PFF's Top 101 of 2014: 50 to 41
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 2013 regular season and the final snap of the Super Bowl this past February. Anything outside those dates does not matter.
50. C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos (Unranked)
Anderson didn’t get a start until Week 11, spending the first half of the season as nothing more than a bit part player. But when he cracked the lineup and got 44 snaps in Week 10 he didn’t look back, rushing as well as anyone in the league. Despite missing so much time he still had the third highest grade of all running backs for his rushing and forced a fantastic 44 missed tackles in just 179 carries.
Best Performance: Week 12, MIA @ DEN, +5.2
Key Stat: Had the fourth-highest elusive rating of all running backs.
49. Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings (Unranked)
Smith continued his ascent to being one of the best safeties in the league with an effort that would earn him the second highest grade of all safeties. While he did grade positively in coverage, it was his tremendous work against the run that propelled him so high in this list. He is one safety who certainly lived up to the hype being a former first rounder.
Best Performance: Week 4, ATL @ MIN, +3.3
Key Stat: Owner of the second highest run defense grade of all safeties.
48. Terrell Suggs, ED, Baltimore Ravens (Unranked)
At 32 years of age you’d be forgiven for thinking Suggs is ready to be put out to pasture. Wrong. The Raven graded positively in 14-of-18 games with a combination of powerful pass rush and potent run defense. Indeed he score significant positive grades in both facets of the game and, as the playoff showed, even chipped in with the odd play in coverage here or there.
Best Performance: Week 4, CAR @ BLT, +5.1
Key Stat: Only 3-4 outside linebacker to score double digit (+10.0 or above) grades in run defense and rushing the passer.
47. Joel Bitonio, LG, Cleveland Browns (Unranked)
One of the rookies of the year. Bitonio didn’t take long to show how NFL ready he was, with only a couple of negatively graded games in the latter weeks of the season preventing him finishing higher. The second round pick was a boon to an already strong offensive line, fitting in seamlessly with his stellar run blocking catching the eye in particular.
Best Performance: Week 5, CLV @ TEN, +4.3
Key Stat: Only offensive guard to score a +10.0 or higher grade for his pass protection and run blocking.
46. Fletcher Cox, ID, Philadelphia Eagles (Unranked)
Only four 3-4 defensive ends would score a higher overall grade than Cox, who was the standout Eagle on their defense. Logging a frankly absurd 962 snaps, he was relentless despite what the sack numbers might say. A lot of his best work was done in the run game, where his ability to bulldoze through/over/around gaps saw many a running back met with him before they expecting.
Best Performance: Week 10, CAR @ PHI, +6.4
Key Stat: 35 defensive stops against the run were third most of all 3-4 defensive ends.
45. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos (53rd)
Big play threat who proved himself a franchise player worthy of the tag this year. A guy capable of punishing you on a screen pass or making you pay all over the field though he wasn’t quite as productive over the top as he has been. Dropped a little because when the team needed him most, his playoff performance was his worst of the year.
Best Performance: Week 15, DEN @ SD, +4.0
Key Stat: His 2.69 yards per route run were second most of all wide receivers.
44. Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City Chiefs (Unranked)
Looked to be on the outs in preseason but the motivational tool worked a treat after a sloppy week one. From there on in was magnificent, putting together his best year as a pro with a string of excellent efforts that captured the attention of all who watched Kansas City. Would grade negatively only twice all year.
Best Performance: Week 4, NE @ KC, +3.5
Key Stat: Had the fourth highest coverage grade of all cornerbacks.
43. Malik Jackson, ID, Denver Broncos (Unranked)
In the Broncos hybrid scheme Jackson was a weapon to match the situation. Chiefly he did most of his best work in the teams sub package defense but still logged a hearty 578 snaps and in that process graded better than all bar three 4-3 defensive ends. The sky really is the limit for him in Wade Phillips odd front and we’re excited to see him play a bigger role.
Best Performance: Week 6, DEN @ NYJ, +4.1
Key Stat: Graded positively in all bar four games.
42. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos (Unranked)
May have played second fiddle to DeMaryius Thomas but was the more assured receiver in Denver with better hands and an ability to win down the field more than any other receiver Peyton Manning had. His decision to sign on for the Broncos has done nothing but improve his fortune going forward.
Best Performance: Week 12, MIA @ DEN, +3.3
Key Stat: 1.04 drop rate was second best of all wide receivers.
41. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks (20th)
His tackling improved, but not so much it’s still not something that holds him back in our ratings (he missed five tackles in the playoffs alone). Thomas may be the prototypical center fielder with his range and playmaking ability and he once again showed that. Played well enough in the postseason but needed to do more to match his 2013 finish.
Best Performance: Week 3, DEN @ SEA, +4.1
Key Stat: Third highest coverage grade of all safeties including postseason games.
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