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Sportsnaut’s Top 100 NFL players for 2018 season

Sep 9, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Who are the top 100 NFL players heading into the 2018 season? We’ve got you covered.

Based on our findings, the Philadelphia Eagles are really, really good overall. So are the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars. But of course you already knew that.

Not surprisingly, some of the game’s top quarterbacks made the top three. But the top spot is occupied by someone else.

Without further ado, these are the top players to watch heading into the coming season.

100. Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports


Jimmy GQ still has a lot to prove. But what he’s done so far early in his career is nothing short of amazing. He’s completed over 67 percent of his passes, throwing 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, and, of course, he’s 7-0 as an NFL starter. Additionally, the 49ers took off like a rocket once he was under center last year.

99. Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee Titans

The addition of Dion Lewis will help Henry, rather than keep him from excelling in 2018 — they’re two completely different backs and complement one another perfectly. In his first two years, Henry has racked up 1,234 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. Now that he’s the main man, he’ll explode.

98. Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams

One of the biggest reasons the Rams’ offense took off like it did last year is that Whitworth was manning the left tackle spot. The former Cincinnati Bengals veteran played at an All-Pro level, protecting Jared Goff and opening up massive running lanes for Todd Gurley.

97. Earl Thomas, safety, Seattle Seahawks

Regardless of his nasty contract impasse with Seattle, there’s no doubt that Thomas is one of the NFL’s elite free safeties. He’s the only player in the league since 2010 to tally 25-plus interceptions and 10-plus forced fumbles, and his ability to cover ground on the back end is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.

96. Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina Panthers

Of all the running backs in the NFL, only Le’Veon Bell and Alvin Kamara caught more passes than McCaffrey last year. Now that Norv Turner is calling plays in Carolina, the second-year back could see his workload increase by as much as double from last year. Giddy-up.

95. Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles

One of the reasons Philly won the Super Bowl last year was that the team got outstanding play in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Johnson allowed just one sack all year in 591 pass-blocking snaps, which is just tremendous. Johnson is also an effective run blocker who possesses elite athleticism and is devastating moving in space.

94. Jordan Howard, running back, Chicago Bears

Constantly overlooked by those in the national media, Howard has done nothing but dominate since earning the full-time starting job as a rookie in 2016. The former fifth-round pick out of Indiana has racked up 2,435 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground the past two years and is one of the league’s best after contact.

93. Everson Griffen, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings

We recently highlighted Griffen as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. Over the course of the past four seasons, he has tallied 43.5 sacks and is coming off a career-high 13 in 2017, despite dealing with a foot injury in the second half of last season.

92. Chris Jones, defensive end, Kansas City Chiefs

A converted defensive tackle, Jones is one of the young defensive players we expect to continue ascending into the upper echelon the next few years. During the 2017 season, his second as a pro, he broke out with 6.5 sacks and an interception. He lost 25 pounds this offseason, which should help him stay healthy and accentuate his quickness.

91. Jason Kelce, center, Philadelphia Eagles

One of the best centers in the NFL, Kelce anchored arguably the best overall offensive line in football last year. Earning First-team All-Pro honors, he helped propel the Eagles to the pinnacle with his steady play and leadership. In particular, Kelce is a devastating run blocker who has a knack for always being in the right position to dominate.

90. Kendall Fuller, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs

Fuller is set to step into an expanded role in Kansas City after being the third cornerback in Washington the past two seasons. He’s already one of the league’s best slot specialists, and now he’ll get to test his mettle on the outside as well. Last year he came up with four interceptions and 10 passes defended.

89. Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals

Whenever he decides to retire, Fitzgerald will have to wait just five years to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — he’s a shoo-in first-ballot star. Even without the benefit of steady quarterback play last season, Fitzgerald came up with 107 catches for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns.

88. Kevin Byard, safety, Tennessee Titans

The 2017 season was Byard’s coming-out party. He made his first Pro Bowl, earned First-team All-Pro honors and was tied for the league lead with eight interceptions. He also was part of one of the funniest offseason stories. Now entering his third season, this former third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee is going to have to step up even more due to the season-ending injury of strong safety Johnathan Cyprien.

87. Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Tennessee Titans

Lewan’s history-making new contract speaks for itself. He’s one of the best left tackles in the NFL right now and helps comprise one of the league’s top overall offensive lines. In his first four seasons, he’s allowed just 15.5 sacks in 58 games while incurring just nine holding penalties.

86. Alex Smith, quarterback, Washington Redskins

It’s pretty crazy how little respect Smith gets nationally. He’s clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the league, even if he doesn’t have the strongest arm. Since the 2011 season, when the 49ers finally got good under Jim Harbaugh, Smith has compiled a record of 79-31 while throwing 132 touchdowns and just 43 interceptions. Washington’s offense is going to thrive with him under center.

85. Golden Tate, wide receiver, Detroit Lions

The league’s grand master when it comes to yards after the catch, Tate has been nothing if not consistently awesome the past four seasons in Detroit. Since the 2014 season, he’s averaged 93 catches, 1,056 yards and just under five touchdowns per season.

84. Alex Mack, center, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta’s offense went to another level once Mack came on board in 2016. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler who is quite simply an elite offensive lineman who excels in the run and pass game. He’s piled up 133 starts since the 2009 season and has been remarkably healthy throughout his career (minus a broken leg in 2014).

83. Davante Adams, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers

An up and coming star, Adams has emerged as Aaron Rodgers’ go-to touchdown maker the past two seasons in Green Bay. Originally second-round pick out of Fresno State, he has hauled in 149 receptions for 1,882 yards and 22 touchdowns the past two seasons. Adams’ progression is also a big reason why Jordy Nelson was seen as expendable this offseason.

82. Leonard Fournette, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars

If Fournette can stay healthy (a big “if”) he has a chance to become one of the best running backs of his generation. Blessed with both raw speed (here he is getting shot out of a cannon) and power, Fournette had a strong rookie season, rushing for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, despite missing three games due to injury.

81. Kawann Short, defensive tackle, Carolina Panthers

Over the past three years, Short has become one of the most dominant 4-3 defensive tackles in the league. Since the 2015 season, he’s tallied 24.5 sacks, and he’s a devastating run defender. The Panthers rewarded Short with a massive long-term contract before last season, and hasn’t done anything to make them regret it since.

80. Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 2017 season was not one Evans or the Bucs will look back at fondly. That said, we can’t ignore what this young receiver has done overall since being selected No. 7 overall in 2014 out of Texas A&M. Since then, he’s hauled in 309 catches for 4,579 yards and 32 touchdowns. If he gets strong play from his quarterback this year, then Evans should be on track for double-digit scores once again.

79. Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams

Cooks is one of only five NFL players to put up 1,000-plus receiving yards the past three seasons. The other four players are Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones. Since being selected in the first round out of Oregon State in 2014, he’s caught 280 passes for 3,943 yards and 27 touchdowns. Cooks is stepping into a situation where his production should continue to blossom, too, and was recently made a very rich young man.

78. Joe Staley, offensive tackle, San Francisco 49ers

Staley is Old Reliable for the 49ers. A six-time Pro Bowler, he’s also made three Second-team All-Pro squads and has started 158 games since being selected 28th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Last year, Pro Football Focus gave Staley a 96.7 pass-efficiency grade, proving he’s like a fine wine getting better with age.

77. Adam Thielen, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Last year, only four players had more receiving yards than Thielen, a former undrafted rookie out of Minnesota State. He’s gotten better every year as a pro, culminating with becoming a full-time starter last season, in which he caught 91 passes for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns. The only knock we have is that Thielen needs to get into the end zone more (just 10 career touchdowns).

76. Zach Ertz, tight end, Philadelphia Eagles

One of Carson Wentz’s favorite targets, Ertz has become one of the league’s best playmaking tight ends. He really came alive last year, tying a franchise record with eight touchdown receptions, and the past two seasons he’s caught no less than 74 passes for at least 816 yards. Not surprisingly, he earned his first Pro Bowl selection last year.

75. Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs

Cheetah is fast. I mean, he’s super-duper, did-my-eyes-deceive-me fast (watch him roast his defender like a marshmallow here). After being utilized as a utility player during his rookie season, Hill emerged as one of the league’s best deep threats last year, hauling in 75 passes for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. Now with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball he could be primed for even bigger things.

74. Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the league’s best interior defensive linemen since 2012, McCoy is a dynamic pass rusher who pushes the pocket into the face of opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis. Since his third season, he has 44.5 sacks to his credit. Now, thanks to an infusion of new talent on the defensive line this year, he could potentially have a career year.

73. Cameron Heyward, defensive end, Pittsburgh Steelers

Coming off a career year of his own, Heyward is one of the league’s best 3-4 defensive ends. Last season he hit double-digit sacks for the first time in his career, finishing with 12. Still just 29 years old, Heyward figures to continue being a key cog for Pittsburgh’s defense in the years to come.

72. Damon Harrison, defensive tackle, New York Giants

Snacks eats opposing linemen and running backs for breakfast. This guy is one of the league’s preeminent run stuffers (recently rated the best in the NFL by PFF), and he is extremely active inside against the pass as well, despite low sack totals. The Giants paid a pretty penny to get him in free agency a couple years ago, but he’s well worth it.

71. Keenan Allen, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers

Injuries have been pretty much the only thing standing in the way of greatness for Allen, who is one of the NFL’s true technicians running routes. He regularly shakes his defenders, oftentimes embarrassing them in the process. Last year, Allen had a career year, catching 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns.

70. Aqib Talib, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams

Here’s a crazy stat for you about Talib, courtesy of PFF: He allowed just 250 yards last season through the air. That’s absurd. Talib is also one of the best in the business at turning interceptions into points. Of his 34 career picks, 10 of them have been returned for touchdowns, including five in the past four seasons.

69. Landon Collins, safety, New York Giants

A contender for Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, Collins wasn’t quite as dominant last season. He still finished with 99 tackles and two interceptions, along with two fumble recoveries. One of the best all-around safeties in the league, he and the Giants appear to be poised for resurgence in 2018.

68. Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams

Suh was never a great fit in Miami. He was still a dominant player, but the scheme just never lent itself to what he does best, which is penetrate gaps. It remains to be seen if he’ll be in a position to do much of that in Los Angeles, but we do know that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is a master of getting the most out of his players.

67. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs

For the second time in a few years, Berry is in a position to potentially win Comeback Player of the Year following a season-ending Achilles injury last season. A healthy Berry equals dominance, though, as we saw when he claimed that award in 2015. Berry is a dynamic playmaker who is equally effective around the line of scrimmage of on the back end.

66. DeForest Buckner, defensive tackle, San Francisco 49ers

Since being selected seventh overall in 2016, Buckner has done nothing but prove he was worth that draft slot. An absolutely unstoppable force inside, he’s just starting to tap into his vast potential. Based on reports coming out of 49ers training camp right now, he’s been unblockable during practice, which bodes well for him and the entire defense.

65. Deion Jones, linebacker, Atlanta Falcons

Set to enter his third season as a pro, this former LSU star has become a dynamic playmaker in short order for the Falcons. He ranked fourth last year with 138 tackles, and we’ve predicted he’ll become the league-leading tackler in 2018. Jones is a bolt of lighting in the passing game, too, and he’s hauled in six interceptions already, including two pick-sixes.

64. Mike Daniels, defensive tackle, Green Bay Packers

It’s tough to make your mark as a sexy beast in the NFL if you play the nose tackle position. Yet that’s exactly what Daniels has done. Since converting from defensive end to nose tackle back in 2014, when he became a full-time starter, he’s come up with 18.5 sacks and, surprisingly, one interception.

63. Jurrell Casey, defensive tackle, Tennessee Titans

Speaking of interior defensive linemen who bring the heat, Casey has been doing it at a high level since breaking out with 10.5 sacks in his third season back in 2013. The former third-round pick out of USC has been a full-time starter since his rookie campaign and recently earned a well-deserved, huge contract extension.

62. Brandon Graham, defensive end, Philadelphia Eagles

Graham has never hit double-digit sack totals in his eight-year career. Because of this, he often gets overlooked. But you’d be a fool to undervalue this star, who has emerged as one of the league’s best overall defensive ends the past couple of years. Last year he tallied a career-best 9.5 sacks and pressured opposing quarterbacks 78 times, according to PFF. He arguably won Super Bowl LII for the Eagles as well, making the pivotal defensive play in that championship game.

61. Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle, Atlanta Falcons

This is somewhat of a projected ranking for Jarrett, who came on strong in his third season last year. He was allowed to rush the passer more after shifting from nose tackle to defensive tackle and excelled. Jarrett is still developing at the age of 25, and we expect him to continue emerging as a top interior defender in the years to come.

60. Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings

Though he can be a boom/bust type player — he does get burned for big plays through the air — Rhodes is a cornerback opposing quarterbacks have learned to fear. It helps that he plays on a defense with so much other talent. But Rhodes certainly has plenty of talent of his own. That talent has emerged in a big way the past two seasons, as he’s rallied seven interceptions, 20 pass break-ups and one touchdown.

59. Kareem Hunt, running back, Kansas City Chiefs

Kareem Hunt continues to dominate early in his NFL career.

Last season, Hunt was a relative nobody heading into training camp. Then Spencer Ware suffered a season-ending injury, and the rookie out of Toledo was thrust into the spotlight. And boy, did he shine. Hunt led the league in rushing and finished with 1,782 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage.

58. David Bakhtiari, offensive tackle, Green Bay Packers

The Packers don’t necessarily feature a dominant overall offensive line, but Bakhtiari is one of the league’s premier pass-protecting left tackles, to be sure. The past two seasons, starting 28 games, he’s allowed just six total sacks and has called for just seven total accepted penalties. He’s also been unbelievably money on third downs, accentuating his value all the more.

57. Darius Slay, cornerback, Detroit Lions

The definition of a ball hawk, Slay emerged as a pick master last year, tying Byard for the NFL lead with eight interceptions. The past four seasons he’s tallied 14 interceptions, and on top of that he’s broken up a staggering 70 passes besides those. Slay isn’t the most disciplined cornerback out there, but he’s one of the best, without a doubt.

56. Tre’Davious White, cornerback, Buffalo Bills

White was one of the most impressive rookies the NFL had to offer in 2017. He started all 16 games during the regular season after being selected 27th overall out of LSU, which is notable by itself. White also tallied four interceptions, broke up 18 passes and absolutely abused Rob Gronkowski to the point where Gronk totally lost his cool, earning a one-game suspension.

55. David DeCastro, guard, Pittsburgh Steelers

This former Stanford star is a big reason why Pittsburgh’s offense runs so smoothly, both in the run and pass games. DeCastro has earned two First-team All-Pro nods and three Pro Bowl invites. He’s one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL, and since getting injured in his rookie year he’s been remarkable resilient.

54. Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit Lions

One of the most prolific passers of his generation, Stafford has averaged 4,563 passing yards per season since becoming the full-time starter for Detroit back in 2011. He’s become more proficient since Jim Bob Cooter became the offensive coordinator and has the weapons to have another monster statistical season in 2018.

53. Jadeveon Clowney, outside linebacker, Houston Texans

Clowney has yet to live up to being the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he showed he’s no bust with a strong 2017 campaign. Injuries have been the biggest hindrance to his success so far, as he missed games in each of his first three seasons. But without the aid of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus last year he came alive for the Texans, notching 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a touchdown.

52. Travis Frederick, center, Dallas Cowboys

The first of three Dallas offensive linemen to make this list, Frederick has been absolutely key to the team’s success running the ball since he was selected in the first round (a surprise to many) back in 2013. Since then, all he’s done is start all 80 games for Dallas the past five seasons, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl and one First-team All-Pro nod.

51. LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo Bills

It’s going to be fascinating to see how well McCoy holds up this year playing behind a depleted offensive line with a quarterback who’ll be green, regardless of who’s under center. Since joining Buffalo in 2015, he’s averaged 1,465 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage per year and has pretty much carried the offense.

50. Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben is quite a lucky guy. He’s been blessed with the best overall group of skill-position players in the league, and it’s not really close. Though he’s not the most mobile of gunslingers, Roethlisberger is one of the best at standing strong in the pocket and delivering strikes under pressure. Last season, he passed for 4,152 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, leading Pittsburgh to a 12-3 record in his 15 starts.

49. Lavonte David, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you haven’t seen much of the Bucs in recent years, you’re missing out on watching one of the best linebackers in the game. David makes up for being undersized by being a sideline-to-sideline terror who has outstanding instincts and hits like a tank. Playing in 13 games last year, he tallied 106 tackles, forced five fumbles and recovered five as well, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

48. DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Dallas Cowboys

Coming off back surgery last year, Lawrence was one of the game’s best pass rushers. He notched 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 81 tackles and was the best defensive lineman on Dallas’ roster by far. Lawrence still has to prove he can do this year in and year out, which is why he was signed to a franchise tag rather than a long-term deal this offseason.

47. Melvin Ingram, defensive end, Los Angeles Chargers

One half of perhaps the league’s best pass-rushing duo, Ingram is a terror off the edge for the Chargers. The past three seasons, he’s managed to pile up 29 sacks, nine forced fumbles, two recoveries and a touchdown. Between him and Joey Bosa (more on him later), opposing offensive tackles have their work cut out.

46. Marshon Lattimore, cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Another very impressive rookie in 2017, Lattimore was a star from the moment he stepped onto the field for the Saints. He finished the season with 52 tackles, five interceptions (including one pick-six) and one forced fumble. His ability to cover top receivers was a huge reason why New Orleans’ defense as a whole was so much better last year than it had been previously.

45. Eric Weddle, safety, Baltimore Ravens

The bearded one continues to amaze. Weddle, at the age of 33, is playing like he’s 10 years younger. Last year he was third in the league with six interceptions. Since he joined Baltimore after being unceremoniously jettisoned by the Chargers, he’s tallied 10 of those, including a pick-six.

44. Philip Rivers, quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers

Well on his way to the Hall of Fame, Rivers continues to play at a very high level in his mid-30s. Last season he rebounded nicely from a horrid 2016 campaign, tossing 28 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Rivers has a solid offensive line in front of him now, and he has ample weapons to continue succeeding. The Chargers should finally make the playoffs again in 2018.

43. William Jackson, cornerback, Cincinnati Bengals

There aren’t many defensive backs in the NFL who can say they shut Antonio Brown down. Yet in the two games that Jackson saw Brown last year, he did not allow a single reception and broke up four passes on seven total targets. And he was that good all year, too. It’s worth noting he was essentially a rookie last year as well, missing his 2016 season on IR with a torn pectoral muscle.

42. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

Ryan must miss Kyle Shanahan. I know I would if I were him. Hopefully a second season with Steve Sarkisian will prove to be a good thing. Even though the offense sputtered last year a bit, Ryan still threw for over 4,000 yards and had 20 touchdowns. We expect those numbers to rise in 2018.

41. Geno Atkins, defensive tackle, Cincinnati Bengals

A veritable monster in the middle of Cincinnati’s defense, Atkins just isn’t even fair sometimes. He utilizes his 6-foot-1, 300-pound bowling ball-esque frame to devastating effect, dominating his competition both against the run and the pass. In particular, Atkins is a nightmare on passing downs. The past three seasons, the defensive tackle has accumulated 29 sacks.

40. Chris Harris, cornerback, Denver Broncos

Harris has been one of the most consistent defenders on Denver’s roster. Since the 2012 season, he has 15 interceptions and 67 passes defended to his credit. He also happens to be one of the league’s top cover corners, especially in the slot. With Talib gone to Los Angeles, we’ll likely see more of Harris outside this year. Regardless of where he plays, though, we expect to witness continued excellence.

39. Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles

It took a few years for Cox to start living up to his potential. Now that he is, he’s clearly one of the best defensive tackles in the game today. The past three seasons, Cox has tallied 21.5 sacks, but he does so much more for Philly than just bring down the quarterback. His constant pressure inside opens up more opportunities for the rest of the defensive linemen, who comprise the league’s best overall defensive line.

38. Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City Chiefs

The past four seasons, Kelce has become one of the NFL’s top playmaking tight ends. He has eclipsed 1,000 yards the past two seasons while catching 168 passes and 12 touchdowns. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see if those numbers take a dive or continue to soar now that it’s Mahomes under center in Kansas City, rather than Smith, who loves targeting tight ends.

37. Andrew Norwell, guard, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars once again struck gold in free agency, landing one of the most coveted players on the market. Norwell is an elite pass blocker and is one of the league’s most effective road graders in the run game, too. His presence, playing next to center Brandon Linder, gives the Jaguars a chance to blow out opposing defensive lines off the ball.

36. Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

If Wentz had been able to finish out the season in 2017 rather than suffering an ACL injury, then it’s not hard to imagine he would have been the league MVP instead of Tom Brady. In less than 13 full games, he piled up 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns (leading the league at that time) and just seven interceptions. The future is bright in Philly.

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

Heading into free agency last year, Bouye was one of the hottest players available. He ended up signing a huge deal to play for the Jags, and they did not regret the spending spree as Bouye had a career year, coming up with six interceptions. Teamed up with Jalen Ramsey, Bouye made it nearly impossible for opposing offenses to get into any kind of rhythm on offense.

34. Marshal Yanda, guard, Baltimore Ravens

The 2017 season was trying for Yanda, who was lost for the year due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 2. Of course, without him in the lineup, Baltimore’s offense struggled, too. Before his injury, it could be successfully argued that Yanda was the league’s best guard. He’s incredible against both the run and pass, and getting him back healthy will be a huge plus for the Ravens.

33. Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans Saints

This coming season will tell us a lot about the real worth of Kamara, who was easily the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017. Splitting time with fellow Pro Bowler Mark Ingram, he piled up 1,554 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage and was one of the most electric playmakers in football (watch this). He’s expected to carry more of the load this year, which could be a boon for the Saints, or expose him as a complementary player.

32. Patrick Peterson, cornerback, Arizona Cardinals

One of the best pure cover corners in the game, Peterson has the added benefit of being an outstanding playmaker when opposing quarterbacks do try to test him. He has 21 interceptions and 71 passes defended on record, and, according to PFF, he ranks first in yards allowed per route in coverage and first in fantasy points allowed per route in coverage over the past three years. That’s amazing.

31. Bobby Wagner, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks

There’s only one inside linebacker on this list ranked higher than Wagner. He’s a sideline-to-sideline speed demon who gobbles up tackles like the Cookie Monster on a bender. Wagner is also very good in coverage and has eight interceptions to his credit, along with three defensive touchdowns the past three seasons.

30. Tyron Smith, offensive tackle, Dallas Cowboys

When healthy, Smith is the best left tackle in the NFL. He’s missed games due to a back issue the past two years (three games both seasons). But when he’s played he’s been dominant protecting Dak Prescott’s blind side — Smith has allowed just five sacks the past two seasons — and opening up running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott.

29. Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams

There isn’t another ball hawk in the NFL right now who can compare to Peters. He’s been the best in the league at picking quarterbacks’ pockets since his rookie season, coming up with 19 interceptions in his first three years. Even better than that, he’s broken up 55 other passes, meaning he gets his hands on the football all the darn time.

28. Zack Martin, guard, Dallas Cowboys

The best guard in the game today, Martin just got paid like it recently, too. He paves super highways for Ezekiel Elliott in the run game and is extremely efficient protecting the passer. Perhaps all you need to know about how dominant this young man has been is that he’s made either First- or Second-team All Pro in each of his first four seasons.

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

Every time I think about Green, I wonder just what kind of stats he might have by now if he played with a top-tier quarterback. As it stands, even though his quarterback is mediocre, Green has averaged 5.5 receptions, 80.5 yards and 0.55 touchdowns per game since joining the Bengals as a rookie out of Georgia in 2011. He’s incredible. And the best news for him is that he might end up playing with that elite passer some day, as his contract runs out after the 2019 season.

26. Casey Hayward, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers

Perhaps the most underrated cornerback in the league, Hayward is a sleuth when it comes to sniffing out what opposing quarterbacks are trying to throw at him. The past two seasons, he’s come down with 11 interceptions and broken up 42 other passes. According to PFF, he also “led all full-time starters in completion percentage allowed (42.7 percent) and was fourth in passer rating allowed (58.6).”

25. Chandler Jones, outside linebacker, Arizona Cardinals

I can’t help but wonder if Bill Belichick regrets having traded Jones to the Cardinals two years ago. Since then, all this young pass rusher has done is rack up 28 sacks, bumping his three-year total up to 40.5 since 2015. It sure feels like Arizona won that trade. Jones is looking to lead the league in sacks for the second year in a row this fall, and based on what he’s doing in camp he just might (watch this insane show of strength).

24. Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

No quarterback does more for his offense than Wilson has done for the Seahawks the past couple of years. All he did last year was account for an astounding 86 percent of Seattle’s total offensive output — of the 5,286 total yards the Seahawks offense accumulated, Wilson accounted for 4,571. That’s just staggering. Wilson also led the league throwing 34 touchdown passes, and if the Seahawks had an semblance of an offensive line he would be absolutely unstoppable.

23. Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints

For my money, Thomas is the most underrated wide receiver in the NFL right now. Can’t guard Mike. Just cannot do it. This guy shakes defensive backs on a regular basis. He’s the reason the Saints were content to trade Brandin Cooks before last season, and he didn’t disappoint, catching 104 passes for 1,243 yards and five touchdowns. If the Saints get a bit more air-centric in their offensive approach this year again, his numbers will skyrocket.

22. Joey Bosa, defensive end, Los Angeles Chargers

Bosa’s ability to bring the heat to opposing quarterbacks puts him among the game’s elites, even after just two seasons. As a rookie, despite missing four games due to a holdout, he won Defensive Rookie of the Year, finishing with 10.5 sacks. Last year he did even better, and he already has 23 sacks in just 28 career games. The future is bright for this young defensive star.

21. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys

After leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie, Elliott managed to average nearly 100 yards on the ground again in his second season, despite missing six games due to suspension. In 25 career games, this youngster has piled up 3,246 yards and 25 touchdowns from scrimmage. He’s just a beast with the ball in his hands, and he is blessed to play behind the best run-blocking offensive line in the game.

20. Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints

Despite a run game that totaled 2,070 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, Brees still passed for 4,334 yards and threw 23 touchdowns. That’s just an incredible show of balance, and Brees is the perfect trigger man for an offense that can stretch defenses both vertically and horizontally. It’s also pretty crazy that a 4,300-plus-yard season was a down year for Brees, who’ll one day be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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

Just like last year around this same time, Watt comes in a bit higher on this list than we’d like. Of course, the reason for this is that Watt has been injured a ton in the past two seasons. He has managed to play in just eight games total since 2016. But if he’s healthy and back to his normal, dominant self (he racked up 69 sacks between 2012-15), the Texans will be insanely good on defense.

18. DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver, Houston Texans

It really doesn’t matter who’s throwing Hopkins the football — he’s going to put up jaw-dropping stats. Since entering the NFL as the 27th overall pick out of Clemson in 2013, he’s averaged 83 catches, 1,173 yards and seven touchdowns per year. Even playing just seven games with Deshaun Watson last year propelled Watson to another level, as he hauled in 13 touchdowns, a career high.

17. Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars

The move from the desert to the deep south suited Campbell to a T. After playing in a 3-4 scheme his entire career in Arizona, his first season in Jacksonville showed just how dangerous Campbell can be off the edge as he finished second in the league in sacks with 14.5. It’s not just the pass rushing that makes Campbell so special, though. He stacks against the run as well as any defensive end in the game. He’s a truly elite player at his position.

16. David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals

Johnson isn’t a one-year wonder. Even as a part-timer during his rookie season, he was special, both as a running back and special-teams star. The 2016 season was his coming-out party for sure, however, as he totaled 2,118 yards and 20 yards from scrimmage to lead the league in both categories. Now that he’s healthy after missing the 2017 season with a wrist injury, and considering Arizona’s quarterback situation, he should be back to his old tricks again.

15. Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots

Gronk is a special player, and the Patriots are no doubt happy to have him back. He’s darn-near unstoppable in the passing game and is a red-zone magician. Injuries have been a big part of his story over the years. But when he’s healthy he’s dynamic. In 102 career games he’s caught 474 passes for 7,179 yards and 76 touchdowns.

14. Cameron Jordan, defensive end, New Orleans Saints

Even though he’s had little-to-no help on the front line for most of his career, Jordan has been a top pass rusher in this league since his second season in 2012. He’s coming off a career year in which he tallied 13 sacks, but he’s also one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the NFL, too. The (hopeful) emergence of rookie Marcus Davenport could mean big things are in store for Jordan in 2018, as well.

13. Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

When Patrick Willis retired, the mantle of best inside linebacker in football fell on the shoulders of Kuechly, who was already challenging for that title to begin with. He’s absolutely deadly against both the pass and run. His instincts rate among the best this scribe has ever witnessed, and he has all the physical attributes to dominate from sideline-to-sideline, too. The one thing that could potentially stand in the way of the Hall of Fame is that Kuechly has dealt with concussions over the course of his career.

12. Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons

When it comes to racking up yards, Jones is truly an elite player. He’s totaled 6,317 yards receiving the past four seasons, averaging 1,579 per year. So far, however, he’s only manged double-digit touchdowns once in his career. If Jones were a touchdown machine he’d arguably be the top receiver in the NFL. As it stands, he’s pretty darn close.

11. Harrison Smith, safety, Minnesota Vikings

The best safety in the game right now, Smith does it all for the Vikings. He is a star in the box defending the run, can get to the quarterback on blitzes (nine career sacks) and is stellar in coverage on the back end (17 interceptions and 40 passes defended). There are many excellent defenders on Minnesota’s roster, but Smith stands above them all.

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

For the sake of argument, let’s throw out Beckham’s 2017 season. He appeared in just four games and was never fully healthy to begin with. In the three seasons prior, this guy averaged 96 catches, 1,374 yards and nearly 12 touchdowns per season. That’s how he started his career. By all accounts, OBJ is back to full health, and he’s highly motivated for a new contract extension. That spells doom for opposing defensive secondaries.

9. Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

For my money, Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL right now. And at least one former NFL great agrees with me on this. During his second season in 2017, he was named to the First-team All-Pro squad, and deservedly so. So far, in just two seasons, he has six interceptions and 31 passes defended to his credit.

8. Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams

Even counting his miserable 2016 season, Gurley brings an impressive resume into Year 4. In his first three seasons, he’s averaged 1,533 yards and nearly 12 touchdowns from scrimmage, and last year he led the league with 2,093 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s a key player for young Sean McVay, who knows how to get the most out of his young star.

7. Khalil Mack, defensive end, Oakland Raiders

Mack is currently in the middle of a nasty holdout with Oakland, and it’s not hard to blame him for staying away from the club. All he’s done the past three seasons is rack up 36.5 sacks while the rest of his defense crumbled behind him. Mack is a stud against the run as well. He’s simply one of the best overall players in the league and deserves to be paid like it.

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

There’s only one offensive skill-position player on this list rated higher than Bell, and it’ll be a familiar face to him. A truly special player, he combines elite rushing abilities with pass-catching skills that would make many receivers jealous. In 62 career games, Bell has amassed 7,996 yards and 42 touchdowns from scrimmage. Folks, that’s almost 129 yards per game.

5. Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s hard to imagine any player ever eclipsing the receiving records Jerry Rice set during his legendary career. But if anyone’s going to do it, it’ll probably be Brown. An absolute ball magnet, he has averaged 116 catches, 1,569 yards and over 10 touchdowns per season the past five years.

4. Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos

When it comes to applying pressure off the edge, Miller is in a class all by himself. In addition to his staggering 83.5 sacks in just 103 career games, Miller hits quarterbacks on a regular basis and is the best in the league at hurrying them when he’s not putting a hand on them. Miller is also adept at forcing turnovers, coming up with 22 forced fumbles over the course of his career.

3. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers

If he can stay healthy and plays as long as he wants to play, Rodgers will one day be the GOAT. Here’s a guy who has completed over 65 percent of his career passes while throwing 313 touchdowns and just 78 interceptions in 149 career games. On top of that, Rodgers already has a Super Bowl title under his belt. And there aren’t that many Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks out there.

2. Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots

At some point, Brady will finally decide enough’s enough and retire. But it’s pretty crazy that, at the age of 40, he won the league’s MVP trophy while falling just short of winning his sixth Super Bowl title. Last year, Brady led the league with 4,577 passing yards, throwing 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. The year before that, he threw just two picks all season long.

1. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams

No single player can wreck a game the way that Donald does. He’s the league’s best overall player right now, without a doubt. He’s a defensive tackle who puts up sack totals most edge rushers would be jealous about — 39 sacks in four seasons. He’s the most disruptive defender we’ve seen perhaps since the late, great Reggie White. The Rams need to pay him and forget about it, because he’ll be worth every penny, no matter the cost.

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