60. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DB, Cardinals)– Certainly has the aptitude to be an elite corner in the league. A pro-bowler in his second-season, Rodgers-Cromartie has great breaks, size, speed, and fluid hips that the former 1-AA standout out of Tennessee State has the make-up of an ideal corner in the NFL.
59. Frank Gore (RB, 49ers)- Another one down for the ‘U,’ and this guy definitely deserves it. Backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield, and give you 400 yards receiving every year to go along with the 1000+ from the ground are valuable commodities. They are few and far between, and Gore is one of them.
58. Lamarr Woodley (LB, Steelers)– Michigan alums are giving the ‘U’ a run for their money with their guys on this list. The difference is, guys like Woodley, and David Harris did not come in with expectations but are certainly great surprises.
Woodley has had back-to-back seasons of over 11 sacks, and has served duty for the 2008 Super Bowl Champ Steelers.
57. Antonio Gates (TE, Chargers)– The thing with Gates is, even though he is getting older, he doesn’t have the wear and tear of playing a college football career. So after having a great ’09 season despite 6 years in the NFL, he only seems to be picking up steam.
Much like Vernon Davis, Gates’s physicality is impossible for linebackers, or safeties to check him. The former college basketball standout has utilized the athleticism he got from the court, to transform himself into one of the premier tight ends in football.
56. Jay Ratliff (DL, Cowboys)– Has become a key cog in the Dallas defense the past three seasons at the nose tackle position. A 7th round pick out of Auburn , Ratliff doesn’t fit the billing of a nose tackle that weigh in well over 300 lbs. Instead he is a slender build (compared to those guys), that has the ability to generate more pressure towards the quarterback, while Wilfork, Williams, and Hampton are primarily run-stuffers.
55. Wes Welker (WR, Patriots)– For Wes Welker to return from ACL/MCL surgery in 6 months at full speed is symbolic of the toughness he has displayed throughout his career. A lot of his success is due to how he fits in the Patriots system. But make no mistake about it, for him to do his work in the 5-10 yard area, the land of the linebackers, play after play where he is going to get drilled, is ballsy.
His hands are great, and his skill set is good, but his speed and size limit him to the role he thrives in now. What he does do, being a receiver who does his work in the intermediate area, he is the best to ever do it. But guys like Steve Smith, Reggie Wayne, and Miles Austin can beat you in many ways.
Bottomline is, Welker is tough as nails and would be coveted by any coach, or as a teammate because he is a big part in a team’s success.
54. Ray Rice (RB, Ravens)– Rice’s second year was his breakout season that really picked up steam during the second-half of the season. Rice showed he is an all-around back with over 1,300 yards rushing, and 700 yards receiving.
As soon as Rice gives us a glimpse of his consistency, because we all know running backs in this league have a tendency to fizzle out quick. Rice certainly will live up to his talent and be a top 25-player in this league.
53. Darnell Dockett (DE/DL, Cardinals)– If you haven’t noticed the value versatility has on this list, let me emphasize the importance of it again with Dockett. Dockett made the switch from an interior lineman to a defensive end this past year and was selected to a second pro-bowl at his new position. Better as a pass rusher than, a run-stopper, but he will be better utilized at the end position.
52. Will Smith (DE, Saints)– A lot of the credit for the Saints victory in the ‘NFC Championship’ goes to the defensive line, which is led by Will Smith. Smith’s sack totals do not necessarily stick out, but if you watch him play he is constantly applying pressure to the quarterback.
51. Steve Smith (WR, Panthers)– For this man’s size you can only admire his strength and toughness for being able to not only play in the roughest sport, but thrive in it. The way he carries himself with so much confidence, and assurance of that he is going to kick some ass is something every person wishes they could have in any endeavor.
What stands-out about his game is his ball-hawk skills, any time there is a jump ball situation between him and a corner and/or safety, we’re always seeing him jump higher than anyone and snatch the ball like his life was depending on it.
50. Tony Romo (QB, Cowboys)– Tony Romo might be the most polarizing player in this league. Roethlisberger is the most hated, but Tony brings a stir of emotions from football fans that either like him, or hate him. No one really loves him because he hasn’t done anything to get that kind of feeling from people. But he hasn’t really done anything to hate him as a player, but for some reason (maybe being Dallas’s quarterback and falling into instant praise) people really do not like him.
Tony can play the position though, extremely mobile, and he has a knack for connecting with deep. Since he has been in the league he has been prone to big mistakes one way or another, especially in key spots.
49. D’Brickishaw Ferguson (T, Jets)– Is starting to emerge as a premier left tackle in the league after being one of the most highly toted prospects at the position coming out of Virginia. The Jets are forming one of the strongest O-Lines in the entire league and Ferguson is the anchor of it.
48. Adrian Wilson (S, Cardinals)– For a long time Wilson has played on bad Cardinal teams, and because they were so bad he was always overlooked. Now that the Cardinals are competitive, Wilson is getting the respect he deserves with a couple of pro-bowl nods, and an all-pro selection.
Wilson may be the most ferocious pass rusher from the secondary, he is great in pursuit of the ball carrier, and his extraordinary size, and centerfield skills at the position make him the total package at the position.
47. Miles Austin (WR, Cowboys)– Between getting open, catching the ball, and accumulating yards after the catch, Miles Austin does it all very well. He also has great size at 6’3, 215 lbs. and great speed, it’s a surprise that he fell under the radar for as long as he did. Austin was an undrafted free agent out of 1-AA Monmouth, and saw limited action his first three years with Dallas.
Now he’s on the NFL’s radar as a legit receiver, and Kim Kardashian is currently his dick receiver.
46. Jason Peters (T, Eagles)– Came into the league undrafted, Peters is a 340 lb. load at the left-tackle position that has made himself a pro-bowl fixture in this league the past three season.
Coming undrafted out of Arkansas, Peters played the tight-end position strangely enough, and once he came into the league he was able to channel that size and athleticism making him into one of the best left-tackles in football.
45. Steven Jackson (RB, Rams)– Poor guy is stuck in a rat-hole being a St. Louis Ram, who are far removed from their days as the ‘Greatest Show on Turf.’ His season in 2006, where he had over 1,500 yards rushing, and an incredible 806 yards receiving, may seem like the outlier in his career. But if you surrounded this guy with the talent that is good enough to compete in this league, then you’ll see a lot more seasons that resemble that production.
44. Vernon Davis (TE, 49ers)– It took a while for this guy to live up to his 1st Round selection, but after a stellar year that included 13 TDs despite the shitty quarterback combination of Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, Vernon Davis still managed to have a great season in ’09.
If he ever gets a quarterback that can throw a pass in the NFL over 20 yards, watch out because no linebacker, or safety is checking a 6’3, 250 lb. tight end that fast, unless it’s Pat Willis, but since they’re on the same team it’s a moot point.
43. Elvis Dumervil (LB/DE, Broncos)– Tough break for the Broncos losing this guy for the season. Led the league with 17 sacks last season in his first season as an outside backer in the 3-4. Dumervil is one of the elite tweeners in the league, along with Ware, and Harrison, who can play the OLB in the 3-4, or the D-End in the 4-3.
Was a stud at Louisville and helped lead them to an ‘Orange Bowl’ victory in 2006, Dumervil was undervalued because he is seemingly undersized at 6 feet, 255 lbs. But he has proved all of the scouts wrong since he came into the league, racking up over 40 sacks in his first four seasons in the league.
42. James Harrison (LB/DE, Steelers)– Quite an accomplishment to be undrafted and make your way on to this list. If you noticed most of these guys are first-round picks, which is surprising. Harrison had one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history to help the Steelers win one for the thumb. But he’s not just some flash in the pan Super Bowl-hero, Harrison is a stud pass-rusher that has amassed an amazing 19 forced-fumbles in the last three seasons, and 34.5 sacks to boot.
41. Asante Samuel (DB, Eagles)– One of the few complete corners in the league. Excels as a ball-hawker, and is exceptional on his breaks to the ball (29 picks in the past 4 seasons). Is a good tackler also. Not of the caliber of the corners ahead of him as far as cover skills, still does well, but there are very few guys in this league that can man up and take on a receiver one-on-one.
Samuel is one blunder in the Patriots front office that is worth noting, because aside from that there aren’t many, the Adalius Thomas signing you can’t really blame them, and even though letting go of Branch cost them a Super Bowl, they made the decision based on the direction they wanted their franchise to go and sometimes those things don’t pan out the way you want them to.