After going through our positional Top 10s over the past several weeks, you know we had to do a staff Top 100 here at CBS. (Not to be confused with Pete Prisco’s Top 100,.)
This list was arrived at the same way as those: our panel of voters each ranked their top 100 players in the NFL, assigning them all a corresponding point total (100 points for No. 1, 99 points for No. 2, 98 points for No. 3 and so on.) The point totals for every vote-getting player (132 players received at least one vote) were then added up, then sent over to me to compile the consensus Top 100 for the staff.
Just as was the case for the positional Top 10s, the rankings below are the result of the aforementioned voting process, and thus do not reflect my personal Top 100. Before we get to said list, however, it does feel like we owe you a breakdown of the results.
- 52 offense: 14 QB; 8 RB; 14 WR; 3 TE; 13 OL (7 OT, 4 OG, 2 OC)
- 48 defense: 13 EDGE; 12 IDL; 6 LB; 10 CB; 7 S
- 55 NFC: 17 East; 12 North; 15 South; 11 West
- 45 AFC: 7 East; 10 North; 12 South; 16 West
None of those breakdowns were planned. Things just turned out that way. I was fascinated to see the nearly even split between offense and defense, and it does feel right that the NFC has 10 more players than the AFC, given that it appears to once again be the vastly superior conference.
It also seems fitting that players who factor in the passing game account for more of the list than those who primarily work in the run game, as running backs and linebackers come in way behind quarterbacks, receivers, edge rushers, and defensive backs. The offensive line feels underrepresented to me, but that’s almost always bound to be a losing argument when doing these types of rankings.
In case you’re wondering which team placed the most players on our list, that would be the Dallas Cowboys, with nine. None of those nine Cowboys ranked inside the top 20, and none was quarterback Dak Prescott, who finished at No. 105. After Dallas, the Chargers were next on the list with seven players, and saw Melvin Ingram just miss the cut at No. 102. The Chargers were followed by the Chiefs, Saints, and Eagles, who each accounted for six players on the list. No other team had more than four. Just one team, meanwhile, failed to place a single player on the list: The Miami Dolphins.
And since you’re undoubtedly going to yell at all of us about snubs, here are a few that stand out to me: Dee Ford, Lavonte David, David DeCastro, Yannick Ngakoue, Rodney Hudson, Eric Weddle, Stefon Diggs, Xavien Howard, C.J. Mosley, Sheldon Rankins, Brandon Graham, Mike Daniels, Julian Edelman, Nick Chubb, and Jarran Reed.
Without further ado, here is the CBS Sports Staff Top 100 NFL Players of 2019 …
1. Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
It would have been unheard of not that long ago for an interior defensive lineman to top a list like this. But Donald is an unheard of talent, so that makes a perfect kind of sense. He is coming off the best season of his spectacular career, and he’s only about to enter his physical prime. This is a future no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer, one of the best in the history of the game, and we get to watch him work. Enjoy it while it lasts.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
It’s not every year that a quarterback who throws for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns doesn’t even get to check in at No. 1. That’s the reality of this league right now, but Mahomes did finish just two points behind the No. 1 guy in our voting (996 to 994) and was the unanimous No. 1 quarterback in the league among our panel. With Andy Reid on his side, a plethora of weapons, a strong offensive line, the best arm in the league and a brilliant ability to improvise and make things happen at any time, Mahomes is just getting started.
3. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Bears
Our top edge rusher, Mack started last season like gangbusters before slowing down a bit amid nagging injuries. Still, he is an unstoppable force off the edge and one of the premier defensive playmakers in the league. His Week 1 performance against the Packers last season — coming off an extended holdout and then a trade — was possibly the most dominating defensive game of the season.
4. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Like Aaron Rodgers, Brady was not at his very best last season. But Brady at “not his very best” is still good enough to win the Super Bowl — even at age 41. If he hasn’t fallen off by now, we should probably stop expecting it to happen every year and just take it in stride whenever it does.
5. Von Miller, EDGE, Broncos
When Miller is healthy, which is almost always, he is as good a guarantee of double-digit sacks as has ever existed in the NFL. He has played at least 15 games in seven of his eight seasons, and has recorded 11.5, 18.5, 14.0, 11.0, 13.5, 10.0, and 14.5 sacks in those seven seasons. With Bradley Chubb now filling the DeMarcus Ware Memorial Elite Pass Rusher Across From Von Miller role, he should continue to drop quarterbacks for the foreseeable future.
6. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
It used to be extremely easy to say that Rodgers at his best represented the best the NFL had to offer. But that was until we saw what happened last season. That doesn’t have as much to do with Rodgers himself slipping (though he has, slightly) as it does the discovery of an all-new superstar, though. Even in a down year, Rodgers threw for 4,442 yards and 25 scores, with only two interceptions. With a new coach and system on his side, he should be able to get back to the top of his game.
7. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
The highest-ranked wideout on our list, Hopkins has unmatched hands and body control. And now that he’s had Deshaun Watson throwing to him rather than the cast of cast-offs he had during the first four years of his career, he has nearly unmatched numbers as well. He had 115 catches for 1,572 yards and 11 scores last season, numbers that have been matched by the following players: Antonio Brown, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce, and Jerry Rice. That’s it. And Hopkins can still get better.
8. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
A year after leading the league with 34 touchdown passes, Wilson threw one more TD toss (35) despite throwing 126 fewer passes than the year before. He remains a miracle worker under pressure, he’s one of the best downfield throwers in the league, and he is always, always, always a threat to take off and run with the football. With the Seahawks rebooting their roster after paying Wilson more than any other quarterback has ever been paid, it’ll be fascinating to see how his game develops.
9. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seahawks
Richard Sherman has said it best: Wagner gets underrated because he has had so many good defensive teammates for so long. With Sherman himself, plus Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and now even Frank Clark all having moved on, perhaps he’ll get the shine he truly deserves from now on. This is a guy who has at least 114 tackles in each of his seven NFL seasons, and at least 133 in each of the six where he’s played 15 games or more. And he’s the best pass-defending linebacker in the league.
10. Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Brees saw a slight drop-off toward the end of last season, but before that he was having one of his best years and once again shattering his own completion percentage mark. Brees found his target on an utterly unheard of 74.4 percent of his throws last season, and posted one of the best touchdown rates of his career by finding his man in the end zone 6.5 percent of the time he dropped back. Oh, and his interception rate was a microscopic 1.0 percent. With the weapons, offensive line, and play-caller he’s got, any drop-off shouldn’t be too bad.
11. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Jones has now led the league in receiving yards in two of the past four seasons, and led it in receiving yards per game in three of those four. Oh, and he’s led the whole league in PFF’s Yards Per Route Run in each of those four seasons. He also broke the silly “Julio Jones can’t score touchdowns” curse last season, with eight of them. This is a receiver at the top of his game, which means he is very near the top of the NFL’s game as well.
12. Fletcher Cox, DT, Eagles
Cox has missed just three games across seven NFL seasons, and he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the past four. Last year saw him notch 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 34 quarterback hits, and 60 hurries. With the Eagles once again adding an underrated contributor to their line (Malik Jackson), he should once again be put in position to succeed by working as the top man in a deep, versatile rotation up front.
13. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
Thomas had 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie, and has somehow only managed to get better since then. Last season, he led the league with 125 grabs — catching a completely absurd 85 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. A First Team All-Pro last year, Thomas should continue to be the top receiving option for one of the best offenses in football.
14. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Browns
In five NFL seasons, Beckham has averaged 6.6 catches and 92.8 receiving yards per game. And that’s with Eli Manning throwing to him. Now he gets Baker Mayfield, and gets to work next to his friend Jarvis Landry, plus David Njoku, Nick Chubb, and either Kareem Hunt or Duke Johnson. This is gonna be fun.
15. Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
Somewhat surprisingly not the top linebacker on our list, Kuechly has been a Pro Bowler in six straight seasons and a First Team All-Pro in five of them. He remains the best run-stopping linebacker in the league, and he is damn near elite defending against the pass. The only question mark with him is health, given his history of concussions.
16. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
Like Watt, Luck came back from a few injury-plagued seasons and looked like his old self again in 2018. He had his best season yet behind the best protection he has ever gotten from his offensive line, and that’s no accident. With Frank Reich scheming him into position for success and the Colts having added even more weapons for him to throw to, he should continue right along the same path over the next few seasons.
17. J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
After two seasons in the injury-riddled wilderness, Watt was back in full force last season. If he slipped a bit, it was barely noticeable, as he finished with 16 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, and 25 quarterback hits. Those are not quite the “I am the obvious best defender and possibly best overall player” numbers he posted from 2012 through 2015, but they’re close. He’s resumed his rightful place as one of the top defensive destroyers in the game.
18. Cameron Jordan, EDGE, Saints
Jordan finished seventh among edge defenders with 45 hurries last season, to go along with his latest double-digit sack season. Even while the Saints’ defense was struggling a few years ago, he was dominant. Now that his teammates have caught up a bit, he is widely recognized as one of the best edge players in the league.
19. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs
You might be sensing a theme here, as Kelce is our highest-ranked tight end. He is the top target on the best offense in football, and has made the Pro Bowl in four straight seasons. In each of the last three, he has at least 82 catches and 1,038 receiving yards. He catches everything, makes things happen once the ball gets in his hands, and uses his size well as a blocker.
20. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Patriots
Out highest-ranked defensive back, Gilmore struggled just a but during his first season in New England, but he was fantastic in Year 2. He graded out as PFF’s top cornerback, allowing a 71.8 passer rating on throws in his direction and knocking 17 passes away before they hit their intended target. And he was terrific during New England’s Super Bowl run.
21. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Our top-ranked running back, Barkley is a truly rare player archetype. Last season, Barkley became just the seventh player in NFL history to run for at least 1,000 yards and catch at least 90 passes in the same season — and the first to do so as a rookie. His 2,028 yards from scrimmage led the NFL. He’s not the most efficient back on an every-snap basis, but he makes up for it with an incredible volume of explosive plays, and an improved offensive line should help with the efficiency.
22. David Bakhtiari, T, Packers
The highest ranked offensive lineman on the list, Bakhtiari just keeps showing up and dominating the man across from him. He’s out there on an every-snap basis, every season, protecting one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
23. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
Rivers is coming off arguably the best season of his career at age 37. It’s tempting to say a drop-off is coming soon, but look around the league: a lot of older quarterbacks are still finding great success. He’s losing one of his top targets in Tyrell Williams, but gaining one in Hunter Henry. He should still be quite good.
24. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
Elliott has been in the league for three seasons. He has led the league in rushing yards twice, and led the league in rushing yards per game in the other season. (He was suspended for six games due to a violation of the personal conduct policy in 2017.) Last year, he finally tapped into his skills as a receiver as well. With a new offensive coordinator it’s possible he could be used in even more creative ways and become even more productive.
25. Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs
Jones fully broke out in 2018, spiking to 15.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, and 19 tackles for loss. Each of those totals was better than what he did during his first two years combined. There’s been a bunch of turnover along the Chiefs’ defensive front this offseason and they’re transitioning to a new scheme, but Jones shouldn’t be affected too much anyway.
26. Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars
During his time with the Cardinals, Campbell was one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. Becoming more of a pure edge guy in Jacksonville, he has finally gotten the recognition he always deserved as one of the best defenders in the NFL. Sure, he’ll be 33 next year, but considering he has 25 sacks, 52 quarterback hits, and 34 tackles for loss during his two seasons with the Jags, it doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down much.
27. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jaguars
Ramsey has been in the NFL for three seasons and has been arguably the single best corner in the league for each of those three seasons. He’s a shutdown guy, in the truest sense of the word. The Jaguars may not want to pay him now, but someone will eventually.
28. Myles Garrett, EDGE, Browns
The first of two stars the Browns drafted with their back-to-back No. 1 overall picks, Garrett was even better in Year 2 than Year 1. The result: 13.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, and 12 tackles for loss. He’s already an elite pass rusher — one of the best in the game. And he can still get even better against the run.
29. Demarcus Lawrence, EDGE, Cowboys
Lawrence got himself a well-deserved payday this offseason after finally turning into the player the Cowboys envisioned when they traded up for him in 2014. The past two years, he’s got 25 sacks, 49 quarterback hits, and 29 tackles for loss. He had shoulder surgery earlier this offseason but considering how productive he was with the bum shoulder, he should be just fine.
30. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Ryan was nearly as good last season as he was during his 2016 MVP run, but it was overshadowed because his defense couldn’t stop anybody and his running backs couldn’t run the ball. He has a track record of taking a step backward during his first year with a new offensive coordinator, but considering Dirk Koetter held that role in Atlanta from 2012 through 2014, he may not have the same growing pains this season.
31. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Broncos
66.5, 64.9, 46.7, 89.0, 68.5, 76.6, 64.6. Those are the passer ratings allowed by Harris on throws in his direction over the past seven seasons. That is simply a remarkable run of sustained success, made even more impressive by the fact that Harris spends time both inside in the slot and on the perimeter. He’s almost too good.
32. Zack Martin, G, Cowboys
The best guard in football, Martin has been in the NFL for five seasons and has been named to five Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams (three first, two second). The Cowboys rightfully made him the highest-paid guard in the league and he will probably manage to make that deal look like a bargain.
33. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints
Kamara is essentially Christian McCaffrey but with a two-year track record of awesomeness at the NFL level instead of one. His encore to a fantastic rookie performance saw him accumulate 48 more yards from scrimmage despite playing one fewer game, and also spike his touchdown total from 13 to 18. He is the very definition of a dual-threat running back, one of the best space players in the league.
34. Akiem Hicks, DT, Bears
Hicks has taken his game to another level during his three years in Chicago, and in 2018 he finally got the recognition with a Pro Bowl berth. He has seven-plus sacks in each of his three seasons with the Bears, and at least 11 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits in each of those seasons as well. He has not missed a game and has proven extremely valuable as a chess piece to move around the formation. In short: he’s a star.
35. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
Anyone who thought McCaffrey could not be a bell-cow back looks pretty silly right now. In Year 2, CMC handled 326 total touches, racking up 1,965 yards and 13 scores. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry and was essentially Cam Newton’s No. 1 receiver at the same time. He’s only headed into his age-23 season and considering the Panthers have not really brought in much in the way of competition, we should expect that he’ll be used quite heavily yet again this season.
36. George Kittle, TE, 49ers
Kittle went for 88 catches, 1,376 yards and five scores last season despite spending most of the year playing with one of two backup quarterbacks throwing the ball his way. He established himself as one of the NFL’s most dangerous players with the ball in his hands regardless of position — a threat to score from anywhere on the field. And he should only get better with Jimmy Garoppolo back in the fold.
37. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles
Ertz set an NFL record for most catches in a season by a tight end, hauling in 118 passes from Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. He also set a new career high in receiving yards and matched his eight end zone trips from 2017. He is a matchup nightmare in-line and split wide, and he is smack dab in the middle of his prime.
38. Quenton Nelson, G, Colts
Darius Leonard was not even the Colts’ only All-Pro rookie last season. Nelson stepped into the lineup and was immediately a star, paving the way for Marlon Mack in the run game and keeping Andrew Luck upright. He was exactly what the Colts expected, and there’s every reason to believe he’ll continue to be exactly that.
39. Antonio Brown, WR, Raiders
All Brown did in 2018 was record his sixth consecutive season with at least 101 catches, 1,284 yards, and eight touchdowns. Nobody else in NFL history has more than four such seasons, and only eight other players have two or more. And those are Brown’s *worst* figures in each category over the past six years. He averaged a 114-1,524-11 line during that time. Even with a new team, he should still be incredibly tough to stop.
40. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
Even during what could reasonably be considered a down season spotted with injuries and holding penalties, Smith was arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. There were 78 tackles that spent at least 300 snaps on the field in 2018, and just six of them allowed zero sacks. Smith was one of those six. Among the 44 linemen who played at least as many snaps as Smith, just two allowed fewer hurries. And at this point, Smith is just as good in the run game as he is at stifling pass rushers.
41. Eddie Jackson, S, Bears
One of the small handful of best players on what was the NFL’s best defense last season, Jackson is coming off a season where he was both a Pro Bowler and a First Team All-Pro. The Bears let his backfield partner Adrian Amos leave for a contract with the Packers, but brought in former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to replace him. Jackson should not miss a beat, even if the Bears defense takes a slight step backward thanks to the personnel changes and the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
T-42. Derwin James, S, Chargers
T-42. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Jets
James was simply spectacular as a rookie, immediately emerging as one of the NFL’s best safeties and making several teams look ridiculous for passing on him in the draft. The Chargers love to move him around and use three or even four safeties on the field at once, and that works just fine for James. He’s only getting started.
Bell is one of the most versatile and productive backs we’ve ever seen, but he’s also coming off a year and a half of not playing any football at all due to his season-long contract holdout. The Jets will presumably get him the ball ALL. THE. TIME. to justify the money they gave him this offseason, but it appears that even his own coach was skeptical about bringing him into the fold.
44. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
I’ll admit that I thought this was too high for Roethlisberger. Then I took a look at his numbers from last year, which were basically the same as they were in 2017, but with greater volume. He led the NFL in pass attempts, completions, and yards last season, and his touchdown rate and interception rate were essentially identical to what they were the year before. Perhaps a major drop-off is coming, but it hasn’t arrived just yet.
45. Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals
Peterson will be on the sidelines for the first six games of next season due to a PED-related suspension, but it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll resume his place among the league’s best corners once he returns. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons, and every one of those berths has been well-deserved.
T-46. Earl Thomas, S, Ravens
T-46. Joey Bosa, EDGE, Chargers
The last image we saw of Thomas on the field was him flipping off his own sideline after the Seahawks refused to pony up for a contract extension and he then broke his leg in the fourth game of the year. Before that, he was hands down the best safety in the NFL, just like he always is. The only thing preventing him from finishing higher on this list is his age (30) and suddenly-concerning injury track record.
Bosa began his career with a holdout and an injury but has been about as good as you could possibly ask a player to be ever since. He had 10.5 sacks in 12 games as a rookie, 12.5 in 16 games as a sophomore, and 5.5 in seven games after returning from injury last year. As long as he’s on the field, he’s an elite edge defender.
48. Marshal Yanda, G, Ravens
If Yanda is no longer the single best offensive lineman in all of football, it’s not because he’s slipped all that much. Set to turn 35 years old later this year, Yanda is obviously not quite at the peak of his powers anymore; but he has as good an argument as anybody not named Zack Martin for the title of the game’s best guard.
49. Jason Kelce, C, Eagles
With division rival Frederick out last season, Kelce cemented himself as the best center in the league. He is an elite blocker in both the run and pass phases, and perhaps the best lineman in the NFL at getting out in front of backs in the screen game. It’s extremely difficult to be any better than Kelce.
50. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
After an up-and-down rookie campaign, Wentz has been pretty terrific across 24 starts over the past two years. Of course, he has also suffered a season-ending injury in each of those seasons. The talent is obvious. The durability is in question.
51. Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans
Watson is already one of the best and most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL, capable of creating a touchdown from anywhere on the field either through the air or on the ground. If the Texans actually manage to get him some actual help up front, he’ll be even better.
52. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
On the field, Hill is incredible. There is no denying his talent, nor his penchant for explosive plays. Off the field, Hill appears — at the very least — to have issues with anger and his treatment of women and children. If he does not change for the better, none of what he does on the field will matter at all.
53. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
Last season, Gordon became the player he was reputed to be through his first three years. From 2015 through 2017, he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and 89.1 total yards per game. In 2018, those numbers spiked to 5.1 per carry and 114.6 per game. He’s holding out for a new contract, but seems unlikely to get it given the way the league — and the Chargers in particular — values running backs. Still, he’s an excellent chess piece for a good offense.
54. Jadeveon Clowney, LB, Texans
Clowney has not quite become the transformational player he was envisioned as when the Texans took him with the No. 1 overall pick, but he is still really damn good. And now that he’s over his early-career injury issues, he is one of the most flexible and versatile pass rushers in the league — a perfect partner for J.J. Watt up front.
55. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Newton was on his way to a career-best season before a shoulder-injury derailed things and necessitated offseason surgery. If he can rediscover his arm strength and maintain the same strides he made through the first three-quarters of the year, he should be even better in 2019, given his familiarity with the offense and the better-fitting pieces (including an upgraded offensive line) they have to run it.
56. Kevin Byard, S, Titans
Byard followed up his breakout 2017 campaign with another good year in his third NFL season: 90 more tackles, four more picks, eight more passes defensed, and only 8.2 yards allowed per reception. He formed a nice partnership with Kenny Vaccaro on the back end of Tennessee’s secondary, and graded as the fourth-best safety in the league, per PFF.
57. Casey Hayward, CB, Chargers
Hayward was one of the league’s better slot corners during his time with the Packers, but he has become an all-around star with the Chargers. He plays both inside and out now depending on the situation, and is an integral part of one of the league’s best secondaries.
58. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings
Thielen is practically unguardable, as he’s shown the past two seasons. In 2017, it was a 91-1,276-4 line. In 2018, he went for 113-1,373-9, setting a record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games to open the season along the way.
59. Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns
Mayfield is so good that he has made the Browns — THE CLEVELAND BROWNS, FOLKS — relevant in the playoff and Super Bowl conversation for the first time since they re-entered the league. In 14 games, Mayfield completed 63 percent of his throws at 7.7 yards per attempt, with 27 touchdowns and 14 picks. Now he’s got Freddie Kitchens and Todd Monken designing his offense and Odell Beckham on his side. Look out.
60. Davante Adams, WR, Packers
Adams had the most underrated season of anybody in the NFL in 2018. In just 15 games, he racked up 111 catches, 1,386 yards, and 13 scores. (His third straight season with double-digit touchdowns.) The only players who have gone 111-1,386-13 in a season are Adams last year, Antonio Brown in 2014, Randy Moss in 2005, Isaac Bruce in 1995, Herman Moore in 1995, and Jerry Rice in 1994 and 1995. That’s it. And that was while working in a Mike McCarthy offense that everyone universally agrees was outdated. Imagine what he can do in a modernized system with easier throws for Aaron Rodgers.
61. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
Evans got back to the Pro Bowl in 2018, setting career highs in both catch rate and yards per reception along the way. And with Bruce Arians now at the controls of the offense, he could be in for even bigger numbers over the next several years.
T-62. Harrison Smith, S, Vikings
T-62. Darius Leonard, LB, Colts
Every year plays out the same way, with Smith as arguably the best player on one of the NFL’s best defenses. He brings the best of both worlds as a safety, excelling against both the run and the pass year in and year out.
Leonard smashed onto the scene as a rookie in 2018, leading the NFL in total tackles and solo tackles, and being named both a Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro. And it wasn’t just empty stat-padding. In addition to the 163 total tackles, there were also 12 for loss, eight quarterback hits, eight passes defensed, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. All this for one of the most improved defenses in the league.
64. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
Allen has rebounded from his injury-ruined 2015 and 2016 seasons in the most Keenan Allen way possible: by smoking defenders off the line of scrimmage, at his break, and at the point of the catch. The result: 102-1,393-6 and 97-1,196-6. With Tyrell Williams moving on this offseason and Melvin Gordon potentially holding out, Allen could be even more of a focal point this coming season.
65. David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
It’s difficult to think of a single player in the league who will benefit more from a coaching change than Johnson will next season. The Cardinals ran an offense straight out of the 1970s for much of last season, and he’ll now be the lead back in an air raid style attack that should see him operating in far more space, far more often. Big things are coming.
66. Geno Atkins, DT, Bengals
Here’s Atkins’ last four years:
- 2015: 16 games, 11 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 21 QB hits, Pro Bowl
- 2016: 16 games, nine sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 26 QB hits, Pro Bowl
- 2017: 16 games, nine sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 20 QB hits, Pro Bowl
- 2018: 16 games, 10 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 19 quarterback hits, Pro Bowl
Expect more of the same in 2019.
67. Jurrell Casey, DT, Titans
OK now let’s play the same game with Casey:
- 2015: 16 games, seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 13 QB hits, Pro Bowl
- 2016: 16 games, five sacks, eight tackles for loss, 18 QB hits, Pro Bowl
- 2017: 16 games, six sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 19 QB hits, Pro Bowl
- 2018: 16 games, seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, Pro Bowl
Again, expect more of the same in 2019.
68. Chandler Jones, EDGE, Cardinals
Jones has been at the top of his game for quite a while now. He’s hit double-digit sacks in five of the last six seasons, including each of the three he’s spent in Arizona. His 41 sacks are most in the NFL since he moved southwest and his 72 quarterback hits rank sixth. With the Cardinals adding more talented rushmen across from him this offseason, he could be even better in 2019.
69. Mitchell Schwartz, T, Chiefs
Schwartz is the best right tackle in the NFL. He is consistently excellent clearing the road in the run game and stifling rushmen when the Chiefs drop back to pass. And he’s a major factor in Kansas City’s screen attack, which is one of the best in the league.
70. Grady Jarrett, DT, Falcons
Jarrett appears to be headed for a full season on the franchise tag after showing progressive improvement through each of his first four years. His latest campaign saw him rack up six sacks and 16 quarterback hits in addition to his usual strong run defense. With another productive year, he could be in line for a much larger payday next offseason.
71. Danielle Hunter, EDGE, Vikings
Hunter just keeps getting better. He racked up 14.5 more sacks last season — a career-best figure — and showed improvement against the run by notching 21 tackles for loss. Oh, and he doesn’t turn 25 until late October. The best is likely yet to come.
72. Travis Frederick, C, Cowboys
Frederick sat out all of last season due to Guillain-Barre syndrome, but all reports out of Cowboys camp this year have been positive. He’d never missed a game prior to last year, and when we last saw him on the field, he was the best center in football.
73. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
As he has struggled with injuries and the Bengals have taken steps backwards over the past few seasons, Green has become something of a forgotten man when it comes to discussions of the best wide receivers in the league. At his best, though, he is as good as anybody out there. It’s just a matter of his best being able to show up on the field, which is somewhat in question due to the combination of his advancing age, injury issues, and subpar quarterback play.
74. Deion Jones, LB, Falcons
Jones missed most of last season due to injury but he is one of the most versatile linebackers in the league. With the NFL becoming more and more of a space league, a player like Jones who has the size and agility of a safety to go along with the physicality of a linebacker is a tremendous weapon to have.
75. Jamal Adams, S, Jets
Adams had a strong rookie season in 2017, but he was even better last year. He’s one of the best safeties in the game when coming downhill to make a play on a ball-carrier, and he showed improvement in coverage last year as well, allowing catches on only 50 percent of throws in his direction — an excellent mark for a safety.
76. Ryan Ramczyk, T, Saints
Marshon Lattimore gets most of the attention when it comes to the Saints’ two first-round picks in 2017, but Ramczyk has been even better. He’s started 31 of 32 games in his career and been one of the NFL’s best run and pass-blockers in every one of them. He’s allowed only nine sacks and been called for just seven penalties across his first two seasons in the league.
77. Lane Johnson, T, Eagles
There are few tackles in the league who have been as consistently excellent as Johnson over the past several seasons. He graded out as PFF’s fourth-best right tackle and ninth-best overall tackle last season, which is almost exactly where he was in 2017 (fourth and 10th, respectively), 2015 (ninth and third), and 2014 (ninth and second).
78. Cameron Heyward, DE, Steelers
Coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, Heyward appears to be at the top of his game right now. He’s got 20 sacks, 40 quarterback hits, and 26 tackles for loss over the past two years, numbers that rank second, fifth, and third among defensive tackles leaguewide.
79. Amari Cooper, WR, Cowboys
Let’s give you two stat lines: 59-747-3; and 94-1,289-11. The first is Cooper’s 16-game pace with the Raiders prior to a midseason trade to Dallas, and the second is his 16-game pace after the trade. The former is in line with what he’d done the previous year in Oakland, while the latter shows a progression from what he’d done during his first two NFL seasons and is more in line with what was expected of him coming out of the draft. Which is the “real” Cooper? We’ll see.
80. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers
When you’re 22 years old and you put up a 111-catch, 1,426-yard, seven-touchdown season and overtake the No. 1 role from a player who was universally considered the best wide receiver in football, you’re going to end up on the Top 100. It’s not at all difficult to see Smith-Schuster ranking significantly higher on next year’s list.
81. Andrew Whitworth, T, Rams
The Rams are lucky Whitworth decided to come back for (at least) one more year, given the turnover they’ve experienced elsewhere on the offensive line. Still one of the best tackles in the game even heading into his age-38 season, Whitworth is as solid as they come.
82. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Perhaps the most difficult player on this list to rank, Gurley has the talent to be considered one of the 10 or so best players in football. But the injury issues that plagued him toward the end of last season have only sounded worse and worse since then, so he ended up ranking in the 80s.
83. Kenny Clark, DT, Packers
Arguably the lynchpin of Green Bay’s defensive overhaul these past few seasons, Clark is a consistent presence up the middle. He’s become a much better pass rusher these past couple years, as well, notching 10.5 sacks in 2017 and 2018 combined. It’s hard to believe he is still just 23 years old, and won’t turn 24 until several weeks into the 2019 season.
84. Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears
Remember when the Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Fuller’s rookie-scale contract and then used the transition tag on him so that while they retained matching rights, they would not receive compensation if they let him leave? Uh, it’s a good thing they matched that four-year, $56 million contract the Packers offered. He’s really damn good.
85. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
With his star quarterback back under center, Hilton resumed his place among the league’s premier deep threats. After averaging just 3.6 catches for 60.4 yards per game in 2017, he ratcheted things back up to 5.4 catches and 90.7 yards per game last year. Firmly in his prime, he should continue to be a top target for one of the NFL’s best offenses.
86. Jaylon Smith, LB, Cowboys
Smith is truly one of the best stories in the league. Considered possibly the best overall player in his draft class, Smith fell to the second round after suffering a devastating knee injury in his final collegiate game. The Cowboys had him sit for his entire rookie year as he worked to come back, then used him as a part-time player the following season. Last year, he was a breakout star, starting all 16 games and racking up 121 tackles, six quarterback hits, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown. He looks to be every bit the player he was before he got hurt.
87. Jared Goff, QB, Rams
If we’d voted on the Top 100 after Week 12 of last season, Goff would have ranked a whole lot higher. At that time he had completed 68 percent of his passes at 9.3 yards per attempt, while throwing 26 touchdowns against just six interceptions. But he and the Rams’ offense took a step backward over the final third of the season, and so he lands toward the back end of this list. The ceiling is still extremely high for Goff, though, given the talent around him and the man calling the plays.
88. Trey Flowers, EDGE, Lions
One of the most underrated players in the NFL during his time with the Patriots, Flowers is one of the best two-way edge rushers in the league. He’s the rare player who is equally good against the run as he is rushing the passer. Not much should change for him now that he’s playing for his old defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia.
89. Frank Clark, EDGE, Chiefs
Clark has been an extremely consistent and productive edge rusher over the past three seasons, notching 10, nine, and then 13 sacks while increasing his number of quarterback hits each passing season. He’s now in Kansas City rather than Seattle, but with the team transitioning to a 4-3 base defense, not much should change for him.
90. DeForest Buckner, DT, 49ers
Buckner hit a new level last season, notching a career-high 12 sacks from his position on the interior of San Francisco’s defense and emerging as a Pro Bowler for the first time. Still just 25 years old, he has recorded at least 18 quarterback hits in each of his three seasons, and should be even more productive moving forward.
91. Tre’Davious White, CB, Bills
White allowed 357 passing yards all season as a sophomore, along with a 75.6 passer rating that was nearly as good as the mark he allowed as a rookie. Buffalo has a lockdown corner under contract for years to come.
92. Desmond King, CB, Chargers
King emerged as perhaps the league’s premier pure slot corner during his second NFL season, allowing a passer rating of just 79.8 while lined up inside. He has the versatility to move outside as well, and even play some safety, which makes him an extremely valuable piece for the Chargers defense.
93. Byron Jones, CB, Cowboys
Jones had a breakout season playing as a full-time corner for the first time, emerging as a perfect fit for new passing-game coordinator Kris Richard’s system. There were 76 corners who were on the field for at least 350 passing snaps last season, and Jones ranked eighth among that group in PFF’s yards allowed per snap in coverage.
94. Trent Williams, T, Washington
If Williams were younger (31 years old next season) and/or healthier (13 missed games over the past three years), he would surely rank higher on this list. On talent alone, he certainly deserves to. Even while missing several games a year, he remains one of the NFL’s best blind-side tackles.
T-95. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints
T-95. Kawann Short, DT, Panthers
Lattimore was not quite as spectacular as a sophomore as he was during his rookie campaign, but in all fairness, it would have been difficult for him to be so. He was still very good for a quality Saints defense, intercepting two passes, forcing four fumbles and recovering three; and among the 73 corners who played at least 600 snaps, Lattimore was one of just 27 who allowed two or fewer touchdowns.
Short took a slight step backward as a pass rusher last season, but he is still a hugely effective force in the middle of Carolina’s defense, particularly against the run. There’s a reason the Panthers made him one of the highest-paid linemen in the game.
97. Jerry Hughes, EDGE, Bills
Hughes has not quite reached the heights of his 2013 and 2014 seasons (10 sacks each) in the time since then (22 sacks in four years), but he is a consistently above-average rushing presence on the edge of the Bills’ defense. He had seven sacks, 18 quarterback hits, and 54 hurries last season.
98. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Cowboys
The man they call The Wolf Hunter had a fantastic rookie season for Dallas, racking up 140 tackles, seven passes defensed, and two interceptions. Vander Esch was terrific in coverage and against the run, and his brilliance made Sean Lee — himself one of the NFL’s top linebackers — redundant upon his return from injury, leading to a reduced role for the veteran.
99. Shaq Mason, G, Patriots
The most consistently excellent linemen on one of the league’s best offensive lines, Mason has blossomed into one of the NFL’s top guards. On a per-snap basis, PFF graded him as the NFL’s third-best guard last season.
100. Malcolm Jenkins, S, Eagles
Jenkins has made the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons and graded as the NFL’s sixth-best safety last year, per Pro Football Focus. He’s strong against both the pass and the run, and most importantly for a defense that has routinely dealt with injury issues in the secondary, he has not missed a single game during his five years in Philadelphia.