By Nick Shook
Read full post on NFL.com
What can a Super Bowl hangover do to the ranking of the NFL’s top player from the previous year? How about a 40-plus freefall in the Top 100 Players of 2017?
Cam Newton fell from No. 1 to No. 44 in this year’s rankings. A year after his Panthers flirted with regular-season perfection, steamrolled conference competition and the quarterback took home MVP honors, Carolina fell back to earth rather quickly, and the quarterback’s ranking took a hit in the process.
Those who live and die by the numbers will appreciate this comparison:
» 2015: 296-495, 3,837 yards, 35 TD, 10 INT, 99.4 passer rating
» 2016: 270-510, 3,509 yards, 19 TD, 14 INT, 75.8 passer rating
There’s more to this argument, of course. Injuries, early deficits and shoddy blocking all played a part, as did Newton’s early-season concussion and late-season partial rotator cuff tear, which ended up requiring offseason surgery.
The NFL’s players aren’t arguing with the ability of the quarterback, though. Newton’s colleagues know he’s still among the best, holding him in slightly higher regard than NFL.com’s Ike Taylor, who had Newton dropping to No. 67 in his top 100. Even Taylor expects Newton to bounce back in 2017.
But where SuperCam lands in this ranking as opposed to 2016 speaks volumes about the fluidity of the talent pool in the league. One year, you’re the talk of the league and cream of the crop, and the next, your peers figure out you might not be immortal after all. Such is life at the highest level of football.
41. Devonta Freeman – RB, Falcons
Freeman is looking for new money, and rightfully so after showing how valuable he is to the Falconsin 2016. The running back posted his second straight 1,000-yard season, hitting 1,079 yards on 227 attempts (4.8 yards per carry) while scoring 11 touchdowns. Freeman was the tone-setter for an explosive Falcons offense that built many of its longer plays out of run action. The versatile back also caught 54 passes out of the backfield for 462 yards and two more touchdowns. His speed, power and elite tackle-breaking ability helped carry Atlanta to Super Bowl LI — and a jump of nine places in the Top 100, moving from 50 to 41.
42. Jarvis Landry – WR, Dolphins
Landry’s star continues to rise with the Dolphins, who unexpectedly wrangled an AFC Wild Card berth after going 10-6 largely on the back of their suddenly powerful running game. But some of tailback Jay Ajayi‘s longest runs came about because of great downfield and perimeter blocking, with perhaps none being better at it than Landry. Sure, everyone remembers the blindside block on Aaron Williams that injured the safety and elicited an apology from Landry, but the receiver is downright physical. Add that nature to his stellar burst in space and reliable hands, and you get a slot receiver who caught 94 passes for 1,136 yards and four touchdowns in 2016 for a receiving corps that also includes the emergent DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. Landry rushed for 1,000-plus yards and four TDs for the second straight season, warranting an eye-popping 56-position leap, from 98 to 42.
43. Marshal Yanda – G/OT, Ravens
Marshal Yanda continues to be one of the league’s great interior linemen. He’s versatile enough to play tackle, but truly excels at guard, where his mix of compact power and swift feet makes him equally as effective in the passing game as he opens holes for the run. It’s tough to quantify the excellence of a lineman, but at age 32, he remains one of the best in the league, falling just six positions after Baltimore missed the playoffs at 8-8.
44. Cam Newton – QB, Panthers
Newton began the 2016 season with a target on his back. It was evident in Denver’s Week 1 concentrated bashing of the star quarterback, and it showed throughout Carolina’s struggle-filled campaign. Newton falls nearly halfway through the entire Top 100, from No. 1 last year to No. 44. The 2016 season was a far cry from his dab-filled frolic to Super Bowl 50.
45. Larry Fitzgerald – WR, Cardinals
Fitzgerald is the latest player to see his Top 100 ranking suffer as a result of his team’s struggles. Fitz falls from 27 to 45 after the Cardinals finished 7-8-1 and outside of the playoffs. The wideout’s numbers fell from 1,215 yards receiving and nine touchdowns to 1,023 yards and six touchdowns. For most players, that’s a career year. For Fitzgerald, a future Hall of Famer, it’s a slight drop, as is his Top 100 ranking. Make no mistake: Even at 33 years old, Fitzgerald is still in the upper half of the Top 100. We’re looking at this with a microscope here, when the big picture is so bright you’ll need shades.
46. Michael Bennett – DE, Seahawks
As NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal wrote last week, Seattle’s front seven, not its secondary, now leads the way for the Seahawks. Michael Bennett is a big part of that shift. Consider this: Bennett only played in 11 games last season, causing a bit of a drop in his numbers, and yet his peers voted him up 13 places, from 59 to 46. His versatility and power doesn’t seem to be going anywhere even as Father Time starts peeking around the corner menacingly. It’s fair to expect Bennett to come close to notching double-digit sacks again in 2017, as he did the last time he played a full season in 2015.
47. Trent Williams – OT, Redskins
Washington’s construction of its offensive line doesn’t get enough credit these days, and it all starts with Williams, its dependable and handsomely paid left tackle. Williams has appeared in at least 12 games in all but one season since 2010 and is the anchor of an offensive line that continues to improve. Williams falls just two places from 2016 to 2017, an almost irrelevant shift by Top 100 standards. We expect him to be in this area for some time to come.
48. Jordy Nelson – WR, Packers
All anyone needs to know about the value of Jordy Nelson can be gained by watching the 2015Packers, who were forced to play without him. Nelson’s 6-foot-3 frame makes him a big target with exceptional hands and field awareness, and quite frankly, it’s a surprise he’s not a bit higher on this list, especially considering he was No. 18 in 2015 before being left out of 2016 due to injury. Nelson has hit at least 1,250 yards in four of his last five seasons, racking up 1,257 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns on 97 catches in 2016. At 31, he might be entering the earliest stages of his career’s twilight, but the 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year proved last season that it won’t be that easy to bring him down.
49. Jadeveon Clowney – DE, Texans
In 2016, we finally got what we were all anticipating from Jadeveon Clowney after he flattened Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl and was selected first overall in the 2014 draft. For the first time, Clowney displayed what made him such a tantalizing pro prospect, recording 52 tackles, six sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble in 14 games. Without J.J. Watt, Houston needed Clowney more than ever, and as part of the league’s top defense, the sky is the limit for the youngster who is in the Top 100 for the first time and seems to get better with each week.
50. Marcus Mariota – QB, Titans
Marcus Mariota and the Titans were arguably one broken leg from winning the AFC South. The injury ended the quarterback’s sophomore campaign early and sunk Tennessee’s late-season playoff push, but the future is bright. The quarterback makes his first appearance in the Top 100, ahead of draftmate Jameis Winston (No. 57), after completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions (passer rating of 95.6) in 15 games. There was plenty of growth from the second-year player, who will lead a tantalizingly talented Titans offense into 2017. The “exotic smashmouth” has never been more exciting.