50. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Aaron Rodgers was once viewed as arguably the greatest natural passer in the game’s history. If he’s not anymore, he’s still close to the player he once was after yet another season with an outstanding touchdown-to-interception ratio (51-to-6 over the last two seasons) as the Green Bay Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game. If only the Packers added more weapons to maximize the 36-year-old’s final years instead of investing a first-round pick in an eventual replacement
49. RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara wasn’t the same player in 2019 compared to his first two seasons in the league. Still, the offensive weapon managed 1,330 yards from scrimmage despite knee and ankle injuries. Now healthy, the three-time Pro Bowl selection should be far more effective and explosive when working in space to make the Saints offense all the more potent.
48. WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Imagine reaching the point of a career at which recording 67 receptions for 1,157 yards while making the Pro Bowl is considered a down season. Well, here we are with Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans. He finished the year on injured reserve with a tweaked hamstring for a non-playoff squad on which teammate Chris Godwin (more on him later) overshadowed him. The 27-year-old target is still excellent. Let’s see how he performs with Tom Brady now serving as the Bucs triggerman.
47. CB Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
Jalen Ramsey experienced a trying campaign in 2019 due to his ongoing fight with the Jacksonville Jaguars front office before he was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of first-round draft picks. As such, his overall play wasn’t quite at the level to which everyone has grown accustomed. Even so, he’s still the fourth-highest-graded cornerback since the start of the ’17 season, per Pro Football Focus. The Rams understand Ramsey’s value and made him the highest-paid cornerback in the game with a new five-year, $105 million contract.
46. Edge Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What’s the easiest way to make a name for yourself and create buzz after multiple years of nondescript performances? Lead the NFL in a particular statistical category, of course. Shaquil Barrett blossomed on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a leading-leading 19.5 sacks during the ’19 campaign. His 3.8 percent sack rate and 68 total pressures ranked first and third, respectively, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
45. Edge Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers
Sometimes a player’s performance can’t be totally encapsulated through a traditional metric. Yes, the Packers’ Za’Darius Smith finished with a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, but the amount of disruption he created completely changed the look of Green Bay’s defense. He was the only defender to eclipse 90 or more total pressures, per PFF. Smith is a game-wrecker.
44. OG Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys
The consistency found within Zack Martin’s game makes him one of the best regardless of position. Since entering the league in 2014, the guard has gone to the Pro Bowl every year while being named first-team All-Pro four times, including last season. Technically, Martin slid down the board compared to last season’s ranking, but that’s more about fatigue from consistent greatness at a less-heralded position than anything else.
43. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Reality set in during Saquon Barkley’s second season. A high-ankle sprain limited the standout running back’s effectiveness, and the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year saw his numbers drop across the board. Still, Barkley (barely) eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards and added 52 receptions. When healthy, he remains one of the game’s best weapons in and out of the backfield.
42. Edge Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
While Barkley’s star slightly faded, another rookie filled the void on the other side of the ball. Nick Bosa proved unblockable at times along the San Francisco 49ers’ talented defensive front. No other rookie came close to the 80 pressures he generated last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year’s No. 2 overall pick is well on his way to superstardom and will get there if he consistently attacks opponents like he did during his first campaign.
41. OT Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints
Surely but quietly, New Orleans Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk has worked himself into an elite blocker. The ’17 first-round pick finally received recognition as a first-team All-Pro for last season’s performance. Ramczyk is equal parts standout run-blocker and shutdown pass protector. PFF didn’t credit him with a single sack allowed a year ago.
40. QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Life as we know it will never be the same, and Tom Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is peak 2020. It’s easy to say age will finally catch up with him, but the 43-year-old quarterback hasn’t shown any signs of that actually happening. He’s thrown for at least 4,057 yards in each of the last three seasons with an 85-to-27 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span. Brady’s move to Tampa is less of a mid-life crisis and more of a continuation of greatness.
39. LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
Darius Leonard is the most productive young linebacker in NFL history. Seriously, he became the first defender ever to register 10-plus sacks and five-plus interceptions through his first 25 games, per SiriusXM NFL Radio’s Adam Caplan. The 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year also averages 10.1 tackles per contest. Wherever the ball is, Leonard will be found.
38. DT Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
The Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald gets plenty of love as the game’s best interior defender, but the Philadelphia Eagles’ Fletcher Cox isn’t far behind him. According to Pro Football Focus, Cox is the second-highest-graded interior defender since the start of the 2016 campaign. The five-time Pro Bowler’s sacks (3.5) and pressures (21) were down last season, but he’s as effective as he’s ever been.
37. S Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
When the Kansas City Chiefs signed Tyrann Mathieu last offseason, the move was overlooked to a degree since the Honey Badger was joining his third team in three seasons. His importance to Kansas City’s Super Bowl run can’t be overstated, though. Mathieu became the defensive leader and provided the squad with a versatile weapon to play safety, cover the slot, defend the run and blitz the quarterback. His positional flexibility created the glue for what could have been a suspect secondary.
36. WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
On the other side of the ball, Tyreek Hill defines the Chiefs’ passing attack because opponents must account for his deep speed at all times. One of the NFL’s fastest players, he can take the top off any defense at a moment’s notice, but he’s also a quality receiving threat who isn’t totally reliant on the vertical game. Hill injured his shoulder last season and missed four games as a result, but he was well on his way to yet another 1,100-yard campaign before the absence.
35. Edge Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings’ Danielle Hunter may be the most underappreciated pass-rusher in professional football because he quietly goes about his business racking up sacks. In fact, his 29 sacks over the last two years rank third behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald and the Arizona Cardinals’ Chandler Jones. As scary as this may be, Hunter could be even more productive this fall with Yannick Ngakoue now serving as his bookend.
34. WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who is the No. 1 wide receiver in Tampa Bay? Knee-jerk reactions would lean toward Mike Evans. But last season, Chris Godwin took the mantle by finishing third overall with 1,333 receiving yards and fourth with nine touchdown receptions. The first-time Pro Bowl performer was the only receiver with 80 or more catches to average 15.5 yards per reception. Maybe the Buccaneers have two true No. 1 options.
33. Edge Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
The brothers Bosa are both wrecking balls off the line of scrimmage, though the older sibling, Joey, is the more consistent of the two at his point in their respective careers. Joey, who signed a record-setting five-year, $135 million contract extension this offseason, is both a relentless pass-rusher and an excellent run-defender due to a combination of excellent strength at the point of attack and impeccable technique.
32. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
A player’s situation matters. Minkah Fitzpatrick knew he was being improperly utilized with the Miami Dolphins before he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. There, the defensive back finally flourished as the playmaking safety he really is. The Steelers surrendered a precious first-round pick because the organization apparently knew the type of difference-maker he would become in its scheme. Fitzpatrick blossomed into a first-team All-Pro with a knack for making game-changing plays in one of the league’s best defenses.
31. RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Take a second and think about how good Nick Chubb has been during his first two seasons, then realize how much better he could have been if he actually played behind a stable offensive line in a good offensive scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, the powerful back ranked 47th in yards before contact (1.04) over those two years yet finished second in yards after contact (4.04). He finished second in the NFL last season with 1,494 rushing yards despite being asked to put in more work than any other ball-carrier.
30. DE Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
Cameron Heyward may be 31 years old, but the Pittsburgh Steelers know exactly what he’s worth to the organization after he reached the richest deal signed by a non-quarterback over 30 in NFL history at $16.4 million annually. Why? Well, Heyward led all interior defenders last season with 44 defensive stops, per Pro Football Focus. Also, the three-time Pro Bowl performer has generated the fourth-most pressures since the start of the 2017 campaign.
29. DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Injuries can hold the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt back only so long before he returns and makes an impact again. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn’t the same unstoppable force he once was, but he’s still one of the league’s better defenders. Last season, Watt suffered a torn pectoral muscle that cost him eight games. The last time he missed more than half a campaign, he bounced back with 16 sacks the following year.
28. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
No NFL running back represents the term “workhorse” more than the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott. In three of his four seasons, the Ohio State product has eclipsed 300 regular-season carries, including 301 last year. In total, the three-time 1,300-plus-yard rusher has accumulated 1,358 touches during his first four seasons. The Cowboys offense runs through Elliott, which must be why the organization extended him before quarterback Dak Prescott.
27. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
It’s been said a million times or more already, but the Arizona Cardinals truly got a steal when they acquired four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins by essentially dumping David Johnson’s contract onto the Houston Texans. Hopkins’ numbers did slip slightly in 2019. Even so, the 28-year-old target still managed 104 receptions for 1,165 yards, which puts into perspective how productive he’s been throughout his career. Quarterback Kyler Murray now has a true WR1 in the Cardinals offense, and Arizona paid Hopkins as such with a new two-year, $54.5 million contract extension.
26. S Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks
The Hopkins move wasn’t the NFL’s only high-profile trade this offseason. The Seattle Seahawks sent a pair of first-round picks and some change to the New York Jets to acquire first-team All-Pro safety Jamal Adams. The 24-year-old defensive back can play the Kam Chancellor role in Seattle’s defensive scheme as the tone-setter at or near the line of scrimmage. He’s both a physical presence and adept at harassing opposing quarterbacks.
25. QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Some may not believe the next statement even though it’s 100 percent true: The Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott is a true franchise quarterback and one of the league’s very best. In fact, only five other signal-callers received higher votes throughout this process, which we’ll get to later. No one can deny what Prescott did last season when he finished top-five in passing yards (4,902), yards per attempt (8.2) and passing touchdowns (30).
24. Edge Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Khalil Mack experienced what would be considered a down season for him last year while still playing at an extremely high level. Yes, his sack numbers weren’t great (8.5), but those don’t take into account the amount of pressure he still generated while also serving as an edge destroyer. He doesn’t just set the edge; he annihilates blockers. He’ll have more help this year, too, after the Chicago Bears signed Robert Quinn to serve as his bookend.
23. DE Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
It doesn’t matter what Cameron Jordan is asked to do or where he lines up because he excels in every area. He’s getting better as he gets older, too. The 31-year-old set a career high last season with 15.5 sacks and added 49 total pressures. The veteran defensive lineman can be moved all over the line of scrimmage and exploit whatever weak spot the Saints identify.
22. RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry is a runaway freight train personified. Once the 247-pound back gets rolling, he’s nearly impossible to stop. Last year’s leading rusher (1,540 yards) showed he can be even better during the playoffs when he ran for 182 and 195 yards in back-to-back weeks against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Henry had more yards after contract than quarterback Ryan Tannehill had passing yards in those two contests, per ESPN Stats & Info.
21. LB Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
With Luke Kuechly abruptly retiring this year, the Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner officially fills the void as the league’s best middle linebacker. Granted, Wagner already co-owned that spot alongside his long-time counterpart, but the 30-year-old veteran who has gone to six straight Pro Bowls will continue to produce as the leader of the Seahawks defense. Last season, he led the NFL with 159 total tackles, and he has never finished a season with fewer than 104 stops.
20. OT Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
If one player were to win the award for the most overlooked and underrated person in the entire NFL, Mitchell Schwartz would be the leading candidate. Yes, offensive linemen don’t receive their just due in most instances. Yet Schwartz, who is arguably the most technically sound and best overall offensive tackle in the game, hasn’t gone to a single Pro Bowl. This is the same individual who was the best player on the field during Super Bowl LIV from start to finish.
19. Edge Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett’s meltdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and subsequent suspension aside, he’s the NFL’s most naturally gifted pass-rusher. At 6’4″ and 272 pounds, he possesses a combination of overwhelming power, exciting explosiveness off the snap and remarkable flexibility for a man his size. He was well on his way to entering the Defensive Player of the Year conversation before the aforementioned incident. Since the start of the 2017 campaign, Garrett holds the league’s highest pass-rush win rate (25.2), per Pro Football Focus.
18. CB Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
True shutdown corners don’t technically exist in today’s pass-first world. However, a cornerback’s ability to limit receivers signifies a premium player. In Tre’Davious White’s case, he didn’t allow a single touchdown reception last season, per PFF. The previous year, he allowed the second-smallest amount of average separation per target, per RotoUnderworld. Maybe he shouldn’t be targeted at all.
17. TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are loaded at wide receiver with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. Still, tight end Travis Kelce is the No. 1 target in that offense. Over the last two seasons, he has amassed 200 catches for 2,565 yards and 15 touchdowns. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is both a big target for quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a creator after the catch.
16. Edge T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
T.J. Watt is entering the portion of his career in which he’s not just considered a good young edge-rusher; he should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year on a regular basis. Watt set career highs in his third campaign with 14.5 sacks, 36 more quarterback hits and a league-leading eight forced fumbles. He’s a well-rounded defender, too. The outside linebacker snagged a pair of interceptions and defended eight passes.
15. DE Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
One only had to turn on Super Bowl LIV to see Chris Jones’ value as a player and performer for the Kansas City Chiefs. He consistently operated in the San Francisco 49ers’ backfield throughout the contest, and the opposing front was not able to handle him one-on-one. The performance was a microcosm of who Jones is and how he contributes during crucial moments. As Pro Football Focus noted, he ranked first among defensive linemen with a 29.8 percent pass-rush win rate on third down.
14. OT Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley is on the verge of becoming the NFL’s best left tackle, if he isn’t already. As a pass-blocker, very few are his equal. PFF noted he didn’t allow a single sack last season and received the site’s highest pass-blocking grade. Stanley ranked third in pass-block win rate, per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. On top of that, the first-time Pro Bowl selection became an integral part of the Ravens’ record-setting rushing attack.
13. QB Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson may not be on Patrick Mahomes’ or Lamar Jackson’s level at the moment, but he’s not far behind those fellow 20-somethings tearing up the league. A lot has been asked of him at a young age, and that’ll be even more true this fall without DeAndre Hopkins serving as his security blanket. However, Watson’s creativity and ability to make plays in crunch time keeps the Texans competitive.
12. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
What can be said about Drew Brees at this point? He’s already the most prolific passer in NFL history. His pinpoint accuracy is something that’s never been seen before in the sport. His level of efficiency while operating in Sean Payton’s offense doesn’t seem to be declining despite the quarterback turning 41 years old earlier this year. Expect a similar performance this fall after three straight campaigns exceeding a 70 percent completion percentage with fewer than 10 interceptions.
11. RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Today’s game is about positionless contributors. For example, Christian McCaffrey is listed as a running back and may line up in the backfield, but he’s easily one of the game’s most dynamic receiving options. He set yet another career high and NFL record last season with 116 receptions by a “running back.” Oh, and he finished third with 1,387 rushing yards, too. His production shouldn’t decline as he serves as the focal point of head coach Matt Rhule’s new approach.
10. Edge Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
Chandler Jones’ continued dominance is one of the few issues found on Bill Belichick’s resume. Four years ago, the New England Patriots traded the edge-defender for a second-round draft pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. Since then, Jones has accumulated 60 sacks with at least 11 every season since donning a red-and-white uniform.
Other names will come up when discussing the league’s top edge-rushers even though the best resides in the desert.
“His rush skill set is as diverse and versatile as anybody I’ve been around,” a longtime NFL defensive coach told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “… Unbelievable flexibility and body control. Uses hands very well, student of the game. He’s got everything.”
Jones finished second in the NFL with 19 sacks a year ago. The two-time first-team All-Pro is different from most pass-rushers because he can beat you in any way. He’s long, quick and strong with a plethora of pass-rush moves. His technique is excellent, and he can line up anywhere.
“It’s kind of frustrating because he’s a rusher with it all, so no matter how much you study him there’s still that X-factor that he can get you with,” San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams told reporters. “That’s what makes him so good.”
At 30 years old, the best may be yet to come. Jones previously sniffed the 20-sack plateau but hasn’t quite reached that lofty status. He wants more. He wants to break Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5).
“That’s always a goal of mine,” Jones told reporters before referring to an improved Cardinals offense that could create more opportunities because the team will be playing with a lead more frequently. “I don’t think that’s hard to get, and if there was a year to do it, this could be the year to do it.”
9. WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones has been the prototype for every other wide receiver who has followed in his footsteps.
Five different receivers had more receptions last year, yet Jones is the type of target everyone else around the league really wants.
“Every time we’re scouting receivers, that’s the one we want,” one veteran NFL quarterback told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “He has everything.”
By everything, the quarterback is clearly referring to Jones’ size (6’3″, 220 lbs), speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash), play strength, athleticism, route-running, body control and hand-eye coordination. He’s the total package. More importantly, Jones’ skill set translates to the field.
The seven-time Pro Bowl selection finished second in the league last season with 1,394 receiving yards, yet the number became a personal six-year low for the 31-year-old. He has averaged 1,565 yards during that stretch.
Last year’s performance can’t be considered a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination, but Jones’ production could see an uptick this fall as the Falcons build on last season’s late-year success.
“He looks fast and explosive like he always does,” head coach Dan Quinn told reporters. “But it’s all of the things that maybe don’t appear on the stat sheet that makes him the most special player. He’s 100 percent at the top of his game heading into another season.”
When a player is considered the template for what everyone else wants at the position, a certain standard must be maintained. Jones has certainly done so throughout his career.
8. OG Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts
Even the most casual football fans can’t help being drawn to Quenton Nelson’s play. Usually, guards aren’t glamorous, and they sure as hell don’t warrant highlight reels—unless we’re talking about Nelson.
The strength with which he plays pops off the screen as he consistently drives defenders off the ball and reestablishes the line of scrimmage.
Sometimes, Nelson’s aggressive approach can be a hindrance as he oversets or gets thrown off blocks by defenders who aren’t automatically overwhelmed by the interior blocker’s physical nature.
“You know, his consistency, fundamentals and technique, footwork. I think he’s gotten better; I think he’s worked at it,” head coach Frank Reich said, describing the difference he saw between Nelson’s first and second seasons, per Andrew Walker of the Colts’ official site. “I think he worked at it all the way through last year, and I think he’s just gonna continue to get better. That’s a scary thought, but I’m really glad he’s on our team.”
The soul-stealing power Nelson presents is only part of the equation. He’s grown as a pass-blocker. In fact, the two-time first-team All-Pro currently boasts a streak of 30 straight games without surrendering a sack, which leads all active guards, per Pro Football Focus.
When the league is littered with elite athletes playing along the defensive line and getting after opposing quarterbacks, the luxury of having someone of Nelson’s caliber playing along the interior provides a sense of security no other squad has.
Nelson isn’t just the NFL’s best young offensive lineman; Bleacher Report views him as the best lineman, period, and the fifth-best non-quarterback in the entire league.
7. TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Tight ends get a pass (pun intended) if they consistently create mismatches as part of a team’s aerial attack. In-line blocking isn’t valued the way it once was.
So, one-dimensional tight ends are accepted in today’s game.
With that in mind, George Kittle’s impact as both a receiver and a blocker can’t be overstated. He isn’t just the most well-rounded tight end in the game; he’s a true difference-maker at a position that’s not generally valued as much as others.
At 26 years old, Kittle is well on his way to becoming an all-time great if a rival is to be believed.
“He’s a tremendous talent and he’ll go down I think as one of the best ever if he stays healthy,” Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters. “I haven’t seen anybody stop him. No matter what they try to do to him, he finds a way to get open.”
To Kingsbury’s point, Kittle led the 49ers over the last two seasons with a combined 173 receptions for 2,430 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The physicality found in the tight end’s game makes him a joy to watch. As a blocker, Kittle will bury anyone in front of him. When he’s a target in the passing game, few teams can break him down once he’s in the open field. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the only tight end last season with 600 or more yards after the catch.
Kittle’s first-down nod to professional wrestler Pentagon El Zero M isn’t just a fun hand gesture. It means “no fear,” and that’s exactly how the first-team All-Pro plays the game.
6. CB Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year fits into a different category than nearly every other player in the league because of how he affects opposing passing games.
Pass-rushers are considered premium performers based on their ability to disrupt quarterbacks before they release the ball. Very few are even in the same stratosphere as Stephon Gilmore when it comes to diverting a passing attack.
Gilmore brings a unique combination of size (6’1″, 202 lbs), physicality, flexibility to turn through his backpedal and quickness to cover any type of wide receiver.
Usually, cornerbacks fall into one of two categories: bigger, more physical options who need to win at the line of scrimmage by rerouting receivers, or smaller, quicker defensive backs with the shiftiness to mirror their assignments. Gilmore can do both because his athleticism is “beyond rare,” according to one AFC front office executive, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Those coverage abilities combine with outstanding ball skills. According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore leads all cornerbacks with 18 forced incompletions on third and fourth down over the last two seasons.
Prior to a small letdown at the tail end of the 2019 campaign, the two-time first-team All-Pro shut down everyone he faced, including DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr. and Amari Cooper.
But the consistency found in Gilmore’s game is through film study, not his natural ability. For example, he doesn’t like to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage because he prefers to jump routes.
As he told ESPN’s Sam Borden, “If it takes them out of their route, that’s bad because most of the time I know where they’re going anyway, so I don’t want to get in their way.”
It’s easy to see why Gilmore tied for the league lead with six interceptions last season.
5. QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
An MVP campaign from Lamar Jackson obliterated a few false narratives about his capabilities as an NFL quarterback.
He is not only the most dangerous running quarterback the league has ever seen; he’s also a dynamite passer capable of posting outstanding numbers.
First, the quarterback shattered the position’s previous single-season record with 1,206 rushing yards and helped the Ravens set a team record with 3,296 rushing yards. He also threw a league-leading 36 touchdown passes and tied for eighth with a 66.1 completion percentage.
The 23-year-old remains a work in progress, as is the case with any young signal-caller.
“He’s a million times ahead of where he was last year,” running back Mark Ingram II told reporters Wednesday.
Jackson and his personal quarterback coach, Joshua Harris, concentrated on a very specific area in which he can improve on last year’s award-winning performance.
“When I looked at Lamar this past season, the thing that seemed to stick out to me … is Lamar needs to work on deep-ball consistency, hitting that deep ball in stride,” Harris told Bleacher Report. “And the most important to me: throws outside the numbers. Those need to be consistent with velocity.”
Once Jackson can consistently threaten every blade of grass as a runner and passer, he’ll become the most unstoppable force in football.
“He explicitly said to me, ‘They’re preparing for me, but I’m preparing more for them. I’m going to keep a chip on my shoulder.'” Harris added. “… He doesn’t see himself as the MVP; he sees himself as the fifth quarterback taken in his draft class.”
4. WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
All Michael Thomas does is set NFL records. His production through four seasons is extraordinary.
His 149 receptions last year edged Marvin Harrison’s previous mark, and his 470 catches through four campaigns smashed Jarvis Landry’s previous record of 400 snags.
What’s most amazing about Thomas’ feats is that he’s not exceptional in any one area. He’s not a speedster who can consistently create significant cushions. He’s a big target (6’3″, 212 lbs), but other productive receivers are bigger. Consistency and reliability are his calling cards, and they win out almost every time. He knows how to run routes and rarely drops a catchable pass.
“Brings this element of toughness, ability to separate and hands. Most complete,” an NFL coordinator told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Drew Brees serving as Thomas’ quarterback helps, too. But that said, a drive exists in the wide receiver to be the best.
“This guy will compete in anything. He’s so competitive. You just love to see it,” Saints senior offensive assistant Curtis Johnson told reporters. “You want those guys who are more and more competitive [in everything they do].”
Thomas had a reason to be upset when he entered the league. Five different wide receivers, including four first-round selections, heard their names called before the Saints landed the Ohio State product. None of those five have come close to being significant contributors for their original teams, let alone anywhere near Thomas’ class.
Right now, Thomas is the game’s best wide receiver, and his production and records back up that statement.
3. QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
The one trait that has stuck out most throughout Russell Wilson’s career is how the Seattle Seahawks quarterback is seemingly asked to shoulder more of his team’s offensive workload than any other signal-caller in the league.
The quarterback has led his squad in rushing yards and the entire league in touchdown passes. Constant breakdowns in protection have consistently forced him to create outside of the Seahawks’ offensive scheme.
Yet he’s capable of doing more.
Seattle prides itself on establishing a physical ground game. The Seahawks are as run-orientated as any team not named the Baltimore Ravens. It’s coded in the franchise’s DNA and has been since Marshawn Lynch came to the Great Northwest. That started before Wilson joined the team, though, and the quarterback has grown into so much more.
“I’ve said this to you that Russ is the best he’s ever been,” head coach Pete Carroll told reporters. “He’s as far along as he’s ever been. … So Russ, he’s going to do everything he can. We’re going to try to give him every opportunity to kick butt in every opportunity he gets. So you’re gonna have to wait and see what that all means.”
Wilson’s ability to extend plays while creating game-changing opportunities is second-to-none.
According to Pro Football Focus, he made more big-time throws (20-plus yards downfield) outside the pocket than any other quarterback last season. He’s the game’s highest-graded quarterback when flushed (either intentionally or unintentionally) out of the pocket. At the same time, he was the second-highest-graded quarterback from a clean pocket.
Every quarterback has strengths and weaknesses. In Wilson’s case, the weaknesses are difficult to define.
2. DT Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Last year, Aaron Donald held the No. 1 spot. If we’re being honest, he could probably hold that honor every year, but some voter fatigue probably sets in at some point.
Being the best position player in the NFL is nothing to sniff at considering how highly the quarterback spot is regarded.
“Best player in football,” one NFC scout still contended, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
There’s really not much of an argument against that point of view aside from the position Donald plays. The defensive lineman is dominant in every facet of the game.
As a pass-rusher, no one comes close to Donald considering he can consistently collapse the pocket and make life inherently more difficult for opposing quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year has posted the league’s highest pass-rush grade and pressure rate since the start of the 2017 campaign. His 44 sacks during that span reflect his consistency in this specific area.
As a run-defender, Donald destroys opposing game plans. His average depth of tackle against the run (0.17 yards) over the last two seasons is the best in professional football, as PFF noted. He’s notched 45 tackles for loss as a result.
The next step is trying to draw attention away from the five-time first-team All-Pro.
“The thing with Aaron is we all know what he’s capable of,” new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said, per ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry. “But how can we help him do his job better and maybe lift some weight off his shoulders, how can we design things to make it a little easier for him?”
If the Rams find a way to create more opportunities for Donald, watch out because he’ll reclaim his status as the No. 1 overall player in these rankings.
1. QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes’ career arc is nothing short of astounding.
When he was coming into the league, questions lingered about how his game would translate to the professional ranks and if the natural gunslinger could be tamed to play in an NFL scheme. The Kansas City Chiefs surprised almost everyone when they traded up to the 10th overall pick and drafted the quarterback prospect.
Mahomes played in one game as a rookie. By Year 2, he had established himself as the league’s MVP. A year later, he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in what could be the first of many championship-winning seasons.
The NFL’s first half-billion-dollar man changed how we look at the position. Natural throwing ability from numerous different platforms and arm angles, improvisation both inside and outside the pocket and the ability to create outside of a scheme’s structure are now viewed as must-haves after being looked down upon by traditionalists for decades.
Results don’t lie. Mahomes is the game’s best player, and he’s only going to get better as he gains more experience and sees different ways defenses attack the Chiefs offense.
“Talk to 31 defensive coordinators, they’d all say they are least excited about playing this guy,” one NFL veteran assistant coach told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “Only getting better with dealing with defenses, too.”
Since taking over as Kansas City’s full-time starter, Mahomes has completed 66 percent of his passes for 9,128 yards, 76 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions.
A true franchise quarterback elevates the play of everyone around him. Mahomes’ teammates know they’re in good hands no matter what situation they face because they have the game’s best player leading the way.
“Thank God we’ve got Pat Mahomes,” defensive end Frank Clark said after the Chiefs rallied for a 51–31 victory over the Houston Texans in the divisional round, per ESPN’s Adam Teicher. “We’ve got an MVP quarterback back there, so there’s not too much pressure on you.”
50. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers