The criteria for determining this list is simply based on which player gives a team the best chance at winning this up and coming season. Quarterback is universally considered the most important position and it is., Even though a player, for instance Aaron Rodgers who is a franchise quarterback; Having him does not mean a team has a better chance of winning than if they had Patrick Willis at middle linebacker. Willis’s position may not have as big an impact on a team as quarterback, but with a player of his caliber he can effect the game in a way that his value to an NFL roster is more than Rodgers’s despite the position he plays.
Another point to consider is that it is based on the aptitude of the player now. Past seasons (2+ years give or take) only serve to gauge whether or not that player is a sure thing produce because he has done it throughout his career. If there is a noticeable decline in the player’s production, then past seasons are only for ‘Hall of Fame’ resumes.
One final thought before we break it down. For a player to have good production is lovely. But understand, football more than any sport is heavily reliant on the situation the player is in. With this list, I’m not basing it off of production, but rather the capabilities of the player. Ideally this list is made up of players that can succeed in any system, and add that extra service outside of their assignments to provide a playmaking dimension for a team.
100. Ndamukong Suh– A little bit of a gimmicky pick, but I don’t care that he’s never played a snap in a NFL regular season. What this kid showed last year at Nebraska is enough to convince me that not only can he play in the NFL, but that he can be an elite player very early into his career.
99. David Harris (LB, Jets)– Is he a product of the defense he plays in, or is he such a great contributor to it that it is sort of a product of him? He thrives as a blitzing inside linebacker, which may indicate him being a product of Rex Ryan’s defense because that scheme allows him to shoot the gaps that are open because of exotic schemes. We shall see how his career plays out, when he gets his big contract. Will he be an Adalius Thomas who was in an easier position to succeed because of the talent around him in Baltimore then showed, he couldn’t be ‘the guy’ in New England , or is he is a legitimate inside linebacker?
98. Robert Mathis (DE, Colts)– Ehh, good things happen when the guy opposite of you is as good as he is. But Mathis is definitely a havoc wreaker on the quarterback’s ‘see-side.’
97. Tony Gonzalez (TE, Falcons)– Edges out Dallas Clark who deserves to be mentioned. Gonzalez isn’t the same player he used to be, but really doesn’t have to, because he’s going to the Hall regardless. Well, of course he still needs a ring.
96. Jared Gaither (T, Ravens)– Not Jonathan Ogden, but still a ton of weight in the way, which Joe Flacco’s inaccurate arm and body like.
95. Anthony Spencer (LB, Cowboys)– Spencer really came on in the second half of the season last year, and it is expected he does the same for this up coming season.
94. Leon Hall (DB, Bengals)– The Bengals have a great foundation in their secondary because of this guy, and Jonathan Joseph. The defense had a breakout season last year, and Hall was a major reason why.
93. Antrell Rolle (S, Giants)– One of the reasons he had his position changed from corner to safety is because he lacks corner speed. Still, safety may be the position where he can establish a niche in this league.
92. Trent Cole (DE, Eagles)– Superb motor, and truly a relentless pass rusher.
91. Clay Matthews (LB, Packers)– Looks like Bobby Carpenter, but doesn’t play like him. I think he’s better than his USC-mate Brian Cushing. Reason why, I don’t think he was as reliant on the ‘roids like Cush, but who knows?
90. Carson Palmer (QB, Bengals)– In his second season in ’05 this dude was on fire. Since then, he has not even come close to the production he had that year. It may be that he never fully recovered from the bad knee injury he suffered, but he is still a stable enough quarterback to be a good starter in the NFL.
89. Vince Young (QB, Titans)– Very unorthodox for the quarterback position, but you can’t ignore his track record, and knack for leading his team to victory.
88. Brian Orakpo (DE, Redskins)– Showed us a glimpse last year of the pass rushing force he will most certainly be for years to come.
87. Nick Collins (S, Packers)– Number 36 for the Pack at the safety position just like Leroy Butler, and he does a good job living up to the work Butler put in. Packers have the best secondary in football, and Collins is a big reason why.
86. Michael Turner (RB, Falcons)– Carried the ball a lot in ’08, and wasn’t quite the same work horse last season. This will be a big season to see whether he’s just another back with a short shelf life, or if he can defy the odds.
85. Chad Ochocinco (WR, Bengals)– Chad has tailed off a bit since the name change, but make no mistake about, this guy still has a skill-set that is comparable to any receiver in the league. He’s just had problems getting open the past few seasons, and we’ll see if that changes with Antonio Bryant, and TO.
84. Cortland Finnegan (DB, Titans)– A big reason Tennessee barely missed the playoffs last year was because Finnegan, along with other key players of the Titans secondary were injured for a chunk of the season, and they lost games because of it.
Cortland struggles in man-coverage, but it’s not often you find guys that excel man-on-man with the exception of some of the corners listed ahead of him on this list. But in zone-coverage this guy can make big plays, and he is also a solid tackler.
83. Andre Gurode (C, Cowboys)– Has been so good for so long, and and can take a stomp to the head better than anyone to ever play the game.
82. Greg Jennings (WR, Packers)– Explosive deep threat, similar to a Lee Evans (deserves a mention). Stretches the field appropriately to open up the offense.
81. Josh Cribbs (KR, Browns)– I don’t care if he’s a kick returner, this guy will give a team great field position every time, and because his team sucks, the benefit of what this guy has to offer has yet to be realized.
Dante Hall, and Devin Hester’s best average in a season for returning kicks was 26 yards, Josh Cribbs has averaged 27 for five seasons, with his best being 31 yards per kick return.
A few subplots going on, who gets more players on the list, Michigan alums, or Miami ‘Canes? AFC, or NFC, who gets more? And offense, or defense?