Top 99 players for '09: No. 41-60
THE NEXT 20:
60. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: MJD got his money over the offseason and it's well-deserved. The one bright spot in what was a dismal '08, Jones-Drew was the bowling ball that kept the Jaguars competitive. It will be interesting to see how Jones-Drew performs without Fred Taylor complementing him in the backfield.
59. Adalius Thomas, LB, New England Patriots: Thomas battled injuries in '08, but should be 100 percent healthy for '09.
58. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers: After all these years, Woodson's still one of the top cornerbacks in the game. He and Al Harris may combine for seemingly 100 years of age, but they still get the job done. Green Bay's defense was a mess in '08. Blame the front seven.
Rankings never come without controversy or tough picks, and a few surprises.
Peter Schrager explains why he ranked Clinton Portis (No. 45) over Steven Jackson (No. 49).
"Jackson might be the fantasy owner's no-brainer pick here, but I'll take the durable and consistent Portis with the game on the line.
Clinton (and his many personas) has been the workhorse of the Washington offense for years. Fantasy owners can't exactly hate on his career statistics, either."
57. Steve Hutchinson, G, Minnesota Vikings: Still the top interior offensive lineman in the NFL, Hutchinson's the centerpiece to an offensive line creating holes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor in Minnesota. How will the departure of longtime Vikings center Matt Birk impact Hutchinson's work at guard?
56. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons: With Matt Ryan at the helm and Michael Turner in the backfield, White had a monster season in '08. Considered a "bust" during his first few years in the league, the former first-round pick has successfully shed the label with two big seasons in a row.
55. Kris Jenkins, DT, New York Jets: It's no coincidence that the Jets rush defense went from a middle of the road unit to one of the best in the league with the addition of Jenkins. He could be even better in Rex Ryan's defense in '09.
54. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Tough not finding a place for Westbrook in the Top 50. He's still one of the more lethal weapons in the league. He just needs to stay healthy in '09. The addition of Jeremy Maclin will open things up even more for the Eagles all-purpose back.
53. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: Gates wasn't his best in '08, but he was still among the top tight ends in the NFL. When fully healthy, there's no one better at the position. He's still one of the best over-the-middle and red zone targets in the league.
52. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears: Another very difficult player to place on this list. Now at 31, Urlacher's not getting any younger. But he can still play the game. We've got the Beason/Willis/Mayo trio rated higher on our list, but Urlacher's still in the conversation.
51. Terrell Owens, WR, Buffalo Bills: A wild-card on this list, who knows what to expect out of T.O. in '09? Now up in Buffalo (which is weird), working with Trent Edwards (really?) and in the AFC for the first time of his career, tracking T.O.'s amazing journey north will be a curious experience this season.
50. Asante Samuel, CB, Philadelphia Eagles: A two-time Super Bowl champion in New England, Samuel brought his ball-hawking corner skills to Philly last year and delivered. Rated here as the top cornerback in the NFC, he'll need to do it in '09 without Brian Dawkins manning the middle.
49. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis: St. Louis fans deserve a healthy season from Steven Jackson. They've had too many forgettable years without one. When 100 percent, there's nobody better at running back. The drafting of Jason Smith and the acquisition of Jason Brown only helps Jackson's game.
48. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots: No Tom Brady? No problem. Not for Welker, at least — the best underneath route receiver in the entire league. Welker holds the two highest single-season reception totals in franchise history, including a league-leading 96 catches in '08. He can do a nasty snow angel, too.
47. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons: At age 33, Gonzalez had one of his best years as a pro in '08, despite playing on a dismal team with a handful of unknowns rotating at quarterback. Now he goes to Atlanta, a team with a top quarterback, top running back, top wideout and serviceable offensive line. Forget the miles on his pedometer — Gonzalez could be in for his best year yet.
46. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns: Thomas followed up an incredible rookie season with a strong sophomore campaign. The two-time Pro Bowler is the rock of the Cleveland offense.
45. Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins: Portis was on his way to what looked like a potential MVP season six weeks into the '08 campaign, only to finish the year with a few less than impressive performances. Portis should be refreshed and good to go for the start of '09. He's one of the top-10 running backs in the league and has been for close to a decade.
44. Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Boldin proved himself to be one of the tougher suckers in the league in '08, coming back from what could have been a career-shattering facial injury, and taking his game to the next level upon his return. He rid himself of agent Drew Rosenhaus last month, but still wants to be paid his worth. He's one of the best. He deserves it.
43. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: Sophomore slump? Don't expect one with this guy. Ryan has the city of Atlanta in the palm of his hand, and now Tony Gonzalez as the ultimate safety valve. High expectations for Matty Ice in '09. He should exceed them.
42. Shaun Phillips, LB, San Diego Chargers: Shawne Merriman gets all the fanfare and publicity, but serious followers of the NFL point to Phillips as the more talented linebacker. Both are Top-50 talents.
41. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts: It's been Reggie Wayne's show in Indy for a few years now, but with Marvin Harrison now off the roster, there's no doubt over who Peyton Manning's No. 1 target is. Wayne is still as fast as ever; the skills the same. Still a Top-50 player? No question.