As talented as Sanders is, the fact that he's only played in eight games over the past two seasons keeps him out of the Top 50. It's tough to make an impact from the training room. In 2009, Sanders appeared in just two games with six tackles, sidelined with an arm injury. The former Defensive Player of the Year is expected to be back in the lineup in 2010. The thought of he and Antoine Bethea roaming the middle should cause nightmares for WRs. ALSO SEE: Schrager's Top 100 NFL players for 2010, Nos. 81-100 | 41-60 | 21-40 | 1-20
80. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (2009 Rank: 38)
Michael Turner’s 2008 debut year with the Falcons saw him rack up 1,699 yards and 17 TDs, a playoff berth and a spot in Pro Bowl. Nagging injuries and subpar O-line play limited Turner to just 871 yards in 2009. Turner is drifting towards the dreaded RB age of 30, but with much fewer career carries than the Larry Johnson, Edge, L.T. and Brian Westbrook types before him—there should be at least three more solid years left in his legs. Falcons fans sure hope so. He’s come to camp trimmer and healthier than he has in years prior.
79. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons (2009 Rank: 93)
Gonzalez, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, holds just about every tight end receiving record in the books. He also hasn’t won a single postseason game in his 12-year NFL career. With a much-improved Falcons defense, 2010 could be the year Tony G notches that long-awaited postseason victory. In ‘09, Gonzalez caught 83 balls and scored 6 TDs. Like fine wine or that Helen Mirren woman, he seems to get better and better with age.
78. Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers (2009 Rank: Unranked)
Hear that broken record? Jackson is yet another one of the league’s young stars currently not working out with his team due to a contract squabble. Chargers GM A.J. Smith isn’t budging anytime soon. When he’s on the field, Jackson’s Phil Rivers’ deep threat. In 2009, he caught 68 balls for 1,167 yards and scored 9 touchdowns. The sky’s the limit with this guy.
77. Jon Vilma, LB, Saints (2009 Rank: Unranked)
Vilma, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, returned to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2005 with a wonderful ’09 campaign. The Super Bowl champ has led the Saints in tackles in back-to-back seasons, racking up 132 last year. When it mattered most, Vilma stepped up to the plate. In the Super Bowl, he made seven tackles and deflected a key 3rd-and-11 fourth quarter pass from Peyton Manning. Though there are other big-name ILBs in the NFL, Vilma’s one of the most productive.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection (2007 and 2009), Warren is the run stuffing clog on the Patriots 3-man defensive line. Fresh off a newly inked deal, he’s now the second-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL. Still only 28, the Pats expect several more highly productive seasons out of the big fella.
75. Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys (2009 Rank: Unranked)
Top 75, huh? Not bad for an undersized undrafted free agent out of Monmouth University. In just 12 starts last season, Austin hauled in 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 TDs. With the addition of first round pick Dez Bryant and 16 starts, Austin’s numbers could skyrocket even more. Now officially signed and ready for the 2010 season, expect big, big things out of this not so big, big player.
74. Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens (2009 Rank: 44)
Arguably the most physical WR in the NFL, Boldin starts the second chapter of his career as a Raven this fall. The 6’1, 220-lb man of steel was the fastest wideout in NFL history to reach 500 career catches and has ade three Pro Bowls. Though long considered one of the worst teams in terms of WR talent, the Ravens now have one of the NFL’s very best trios in Boldin, Donte Stallworth and Derrick Mason. Stallworth should be the deep threat; Boldin the every down target across the middle.
73. Brian Cushing, LB, Texans (2009 Rank: Unranked)
Cushing’s name has been dragged through the mud this spring, but way back when—oh, February?—he was considered one of the NFL's best young LBs. Guess what? He still is. In 2009, he tied Ray Lewis for the AFC lead in tackles with 134, won NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and made the Pro Bowl. Then “it” hit the fan. He will be suspended for four games in 2010 for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. When he comes back, he’ll pick up right where he left off.
72. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots (2009 Rank: 39)
The Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi days are now a thing of the past in New England. When it comes to Patriots LBs these days, it starts and ends with Jerod Mayo. After a breakout ’08 campaign, Mayo was sidelined with an MCL injury for a portion of the 2009 campaign. Named a defensive captain in just his second NFL season, Mayo still managed to make 103 tackles in just 13 games. When fully healthy, there are few better young defensive talents in the league than the former Tennessee Volunteer.
71. Adrian Wilson, S. Cardinals (2009 Rank: 53)
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Wilson was a First-Team All-Pro in 2009. Arguably the top safety in the NFC, Wilson will be joined by Kerry Rhodes at the other safety spot this season instead of longtime battery mate Antrel Rolle. Wilson had his high school jersey retired at HP Andrew High School last week. With a few more seasons like the past few, his Cardinals jersey could be next.
70. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions (2009 Rank: 83)
Ladies and gentlemen, our first and only Detroit Lion in the Top 100. With shaky play at QB, next to no running game, constant double teams and a spotty O-line, Johnson still caught 68 balls in 14 games in 2009. With skills often mentioned in the same breath as Andre Johnson’s and Larry Fitzgerald’s, 2010 could be the year “Megatron” steps his game up and enters that elite echelon of NFL receivers. Matt Stafford needs to be upright for that to happen. All eyes are on you, left tackle Jeff Backus.
69. Lance Briggs, LB, Bears (2009 Rank: 81)
With a new deal in the offseason, Briggs was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable season for the Bears. In 2009, the three-time All-Pro went to his fifth Pro Bowl, leading the Bears with 147 tackles. The former third-round pick is only the third Bears player since 1971 to record 1,000 career tackles, reaching the 100-tackle plateau in each of the previous six seasons. With Julius Peppers on the D-line and a healthy Brian Urlacher back roaming the middle, look for the Bears defense to return to greatness in 2010.
68. Antoine Bethea, S, Colts (2009 Rank: Unranked)
Shocked to see a Colts safety not named Bob Sanders in the Top 75? Don’t be. Bethea was a beast in ’09 and was handsomely rewarded for his outstanding effort earlier this month with a four-year, $27 contract extension. A two-time Pro Bowler, Bethea is one of the great young defensive backs in the game and only appears to be getting better. Often overshadowed by bigger names on the Colts D, he could end up being the best of the bunch.
67. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers (2009 Rank: Unranked)
Gore had another productive year in 2009, racking up 1,120 yards and 10 TDs, while catching 52 balls out of the backfield for San Francisco. A first-alternate for the Pro Bowl in ’09, big things are expected in 2010. For the first time in recent memory, the 49ers have an established starting QB (without a controversy) in Alex Smith and two legitimate receiving targets in TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree. Gore’s the workhorse of what should be an exciting offense in NoCal.
66. Brian Urlacher, LB, Bears (2009 Rank: 52)
Urlacher’s back for 2010, eight months removed from a devastating wrist injury that kept him sidelined for 15 games in ’09. The six-time Pro Bowl LB fully participated in five minicamp workouts this month, showing no signs of lingering effects from the injury. With Urlacher back and the addition of Julius Peppers at DE, the Bears defense should be much improved from the unit they trotted on to the field last season. Say what you want about everyone else on the unit, Urlacher’s still the leader. And when he’s healthy? He’s a top 10 NFL linebacker.
65. Jason Peters, OT, Eagles (2009 Rank: 78)
One of the top left tackles in the sport, Peters will be asked to watch Kevin Kolb’s blindside in 2010. Undrafted out of Arkansas, Peters has made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons. He seamlessly made the move from AFC to NFC last year and anchored the Philly offensive line. When the Eagles acquired Peters last year, Philly coach Andy Reid told reporters, “Jason Peters is the best left tackle in football. He is a powerful and athletic tackle and I have admired his play over the last few years on film." If he’s not the best, he’s certainly in the conversation.
64. Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens (2009 Rank: 89)
Ngata was the heart and soul of the Ravens D-line in ’09, making his first Pro Bowl and solidifying himself as one of the game’s top DTs. Ngata tore a pectoral muscle in the Pro Bowl and is still working his way back into game shape. "I felt good," Ngata said last week. "I'll definitely be ready for training camp. All I got to do now is get the strength back. All the range of motion is there. I'm just working on building muscle back and making sure i'm keeping up with the plays." Without him, the Ravens rush defense isn’t the same.
63. Nick Mangold, C, Jets (2009 Rank: Unranked)
The Jets were fortunate enough to have Kevin Mawae, the longtime top center in the game, anchoring their O-line for much of the 2000s. They now have Mangold, the NFL's best, doing the work in Jets green. Currently embroiled in (what’s new?) a contract dispute, Mangold has been in the papers voicing his disappointment: "It's deeply disappointing that we are where we are," he said last week. "I've tried to do all the right things on and off the field, and I feel it's the Jets' turn. Not having that security of an extension is bothersome." Yawn.
After two seasons of unnoticed mediocrity, Sidney Rice emerged as one of the NFL’s top WRs in 2009. A Pro Bowl selection for the first time in his career, Rice became Brett Favre’s go-to target in Minnesota, catching 83 balls for 1,312 yards and 8 TDs. In last season’s Vikings playoff win over the Cowboys, Rice caught 6 balls for 141 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. If he wasn’t considered a Top-10 NFL wideout before that game, he certainly was afterwards.