Top 99 players for '09: No. 61-80
THE NEXT 20:
80. Marion Barber III, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Barber, like all of the Cowboys last year, was disappointed with how the '08 season ended. He's still one of the the toughest between-the-tackles runners in the league. With a healthy Felix Jones and an increased workload for Tashard Choice, Barber should only be fresher — and better — down the stretch in '09.
79. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Tennessee Titans: Albert Haynesworth may have gotten all the pub, but many NFL folks point to Vanden Bosch as the real glue to last year's dominant Tennessee defensive line. Without Haynesworth, he'll need to do even more in '09. He will.
78. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles: Tra who? The Eagles went out and traded for the versatile Peters when Philly's long-time LT Thomas signed with Jacksonville this offseason. A perennial Pro Bowl performer while up in Buffalo, he'll be the man protecting Donovan McNabb from the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Justin Tuck.
Rankings never come without controversy or tough picks, and a few surprises.
Peter Schrager explains why he ranked Kurt Warner (No. 64) over Matt Cassel (No. 67).
"Warner may be 37, but I'd still take him over 75 percent of the quarterbacks in the league.
I'm as big a fan of Cassel as anyone — and think he's going to have a great career.
But for this season, and for this list give me the guy with the endless body of work over the Cinderella Story from last year."
77. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans: As a rookie last season, Johnson burst onto the scene with breakaway speed and an incredible knack for the open hole. If healthy in the second half of its AFC playoff loss, it's anybody's guess as to what could have happened in Tennessee's heartbreaking postseason loss vs. Baltimore.
76. Kerry Rhodes, S, New York Jets: Rhodes, one of the best safeties in the NFL, will be the signal-caller for Rex Ryan's defensive backfield. In '08, he recorded 84 tackles and played in all 16 games, while admitting in the past that none other than Bill Belichick himself shared glowing compliments for him in private.
75. Barrett Ruud, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who? Perhaps the least familiar name on this list, Rudd checks in at No. 75. Ruud put himself on the national radar with a breakout 2008 — ending the season with 137 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. With Derrick Brooks out of the picture and a completely new defensive system in Tampa, a lot will be expected out of Ruud in '09. You may even become familiar with his name.
74. Alan Faneca, G, New York Jets: Alongside D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Damien Woody, Faneca plays on one of the league's best offensive lines. The senior member of the unit, Faneca was an integral reason the Jets were in the hunt for an AFC East title up until the final week of last season. Along with Hutchinson, Faneca is still the model when it comes to offensive guard play in the NFL.
73. Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona Cardinals: 2009 will be a very important year for Karlos Dansby. One of the defensive standouts of Arizona's surprise NFC Champion team, he'll be a hotly pursued free agent next offseason. In '08, Dansby took his game to the next level. There's no reason he won't elevate it even higher in '09, a contract year.
72. Joey Porter, LB, Miami Dolphins: Porter was all but left for dead after his forgettable '07 season in Miami, but emerged as an on-the-field and lockerroom leader for the AFC East champion Dolphins in '08. He's not getting any younger, but the guy can still play the LB spot. Case in point? His career high 17.5 sacks last season.
71. London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins: It's a crime against humanity that London Fletcher — one of the best linebackers of the past decade — has never, not once, been elected to a Pro Bowl. Fletcher is the NFL's Mr. Consistency. He hasn't missed a single game in his 10-year NFL career and has recorded over 120 tackles in every season since 2002. Get him to Hawaii ... or wherever the Pro Bowl is next year.
70. Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants: Hey, Earth, can you do it without Wind? We'll see in '09. The Giants gave Jacobs a four-year, $25 million deal this offseason, but let Derrick Ward walk in free agency. Jacobs' workload, already pretty heavy, should see an increase in '09. That is, of course, unless Danny Ware or Ahmad Bradshaw can pick up the slack.
69. Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos: "Beast" was just that in '08, but that was with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Does he haul in 104 passes and 1,200 yards with Kyle Orton passing him the rock? We'll have to wait and see.
68. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Seattle Seahawks: If there's an oddity on this list, it's the complete lack of representation from the Seattle Seahawks. Am I biased against Seattle? No. Do I have any doubt the Seahawks could take back the NFC West in '09? Not at all. Hoosh is the big free-agent signing. If Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy, they can be one of the nastier QB-WR combos in the league.
67. Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City Chiefs: It's a sad state for the Chiefs when of 99 players, only one makes the list. Cassel, who has yet to take a snap for K.C., is that man. Scott Pioli went out and got the man he wanted, but things might not be as easy as they were in New England. The K.C. offensive line is spotty, at best.
66. Brian Dawkins, S, Denver Broncos: B-Dawk was the heart and soul of the Eagles defense for years. Now he joins Champ Bailey and a bunch of question marks in Denver. The Broncos paid a pretty penny for the seven-time All-Pro. He'll be worth every cent in '09 (though at age 36, the jury is out how much longer he can remain on this list).
65. Casey Hampton, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers: Hampton's the clog at the core of the league's best defense. Perhaps the most dominant unit since the 2000 Ravens, Hampton ensures that no teams run up the gut on Dick LeBeau's Pittsburgh D. Don't kid yourself, he's one of the few reasons Cleveland traded down out of the No. 5 pick to acquire a center in the first round of April's draft.
64. Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals: Where do you put Warner? He's close to 40, can still play and was just given a brand new contract in the offseason. Then again, he's close to 40. Fresh off his third Super Bowl appearance, Cardinals fans are happy to have him back. Matt Leinart patiently waits in the wings ... again (although he's been busy with Jay Glazer).
63. Bart Scott, LB, New York Jets: The Jets broke the bank on Scott, a former undrafted free agent, this offseason. Rex Ryan speaks the world of him and Jets fans are expecting a lot. Between Calvin Pace, David Harris and Scott, the Jets have one of the league's best LB units. Hey, Vernon Gholston — it's time to join the party.
62. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Houston Texans: The leader of the young Texans defense, Ryans enters his fourth year in the league as one of the top linebackers in the game. He'll be working under a new scheme in '09. The addition of DE Antonio Smith on the defensive line should only help Ryans emerge as an even greater field general in the eyes of the mainstream fans and media.
61. Terrell Suggs, LB/DE, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens perennial "franchise" player, Suggs had another Pro Bowl campaign in '08. With Bart Scott gone, Suggs will need to step it up even more in '09. He will.