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.
61: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
Coming off a torn ACL injury that forced him to miss the entire 2015 season, Nelson bounced back in 2016 with a bang. Finishing the season with 97 catches on a career high 152 targets for 1,257 yards and a league leading 14 touchdowns. Even at age 31, Nelson was a dominant force last season and he is expected to put up similar numbers again this season. Many believe quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes Nelson such a talented receiver but that isn’t accurate. Not to take anything away from Rodgers, who is a top two quarterback in the league today and future Hall of Famer, but during the 2015 season Rodgers struggled. Rodgers posted career lows in completion percentage, yards and touchdown percent rate in a season where he played all 16 games. Assuming both Nelson and Rodgers are healthy in 2017, the Packers should have another top five passing attack.
62: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
Despite standing no taller than 6’1”, Geno Atkins fits the mold of the revolutionary short, compact defensive tackle as we’ve grown more accustomed to seeing with other guys such as Aaron Donald and Jurrell Casey emerging among the league’s best. Since taking over as the full-time starter in 2011, Atkins has been named to the Pro Bowl every year, excluding 2013 where he missed half the season. Along with that, Atkins has also been named First Team All-Pro twice. Atkins established himself as one of the NFL’s elite interior pass rushers following a 2012 season in which he recorded 12.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. What Atkins lacks in height, he makes up for with flexibility, bend and slipperiness as a rusher from the inside. His combination of quickness and persistence cause fits for opposing linemen. Atkins has combined for 20 sacks over the past two seasons, and he could be back in double-digit company in 2017.
63. Leonard Williams, DL, New York Jets
After a disappointing 2016 season for the Jets, the 2017 season looks even more bleak. However, the one bright spot for Jet fans is that Williams took a step forward in his development in 2016 and he looks ready to turn into a star player in 2017. Entering his third season in the league, Williams has started 31 of 32 career games thus far. Last season Williams finished with a career-high two forced fumbles and seven sacks. If the Jets can trade Sheldon Richardson it will open up more playing time for Williams allowing him to better showcase his dominant skillset. While the Jets are expected to struggle in 2017, Williams should be the best player on the field for the Jets all year long. If Williams takes the next step forward in his development, he could easily top double digit sacks this season and be much higher on this list next year.
64. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gerald Keith McCoy Jr. comes in at 64 on the list. His,fifth straight Pro Bowl season showed some career highs in passes defended (5), hurries (19), forced fumbles and fumbles recovered (2). We do start to notice a couple stats descend as he enters his eighth year in the league. But that seems to be McCoy adapting to a better defense and playing smarter not harder. One stat that’s trended downward over the last four years has been his sacks, which dropped to 7.0 in 2016. Be that as it may, his quickness continues to improve with age, like a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. McCoy flies off the line almost as fast as Superman flies around the world. His sack diminish is nothing to fret, finishing tied for 36th in the league in sacks. He maintains being a force to be reckoned with on the line making any, and all, defensive coordinators gameplan around him. Tampa Bay is improving and seems poised to make their playoff push. That will all stem for the leader of the trenches.
65. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Before injuring his finger towards the end of the season, Matthew Stafford was one of the league’s hottest quarterbacks. The Lions trailed in the 4th in all 16 games and Stafford led them down the field 9 times to win. His completion percentage was 65.3% while throwing for 4,327 yards, 24 TDs and 10 INTs. He finished 6th in the NFL in passing yards but his clutch play in the 4th quarter was the reason he was a MVP candidate all season. One of the big questions everyone had this season was will Stafford be able to be survive without Megatron? That question was answered as Stafford thrived in 2016. The Lions made the playoffs but were bounced very quickly making Stafford 0-3 in the playoffs. I look for Stafford to once again perform the way he did in 2016 but if the Lions want a chance to advance in the playoffs they need Stafford to step up even more.
66. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Jordan Howard was selected in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. In fact Howard was the 10th running back taken in the draft. Howard played with a chip on his shoulder the entire year finishing 2nd in the NFL in rushing behind fellow rookie Elliot. Howard finished with 1,313 yards on 252 carries (5.2 ypc) and 6 touchdowns in 13 games. What makes this really impressive is that Howard only started with 12 carries in the first 3 games. With Langford not producing up to par, Howard stepped up big time. Howard tallied seven 100 yard rushing games and he did this with inconsistent quarterback play and a offensive live that was hurting with injuries. After a very successful rookie year where Howard defined himself as another young back with star potential, look for Howard to once again be a top back in the NFL in rushing. Playing a full 16 game season could land him the rushing crown.
67. Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins
68. Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota was spectacular in 2016, and at just 23 years old, his best football days are ahead of him. In 2016, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and 350 rushing yards. That is quite an impressive sophomore campaign. But here is where it gets interesting: Marcus Mariota did not have a respectable pass catcher besides Delanie Walker in his first two seasons in Tennessee. Mariota will improve even more with new pass catchers. The Titans drafted Corey Davis with their first round pick and added a reliable redzone machine in Eric Decker. Look for Marcus to have a stellar 2017 season.
69. Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans
Taylor Lewan enters his fourth year in the NFL as the undisputed blindside protector for the Titans’ rising star quarterback Marcus Mariota. In Lewan’s rookie season, he played in 11 games with only six starts. Even with a slew of injuries keeping him from his full potential, #77 was still named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team. At the start of the 2015 season, Lewan solidified his spot as the team’s left tackle and hasn’t looked back. He was recently named to his first Pro Bowl during the 2016 season. On April 25th, Lewan was named to the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2017 by his peers, establishing himself as one of the top young players in the entire league. After several new additions to an already improving offense, Lewan looks to be a cornerstone for the Titans for years to come.
70. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Old iron man Fitzgerald is entering his 14th season in the league and to date has only missed six career games. At age 33 Fitzgerald had a very strong season; posting a league high 107 catches for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. Outside of star running back David Johnson, Fitzgerald was the only Cardinal to show up weekly on offense. Averaging almost seven catches a game and catching 71.3% of his targets, Fitzgerald was one of the most sure handed receivers in the league last season. Fitzgerald is entering the last fully guaranteed year of his contract and could be released after the season for a small cap hit. However, rumors are out there that Fitzgerald and quarterback Carson Palmer are expected to retire after the 2017 season. If that is Fitzgerald’s plans, expect him to go out with bang and produce another strong season.