NFLTR Top 100 Players: 10-1

Every summer, NFL Media releases a list of the top 100 NFL players as voted on by the players, supposedly. And every summer, the results kick up their fair amount of controversy. 

This year, we decided to throw our hat in the ring with the first NFLTR Top 100 Players list to see if we could do better. We didn’t poll any players but we did use a rigorous process that factored in basic and advanced stats, awards, career trajectory, injuries and of course the highly scientific gut check. 

We’ll be rolling these out over the rest of the summer to pass time until training camp, so be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of our NFLTR Top 100 Players list!

10: Rams WR Cooper Kupp

Kupp took home the NFL’s Triple Crown in receiving in 2021, leading the league in yards (1,947), receptions (145) and touchdowns (16). He became the first to do it since Steve Smith with the Panthers in 2005 and only the fourth since the NFL merger, joining Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe. He continued that dominance in the playoffs, with 33 receptions, 478 yards β€” second-most all-time β€” and six touchdowns in four games, plus a Super Bowl MVP. 

Simply put, everyone knew the entire year the Rams were going to throw the ball to Kupp and he still could not be covered. He’s not the most athletically gifted but he’s big enough, strong enough, quick enough and fast enough to execute his elite knowledge of how to play the wide receiver position. And with the quarterback upgrade the Rams got in Matthew Stafford, it unlocked one of the best single-season receiving performances of all time for Kupp. 

9: Raiders WR Davante Adams

Kupp deserves all the plaudits for his season in 2021. But the vast majority of NFL evaluators would take Adams as their No. 1 receiver. He’s every bit the elite route runner and receiver Kupp is, with the benefit of being a slightly better athlete. He also has a more established track record of production. Since 2018, no one has more than Adams’ 5,310 receiving yards. He had a brilliant 2021 season as well, setting a new career-high in receiving yards with 1,553 on 123 receptions with 11 touchdowns. The move to Las Vegas will be interesting, but Adams will reunite with his former Fresno State quarterback, Derek Carr, so it would be surprising to see his numbers fall off much, if at all. 

8: 49ers LT Trent Williams

Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Kyle Shanahan all get a lot of praise for their role in what is consistently one of the NFL’s most creative and effective offenses. But the real MVP is Williams, the best left tackle in football. His elite size and athleticism is a game-changer for a San Francisco offense predicated on winning the edges in the wide zone rushing offense. Williams regularly erases his assignments in the running game, and is a rock in pass protection as well. PFF has graded him as their top tackle each of the past two seasons.

7: Browns DE Myles Garrett

There might not be another edge rusher right now with more raw talent than Garrett. He’s a physical freak of nature at 6-4, 270+ pounds and with elite movement skills. When he’s on, he’s unblockable. Garrett finished the 2021 season with 16 sacks and was No. 1 in ESPN’s pass rush win rate among all edge rushers. PFF also graded him as their top edge rusher and credited him with 78 total pressures, third-most in the league. It would be surprising if at some point in the future Garrett did not win defensive player of the year. He’s that level of talent. 

6: Steelers OLB T.J. Watt

The current reigning DPOY, Watt led the NFL in sacks and tackles for loss for the second straight season, this time tying the NFL record for quarterback takedowns with 22.5. He stuffed the rest of the stat sheet, too, adding five forced fumbles, three recoveries and seven pass deflections in 15 games. Watt was one of only two edge rushers to finish in the top 10 in both pass rush win rate and run stop win rate, placing No. 5 and No. 7 respectively. And Pro Football Focus rated him as their second-most efficient edge rusher. 

Watt has fewer dominant wins than some of the other pass rushers on this list. But he’s been the most productive player at his position in the NFL for two seasons now for a reason. He has terrific quickness, especially off the snap, and elite instincts and effort level which has him always around the ball. 

5: Bills QB Josh Allen

If you were designing a quarterback in a lab, it would look a lot like Allen. He’s huge at 6-5 and nearly 240 pounds, strong as an ox to shrug off defensive linemen, fast enough to gash defenses if he gets loose and has an absolute cannon for an arm to essentially put the ball wherever he wants on the football field. The finer points of the position were always the question with Allen, things like accuracy, decision-making and managing the game, and he’s answered the doubters in resounding fashion the past two seasons. 

Allen cemented his place at the top of the league’s quarterback hierarchy with another huge season β€” 4,407 yards and 36 touchdowns to 15 interceptions through the air, another 763 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He led the Bills to an 11-6 record and within 13 seconds of a berth in the AFC Championship game before the Chiefs once again thwarted Buffalo’s dreams. Allen has had the Bills knocking on the door the past two seasons, and it really does seem like it’s just a matter of time until they break through. 

4: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers was brilliant yet again in 2021, leading the Packers to a 13-3 record for the third straight year and winning the MVP on the back of another surgical passing season β€” 68.9 completion percentage on 521 pass attempts, 4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He led the league in a number of other advanced stats like ESPN’s total QBR, adjusted net yards per attempt and EPA+CPOE composite

If Rodgers puts up numbers and wins like that in 2022 again even with a depleted receiving corps, he’ll have a strong case to be named NFL MVP for the third straight season, even if voter fatigue ends up denying him. It would tie him with Peyton Manning most MVP awards with five, and he would become the second player to win three straight joining former Packers QB Brett Favre.

3: Rams DT Aaron Donald

It says a lot about the NFL that Donald furthered his case as possibly the best defensive player of all time and still ranks below two other quarterbacks on this list. Nevertheless, the 2021 season was another spectacular year for Donald in what’s been an illustrious career. He hit double-digit sacks again with 12.5, added 19 tackles for loss and 25 QB hits, plus forced four fumbles, knocked down four passes and set a new career high with 84 total tackles. 

He was No. 1 among all interior defenders in pass rush win rate at 26 percent β€” five percent better than the next closest player. PFF rated him as their No. 1 interior defender yet again, the seventh-straight year he’s accomplished that feat with his rookie year the lone exception. And he was No. 2 that year. He was second among all players with 86 total pressures per PFF and led all edge rushers and interior defenders in stops with 49. 

The final cherry on top was the Super Bowl win, however, one Donald had a pivotal hand in clinching. 

2: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes

2021 was a down year for Mahomes. There’s no getting around that. There were some uncharacteristic struggles from the Chiefs and their offense and Mahomes finished with the lowest marks of his career in total QBR, ANY/A and EPA+CPOE composite. The Chiefs’ season ended in a disappointing collapse in the conference championship game to a Cinderella Bengals team.  

Still, some perspective is needed on what a “down” year for Mahomes looks like compared to normal quarterbacks. In all of those categories, he still ranked fifth, ninth and third respectively in the league. He completed 66.3 percent of his passes, tying a career-high, while throwing 658 times (also a career-high) for 4,839 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The picks were the most he’s thrown in a season, but his interception percentage was lower than the 2018 season in which he won MVP. And the Chiefs were still 12-5 and made it to the AFC title game for the fourth straight season. 

The bar is higher in Kansas City right now than it is anywhere else. And that itself is a sign of just how brilliant Mahomes has been so far in his still-young career. The team is evolving and might look different than the bombs-away version that has terrorized the NFL the past few seasons. But no matter what, Mahomes still makes the team deadly. 

1: Buccaneers QB Tom Brady 

Other quarterbacks are more dynamic and perhaps better able to create when the play breaks down. But what Brady is still doing at his age deserves to be recognized. At the age of 44, he had the second-most passing attempts of all time, threw for 5,316 yards (third-best in NFL history), and had 43 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. He led Tampa Bay to a 13-4 record and very nearly completed an encore performance to the 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl LI, tying the game in the divisional round against the Rams after Tampa Bay fell behind 27-3. 

No other quarterback in NFL history has played this well this deep into their 40s, and Brady enters his age 45 season showing absolutely zero signs of any slippage in play. He’s the single greatest force of will on the football field, the type of player that elevates a team into contention year after year and who it takes superhuman effort, and a little luck, to beat. Greatness inspires envy and brings out the haters, but do yourself a favor and savor this possibly final year with Brady in the NFL. Because we very well might not ever see anything like it again in our lifetimes. 

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