In the football world, we are all thankful for the NFL Network's Top 100 Players poll each summer. The players are thankful for it because it gives them a gauge of how their peers feel about their skills (and one more reason to put a gigantic chip on their shoulders heading into the season, if they don't like their ranking). The NFL Network loves it because they get ten hours worth of content out of the list. Finally, radio hosts/bloggers love it because, damn, the struggle for June and July content is REAL.
So, the 2018 list, which is voted on by a handful of current players and projects performance in the upcoming season, winds down tonight, with the final ten players, the top ten players, unveiled for the world to see. For the record, the first 90 players include four Houston Texans:
13. DeANDRE HOPKINS, WR
32. JADEVEON CLOWNEY, OLB/DE
50. DESHAUN WATSON, QB
84. J.J. WATT, DE
By my count, the final ten players on the list should be the following (in alphabetical order):
LE'VEON BELL, RB, PIT
TOM BRADY, QB, NE
DREW BREES, QB, NOLA
ANTONIO BROWN, WR, PIT
AARON DONALD, DT, LAR
TODD GURLEY, RB, LAR
JULIO JONES, WR, ATL
VON MILLER, DE, DEN
AARON RODGERS, QB, GB
CARSON WENTZ, QB, PHI
Here is my best guess at the order of these ten players when they are revealed tonight, with a brief comment on each player:
10. Todd Gurley
He is the running back version of DeAndre Hopkins — completely minimized in 2016 because of reasons out of his control (namely, terrible QB play), but a one-man explosion in 2017. Gurley led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,093), rushing touchdowns (13), and overall touchdowns (19). His next contract will be interesting. Does he get a big deal from a team with lots of big, upcoming free agents, or does he get the franchise tag, a la Le'Veon Bell?
9. Drew Brees
The bounce back of the New Orleans Saints from three straight 7-9 seasons to 11-5 in 2017 was fueled by a revamped defense and the right arm of Brees, who threw for over 4,000 yards (4,334) for the twelfth consecutive season and led the league in yards per attempt (8.1).
8. Julio Jones
This ranking is fueled slightly by reputation from 2015 and 2016, when Jones was a first team All-Pro. In 2017, his catch (33) and yards (1,444) numbers were still elite, but he only found the end zone three times all season.
7. Carson Wentz
Wentz compiled an 11-2 record, 33 touchdowns passes, with just 7 interceptions before tearing his ACL on a scramble in Week 14. His efforts were enough to put the Eagles, who eventually won the Super Bowl, in pole position for home field advantage in the postseason. Wentz was the only viable non-Brady MVP candidate when he went down.
6. Von Miller
Like Jones, fellow 2011 draftee Miller has seen more productive years in 2014, 2015, and 2016, but he did crack double digit sacks in 2017 (10), and apparently that really, really matters. (Just ask Jadeveon Clowney, who is continually downgraded by some Texan fans for topping out at 9.5 sacks.)
5. Le'Veon Bell
Bell is a deserving top five player, but I would be on the lookout for a slight regression in 2018, after leading the league in carries (321) and going over 400 touches, when you add in his 85 catches.
4. Aaron Donald
Three time first team All Pro, and double digit sacks (11) while rushing from the interior of the defensive line. Donald is a beast, and is likely to become the highest paid defensive player in football.
3. Antonio Brown
Brown was named a first team All Pro for the fourth consecutive season, while leading the league in receiving yards (1,533) and number of goalposts straddled (numerous).
2. Aaron Rodgers
1. Tom Brady
The great debate in 2018 — who would you rather have as your quarterback, the all-time Super Bowl winningest signal caller, or the general-considered-most-gifted one? Brady is the league MVP, Rodgers is the highest rated QB on Madden. I'll guess that Brady gets the nod from his peers, and that ultimately Rodgers will need another Super Bowl to take back the belt he won in 2012.
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By the way, this would be Brady's THIRD top ranking in the Top 100:
2011 - Tom Brady
2012 - Aaron Rodgers
2013 - Adrian Peterson
2014 - Peyton Manning
2015 - J.J. Watt
2016 - Cam Newton
2017 - Tom Brady
2018 - ???
The NFL Top 100 airs at 7 p.m. CT on the NFL Network.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.