NFLTR Top 100 Players: 30-21

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!

30: Bills CB Tre’Davious White

A torn ACL late in the season and just one interception may have contributed to public perception of White slipping after this past season. Don’t get it twisted, though. He remains an outstanding cover corner and one of the very best in football. Pro Football Focus credited White with 31 receptions allowed on 58 targets for only 305 yards and a passer rating allowed of 61.4. Among players with at least 350 snaps in coverage, that passer rating was sixth-lowest, while White’s catch percentage was 10th and his yards per catch 14th. Perhaps most impressive, he was one of only four qualifying players who did not allow a touchdown all season, and he faced the most targets of any of them.  

29: Broncos QB Russell Wilson

Wilson gets a fresh start in Denver after he and the Seahawks could not make it work in their final season together. It’s fair to say 2021 might have been Wilson’s worst season as a pro, though a midseason thumb injury definitely factored into how bad things got. He finished with a losing record for the first time in his career and had a career-low 54.7 QBR. It’s all the more jarring coming on the heels of Wilson’s career-best seven-game stretch to open the 2020 season when he was “cooking” and an MVP candidate. 

The Broncos and Wilson are hoping to recapture that magic in 2022. How it goes will go a long way toward determining his legacy. He’s already one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, a no-brainer top-10 option and someone who will probably be a Hall of Famer when he’s eligible. But Wilson believes he’s capable of more — capable of winning MVPs, Super Bowls and being discussed as a no-brainer top-three player at the position. Someone who’s closer to No. 1 than No. 30 on lists like these. 

28: Colts DT DeForest Buckner

Colts GM Chris Ballard is known as a methodical, perhaps even risk-averse operator. But one of his biggest swings was sending a first-round pick to the 49ers for the rights to pay Buckner $20 million a year, and it might be one of his best moves as general manager in Indianapolis. Buckner has been a force of nature inside for the Colts in two seasons with 16.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. He’s ranked sixth and seventh the past two seasons in total pressures, per PFF.

27: Raiders OLB Chandler Jones

No player in football has more sacks than Jones since he entered the league back in 2012. His 107.5 QB takedowns are more than future Hall of Famers like Von Miller, Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt, making him the NFL’s most prolific pass rusher of the past decade. He returned in 2021 after missing most of the 2020 season due to injury, and some critics will note his age (32) and that nearly half of his 10.5 sacks came in the season opener against the Titans. He still had 26 quarterback hits, however, tied for the second-most of his career. The bottom line is Jones is still one of the best pass rushers in football in terms of actually getting his hands on the quarterback. 

26: Eagles RT Lane Johnson

Injuries held Johnson back in 2020, and while he returned to the field physically in 2021, he was still managing depression and anxiety he’d been battling against for years, a fight that eventually required him to step away for a few weeks during the season. He was open about that in an interview with FOX Sports in an effort to combat the stigma mental health still faces, and that may have been one of his most important contributions last season. On the field, Johnson was once again one of the best, if not the best, right tackles in football, finishing 10th overall in PFF’s positional and No. 2 among all tackles in ESPN’s pass block win rate

25: Bills WR Stefon Diggs

It’s not a coincidence that Bills QB Josh Allen‘s meteoric rise into the stratosphere at his position started in 2020 with the arrival of Diggs, who also benefited from the upgrade in quarterback and offensive system to establish himself as one of the few bonafide No. 1 receivers in the league. In two seasons, Diggs has 230 receptions for 2,760 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 330 targets lead all NFL players in that timespan. Some of that is a product of Buffalo feeding their best offensive player, but targets are an earned stat from skilled players. And Diggs is as skilled as any receiver in football right now.

24: Packers CB Jaire Alexander

Green Bay rewarded Alexander with a deal this offseason that made him the highest-paid cornerback in football despite him playing in just four games in 2021 and having only five career interceptions. And it was absolutely worth it. Alexander is one of the most talented cover corners playing right now. In 2020, he was PFF’s No. 1 corner with just 35 receptions allowed on 69 targets for 337 yards. While the picks haven’t come yet, Alexander is consistently around the ball with 44 pass deflections in four seasons. That ranks 14th in the league even with Alexander’s injury-shortened 2021 season. 

23: Bengals QB Joe Burrow

Burrow staked his claim in 2021 as one of the game’s brightest ascending stars at the quarterback position. It took some time to get going early in the season as Burrow navigated back from a catastrophic knee injury that ended a promising rookie season in 2020. But he and the Bengals hit their stride as the season progressed, and it ended in the team’s first playoff win since 1991 and their first Super Bowl berth since 1988. 

On the field, Burrow finished with 4,611 yards passing, 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He led the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage, and that number wasn’t inflated with short fluff. His intended air yards per attempt of 8.1 was 11th in the league. While that interception total is a little high, Burrow’s 2021 season ranked very well in some of the more advanced passing metrics like adjusted net yards per attempt and expected points added+completion percentage over expected composite, stats that can offer a more complete picture than raw yardage/TD/INT total. Burrow was second in the league in both. 

But so much of what makes Burrow great is the intangibles, things like leadership and pocket presence that are hard to quantify in a single number. You see it, though, in how Burrow was undeterred in games where he took a pounding (which was often given how poor Cincinnati’s offensive line was last season). Pressure is anathema to even the most successful quarterbacks but it didn’t faze Burrow all season. And there is perhaps no better example of Burrow’s leadership and force of will than how his arrival has juiced a Bengals franchise that has been starved for success for decades. The future looks bright for Burrow and the Bengals. 

22: Rams QB Matthew Stafford

Stafford and Burrow are neck and neck here, but you have to give the edge to the one who beat the other in the Super Bowl with one of the best throws the game has ever seen. 

Stuck with another of the league’s bottom-tier franchises in Detroit for his entire career, Stafford had been viewed as one of the league’s most talented quarterbacks who just needed some help. He found that in Los Angeles with a Super Bowl-caliber roster that just needed a more dynamic playmaker at quarterback to unlock its potential. In his first season with the Rams, Stafford completed 67.2 percent of his 601 passing attempts for 4,886 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. That pick total tied for the NFL lead, which is part of the equation with Stafford. His aggressiveness will get him into trouble sometimes. But in 2021 at least, it led to more big plays and success than it did negative ones. 

21: Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase 

Chase is here above a number of other NFL receivers who are talented and have a more established track record of production. The reason for that is he consistently makes the game of football look far easier than it is. He torched the entire college football world in 2019 with one of the best receiving seasons we’ve ever seen at that level, including a championship game performance where he embarrassed AJ Terrell — who has ended up as a potentially elite NFL corner.

He then opted out of 2020 due to the pandemic and was still a top-five draft pick. As a rookie, he picked up right where he left off and dominated the NFL from the get-go. Chase finished with 81 receptions, 1,455 yards (a scintillating 18.0 YPC) and 13 touchdowns, winning NFL offensive rookie of the year for his efforts. The sky seems like the literal limit for Chase. 

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