By Nick Shook
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We’re back for more rankings, and more internet outrage — or, if you’re a Redskins fan reading this week, pleasant surprises.
Scroll down to the bottom if you’re a Redskins fan who believes in a world with Kirk Cousins behind the wheel. His go-to tight end with tantalizing athleticism is on this list this week, too. We can’t forget about the punishing running of a tailback in South Florida, either.
Let the debates rage on.
61. T.Y. Hilton – WR, Colts
The Colts were a team in 2016 that always seemed to be good enough to contend, found themselves on the positive end of some surprising finishes, and yet, when everything came to rest, were at home watching the Texans take the division crown. Hilton, however, didn’t suffer from that at all. The wideout had his best season as a professional, racking up a career-high 1,448 yards receiving on 91 catches, scoring six times and catching passes of 20-plus yards 28 times. Indianapolis’ deep threat only seems to be getting better with time and is just entering his prime at age 27, which coincides with his first entry in the Top 100.
62. Cameron Wake – DE, Dolphins
It’s hard to believe — considering the defensive end has posted double-digit sack totals in four of his last seven seasons — but Wake wasn’t on this list in 2016. The edge rusher played in just seven games in 2015 (recording seven sacks), so that could explain why he’s listed as a new arrival in 2017. Much of Wake’s career has trended that way: double-digit sacks in even years, single-digits in odd years. But he’s never finished a season with less than 5.5 QB takedowns. After a bounce-back season that included 29 tackles, 11.5 sacks, a playoff appearance and even an interception, Wake is back where he belongs: among the league’s best.
63. Chris Harris – CB, Broncos
Denver ended the regular season out of the playoffs, with holes on the offensive line and questions swirling around the offense, but the defense that won the Broncos a Super Bowl was already champing at the bit to get 2017 started. A 9-7 record is the main reason for Harris’ 11-place drop, because the corner was as good as ever in 2016, recording 11 passes defensed, two interceptions and 63 tackles. I’d expect this ranking to rise if the rest of the Broncos can follow suit in 2017.
64. Casey Hayward – CB, Chargers
Welcome to the greater Los Angeles area and the Top 100, Mr. Hayward. The corner makes his first appearance in the select group after a Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro 2016 campaign, his first with the Chargers. The seven interceptions definitely didn’t hurt, either. Hayward is another player in this group of 10 who is just entering his prime at age 27. Bright days are ahead for his Chargers career.
65. Jordan Reed – TE, Redskins
By the middle of the 2016 season, Jordan Reed had become a bonafide weapon in Washington’s offense. The athletic pass-catcher built on an impressive 2015 campaign (87 catches, 952 yards, 11 touchdowns) by racking up 66 grabs, 686 yards and six touchdowns despite struggling to stay on the field due to health issues. Reed’s longevity is a big question mark, but what he’s done when healthy is definitely worth placement at No. 65, a 12-place jump from his 2016 ranking.
66. Xavier Rhodes – CB, Vikings
2016 was the best yet for Rhodes, who tallied five interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) and 52 tackles in 14 games for a Vikings defense that was the only reliable bright spot on Sundays in Minneapolis. Situated across from Terence Newman and Trae Waynes, Rhodes makes his first appearance in the Top 100 and should only rise in these rankings over time.
67. Greg Olsen – TE, Panthers
When the book is written on Olsen, his best years will have been in Carolina, and that’s why he’s again in the Top 100. But unlike 2015, which included a run to Super Bowl 50, Olsen’s Panthers finished outside of the playoffs at 6-10, and his touchdowns fell from seven to three. It’s not Olsen’s fault the Panthers suffered a setback of a season, but his team’s performance has to be the cause of his 29-place drop.
68. Geno Atkins – DT, Bengals
Atkins has been a terror up the middle for the last six years, save for his injury-shortened 2013 campaign, and not much has changed. His numbers have stabilized and opposing linemen are paying just as much attention to him as ever. But as things have grown stale in Cincinnati (especially against the run, which the Bengals were 21st at 113.2 yards per game allowed), so has Atkins’ reputation, resulting in a 39-position fall. This is, of course, all relative. He’s still in the Top 100, and he’s still a force.
69. Jay Ajayi – RB, Dolphins
What a year 2016 was for the former Boise State Bronco. Miami’s sledgehammer of a running back ripped apart defenses for 200-plus yards in three separate games, including two straight in Weeks 6 and 7. Running behind an effective zone scheme, Ajayi was the engine that drove the Dolphins into contention and a playoff appearance. His first Top 100 appearance shouldn’t be his last, if everything goes according to plan and he avoids major hangups.
70. Kirk Cousins – QB, Redskins
To pay Kirk, or not to pay Kirk? That’s the question Washington’s executives have been tossing around for the last two offseasons, though the QB made his strongest case for a long-term deal in 2016. His play didn’t go unnoticed, resulting in a 15-place jump, from 85 to 70. The future remains murky for Cousins, though, as his best play inspires dreams of grandeur, while his shortcomings bring his potential — and his Redskins — back to earth more often than one would like.