. More than just a pure pass rusher, Miller continues to put his immense physical talents to good use in run defense, earning a grade above +20.0 in that area for the fourth straight season.
Best Performance: Week 10, [email protected], +7.9
Key Stat: Miller graded positively as a pass rusher in all bar two games this season, consecutive outings against San Diego and Cincinnati.
9. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (80th)
Named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year for 2013, Kuechly was actually vastly improved in 2014, earning an overall grade nearly three times as high as last year and racking up 23 more stops than a year ago. Kuechly was more consistent this season and finished strong to lead the Panthers to their second consecutive NFC South title.
Best Performance: Week 1, [email protected], +5.5
Key Stat: Kuechly’s 88 defensive stops this season were the most by a linebacker in the PFF era (since 2007).
8. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks (10th)
Whether or not he should have got the final carry in the Super Bowl will be debated for years to come, but that takes nothing away from Lynch’s season to that point. He dragged them back into contention to get to the Super Bowl in the first place with a stunning display of power against the Packers which featured a career-high 14 forced missed tackles on 25 carries.
Best Performance: NFC Championship Game, [email protected], +4.7
Key Stat: Marshawn Lynch this season became the first back to finish a season with an Elusive Rating above 100 (104.2).
7. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (33rd)
Brown’s consistency of performance and production this season was astounding, his streak of at least five catches and 50 receiving yards stretches back two seasons now and his consistency in grades matches that. What he lacks in size to be a “true No. 1” he more than makes up for with elusiveness after the catch and sure hands, with only five drops against 138 catches this season to go with 18 forced missed tackles.
Best Performance: Week 8, [email protected], +3.3
Key Stat: Brown has earned a positive receiving grade in 30 of his last 33 games for the Steelers.
6. Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis Colts (Unranked)
In 2013 Davis had one enormous performance against the Broncos (+7.8 coverage) which made us sit up and take notice of his ability and in 2014 he produced close to that level on a far more regular basis. A strong playoff run (+4.5 coverage vs. CIN, +6.2 coverage at DEN) only pushed him further up this list as, in those three playoff games, he surrendered only 39 yards on 21 targets, breaking up six passes in the process.
Best Performance: Divisional Playoff, [email protected], +6.3
Key Stat: In his six-year career Davis has never finished a season with a coverage grade below zero; his +27.6 coverage grade this season was a career-high.
5. Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens (Unranked)
For the third straight year a guard has made the Top 10 of our Top 101 list with Yanda this season hitting the heights after a dominant season of run blocking in Gary Kubiak’s zone scheme. From Week 2 to Week 14 Yanda had a spectacular stretch where he earned a positive run block grade every week and had single-game run block grades above +2.0 10 times in that 12-game period.
Best Performance: Week 14, [email protected], +5.4
Key Stat: Yanda finished the season at right tackle (his first starts there since 2010) and showed his quality earning a positive grade in all three starts.
4. Chris Harris Jr, CB, Denver Broncos (64th)
Coming so quickly off the back of a torn ACL, Harris’ season was scarcely believable. A positive grade in every single game, a season passer rating allowed below 50, no touchdowns allowed and less than 400 yards conceded on more than 700 coverage snaps. Throw in that he covered the slot for more than 250 snaps and Harris’ season is all the more remarkable.
Best Performance: Week 5, [email protected], +4.1
Key Stat: Harris has earned a positive coverage grade in each of his last 20 starts and hasn’t had a coverage grade below -1.0 since Week 5 2012.
3. Justin Houston, ED, Kansas City Chiefs (21st)
Sacks don’t tell the whole story for a pass rusher, but Houston’s 23 sacks give a pretty good indication of his level of dominance this season. Six games with multiple sacks certainly help his cause and he was only blanked in terms of pressure once all season, one of only four games with a negative pass rush grade. One of the better all-rounders too, Houston’s only impediment to being the league’s best defensive player is a certain someone who plays in the city that bears his name.
Best Performance: Week 12, [email protected], +7.4
Key Stat: Houston recorded multiple pressures in all but one game this season and recorded multiple knockdowns in nine games.
2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (Unranked)
A full season starter once again and Rodgers was back to his incredible best earning a positive grade in 16 of 18 starts and the highest PFF passing grade for any quarterback this season. Whether by base stats, metrics or grading, 2014 was Rodgers back to his very best.
Best Performance: Week 11, [email protected], +7.2
Key Stat: Rodgers led the league with a passer rating of 115.6 on passes released 2.6 seconds or longer after the snap.
1. J.J. Watt, ED, Houston Texans (1st)
The three-peat is complete for Watt as he tops our 101 list once again. At this point we’re running out of superlatives for him, a once-in-a-lifetime player, Watt has re-written what we thought of as possible at this, or any, position and while he continues to play at this level it’s reasonable to question whether any other player is capable of his level of consistent dominance.
Best Performance: Week 16, [email protected], +16.2
Key Stat: Watt’s 65 combined hits and sacks were more than Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Calais Campbell and Fletcher Cox recorded, combined.
That brings the 2014 Top 101 to a close. Here’s a reminder of the previous entries: