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.
71: NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers
I don’t think it’s a bold claim to call NaVorro Bowman the “forgotten” man of the NFL. After missing the entire 2014 season as he rehabbed a torn MCL and ACL, Bowman returned in 2015 back to All Pro form as he was named First Team All Pro and also made the Pro Bowl. However, in 2016 the injury bug bit again as he played in only 4 games. Between the injuries and the fact that he plays for the San Francisco 49ers, Bowman often goes unmentioned when discussing the game’s top LBs. Assuming he can stay healthy this season, Bowman should have no problem returning to All Pro status, as he’s proven he can do following a major injury. With young studs on the line in DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead, they’ll do all the dirty work and make things easy for Bowman who takes command of the 2nd level. Bowman remains one of the most instinctive players in the game, along with one of the most reliable tacklers.
72: Michael Bennett, DL, Seattle Seahawks
In his 8 seasons in the NFL Bennett has tallied double-digit sacks only once back in 2015. Bennett’s sack numbers aren’t crazy like other pass rushers in the NFL but Bennett is a disrupter wherever he lines up on the field. He always finds himself in the backfield. His rare athletic ability for a defensive lineman helps him do this and also helps him lineup inside or outside. In Week 6 against the Falcons, Bennett hurt his knee which required surgery and he didn’t return to action until week 12. Stats wise, 2016 was a quiet season for Bennett as he missed some time but posted 5 sacks and 34 total tackles in only 11 games. Even though he missed time Bennett was selected to his 2nd Pro Bowl. Barring another setback Bennett in 2017 should return to his normal self; disrupting backfields and can very well have his 2nd career season will double-digit sacks.
73: Andrew Whitworth, OT, Los Angeles Rams
Although it took half a decade to come to fruition, Andrew Whitworth now safely has a place among the league’s top blindside protectors. Even at 35 years of age, the 6’7”/330-pound Whitworth is in his prime, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Towards the end of his tenure with the Bengals, Whitworth was almost flawless. In 2016, Whitworth capped off a sensational three-year run, during which he didn’t miss a single start and only allowed four sacks in total, with the first sack-free season of his career. The impact of having a lockdown left tackle like this cannot be understated, as it is much of the reason for the recent success of Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense as a whole. Besides being a stud pass protector with his lightning-fast footwork and hands, however, Whitworth also stars in the run game. With solid speed for a tackle, and the instincts to navigate in space, Whitworth is a tremendous lead blocker and has been a major reason for Jeremy Hill’s success at the goal-line. Now, having taken his talents to L.A., Whitworth looks to have a similar impact. As a contributor in both facets of blocking, Whitworth’s presence should not only mask some of Jared Goff’s struggles under pressure, but also clear space for Todd Gurley, who was stifled last year. Even at his advanced age, Whitworth only seems to be trending up.
74: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Coming in at number 74 on our list, DeAndre Hopkins still cracked the top 100 after a disappointing 2016 season. We all know the narrative on DeAndre Hopkins, he is a very talented receiver who has been tied down due to poor quarterback play. That might change in 2017 with Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson set to battle it out for the starting quarterback position. If either of those quarterbacks can just play at an average level, then Hopkins could have a bounce back year. Hopkins has had a couple of great years with poor-average QB play due to his sheer talent. Still only 25 years old, Hopkins will look to match his 2015 production in the upcoming season.
75: Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
After a disappointing rookie season where he failed to score a single touchdown, Gordon flipped the script in 2016 turning out an impressive season. Finishing the year with 997 yards and ten touchdowns despite missing the last three games of the year with a hip injury. Not much of a threat in the passing game as a rookie, Gordon became a solid receiving option out of the backfield last season. With a solid 41 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns, the Chargers decided to let Danny Woodhead walk as a free agent. Despite a subpar offensive line, Gordon showed an ability to make defenses pay for not respecting the run. In the offseason the Chargers drafted two excellent offensive lineman, Forrest Lamp in the second round and Dan Feeney in the third round, both are expected to start week one and have an impact in the running game. Gordon showed last season that he is a workhorse running back and will only continue to get better.
76: Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Sean Lee is ranked number 76 on our list. Lee is the heart and soul of the Cowboys defense and is noticeably their most talented. Sean Lee posted 145 combined tackles in 2016 while playing in 15 games for Dallas. Lee has always been a solid linebacker for Dallas but injuries have limited him in the past. Lee will be 31 when the season starts so he most likely only has a few good seasons left in him. He will have to step up his game a ton in 2017 since Dallas lost many starters on the defensive side of the ball to either free agency or suspensions. I believe Lee will have a solid 2017 because he plays hard on every down and is always around the football. As long as Lee can stay healthy, he is a top 100 player in the league.
77: Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers
One of the most disruptive interior defenders in the entire game, Kawann Short lands at 77 on our top 100. After 11 sacks in 2015, Short’s production slipped a bit as he racked up just 6 this past season. Another Carolina Panther who seemed to regress after their 15-1 season where they made a Super Bowl appearance. Despite that, Short has still combined for 17 sacks over the past two seasons – incredible production from a defensive tackle. Short isn’t the most athletic, but he makes up for that with excellent power to crash the pocket and a quick first step. While I wouldn’t expect a double-digit sack season, Short will continue to be a steady producer and more importantly the rock and anchor of Carolina’s defensive front.
78: Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman lands at #78 on this list as the third wheel necessary to complete the unrelenting offensive tricycle for the Atlanta Falcons. The other two parts of the trifecta being quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, both of whom you’ll see later on this list. The fourth-year running back out of Florida State looks to take another step in the right direction after a season that saw his yards per carry average jump up almost a full yard from 4.0 in 2015 to 4.8 in 2016. Even with the emergence of teammate Tevin Coleman, Freeman was still able to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark on the ground and add almost 500 yards through the air to go along with 13 total touchdowns. With the Falcons coming off a historically great offensive season, expect Freeman to keep packing the stat sheet and to eventually find his way to an elite level contract for a running back in the NFL.
79: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Coming off a strong rookie season where he won Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Gurley had high expectations entering his sophomore season. A full year removed from his torn ACL he suffered in college, Gurley was in the debate for the best running back in the league. However, 2016 was a season to forget for Gurley as he regressed and struggled. Last season the Rams had one of the worst offensive lines in the league and their quarterback situation was ugly at best. With defenses focusing solely on Gurley, he was unable to produce at the same level as a rookie. Dropping from 1,106 yards and ten touchdowns as a rookie to 885 yards and six touchdowns despite having 49 more rushing attempts. His yards per carry dropped from 4.8 as a rookie to 3.2 last season. The Rams signed veteran Andrew Whitworth (ranked 73 on this list) in free agency and hopefully that helps the offensive line as an unit. Gurley needs to have a bounce back 2017 season or else the “bust” talk might start.
80: Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins
Consistently one of the league’s most underrated players at his position, if not in the entire league, safety Reshad Jones looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2016. As the Dolphins made their first playoff run in Jones’ so far stellar career, he was sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury suffered in the team’s first tilt with the Steelers. Now, with the addition of another pass rush specialist up front, and an entirely revamped LB corps in front of him, Jones looks to rebound to the level that has made him one of the top 5 safeties in the NFL. Jones has been the quarterback of the Miami secondary since his arrival to the team in 2010, and his absence gave the team a glaring weakness in the backend. Getting Jones back should put the Dolphins in a position to build on the successes of the 2016 season and put the Dolphins on the path to becoming legitimate playoff contenders in 2017. If Jones comes back fully healthy and stays that way, he should be in the conversation for a Comeback Player of the Year award come season’s end.