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!
- NFLTR Top 100 Players: 100-91
- NFLTR Top 100 Players: 90-81
- NFLTR Top 100 Players: 80-71
- NFLTR Top 100 Players: 70-61
60: Chargers LT Rashawn Slater
It’s not easy to transition from college to the NFL at offensive tackle. At least not as easy as Slater made it look last season. He slipped to No. 13 in the first round due to questions about his atypical size for the position, as the prototype for teams at left tackle is 6-6 with 34-inch arms. Slater is relatively stubby in comparison at 6-4, 304 pounds and with 33-inch arms, and some teams like the Panthers passed on him because they thought he’d be a guard. Instead, Slater was instantly one of the NFL’s better left tackles as a rookie (No. 8 in PFF overall grade) and was a key part of the turnaround for the Chargers’ offensive line. What he lacks in length he makes up for with athleticism and technical prowess.
Here’s an example of why it’s so easy to love Rashawn Slater. Effortless redirect & stays attached. pic.twitter.com/J57fy2KzUG
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 16, 2021
59: Raiders QB Derek Carr
Carr is a fascinating situation for this kind of exercise. He’s the first of 12 quarterbacks on this list and his spot in the top 60 is largely due to the extreme positional value quarterbacks hold. He’s also right at the line between game manager and franchise starter, depending on who you ask. However, I think you can separate him from Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins — the first two out at QB in the top 100 excluding Deshaun Watson — for a few reasons.
Carr was prolific last season, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards even if his TD/INT ratio was ordinary at 23/14. He earned a reputation as a timid passer early in his career but in the past two seasons especially he’s seen his intended air yards per attempt jump to 8.1 when it was 6.8 and 6.6 the two years prior. He outlasted Jon Gruden in Vegas which would have been unfathomable in 2018 when the coach was given a 10-year deal. Most didn’t even think Carr would survive the move from Oakland. Instead, Carr was a big glue factor in holding the team together last season and earning a playoff berth. His 17 game-winning drives the past four seasons are the most in the NFL.
Add it all up, and the idea of Carr being another Matthew Stafford who takes a late-career jump on a more talented team starts to not seem far-fetched.
58: Eagles C Jason Kelce
At the age of 34, Kelce was just made the NFL’s highest-paid center by the Eagles on a one-year, $14 million deal. And it’s well-deserved. Kelce was named to his fifth Pro Bowl and fourth first-team All-Pro following a 2021 season where he ranked inside the top seven in both ESPN’s pass block and run block win rate. He seems to be over the injuries that held him back in 2020 and is the lynchpin to one of the league’s best offensive lines in Philadelphia.
57: Dolphins CB Xavien Howard
Coming off a year in which he was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2020, Howard had a bit of a lull in the first half of 2021, along with the rest of the Dolphins’ defense. They turned things around down the stretch, however, and Howard finished with five interceptions and 16 pass deflections. That pushes his two-year total to 15 picks and 36 PD’s, second only to J.C. Jackson. When he’s locked in, Howard’s ball skills still make him one of the most dangerous cornerbacks in football.
56: Bills DE Von Miller
Perhaps Miller isn’t the player he used to be. After all, the last time he had double-digit sacks was in 2018 right before he turned 30 and there have been injuries holding him back the past few seasons. But the advanced stats tell a different story. He was outstanding as a run defender all season, finishing No. 9 in ESPN’s run-stop win rate among edge defenders. And while he may have only had 9.5 sacks, Pro Football Focus credited him with 59 hurries which ranked No. 2 among all qualifying edge rushers. In pass-rushing productivity, a PFF metric that combines sacks, hits and hurries while weighing pass-rushing opportunities, Miller was No. 10 among edge rushers.
55: Vikings DE Danielle Hunter
Hunter returned in 2021 after missing the entire 2020 season due to a nebulous spinal injury. He looked well on his way to picking up where he left off as one of the league’s best young pass rushers with six sacks in seven games. Unfortunately he tore his pec in that seventh game and missed the rest of the season. Hunter enters 2022 having played in just seven of 33 possible games the past two seasons but he’s still only 27 and there aren’t usually long-term complications from pec injuries. PFF’s PRP rating of 8.3, No. 18 in the NFL among edge rushers last season, shows Hunter still is an outstanding player when healthy.
54: Raiders TE Darren Waller
Waller’s streak of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons was snapped in 2021 due to injuries, as knee and back ailments limited him to just 11 games. He still finished with 55 receptions for 665 yards, great totals for most tight ends. At 6-6 and 255 pounds with great speed and body control as a converted college receiver, Waller is almost uncoverable. Even with Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow vying for targets, it would not be a shock to see Waller get back over 1,000 yards and start a new streak in 2022.
Darren Waller makes the one-handed catch look too easy
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 27, 2020
53: Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick
There are some good things Pro Football Focus does but their grades don’t always line up with public perception. The biggest example of that might be Fitzpatrick’s grade in 2021, as PFF graded him with a career-worst year that was 73rd out of 92 qualifying safeties. The two years before that, however, Fitzpatrick was ninth and 11th and a first-team All-Pro each season. So what happened?
In 2019 and 2020, Fitzpatrick was allowed to focus on the free safety position and excelled, with nine interceptions and 20 pass deflections. In 2021, injuries forced the Steelers to rely on Fitzpatrick in run support, and he responded by blowing past his career-high in tackles. His run defense grades were also strong, so it’s possible PFF didn’t give Fitzpatrick’s efforts in coverage enough credit. Pittsburgh evidently would agree, giving Fitzpatrick a deal just a couple of weeks ago that reset the safety market.
52: 49ers LB Fred Warner
When Warner was heading into his fourth year last offseason, the 49ers gave him a deal that made him the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker for a hot minute until he was passed by Colts LB Darius Leonard. San Francisco did it because Warner had been demonstrably elite in coverage in 2019 in 2020, showing the ability to even stick with receivers and notching three picks with 15 pass deflections in that time. He wasn’t quite as productive in 2021, with only four pass deflections and a 111.6 passer rating allowed in coverage. However, he remains one of the league’s best linebackers going forward.
Fred Warner in coverage over Marquise Brown, nobody talk to me for the next 45 minutes pic.twitter.com/lH0HXZCCPR
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) June 5, 2020
51: Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
Obviously health has been a big struggle for McCaffrey the past two seasons. It’s not just been one thing, either. There was a high ankle sprain and separated shoulder in 2020, then a hamstring injury and another ankle sprain in 2021. In the 10 games he’s been on the field, however, McCaffrey has looked just as versatile and explosive as ever. He has 1,159 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns, and perhaps more strikingly Carolina’s record in those games is 4-6 compared to 6-17 without him.