The kickoff of the NFL regular season is just about two months away. Typically conceived as the dry spot of the offseason, and for good reason with the NFL Draft already 2+ 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.
51: Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals
Entering the first year of a brand new five year, $82.5 million contract, Jones is coming off his first season with the Arizona Cardinals. Finishing the 2016 season with 11 sacks and tying his career-high with four forced fumbles. Jones and teammate Markus Golden combine to be one of the best pass rush duos in the league despite not getting the same level of hype as other big name duos. Jones and Golden were the only teammate duo to each have 11 or more sacks last season. Over his five year career, Jones averages over nine sacks per season. With an average of 0.66 sacks per game played for his career, Jones is one of the NFL’s most underrated pass rushers.
52: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
In 2016 Hilton led the league in receiving yards. He had 91 receptions for 1,448 yards and 6 touchdowns. 2016 was a career-high in catches and yards for Hilton as he looks to continue his success in 2017. When people look at Hilton they see a small frame WR and assume he can’t be the #1 WR. When you have four 1,000 yard seasons in a row, it’s no question you are the #1 option. He without a doubt is the only true home run threat the Colts have and his consistent play over the past four years puts him as a top 10 WR in the NFL. Donte Moncrief surprisingly was a redzone threat in 2016 and took some TDs away from Hilton and Gore, but many expect him to have another solid year. Unquestionably Andrew Luck’s favorite target and best target, look for Hilton to once again break 1,000 yards and be a homerun threat for the Colts.
53: Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans
For the last several years, Delanie Walker has been one of the most consistent tight ends in the NFL, as well as quarterback Marcus Mariota’s favorite target in the passing game. Even at a height of six feet and two inches tall, Walker combines savvy route-running with reliable hands to become one of the most frustrating players to defend in big-time moments. The surprising thing about Walker is that he really hadn’t done too much leading up to the 2013 season in which he eclipsed the 500 yard receiving mark for the first time in his career. After being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2006, Walker never found himself surpassing even the 400 yard mark. It all clicked for Walker in 2014 when he collected a career-high 890 receiving yards. He has since posted his first 1,000 yard season in ’15 and set his single-season touchdown mark with seven this past season. Heading into his twilight years, fans can only hope Walker will be able to keep up with the youth that is now flooding this up-and-coming Titans team.
54: Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings
Harrison Smith comes in at number 54 on our top 100 list as 2016 was another great year for the veteran free safety garnering his second straight trip to the Pro Bowl. As usual, Harrison Smith spent his time flying around the ball totaling 91 combined tackles and 2 sacks last season which netted him a 12th overall ranking according to Pro Football Focus, and the number 2 overall free safety behind only Devin McCourty of the Patriots. The only spot I would deem a negative for was 2016 is the first in his 5 year career in which he did not take in an interception but this is more due to QB’s shying away from the play maker in deeper coverage as opposed to him lacking the ability to snatch one away from opposing QB’s in my opinion and the tape will validate that. If you aren’t too familiar with him don’t worry, you will continue to see plenty this leader on one of the best defenses in football and on this list for the coming years.
55: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
One in a long line of good cornerbacks to come out of Florida State, Rhodes had a career year in 2016 capping it off with his first Pro Bowl selection. Becoming one of the league’s top cornerbacks, Rhodes will travel with the opponent’s top wide receiver all over the field. Rhodes just turned 27 years old recently and is entering his prime. In 2016, Rhodes had a career-high five interceptions including one returned for 100 yards and a touchdown. Rhodes’ five interceptions tied for fifth best in the league last season. The Vikings finished as the third best pass defense last season, giving up only 207.9 pass yards a game, in large part because of Rhodes. Going into 2017, Rhodes is expected to keep up the high level of play and lead the dominant Vikings defense to another great season.
56: Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Despite having missed significant time the past two seasons with injuries, Dez Bryant is still one of the most fearsome redzone receivers in the game. With some of the strongest hands and most refined body control in the game, Bryant is a touchdown machine that can contribute in any system with any quarterback. Last year, Bryant did his best work when it mattered: in the Cowboys’ playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. Showcasing explosive speed after the catch along with his signature strength, Bryant tore apart Green Bay’s secondary. With a season-high nine receptions for 132 yards, including a momentum-shifting 40-yard touchdown late in the first half, Bryant played a major role in the Cowboys’ momentous comeback from their early 21-3 deficit. With his knee and foot injuries finally healed, Bryant is due for more of the same this coming season. Although he won’t have quarterback play like he got from Tony Romo in 2014, Bryant could still put up similar numbers to that magnificent 2014 season. It may be a stretch to say that Bryant tops his career-highs (1,382 yards, 16 touchdowns), but a stat line of 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns is not out of the question, and would keep Bryant safely among the game’s top wideouts.
57: Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos
Aqib Talib checks in at number 57 on our top 100 list. The shutdown cornerback was one of the best corners in football last season. Since entering the league in 2008, Talib has been one of the best corners to play the game. Last season, Talib was the only full-time cornerback in the NFL to not give up a touchdown all season. That is an incredible stat and shows Talib’s dominance throughout the 2016 season. Aqib Talib figures to have another productive season in 2017, as he and Chris Harris Jr. will continue to lock down opposing wide receivers.
58: Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals
Since entering the league in 2013, Tyrann Mathieu has become a stud on the back end of Arizona’s outstanding defense. When healthy, the “Honey Badger” is one of the best playmakers on the field at any given time. In his four seasons, the Pro Bowl safety has 230 tackles and 9 picks in 50 career games. Two ACL injuries have limited Mathieu’s playing time, but not his ability to become a safety on the fringe of elite status. If he can stay healthy in 2017 I expect Mathieu to return to his 2015 All-Pro form where he had career-highs in tackles with 80 and interceptions with 5. I feel those numbers have the possibility to increase in a league that is now more passer friendly than ever. Mathieu can have a special season if health remains on his side.
59: Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants
Already established as one of the best run stoppers in football, Damon Harrison took his game to another level last year with the New York Giants. Previously regarded as somewhat of a one-dimensional player, Harrison took on a more aggressive pass rushing role, and it showed. His 2.5 sacks more than doubled his previous high (1.0) with the Jets, and his 86 combo tackles topped his earlier mark (72) by a wide margin. At 6’4”, 350 pounds, Harrison has prototypical nose tackle size, and combines it with tremendous upper body strength and motor. His ability to engage, keep blockers at bay, and use power and timing to shed blocks makes him almost impossible to run against. With the help of fellow defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins and defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, Harrison turned the Giants into one of the league’s top run defenses. Last season, opponents averaged just 87.8 rushing yards per game against the Giants, the second-lowest mark in the NFL and a steep improvement from 121.4 yards per game in 2015. This impacted teams on multiple levels, as it made offenses more predictable. That, in part, is why the Giants saw opportunistic defensive backs like Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins have breakout seasons last year. Although Harrison doesn’t put up the eye-popping numbers, he can single-handedly wreck an entire phase of the opponent’s offense, making him one of the deadliest defensive players in the game.
60: Justin Houston, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs
How good is Justin Houston? The man had 21 tackles (20 solo) and four sacks in 2016. The man also added four TFLs and forced a fumble to his stat sheet. Why is this so impressive? Because Houston played just five games in 2016 while recovering from an ACL surgery in February of 2016. Houston’s problem has always been his health holding him back (has missed 21 games since 2011). However, when Houston is on the field he is one of the most feared edge rushers in the entire NFL. Don’t forget, he was a single sack away from setting the single-season sack record back in 2014. In a division stacked with great edge rushers (Von Miller, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack), Houston still finds a way to separate himself from the pack and have his name among the elite players in the league. Houston showed us last year in just five games why he is still the best of the best. Going into 2017 healthy, he will return to prominence and put the fear into opposing quarterbacks. Don’t sleep on Houston this year. He’s a safe bet for double-digit sacks every single year like clockwork.