ESPN created another Top 100 Players in the NFL ranking with a pretty simple methodology. They asked over 50 different “NFL analysts, reporters and statisticians -- both from ESPN and outside ESPN -- including former players and NFL front-office members” to rate every player in the NFL on a scale of 1-100.
Players with the score of “100” are currently playing at a level considered “the best of all time,” while those with a score of “1”
are members of the Miami Dolphins shouldn’t be in the NFL.
The New England Patriots were well represented in the rankings with seven representatives.
Here is who made the cut:
#99. LB Dont’a Hightower (average rating of 80.20, 2015 rank: N/A)
Hightower barely made the cut, which is both unsurprising and a total surprise. It’s unsurprising because he has yet to make a Pro Bowl and lacks the national acclaim of some of his teammates. It is surprising because I have no idea why he doesn’t have the national acclaim. He’s a great run stuffer, he’s good in coverage, and he’s one of the best blitzing linebackers in the league. What more do you want?
t-#93. WR Julian Edelman (average rating of 80.40, 2015 rank: N/A)
Edelman tied for 93rd with Bills WR Sammy Watkins and Vikings ED Anthony Barr, which is pretty good company. You can see how tight the grading was, too, with an average of just 0.2 separating Edelman from Hightower. Jules is a crucial piece of the Patriots offense and is a top 15 receiver when healthy. Hopefully his foot is ready to go in 2016.
#89. CB Malcolm Butler (average rating of 80.76, 2015 rank: N/A)
Butler reached the Pro Bowl last season after battling, and shutting down, many of the league’s top receivers last year. He’s come a long way from his Super Bowl heroics and is a well-rounded cornerback. He’s continuing to grow and improve and should be ready for a great 2016 year.
t-#56. LB Jamie Collins (average rating of 83.31, 2015 rank: #97, 79.38)
Collins is the far more highly touted of the Patriots linebacker duo and is coming off a Second Team All Pro season. Tip of the hat to ESPN’s Mike Reiss for noting “Collins' five forced fumbles in 2015 tied the team's single-season record.” Collins is a generational athlete and he’s still improving as a player; his best is yet to come. He is tied with Jets WR Brandon Marshall in the rankings.
#50. FS Devin McCourty (average rating of 83.87, 2015 rank: #56, 83.58)
McCourty remains steady as one of the best safeties in the league, even if he didn’t receive the same plaudits this past season as he did in 2014. He’s the heart of the defensive leadership and his versatility as a safety and a coverage corner makes him invaluable to the Patriots coverage schemes.
#6. QB Tom Brady (average rating of 94.71, 2015 rank: #3, 95.14)
Brady was squeezed out of the top five by #5 ED Von Miller, and by #4 WR Antonio Brown. Brady is unquestionably the most successful quarterback of all time and he will try to bring the Patriots back to yet another Super Bowl in his age 39 season. He has a few more records to chase down and I think he’ll compete until his is unquestionably the only name in the discussion for Greatest Quarterback of All Time.
#3. TE Rob Gronkowski (average rating of 95.78, 2015 rank: #5, 94.51)
Gronkowski is simply the most dominant tight end ever to play the game and he is just about to enter his prime. He’s the best receiver and the best blocker at the position and his presence elevates the Patriots to absurd heights. Gronk trails #2 QB Aaron Rodgers and #1 DL J.J. Watt in the rankings.
Overall, the Patriots actually did better this year than last year, when Brady, Gronkowski, McCourty, and Collins were the only players to make the list. I think this is a fun exercise, even if it all it encapsulates is the respect a player has in football circles.
I would have liked to see safety Patrick Chung on the list, but I think football analysts still have a bad taste in their mind after Chung’s stint with the Eagles. He’ll need a third-straight Pro Bowl caliber season before he starts receiving the attention he really deserves.
Do you have any qualms with the rankings? Anyone snubbed? Should anyone be higher on the list? Lower? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.