The kickoff of the NFL regular season was just about two months away. Typically conceived as the dry spot of the offseason, and for good reason with the NFL Draft already 3+ months in the books and free agency way behind us. With not much going on, we decided here at Breaking Football to put together a list of our Top 100 Players for the 2017 season. Yes, based on what they do at NFL Network. However, we wanted to get it right.
Instead of just one writer presenting their list, we instead combined the ballots of 7 different writers and in-turn compiled a consensus ranking of Breaking Football’s Top 100 Players for 2017. The writers who submitted ballots were: Chris Gragnani (@GragnaniReport), Dimitriy Leksanov (@dimitriy_l21), Matt Cardona (@matttcardona), Mike Fanelli (@MikeSports22), Richard Gerber (@RichardGerber3), Tony Jaramillo (@tonyjaramillo_7) and myself.
Every writer had a different method which went into their individual ballots. For the most part, we tried to weigh projection mostly, because well, this is a list for this season, right? However, overall talent and past production of course played a role.
What we will do is release our consensus ballot in segments of 10 players, just like they do it at NFL Network. Writers will be assigned to cover each player and provide a short paragraph of insight on each player’s success in 2017, and mention other variables such as: strengths, production, role and their personal ranking, among other factors. We hope you enjoy our list and find it to be a breath of fresh air.
Let us know who we had ranked too high/too low in the comments below! Feel free to reach out to us on Twitter.
21: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Just a measly half hour away from bringing the Lombardi Trophy home to Atlanta, Matt Ryan and the Falcons couldn’t hold a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl 51 – going down as one of the biggest collapses in sports history. A Super Bowl ring would’ve been the icing on the cake of what was a historic season from Matt Ryan. Your 2016 MVP was named to his 4th Pro Bowl and for the first time was named First Team All-Pro. Ryan’s 2016 campaign was by far a career year for the former Boston College All American. Despite throwing the fewest amount of passes since 2009, he recorded career-highs in passing yards (4,944), TDs (38) and completion percentage (69.9%), all while throwing the fewest amount of interceptions of his career at just seven. After Atlanta’s collapse in the Super Bowl, Ryan will be headhunting as he tries to lead Atlanta back there again this season.
22: Vic Beasley, EDGE, Atlanta Falcons
After a disappointing rookie season where he had only four sacks, Beasley exploded in 2016 to lead the league with 15.5 sacks and tied for first with six forced fumbles. Topping off Beasley’s stellar 2016, he was named to his first Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro honors. A key component of a young defense on the rise, Beasley is expected to again record double-digit sacks this season as the Falcons lack consistent pass rushers. At just 25 years old, Beasley is just stepping into his prime and could become the best player on Atlanta’s defense this season. If Beasley can stay healthy this year, he could become the first player to reach 20 sacks in a season since J.J. Watt in 2014.
23: Chris Harris, CB, Denver Broncos
Chris Harris is definitely on the rise and he has landed at #23 on our top 100 list. Harris has been selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls and last year was named First Team All-Pro. The most remarkable part of this success story is that Harris was an undrafted free agent out of Kansas. He is an extremely well-rounded defensive back that goes under the radar as far as national notoriety. From 2013 to 2015, he did not allow a touchdown for 35 consecutive games (including the playoffs). He is a strong tackler and the unsung hero on that last line of defense for the Denver Broncos. Von Miller and Aqib Talib certainly receive much more praise and press from the national media. Harris has earned his elite status through hard work and incredible determination. To his credit, he is an extremely humble person which is the antithesis of his contemporaries at the cornerback position. There is no reason to believe that the 2017 season won’t be his best yet.
24: J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans
Having J.J. Watt at #24 is strange, since he is far from the 24th best player in the NFL. Since being drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011, Watt has been nothing short of a sack machine. In 2015, Watt’s last season of relatively good health, he finished with 17.5 sacks en route to his third Defensive Player of the Year award–all despite playing through abdominal tears. However, that is not even his career high. In 2012 and 2014, Watt finished with 20.5 sacks, becoming the only player in over a decade to eclipse 20 sacks two separate times. From a pass rushing perspective, Watt offers almost everything. On the edge, Watt has the speed and flexibility to get by tackles and a signature swipe move to counter his devastating bull rush. On top of that, Watt’s frame makes him a matchup nightmare. At 6’5”/290, Watt has the power and size of a defensive tackle to compliment his explosive athleticism, making him almost unblockable. It is difficult enough to contain the Chicago Bears’ 245 pound edge rusher Leonard Floyd, but trying to block a 290 pound end in Watt that can bend like Floyd is next to impossible. On top of making him difficult to deal with off the edge, however, Watt’s size allows him the versatility to move around the defensive line and kick inside in sub packages, allowing fellow edge rushers like Jadeveon Clowney to get favorable matchups on the edge. Watt’s vertical leap (37”) also allows him to be a threat in the passing game, as it lets him swat passes over the line. In both 2012 and 2014, Watt recorded double-digit pass deflections, earning him the nickname “J.J. Swat”. Now, going into his seventh season, Watt theoretically could be listed as the best player on this list. However, having missed the last 13 games of the 2016 season following back surgery, it will be hard to project what Watt will look like. He will still likely be a top player, but could start the season off slow.
25: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
A future Hall of Famer, Drew Brees is a passing machine. Brees has thrown for over 3,000 yards in 14 consecutive seasons and has over 66,000 career passing yards. Brees leads a Saints offense that can score points with anyone in the league, year in and year out. Brees has two seasons with 43 passing TDs and coming off 37 this past season, he could easily get to 40 this year. With weapons Michael Thomas and Willie Snead at receiver in combination with Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram out of the backfield, this Saints offense can easily score more than the 29.3 they averaged last season. Despite being listed at 6’0” and at the ripe age of 38, Brees remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league and could be a dark horse candidate for MVP this season if the Saints make the playoffs.
26: Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Houston Texans
After being selected with the first overall pick back in 2014, Jadeveon Clowney has taken some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but he has been worth the price of admission. There are very few edge rushers who can do all the things that Clowney does. Ignore the stat sheet for a second and turn on a Houston Texans football game. All you’ll see is #90 flashing on your screen. Six sacks isn’t terrible, but it isn’t what you drafted Clowney #1 overall for. Granted, he faced double teams consistently in 2016 without the presence of J.J. Watt. With Watt back on the field in 2017, teams will have to pick between him and Clowney. Clowney will dominate in 2017. Want a bold prediction? Clowney leads the league in sacks in 2017. The man is primed to continue breaking out and this is the year the world declares Clowney one of the top ten defensive players in the league.
27: Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks
During his first six years in the league, Thomas had never missed a game. Then last year Thomas broke his leg in week 13 and after briefly considering retirement, Thomas is back to full strength. In seven seasons, Thomas has 23 career interceptions and has established himself as the league’s best center field safety. A key aspect of the “Legion of Boom”, Thomas is the best player on one of the best defenses of all time. Thomas is arguably the best safety in the NFL, with five Pro Bowls and three First Team All-Pro selections. Last season the Seahawks defense slipped statistically a little, but look for the 2017 season to be a rebound year for them. At 28 years old, Thomas is in the middle of his prime and look for him to lead the great Seahawks secondary towards another great season.
28: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans had a break out year in 2016, and looks to solidify himself as an elite pass catcher in the league. The 6’5” wideout posted career-highs in receptions (96) and yards (1,321) in his second year with franchise QB Jameis Winston. Towering over most secondary opponents he faces, and with the addition of burner Desean Jackson, who is always a threat to take the top off the defense, Evans is poised to have another strong season. The potential for Evans this upcoming season is tremendous, his play on offense could be enough to help the Bucs earn a playoff berth for the first time in ten years. Evans is a young star in a league that is in a pass heavy era, don’t be surprised if Evans finishes top three in receptions, yardage, and scores, and is able to unseat one of the current members of the “big 3” in Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Antonio Brown.
29: Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins
Trent Williams is one of the top offensive tackles in the league. Since being taken 4th overall by Washington in the 2010 NFL draft, Williams has been to five straight Pro Bowls dating back to the 2012 season; the only other active Redskins player to have multiple is Ryan Kerrigan with two. Williams also has been an All-Pro each of the last two seasons including being First Team in 2016, this despite missing four games due to suspension last year. Williams has been about as dominant as can be on the edge for Washington and continues to be the only week in, week out player for Washington where you know what you’ll get. While nagging injuries have hampered Williams over the past few years causing him to play at less than 100%, Williams is always suited up and in the line of duty for Washington and this year will be no different. Barring another suspension or serious injury it’s safe to assume Williams will make his sixth straight Pro Bowl appearance, third All-Pro team, and very well could be the top tackle in football this season.
30: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
As the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck had the highest expectations of any QB prospect since Peyton Manning. During his first three years in the league, Luck never missed a game, but over the last two seasons, Luck has missed 10 games with injuries. Now Luck is recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery and is at risk to miss the first couple games of the 2017 regular season. When healthy, Luck produces more wins with less talent around him than any other quarterback in the league. In five seasons Luck has been sacked 156 times, averaging 2.23 times per game. With a weak offensive line and defense, the team puts a lot on Luck’s shoulders in order to win games. After going 11-5 in each of Luck’s first three seasons, the Colts have finished 8-8 the last two years. The Colts’ success this year will once again depend on how far Luck can carry them. With an improved AFC South division, the Colts will need an MVP caliber season from Luck in order to make the playoffs.