Top 99 players for '09: No. 1-20

BY Peter Schrager • June 11, 2009
  • THE COMPLETE TOP 99: No. 1-20 | 21-40 | 41-60 | 61-80 | 81-99

    20. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers: Though perhaps not as well known on a national scale as several of the other linebackers on this list, Beason could darn well be the best one of them all. Beason racked up 138 tackles and made his first of what should be many Pro Bowls in '08.

    19. Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego Chargers: Merriman missed much of last season with an injury and the Chargers' D was noticeably worse without him. Aside from his tremendous ability and ferocious pursuit of the quarterback, Merriman provides serious bite to the reigning AFC West champions.


    Rankings never come without controversy or tough picks, and a few surprises. Peter Schrager explains why he ranked Ben Roethlisberger (No. 3) over Drew Brees (No. 7).

    "I recognize Brees' ability, and am as in awe of his 2008 statistics as the next guy.
    But, Roethlisberger's got the Super Bowl rings.

    After that game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLIII, I'm not sure how anyone can even question Big Ben's placement among the NFL's Top 3 quarterbacks."

    18. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers: One of the best deep threats to ever play the game, Smith is as consistent an offensive performer in the NFL as there is. Despite missing two games in '08, he still hauled in a career high 1,421 receiving yards. Year in and year out, the guy puts up huge numbers and wins games.

    17. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants: Now a year removed from the Super Bowl MVP performance, Eli's critics are all over the 212 again. Manning didn't throw a single touchdown pass to a receiver after the Plaxico Burress suspension last season, and failed to inspire in the wind at Giants Stadium in the postseason. Will rookie Hakeem Nicks become his go-to guy? Fellow rookie Ramses Barden? Lots of question marks for Eli this season.

    16. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers: Phil Rivers? In the Top 20?! You bet. Rivers had a breakout year in '09, tossing the San Diego offense on his back and winning the final four games of the season and a playoff contest vs. the Colts. The head-to-head postseason records of Rivers and No. 1 on our list? Philip Rivers 2, Peyton Manning 0. Not too shabby.

    15. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers: One of three Steelers in the top 15, Polamalu scored his second Super Bowl ring in February. A terror all season in '08, Polamalu is the perfect centerfield safety in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense. Unfortunately, he may be doomed for the '09 year ... he's on the Madden cover.

    14. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Washington Redskins: The $100 million man. After signing the biggest deal for a defensive tackle in NFL history, Haynesworth has a giant target on his back. Having never stayed healthy for a complete NFL season, there are critics out there. He had better perform. He should.

    13. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Johnson emerged as one of the league's top receivers in '08, catching league-highs in both catches (115) and yards(1,575). He's unstoppable. Expect the same — if not bigger — numbers in '09.

    12. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: There's a reason Asomugha is never among the league leaders in interceptions — quarterbacks avoid him like the plague. The league's top cover corner, Asomugha should be one of the NFL's marquee players. Alas, he plays in the abyss that is Oakland. This might be the first time you've even heard of him.

    11. James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: The second Steelers player to make the list, Harrison went from an unsung special teams player to arguably the best linebacker in all of football. I don't know the deal with the Obama/White House stuff, but I do know he can play football.

    Digging inside Peter Schrager's rankings, here are his top 99, broken down by team.

    TOP 99 BY TEAM:

  • 6 — ARZ, NE, PIT, TEN

  • 5 — CAR, CHI, SD


  • 3 — HOU, WSH

  • 2 — CIN, JAX, MIA, NO

  • 1 — BUF, CLE, DET, GB, KC, OAK, STL, SF, SEA, TB

  • 10. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens: Perhaps no defensive player can impact a football game quite like Reed. On top of the frequent interceptions (he led the league in both 2004 and 2008), he can take them back to the house for scores. Reed's five interceptions in five career postseason games prove he gets it done in big games, too.

    9. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers: One of the best defensive ends in the game, Peppers was the force behind the Panthers' magical '08 season. Still playing his very best, he's one of the rare defensive players that can singlehandedly will a team to victory. With a new defensive coordinator, Carolina needs him in camp sooner rather than later. That deal needs to get done.

    8. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: An absolute beast and arguably the NFL's best pass-rushing defensive end since Michael Strahan, Allen made an already strong Minnesota defense even stronger in '08. A nightmare for offensive tackles and an inspired leader in the locker room, he's emerged from a career riddled with off-the-field mishaps to become one of the league's very best players.

    7. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: Is No. 7 overall a little high for a player who hasn't played in a postseason game in two years? Perhaps. But there's no doubting Brees' skills, leadership and ability. Brees is a top-five quarterback in the league, and with some defense — just a little tiny bit — the Saints could be a top-five team in this league.

    6. DeMarcus Ware, DE/LB, Dallas Cowboys: A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, Ware is only getting better with every passing year. The loss of free-agent DE Chris Canty could hurt, but the addition of former Falcons LB Keith Brooking may actually free up Ware even more.

    5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: A.D. had an incredible sophomore season, tossing the Vikings on his back down the stretch and carrying them to an NFC North title. There's no player in the league who has greater big-play potential, and he brings that big-play potential 25 times a game. Hands down the best running back in the league, he will be in the MVP conversation over the next decade of his career.

    4. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the league. When it's all said and done, he might end up being the best wide receiver to ever step on a football field. Yeah, I wrote it. If '08 was his breakout campaign and the Super Bowl his "Hello, America" game, I can only imagine what he has in store for us in '09. Gifted with superhuman hands, an uncanny skill set and leadership qualities of a field general, Fitzgerald is the single-most valuable non-quarterback heading into the 2009 NFL season.

    3. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Say what you want about the strength of the Super Bowl champions' defense, but Big Ben is unquestionably the true leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With two Super Bowl rings and three AFC championship game starts in just five NFL seasons, he's one of the top three quarterbacks in the league. Win another one and he could be No. 1 on this list next year. Kick and scream all you want about it — Roethlisberger's the real deal.

    2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Without Brady in '08, the Patriots had an impressive 11-5 season, just missing the playoffs by a nutty tiebreaker scenario. The '08 season was a testament to Bill Belichick, backup quarterback Matt Cassel and offensive guru Josh McDaniels. Two of the three won't be back in '09. But Brady will be. That fact, alone, makes the Patriots the no-brainer favorite in the loaded AFC East.

    1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Though not the best in a statistical sense, Manning's '08 campaign was arguably the most impressive season of his decorated 11-year career. Working behind a makeshift offensive line with injuries scattered across the depth chart at just about every position for much of the year — Manning led the Colts to the playoffs and another 12-win season after an uninspiring start to the season.

    With other quarterbacks, you'd be worried by the departure of a head coach, starting wide receiver and several key offensive assistants. Not Manning. He's the ultimate franchise player. Give me anyone in the league to build a team around — and I'm still taking Manning ... yes, even Tom Terrific.

  • THE COMPLETE TOP 99: No. 1-20 | 21-40 | 41-60 | 61-80 | 81-99

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