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With training camps closing down and a new season coming up, the previews, predictions and breakdowns of the NFL are starting to come out. FOXSports.com’s Pete Shrager recently came out with his idea of the 100 best players in the NFL. While he deserves some credit for putting the time to gather the information and invite every NFL fan, analyst, and player to disagree with him, we, as Patriots fans, need to look at the team’s representatives.
Two years ago any of us would have scoffed at a list that put Tom Brady behind Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as the third best player in the NFL. But, after a torn ACL, a Drew Brees comeback story, and another MVP award for Peyton Manning, it kind of makes sense. For now, Manning has won the biggest NFL debate of the past decade: Brady or Manning. He’s coming off his fourth MVP season and his numbers were so good we can’t ignore any category: 4,500 yards, 68.8 completion percentage, 33 touchdowns against 16 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 99.9. And we can’t take anything away from Drew Brees. He embraced the mantra, “the best defense is a good offense,” by carrying a team with a mediocre defense and a weak running game to a Super Bowl upset over the Colts, led all quarterbacks with 34 touchdowns, and has challenged Peyton Manning in the funniest commercial competition.
And then there’s Tom Brady. Last year was a comeback season, and considering the injury he’s returning from, it was a good one. Brady had more yards than Brees (4,398 to 4,388), a completion percentage (65.7) and QB rating (96.2) comparable to Manning’s, and did it all without a running back and while throwing to wide receivers like Sam Aiken and Julian Edelman. For now, he fits as the number three player in the league. But, considering the injury he was returning from and the success he had, he has potential to break out and re-claim his dominance from earlier in the decade, if only for one season.
At No. 28, this unofficial list of the NFL’s best players unofficially ranks Randy Moss as the fourth best wide receiver in the league. That sounds a little shocking, with a young corps of wide receivers coming up including the top ranked wide receiver and sixth best player in the league Larry Fitzgerald, 16th ranked Andre Johnson, 35th Reggie Wayne, 52nd Greg Jennings, 53rd DeSean Jackson, and 70th Calvin Johnson, just to name a few. But, after looking at his 2009 season, you can’t deny him the spot. Moss is ranked fourth behind some elite guys, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith. At 32 years-old, he had 83 catches, tied for fifth in the league with 1,264 yards, and ended the season in a three-way tie for first in the league with 13 touchdowns. And that’s in a season in which the media accused him of taking plays off. As shocking as it sounds when you first hear that Pete Shrager ranked Randy Moss as the fourth best wide receiver in the league, the numbers show that he got this one right.
Yeah, that’s right. Wes Welker doesn’t even crack the top 50. The first-team all-pro wide receiver, best pass-catcher in the game, and hardest-working wide receiver in football isn’t one of the 53 best players in the league. In 14 games last season, Welker tallied enough receiving yards, 1,348, to rank second in the league behind Andre Johnson (the entire Houston Texans offense). In 14 games, Welker caught 123 passes, 16 more than anyone else in the league. On Shrager’s list, DeSean Jackson and Greg Jennings are ranked at 53 and 52. In the entirety of last season, Jackson and Jennings combined to catch just seven catches more than Welker caught in 14 games. Not to take any credit away from Jackson, the game’s next big playmaker, or Jennings, another undersized receiver who faces the same challenges Welker does, but these guys are just not as good as Wes Welker.
Overall, Wes Welker is at the very least a top 50 player, and to rank him behind guys who literally produced half as much as he did last season is just disrespectful. But, the 5’9” 185 wide receiver has always thrived off of his doubters, so maybe Shrager is a closet Welker fan, just trying to motivate him to keep it up.
As a 24-year-old linebacker in his second year, recognition in the top 100 NFL players is an honor for the young Jerod Mayo. But that’s not to say he didn’t earn it. Mayo responded from his Defensve Rookie-of-the-year season with another 100-tackle effort, accomplishing it in only 13 games. In fact, without the injuries, Mayo was on pace to exceed the 128 tackles that brought him award in 2008. The league is filled with talent at the middle linebacker spot, and Mayo is moving forward in his career to compete for national recognition with Patrick Willis, David Harris, London Fletcher and Brian Urlacher. For now, be satisfied that Mayo is getting noticed after a seamless migration from college to the pros.
This is a tough one. Not whether or not Vince is ranked too far down the list, which he obviously is. It’s a tough call as to who was more underrated on this list, Wilfork or Welker. With Welker, it at least makes a little sense. He’s undersized, not necessarily as athletic as guys like DeSean Jackson, and benefits from Tom Brady’s pinpoint passes in traffic to rack up his catches.
But, Wilfork should be listed at least 30 spots higher on the list. A nose tackle’s value is difficult to measure, as he doesn’t tally up very many tackles or sacks and is most effective when opening up holes and consuming double-teams so linebackers can get their tackles in. So, deciding their overall rank among all NFL players is difficult in comparison to other positions. The two nose tackles who rank ahead of Wilfork on the list are the Ravens’ Haloti Ngata and the Cowboys’ Jay Ratliff, for good reasons. Wilfork is comparable in talent and ability to both players, and when considering neither Wilfork nor Ngata are not listed in the top 60 players in the league, it seems that the nose tackle position is a little bit underrepresented in this list.
This is called the ‘why’ guys section simply because you look at their rank on the list and just ask yourself “why?”
No. 90 Cedric Benson had a great season last year, and it was really good to see him finally find a place to showcase his talent. But one good season doesn’t qualify him to be the 90th best player in the NFL. Let’s see what he does from here before making any real judgments.
No. 32 Ray Rice is another great player that is really fun to watch, like Benson. But the fact that he is ranked higher than players like James Harrison, Antonio Gates, Champ Bailey, and Reggie Wayne does not make much sense.
No. 25 Tony Romo can’t win a game that matters.
No. 24 Eli Manning has always been a little bit overrated, and should not be ranked higher than Ed Reed, Steve Hutchinson, or Steve Smith.
And the one real mistake on the list: No. 4 Ben Roethlisberger. He’s played on some great Steelers teams. No one can take away his rings, nor the influence he’s had in the city. But as an overall NFL player, including athletic ability and talent, he does not belong anywhere below the 25 mark. Listing Roethlisberger at No. 4 on the list disrespects Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, and even Brett Farve, who silenced every critic he had by playing an MVP-type season last year.
I’d like to start by pointing out how dead accurate Shrager’s No. 100 pick was with Jay Cutler. He has so much potential that he can’t be left out of the top 100, but had such a miserable opening season in Chicago that he was almost laughed off the list. Placing him there puts him on the edge of recognition as an elite player, leaving him in control of whether or not he falls off the edge or climbs back into the spotlight.
But, while we love to scan these lists and quickly pass judgment on the things we disagree with, they are very difficult and complicated. If anything, this list gives us something to talk about, puts pressure on top tier players to keep playing hard, and gives the the league’s underrated players someone to prove wrong.