NFL's top 99 player rankings for '09
Let those three questions guide you as you digest what's below.
And if you're a fan of Aaron Rodgers, Darrelle Revis, Nate Clements, Willis McGahee, LeRoy Hill, Walter Jones, Ronnie Brown, Jason Brown, Chad Pennington, Matt Hasselbeck, Lee Evans, Antoine Winfield, Torry Holt, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Shaun Rogers, Kellen Winslow, Jr, Tommie Harris, Jake Delhomme, Kirk Morrison, Trent Cole, John Carlson, Antonio Pierce, Dwayne Bowe, Frank Gore, Jay Ratliff, Ronde Barber, Mike Brown, Greg Jennings, Nick Collins and Braylon Edwards — know that your guys were right on the cusp.
They just weren't quite Top 99 worthy, not this year. And now, the list ...
THE NEXT 20:
99. Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints: One of the tougher players to slot on this list, Bush gets the benefit of the doubt and cracks the Top 99. Barely. What to make of him, though? After three years in the league, is Bush the best punt returner/scat back in NFL history? A middle-of-the-road, complementary piece at running back? Or is he a colossal bust for being drafted No. 2 overall in 2006? He's my 99th-rated player in the NFL, which means he's somewhere in between all three.
98. Rashean Mathis, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Mathis only played in 12 games in '08, but is widely considered one of the top corners in the game. He should bounce back from what was an underwhelming season. Jaguars fans hope their whole squad does.
Rankings never come without controversy or tough picks, and a few surprises.
Peter Schrager explains why he ranked Calvin Johnson (No. 83) over Chad OchoCinco (No. 86).
"How do you take a three-year guy with no Pro Bowls over the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson? Easily.
Johnson (turns 24 in September), despite playing on a dismal team, had a huge 2008 in just his second season. He'll have an even bigger 2009.
Aside from Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, he's the most talented receiver to come out of college this decade."
97. Keith Bulluck, LB, Tennessee Titans: The Titans defensive field general has been one of the league's more overlooked linebackers for a few years now. Like London Fletcher in Washington or Shaun Phillips in San Diego, Bulluck doesn't get much of the critical acclaim or decorated honors of some of his peers. He just brings it every game.
96. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo's Cabo buddy broke out in 2007, emerging as his quarterback's favorite target and the NFC's top tight end. Witten followed that up with an 81-catch campaign in '08. With T.O. out of the picture, he'll likely see even more action in '09.
95. Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona Cardinals: The sixth-ranked safety on our list, Wilson made a major leap in '08, going from a solid player on a bad team to a defensive leader on a conference champion.
94. Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins: "Hey rookie, go out there and protect a pocket quarterback, make sure we go from 1-15 to winning our division and go up against the NFL's toughest defensive ends week after week." That was essentially the orders Jake Long received last year. He did all that and more, helping bring the Dolphins back to respectability and making the Pro Bowl in his first season.
93. Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos: In just his first season in the league, Clady showed he was worth the 12th pick overall last April. Heck, he was a major steal at No. 12. An AP NFL All-Pro selection in '08, Clady should enter that upper echelon of offensive tackles in '09.
92. John Abraham, DE, Atlanta Falcons: Abraham's one of the more under-appreciated players of his generation. A beast originally at defensive end for the Jets, now with the Falcons, he's the top defensive player for Mike Smith's gangbusters Atlanta D. At 31, he recorded a career-high 16.5 sacks in 2008.
91. Kevin Mawae, C, Tennessee Titans: The gold standard for centers over the past 15 years, Mawae still mans the middle of a very functional Tennessee offensive line. He may be going gray, but he's still got plenty of football left in those legs.
90. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Tennessee Titans: The gambling cornerback came a long way in '08, going from a middle-of-the-road starter to a Pro Bowl performer. Finnegan had a big year. More importantly, he didn't have any Tennessee fans thinking about Pacman Jones.
89. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens: In Casey Hampton, Tank Johnson and Shaun Rogers, there's some real talent at DT in the AFC North. Ngata has the potential to be the best of the bunch. This should be the year he emerges as that guy, if he hasn't already.
88. Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: My apologies to all the Lynn Swann, David Tyree and John Taylor fans out there — you won't find a more dramatic Super Bowl reception than Holmes' fourth-quarter snag in Super Bowl XLIII. Holmes was making those grabs all year in '08. He'll only make more in '09.
87. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears: All Forte did in his rookie season was rush for 1,238 yards and 8 touchdowns. Oh, and he also caught 63 balls for 447 yards. In short, he was the bulk of the Bears offense in '08. Give him Jay Cutler to work with, and we're talking a perennial Pro Bowl duo in that Chicago backfield.
86. Chad Ochocinco, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Get ready for a little Ochocinco overload this summer. This week he told reporters, "I'm going to be with Carson so much in July that I'm going to be the nanny (for his new twins)." In August, he'll be all over HBO's Hard Knocks. After a down 2008, the issue is whether he can still play. Ochocinco would laugh at being ranked No. 86. His critics would say it's probably too generous.
85. Devin Hester, PR/KR/WR, Chicago Bears: It's tough ranking Hester — as unique a player in the league as you'll find. As a return man, there's no one better. As a guy who can change the game in a single play, he's top 10. As a receiver, he's just above average.
84. Richard Seymour, DT, New England Patriots: A healthy Seymour is the glue to the Patriots defense. In 15 games in '08, he was a force inside. Unfortunately, the Patriots DT hasn't played a 16-game season since 2006.
83. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: The only Lion on our list, Johnson's been on the cusp of greatness for two years now. A statistical beast last season, he played on a winless team. Ho hum. Detroit should be improved in '09; Johnson should be the star of the offense.
82. LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: One of several Steelers defensive players to make the list, he could one day end up being the best of all. Woodley used 2008 as a coming-out party — emerging as one of the top rushing linebackers in the NFL with 11.5 quarterback sacks. He should be even better in '09.
81. Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago Bears: Tough putting any of the top Bears defenders — Urlacher, Briggs or Tommie Harris — at the top of this list with how poorly the unit under-performed last year. It could all change in '09. The addition of Jay Cutler can only help.