By: James Johnson
As we all know, today’s NFL has evolved into a very pass-happy league. That said, to be among the best you need a solid aerial attack and a solid pass-rush to counter those with solid aerial attacks. I find it no coincidence that the remainder of the countdown is loaded with quarterbacks, pass catchers (WR’s/TE’s), and pass rushers (DE’s/OLB’s). Why? Because as I said, this league is one built around the pass, so it only makes sense that the best players in the NFL are those who affect the pass frequently. That couldn’t be more evident in this edition of IES Top 100 as we have a trio of tight ends making the countdown alongside a pair of WR’s, and edge rushers just to name a few. Find out just who they are in this week edition of IES Top 100 NFL Players of 2012-13.
39.) Jason Pierre-Paul – I know he wasn’t nearly as effective in the sack department as he was in 2011, but as I’ve said in the past, sacks aren’t everything (and at times can be a deceptive stat). When I go back and looked at some of his 2012 film I saw a dominant run defender still, and PFF seems to agree. They also point out that he had 55 QB disruptions which isn’t too shabby. I don’t know if he’ll be back to start the 2013 season, but I do believe when he gets healthy we’ll see him emerge back to the pass rusher he was prior.
38.) Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints – He didn’t eclipse 1,000 yards like most tight ends on today’s list, and it’s likely because of drops. Graham had 14 drops in 2012, which is a number that put him at the worst in the league in that category. Yet, he still had 982 yards with 9 touchdowns, which is far from bad. I believe he’ll cut down his drops in 2013 and get back to being the talented player he was in 2011.
37.) Victor Cruz – WR, New York Giants – Yeah I know, your probably thinking this is way too high for him, but there’s just something about him. Ever get the feeling that a certain player is just going to take the league by storm (like Cruz did in 2011)? Well, I just have a feeling he’ll be back to his old ways. There will be no distractions for him in terms of a contract now, and his fellow WR Hakeem Nicks will be back to take the pressure off of him. I’ll call it now, guys–I’m expecting another 1,500 yard season like he had in 2011.
36.) Ben Roethlisberger – QB, Pittsburgh Steelers – What more can I say. He’s tough and gritty, but even he couldn’t overcome the woes Pittsburgh had in pass protection this year. As PFF points out, had he gotten better pass protection, things might have been different for him and the Steelers, and I couldn’t agree more with that notion. Had he been better protected, I feel like this is about where he should be on the countdown.
35.) Champ Bailey – Denver Broncos – Aside from the Torrey Smith debacle in the AFC Playoffs, Champ Bailey was solid throughout the season. Despite his age he’s mastered the techniques of the cornerback position which has helped him tremendously in keeping up with younger talent. PFF has him ranked at #98 on their list, but he deserves better in my opinion.
34.) Andre Johnson – WR, Houston Texans – To many people’s surprise Andre Johnson played in every game last season. Though he only came away with 4 touchdowns, he still had 1,598 total yards on the season. That’s quite impressive for a veteran going into his 11th season wouldn’t you say? My question is how long can he sustain his success?
33.) Justin Smith – DE, San Francisco 49ers – Another veteran who’s withstood the test of time as he’s consistently been one of the NFL’s best defensive players over the last 5 or so years. He gets the dirty work done and is pretty much the engine behind the 49ers defense. As you all saw earlier in the season, Aldon Smith’s production decreased when Justin Smith wasn’t in the lineup and he is just as much of a key to this team’s defense as Aldon is.
32.) Tony Gonzalez – TE, Atlanta Falcons – Fourth player over the age of 30 in a row (this is beginning to look like an all veterans countdown). Just like I said for Smith above, Gonzalez represents the same for the Falcons passing attack. He too gets the dirty work done for the Dirty Birds, as he is the man that is a threat in the middle of the field for this offense.
31.) Jason Witten – TE, Dallas Cowboys – This makes it player number 5 that is over the age of 30 (though Witten is only 31) on this list. He’s pretty much Tony Romo’s go to/ possessions guy as he was targeted 146 times according to PFF. Of those 146 targets, Witten caught 110 of them. He compliments Dez Bryant well and is part of the reason why Bryant and the Cowboys passing attack is so dangerous.
30.) Clay Matthews – OLB, Green Bay Packers – After his 2011 season I thought he was a little overrated in my book, but he bounced back in 2012 and proved me wrong. I don’t know if any of you have seen many Packers games this season, but there isn’t much around him on the defensive end. Despite that, he constantly sacked and pressured the QB, earning himself a +15.9 pass rush grade on PFF. He came away with a sack in all but four games and even when he didn’t record a sack, he hurried the QB at least 3 times in each of those games. If that doesn’t spell consistency I don’t know what does.