For the 12th consecutive year, the NFL's player-voters have cast their ballots, delivered a list of the league's top 100 talents -- and got it all wrong.
This is my fourth year pointing out where the players erred, and this time around, I have less of an issue with whether a player was ranked higher than another in particular, and more with which players were left off all together.
Example: How am I really supposed to quibble with Aaron Donald, the Super Bowl-clinching, ring finger-identifying, abs-flexing, Tom Brady-beating runner-back of titles, coming in behind the unretired signal-caller at the top of this year's ranking? I mean, we're living in unprecedented TB times. The masked slinger just wrapped up his 45th year of life -- his 22nd in the NFL -- and is coming off perhaps his most dominant season yet. Try shrugging off a career-high, league-leading 485 completions and 5,316 passing yards, and you'll collapse under the weight of your own trolling pride. For once, I beg of you, show some respect for Brady, who's had to endure four long years without a No. 1 ranking.
That was all to say: The margins between the play of the top athletes in the sport are razor-thin. Trying to measure and dispute them requires a dead-eyed passion that only the truly football-addicted can manage.
Without further ado then, here are five of this sicko's beefs with this year's edition of the Top 100 Players:
1) Return the Mac
Speaking of quarterbacks who thrived in their first year as a Patriots starter, the fifth signal-caller taken in the 2021 draft is the only member of that QB class in the Top 100. There's no doubt Mac Jones, who won the starting job over veteran Cam Newton in training camp and led New England back to the postseason after a one-year hiatus, had the best season of his rookie compatriots, beating Davis Mills by a neck or two. But was it outstanding enough to warrant peer submission into the league's upper echelon out the gate? QBs coming off their rookie year have cracked the Top 100 before, most notably Dak Prescott at No. 14 in 2017, Robert Griffin III at No. 15 in 2013 and Justin Herbert at No. 56 just last year. But each of those men had just won Offensive Rookie of the Year, an honor Jones looked primed to receive before being outran by the obvious correct selection, Ja'Marr Chase. I hear the Boston backlash already: Non-OROY-winning quarterbacks have made the Top 100 before (Baker Mayfield at No. 50 in '19, for example); and among rookie QBs with at least 10 first-year starts since this list originated, Jones' debut season ranks in the top six in passer rating, completion percentage, sack percentage and Pro Bowl Griddies. But I'd argue, despite what the players say, that a rookie QB shouldn't be considered among the league's top 100 unless he pulls off a truly transcendent first year, à la Dak or RGIII, one that maybe doesn't end with four losses in five games, including a 30-point playoff blowout at the hands of a division rival. Ask yourself: Would you rather go into the 2022 season in the AFC with Jones under center or Matt Ryan and/or Ryan Tannehill, neither of whom was among the 14 quarterbacks to make this year's list? Let's see Jones with a rocket scientist calling plays for him before ranking him among the stars.
2) Missing the mark on wideouts
If the last handful of months were any proof, wide receivers clearly drive the national narrative, the online discourse -- if you can call IG maintenance that -- and the course of business around the NFL. They're also driving prices up -- see bank accounts for Tyreek Hill, Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin. Often the loudest voices in the room, receivers are overrepresented in the Top 100 every year. At least 14 wideouts had made the show in each go-around -- a fifth of the 2019 class were WRs. But this year, for the first time ever, there were 13, fewer (gasp) than the 14 QBs. That meant that some key players were excluded, and also that some big but expendable (from this list, at least) names were left on. So here's a grab-bag of issues I have with the receivers' portion of this ranking:
- After a near-career year for Chris Godwin, the Buccaneers receiver should be here, perhaps replacing his talented but already highly decorated teammate, Mike Evans (No. 53, sixth inclusion).
- Diontae Johnson (107 receptions, fifth in NFL) and Hunter Renfrow (103, ninth) were overlooked, while rookie Jaylen Waddle (104, eighth) broke through on his first go, er, hitch, all the way up at No. 63.
- Speaking of Brown, Metcalf and McLaurin, should they be penalized for subpar and inconsistent quarterback play? Their inclusion, or at least consideration, is warranted here far more than CeeDee Lamb (No. 95), who benefited from Dak Prescott and a top-flight Cowboys offense, and Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 90), who forced his way out of Cleveland midseason and thrived last year as Matthew Stafford's No. 2 option behind a triple-crown winner.
- I don't know what to do with D.J. Moore, who continues to churn out 1,100-yard seasons with the likes of Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold under center but has never even made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs are the only WRs with more receiving yards since 2019. I don't blame the players if they aren't sure what to do with him either.
3) An All-Pro snub
Only two non-special teams players voted first- or second-team All-Pro in 2021 were not voted by their peers onto the Top 100. One was Eagles veteran right tackle Lane Johnson, who previously cracked the ranking in 2018 (No. 95); Johnson's got that dog in him, but he's had his time in the sun, and Philly's O-line is well represented here by Jason Kelce, so I won't pick nits with his omission. The other, however, is a legitimate and disappointing snub: Falcons CB A.J. Terrell. Likely maligned in this year's voting because he played for a mediocre Atlanta squad with little time in the national spotlight, Terrell was not one of the eight cornerbacks selected to the Top 100. The second-team All-Pro, whose 85.6 PFF coverage grade was the second-highest among cornerbacks last year behind Jalen Ramsey (No. 9), posted top marks in a number of Next Gen Stats categories, including completion percentage allowed (41.1 percent). Yet, he was nowhere to be found, something usually said of the receivers he covers. J.C. Jackson (No. 20), who just got PAID, and Trevon Diggs (No. 23), who got PICKS last year, but also BURNED OFTEN, received all the shine this offseason, while Terrell was left to wallow in anonymity.
4) Fetch the Bolt cutters
The Chargers might not be the Los Angeles team with a Super Bowl title, a division crown or even a playoff appearance in the last three years. But you know what the Bolts do have over their fellow SoFi Stadium dwellers? More players in the Top 100 in 2022! Not only that, the Chargers, coming off a 9-8 season and a devastating Week 17 non-tie to miss the playoffs, have more representatives in the Top 100 (8) than any other team in the league. More than those Lombardi-lifting Rams (6), more than the AFC-champion Bengals (4), more than the Chiefs, who won the Chargers' own freakin' division (5). Something's amiss. Four Chargers remained from last year's list (Joey Bosa, Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Corey Linsley), and three were added (Derwin James returning at No. 43, and Austin Ekeler and Rashawn Slater making their debuts at Nos. 46 and 79, respectively). It should be said that one of the eight Bolts is an offseason acquisition (J.C. Jackson); Khalil Mack, arguably the bigger name, is a notable omission. Whether the voters' evaluations here ultimately say more about the perception of the Chargers' roster (top-heavy?) or the utilization of said roster (underachieving!) is for another column. But I'm here to say unequivocally this should not be allowed: A team that didn't even play into mid-January shouldn't supply any more than five players to this ranking.
5) Some love for teams in the cellar
Here it is: My annual plea to mandate that every team is represented by at least one player on the Top 100 list. This year, four teams saw zero of their rostered employees featured; they were, not so coincidentally, the four worst clubs in the 2021 standings: the Jaguars, Lions, Texans and Jets. It might be a bit of a stretch to include players from these clubs on the esteemed Top 100 ranking, but it's a necessary move to undertake so as not to alienate some of the more beleaguered fan bases. For your consideration: Jaguars OLB Josh Allen, coming off a 7.5-sack season; Lions WR Amon-Ra Brown, the franchise's rookie record-holder with 90 catches and 912 receiving yards; Texans WR Brandin Cooks, annually overlooked and good for 1K regardless of who's under center; and Jets LT Duane Brown, the five-time Pro Bowl veteran who signed with New York earlier this month.
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