NFL

Top 100 NFL players heading into 2017 season

Where did Aaron Rodgers rank among the top 100 NFL players heading into 2017?
Jesse Reed
Written by Jesse Reed

With nearly 1,700 men making active rosters, there are a ton of players to choose from when comprising a list of the top-100 NFL players in the game today.

How does one quantify what “the best” really means without the kind of grading system that the folks at Pro Football Focus employ? Even those grades aren’t the end-all, be-all when talking about worth.

For the purposes of this list, just know that it’s only one man’s opinion. There are players that didn’t make it who’ll surely be pointed out as worthy by their fans. But it’s inevitable. One cannot construct a top-100 players list without creating controversy.

With that in mind, we hope you’ll enjoy poking, prodding and picking apart this top-100 NFL players list.

100. Jack Conklin, offensive tackle, Tennessee Titans

As a rookie last year, Conklin made First-team All-Pro, which should tell us all we need to know about how darn good this young man is. Clearly, he lived up to being drafted No. 8 overall. Conklin started all 16 games for Tennessee, playing both on the right and left side. He’s going to be a star for years to come playing opposite Taylor Lewan.

99. Nate Solder, offensive tackle, New England Patriots

Barring injury, Solder has been a full-time starter for the Patriots. Following his rookie year, he moved from the right side of the line to the left and has done a fantastic job protecting Tom Brady’s blind side ever since. An athletic big man, Solder is equally effective in the run game and is one of the most consistent left tackles in the NFL.

98. Tony Jefferson, safety, Baltimore Ravens

After spending his first four years as a part-time starter in Arizona, Jefferson broke out in a big way during the 2016 campaign. He started 14 games before an MCL sprain cut his season short in December. Baltimore was more than happy to sign Jefferson this offseason, pairing him with Eric Weddle to give the Ravens arguably the best 1-2 punch at the safety position in the NFL.

97. Jerrell Freeman, linebacker, Chicago Bears

Coverage linebackers are coveted in today’s NFL, and Freeman is one of the league’s best. He’s also one of the most underrated players in the league. Last season, despite playing in just 12 games, he racked up 112 tackles and broke up four passes. Chicago knows what kind of gem it has, however, and Freeman will continue to excel as the leader of Vic Fangio’s defense in the coming years.

96. Terence Newman, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings

One of the marvels of the NFL, Newman continues to play at an elite level as he approaches 40. This former No. 5 overall pick out of Kansas State is like a fine wine that gets sweeter with age. It’s no wonder, considering he literally takes wine baths.

Last year Newman was one of the most dominant corners in the NFL, and he’s not slowing down heading into the 2017 season.

95. Malcolm Jenkins, safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s pass defense wasn’t very good overall last year, but you can’t blame that on Jenkins, who was very good on the back end. The former Saints first-rounder played in all 16 games, registering three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns (watch one of them here). Jenkins is also capable of rushing the passer (he had one sack) and is not afraid to get dirty at the line of scrimmage on running plays.

94. Olivier Vernon, defensive end, New York Giants

Though it’s only been one year, it seems the Giants made a sound investment when they gave Vernon all that money in free agency prior to last season. Starting in all 16 games, Vernon tallied 8.5 sacks, 63 combined tackles and one forced fumble. He was extremely stout against the run and played more snaps than any defensive end in the NFL. At the age of 26, he’s still coming into his prime and should be a terror for years to come.

93. Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker, Houston Texans

One of the more versatile edge rushers in the NFL, Mercilus stepped up in a huge way last year for Houston when J.J. Watt was lost for the season. He finished with 7.5 sacks but pressured opposing quarterbacks 63 times. On top of the 12 sacks he posted in 2015, it’s clear Mercilus is becoming a dominant force on the edge for a defense that is already the NFL’s best.

92. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In terms of talent, there’s no doubt Winston is one of the best in the NFL. Once he learns how to stop throwing the ball to the other team under duress, he’ll ascend into the upper echelon as one of the legitimate, long-term franchise quarterbacks in the league. In particular, Winston possesses leadership abilities rarely seen at any level of any sport. He’s a special player and appears to have a tremendously bright future ahead of him.

91. Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, New York Giants

When the Giants extended a massive contract to Jenkins last spring, it was thought by many that they overpaid for the cornerback. But he exceeded expectations in his first season playing for Big Blue, shutting down half the passes thrown his way. He finished with three interceptions and a sack, helping the Giants feature one of the best defensive secondaries in the league.

90. Kevin Zeitler, offensive guard, Cleveland Browns

It was pretty stunning when the Cincinnati Bengals allowed Zeitler to be signed by AFC North rival Cleveland this past offseason. He’s one of the most dominant guards in the league and excels against interior pass rushers. He now joins one of the best offensive lines in football and will help Hue Jackson, DeShone Kizer and Co. turn things around quickly for the previously hapless Browns.

89. Leonard Williams, defensive end, New York Jets

New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams sacks Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck

One of the best 3-4 defensive ends in football, Williams is a big reason why the Jets have long been shopping Sheldon Richardson, who was finally traded to the Seattle Seahawks. Stout against the run, Williams has done nothing but impress since being selected with the No. 6 overall pick in 2015. Though he’s not the best pass-rushing interior lineman out there, Williams has managed to bring down opposing quarterbacks 10 times the past two seasons.

88. Jurrell Casey, defensive tackle, Tennessee Titans

Casey is one of the key defensive linemen on an underrated Titans defense that has the potential to break out in a big way this upcoming season. Since being selected in the third round out of Tennessee he’s developed into one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing defensive tackles, tallying 27.5 sacks the past four years. Tennessee clearly loves his game, having signed him to a massive four-year extension this summer.

87. Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs

Depending on how well Hill adjusts to being the guy in Kansas City, he might be ranked much higher next season. His ability to take any play to the house made him one of the most exciting players in the game last year. But now he’s being asked to take on the No. 1 role, which may or may not be a bit too hefty a load for him to carry.

86. Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins

This upcoming season is going to tell us a lot about how good Cousins actually is. He has been one of the most accurate passers in the NFL the past two seasons based on completion rate, but he lost his top two receivers in free agency and his offensive coordinator, who’s now coaching Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams. Cousins already looks a bit lost without his security blanket, Pierre Garcon, and will have to be extra sharp this upcoming season to avoid a huge decline in production.

85. David DeCastro, offensive guard, Pittsburgh Steelers

After battling through an injury in his rookie season, DeCastro has more than lived up to being selected 24th overall in 2012 out of Stanford. One of the best offensive guards in football, he’s equally adept at taking on interior rushers in the passing game as he is at opening up running lanes for Le’Veon Bell.

84. Richard Sherman, cornerback, Seattle Seahawks

Richard Sherman

It seems weird ranking Sherman this low. He’s still one of the most feared cornerbacks in the NFL and hauled in four interceptions last year. But much like what we saw with Darrelle Revis before he fell off this past season, there have been hints showing us that Sherman’s tenure as one of the league’s best is coming to an end. We saw a glimpse of his declining game when Earl Thomas went down with injury last year.

83. Dont’a Hightower, linebacker, New England Patriots

Is Hightower a dynamic three-down linebacker? Not really. However, he is a very balanced player who isn’t great in coverage but who excels around the line of scrimmage. He’s a force against the run and a very capable pass rusher. The past three years he’s tallied 230 tackles and 12 sacks, which earned him a fat payday this offseason.

82. Mike Daniels, defensive tackle, Green Bay Packers

One of the more underappreciated dominant defenders of the league, Daniels has the size, strength and quickness to impose his will upon interior offensive linemen. He’s made 48 straight starts for the Packers the past three seasons, tallying 129 tackles and 13.5 sacks, which is a ridiculous number for a 3-4 nose tackle.

81. Marcus Peters, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs

If not for a tendency to get beat deep at times, Peters would be higher on this list. One of the best young cornerbacks to enter the NFL in a long time, all he’s done his first two seasons for the Chiefs is intercept 14 passes, return two for touchdowns and force two fumbles. If he continues to develop his game and becomes more disciplined with his technique, the sky is the limit to how good this young man can be.

80. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

At this point, the only thing we see that will keep Mariota from becoming a superstar is his penchant for getting injured. In both of his first two seasons since being selected No. 2 overall out of Oregon, he failed to play the entire season due to injuries. A veritable genius in the red zone, he’s put up outstanding stats when healthy, completing 61.6 percent of his passes while throwing 45 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions in his first 27 NFL games.

79. Jadeveon Clowney, outside linebacker, Houston Texans

Jadeveon Clowney

It was pretty sweet to see Clowney put it all together last season after injuries derailed his first two seasons in the league. One of the best edge defenders in the NFL against the run, Clowney is also extremely dynamic as a pass rusher when he’s given one-on-one opportunities. Expect those opportunities to increase this upcoming season with Watt coming back healthy.

78. Tyron Smith, offensive tackle, Dallas Cowboys

It’s crazy that Smith is still just 26 years of age, despite playing six seasons in the NFL already. He came into the league as a very young man and has developed into one of the best left tackles in football. The big issue facing Smith at this point in his career is that he’s dealing with a recurring back injury that flares up. It caused him to miss three games last year and some time during training camp this summer. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to become a Hall of Famer before his time is up.

77. Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit Lions

Still just 29 years old, Stafford is, for now, the NFL’s richest man after inking a huge contract extension (details here). He wowed us with his late-game heroics last season, which were the only reason the Lions went 9-7, but still harbors some flaws. Namely, he isn’t consistent with his ball placement and throws the ball into spots where opposing defenses can capitalize. Still, he’s one of the best pure passers in the game and is always fun to watch.

76. Harrison Smith, safety, Minnesota Vikings

It’s hard to say what happened last year when Smith barely registered as a blip on the radar in terms of pass-defense numbers. He broke up just two passes and had no interceptions. It’s kind of strange, because in his first four seasons he was a ball magnet, bringing in 12 interceptions (four which were returned for touchdowns) while breaking up 26 other passes. We’re betting on last year as an aberration, and in the meantime he was downright dominant against the run.

75. Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City Chiefs

Baby Gronk has some work to do if he’s ever going to get to Gronk’s level. But make no mistake about it — Kelce has the talent to make it happen. In the past three years, he’s incrementally improved, catching a total of 224 passes for 2,862 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kelce has some serious wheels and caught an 80-yard pass last year. He might benefit in the years to come from the big arm of Patrick Mahomes. For now, he’ll remain one of Alex Smith’s top targets in 2017.

74. Damon Harrison, defensive tackle, New York Giants

Damon “Snacks” Harrison gobbles up running backs like they’re perfectly roasted tater tots. Starting all 16 games last year he racked up 86 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. He’s one of the best run defenders in the NFL and helped the Giants feature a dominant defense last year after signing a free agent deal that took him away from the New York Jets. He clearly chose the right team to latch onto, and the Giants are all the better for it.

73. A.J. Bouye, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

A.J. Bouye

Bouye’s extraordinary rise from undrafted free agent in 2013 to reserve specialist the next couple years to superstar last year showed the power of hard work, determination and raw talent. It all culminated with a huge contract this spring when he left Houston to join the Jaguars. Now Bouye will be taking on the challenge of living up to that contract playing opposite talented first-round talent Jalen Ramsey, who wowed as a rookie last year.

72. Brian Orakpo, outside linebacker, Tennessee Titans

Since coming into the NFL out of Texas back in 2009, Orakpo has missed nearly two entire seasons due to pectoral injuries. Take those seasons out of the equation and he’s done nothing but dominate off the edge, both with the Washington Redskins and Titans. The past two years, Orakpo has tallied 97 tackles and 17.5 sacks, and he’s coming off his best campaign in three years.

71. Sean Lee, linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

The only thing that’s ever held Lee back from becoming an elite player in the NFL is injuries. Since entering the NFL as a second-round pick out of Penn State in 2010, he’s never managed to complete a 16-game season. Though, the past two years Lee missed just three games, and the results speak volumes. He registered 273 tackles and 2.5 sacks from 2015-16 and is healthy heading into the 2017 season.

70. Kelechi Osemele, offensive guard, Oakland Raiders

The Raiders paid Osemele a lot of money to come over to the west coast from Baltimore last summer. And he didn’t disappoint. Starting 15 games for Oakland, he did not allow a single quarterback hit or sack all year and was a dynamo in the run game. After an offseason spent exploring the world on an extended road trip, Osemele will be leading the way for Marshawn Lynch this upcoming season. Good luck, opposing defensive linemen.

69. Michael Bennett, defensive end, Seattle Seahawks

One of the most versatile defensive linemen in the NFL, Bennett can play anywhere on the line and make big plays for the Seahawks. He’s listed as a defensive end but often slides inside to take advantage of his quickness against interior linemen. Though his production slipped a bit and he missed games due to injury in 2016, Bennett is still going strong at the age of 31 and should benefit from the team’s acquisition of Sheldon Richardson.

68. Danielle Hunter, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings

Just a pup still, Hunter is one of the most promising young pass rushers in the NFL right now. At the age of 22, he has appeared in 30 games and has logged just one start in his first two seasons. That hasn’t stopped Hunter from registering 18.5 sacks, including 12.5 last year, as a reserve. Now he’s getting a chance to start in 2017, and we’re looking forward to seeing him blossom into a star.

67. Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys

You’d be hard pressed to find many rookie quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who played with more poise than Prescott did last year for the ‘Boys. Now entering his second year, he’s expecting a lot more out of himself as the leader of Dallas’ offense, and he’ll need to continue ascending if his team is going to repeat as NFC East champs in 2017. If he can develop some more rapport with Dez Bryant, the Cowboys will feature one of the best offenses in the league.

66. Jordan Reed, tight end, Washington Redskins

If Reed ever finishes a complete season he’ll undoubtedly put up gargantuan stats. So far through four seasons, however, he’s missed time each year and has started just 23 games. Even missing time due to injury the past two years, Reed has managed to catch 153 passes for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns.

A toe injury kept him out of practice this summer, so it feels unrealistic to think his talent will be available to Kirk Cousins and Co. a full 16 games this year. Cross your fingers, fantasy owners.

65. Cameron Wake, defensive end, Miami Dolphins

One of the NFL’s ageless wonders, Wake was unbelievably dominant last year coming off an Achilles injury. Once the Dolphins finally let him play more as the season wore on he took off, finishing with 11.5 sacks. In eight NFL seasons, the 35-year-old pass rusher has averaged more than 10 sacks per campaign. At some point, he’s got to slow down, but that doesn’t appear to be happening right now.

64. Malcolm Butler, cornerback, New England Patriots

The subject of never-ending trade talks that ultimately fizzled into nothing this offseason, Butler is a very tough, extremely talented cornerback. Best known for the play that cemented New England’s Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks, Butler has since intercepted six passes during the regular season and was a big-time contributor to last year’s Super Bowl-winning team as well.

63. Greg Olsen, tight end, Carolina Panthers

Once thought of as a guy who had the talent to break out but who never did, Olsen has definitely done it since joining Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The past three years he’s caught no less than 77 passes for no less than 1,008 yards per season with 16 total touchdowns. Not surprisingly, he was rewarded with a reworked, incentive-laden deal heading into the 2017 season.

62. Everson Griffen, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings

Griffen has come a long way since being selected by the Vikings in the fourth round during the 2010 NFL Draft. The past three years as a full-time starter, he’s been the most consistent pass rusher on Minnesota’s defensive line, totaling 30.5 sacks, 148 combined tackles, four forced fumble and three fumble recoveries, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He’ll likely soon be passed up by the younger Danielle Hunter, but Griffen still has some excellent football left in his bones.

61. Dez Bryant, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys

The past two years have been full of frustration for Bryant, who missed 10 games due to injury and never quite meshed with rookie Dak Prescott in 2016. Even playing in 13 games last season, Bryant only caught 50 passes for 796 yards. Though, he did catch eight touchdowns, which isn’t shabby. Now looking a lot more comfortable with Prescott this summer (watch), Bryant is poised to have another huge season if he can remain healthy throughout 2017.

60. Doug Baldwin, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks

After spending his first four seasons as a nice role player for Seattle, Baldwin has morphed into one of the league’s best. Last season he caught an absurd 70.5 percent of the passes thrown his way. The past two years he’s hauled in 172 passes for 2,197 yards and 21 touchdowns. Baldwin led the NFL in 2015 with 14 touchdown receptions. And while his scoring went down last year, his production was otherwise trending up.

59. Casey Hayward, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers landed one of the best free agent cornerbacks on the market last spring at a bargain rate. They signed Hayward to a three-year deal worth $15.3 million. Last season, he led the NFL with seven interceptions. In his first five years, he’s tallied 16 interceptions and scored three defensive touchdowns. Now he’ll need some help from other players if the Chargers secondary is going to become a dominant unit.

58. Jay Ajayi, running back, Miami Dolphins

Last year when Ajayi rushed for 206 yards against the Buffalo Bills in December, he became just the fourth running back in NFL history to register three 200-plus-yard games in a single season. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry and scored eight times during his second NFL season, and now he’s the unquestioned workhorse running back for the Dolphins. He could see much more room to run this year, too, because Jay Cutler’s big gun is already causing defenses to take notice.

57. Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Tennessee Titans

Taylor Lewan Marcus Mariota Titans

How good was Lewan last year? He started all 16 games, logged 991 snaps, gave up just two sacks and 24 total pressures. Another year or two of that type of production and we’ll be talking about this young man as the best left tackle in the game. He and Conklin give Tennessee some stability at offensive tackle that’s rarely seen, and they still have so much room to grow. Tennessee’s offense is going to be one to watch in 2017.

56. Josh Norman, cornerback, Washington Redskins

After getting more money than any other cornerback in the league last year when the Panthers refused to play ball and let him go, Norman was pretty good in his first season with Washington. He didn’t play at an elite level like he did in 2015. But Norman was certainly better than most. He finished the season with three interceptions and 19 passes broken up and is clearly the best defender on a Washington secondary that needs to step up big in 2017.

55. Geno Atkins, defensive tackle, Cincinnati Bengals

This 6-foot-1, 290-pound ball of fury has been one of the top pass-rushing defensive tackles since the turn of the decade. He had a strangely quiet 2014 season but has come back with a vengeance the past two seasons, logging 20 sacks to go along with 74 combined tackles. As long as Atkins remains a main player on Cincinnati’s defensive line, the Bengals will feature a formidable defensive front.

54. Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders

The arrow is most definitely pointing up for Cooper, who has two 1,000-yard seasons in his first two campaigns as a pro. He bulked up this offseason and looks like a linebacker now, but it’s clear he’s lost none of his speed in the process (watch here).

As his rapport with Derek Carr continues to develop in the coming years, the sky is the limit to what this young receiver can do in the NFL.

53. Vic Beasley, outside linebacker, Atlanta Falcons

One of the most explosive pass rushers in the NFL in terms of his get-off, Beasley is learning to incorporate more than just pure speed into his pass-rushing repertoire. Last years’s 15.5 sacks could just be the tip of the iceberg for the former Clemson star. Especially now that he’s got the young Takk McKinley to keep teams from doubling down on his side of the ball.

52. Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers

Last year was a slow-motion train wreck of a season for Newton and the Panthers. Things are certainly looking up this year, however. Newton has some exciting new offensive toys in his arsenal, the primary one being rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, and is feeling refreshed coming off shoulder surgery. If things break his way, Newton could certainly challenge for another MVP in 2017.

51. Jarvis Landry, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins

Landry isn’t as explosive as his old LSU teammate, Odell Beckham Jr. But he’s just as good at getting his hands on the ball and runs with a physicality not usually seen by receivers in this league. He’s been among the most prolific receivers in the NFL since joining the Dolphins three seasons ago, catching 288 passes for 3,051 yards and 13 touchdowns. It’s going to be interesting to see if his production goes up or down now that Jay Cutler is the man behind center.

50. Kawann Short, defensive tackle, Carolina Panthers

As good as Carolina’s linebackers are, they owe a lot of their big plays to Short, who is one of the best interior run defenders in the league. He’s also an underrated pass rusher who has managed to sack opposing quarterbacks 17 times the past two years. The Panthers recently rewarded Short by making him a very rich young man. He’ll anchor their defensive line for years to come.

49. Alex Mack, center, Atlanta Falcons

Mack was a godsend to Atlanta’s offense last year. He signed on as a free agent and started all 19 games the Falcons played last year, helping solidify the offensive line so Atlanta could feature the highest-scoring unit in the league. A pulverizing run blocker, Mack’s impact was most felt in the way he helped spark the league’s fifth-best rushing attack — one which averaged 4.6 yards per carry and that scored 20 times.

48. Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals

Last season, playing in his 13th career season at the age of 33, Fitzgerald led the league with 107 receptions. It was the second-straight 107-plus reception season for the future Hall of Famer, who continues to play at an elite level despite eclipsing 200 career games. Fitzgerald isn’t the fastest receiver in the NFL. He’s not the strongest. He’s a student of the game who never takes a single play off and who will once again continue to defy Father Time in 2017.

47. Chandler Jones, outside linebacker, Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals somehow got the better of the Patriots when they landed Jones in a trade back in 2016. He adapted quickly to Arizona’s attacking scheme and benefited from playing opposite Markus Golden. All told, Jones finished the 2016 season with 49 tackles and 11 sacks, causing four forced fumbles along the way. He’ll be in the desert for a long time after inking a five-year deal worth $84 million this year.

46. Brandon Graham, defensive end, Philadelphia Eagles

When you read articles about the best edge players in the NFL, Graham is a name that is often not included in the discussion. For shame. This guy pressured quarterbacks 83 times last year, which is absurd. The only other players in the league to pressure quarterbacks more last year were Khalil Mack and Olivier Vernon. So, while Graham’s 5.5 sacks make it seem like he’s not getting to the quarterback, it’s not as simple as that.

45. T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts

Despite playing with an injured quarterback who had a messed up throwing shoulder, and despite a bottom-half rushing attack, Hilton put up a league-leading 1,448 receiving yards. He also averaged 15.9 yards per catch and hauled in six touchdowns on 91 total receptions. Hilton is one of the game’s best all-around receivers, and he can beat any cornerback on any given Sunday.

44. Cameron Jordan, defensive end, New Orleans Saints

Because Jordan doesn’t put up prodigious sack totals every year, and because he plays for one of the NFL’s worst defenses, he often gets overlooked as an elite defender. Rest assured, opposing offenses don’t overlook this former Cal Bears star. He’s been tremendous since being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, hauling down 298 ball carriers and making 48.5 sacks.

43. Zach Martin, guard, Dallas Cowboys

If you’re looking for a smash-mouth specialist to kick start your running game, look no further than Martin. He’s not as strong in the passing game as Marshal Yanda, but he is the best pure run-blocking guard the NFL has to offer. Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris all will benefit from the play of this man in 2017.

42. Patrick Peterson, cornerback, Arizona Cardinals

Peterson has emerged as one of the rare cornerbacks nobody likes throwing at much any more. He’s been one of the best playmakers in the league since joining Arizona in 2011 as a first-round pick out of LSU. His big impact was felt at first for his abilities as a return specialist, but he’s evolved now into a pure cover corner capable of taking on the NFL’s best receivers. Peterson will have to be at his best in 2017 if Arizona’s pass defense is going to remain among the league’s best, because the Cardinals have a cornerback problem outside of this young man.

41. Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s going to be interesting to see how Campbell performs in Jacksonville this year. It’s going to be his first season as a professional where he’s playing on the edge as a 4-3 defensive end. There’s a lot of potential to shine, given the other talent on Jacksonville’s defensive line. One thing we don’t have to wonder about is whether this guy can ball. He’s tallied 56.5 sacks the past eight years for the Cardinals and is one of the best run defenders in the league.

40. Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Miami Dolphins

Suh catches a lot of crap because he signed an overcooked deal when he moved from Detroit to Miami. That contract has since been amended, and really, Suh’s been pretty darn phenomenal for the Dolphins, anyway. Last year he played more snaps than any interior defensive lineman in the NFL and played at an extremely high level, to boot, racking up 72 tackles and five sacks, not to mention 21 hurries. He’s still, without a doubt, a dominant force in the middle.

39. Travis Frederick, center, Dallas Cowboys

Back in the spring of 2013, the Cowboys took a lot of flack for “reaching” when they selected Frederick with the 31st pick of that year’s draft. Nobody’s saying that now, however. Frederick anchors one of the best offensive lines in the game, and he’s started 64 games in a row, earning one First-team All-Pro nod in the process.

38. LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo Bills

One has to feel a bit bad for Shady, who’s about to suffer through a miserable 2017 campaign on a Bills team that is going to be very bad. We’ve advocated for a full-blown rebuilding effort that includes shipping McCoy and other veterans to contenders in exchange for draft capital. That’s not going to happen, however, meaning his considerable talents will be wasted in a down year. Regardless, McCoy is one of the NFL’s best dual-threat running backs.

37. Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There haven’t been many defensive tackles in recent years that have consistently put up big-time numbers to compare to McCoy. He’s been very durable for the Bucs aside from the 2011 season and has managed to produce 38.5 sacks in the five seasons since that point. And for those of us who watched HBO’s Hard Knocks this summer, it’s clear McCoy is a very strong leader in the locker room, despite what others have said about him.

36. Eric Weddle, safety, Baltimore Ravens

Weddle was one of the best safeties in the NFL last year after being discarded by the then San Diego Chargers following the 2015 season. He played in every game, tallying 89 tackles, four interceptions and a sack for the Ravens. Think the Chargers would turn down that kind of production now? We think not. Weddle should be even more dangerous this upcoming season playing alongside Tony Jefferson, who signed in free agency.

35. Jordy Nelson, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers

We highlighted Nelson recently as one of the league’s most underrated players, simply because he’s never mentioned among the game’s elite. He should be. In the past three seasons he played (missed 2015 due to ACL) he caught 280 passes for 3,990 yards and 35 touchdowns. Does he benefit from having Aaron Rodgers on his side? Surely. But that doesn’t diminish what Nelson can do, by any means. He’s an elite talent.

34. Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Retirement is on Big Ben’s mind these days, but he’s not done competing just yet. Though we did see some regression from his game last year, Roethlisberger is blessed with a gold-star cast of supporting characters and should be lethal now that deep threat Martavis Bryant has been fully reinstated. The only thing that will derail a big-time campaign for Roethlisberger is injury. Hopefully Le’Veon Bell can stay in the lineup to balance things out and keep his quarterback healthy.

33. Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

No passer in the NFL can compare to Wilson when it comes to the ability to somehow sense pressure coming, even when there’s no way he can see it. The diminutive passer all too often demonstrates he has eyes in the back of his head. He also has one of the prettiest deep balls in the NFL and is stunningly accurate and savvy when plays break down. Defenses hate playing against this wizard, who needs to keep performing some magic in 2017 thanks to another below-average offensive line.

32. Earl Thomas, safety, Seattle Seahawks

NFL teams running a single-high safety look need look no further than Thomas for the prototype. His blend of football intelligence, sideline-to-sideline speed and recovery speed make him ideal for this scheme. And of course it doesn’t hurt that he hits as hard as any free safety in the league. Thomas missed five games last year after a terrible broken leg. But he’s fully recovered and just as eager as ever to lay some wood on unsuspecting receivers.

31. Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles

It’s going to be fun watching Cox and the rest of the talented Philly defensive front develop in Jim Schwartz’s second year as the defensive coordinator. His scheme allows penetrating defensive tackles like Cox to have a lot of fun attacking gaps. Cox is a very talented player who has been able to register 16 sacks the past two seasons. He’s going to eat once again in 2017.

30. Devonta Freeman, running back, Atlanta Falcons

Proving himself to be one of the NFL’s best dual-threat running backs the past two years, Freeman is now the highest-paid running back in the league. Whether he’s worth the money he landed remains to be seen, because running backs often go cold after a few big-time seasons. What we do know is that Freeman has caught 127 passes, totaled 3,175 yards and 27 touchdowns since the start of the 2015 season.

29. Bobby Wagner, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks

There aren’t many linebackers who can match up with Wagner in terms of speed, instincts and the ability to stop players cold with bone-crunching hits. He’s one of the more under-appreciated members of the incredible Seahawks defense. All he did last year was lead the NFL in tackles (by a lot) with 167, adding one interception and four sacks.

28. Joey Bosa, defensive end, Los Angeles Chargers

What Bosa did last year, despite missing all of training camp and the first four games after a holdout, was just incredible. He posted pass-rushing numbers rarely seen from rookies in terms of quarterback pressures, and he earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after racking up 41 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.

27. Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots

Health issues are the only think keeping Gronkowski from being a legendary player in the NFL. He’s already close. With 68 touchdown receptions in 88 career games, he’s well on his way to the Hall of Fame if he can stay on the field. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries have caused Gronk to miss considerable time in multiple seasons. He’ll be heavily relied upon this year to make up for the absence of Julian Edelman, who’s out for the season with an ACL injury.

26. Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints

In the history of the NFL, quarterbacks have eclipsed 5,000 passing yards just nine times. Brees owns five of those nine incredible campaigns. He was at it again last year, completing an absurd 70 percent of his passes for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns. If his defense wasn’t giving games away, the Saints would be annual Super Bowl contenders. Though Brees is 38 years old, he still looks as spry as ever and has no plans to slow down any time soon.

25. Aqib Talib, cornerback, Denver Broncos

Talib is a physical, punishing man-cover specialist who, combined with Chris Harris Jr. (more on him later) helps the Broncos feature the best cornerback duo in the NFL. Talib has brought in six interceptions and scored three times the past two years. A guy who used to be very hot-and-cold, he’s developed his game to a honed edge. His consistency and ability to match up with almost any receiver in the league make him a dangerous player, indeed.

24. Kam Chancellor, safety, Seattle Seahawks

Few safeties affect how offenses are able to attack defenses the way Chancellor does. He’s a true enforcer who makes the middle of the field a constant zone of danger for crossing receivers, tight ends and running backs. In just 12 games last year, he gobbled up 81 tackles and two interceptions. His fine play earned him a significant pay raise this offseason, and he should be a happy camper the next few seasons. Which should scare the heck out of the rest of the NFC.

23. Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland Raiders

One of the league’s up-and-coming superstars, Carr had Oakland’s offense running in high gear last season before a broken leg derailed the entire operation. Now healthy once more and getting paid like a top passer, Carr and the Raiders are coming on strong once again. In particular, Carr’s connection with Amari Cooper is developing into something special. Playing behind a tremendous offensive line, he should have a huge season for the championship-contending Raiders.

22. Marshal Yanda, offensive guard, Baltimore Ravens

Yanda is the best offensive guard in the NFL, bar none. He’s been remarkably resilient throughout his 10-year career, starting 133 games. Whether he’s paving running lanes for his backs or keeping Joe Flacco clean in the pocket, Yanda excels. He’s universally recognized as a top offensive lineman and may be getting better with age.

21. Trent Williams, offensive tackle, Washington Redskins

When healthy, Williams is the best left tackle in football. He moves so smooth and is very strong at the point of attack. He’s just as dominant in the running game as he is adept at keeping pass rushers off his quarterback’s back. Unfortunately, Williams hasn’t been able to avoid nagging injuries. He’s missed 15 games in seven years and has battled through a number of injuries that have at times hampered his effectiveness.

20. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys

Despite the NFL lobbing a six-game suspension Elliott’s way, it’s looking like the running back will start the season, if not play all 16 games as this thing moves into the nation’s court system. One thing that’s not in question whatsoever is how talented Elliott is when he’s playing. As a rookie in 2016 he led the NFL in rushing (1,631) while totaling 1,994 yards and 16 touchdowns. Dallas is going to try getting him more involved in the passing game this year, so his numbers could be even better in 2017.

19. J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans

Before you yell at your screen about how Watt should be much higher than this, hear me out. Watt fought through injuries during the 2015 season. Then he was sidelined for most of the 2016 season with a back injury that required surgery. He might be breaking down already, which would be a shame. When healthy, Watt is unstoppable. He led the NFL in sacks in 2012 and 2015, and he’s tallied 76 sacks in just 83 career games.

18. Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants

One of the most exciting players in the league, Beckham Jr. is a big play waiting to happen. In his first three seasons, he tied his LSU teammate Jarvis Landry with the most catches in NFL history for a player in his first three seasons (288), going for 4,122 yards and hauling in 35 touchdowns. This kind of production in one’s first years is unprecedented, which is likely why OBJ is angling to be the NFL’s highest-paid player at any position.

17. Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

There isn’t another linebacker in the NFL who can cover sideline to sideline, attack the line of scrimmage or cover the deep middle like Kuechly. He’s a playmaking demon of destruction who constantly wrecks the best designs of opposing offenses. A concussion sidelined him for six games at the end of a busted season for the Panthers. Now he’s back, fully healthy, to wreak havoc once again for Carolina.

16. A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

One wonders how good Green could be if he played with an elite quarterback. Andy Dalton is far from that. Yet even playing with Dalton, Green put up five straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons to begin his career before a hamstring injury derailed his 2016 campaign. Even playing in just 10 games last year, he racked up 964 yards on 66 passes and could be in for a huge season if John Ross can stay healthy and keep defenses from clamping down on his side of the field.

15. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs

Whether he was down in the box to shut down the run or tracking down passes on the back end, Berry was magnificent last season for the Chiefs. Among his accomplishments, he hauled in four interceptions and took two of them back to the house for six. It’s truly incredible what he’s been able to accomplish since being diagnosed with Hodgin’s lymphoma back in December of 2014. He beat cancer and then got back to beating up on opposing offenses with a vengeance.

14. Landon Collins, safety, New York Giants

A legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate last season, his second in the league, Collins came into his own as the prototypical, do-it-all safety of the new generation. He hauled in five interceptions, took one to the house in one of the craziest plays of the year (watch here), racked up 125 tackles and four sacks for Big Blue. While Alabama defensive backs don’t always pan out at the next level, Collins has the makings of a superstar.

13. Chris Harris Jr., cornerback, Denver Broncos

The anchor of Denver’s No Fly Zone secondary is Harris, who is one of the rare lock-down corners of the NFL. Some may look at the fact he only has four interceptions the past two years and wonder how he’s ranked this high. But quarterbacks just don’t like throwing his way much any more. When they do, Harris is either getting his hands on the ball or has disrupted his receiver’s route to the point the pass is off the mark. As an added bonus, Harris isn’t afraid to go hard at running backs. He’s a complete player. Period.

12. Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We’re expecting huge things from Evans in his third season working with Jameis Winston. The two of them have undeniable chemistry, and Evans incredibly gifted when it comes to going up and bringing down passes that only he could possibly reach with his long, 6-foot-5 frame. Last year, he hauled in 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s just starting to come into his own, and we look forward to watching him grow in the coming years.

11. Le’Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers

If not for Bell’s past suspensions for drugs and his penchant for getting injured, we’d rank him higher. As it stands, Bell has missed 17 games in his first four NFL seasons and has played just one full season. When healthy and on the field, Bell is the most entertaining and skilled running back the NFL has to offer. It’s crazy to think about the fact he averaged 157 yards in the 12 games he played last year. Now if he could only be the reliable player Pittsburgh needs him to be.

10. Joe Thomas, offensive tackle, Cleveland Browns

In his first 10 years playing in the NFL, Joe Thomas has not missed a single start and has made the Pro Bowl every single year. He’s also earned First-team All-Pro honors seven times and earned Second-team All-Pro honors two of the other three seasons. The Browns haven’t yet made the playoffs once since Thomas was drafted No. 3 overall in 2006, but he continues to show up every single day and is the epitome of what a professional should look like in the NFL.

9. Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

In terms of pure volume and production, Brown has done more the past four seasons than any receiver in the NFL by quite a lot. He’s incredibly quick and precise with his routes and oftentimes makes even the best cornerbacks look silly trying to cover him. Bryant has the benefit of playing with a tremendous receiving corps and one of the best running backs in the league today, but that doesn’t diminish his own exceptional abilities even a little bit.

8. Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons

No offense to Antonio Brown or any other talented receiver in the NFL, but Jones is on another level these days. When he touches the ball, he’s incredibly difficult to bring down. Even though Brown sees double coverage almost every play (and sometimes is bracketed by three guys) he manages to dominate. The past three years, he’s hauled in 323 passes for 4,873 yards and 20 touchdowns. A threat to take every pass to the house, Jones is simply the best.

7. David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals

Young, talented, a featured player in Arizona’s dynamic offense and a guy who can be counted on every week, Johnson is the best all-around running back in the NFL. This young man put up 2,119 total yards from scrimmage last year, caught 80 passes and scored 20 total touchdowns. Incredibly, there’s a chance the Cardinals could feature Johnson even more this upcoming season. He’s a must-own in fantasy and should be good for at least a couple more seasons while carrying such a heavy load.

6. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

Last year’s MVP has a lot to live up to in 2017. And he’ll be doing it with a new offensive coordinator after Kyle Shanahan took the vacant head coaching job in San Francisco. Ryan blossomed into the dominant passer the Falcons envisioned he could become during the 2016 campaign, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards with 37 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. If not for some awful play calling in Super Bowl LI, he’d also be a Super Bowl champion.

5. Khalil Mack, defensive end, Oakland Raiders

Some would argue Mack has already overtaken Von Miller as the NFL’s preeminent edge rusher. We’re not quite ready to make that declaration, though he’s awfully close to being on that level. Last year, there was nobody more consistently dominant off the edge than the third-year sensation. Whether rushing the passer, holding the edge or tracking down ball carriers from the back side, Mack was unstoppable. The 11 sacks he registered doesn’t do him justice, and the more tape he puts together, the more that will be seen by all.

4. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams

When you look up disruptive in the dictionary, Donald’s face appears. He’s the NFL’s best interior defensive lineman and puts up sack numbers that would make many edge rushers jealous. In his first three seasons, the former Pitt star has racked up 28 sacks and 164 total tackles. The only thing keeping Donald from wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks in 2017 is a new contract. He’s currently holding out for a new deal and has missed the entire summer in protest.

3. Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos

Von MIller

This generation’s Lawrence Taylor, Miller constantly abuses the NFL’s best offensive tackles with a first step that leaves football analysts breathless. He’s racked up 73.5 sacks in 88 career starts. Even better, when Miller comes off the edge he’s looking for takeaways. He’s caused 20 forced fumbles in his career and has scored twice, one on an interception return and once on a fumble recovery. Miller’s capable of taking games over, which is what we saw in Super Bowl 50 when he earned MVP honors.

2. Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots

What Brady has been able to accomplish throughout his career is nothing short of incredible. The former sixth-round pick out of Michigan has won five Super Bowls and continues to play at the highest level even as he enters his 40s. Though he hasn’t always been blessed with elite receivers, Brady is the master of taking what opposing defenses give him and staying within the game plan. His accuracy is tremendous, stemming from elite mechanics which he’s worked at tirelessly throughout his career.

1. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers

No, he doesn’t have the titles to match Tom Brady. No, he doesn’t have the same type of supporting cast. But there’s no doubt Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the league. In the nine years since he’s been Green Bay’s starting quarterback, Rodgers has thrown 296 touchdowns and just 71 interceptions in 135 games. When he’s finished, Rodgers will retire as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history if he can stay healthy into his late-30s or beyond.

About the author

Jesse Reed

Jesse Reed

Managing Editor here at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker, Foxsports.com and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.