10 big-name players that missed PFF’s Top 101 of 2015

How did Adrian Peterson, Ziggy Ansah, and Aaron Rodgers slip out of our Top 101 of 2015? Sam Monson explains.

| 5 months ago
(Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

10 big-name players that missed PFF’s Top 101 of 2015


The PFF Top 101 is now out in its entirety, but as always happens with these things, some excellent players missed the list.

With over 3,000 players suiting up in any given season, it takes a special year to be ranked among the best 101, and sometimes a good year just isn’t quite good enough.

The other issue at play is that often numbers can mislead, and guys who posted impressive statistics didn’t quite match them with their production when the context of play-by-play grading is applied, and you start to break down how those statistics were achieved. So, here are 10 well-known players that didn’t make the list:

1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Adrian Peterson was the league’s rushing champion with 1,485 yards, 83 more than any other running back. He broke 50 tackles and scored 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and may still be the best pure runner in the league with the ball in his hands.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Peterson also fumbled the ball six times, regressing back to his early-career struggles in that area. He gained 4.5 yards per carry, but his 2.3 yards per carry after contact was bettered by 28 other runners. 25 other RBs broke tackles at a higher rate than Peterson, and of course he is bad enough as a blocker and receiver that he effectively is only a two-down player that doesn’t even see the field in the most critical situations for the Vikings.

2. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah had his best season to date in 2015, notching 66 total pressures and 14.5 official sacks by the NFL’s count—14 by our measure—as well as earning positive grades against the run. He forced four fumbles over the season, and was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise underperforming Lions’ roster.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Of his 14 sacks, six of them were clean-up plays, and another three of them were entirely unblocked. Olivier Vernon managed 57 total pressures in the final eight games of the season alone, so Ansah’s 66 over 16 games isn’t that impressive for an edge rusher, and in grading terms, there were 20 edge rushers with a higher grade thanks largely to the kind of pressure they were applying. Sacks are important, but they are not a good measure of pass-rush.

3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Rodgers lost his best receiving options over the season and at times had no open receivers, yet was still extending plays for seemingly endless periods of time. He also made some of the most impressive plays of the entire seasons in terms of Hail Mary passes to keep the Packers alive, including forcing overtime in the playoffs as the clock dwindled. Rodgers threw four touchdowns across two playoff games and just one pick.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

There was just too much bad. Rodgers had three games graded in the red (-1.0 or lower in PFF’s cumulative grading scale) and five passing performances that earned that distinction, which is three more than a year ago. His completion percentage dropped almost five percent from the 2014 season, and as much as his receivers became a problem, Rodgers lost faith in them too, bailing on plays too early and not even trusting that they would come open before they had a chance.

4. Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

As a rookie, Peters led the NFL in interceptions with eight, tied with Bengals (now Raiders) safety Reggie Nelson. He allowed just 50.4 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, the best among all rookie corners, and had an additional 17 passes defensed over the season, meaning he was beaten for a passer rating of just 67.7 when targeted. He also scored two defensive touchdowns.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

His play wasn’t all good; Peters was also beaten for eight touchdowns, most among rookies and tied for second among all corners. He was the most-targeted CB in football by 25 clear passes, and surrendered 939 yards in coverage at an average of 13.6 per reception. He was also flagged nine times. The interceptions stand out, but the negative play the other direction goes largely unnoticed or unremarked upon.

5. NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

NaVorro Bowman led the league in tackles with 129 solo tackles and 22 assists by PFF’s more accurate, retrospective count. He was a force against the run and an extremely active presence in the heart of the 49ers’ defense, playing without Patrick Willis beside him. His 73 defensive stops also led the NFL (nine clear of the next best defender).

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Bowman also missed 19 tackles, allowed 90.3 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, surrendered 604 yards through the air and two touchdowns, being beaten for a passer rating of 110.9 over the season. He had one of the worst coverage grades among all linebackers in a league that has become ever-more pass-oriented.

6. Cordy Glenn, LT, Buffalo Bills

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Cordy Glenn allowed just two sacks all season, despite pass-blocking for a quarterback that holds the ball (on average) longer than any other QB in the league (3.22 seconds per dropback). He had a perfect game in pass protection against the Houston Texans, making a total of five games over the season in which he allowed no pressure at all and was only responsible for his quarterback being knocked down four times in total.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Glenn’s run-blocking was average at best, and disastrous in a couple of games over the season. He allowed 27 total pressures, and his pass-blocking efficiency was only good enough for 11th overall among tackles, behind players like Taylor Lewan and Austin Howard.

7. Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Todd Gurley ended the season with 1,106 rushing yards, behind only Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin in that regard. He broke 42 tackles on 229 attempts and was a big-play waiting to happen for a Rams’ team that has been without one for too long. He also scored 10 touchdowns.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Gurley only played 469 snaps over the season, less than third-down back Theo Riddick managed in Detroit or Danny Woodhead in San Diego. He was barely used in obvious passing situations, and fumbled the ball three times. If we had seen a full season from Gurley, he may well have made the list, but he simply wasn’t on the field enough in 2015.

8. Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Ryan Kalil had the third-highest run-blocking grade of any center last season, and the two players above him both made the list. He was the anchor of a surprise unit in the Carolina offensive line that performed much better than expected, and helped the team get to a 15-1 regular season record (and all the way to the Super Bowl).

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Khalil surrendered three sacks and 18 total pressures, a mark bettered by nine other players at his position, and had his three worst games of the season during the playoff run, adding 12 pressures to his résumé and culminating in the Super Bowl in which he allowed five hurries.

9. Gary Barnidge, TE, Cleveland Browns

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Gary Barnidge was the Browns’ best receiving weapon for most of the season, and made some spectacular catches on his way to 1,043 receiving yards on 79 catches and nine touchdowns. He was the fifth-highest graded receiver at the position, and the four players above him all made the list.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Barnidge also dropped more passes than the four TEs in the Top 101, and his blocking was worse than all of them except Greg Olsen. Unlike Olsen, whose poor blocking only extended to the run-game, Barnidge was also poor as a pass-blocker, surrendering a sack and four more pressures from the 47 plays he was asked to block.

10. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Denver Broncos 

Argument for Top 101 inclusion:

Ware came up big when it mattered, notching four sacks and 23 total pressures over three playoff games to start and end his season on fire, and was a legitimate factor in the Denver Broncos overcoming poor quarterback play to win a championship. At his best, he was the vintage All-Pro we remember from his time in Dallas.

Why he isn’t in the Top 101:

Despite the end and beginning of his season, Ware’s 2015 campaign was one of peaks and not consistency, and he totaled 66 defensive pressures over nineteen games. There were two games in which he was blanked entirely as a rusher, and he managed just 18 defensive stops over the season, including the playoffs—36 fewer than Khalil Mack managed over just sixteen games of the regular season.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • ToreBear

    When reality and statistics diverge, those who argue reality is wrong and must change have left reality behind.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Statistics are like a flashlight. They can illuminate things that exist in reality but that doesn’t mean things can’t also exist in the dark.

      • Tuff Lynx

        Statistics can also be twisted to represent what you want. PFF uses subjective analysis to arrive at their statistics. While there are some control measures in place to help alleviate bias to some degree, there are still issues.

        • Nelson Cobb

          How do they use subjective analysis?? Do they grade players differently?? I’ve gone back and looked at a lot of negative grades I didn’t agree with, and after watching it in more detail, I understood where it came from. I’ve also gone back and looked at some crazy high grades that seem ridiculous, like Aaron Donald when the Rams gave up a bunch of rush yards, but then I saw how dominant Aaron Donald really was and how back others were around him. That dude lived in the backfield last year, destroying double teams all year long, he deserved the grades he got. I don’t ever see any subjective grading, cause it looks as if they grade every player identically.

          • Nick Cortez

            Objective grading would be if it could be quantifiably measured in a lab (that cup has exactly 8 oz of fluid in it). The gradings are subjective because they are based on human observation (even if put to a specific scale). It requires the opinions on the effectiveness of one player’s performance on each play in the hands of a human. This isn’t to say that subjective is bad, but many get that connotation because of the way the word is often used.

  • Rafael Rondon

    MARCEL DAREUS!?

  • SeattleSteve

    So basically just don’t play in the NFC North if you’re a great player.

    • Lavonna121

      as Maria answered I am blown away that anybody able to earn $5521 in a few weeks on the internet . visit this page http://clck.ru/9uR2W

    • Tuff Lynx

      Actually Steve, it is the teams in the NFC North that are not in Chicago that get screwed. PFF has always had a Chicago bias. I really feel that they downgrade the Bears NFC North rivals because they can’t separate their Bears love from what they do.

      • Brandon

        Are you serious? What a silly comment.

        • Tuff Lynx

          It is pretty well documented just google PFF chicago bias and start reading

          • PFFSamMonson

            I’m guessing the same thing exists for pretty much every team in the league. PFF hates your team when we grade them poorly and loves them when we grade them badly.

          • Charles McField

            No PFF just comes up with foolishness. RB is short for running back not receiving back. Both Gurley and Peterson are are the best running backs in the league. Rodgers with absolutely no receiving corp is still a top 3 qb in the league. Ziggy had a great year per say stats and Navarro Bowman led the league in tackles as a linebacker. Remember Zach Thomas couldn’t cover. But you could not doubt his ability. Y’all are grading players on things they don’t have to be great or even good at. So there has to be a method to the madness. And the only method that makes sense is bias.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If I were the cynical type, I would suggest Sam is trying to get those in his fantasy league to pass on Peterson and Rodgers so he can snatch them :)

    • Izach

      Wouldn’t doubt it haha

  • GiveNoFuq

    I get how they graded, but I’d take the good with the bad with AP and Toddler Gurley.

  • Trevor Paulus

    I like PFF’s analysis and insight beyond the traditional stats, but sometimes I think they can’t see the forest through the trees. Above is a list of some of the best players in the league, yet they don’t crack the top 101 in the league? When you’re leaving obvious selections off the list for reasons that seem to be a reach for justification on each player, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the ranking process for this particular exercise…

  • Trevor Paulus

    I like PFF’s analysis and insight beyond the traditional stats, but sometimes I think they can’t see the forest through the trees. Above is a list of some of the best players in the league, yet they don’t crack the top 101? When you’re leaving obvious selections off the list for reasons that seem to be a reach for justification on each player, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the ranking process for this particular exercise…

    • BzBell91

      I like it personally. I think its balanced and consistent. Perhaps you’re seeing them with upside based on what they’ve done before? I’m a die hard Vikings fan, and yes, AP was the rushing leader, and he did score 11 times.. But there were several big moments in big games where he was either ineffective or degrading. So this makes sense to me. Still love him in the backfield cause you take the good with the bad, but i really hope he can tighten the screws a little this season.

      • Trevor Paulus

        I definitely like their stuff on the whole, but can anyone really say with a straight face that there were (at least) 101 players in the NFL last season who were better than Adrian Peterson, the league rushing champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer (and I’m a huge Lions fan, so no homer Vikings love going on here)?

        • Nelson Cobb

          They explain it though. It clearly basically points out how his passing grade is almost non existent. He has no impact in the passing game in a league that is a passing league. He doesn’t block and doesn’t catch passes. There’s RBs who not only get positive grades on 1st and 2nd down, maybe not as high as AP, but they’re contributing and getting positive grades on 3rd down, where AP isn’t. In a complete grading system, how do you expect that not to hurt a player majorly?? Not to mention, they point out how 28 different RBs had a better yards after contract average, and 25 others broke tackles at a higher rate while he had 6 fumbles on top of it. I agree with this, and I’m a Packers fan who is seeing Aaron Rodgers on the list. As fans, all that matters is the flashy total numbers, but there’s so much more to it. Example, one guy could break an untouched 95 yard TD run. Another could be hit 2 yards in the backfield, break 5-6 total tackles on the play and hit a 60 yard TD run, who’s run should be considered better?? People who are only looking at stats, and not watching the games, they’re gonna automatically put the 90 yard TD run above the 60 yard one. If 28 RBs have a higher yards after contact average, 25 have a higher broken tackle rate and many of those have a much better passing grade, why should AP rank over them??

          • Trevor Paulus

            “If 28 RBs have a higher yards after contact average, 25 have a higher broken tackle rate and many of those have a much better passing grade, why should AP rank over them??”

            Because exactly zero of them had as much total production running the football as Peterson did. There were other RBs who were better in various aspects, but, in the end a RB’s job is to run the football and no RB had more rushing yards.

            I think this is a classic example of over-analysis, plain and simple.

          • Samuel Charles

            The fact Peterson is a 1st ballot Hall of Famer has nothing to do with how his performance should be ranked in 2015. Zero.

            Whether his play in 2015 merited more recognition is a different conversation, sliding in irrelevant accolades is part of the problem, and why we see ‘legacy’ picks for the Pro Bowl, especially on O-Line, over and over.

            ps

            This is wayyyyyyyyy too simplistic, why are you on PFF if that’s how you think RBs should be analyzed?: “but, in the end a RB’s job is to run the football and no RB had more rushing yards.”

            Again, i’m not arguing for or against, but you’re not helping yourself by stating ‘the sky is blue.’

          • PFFSamMonson

            Rushing yards is production from the running game as a whole – 11 players – not one guy.

          • Trevor Paulus

            I get that, but I still maintain that when you’re trying to argue that players like Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, and Ziggy Ansah aren’t among the best 101 players in the league then it is a case over over-analysis. PFF does some very interesting stuff and has a ton of great info on players that goes way beyond just the basic statistics that are generally available, but this list is really more of a “Highest PFF Grades” ledger than it is a list of the best players in the league in 2015.

        • Jim Morrison

          First ballot hall of fame isn’t part of the discussion, even if it maybe biases your consideration. It’s only based on the year, and there is a clear explanation for why he’s not on the top 100. Top 100 means your top 3 players on a 54 man team btw.

          • Trevor Paulus

            So is it the top 101 players in the league, or the top 3 on each team, then?

          • Jim Morrison

            It is what they say it is, top 101. I’m just putting it into perspective, given that there are 32 teams, you can still be a pretty damn good player and not be on this list.

    • Phil

      I believe I read somewhere that they dropped certain people lower on this list or kicked them off completely because of the position that they play. Some positions are far easier to accumulate a higher grade than others so I think that that played a major role. QB’s for instance have a much easier time accumulating points because they touch the ball more often then say a CB. If they just put all the players with the highest grades on this list the top players would all be QB’s so that’s where the list gets really messy.

  • Inman

    You do realise Ware missed 5 games right? I’m not saying he had a better season than Mack but to present his “19” games against Macks 16 is misleading at best.

    • anon76returns

      Holy sh*t yes. I can’t believe Monson even tried to put that out here. Ware didn’t make the list because he had negative grades against the run, in coverage, and especially in penalties, to the point that he only had the 3rd highest grade among just Denver’s OLBs.

      But if you want to try and limit it just to pass rushing (as Monson seems to be doing here) then Ware clearly belongs, as he had one of the highest pass rushing productivities in the league. His season wasn’t ones of peaks and valleys, it was one of small peaks, big peaks, and games where didn’t play due to injury. He didn’t have any down games as a pass rusher, and was a constant threat whenever he was on the field.

    • Larry Jones

      Sam: Would you respond to WHY you didn;t account for Ware’s 5 games that he didn’t play? Doesn;t that change his grade?

  • Tuff Lynx

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics. While you may have what you feel are valid reasons for excluding each of these players, I also feel you are playing some games with us here. When I look at this list of players that were excluded I can find one guy that is one your top 101 that is not as good as them. Certainly some, like Aaron Rogers, had a down year, You probably would too if your offensive line was letting 300+ lb behemoths get into the backfield to turn you into mush. I just don’t buy it PFF. Since you don’t see fit to let us see the real stats any more I have cancelled my subscription anyway. All we get from you now is fluff pieces that we can’t see the supporting data to validate. I think it is time I just start ignoring this site.

  • Joseph Daniel von Hoffman

    How did these universally acknowledged great players miss the cut? The most likely reason is because either your system or your graders are bad.

  • Wilbur One

    PFF, you have a problem. No wonder Coach Zimmer thinks you’re full of “it”.

  • Izach

    I don’t mind the grades or their opinions as much as I hate the “we’re right your wrong” attitude that has passively and unknowingly to them taken over their writing as of late. Things like “14.5 official sacks by the NFL’s count—14 by our measure” and “led the league in tackles with 129 solo tackles and 22 assists by PFF’s more accurate, retrospective count” as if to say they are more “OFFICIAL” than the actual official stats, or touting their own horn saying they are “MORE ACCURATE”. It really makes them come off poorly IMO, even if it true they way they present it is very condescending, and I’m not even an NFL stat keeper.

    • PFFSamMonson

      You’re aware NFL’s tackle stats aren’t official, right? They’re not official because they’re not accurate. Ours ARE more accurate.

      Similarly sack stats get muddy when you record half-sacks. 2 ‘official sacks’ can be 2 sacks, or 4 sacks. The players get half credit just because somebody else arrived at the same time.

      There are many issues with the NFL’s stat collection process, it’s a big business after all, so many of the things PFF does have been to rectify these and provide more accurate numbers.

      There’s only so many ways of writing that while acknowledging the different numbers and not having to explain the difference in minute detail.

      • Izach

        But they are official, when used for anything they go by NFL stats, not yours, they are rechecked every week after the Monday games? Their may be issues in how they record but that’s the “OFFICIAL” way they record. I’d love to see sacks counted as solo vs assisted the same way tackles are but that’s not how it’s done, maybe in the future but for now that’s the official way.

        Maybe instead of telling ppl your better just prove it by starting a campaign to get the methodology changed or better yet not say anything and offer to retro-count the whole NFL films collection of previous games so they can “OFFICIALLY” amend the stats.

        • PFFSamMonson
          • Izach

            Quoting an article you are apart of is part of the problem, I understand it easy to do, but the fact you PFF proves its point by pointing to articles that it’s part of the “proof” is like me saying I’m right… Cuz I say so. Again I’m not saying you are actually wrong, just the attitude towards “Proving” you’re always right a bit much.

            Even if Official numbers aren’t kept the best way the fact they post them and use them for future stats makes them official by default as well.

  • Mike

    Leaving Ziggy out of the top 100 is laughable. 3 unblocked sacks? As in blown assignments? Or unblocked because his burst and speed are elite?

    • Mike

      Having watched every one of his sacks (thanks to http://www.prideofdetroit.com/ 2 part series), not only is your review of him asinine, your numbers on his sacks (unblocked and cleanup plays) do not at all match up with reality.

  • Larry Jones

    Sam: How do the 5 games Demarcus Ware missed due to injury drag his score down so low? That’s an insult to our intelligence

  • Rolo Tomassi

    PFF issa da best site