Top 101 players from the 2016 NFL season
With Super Bowl LI complete and one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history in the books, the 2016 season has officially drawn to a close, and before we lose ourselves in the endless merry-go-round that is the offseason, it’s time to reflect back on the season that was.
For the first time, we are going to release Pro Football Focus’ Top 101 — featuring the 101 best single-season performances regardless of position — immediately after the Super Bowl, rather than later this summer, as we have in the past. That said, the same methodology and input from PFF’s play-by-play grading and expert analysts has been applied to the list.
At its heart, PFF remains a site for player evaluation, and this is our chance to acknowledge the best players and performances from the 2016 season (playoffs included).
Here’s a quick reminder of the basic criteria:
- This list is based solely on 2016 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 performance throughout the 2016 NFL season.
- This list is created with an “all positions are created equal” mantra. So, you won’t see 32 quarterbacks heading the list — even though that is the game’s most valuable position. Instead, we take a look at how guys played relative to what is expected from their position.
- Disagree with the players we’ve included here? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@PFF).
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (2015 season rank: 14)
Super Bowl LI cemented Tom Brady’s legacy and gave him a fifth Super Bowl championship, but his 2016 regular season was something special, too.
Brady ended the regular season with the best grade PFF has ever given a quarterback (99.3), and though his first playoff game — against the Texans — wasn’t stellar, he was once more back to his best in the AFC Championship, and then the Super Bowl, orchestrating the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to take the win.
Brady was both the most careful QB in the league in terms of protecting the football, and the one that made the most big plays on a per-snap basis. He really set the standard for QB play in today’s NFL, despite missing the opening four games of the season due to the Deflategate suspension. This was Tom Brady’s finest season, and to do it at the age of 39 is even more staggering.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Jets, 92.9 grade
Key stat: Brady led the league in both turnover-worthy play percentage (0.9) and big-time throw percentage (3.8).
2. Aaron Donald, DI, Los Angeles Rams (1)
Aaron Donald’s 2016 season flew under the radar a lot this year thanks to how bad the Rams were in their first season back in Los Angeles, but also because he didn’t quite generate the obvious stats to back up his consistent dominance. “Only” eight sacks is good enough for most interior pass-rushers, but a player like Donald would need to be pushing 20 to fairly reflect the consistent impact he has on games.
Donald notched 82 total QB pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), which was the third-highest figure in the entire league, despite playing almost all of his snaps inside as a legitimate defensive tackle, and not on the perimeter where pressure comes easier.
Donald generates pressure at a greater rate than any other interior defender in the league, and when he does so, it tends to be decisive pressure that makes a legitimate impact on the game. Don’t be fooled by his sack total and think that he was merely okay this past year.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. 49ers, 92.5 grade
Key stat: Aaron Donald generated pressure once every 6.1 pass rushes, the best figure of any interior defender.
3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (unranked)
It speaks to just how good Aaron Rodgers is at his best that he can climb this high on the list, given the start to the season he recorded. After Week 6, Rodgers was PFF’s 29th-ranked quarterback, but by the end of the season, he was doing things that only Aaron Rodgers can do, clawing the Packers into contention virtually by himself and putting them just one game away from the Super Bowl.
Rodgers was virtually impossible for teams to defend late in the season once he found his groove, and even when pressured, his passer rating over the entire year was over 90.0. Had he not experienced relative struggles to start the season, we could have been looking at the No. 1 overall player on this list.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Vikings, 93.1 grade
Key stat: Rodgers recorded a passer rating of 93.8 when pressured during the regular season, the best mark in the NFL by more than five points.
4. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders (6)
Generating pressure is often not enough for some when it comes to judging pass-rushers — they need to see game-changing, impact plays. That’s the step forward Khalil Mack took in 2016. He won the game against Carolina for Oakland with an interception of QB Cam Newton on a simple quick screen, and then later by forcing a fumble on a strip sack to seal the result.
No player generated more pressure on quarterbacks than Mack did this season, but he also made the signature plays that Von Miller has made a habit of in the past; those moments had been relatively lacking from Mack’s tape in previous seasons. Khalil Mack was the game’s most complete edge defender this season, and a true impact player for the Oakland defense.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Broncos, 97.2 grade
Key stat: Mack led the entire league with 96 total QB pressures.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (unranked)
Matt Ryan ended the year as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, and came out of the Super Bowl on the losing side, despite a passer rating of 144.1, setting more than one passing record over the Super Bowls PFF has graded. Ryan wasn’t perfect this season, and as was a theme of his year, many of the mistakes he made were hidden by the stat sheet, even in the Super Bowl (taking a sack in a critical situation to move them out of field-goal range, for example). All that said, this was still the best Matt Ryan we have ever seen.
The Falcons QB led the league’s most dominant offense this season and was a markedly better player in 2016 under pressure than he has even been in the past. In the end, Ryan was a play or two away from a fairy-tale ending to his season, but it was not to be.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Buccaneers, 89.8 grade
Key stat: Had a passer rating of 128.9 when kept clean this season, more than five points better than any other player.
6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (9)
About the only thing keeping Jones this low on the list was missing time over the season with injuries, but even in the Super Bowl, we got to witness the greatness of a player that has been at the top of his game, and who is currently the league’s best receiver. Jones has the perfect combination of size, strength, athleticism and blazing speed that defenses simply can’t match up with. New England’s Julian Edelman may have recorded the catch that will define Super Bowl LI, but Jones had the best catch of the game with an incredible toe-tapping sideline grab.
Jones forced defenses to change how they covered him and the Falcons’ offense this season, and was as big a reason as anybody for the Atlanta offense being as good as it was.
Best performance: Week 4 vs. Panthers, 99.1 grade
Key stat: Jones gained 3.23 yards per route run in 2016 (including the postseason), 0.37 yards more than any other receiver.
7. Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens (16)
Making a position switch along the offensive line isn’t the easiest thing in the world at the best of times, but doing so midseason without skipping a beat is remarkable, and that’s exactly what Marshal Yanda did this season. Yanda played six games at right guard before injuries forced a reshuffle on the Baltimore line, and he ended the year with seven games at left guard. Looking at his game-by-game PFF grade. you couldn’t tell there was any kind of change in his role because his performance never skipped a beat. He did miss three games to injury, but in 13 games this season, he didn’t allow his QB to hit the ground.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Steelers, 85.8 grade
Key stat: In 13 games, Yanda allowed a total of six QB hurries and no other QB pressure.
8. Landon Collins, S, New York Giants (unranked)
There is no greater advertisement for the difference finding the right role can make than Landon Collins’ 2016 season. A year ago, he was a rookie disappointment that had floundered as the deep-lying free safety in the Giants’ defensive scheme. In 2016, though, he was moved closer to the action as their strong safety and became reborn as a true impact playmaker. Collins was everywhere for the Giants this year, impacting the run, covering receivers close to the line and even causing havoc as a pass-rusher on the blitz. He had a very real Defensive Player of the Year case and won PFF’s Breakout Player award.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Eagles, 87.2 grade
Key stat: Collins recorded 46 defensive stops over the regular season, eight more than any other safety.
9. Brandon Graham, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles (unranked)
Brandon Graham generates as much pressure as any other pass-rusher in football, but will never get the credit for it he deserves because he just doesn’t finish well enough and convert enough of those pressures into sacks. Graham hurried the opposing QB this season 83 times, more than every player not named Khalil Mack. However, he only got home six times to finish the play then and there. Pressure in and of itself, though, is impactful — and hugely beneficial to a defense. In Week 8 against Dallas, Graham didn’t notch a sack, but he pressured rookie quarterback Dak Prescott 11 times, and was a huge reason for Prescott’s worst game of the year at that point.
Graham can still improve on his finishing, but even if he doesn’t, we need to appreciate the impact he already has and not focus on the area of improvement when evaluating his play — because that way is losing sight of the forest for the trees.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Giants, 93.5 grade
Key stat: Graham ended the season with 17 knockdowns, third-most in the league, to go along with 83 total pressures (second-most).
10. Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore Ravens (unranked)
At his best, Eric Weddle is the best safety in the game, and though his final season in San Diego was not up to those standards, his first in Baltimore was right back there. Weddle finished the year as PFF’s No. 1-ranked safety, though he didn’t get a chance to enhance his case the way Landon Collins did in a playoff game. Weddle was excellent in both run and pass defense, where he ably marshaled a Ravens’ secondary that had been crying out for leadership for awhile. The former Charger notched four interceptions this season and three further pass breakups, while missing only three tackles all season.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Jaguars, 88.7 grade
Key stat: Weddle missed three tackles all season, or one in every 31.7 attempts on the year.
11. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks (unranked)
Seattle’s Bobby Wagner was one of the league’s best run defenders, and a true force for the Seahawks in that area. His ability to read plays quickly, work his way between blocks and still arrive at the ball carrier ready to not just passively make a stop, but to deliver a hit, was unrivaled. He ended the year with 60 defensive stops and allowed just one touchdown all season in coverage. Unlike many off-the-ball linebackers, he was also a significant force as a pass-rusher on the blitz, where he tallied five sacks, 14 hits and seven hurries over the season.
Best performance: Week 4 vs. Jets, 86.8 grade
Key stat: Wagner recorded 26 total QB pressures as a pass-rusher, the most of any off-the-ball linebacker.
12. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (unranked)
There are players who put up bigger numbers than Mike Evans, but none can match the highlight reel he recorded over the 2016 season, and that’s why his grade was always consistently so high. Evans wasn’t just making plays all year as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 target, but he was consistently making ridiculous plays that most receivers simply aren’t capable of. Every receiver can put together an impressive-looking highlight reel over a season — the longevity of that type of performance is always the question. Evans finished the season with an overall grade of 93.3, and was only eclipsed by Atlanta’s Julio Jones after an incredible postseason of play from the Falcon that Evans never had the opportunity to match.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Seahawks, 91.5 grade
Key stat: Was the most targeted receiver in the game, ending the regular season with 168 passes thrown his way.
13. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys (35)
The battle for the best center designation was fierce this year, with three players all making a good case. In the end, what Travis Frederick is asked to do within that Dallas offense is unparalleled. Frederick was the best player on that line this season. and may be the most important. He is routinely asked to execute blocks many centers aren’t within that zone-blocking scheme, and is asked to do so regardless of how good the player is he is supposed to block. His biggest positive this year, in fact, was his play against the best opposition he faced. If you extrapolated his grade against New York’s Damon Harrison (twice), Cleveland’s Danny Shelton and Minnesota’s Linval Joseph — arguably the game’s best three run-defending defensive tackles — out over a full 16-game season, he would still have one of the five highest grades of any center in the game.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Buccaneers, 86.3 grade
Key stat: Frederick did not allow a single sack all season across 1,058 snaps of play.
14. Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos (7)
Any concerns that Von Miller’s play would cool down in 2016 after getting a monster contract from the Broncos following his Super Bowl year were wide of the mark. Miller was once again a beast this year and recorded multiple game-changing performances. He ended the season with 24 combined sacks and hits, with 55 additional hurries also to his name. It’s his run defense, though, that may be the most under-appreciated aspect of his game. Miller led all edge defenders this year with 53 defensive stops, nine more than any other player. He may not be the biggest player in any defensive front, but Miller will impact the run game in exactly the same way as he does the passing game: with quickness and agility.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Chiefs, 93.0 grade
Key stat: Miller recorded 79 total QB pressures over the season, as well as 53 defensive stops (the most defensive stops among all edge defenders).
15. Cameron Jordan, EDGE, New Orleans Saints (33)
Cameron Jordan began the season slowly, with three relatively average games in the month of September before catching fire and burning brightly until the year was over. Jordan was only held without pressure once on the year, and in that game (against Kansas City), he earned strong grades against the run. For the season, Jordan posted 79 total QB pressures, the same number as Von Miller, and was a consistent force against the run game, where at close to 290 pounds, he brings more to the table (literally) than many edge rushers.
Best performance: Week 10 vs. Broncos, 92.3 grade
Key stat: Jordan recorded 79 total QB pressures on the season, the same number as Denver’s Von Miller.
16. Alex Mack, C, Atlanta Falcons (unranked)
The key story going into Super Bowl LI was Alex Mack preparing to play through the game with a fractured leg, and while it’s difficult to fairly evaluate how big of an issue that was, at the very minimum he gets some bonus points for the story. Mack didn’t have a bad game against New England by any means, which, given the injury, was an incredible feat. That performance aside, the impact Mack brought the Atlanta running game in particular all season long speaks for itself. Mack allowed 20 total QB pressures over 19 games this season, including the Super Bowl, and was a key facet in the outside-zone runs the Falcons were so keen on throughout the year.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. 49ers, 88.3 grade
Key stat: Mack allowed 20 total QB pressures across 19 total games including the postseason.
17. Trent Williams, LT, Washington Redskins (unranked)
This season, we were reminded that Trent Williams has the potential to be the best left tackle in the game, but it was the first time we have seen him realize that potential since the 2013 season. Even this year, we were robbed of four games of that level of play due to his suspension, but in 12 games, Williams was a dominant force as a run blocker, even kicking inside to guard mid-game at one point and still moving bodies at the point of attack like he was playing against high school kids.
For the season, Williams allowed 16 total QB pressures for the third-best pass-blocking efficiency mark in the league among tackles.
Best performance: Week 6 vs. Eagles, 85.5 grade
Key stat: Only Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth allowed fewer than Williams’ 16 total QB pressures this season, though Williams did miss four games due to suspension.
18. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos (unranked)
Aqib Talib has always had the potential to be the game’s best cornerback, but in the past, we have only ever seen it in flashes, or for brief stretches before he lapsed and we saw him surrender big plays. 2016 was the first year he put it all together, and went the entire year without surrendering a touchdown. Talib allowed just 53.0 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught, for a passer rating of only 49.5, and for much of the year, quarterbacks were statistically better off just throwing the ball away than they were testing Talib in coverage.
Best performance: Week 4 vs. Buccaneers, 92.6 grade
Key stat: Talib didn’t surrender a catch longer than 26 yards all season.
19. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos (36)
It’s hard to believe that Chris Harris Jr. was once an undrafted free agent, because he has put together strong seasons every year of his NFL career since, earning himself a starting spot by the end of his rookie campaign and never looking back. Harris allowed an average of only 8.9 yards per reception in 2016, and 126 total yards after the catch, despite being targeted 84 times. Harris has the versatility to play inside and outside within the Broncos’ defensive scheme, and has consistently been one of the game’s best defensive backs, making PFF’s All-Pro team this year in the newly designated “defensive back” position.
Best performance: Week 13 vs. Jaguars, 92.8 grade
Key stat: Harris notched 28 defensive stops on the season, two more than any other cornerback.
20. David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers (unranked)
The performance from David Bakhtiari this season in pass protection was staggering. He has always been a good pass-blocker, but he kicked that up several more notches in 2016, taking it to a level I’m not sure anybody outside of Green Bay thought him capable of. He allowed 20 total QB pressures over the regular season, despite blocking for a quarterback that held the ball longer than every QB in the game outside of Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor. No tackle had a tougher role when it comes to pass protection, yet Bakhtiari finished with a of 93.4 pass-blocking grade, the best mark in the NFL among offensive linemen.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Bears, 88.4 grade
Key stat: Bakhtiari allowed 20 total QB pressures across 16 regular season games.
21. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (2)
Antonio Brown wasn’t quite the force he was a season ago for the Steelers, but much of that was a problem at the source, and not at the end of the production line. A season ago, Ben Roethlisberger was one of the best quarterbacks in the game, but he ended 2016 with PFF’s 13th-best grade at the position, one spot below Minnesota’s Sam Bradford. Despite Roethlisberger’s inconsistency, Brown still racked up 1,284 receiving yards and a dozen touchdowns over the regular season and was dangerous enough for teams to go out of their way to scheme him out of the game, as evidenced by how the Patriots defended him in the postseason.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Redskins, 89.0 grade
Key stat: Brown dropped just two passes all season from 151 targets and 108 catchable balls.
22. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott running behind the Dallas offensive line was a match made in heaven, and it cost the Cowboys the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to make it a reality. Given the gamble, they are more than pleased with how it worked out, especially after lucking their way into quarterback Dak Prescott later in the draft. Elliott finished his rookie season leading the league in rushing by more than 300 yards, and averaging 2.9 yards per carry after contact. He averaged over 5 yards per carry total all season, and toted the ball a league-leading 322 times in the regular season, transforming the Dallas offense into a real juggernaut.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Eagles, 86.0 grade
Key stat: Elliott came 68 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards after contact as a rookie.
23. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (unranked)
David Johnson was the only player in the league to top 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season, adding 879 receiving yards to go along with his 1,243 rushing yards. Johnson caught 80 passes as a receiver this season, and they weren’t mere extensions of the same kinds of passes any other running back catches. Johnson’s versatility in that area is so impressive that the Cardinals would split him out as a receiver and expect him to run legitimate WR routes — and win, which he routinely did. Few players are better at making people miss in space, and Johnson forced six more missed tackles as a receiver than any other back
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Bills, 81.6 grade
Key stat: Johnson notched 2,122 yards from scrimmage over the season, the only player to break 2,000 yards.
24. Calais Campbell, DI, Arizona Cardinals (unranked)
Calais Campbell’s career has been spent in the shadow of players like J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald as an interior threat, but this season, he took a significant step towards their level with the best year of his career. Campbell’s overall grade of 90.4 represents the first time he has broken the 90.0-barrier in his career, and if anything, he ended the season stronger than he began it, with six sacks in his last five games, tweeting during PFF’s awards week that he was coming for that No. 1 spot from Aaron Donald. Who are we to argue?
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Seahawks, 88.2 grade
Key stat: Campbell notched 57 total QB pressures and five batted passes when rushing the passer.
25. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots (unranked)
Malcolm Butler finished the year as a PFF All-Pro for his play at cornerback for the Patriots. He was occasionally vulnerable to being beaten, but more than made up for it with big plays and aggressive physicality against dominant receivers, despite not being the biggest corner in the game. He notched 13 pass breakups over the year (including the playoffs), and had nine games in which he allowed two or fewer catches.
Best performance: Week 6 vs. Bengals, 95.9 grade
Key stat: Butler allowed fewer than 20 receiving yards seven times this season (including the postseason).
26. Andrew Whitworth, LT, Cincinnati Bengals (41)
There is no more perennially underrated and under-appreciated tackle than Andrew Whitworth of the Bengals. He ended the 2016 season with the league’s best pass-blocking efficiency score (98.0), allowing just 14 total QB pressures across 561 pass-blocking snaps. Whitworth recorded six games this year in which he had perfect pass-protection games. His run blocking was solid, albeit not the strength it has been in seasons past.
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Browns, 84.1
Key stat: Whitworth was beaten for just one sack from Week 6 onward.
27. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (unranked)
By the end of the season, Le’Veon Bell was having the kind of year at running back that Aaron Rodgers was at QB, making him pretty much impossible to defend. In the end, it took injury to slow him down in the playoffs, and that was as big of a reason as any that the Steelers came up short against the Patriots. Bell averaged 5.0 yards per carry this season including the playoffs, and only Arizona’s David Johnson caught more passes than the 75 Bell hauled in over the regular season.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Bills, 87.4 grade
Key stat: Bell forced 61 missed tackles as a runner and receiver over the season.
28. Matt Paradis, C, Denver Broncos (unranked)
The development of Matt Paradis is another of the stories of the 2016 season. He had been solid a year ago, but there was no sign of what was to come this year: his emergence as one of the best centers in the game. Paradis was a run-blocking monster for the Broncos, but his pass blocking was far from weak, as he allowed just three sacks or QB hits all season, with 14 additional hurries to his name and only four penalties.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Panthers, 89.6 grade
Key stat: Paradis recorded seven perfect games of pass protection this season.
29. Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots (94)
Devin McCourty might be the most important member of the New England secondary, and his consistently impressive performances allow that unit to function regardless of the game plan they cook up for that particular week. McCourty finished the season with the highest PFF coverage grade among safeties (92.4), and is defined by how rarely he makes a mistake, which ultimately is the key characteristic for a player at a position named “safety.”
Best performance: Divisional Round vs. Texans, 88.3 grade
Key stat: McCourty was PFF’s No. 4-ranked safety overall (89.2), but earned the highest coverage grade at the position (92.4).
30. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, New York Giants (unranked)
The Giants brought in two new corners this past offseason: first-round rookie Eli Apple and free-agent acquisition Janoris Jenkins (formerly with the Rams). That left the team in a situation of three players for two starting spots, and caused them to ask Rodgers-Cromartie to play snaps in the slot; he responded with excellent play. Rodgers-Cromartie ended the year on fire, making several crucial plays in the final games of the season. He ended the year with six interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Redskins, 92.0 grade
Key stat: When targeted, Rodgers-Cromartie gave up a passer rating of just 56.6 to opposing quarterbacks.
31. Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins (unranked)
The Miami Dolphins’ season turned around when they put Jay Ajayi in the starting lineup and began to ride him as far as he would carry them — which, as it turns out, was pretty far. Ajayi ended the year with 1,272 yards, but he gained a staggering 900 of them after contact, as the Miami offensive line did little to aid his progress. Ajayi was the hardest back in the game to bring down and stop, as he broke a league-high 58 tackles on the ground — 11 more than any other runner — despite ranking 15th in attempts.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Bills, 94.8 grade
Key stat: Ajayi averaged 3.5 yards per carry after contact, the most of any back with 75 or more carries.
32. Joey Bosa, EDGE, San Diego Chargers
It took too long for him to get on the field, but once Joey Bosa was out there, he set about making all the doubters look foolish, generating pressure at a rate PFF analysts haven’t seen from a rookie over the past decade of grading. Bosa ended the season with 59 total QB pressures despite only playing 563 snaps. He was effective as both a pass-rusher and run defender, playing both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Chargers on the left and right sides of the defense. Simply put, Bosa was everything the Chargers could have wished for in a top draft pick.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Texans, 92.8 grade
Key stat: Bosa generated pressure once every 6.2 pass rushes, a rate higher than Denver’s Von Miller.
33. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (unranked)
This was the best season of Andrew Luck’s career from a personal performance standpoint, and the closest he has ever been to actually justifying the lofty potential that was always thrown around when discussing him as a player. Luck eliminated many of the unforced errors that have always been a big part of his game, and his completion percentage jumped up to 63.5 percent on the year — more than two percent higher than any other season of his career. Luck had a very real Comeback Player of the Year case for his display this year.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Lions, 95.1 grade
Key stat: Luck recorded a career-high completion percentage of 63.5 and raised his average yards per attempt figure to a career-high 7.8 yards.
34. Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks (unranked)
Kam Chancellor is one of only a few defensive backs with the ability to take over games and make a defining impact in them. He can come down into the box and ably fill in as an extra linebacker for the Seahawks, but can also play deep — an attribute he probably doesn’t get enough credit for overall. Chancellor earned solid grades this season in every facet PFF measures and missed just four tackles all season, despite taking on blocks and making attempts at the line of scrimmage that many other safeties aren’t tasked with.
Best performance: Week 10 vs. Patriots, 91.8 grade
Key stat: Chancellor recorded 35 defensive stops, tied for third-most at the position, despite missing four games.
35. Zack Martin, RG, Dallas Cowboys (54)
Tackles were a problem for the Cowboys this season, but the interior was as strong as ever, anchored by Travis Frederick and RG Zack Martin, in particular. Martin was the best run-blocking guard in the game this season, and as a pass-blocker, allowed just two sacks. He was only flagged two times across 1,058 snaps and graded well in all facets of the game. The only blemishes on Martin’s season came when asked to block Eagles DT Fletcher Cox twice (twice); those games produced his only two below-average performances of his year.
Best performance: Week 4 vs. 49ers, 89.6 grade
Key stat: Martin only allowed a sack or hit in three games this season (including the playoffs).
36. Ramon Foster, LG, Pittsburgh Steelers (unranked)
Pittsburgh’s offensive line had become the league’s best by the end of the season, and LG Ramon Foster was the best player on it. The former undrafted free agent was only getting better by the postseason, and was absolutely dominant against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round, allowing no pressure at all and destroying the Kansas City defensive line in the run game. Foster has graded well over the past several years, but he ended 2016 with an overall grade of 89.1, trailing only the best guard in the game, Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda.
Best performance: Divisional Round vs. Chiefs, 86.7 grade
Key stat: Foster didn’t surrender a sack all season (including the playoffs).
37. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (unranked)
Few teams survive with a tight end as their top offensive weapon, but that’s what happened to the Chiefs this season, and Travis Kelce was good enough to get them to the playoffs. Kelce racked up 1,125 receiving yards — the most in the league among TEs — and averaged a massive 7.7 yards per reception after the catch, turning shallow Alex Smith targets into big plays. Smith didn’t throw an interception when targeting Kelce, and it’s just a shame he dropped a key target from Smith on one of the few occasions he went deep against the Steelers in the playoffs.
Best performance: Week 13 vs. Falcons, 94.9 grade
Key stat: Kelce gained 652 yards after the catch, 240 more than any other tight end.
38. Joe Thomas, LT, Cleveland Browns (12)
It says something about the excellence of Joe Thomas that he can have a relative down year and still rank this high on the list. Thomas saw a dip in both pass-blocking and run-blocking grades this season, but was still among the best players at his position, allowing a total of 34 QB pressures over the season, getting flagged only four times. Thomas didn’t have a single poor game, and his consistency was remarkable when blocking for the sequence of QBs the Browns rolled through in 2016 — none of whom help their offensive line out.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Steelers, 84.0 grade
Key stat: Browns RB Isaiah Crowell averaged 7.3 yards per carry on rushes that went either side of Thomas’ blocks this season.
39. Casey Hayward, CB, San Diego Chargers (unranked)
The Chargers signed Casey Hayward in the offseason and immediately gave him the opportunity to prove he was more than just a slot corner. When No. 1 CB Jason Verrett went down, Hayward became the team’s top corner, and responded by leading the league with seven interceptions. Over the season, Hayward allowed just one touchdown, and QBs throwing the ball his way recorded a passer rating of just 53.4, the third-best mark in the league for CBs. That’s not bad for a player the Packers pegged as a nickel corner only.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Colts, 88.9 grade
Key stat: Hayward allowed only one touchdown all season while leading the league with seven picks.
40. Janoris Jenkins, CB, New York Giants (unranked)
Janoris Jenkins was a player who didn’t draw rave reviews from Pro Football Focus a season ago when the Giants paid him big money in free agency. Simply put, he had never put it all together with the Rams, and was still far more potential than actual production. In the 2016 season, though, Jenkins’ performance was dramatically better. His play was highlighted by his coverage of Cowboys WR Dez Bryant late in the season, holding Bryant to just one catch for 10 yards, and forcing a fumble on the tackle the one time the receiver did catch the ball.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Cowboys, 97.0 grade
Key stat: Jenkins allowed just 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught, 11.7 percent lower than his previous career best.
41. A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans (unranked)
A.J. Bouye made himself a lot of money with his play during the 2016 season. Early in the year, he was a player grading curiously well, but he never dropped off, and though there were some inconsistent performances in there, the good was excellent, and came against some top receivers. Bouye allowed an average of just 9.7 yards per reception into his coverage, and notched 14 pass breakups (including the postseason).
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Broncos, 95.0 grade
Key stat: Bouye allowed just 50.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught (including the postseason).
42. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (32)
In order to understand how good Russell Wilson was for most of this season, one must understand just how bad the Seahawks’ offensive line was. It was bad enough that you could probably have stepped in at the position of your choice and not had a noticeable effect on it. Despite this, Wilson ended the season with a passer rating of 93.0, and only really struggled when the O-line had games where the unit went from a significant impediment to prohibitive disaster. Seattle made the playoffs — and won a game — with the worst offensive line in the league.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Bills, 94.9 grade
Key stat: Russell Wilson’s passer rating under pressure was 85.8, fourth-best in the league; he was under pressure on 41.6 percent of his dropbacks.
43. Brent Grimes, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (unranked)
Brent Grimes was vulnerable to getting beat at times this season — surrendering five touchdowns — but he offset that with some playmaking ability of his own, notching four picks and 14 pass breakups. He allowed 54.9 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, and in the final week of the season, had one of the best games by any cornerback over the entire season, shutting down QB Cam Newton and the Panthers’ passing game almost single-handedly.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Panthers, 99.9 grade
Key stat: Grimes recorded 18 combined interceptions and pass breakups over the season.
44. Damon Harrison, DI, New York Giants (77)
Damon Harrison is the best run defender in the league, and if this was a different era, we would be talking about him as one of the most dominant forces in the entire game. His work against the run is on another level, and he once again led the league in run-stop percentage and run stops among interior defenders. He made 52 defensive stops this season, which led all interior defenders, but 49 run stops, which led all interior defenders by 10. Only eight players were able to amass more than half of Harrison’s total, and he retained PFF’s Best Run Defender Award.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Browns, 86.4 grade
Key stat: Harrison made a run stop on 15.8 percent of run plays, 3.9 percent better than any other NFL defensive tackle.
45. Cameron Wake, EDGE, Miami Dolphins (unranked)
Cameron Wake’s performance coming back from a torn Achilles was scarcely believable. The Dolphins had benched him heading into this season, as they expected him to need easing back into his role on defense. By Week 6, however, they had put him back in the starting lineup, and he only got better with more snaps. Wake was one of the league’s best pass-rushers in 2016, despite returning from an injury that is as brutal as they come in terms of robbing players of explosive power.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Cardinals, 90.9 grade
Key stat: Wake recorded at least one sack in nine of 10 games from Week 6 onward (the moment he started).
46. Kelechi Osemele, LG, Oakland Raiders (unranked)
Building through the draft is ideal, but you can put together an incredible unit if you’re willing to spend the right way through free agency. That’s what Oakland did on the offensive line, with Kelechi Osemele the marquee signing a year ago. He was a force in his first year at guard for Oakland, crushing people in the run game in one of the league’s most potent left-sided combinations next to LT Donald Penn. He didn’t allow a sack all season and surrendered a total of 11 QB pressures across more than 1,000 snaps of action.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Saints, 84.5 grade
Key stat: Osemele surrendered 11 total QB pressures in 15 games.
47. Melvin Ingram, EDGE, San Diego Chargers (unranked)
Sometimes all it takes for an edge rusher to realize his potential is time, and Chargers OLB Melvin Ingram has started to justify the first-round pick the team spent on him—right as he enters free agency. Aided by the introduction of fellow edge defender Joey Bosa, Ingram recorded 72 total QB pressures and 33 defensive stops, grading well against both the run and pass and finishing with the sixth-best PFF grade among all edge defenders (88.1).
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Raiders, 88.0 grade
Key stat: Ingram notched multiple QB pressures in every game this season.
48. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (3)
Only missed time keeps Luke Kuechly this far down the list, as for the second season in a row he missed games for the Panthers. Kuechly only played 656 snaps in 2016, but still posted the second-best grade among all linebackers, earning a mark of 92.9. The only player ranked above him earned a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy (Chicago’s Jerrell Freeman). Kuechly is the league’s best coverage linebacker, able to influence plays through recognition and quick action that most linebackers never get close to, and his absence was a big hole for Carolina.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Vikings, 91.9 grade
Key stat: Kuechly missed only four tackles in 104 attempts.
49. Kawann Short, DI, Carolina Panthers (30)
Kawann Short began the season slowly, but by its end, the Carolina interior defender was back to being a whirlwind of destruction in the heart of the Panthers’ defense. Over the second half of the season, he was right up there (in terms of overall grade) with Arizona’s Calais Campbell, trailing only Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald among interior defenders. Short notched 37 total QB pressures and 24 stops from Week 8 onward.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Chargers, 87.0 grade
Key stat: Short notched 38 defensive stops and 49 total QB pressures in the 2016 season.
50. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (unranked)
Derek Carr took another step forward in the development of his career in 2016, and had a very real MVP case for much of the season. An injured finger derailed his campaign, but then disaster truly struck for the Raiders when he was sacked and injured against the Colts in Week 16, ending his season and any hopes the Raiders had of contending in the playoffs.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Saints, 87.9 grade
Key stat: Carr threw 25 touchdowns and only three interceptions when kept clean in the pocket, completing 67.1 percent of those pass attempts.
51. Odell Beckham Jr, WR, New York Giants (37)
For receivers to really have dominant seasons, they need help from their quarterback. No dominant receiver was given less help from his than Odell Beckham Jr, who had to suffer through the worst season of Eli Manning’s career in the past decade-plus. Despite that, Beckham still racked up 1,367 yards, topped 100 receptions and scored 10 times. He broke 29 tackles after the catch, the most among wideouts by six, and would likely have been higher on the list but for an ugly playoff performance against the Packers after his infamous boat trip.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Redskins, 85.6 grade
Key stat: Beckham forced 29 missed tackles after the catch from 101 receptions.
52. Ndamukong Suh, DI, Miami Dolphins (27)
Unfortunately for Suh, his performance for the Dolphins will always be judged against the shadow cast by the monster contract he signed, and not in a vacuum. Since arriving in Miami, though, he has put together back-to-back seasons that have been as good as anything he had in Detroit, and has been consistently strong as both a run defender and pass-rusher. This season, he posted career highs in tackles and batted passes, recorded 43 defensive stops (third among interior defenders), and missed just one tackle all year.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Cardinals, 85.8 grade
Key stat: Suh missed only one tackle in 60 attempts.
53. Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys (58)
Don’t look now, but Sean Lee has now gone three straight seasons playing at least 700 snaps for the Cowboys. The once perennially injured linebacker has finally been able to put together an extended run of quality play and prove that he is one of the best linebackers in the game over a long period, and not just in flashes between injuries. This season, Lee notched 114 solo tackles and 29 additional assists, recording 60 defensive stops (third in the NFL, playoffs included).
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Giants, 95.0 grade
Key stat: Lee recorded 57 defensive stops in the regular season (seventh in the NFL).
54. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (unranked)
With the incredible seasons from Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, it’s easy to forget that it was T.Y. Hilton that led the league in receiving yards, with 1,448 over the regular season from his 91 receptions. Hilton was incredibly productive as Andrew Luck’s top target, catching 63.6 percent of balls thrown his way.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Chargers, 89.2 grade
Key stat: Hilton gained 2.35 yards per route run, third in NFL.
55. Fletcher Cox, DI, Philadelphia Eagles (28)
The move to defensive tackle in a more aggressive one-gap defensive scheme in Philadelphia didn’t quite turn Fletcher Cox into the monster many expected it to, but he had another excellent season in the new scheme, and was an unblockable force at times in the season. The only player to give Cowboys G Zack Martin trouble, Cox racked up 57 total QB pressures over the season, despite seeing his playing time cut down to 75.5 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Cowboys, 85.7 grade
Key stat: Cox notched eight total QB pressures in two games against the Dallas Cowboys and All-Pro guard Zack Martin.
56. Whitney Mercilus, EDGE, Houston Texans (96)
Much like San Diego’s Melvin Ingram, Whitney Mercilus is a former first-round pick now proving his worth after being slow to justify that draft status. Mercilus has now notched double-digit sacks in each of the past two seasons, and he finished with 76 total QB pressures—that mark includes a postseason that saw him average six total pressures and notch three sacks in two games. Mercilus was an impact player for the Texans, who have the opportunity to field something terrifying in a year’s time with a healthy J.J. Watt, Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Colts, 89.4 grade
Key stat: Mercilus generated at least one pressure in every single game this season (including the postseason).
57. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs (52)
Eric Berry continued his fine play for the Chiefs in the heart of the Kansas City defense. Berry earned strong grades against both the run and pass, making 18 defensive stops on the season and picking off four passes. Overall, he did very little wrong, and played well in a role that saw him back deep as a free safety more this year than in the past.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Titans, 87.0 grade
Key stat: Berry played just 18.8 percent of his snaps in the box as a strong safety in 2016.
58. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers (67)
Greg Olsen remained the Panthers’ best receiving weapon, even if the team’s offense and QB Cam Newton, in particular, weren’t nearly as successful this year. Olsen was one of only two NFL TEs to record over 1,000 receiving yards in the 2016 season, racking up 1,073 from his 80 receptions, catching 65.6 percent of balls thrown his way. Olsen was sure-handed and reliable as ever, but just didn’t get the play from his QB that he did a year ago.
Best performance: Week 5 vs. Buccaneers, 95.9 grade
Key stat: Olsen dropped just two passes from 122 targets and 82 catchable passes.
59. Nate Solder, LT, New England Patriots (unranked)
The Super Bowl slammed a torpedo into the side of Nate Solder’s ranking on this list. Heading into that game, the Patriots left tackle was far higher, but his performance in the biggest game of all was a disaster, getting eviscerated by the Falcons’ veteran pass-rusher, Dwight Freeney. Solder allowed 13 total QB pressures in the Super Bowl after surrendering only 10 in the nine previous games heading into it. Over the season, though, Solder was a solid pass blocker and good in the run game, and winning a ring will probably take the sting out of the final performance.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Dolphins, 87.4 grade
Key stat: Solder recorded four perfect games of pass protection over the season.
60. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Houston Texans (unranked)
We are starting to see Jadeveon Clowney make use of his freakish athletic potential, and he is still getting better. He played 870 snaps this season, including the playoffs, which is almost 300 more than the year before, and the second half of his season was far better than the first. By the postseason, Clowney was hitting his stride, and averaged 4.5 pressures across those two games, while making multiple key plays in other areas as well. Clowney is already this high on the list, but his potential remains near limitless.
Best performance: Week 5 vs. Vikings, 87.0 grades
Key stat: Clowney notched 58 total QB pressures over the season (including the playoffs).
61. Marcus Cannon, RT, New England Patriots (unranked)
The development of Marcus Cannon this season has been remarkable, and was highlighted on the biggest stage of all, Super Bowl LI, where he completely dominated fellow breakout player Vic Beasley. Despite the Patriots passing almost all game, Beasley managed just two total QB pressures in 54 pass-rushing snaps, and Cannon continued to dominate on the ground, too. The Super Bowl boosted his overall grade up to 89.4 on the season, enough to rank third overall among tackles—that’s more than a slight bump over the 43.0 he managed a year ago.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Jets, 86.7 grades
Key stat: Cannon improved his PFF overall grade by 46.4 points from last season.
62. Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals (unranked)
Chandler Jones proved to be an excellent pickup for the Arizona Cardinals, and he formed a formidable pass-rushing duo with Markus Golden. Jones totaled 66 QB pressures over the season and ended the year with back-to-back two-sack games. He was a consistent force as a pass-rusher, despite playing 938 snaps, or 87.1 percent of the team’s defensive plays.
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Seahawks, 92.2 grade
Key stat: Jones notched 66 QB pressures in total this season, with multiple pressures in all but three games.
63. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks (55)
Doug Baldwin is the ultimate overachiever. An undrafted free agent in 2011, he has played more than 500 snaps for the Seahawks every season since, and over the past four seasons, proved that he is far more than just a slot receiver, starting for Seattle and notching over 900 snaps in each year. In the 2016 season, he caught 80.9 percent of the passes thrown his way, the highest percentage among players with over 100 targets, racking up 1,128 yards and gaining 5.1 yards per catch on average after he got the ball in his hands.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. 49ers, 90.4 grade
Key stat: Baldwin recorded only four drops from 117 targets and 98 catchable passes.
64. Taylor Lewan, LT, Tennessee Titans (unranked)
Over the first half of the season, Taylor Lewan was the best offensive tackle in the game, and though the second half was more inconsistent, he was dramatically better overall in 2016 than in previous seasons (in the run game, in particular). The one real black mark on Lewan’s season was 14 penalties, more than one of which were extremely foolish and costly. That said, he allowed his QB to hit the ground just twice over the entire season, and it took 10 games for the first one of those to come.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Raiders, 90.7 grade
Key stat: Lewan surrendered just two sacks or hits all season.
65. Geno Atkins, DI, Cincinnati Bengals (17)
Geno Atkins remained a formidable pass-rushing force in 2016, but his run defense wasn’t nearly as strong as it was a year ago, or in his best season of 2012. He racked up a monstrous 77 total QB pressures over the season, but posted only 26 defensive stops compared to 40 a year ago and 47 during that excellent 2012 season. Atkins has one of the best get-offs of any interior lineman, and the leverage to beat almost all blocks. At his best, Atkins is a complete force inside.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Redskins, 86.9 grade
Key stat: Atkins posted 77 total QB pressures, trailing only Rams DT Aaron Donald among interior linemen.
66. Jack Conklin, RT, Tennessee Titans
Jack Conklin’s rookie season was extremely impressive, and even more so when you consider that he was a player that was supposed to struggle badly early in his NFL career when it came to pass protection. While it’s true to say that he (and the rest of the Titans’ offensive line) received more help than other players around the league, it’s also true that he regularly didn’t need it; he allowed only two sacks over the season, was flagged just twice, and run-blocked well over the year. Conklin’s development going forward will be fascinating to watch, because he dramatically exceeded early expectations.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Chiefs, 87.7 grade
Key stat: Conklin allowed two sacks all season.
67. James Harrison, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers (92)
2016 was the year of rookies and old, old veterans, with James Harrison the latest example of a player knocking on the door of 40 years old and still dominating. The Steelers have been trying to replace Harrison for years, but at age 38, he was still easily their best pass-rusher and outside linebacker this season. Harrison posted 38 total QB pressures despite playing only 587 snaps, as it took Pittsburgh until Week 11 to give him the starting spot back. From that point onwards, Harrison averaged 3.9 pressures per game and was the best player on the field for the team’s first two playoff games.
Best performance: Wild Card vs. Dolphins, 92.5 grade
Key stat: Harrison posted 35 total QB pressures and 27 defensive stops in the nine games he started from Week 11 onwards.
68. Mike Daniels, DI, Green Bay Packers (47)
Green Bay’s Mike Daniels is one of the league’s most disruptive interior linemen, even if his raw statistics don’t quite match the production on tape. Daniels had only four sacks all season, but posted 43 total QB pressures and played fewer snaps overall than most interior linemen—664 defensive snaps on the season. Daniels was also strong against the run, though his pass rush was the more impactful part of his game.
Best performance: Week 14 vs. Seahawks, 88.1 grade
Key stat: Daniels posted 43 total QB pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), despite recording only four sacks on the season.
69. Rodney Hudson, C, Oakland Raiders (unranked)
Oakland’s revamped offensive line has yet another member among the top 101 (Kelechi Osemele is at No. 46), and he’s another player that was acquired in free agency rather than the draft. Rodney Hudson was one of the most solid centers in the league, even if he wasn’t as dominant in the run game as some of those ahead of him. He was the league’s best pass-blocker at the position, allowing only nine total QB pressures all season and no sacks or hits on the quarterback.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Panthers, 88.0 grade
Key stat: Hudson surrendered zero sacks or hits on the QB all season.
70. Michael Bennett, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks (29)
Michael Bennett may be the most difficult player to designate a position to in the entire league. He splits his time almost evenly between outside and inside on the Seahawks’ defensive line, where his quickness and child-like pads allows him to knife through the line and disrupt plays in the backfield. As a pass-rusher, he was a step behind where he was a year ago—hence his drop in the rankings—but he still posted 48 total QB pressures on the season, despite missing time.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Rams, 87.0 grades
Key stat: Recorded at least one pressure in every game he played in.
71. Olivier Vernon, EDGE, New York Giants (21)
No player was made to work harder in terms of snap volume than Olivier Vernon in his first year with the Giants. In fact, Vernon’s 1,041 snaps in the regular season were 78 more than any other edge rusher. The former Miami Dolphin played 94.1 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps, posting 39 defensive stops and 86 QB total pressures (second-most overall in the league).
Best performance: Week 4 vs. Vikings, 89.2 grade
Key stat: Vernon recorded 86 QB pressures, second-most in the league.
72. Jurrell Casey, DI, Tennessee Titans (81)
The next two players on this list had remarkably similar seasons, and it’s only right that they are in lock-step in the rankings, with Jurrell Casey’s overall grade of 85.4 narrowly edging Gerald McCoy’s 85.2 mark. Casey racked up five sacks an 51 total QB pressures over the season, and like McCoy, was more of a pass-rushing threat than he was an impact run defender. This said, his quickness and ability to disrupt were there consistently throughout the season.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Jaguars, 87.4 grade
Key stat: Casey recorded 51 total QB pressures and five batted passes over the season.
73. Gerald McCoy, DI, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (unranked)
At his best, Gerald McCoy is one of the league’s most dominant interior pass-rushers, and while we have seen better play from him in the past, he still recorded a strong 2016 campaign. He finished the year with eight sacks and 49 total QB pressures, and his quick burst off the line is still an extremely tough challenge for any blocker to try and handle when they play the Buccaneers.
Best performance: Week 7 vs. 49ers, 88.3 grade
Key stat: McCoy notched 49 total QB pressures in the 2016 season, with eight sacks.
74. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers (unranked)
The 2016 season was a demonstration of how heavily the Green Bay offense relies on Jordy Nelson. Without him in the 2015 season, the unit was in a funk, and early in the 2016 season—as he was working his way back to full health—it still wasn’t quite right. As Nelson got healthy, things began to click, and by the end of the 2016 season, the Packers’ offense was on fire. Nelson led the league with 14 touchdown receptions, catching 97 passes for 1,257 yards and dropping only four balls.
Best performance: Week 13 vs. Texans, 87.3 grade
Key stat: Nelson caught 65.8 percent of the 158 passes thrown his way this season (including the playoffs).
75. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
If it wasn’t for Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard would be getting a lot more attention for his rookie season. He would, in fact, have been the rushing champion himself, instead of Elliott. Howard didn’t start until Week 4 in Chicago, and still ended the season with 1,313 rushing yards, more than everybody other than Elliott. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 3.0 yards per carry after contact, and broke 40 tackles in 252 attempts.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Vikings, 84.6 grade
Key stat: Howard fumbled the ball just once, compared to Ezekiel Elliott’s five in the regular season.
76. Terence Newman, CB, Minnesota Vikings (unranked)
What Terence Newman was able to do this season at 38 years old should not be possible. Only Richard Sherman gave up a reception less often in terms of coverage snaps per catch than Newman, who allowed a total of 31 yards after the catch all year. He did miss some time, but he was responsible for only 245 receiving yards all season, and with only four penalties to his name, there isn’t a whole lot of hidden yardage there disguised as penalties. Newman allowed just one touchdown all season and a passer rating of 62.0 when targeted.
Best performance: Week 5 vs. Texans, 88.7 grade
Key stat: Newman allowed 31 total yards after the catch all season.
77. Bryan Bulaga, RT, Green Bay Packers (unranked)
If Bryan Bulaga’s teammate, David Bakhtiari, was the best pass-blocking tackle in the game this season, Bulaga wasn’t that far behind. What separates the two is run blocking—Bulaga wasn’t in the same ballpark as Bakhtiari in that regard. Bulaga allowed 34 total QB pressures, but was blocking for a quarterback who held the ball for an extremely long time on average, and the majority of those pressures were late in developing, rather than decisive wins for the pass rush.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Colts, 85.8 grade
Key stat: Bulaga was beaten decisively in pass protection on just 1.7 percent of his passing snaps.
78. Jason Peters, LT, Philadelphia Eagles (unranked)
Jason Peters was one of the league’s best pass blocking tackles this season, though his run blocking was more inconsistent, and not quite as dominant as previous years. As a pass blocker he allowed 25 total pressures over the season and had three perfect games in that area. Allowed more than one total pressure just six times over the season, but was penalized a dozen times.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Cowboys, 90.7 grades
Key stat: Peters recorded a pass-blocking efficiency score of 97.0, fourth-best among offensive tackles.
79. Leonard Williams, DI, New York Jets (unranked)
Leonard Williams has near-peerless talent as a defensive lineman, and was deployed all over the defensive line by the Jets, including some time playing head up over the center as a true nose tackle. Williams was excellent in run defense, and trailed only Giants DT Damon Harrison in defensive stops among interior defenders, with 48 over the season. Williams also brings something as a pass-rusher, though, notching eight sacks on the season and 55 total QB pressures.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Dolphins, 88.3 grade
Key stat: Williams posted 48 defensive stops, second-most among all interior defenders.
80. David DeCastro, RG, Pittsburgh Steelers (unranked)
During the regular season, David DeCastro was excellent, but he continued his fine run into the playoffs, and was dominant in the run game against both Miami and Kansas City before struggling more in the AFC Championship against the Patriots. Including the playoffs, DeCastro allowed just three sacks and 25 total QB pressures across 19 games, and was instrumental in the power running game the Steelers employed over the year.
Best performance: Week 10 vs. Cowboys, 89.4 grade
Key stat: DeCastro recorded five perfect games of pass protection over the season.
81. K.J. Wright, LB, Seattle Seahawks (53)
There are few more underrated players in the game than Seattle linebacker K. J. Wright, who can’t even get recognition amongst the LB corps on his own team, with Bobby Wagner occupying the spotlight. Wright, though, is an excellent linebacker in his own right, recording 50 defensive stops and 19 total QB pressures this season. He wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 36 yards all season, and graded positively in every facet of the game PFF measures.
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Cardinals, 90.7 grade
Key stat: Wright missed only five tackles (from 119 attempts) all season.
82. Kevin Zeitler, RG, Cincinnati Bengals (unranked)
Kevin Zeitler has developed into one of the league’s most solid and dependable guards. He has now recorded five straight seasons of consistently-strong grading, and all but one of those years have been well balanced between run blocking and pass protection. This season, he allowed only one sack and 19 total QB pressures across all 16 games, and didn’t allow a sack for the final 15-straight games.
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Browns, 88.8 grade
Key stat: Zeitler didn’t miss a snap all year, playing 100 percent of the team’s 1,087 snaps on offense.
83. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (78)
Drew Brees may not be playing quite at his best, but he is still an excellent quarterback, finishing the season with a completion percentage of 70.0, and a passer rating of 101.7. Brees, in fact, was far better than that most of the season, but two ugly divisional games late in the year dropped his grade significantly. Brees this season was excellent when kept clean (108.3 passer rating), but when the heat was applied, he wasn’t quite the same player, throwing only three touchdowns and seeing his completion percentage fall almost 20 points, to 56.9.
Best performance: Week 6 vs. Panthers, 89.6 grade
Key stat: Brees recorded a completion percentage of 70.0 over the season, one of the best figures of all time.
84. Tony Jefferson, S, Arizona Cardinals (unranked)
The Top 101 list this season has a lot of undrafted success stories in it, and Tony Jefferson is the latest one. The former undrafted free agent was excellent for the Cardinals this season as their strong safety, posting a run-defense grade of 98.0 and notching 35 defensive stops on the season (third among safeties). Jefferson was a rock-solid tackler, missing only five of 98 attempts all year. He didn’t record an interception, but did break up five passes and allowed just 7.1 yards per reception when he was the primary coverage defender.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Panthers, 89.5 grade
Key stat: Jefferson recorded a PFF run-defense grade of 98.0.
85. Brandon Brooks, RG, Philadelphia Eagles (unranked)
Brandon Brooks was one of the most successful free-agent signings of the previous offseason, and had a fine debut season in Philadelphia, narrowly missing out on a spot on PFF’s All-Pro team. Brooks allowed only one sack all season, was flagged three times and earned one of the league’s better run-blocking grades, showing off a complete game that saw him rank as one of the league’s best guards.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Cowboys, 83.9 grade
Key stat: Brooks allowed one sack and two hits on the QB all season.
86. Donald Penn, LT, Oakland Raiders (unranked)
Donald Penn’s season deserved a better finish than it had. He allowed one sack all season, and it happened to be the play that broke the leg of QB Derek Carr and effectively ended Oakland’s challenge for hardware. To make matters worse, Penn was then injured and forced to miss the playoff game in Houston, where he could have tried to minimize the impact of Carr’s loss. Penn was a dominant run blocker all season, destroying people that got in his way and allowing just four sacks or hits on the QB.
Best performance: Week 7 vs. Jaguars, 87.7 grade
Key stat: Penn allowed only one sack all season—the one that injured QB Derek Carr.
87. Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars (unranked)
Paul Posluszny’s career has been a strange mix of awful and excellent seasons, with nothing in between and seemingly no obvious causal link between the two. This season was maybe the best of his career, coming off four sub-par years, and saw him allow just one touchdown in coverage all year; he also recorded 57 defensive stops (seventh among all LBs). Posluszny graded positively in every facet of the game PFF measures, and he wasn’t penalized all season.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Chiefs, 92.5 grade
Key stat: Posluszny recorded 17 total QB pressures on the blitz.
88. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
For a rookie QB to make it this high on the Top 101 list is remarkable, and Prescott could easily have been higher but for a couple of horrendous performances that punctuated his otherwise excellent season. Divisional games against the Giants and Eagles saw him struggle badly, but in other games he was excellent, including the Cowboys’ lone playoff game, where he threw for over 300 yards and had a passer rating of 112.3 when under pressure.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Redskins, 86.7 grade
Key stat: Prescott recorded a passer rating of 116.5 when kept clean in the pocket, throwing 21 TDs and only four INTs on those plays.
89. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (43)
Larry Fitzgerald was another receiver to suffer through significant ups and downs from his quarterback, Carson Palmer, but despite that, he continued to excel, notching 107 receptions and topping 1,000 receiving yards. Fitzgerald was also one of the best blocking receivers in the game, putting the team before himself and doing the ugly work when others won’t. Fitzgerald is now more of a possession receiver than in years past, but he is still an excellent one.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Patriots, 86.2 grade
Key stat: Fitzgerald caught 72.8 percent of passes thrown his way.
90. Ryan Schraeder, RT, Atlanta Falcons (72)
If Ryan Schraeder didn’t have to play Von Miller this season, he would have been far higher on the list, and that game represents his only real bad performance of the season, though his Super Bowl performance didn’t exactly cover him in glory, either. Schraeder’s pass protection wasn’t as strong this season as a year ago, and he surrendered seven sacks. His run blocking on Atlanta’s outside zone staple was excellent, though, and boosted his overall grade to 86.3 by season’s end.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Panthers, 85.7 grade
Key stat: Atlanta averaged 5.6 yards per carry on run plays off right tackle.
91. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks (23)
After the season, it emerged that Richard Sherman had been playing all year with a nagging knee injury, which likely goes a long way in explaining his relative drop in performance—which was still ultimately good enough to put him on this list above many of his peers. Sherman was tasked with tracking receivers in 2016 more than he has been in the past, and still only surrendered two touchdowns all season and allowed 51.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught.
Best performance: Wild Card vs. Lions, 85.0 grade
Key stat: Sherman gave up a catch once every 14.9 snaps in coverage, the best mark in the NFL.
92. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks (unranked)
This season reminded people that Jimmy Graham is still a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses when he is thrown the football. His season was inconsistent, but he had some spectacular catches and big games, topping 100 receiving yards three times over the year, ultimately ending the regular season with 923 receiving yards. If the Seahawks can improve their offensive line, Graham could become an even bigger part of that passing offense.
Best performance: Week 4 vs. Jets, 97.0 grade
Key stat: Graham averaged 5.0 yards after the catch on 71 receptions.
93. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Another rookie makes the Top 101 in this season for first-year players. Michael Thomas was the sixth receiver taken in the 2016 draft, but by far the best in his first year, almost doubling the receiving yardage of Giants WR Sterling Shepard, in second. Thomas caught 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, breaking 20 tackles along the way and dropping only four balls all season. The Saints got him on the field early with a basic route package and it worked out to perfection, maximizing the impact of a potential playmaker from the get go.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Falcons, 88.6 grade
Key stat: Thomas caught 92 of 119 targets (77.3 percent).
94. T.J. Lang, RG, Green Bay Packers (56)
Packers G T.J. Lang had another fine season as part of the best pass-blocking offensive line in the game. Only missing three games kept him from being higher on this list, and while his run blocking wasn’t anything better than average, he allowed just 10 total QB pressures all season long, and they were all hurries (not sacks or hits). He didn’t allow Aaron Rodgers to hit the ground all season from his right guard position.
Best performance: Wild Card vs. Giants, 82.0
Key stat: Lang allowed no sacks or hits all season.
95. Jordan Hicks, LB, Philadelphia Eagles (unranked)
The performance of Eagles LB Jordan Hicks in coverage this season was sensational. The average NFL linebacker gives up a passer rating of 104.0 when targeted in coverage, but Hicks allowed a rating of just 53.7, more than 50.0 points better than average. He gave up just one touchdown all season, while picking off five passes and breaking up another three.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Cowboys, 89.4 grade
Key stat: Hicks allowed a passer rating of 53.7 when targeted in coverage, compared to the NFL average for LBs of 104.0.
96. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs (unranked)
A season ago, Marcus Peters led the league in interceptions, but was nowhere to be found on this list because of how regularly he was beaten to offset those picks. This year, he was a far tougher player to have success against, and still maintained a high level of playmaking, picking off six passes and breaking up another 11. For the season, he allowed a passer rating into his coverage of just 66.0, and his coverage numbers outside of the interception total were better across the board.
Best performance: Week 17 vs. Chargers, 95.1 grade
Key stat: Peters allowed 25 fewer catches and 371 fewer yards in 2016 than he did as a rookie.
97. Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens (unranked)
Justin Tucker’s season was historically good in 2016 for the Ravens. He was 10-for-10 on kicks of 50 or more yards on the season, in a year when extra points suddenly became a gamble for many kickers. Tucker hit 97.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, and the one miss came against the Patriots, where LB Shea McClellin leapt clean over the line and blocked the kick—nothing to do with Tucker.
Best performance: Week 6 vs. Giants
Key stat: Including extra points, Tucker hit on 98.5 percent of all kick attempts this season. The one miss was blocked.
98. Richie Incognito, LG, Buffalo Bills (31)
In 2015, Richie Incognito’s return to the game saw him post the best season of his career, and while he didn’t quite match it in 2016, he did back it up with another excellent season, and was a clear top-10 guard in the NFL. Incognito was a key part of the Buffalo running game, which was one of the best in the league, buoyed by QB Tyrod Taylor’s ability to make plays with his legs. Incognito also allowed 23 total QB pressures all season.
Best performance: Week 15 vs. Browns, 86.6 grade
Key stat: Buffalo, as a team, averaged 5.7 yards per carry on runs going immediately to either side of Incognito’s block.
99. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (unranked)
Matthew Stafford’s revival began last season with the coaching change that saw Jim Bob Cooter put his mark on the team. That turnaround continued into the 2016 season, which was one of Stafford’s finest, outside of a couple of ugly performances. Only games against Houston, Dallas and the second Packers game late in the year dragged Stafford down this list and prevented 2016 from being the single-best season of his career.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. Colts, 84.3 grade
Key stat: Including the playoffs, Stafford suffered from 39 dropped passes, the most of any QB in the league.
100. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill became one of the league’s most dangerous playmakers for the Chiefs in his first season. He was a threat to score anytime he touched the ball, and by the end of the season, had found pay-dirt 12 times—six times as a receiver, three times running the ball, and on three returns.
Best performance: Week 12 vs. Broncos, 80.9
Key stat: Hill averaged 13.1 yards every time he touched the football as a rookie.
101. Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys (13)
Tyron Smith missed three games, which didn’t help his cause, but even when he was on the field, he wasn’t quite as dominant as we have seen in the past, despite the Cowboys being better-equipped to succeed with RB Ezekiel Elliott and QB Dak Prescott. Being ranked among the 101 best players in a league despite missing time hurt, though, remains an impressive feat from Smith, who could shoot back up the list in a year’s time if we see him return to his best form when 100 percent healthy.
Best performance: Week 8 vs. Eagles, 90.3 grade
Key stat: Smith allowed just two sacks over 902 snaps (including the playoff game).
Think we missed someone? See the 10 big-name players that didn’t make the list, and why.