NFLTR Top 100 Players: 40-31

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!

40: Buccaneers RT Tristan Wirfs

Back in 2020, there were four offensive tackles who were seen as the clear cream of the crop and obvious first-round picks — Giants LT Andrew Thomas, Browns LT Jedrick Wills, Jets OT Mekhi Becton and Wirfs, the last one selected of the bunch. He’s the only one on this list and has cemented himself in his first two seasons as one of the best tackles in football. Through two seasons he has only allowed a measly three sacks despite the Buccaneers dropping back to pass more than any other team in football in that time span.

That’s outstanding, but not even Wirfs’ most impressive stat. PFF has a metric called true pass sets which strips out screens, quick throws, play-action passes, basically any play where pressure is being taken off the offensive line. Nine players had more than 300 true pass sets and all of them allowed 21 or more total pressures — except Wirfs who only allowed nine. 

39: Titans DT Jeffery Simmons

Simmons broke out in a huge way in 2021, with 8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and six pass deflections. He was a game-wrecking force in the middle of a very good Titans defense and he looks poised to be one of the league’s best defensive tackles for years to come — perhaps the very best once all-world Rams DT Aaron Donald retires. 

38: Saints RT Ryan Ramczyk

Before the season began last summer, the Saints gave Ramczyk a deal worth $19.2 million a year that set a new standard for right tackles. It was well-deserved and Ramczyk proved that in 2021 even though he played in just 10 games due to injury. In ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, Ramczyk was the NFL’s most efficient tackle in pass protection with a 95 percent win rate. He’s a highly efficient and technical player. In 653 offensive snaps for the Saints last season, he was not penalized a single time. 

37: 49ers TE George Kittle

49ers WR Deebo Samuel might be the team’s most dynamic offensive player. But in terms of importance to the overall success of the unit, don’t discount Kittle. Obviously his chops as a receiving weapon are well known given he has the second most prolific season for a tight end ever with 1,377 receiving yards in 2018. He narrowly missed another 1,000-yard season in 2021 with 910 yards in 14 games. His ability in the passing game is only half the equation, though. Kittle’s proficiency as a blocker in a San Francisco offense built to feature one of the league’s most dangerous running games is a huge asset to HC Kyle Shanahan as a play-caller.

36: Cowboys G Zack Martin

‘Ol reliable, Martin has been doing his thing on the Cowboys’ offensive line for a while. He’s finished in the top five at his position in PFF rating every year since entering the league in 2014 and was No. 2 in 2021. He was also one of just three guards to finish in the top 10 in both ESPN’s pass block and run block win rates (Chiefs G Trey Smith and Ravens G Kevin Zeitler were the other two, for inquiring minds). And while we’re tossing out wild stats, here’s a doozy. Sacks allowed is a bit of a nebulous stat without knowing exact protection responsibilities, but for what it’s worth, PFF has Martin with just nine sacks allowed in eight seasons in the league. 

35: Chiefs DT Chris Jones

Kansas City was desperate for pass-rushing help to start the season and moved Jones out to defensive end for the first four games. He was solid, with 15 total pressures and two sacks per PFF. But when he returned to the lineup and started playing most of his snaps on the interior again, he returned to being the dominant pass rusher the league has been used to seeing for the past few years. He averaged 3.75 pressures per game in his first four compared to five per game in his last 10 and had seven of his nine sacks in that stretch. ESPN graded him No. 2 among all defensive tackles in pass rush win rate, behind only Aaron Donald. 

34: Colts G Quenton Nelson

Offensive line is not a position conducive to highlight tapes, in fact one of the adages about the position is if you don’t hear an OL’s name called during a game, they had a good performance. That went out the window when Nelson came into the league. 

2021 was a down year by the three-time All-Pro’s standards, as he dealt with injuries for most of the season. He still was one of the best guards in the league though. PFF credited him with just one sack allowed. He’s eligible for an extension this offseason and there’s a real chance he becomes the first-ever $20 million a year guard. 

33: Raiders DE Maxx Crosby

Crosby finished the 2021 season with eight sacks — solid, but certainly not what you’d expect from someone the Raiders just gave $23.5 million a year to this offseason. Sacks don’t tell the whole story, though, and that’s why it’s important to factor in the advanced metrics when looking at pass rushers. Disruption equals production, and no pass rusher was more disruptive than Crosby in 2021.

Pro Football Focus credited him with 108 total pressures, 20 more than the next closest player, and rated him as their No. 2 overall edge rusher. He finished the season with 30 QB hits per Pro Football Reference. Six players hit that mark and Crosby was one of only two who didn’t have double-digit sacks. Crosby also finished 10th in the league among edge rushers in pass rush win rate and No. 3 in run stop win rate. With Chandler Jones in Las Vegas and rushing across from him, Crosby could be due for a monster season in 2022. 

32: Dolphins LT Terron Armstead

Armstead gets knocked for his injury history, and there is some validity to that. He played in eight games in 2021, and although he had missed just three games combined the two seasons before that, he has never played a full 16, now 17-game season. However, when he’s on the field Armstead is one of the game’s best blindside protectors and a huge coup for the Dolphins at just $15 million a year. He’s consistently among the NFL’s top pass protectors and when he’s healthy, he has the kind of strength and athleticism that can help make him a lynchpin for the new-look Miami offense under HC Mike McDaniel which presumably will be bringing in the wide zone rushing offense he helped run in San Francisco. 

31: Steelers DL Cameron Heyward 

Heyward has been a good player for a long time in Pittsburgh. But paradoxically he seems to be getting even better as he gets older. Two of his three All-Pro selections have come after the age of 30, and he’s showing zero signs of any kind of dropoff nearing. He finished the 2021 season with 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one recovery, nine pass deflections and an interception for good measure. And as pointed out by Brandon Thorn, an analyst who covers NFL offensive and defensive line play for the Trench Warfare newsletter, Heyward is a force multiplier who helps make his teammates better as well. 

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