PFF's Top 101 of 2014: 20 to 11
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 four 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.
20. Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns
A couple of shaky games aside (by his standards), Thomas was at his imperious best. The picture of consistency since entering the league, he graded positively in all but three games. As ever, with Thomas it’s his pass protection that really stands out, but there’s no denying that the introduction of Kyle Shanahan got him in a run blocking scheme that really played to his strengths.
Best Performance: Week 10, CLV @ CIN, +4.9
Key Stat: Graded positively in pass protection in all but one game.
19. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
His season ended on a downer with the catch that never was, but Bryant shouldn’t be disheartened with his career year. During the second half of the season especially he was near unstoppable. just because the playoffs didn’t go as he might hoped shouldn’t take away from that. A threat all over the field he made many a Sunday tough for a defensive back.
Best Performance: Week 10, DAL @ JAX, +4.0
Key Stat: Bryant had 15 catches on balls that went over 20 yards in the air, a total that had him third among all wide receivers.
18. Aaron Donald, ID, St. Louis Rams
What a rookie year! Donald didn’t start until Week 6 but still managed to not only log 724 snaps but also earn the highest grade of any defensive tackle. That was the level of dominance the former Pittsburgh Panther produced. There was a feeling he was too small heading out of college but his ability to penetrate made him more than just a situational player, with him earning marks in run defense comparable to his excellent work pass rushing.
Best Performance: Week 10, SL @ ARZ, +5.7
17. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Sherman pushed himself into a Top 20 spot with a fantastic postseason for the second year running. A cornerback who has cultivated a fear in quarterbacks, scared to go near him for fear of the consequences, there were only two games all season where he earned a -1.0 or worse grade in coverage. When you are as verbally active as Sherman you need to back it up on the field, and once again he has.
Best Performance: Week 9, OAK @ SEA, +5.3
Key Stat: Targeted just once for every 17.8 snaps in coverage, the second-highest number of any cornerback with at least 200 coverage snaps.
16. Andrew Whitworth, LT, Cincinnati Bengals
How flawless was Whitworth in pass protection? He didn’t grade negatively once all year in this regard and had an incredible 10 games where he didn’t give up any pressure at all. Thats remarkable even when you consider the help the Bengals scheme provides in getting rid of the ball quickly. Throw in some excellent run blocking and it’s amazing Whitworth isn’t more highly regarded around the league.
Best Performance: Week 13, CIN @ TB, +5.1
Key Stat: Gave up just nine QB disruptions all year which was the lowest of any tackle to start at least 10 games.
15. Sheldon Richardson, ID, New York Jets
Richardson had a fantastic rookie year, but he didn’t do enough rushing the passer to convince of his elite merits. Well, his sophomore season was something different, where he was fantastic rushing the passer. His +24.7 grade was second best of all 3-4 defensive ends and, coupled with his outstanding run defense, propelled him to a comfortable second overall grade of all interior defenders. There are no doubts about Richardson now.
Best Performance: Week 14, NYJ @ MIN, +6.6
Key Stat: Graded positively in all but one contest, and never graded worse than a -1.0 in any facet of the game.
14. Jason Peters, LT, Philadelphia Eagles
This was always on the cards the way Peters finished the 2013 season. A fantastic pass blocker (just one game graded negatively in this regard all year) who allowed one or fewer pressures in eight games, it’s his run blocking that sets him apart from other tackles. He’s more active and more dominant than his peers with a rare capability to get an in-game highlight reel with his excellence.
Best Performance: Week 9, PHI @ HST, +6.0
Key Stat: Had the highest run blocking grade of all left tackles.
13. Odell Beckham Jr, WR, New York Giants
Incredible rookie season for a guy who didn’t play in the first four weeks of the year. Beckham quickly made his presence felt causing Atlanta plenty of problems, but it wasn’t until Week 12 where he really hit his stride. Then, spurred on by a catch that will live long in the memory of all who saw it, he was as good as any receiver and well worthy of all the praise that came his way.
Best Performance: Week 15, WAS @ NYG, +4.4
Key Stat: His 2.74 Yards Per Route Run were the fourth-most of any wide receiver.
12. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell showed flashes as a rookie to suggest big things were to come, and he duly ensured that 2014 was the year it happened. Missing the playoffs was a big blow for the Steelers given the ability of Bell to pick up yards on the ground or in the air. A true feature back who can work on every down, Bell can be regarded as one of the top tier backs in the league now.
Best Performance: Week 11, PIT @ TEN, +5.2
Key Stat: In addition to owning the fourth-best rushing grade, had the best receiving grade of all running backs.
11. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Is there a tight end more important to their team? In a word, no. Gronkowski got healthier and the Patriots got better and that’s no coincidence. His blocking wasn’t at the level we know he’s capable of, but his work in the passing game was as good as it gets at his position. A knack for picking up yards and touchdowns, he can break through tackles or simply drag defenders for yards down the field. A fantastic year from the league’s best tight end.
Best Performance: Week 8, CHI @ NE, +6.4
Key Stat: Led all tight ends with a 2.44 Yards Per Route Run number.
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