By Nick Shook
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We’re back with more Top 100 ranking releases, and fans of the pewter pirates will be happy with the arrival of two of their stars. A certain Colts quarterback is back from the bottom of the rankings, and new arrivals of young and old dot this group of players, including a defensive end whose inclusion was long overdue.
The most intrigue lies at the bottom, though, with a corner and receiver who had a memorable Thanksgiving meeting. One sees a massive drop, while the other is just minor, but are they warranted?
Dez Bryant‘s division got much tougher in 2016 with the arrival of Josh Norman and Janoris Jenkins. Spoiler alert: all three are listed below. But which of the two corners deserves the higher ranking? Let’s dive into some statistics.
Against Norman, Bryant was targeted seven times and caught three passes in two games. Five of those targets came in the second contest, the aforementioned Thanksgiving classic, which Bryant took for only 32 yards. The Cowboys won that game, though the most important contributions came outside of this matchup.
New York, meanwhile, was responsible for two of Dallas’ three regular-season losses, with much thanks due to the Giants‘ defense. In those contests, Jenkins held Bryant to just one catch on eight combined targets for a mere 10 yards. An interception of Dak Prescott was the cherry on top of Jenkins’ sundae of success against Bryant.
Considering this, maybe these rankings below will make more sense. Then again, maybe the flag you wave says differently. May the arguments continue deep into the night.
51. Andrew Luck – QB, Colts
Last year, some of the strongest rage stemmed from Luck’s freefall from the top to the bottom of the 100. Leave the torches and pitchforks at home, Luck fans. The quarterback is back in the top 60, coming in at No. 51 (a 41-place improvement) after a bounce back season that saw him pass for over 4,200 yards and record a 31-13 TD-INT ratio.
52. Gerald McCoy – DT, Buccaneers
McCoy is another standout player who sees a boost in ranking thanks to being part of a team that is on the rise. The defensive tackle is about as reliable as they come, posting 34 tackles for the second straight season (he had 35 in 2014) and at least seven sacks in each of the last four seasons.
53. Amari Cooper – WR, Raiders
The duo of Derek Carr and Cooper has the former Alabama star wideout on the Top 100 list for the first time, but based on 2016, it’ll be far from his last. In his two seasons in Oakland, Cooper has posted consecutive 1,000-yard and five-plus touchdown seasons. There’s no reason to expect anything less than more of the same, if not better from Cooper.
54. Janoris Jenkins – CB, Giants
Jenkins was already a rising talent while with the Rams, but joins the Top 100 for the first time after a 2016 season in New York that saw him hit a career high in passes defensed (18) and also record three interceptions as part of the newly minted NYPD (New York Pass Defense) secondary for Big Blue.
55. Ndamukong Suh – DT, Dolphins
Defensive tackle is often a thankless occupation, especially when spending plenty of time in the A-gap. No matter for Suh, who commanded top dollar and got it from the Dolphins. Suh’s reputation has dropped ever so slightly as he’s entered his 30th year on Earth, falling 15 places, but his numbers remain steady: 72 tackles, five sacks in 2016 after 61 tackles and six sacks in 2015.
56. Cliff Avril – DE, Seahawks
Avril has been a player who’s always had to prove himself, even after establishing a positive track record. Debuting with the only 0-16 team in NFL history will do that to you. The defensive end has since shed the infamous stench of the 2008 Lions to excel in both Detroit and Seattle, winningSuper Bowl XLIX and starring as part of a Seahawks defense that continues to be the backbone of pigskin success in the Great Northwest. The only thing surprising here is that this is the first appearance on this list for Avril, who has 73 career sacks in nine seasons.
57. Jameis Winston – QB, Buccaneers
Winston is rising fast in the league, going from first overall pick in 2015 to the quarterback of a team that just missed the playoffs in 2016. Famous Jameis makes his first appearance on this list at No. 57 after completing 60.8 percent of his passes for 4,090 yards and a TD-INT ratio of 28-18. Winston has broken 4,000 yards in each of his two seasons, and also has seven rushing touchdowns combined between the two campaigns. As Winston goes, so go the Buccaneers, who will start this season in the spotlight as the focus of HBO’s Hard Knocks. Look for Winston’s smile to dominate the screen.
58. Zack Martin – G, Cowboys
Martin becomes the second Cowboys lineman to be named to this list, and with a franchise tackle like Tyron Smith out there, we can’t expect Martin to be the last. The unit got its greatest exposure in 2016, opening holes for rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott on his way to a 1,631-yard, 15-touchdown campaign. With numbers like that (and the lanes to match), it’s hard to argue with the former first-round pick out of Notre Dame’s placement.
59. Josh Norman – CB, Redskins
Norman dominated headlines last season when Carolina decided to rescind his franchise tag. He owned them again with his trash talking with Odell Beckham Jr. But much like the Panthers suffered without him, Norman’s first season in the nation’s capital (and away from NFC supremacy) hurt his reputation, resulting in a 48-place slide from 11 to 59. Statistically, he wasn’t that far off. Then again, Norman wasn’t the defensive crown jewel of the NFC champs. Tough crowd.
60. Dez Bryant – WR, Cowboys
Did Dez catch it? Will someone catch hands for his nine-place fall in the Top 100? The world might never know, but missing a few games — and his teammates’ outshining him at times — dinged Bryant’s ranking. At this point, though, the league knows what it’s getting in Bryant: a 6-foot-2, 220 pound, muscle-bound leaper with incredibly strong hands and the grace to streak across the field and into the end zone. Have fun trying to out-jump Bryant. Don’t forget to throw up the X, too.