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.
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.
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
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.