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2007 NFL Preview
Peter King
September 03, 2007
How do you assign value to players and then rank the best from 1 to 500? That was the big idea of SI's Peter King, who nearly came to regret it. Who else would lose sleep over No. 324?
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September 03, 2007

2007 Nfl Preview

How do you assign value to players and then rank the best from 1 to 500? That was the big idea of SI's Peter King, who nearly came to regret it. Who else would lose sleep over No. 324?

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Conclusions? I've got a few.

In addition to game changers such as Hester and Ginn, interior offensive linemen are becoming more vital to team success. I have 13 guards and centers among my top 200, following the trend of rewarding centers ($6 million per year to LeCharles Bentley by the Browns in 2006) and guards ($7 million per to Steve Hutchinson by the Vikings in '06, followed by three similar contracts this spring). Hutchinson, the game's best interior lineman, says the money matches the job requirements. "We're seeing 330-pound defensive tackles who move like ends, and teams are calling the same kind of exotic blitzes inside that they used to call only on the outside," Hutchinson says. "And a bunch of these [defensive tackles] run the 40 like linebackers. If guards can't move well now, they can't play."

This is not a quarterback-rich league right now. Two thirds of the 32 teams aren't sure who their QB of the future is. Eighteen teams will start a passer who is in his first or second year in the lineup. The quality at the position--consistent passers who've shown enough all-star ability to be considered franchise quarterbacks--is frightfully low. Five years ago I'd have put 20 quarterbacks in the top 100. This year I have 12, and it was a stretch for Jay Cutler at 91 and Matt Leinart at 99, neither of whom has proved anything beyond being bright prospects. Is Matt Schaub the next Dan Pastorini or the next Cody Carlson? (Funny, though, how the final list is bookended by passers: Manning at 1 and Chris Simms at 500.)

I tried to mirror the rising importance of specialists in recent years. In the four drafts from 1995 through '98, NFL teams picked a total of three kickers and four punters. In the nine drafts since then, 23 kickers and 21 punters were selected.

Argument starters? I've got those, too.

Brees (8) is better than Carson Palmer (9)? I didn't get much agreement on that. "Palmer's better," Rhodes says. "He can make every throw." As can Brees, whom I also consider a better leader and more productive. Last year in New Orleans, with a less-talented receiver corps (by far) than he had in San Diego, Brees was more accurate, threw for more yards and had a higher yards-per-attempt average than Palmer--and lifted what had been an awful team into the NFC Championship Game.

The Ravens, who were only 19-14 with no playoff wins over the last two years, have eight players in the top 100 (tied with the Chargers for most), including the virtually unknown Kelly Gregg at 83. The Patriots have six, the Colts five and the Seahawks four. The reason for all the Ravens: the vastly talented and well-schemed defense, built through G.M. Ozzie Newsome's drafts. Even with Adalius Thomas gone to New England, seven of the top 88 players on the list are Ravens defenders. Gregg at defensive tackle, for instance, consistently draws two blockers and is one of best pocket crashers in the game. If only they could pick wideouts the way they pick linebackers.

Calvin Johnson, without playing a pro game, is ranked higher (63) than two Super Bowl MVP wide receivers, Hines Ward (94) and Deion Branch (245). Before he was taken second in the draft, Johnson was considered by veteran scouts to be one of the best college receivers of all time. The bet here is that the bombs-away Mike Martz offense will maximize the talents of a 6' 5" receiver who runs like Bob Hayes.

Hester (69) is electric, certainly, but should he be ranked higher than McNabb (72), Roethlisberger (85) and Brett Favre (113)? I'd argue that Hester, in his 326 snaps (he was Chicago's fourth corner in addition to his return duties), had more impact last year than McNabb did in the 10 games he played before getting hurt and that the Bears return man was a bigger headache to would-be tacklers than Roethlisberger was to defenses. Favre, 37, gets dinged because he'll play only a year or two more, max.

Why include Pacman (110), Vick (214) and Tank Johnson (300), those paragons of virtue? Simple. They are still very good football players; all (likely) will play again--and make a difference again. Being an altar boy was never part of the criteria. In the case of Vick, he wouldn't have been in the top 100 even with a squeaky-clean résumé because he still isn't the complete quarterback that defines NFL greatness at the position. Now, he may not play football again until he's 30 years old, and if that turns out to be the case, a ranking of 214 might be generous. He's on the list because he'll have the chance to play again, someday, and his skills won't fully erode in the meantime.

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