10 guys who just missed out on our 101 best players list
Making it onto a list of the top 101 players in football is an excellent achievement. At times people act like being labeled the 76th-best player in the world is an insult, but when you consider the odds, featuring anywhere on the list is a major accolade for a player.
Even narrowly missing the list doesn’t mean you’re a bad player, and a lot of excellent players just missed the cut because there’s only 101 guys we can squeeze on.
So let’s take a look at a list of ten guys who I wanted to get on the list but just couldn’t find the room. These are the next men up, if you will:
1. Marcell Dareus, DI, Buffalo Bills
The thing keeping Dareus off this list is the feeling of unfulfilled potential about his game. He has been one of the league’s better run defenders over the past three years or so, but he hasn’t really developed his pass rush in a Buffalo defensive system that now does allow him to attack and penetrate. Over the past three seasons his pass-rush grade has been worse year after year, despite generating 10 sacks in 2014. He has the potential to be one of the game’s best, but needs to show that more consistently.
2. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
Another Buffalo player and a guy who maybe came on just a little too late to get on the list this year. Watkins emerged over the second half of the season and became a real force for the Bills, teaming nicely with Tyrod Taylor to give the Bills a great QB-WR connection. I think there’s a good chance Watkins continues that development and improves again in 2016, but there were receivers ahead of him in the pecking order with a much bigger and more reliable body of work to point to.
3. Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Seattle Seahawks
I really wanted to get Lockett onto the list, as I was a huge fan of his play in college for Kansas State in 2014 and expected an impressive rookie year from him, which he ended up having as a third-round pick for Seattle. He proved he can hang as a receiver at this level, and made a big impact as a return man, adding value to his overall performance for Seattle. I expect him to continue his development, and could potentially earn a spot on the list the way Jarvis Landry did this season in a year’s time.
4. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins
At his best, Williams may be the best tackle in the game, or is certainly able to hang in that company, but the last time we saw him play at that level over a full season was 2013. In the two years since he has been good, not great, with solid grades in all areas. He has allowed four sacks in each of the past two seasons and averaged 23.5 total pressures allowed and 10 penalties while not excelling as a run-blocker the way he used to be. If this was a list for talent in isolation, Williams would be on it, but in performance terms I’m waiting to see that 2013 player again.
5. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles is another player whose last truly great season was back in 2013. I know he posted big rushing numbers in 2014, and he had a very good rushing grade that season, too, but he wasn’t the force as a receiver that he had been in the past, catching 30 fewer passes for over 400 fewer yards than in 2013, and he lost much of this past season to injury. Will we see him back to his best in 2016? I just can’t be sure, so he didn’t quite make the list.
6. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert is a guy who I’m certain has the ability to make this list, but injuries are now starting to become a concern for a guy who has missed a lot of time in his short NFL career. At the beginning of last season, he looked like one of the few TEs capable of being a big time receiving threat and blocking well into the bargain, but then injuries struck and derailed what could have been an excellent year. If he stays healthy in 2016, I’d expect him to make the list in a year’s time, but until then it would be putting too much in the faith of that happening to get him on it.
7. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If I could be certain I would be getting the 2015 version of Martin, he would definitely be on the list, and he would be potentially the second back on it, but in four seasons in the league we have seen that guy for maybe one and a half of them. He went missing for at least two seasons of his career and we just didn’t see what he can do. Maybe that was all due to injuries, but either way it’s too much bad tape for me to be confident that he is the guy we saw in 2015.
8. Mitchell Schwartz, T, Kansas City Chiefs
Schwartz may be the best right tackle in the game, a position that is becoming ever more important with the number of high-level edge rushers coming off that side of the defense. This past season he had another fine year for the Browns (before signing with the Chiefs in free agency), and his most impressive outing may have been against Denver, when he limited Von Miller to just a single pressure over the entire game. I think Schwartz has a good case to be on this list, but his 2014 season didn’t match that of 2015, and that was enough to scare me away from the confidence he will repeat that in 2016 just enough to make him narrowly miss out.
9. Cliff Avril, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Avril is just a quietly very effective edge rusher for the Seahawks, and at times you don’t notice the impact he has until he leaves the game, and suddenly the pressure dries up. He generated pressure in every single game this season except the playoff game against Carolina, when he was forced from the game due to an injury (his absence had a big impact on that game). Avril is one of the most consistent pass-rushers in the league, but last season was the only year of his career that he posted a positive run defense grade at PFF, so I can’t expect him to have one in 2016, which makes him a little too one-dimensional to make the list.
10. Brandon Williams, DI, Baltimore Ravens
The best argument for Williams making the list is that Damon Harrison did, and there really isn’t much between the two players. Both are fantastic run defenders in a league that is pass-happy and neither player brings enough as a pass-rusher to get the credit they deserve. In a way they are square pegs in a round league, but while I think the two players are close, Harrison is the better one in my eyes, and the gap is just enough to see Williams miss out.