By Nick Shook
Read full post on NFL.com
Once again, NFL Network will be counting down the league’s best footballers on “The Top 100 Players of 2017,” broadcast weekly on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET. Last season, then-MVP and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took the top prize. But one year later, the league’s hierarchy has changed dramatically.
Follow along as a new batch of players are revealed each Monday night:
81. Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Ever the model of consistency, Alex Smith is in the exact same place as he was after the 2015 season, firmly entrenched as the league’s 81st best player, according to those who play the game. This feels right.
82. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers
Blame it on a Packers pass defense that was downright miserable for a good part of 2016. Matthews falls 25 places in the rankings — despite being part of a unit that finished in the top five against the run — after the linebacker played in just 12 games and didn’t quite carry the same menacing, fearsome reputation that once followed his name in previous years.
83. Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
A drop due to an inconsistent team could be what caused Campbell to fall from 71 to 83, though his production says differently (a jump in sacks from five to eight between 2015 and 2016), as does the four-year, $60 million deal Jacksonville handed the 30-year-old in March. Campbell is also well-respected in many league circles, so it’s a mild surprise to see the drop, though 12 places isn’t all that much.
84. Mike Daniels, DT, Green Bay Packers
85. A year after Marc Sessler thought defensive tackle Mike Daniels was underrated by the shadowy player supergroup, the defensive tackle rises 11 places to No. 84. Green Bay struggled mightily through the middle of the season against the pass, but Daniels was a key piece up front for a unit that was stingy against the run, finishing eighth in the league in rushing yards allowed at 94.7 per game. A year later, the players get on the same page as Sessler.
85. Chandler Jones, OLB, Arizona Cardinals
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official: Wearing a Patriots uniform does make a person more imposing, even in the eyes of fellow NFLers. That’s what we’re taking from Jones’ 37-place fall in the rankings from 2016 to 2017. Jones posted nearly identical stats in his first season in Arizona (44 tackles, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one interception in 2015; 49 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles in 2016), but without the New England pedestal, his performance went overlooked. No matter for the Cardinals, who in March rewarded the 27-year-old edge rusher with a five-year deal worth up to $82.5 million with $53 million in guarantees.
86. Jurrell Casey, DE, Tennessee Titans
Casey has risen from third-round selection to top 100 player, and we could see his star climb higher in future rankings. Casey has been a force on the defensive line in Tennessee since a 10.5-sack season in 2013, and thanks to sustained success (at least five sacks and 44 or more tackles in each season since 2013) and an improving Titans team, he will likely stick in this select group for the next few years.
87. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys
2016 was the year of the Cowboys (until the playoffs), with much credit due to the Dallas offensive line that opened massive holes for rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Frederick was named first-team All-Pro, along with two other fellow Cowboys linemen, and enters the top 100 as the model of what teams are looking for in future centers.
88. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
What does Doug Baldwin have to do to earn (and keep) the respect of his leaguemates? Baldwin hit career-highs in receptions and yards receiving, and despite seeing his touchdown total get cut in half (from 14 to a still-respectable seven), the wideout’s Seahawks still won the NFC West, and Baldwin was still a major part of the team. That wasn’t quite good enough for the voters, who collaborated on a 16-place drop for Baldwin, which will surely make that chip on his shoulder even bigger.
89. Thomas Davis, OLB, Carolina Panthers
Thomas Davis seems to be another player who suffered from a letdown season from his team, because the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year posted similar stats, save for three fewer sacks than the campaign prior. At 34 years old, maybe his fellow pro football players feel he’s lost a step, or are using his advanced age (relatively speaking) against him. Then again, at 34 and with his lengthy injury history (NFL Media’s Ike Taylor calls him “The Bionic Man”), it’s remarkable he’s played well enough to still be held in such high esteem.
90. Malcolm Jenkins, SS, Philadelphia Eagles
Selected in the first round of the 2009 draft as a cornerback out of Ohio State, Jenkins sees the top 100 for the first time. It seems the switch to safety has suited him well, as he equaled his season-high total of interceptions (three) in 2016 to go along with 72 tackles. The stat that really jumps out: Jenkins took two interceptions back for touchdowns, including a 64-yarder against Kirk Cousins and the Redskins. Jenkins continues to flourish as one of the league’s better strong safeties.
91. Lorenzo Alexander, OLB, Buffalo Bills
During a frustrating season that saw head coach Rex Ryan and GM Doug Whaley eventually get fired, a silver lining emerged in the late-blooming Alexander. The 33-year-old linebacker piled up 12.5 sacks in 16 starts for Buffalo, after starting just 16 games combined in his first 11 seasons in the league. The Bills rewarded the pleasant surprise with a two-year, $9 million deal, which he can frame and hang right next to his first entry in the top 100.
92. Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota’s front-seven has been the personal masterpiece of GM Rick Spielman, who aided in the selection of Griffen in 2010. It’s been proven to be the right decision, as Griffen has recorded 48 sacks and 234 tackles over his seven-season career. The addition of talent around him has allowed Griffen to flourish (18.5 sacks in the last two seasons), becoming a terror off the edge, and that’s been reflected in his first selection to the top 100.
93. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
After three seasons of consistent play, Graham cracks the top 100 as part of an Eagles defense that has gained respect for its veterans around the league. The defensive end has posted at least 5.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons, and has forced a total of nine fumbles over the same period, putting together a consistently excellent enough stretch to crack the top 100 for the first time.
94. Dont’a Hightower, MLB, New England Patriots
Hightower proved to be the do-it-all linebacker on which New England wanted to spend long-term money, serving as the heart and soul of a Patriots defense that shut down Atlanta in the second half of Super Bowl LI to complete the greatest comeback in the game’s history. The defender was dominant in 2016 and and is expected to be the anchor of the New England defense for many years to come after the Patriots inked him to a four-year, $43.5 million deal.
95. Kelechi Osemele, OG, Oakland Raiders
Oakland threw big money at the guard in 2016, and it has paid off tremendously. With Osemele and left tackle Donald Penn, the Raiders had one of the league’s best offensive lines. It hasn’t gone overlooked by those who faced it, as the voting players put Osemele in the top 100 for the first time after Oakland went 12-4 and rode the wave of resurgence that began in the trenches.
96. Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants
The large man got a large contract from the Giants and made it worth their investment in 2016, racking up 86 tackles and 2.5 sacks as part of a defensive front-four that ranked fourth in the league against the run, allowing 88.6 yards per game. The former undrafted free agent nicknamed “Snacks” continues to get his tackles and sacks, and finds himself in the top 100 for the first time.
97. David DeCastro, OG, Pittsburgh Steelers
Drafted out of Stanford as the league’s next elite guard, DeCastro took a few years to find solid footing in Pittsburgh. Luckily for him and the Steelers, everything came together in the last two seasons, resulting in first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections in 2015, and a second-team selection and another Pro Bowl trip in 2016). Pittsburgh rewarded the guard accordingly last September, locking him up on a six-year deal worth $58.07 million.
98. Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints
If Adrian Peterson‘s lukewarm-at-best free agent market wasn’t an indicator of how quickly he’s fallen in the eyes of others, his 93-place free-fall certainly affirms it. The veteran running back, who was ranked fifth in 2016 sees the effects of an early season injury coupled with a miserable offensive line, all but removing him from the consciousness of his colleagues. You can’t make the club in the tub.
99. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots
Butler went from undrafted free agent to last-second substitution in Super Bowl XLIX, to a man who will never have to pay for another beverage in New England, to the top 100. The corner spent much of the offseason as a target of the New Orleans Saints, though they didn’t pull the trigger on a deal due to his restricted free agent status. He returns to New England as a Pro Bowl-caliber corner with plenty of others wishing they’d drafted (or signed) the Papa John’s pitchman.
100. Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers
Joey Bosa‘s holdout might have gotten him off to a slow start, but in this instance, real recognized real. The voting players gave the hell-raising rookie his due, shoehorning him into the Top 100 with the last spot after racking up 10.5 sacks in his first pro season.