It is also important to understand that I judged these players based on the players they are today. This means that players like LaDainan Tomlinson, though he has had a great career, are not at that same level and was not included in this list. It is also important to note that this doesn't mean players like Curtis Lofton can get themselves on this list with one big season, and rookies like Brian Cushing and Jairus Byrd just haven't shown what they can do long enough to make the cut. A combination of their career accolades, consistency, and the level they are playing at now was all taken into account. Also taken into account was the player's history with injuries. An example would be a player like Bob Sanders, whose on-field performance warrants him a spot on the list, but his lack of playing time of late may keep him off.
Now, onto the actual list. This list was chosen from a pool of players that included 100 on the offensive side of the ball, 96 on the defensive and 3 punters. The pool was eventually widdled down to 25 offensive players, 24 defensive players and 1 punter. So without further ado, here it is, my personal list of the top 50 players in the NFL.
Notables Considered: Kurt Warner, Donovon McNabb, Carson Palmer, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings, Anquan Boldin, Joshua Cribbs, Vernon Davis, Logan Mankins, Kris Dielman, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee, Robert Mathis, Richard Seymour, Jon Abraham, Vince Wilfork, Jay Ratliff, Aubrayo Franklin, Brian Cushing, Lamar Woodley, Aaron Kampman, James Farrior, Curtis Lofton, Bart Scott, London Fletcher, Lance Briggs, Elvis Dumervil, Shawne Merrimen, Rashean Mathis, Cortland Finnegan, Leon Hall, Al Harris, Jairus Byrd, Antonie Bethea, O.J. Atogwe, Nick Collins
The Next 15: Eli Manning, Michael Turner, Ronnie Brown, Ray Rice, Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith (Car), Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Tony Gonzalez, Andre Gurode, Haoli Ngata, Darnell Dockett, Mario Williams, Antonie Winfield, Bob Sanders
#50 - Jason Witten; Tight End, Dallas Cowboys
The list starts off with the all-time leader in Dallas Cowboys history in receptions, and one of the best players at his position. He has put up at least 80 catches and 950 yards in the last 3 seasons, and is consistently Tony Romo's most looked for target at any spot on the field. Another thing he does well, and something that is underrated about Witten's game is his blocking. I'd say he is one of, if not the best combinations of both pass catching and blocking of any tight end in the NFL, and blocks for a run game that is consistently near the top in the league in most rushing categories.
#49 - Shane Lechler; Punter, Oakland Raiders
Some will tell me that a punter doesn't belong on this list, but when that punted actually plays a large role in a team's ability to win games, I'd say he does. Lechler is one of the more consistent players in the NFL, and consistently bailed out an offense that stalled out deep in their own end many a times. His 51.1 average this season gives him the second best single-season mark of all-time, and his career 47.3 average is the best of all-time for qualified punters. He's a five time all-pro, five time Pro Bowler, and the pinnacle of a position that is slowly gaining more relevance, and a model of consistency that we may never see again.
#48 - Darren Sharper; Free Safety, New Orleans Saints
The veteran proved this year he's still got it, making the Saints instantly better and matching a career high in interceptions with 9. He's created an instant spark for a defense with question marks around it, and made them one of the scariest defenses to play in the sense that they can take the ball away on any play. He's instinctive, smart, and can make the big play better and more often then just about any defensive back in the NFL. He's the active leader in interceptions (63), and also took back 3 picks this year to the house to push his career total to 11, which also makes him the active leader, one touchdown short of Rod Woodson's all-time record.
#47 - Casey Hampton; Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ever good 3-4 defense starts and ends with its nose tackle, and this is no different when it comes to the Steelers vaunted defense that has been near the top of the league for the better part of the decade. Hampton has been purely dominant when healthy, and demands double teams on every play. This is one of the key contributors to the Steelers' ability to send guys off of the edge and create havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Some may say that he's lost a step, but he's still an elite player at his position, and one of the most valuable players to his team's success.
#46 - Tony Romo; Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Romo took giants steps this year, and I'd say put himself into the top class of quarterbacks just under Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He sets career highs in both yards and quarterback rating, but where I think he made the biggest strides was in protecting the football. His 13 turnovers were far and away the best number of his career, and this season marks the first time in his career he didn't throw for double digit interceptions (9). He also got over that big game hump this year, winning three straight games that seemed like must wins in December and then a playoff game for the first time in his career. He's really progressing, and this should leave Cowboys fans with a good feeling about the team's future.
#45 - Randy Moss; Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
Based on pure talent, Randy Moss is a top football 20 player. He has the ability to go up against double, even triple (ask the Miami Dolphins) teams and come down with the football. He's a threat to change the game on every Tom Brady drop back, and can also make that 15 yard first down catch when you need it. That being said, he's also known to take plays off, and can be completly taken out of the game if you frustrate him. He starts running lazy routes, ignores his blocking assignments, and just isn't the same Randy Moss were used to seeing when at the top of his game. He's just too off-and-on to put much higher than this in my books.
#44 - Brett Favre; Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
The old man proved he's still got it, and just might get what he came back for. He turned a good team into a great one, and also put up some of the best numbers of his career. His 7 interceptions were by far his best number in that category, as well as his touchdown/interception ratio, quarterback rating and completion percentage. He's making use of the weapons around him, and running an offense built around Adrian Peterson in a way that we could have only imagined was possible. He became the first 40 year old to start a playoff game last year, and may very well become the first to win the big one, giving the Minnesota Vikings exactly what they were hoping for when they signed the gunslinger last summer.
#43 - Brian Urlacher; Middle Linebacker, Chicago Bears
It's really too bad he got injured this year, or he'd undoubtedly find himself higher on this list. He has that killer instinct that is tough to find in any sport these days, and is the unquestioned leader on that Chicago defense. He can do everything, with 37.5 sacks and 17 interceptions on his career, and seems like he's around the ball carrier at any spot on the field. He's a force on every play, never takes a play off, and he'll do anything in his power to ensure his team wins. He's the type of backer you build around, and the type of player that I want on my team.
#42 - Steven Jackson; Running Back, St. Louis Rams
The only bright spot on the dismal Rams offense, it's really amazing what Jackson has been able to do with such little talent around him. He's a given for 1,000+ rushing yards and around 1,500 yards from scrimmage, and is one of the most punishing runners around who can run right through you or around you. He gives 110% effort on every down, and plays hurt even with no incentive to do so as his team is usually eliminated from playoff contention early in the season. I also think that if the MVP went to who it was supposed to, the player most valuable to their teams success, Jackson should definalty be considered, even if his team has had limited success.
#41 - Asante Samuel; Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
He makes it very hard on opposing offenses to make plays to their big name receivers, and is a threat to make a big play on defense every time he takes the field. The knock on him, and the whole Eagles defense, is he gives up the big play more then he should. This may be true, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's not a top NFL player. His 29 interceptions in the last 4 years, and 70 passes defended in the same amount of time tell me otherwise. He can play man-to-man or zone when needed, and was a key cog to the Patriots dynasty that won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.
#40 - Nick Mangold; Centre, New York Jets
The first offensive linemen to come in on our list, Mangold has been a force for a Jets offensive line that has made great strides and had great success. He's been at the centre of a line that has gained the most yards on the ground this year, and is also a key to keeping rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's mind off of on-coming pass rushers and on making a play. He's also jelled well with Sanchez, making the rookie's transition into the NFL game that much easier. It's easy to overlook the offensive line, but a player with the effect that Mangold has on his team just can't be ignored.
#39 - Antonio Gates; Tight End, San Diego Chargers
He's really 38a) with Clark, as they both are the cream of the crop when it comes to tight ends. With Gates, it's like you know what's coming, but you still can't stop it. You know where Philip Rivers is looking in the red zone or on 3rd and 4 when they need a big play, but defenses just can't seem to stop it. Athletically, he's easily the best tight end in the NFL, and whoever said that he had trouble blocking was lying to you. He may not be an elite blocker from the position, but he can defiantly hold his own when asked upon to block. He's one of the best chip blockers in the NFL, and can be consistently seen making a chip then a big play in the passing game. Just doesn't get much better.
#38 - Dallas Clark; Tight End, Indianapolis Colts
In my mind, he's the best pass catching tight end in the game today. Many will say this has a lot to do with who's throwing him the ball, but at the end of the day, you don't catch 100 balls from the tight end position by fluke. At times, it even seems like him and Manning are toying with defense's, and he's a big reason they are consistently at the top of the NFL in 3rd down%. He's basically a wide receiver in a tight ends body, and runs crisp, clean routes like I haven't seen out of a tight end before. He's also an asset in the running game, as he can block better than most give him credit for. He's just a complete player, and you can't ask for much more from the tight end position.
#37 - Pat Williams; Defensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings
What he does for the Minnesota Vikings defense can't be completely explained by number. There is a reason that the Vikings defense can do so many things in pass coverage, only having to send 4 guys to be successful, and it can be attested to both Pat and Kevin Williams. Although Pat may be getting a bit long in the tooth, he's still effective, and still demands the attention of every offensive co-coordinator who knows they have to deal with him the next week. He demands the attention of more than one blocker, and is just everything and more that you look for in a tackle. There's a reason he's been so good for so long.
#36 - Maurice Jones-Drew; Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
The man was given the chance to prove he can be an every-down, feature back, and he didn't disappoint. He put up 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns along with 53 catches for 374 yards and another score, completely putting to rest any reason to not call him an every-down back. His size held no relevance, like many thought it would, and his durability also held up as he stayed relatively healthy all year. He played hard every down and I think should have seen the ball even more then he did. Another thing about his game that I absolutely love is his underrated ability to block.. just ask Shawne Merrimen.
#35 - Reggie Wayne; Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts
He was patient, he learned from one of the greatest of all-time, played second fiddle to him for years, but now his time has come. No one can claim to be as consistent as Reggie in today's NFL, as only one receiver (Donald Driver) can match his current streak of 6 straight years of at least 1,000 yards. He can't, however, match the 52 touchdowns he's put up over that period of time. He runs some of the best routes in the game today as well, and can be counted on to play the role of the possesion guy, or the deep-threat. He has developed into a top tier receiver in today's NFL, and should be there for years to come.
#34 - Shaun Rogers; Defensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns
Some may say this is a bit of a stretch, but I truly think he is a top 35 talent. He takes up two blockers, stops the run and pressures the passer, and can become a dominant force at any point in the game. He plays the nose tackle position as good as anyone else, and can completely take over a game on defense. It's a real shame he's played for the lowly Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns over his career, or people would really see how good he can be. Heck, he could be even higher then this in my books if he didn't take the occasional play off, or wasn't so frequently found in situations where the coach doesn't like him.
#33 - Julius Peppers; Defensive End, Carolina Panthers
Maybe I should have put Peppers a little bit higher, but that 2.5 sack debacle a couple seasons back, all stemming from a disagreement with management, really put me off. The fact is, however, that when he's in the game and wanting to play, he can't be stopped. You might be able to contain him, but you will not go a full game without him making a meaningful play against you. Athletically, he's a freak, even coming down with the occasional interception and he plays the run exceptionally well for a guy many consider to be a pure pass rusher. He's got a knack for knocking passes down, defending at least 5 passes for the last 5 years and never dipping below 3. Just a special talent that you don't see every day, and one of the few who can change the game by himself.
#32 - Aaron Rodgers; Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
From what I saw this year, and I think this kid can be something special. The way he makes time for himself to make plays, and puts the ball in a spot that gives his receivers a chance every time is something you just don't see all that much. He put up ridiculous numbers, and did it while getting sacked the most of any quarterback in the NFL. He led his team to the playoffs for the first time since the Brett Favre departure, and was about 5 yards to far downfield from winning his first ever playoff game. A game where he put up huge numbers, made a nice comeback, and showed that he can flat out play. He'll be a top NFL quarterback for years to come.
#31 - Philip Rivers; Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
Like Rodgers, another guy who should be a perennial Pro Bowler, and has truly become a top quarterback in the NFL. Even with that awkward delivery, he seemingly effortlessly finds his big targets in traffic, and can put up the numbers with the best of them. He win's game, putting together a career 33-15-0 record, has thrown for at least 20 touchdowns the last 4 years, and 25+ touchdowns and 4,000+ yards in the last 2. He gives you the feeling that the Chargers are never out of the game, and had it not been for his playoff troubles with talented teams, I'd have put him up even a little higher than this.
#30 - Alan Faneca; Offensive Guard, New York Jets
Just one of the most solid, consistent players in the NFL. He's really the pinnacle of the left guard position, and has been for years. He's blocked for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they were near the top of the league in rushing, and now does the same for the Jets. He, like Mangold, has also made the transition to the NFL a much easier one for Mark Sanchez, giving him more time to make his reads and make plays. He's just a force who's been successful wherever he goes, and makes any team that he's a part of instantly better.
#29 - Champ Bailey; Cornerback, Denver Broncos
Some say he's lost a step, and they may very well be right, but he's still a top shut-down man, and one of the best corners around. He's also still the best player on that defense, and the numbers prove that. Sure, his picks over the last couple years are down, basically because teams learned after the two previous seasons where he picked 18 passes that it's just not worth it. The thing I like most about his game though is that he possesses the ability to take that top receiver man-to-man and limit him, or play a zone coverage and force teams to go away from the zone he's running. He's just a competitor and one of the few guys in any defensive backfield that many offensive coordinators will tell you they have to game-plan for before facing him.
#28 - Dwight Freeney; Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts
It's really too bad that he can't seem to stay healthy for a full year, or maybe we could see what he's really capable of. The last time he was completely healthy, we watched him tear up the NFL and take it by storm, putting up 16.0 sacks. He's got the natural ability to rush the passer, and does so just as good if not better than anyone else in the NFL, with one of the best finesse moves around in the game. If he stayed healthy more than he does, and shored up his play on non-passing downs, he'd move way up on this list and probably be the best defensive end in the NFL, in one humble mans opinion.
#27 - Ben Roethlisberger; Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
It may not be pretty, but the big man wins games. He's got a career 60-27-0 record as a starting quarterback and an even more impressive 8-2 record come playoff time. Some argue with me that he didn't put up the numbers to be this high, or his defense won those Super Bowls, but I the fact of the matter is he wins. Whether it be a terrible game like his Super Bowl matchup with the Seahawks, or an epic last drive to win the big one last year against the Cardinals, he always seems to find a way to win. Add to that some numbers that really aren't all that bad, posting a career high in yards (4,328), completions (337) and completion percentage (66.6%) this year, and has posted two seasons with at least a 100.00+ quarterback rating. Just a winner who anyone would be lucky to have on their team.
#26 - Jon Beason; Middle Linebacker, Carolina Panthers
If I had to give an award to the player that I feel is the most underrated player in the NFL, Jon Beason would defiantly be in the conversation. He just does anything that a middle linebacker should do, and more, and is one of the main reasons the Panthers defense is as stout as it is. He's got at least 138 tackles in his three seasons, and also picked off and sacked the opposing quarterback three times this year. He's seemingly in on every play, and has enough speed to go sideline to sideline to chase down any ball carrier, and then the strength to take down any ball carrier. He's also one of the surest tacklers in the NFL, and he should be a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.
#25 - Jeff Saturday; Centre, Indianapolis Colts
The leader of an offensive line that has blocked for one of the best signal callers of all-time, Saturday has just cemented himself as the cream of the crop when it comes to the centre position. Something that is really underrated about his game, and the game of every offensive linemen on the Indianapolis Colts, is the difficulty that comes with protecting Peyton Manning. It's well documented that he expects the most out of his offense, with his constant changing plays at the lines and adjusting blocking schemes, but Saturday is the leader of a line that constantly does it, and keeps Peyton on his feet and gives him time to make the plays he makes. Just a stand-up guy and a stand up player.
#24 - Kris Jenkins; Defensive Tackle, New York Jets
I think no one will agree with me here, but I do believe he deserves to be in the top 25 for a couple of reasons. For starters, he is one of the best around for demanding double teams, and causes a lot of confusion for offensive lines as to who's blocking assignment is who's. This opens things up for the Jets to run some of the exotic blitzes they do, and make them one of the most dangerous defenses around. The other thing I love about Jenkins is his ability to get pressure on quarterback. I don't mean he's really a sack master or anything, but he has knacks for collapsing the pocket on the opposing team. He's just a really big nuisance for opposing offenses, forces them to work around him and causes problems that most teams didn't expect to have.
#23 - Ray Lewis; Middle Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
One of the best defenders to ever take to an NFL field, he has played with the most intensity and passion that I have ever seen out of a football player. He's got some tread on the tires, but he's still one of the better linebackers in the game, and also one of the best tacklers around. He's never finished below 117 tackles when staying healthy for the whole year, and seems to always make the big tackle. He's led one of the best defense's of all-time all the way to the Super Bowl, and has been a key player in the success that the Ravens have had since he's got there. A perennial Pro Bowler and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, I still think he's got a little bit in him.
#22 - Adrian Wilson; Strong Safety, Arizona Cardinals
The second coming of Bob Sanders, only this guy has some ball skills. He's usually used around the line of scrimmage and stopping run plays and making big hits, but when called upon can back up into coverage and make plays. His overall productivity can be shown in his stat line from the last two years. 149 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 18 passes deflected and 7 interceptions. That's one balanced line for a safety; especially one whom many think is one dimensional. He's just the heart and soul of that defense, and is one of the best playmakers on his side of the ball in the NFL. Nice to see him getting some public credit with the Pro Bowl bid, and maybe people are finally seeing the all-around player Wilson is.
#21 - Albert Haynesworth; Defensive Tackle, Washington Redskins
The man can be a force, just a downright force. He has the ability to completely take over a game on defense, and also possesses the ability to force offenses to change their game-plan in the middle of the game. He can take up two, even three blockers at times and collapses the pocket better than pretty much every player in the NFL, making both running and passing the ball much more difficult on offense. The only thing stopping him from being a top 15, even 10 player is the fact that he CAN be one, and that he doesn't always play this way. He seems to just take plays off at points and doesn't give all he's got to earn that big contract. It's really a shame, and I hope he can play with that form every down and help turn around a struggling Redskin's franchise.
#20 - Larry Fitzgerald; Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
Personally, that playoff performance is what sold me on him being one of the best receivers, if not players in the NFL. To come up that big when it matters the most is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen. However, that is not all he has going for him, as he's put up 293 catches for 3,932 yards and 35 touchdowns his last three years, and if you take his last four healthy years his stats look something like 396 catches for 5,341 yards and 45 touchdowns (averages out to 99 catches for 1,335 yards and about 11 touchdowns). What's even more astonishing is how he put together those numbers. He can go up and get any ball over anybody in the NFL, has some of the best hands the game has ever seen, and can play the deep threat role and the possession role with the same level of excellence. Just a level of talent you don't see every day.
#19 - Charles Woodson; Cornerback, Green Bay Packers
The top 20 is kicked off with the reigning defensive player of the year, who proved this year he belongs among the elite corners in the NFL. He can tackle (74; top 10 amongst corners), pick the opposing quarterback off (9; tied for 1st amongst corners), defend passes (27; 5th amongst corners) and also force fumbles (4; 2nd amongst corners). He just plays one of the best all-around games of any player at any positions, and is a game changer who can make the big play at any time. He was a key cog in the Packers 2nd ranked defense, which was 5th against the pass, and the leader on that same defense that caused the most turnovers of any unit in the NFL. A competitor who comes to play on every down, and one that all opposing quarterbacks must make sure is accounted for when throwing the ball.
#18 - Jared Allen; Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings
Let's just say that he matches his intensity with his play on the field, and that's saying something. There is no one in the league, other then maybe DeMarcus Ware, who can get to the quarterback with the same efficiency and consistency as this guy. This goes beyond the sacks as well (a very impressive 44.5 in his last three years), as what he does can't be just measured by that stat alone. He makes things difficult on the quarterback just with his presence. The fact that the quarterback knows he's there alone makes a huge impact throughout the game, and also averts attention away from the other talented linemen on the Vikings. Hell, if he shored up his play on non-passing downs, and was more effective in stopping teams from running the ball at him, he might be a top 10 player.
#17 - Joe Thomas; Offensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns
One of the lone bright spots on a team in terrible shape, he has turned out to be everything the Brown expected and more. An elite blind-side blocker that only a handful of teams can lay claim to having, he is a force who excels in both pass and run blocking. Surprisingly quick for a man his size, he has some of the best technique when it comes to pure blocking in the NFL. He picks up on blitzes with the best of them, and can adjust his blocking schemes when called upon to do so. Also something I feel is underrated about his, and any other good offensive linemen's game, is his hustle. You can often find him downfield making blocks for his ball carriers, and also plays a large part in a complicated system that involves a variation of the wildcat and Joshua Cribbs in the backfield.
#16 - DeMarcus Ware; Outside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus is this high for one reason and one reason only, because he does one thing better than any other player in the NFL, which is rush the passer. Over the last 4 years, Ware has complied an astonishing 56.5 sacks and has been the best player off the edge I've ever seen. This brings a variety of different things to the table for the Cowboys defense. Firstly, it forces offensive coordinators to focus their game plan around him, and also forces them to bring extra tight ends and running backs to block or chip him at the line. It also opens things up for the emerging Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer to apply some pressure onto the opposing teams quarterback, and make plays in the backfield against opposing team's running back. One of the few players on defense who can completely take over a game, and he does it on a consistent basis (just ask the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles).
#15 - Nnamdi Asomugha; Cornerback, Oakland Raiders
He very well may be the best corner in the league, but I just can't say that with what Darrelle Revis is doing. The difference between the two is that the scheme the Jets play force teams to throw to Revis, as he's always manned up with their best receiver. Nnamdi, however, plays in a scheme where he stays on the same side and plays more of a zone then a man-to-man coverage which allows teams to throw away from him and to other parts of the field. In my opinion, he plays the island one-on-one just as well as anyone in the NFL, Revis included, due to his height and pure athleticism. He's one of the few people in the NFL that offensive coordinators must account for at all times, and is amongst the lowest targeted corners in the NFL.
#14 - Andre Johnson; Wide Receiver, Houston Texans
I was an Andre Johnson doubter at the beginning of the year. Don't get me wrong, I knew he was talented and a top receiver, but I never took him as the best. That changed this year when I watched every team do everything in their power to try and stop him, but still couldn't do it. Teams double covered him, gave safety help, jammed him at the line, committed penalties on him, but they still couldn't stop him from making plays. He led the league in yards (again), and has a ridiculous 216 catches for 3,144 yards and 17 touchdowns in the last two years. He's a freak on the field, impossible to cover, and is probably the most important to his team's results out of any receiver in the NFL. What else do you want from the game's best wide out?
#13 - Steve Hutchinson; Offensive Guard, Minnesota Vikings
He's this high on my list for a couple of reasons. Productivity and consistency. I don't have to tell you about his productivity, as he's constantly blocked for an offense with a top running game, and with a quarterback who seldom gets hit. It's not a coincidence that Matt Hasselbeck's injury problems started and Shaun Alexander's career began heading down the tubes when he left Seattle. Consistency wise, he's done this well for years, but the other thing I'm impressed with is injuries. He's played every year of his career the full 16 games except for his sophomore season, including 112 straight starts dating back to 2003. Just a model of consistency that has shown he can be one of the best at what he does year in and year out.
#12 - Kevin Williams; Defensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings
The thing that impresses me about the other Williams, and what makes him the best defensive tackle in the NFL in my mind, is his ability to not only stop the run but also the pass. He leads a defense that's ranked high against the run year in and year out, and he gets constant pressure on the quarterback, putting up decent sack numbers (career high of 11.5) almost every year. He collapses the pocket better than anyone in the NFL, other then maybe Albert Haynesworth, but he does it with more consistency. He commands two blockers, even with the Pat Williams and Jared Allen also on the line, and forces offenses to work around him. One of the better and most effective defenders around, and in my opinion, one of the few who calls for a major adjustment for the offense to make heading into a game.
#11 - James Harrison; Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
The former defensive player of the year is one of the scariest out there when it comes to the pure pursuit of the ball carrier. He makes plays in the backfield it seems effortlessly, and is one of the best linebackers at coming off of the edge and making plays on the quarterback. This can be seen by the 26.0 sacks that he has put up over the last two years, and also his 19 forced fumbles over the last three. He's got a knack for making big plays (just ask Kurt Warner), and is a leader of one of the most respected defenses in the NFL. If his skills in coverage were just a tad better, he'd have defiantly cracked my top 10, but he can still cover well enough, and is just one of the best and most intimidating players on the defensive side of the ball.
#10 - Ryan Clady; Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos
My top 10 kicks off with the, in my mind, best pure pass blocker in the NFL. He has protected the blindside of both Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton extremely well over his two years in the NFL, and his astounding 0.5 sacks allowed from the blindside tackle position is simply incredible. He has some of the best intangible's I've ever seen out of a offensive tackle, including incredible footwork and hand skills, and is one of the surest bets in the league to slow down or even stop the best pass rushers in the league. His football IQ is also through the roof, as seems to be able to read the defense's blitz schemes very well, and a leader on that line. The best at what he does, and the type of player (the elite blindside blocker) that every team dreams of having.
#9 - Drew Brees; Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
He's really moved in to the elite class of quarterbacks with his performance over the last 2 years, and can make his case even stronger with a win in Miami. His average season during his time in New Orleans is absolutely ridiculous, which includes a 66.9 completion %, 4,575 yards and about 31 touchdowns a year. He, along with Sean Peyton, have also turned around a whole city, never mind a whole franchise, and have put together a 38-26-0 record with two playoff and one Super Bowl appearance in their four years there. He throws the ball with incredible accuracy, and gives his receivers a chance to make a play every time he drops back. Just a great football player who is making a case to be one of the elite players in the NFL.
#8 - Chris Johnson; Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Like Drew Brees, another guy who has just recently reached a whole other level, and one who has really turned into an elite player. Where to start of Johnson. Do you start with the numbers and all that he has accomplished this year, gaining more yards from scrimmage than any other player in NFL history has done in one season, and becoming just the 6th player to ever reach the 2,000 rushing yard plateau. You can also bring up his pure talent, as he has the speed to make the fastest defenders look slow, and has the potential to break the big run every time he touches the ball, or you can look at the fact that defense's spend their whole week of preparation trying to develop a plan to merely contain Johnson, as they know they won't completely stop him. No matter how you look at it, he's become one of special talents in the NFL, and at the tender age of 24, we may not have seen the best he has to offer.
#7 - Adrian Peterson; Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
Although many have told me that he is no longer at the top of the running back food chain, with Chris Johnson's recent display of excellence, but I still believe he's the best at the position. He looks like a combination of Barry Sanders' speed and ability to turn a lost play into a big one, and Jim Brown's pure strength and ability to run either through or around you. Even on what many have been calling an "off" year, he has put up the most touchdowns on the ground or any player in the NFL (18) and 1,383 yards. He also really improved his play in the pass game, putting up career highs in both receptions and receiving yards and helped make Brett Favre's comeback so successful. Sure, he fumbles the ball more than he should, but he still runs like no other and appears on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
#6 - Tom Brady; Quarterback, New England Patriots
Many believe that Drew Brees has surpassed him on the list of the NFL's great quarterbacks, but those three Super Bowl's weren't flukes. Also, no one seems to be talking about the fact the Brady, coming off of major knee surgery, came back and had statistically the 2nd best year of his career. If you don't include his record setting performance in 2007, Brady set or matched career highs in yards, average yards per attempt, touchdowns, fumbles lost and quarterback rating. This, in my mind, is one of the most impressive things that he has done during his already illustrious career, as not many can come off of a potentially career threatening injury and be so effective and dominant. I know his team isn't the New England Patriots of old, but you can't hold him responsible for the teams recent woe's as he's still the same future Hall of Fame quarterback that he was before.
#5 - Ed Reed; Free Safety, Baltimore Ravens
He's here for one reason, and one reason only, and that's because when he's in the secondary any throw made is in danger of being intercepted. He is undoubtedly the best player in the NFL when it comes to reading the quarterbacks eyes and jumping in front of a pass, and also at turning that play into an even bigger play with the return. He is ranked inside the top 5 in NFL history when it comes to interception return yardage (1,255 yards) and has the 5th most return touchdown's of any active player in the NFL. Just a ball-hawk if there ever was one, and when you pick Peyton Manning off in the same drive, as he did during the Ravens' most recent playoff game, you deserve all the praise you receive.
#4 - Patrick Willis; Middle Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
The second coming of Ray Lewis, Willis has solidified himself as one of, if not the best defensive player in the NFL today. He's the gold standard when it comes to tackling, putting up a ridiculous 467 tackles during his short NFL career, and you won't find a surer tackler anywhere. He has sideline-to-sideline speed to go along with an incredible amount of power and strength that makes it almost impossible for a ball carrier to get to the third level. He's also one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL, batting down 23 passes throughout his career and returning a couple of his career interceptions for touchdowns. He's also only 25 and entering only his fourth year of his career, so we may not have even seen him reach his peak, and that there could be even better things to come in the future.
#3 - Darrelle Revis; Cornerback, New York Jets
Many have told me this is too high for him, but I have him hear for all that he does for that defense. By being able to essentially take away half the field by all but erasing every other team's top receiving option, he just opens up so many things for that defense. It allows them to send some of the most unique and exotic blitzes in the NFL, as they have more players to work with, and play a better coverage on the other side of the field as they know his side will be contained. It also allows for the safeties to make more plays in the run game, and gives them freer reign to do look for the ball and not worry about getting beat. Just so many things are impacted by his incredible ability to play on the proverbial island, and he completely changes an offenses preparation going into a game. If you really need to know how good he is, just ask Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne... you get the picture.
#2 - Troy Polamalu; Strong Safety, Pittsburgh Steelers
I know about the injuries and all that, but the point is, when he plays the Steelers win, and when he doesn't they seem to have a significantly harder time stopping opposing team's from moving the ball and scoring. He just seems to be in on every play, no matter the significance or result when he's on the field and can play both the run and the pass with the same incredible level of excellence. He always seems to be the first player to the ball carrier, and there aren't many who can say they have broken through one of his tackles. He was a key member of the two Pittsburgh Steelers recent Super Bowl wins, and is, in my opinion, the best player in the NFL on the defensive side of the football.
#1 - Peyton Manning; Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Does anything really have to be said about this pick? Whether you look at his numbers, his team success or the fact that he has one of the highest football IQ's of any player to ever play the game of football, you aren't going to find any better player around. He's all ready in the top 5 of every significant quarterbacking statistic there is (completions, yards, touchdowns, rating etc.) and is always amongst the league leaders in each category as well. He owns a career record of 131-61-0, which includes a handful of games that he started and never finished, as well as a rookie 3-13-0 season where the team was coming off of a season where they were the worst in the NFL, and also has the Super Bowl ring that everyone held against him for not being able to win. He reads the defense better than anyone around, and can pick apart anything you throw at him. Just a guy who's in a class of his own, and we may be watching the best quarterback... scratch that, player of all-time.
Well, there it is, my personal list of the top 50 players in the NFL today. I know that all of you will have something to say about what's wrong with it, but that's what makes this all worth it. I hope to see a lot of you commenting, good or bad, and thanks for reading!
Here are some fun facts about the list:
Teams with 5+ representatives: Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts
Teams with 4 representatives: New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers
Teams with 3 representatives: Dallas Cowboys
Teams with 2 representatives: New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers
Teams with 1 representative: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears
Teams with 0 representatives: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Cheifs, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions
Positions with 5+ representatives: Quarterback, Defensive Tackle, Cornerback
Positions with 4 representatives: Running Back, Wide Receiver, Middle Linebacker
Positions with 3 representatives: Tight End, Defensive End
Positions with 2 representatives: Offensive Tackles, Offensive Guard, Centre, Outside Linebacker, Free Safety, Strong Safety
Position with 1 representative: Punter
Position with 0 representatives: Full Back, Kicker