You will scan my annual list of the top 50 NFL players in hopes of finding your favorite players, and then it will happen, coming on like a bad cold.
The rage will fill your entire body, the heat building inside like a small inferno. You will curse. You will use my name in vain.
You will hate me.
You will wonder how I got my job. You will wonder if my father is the head of CBS. And then you will vent.
I'm ready. Give it to me, because unlike a lot of scouts and football writers, I stand by my convictions.
|Andre Johnson could be set to top his huge '08 season. (Getty Images)|
Some might say he's not even the best receiver in the league -- with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald getting the nod -- but I beg to differ. Johnson is slightly better than Fitzgerald in my book. It's just that most of the nation hasn't paid enough to attention to Johnson to realize it.
I remember when I first put Johnson on my list after his rookie season in 2004, there were plenty of rips about it. But I remember then-Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer telling me I nailed it.
"That kid will be special," Palmer said.
And now he is. Johnson led the NFL in both catches (115) and yards (1,575) last season, averaging 98.2 yards per game. By comparison, Fitzgerald had 96 catches for 1,431 yards, averaging 89.4. Fitzgerald had 12 touchdown catches to eight for Johnson.
It's close. Real close. The postseason is why most would put Fitzgerald over Johnson. He stole the national stage. But there are other reasons to make the case for Johnson.
The Texans threw it 75 fewer times than the Cardinals last season. Arizona's Kurt Warner is a better quarterback than Houston's Matt Schaub, and Warner played all 16 games, while Schaub played just 11. Fitzgerald also has Anquan Boldin on the other side, while Johnson has Kevin Walter, a good player who isn't in Boldin's class.
That's why Johnson is ranked two spots higher than Fitzgerald on my list, and probably a lot higher than many of you would expect.
Once again when putting this together, I was reminded of just how quickly a player can fall.
Who is the NFL best player?
Total Votes: 19,236
This time, LaDainian Tomlinson is exhibit A.
Last summer, he was third on my list, a spot few could argue. He was coming off a 1,474-yard season with a 4.7 average. Yes, there were questions, particularly after his injury in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots in January 2008.
But it was hard to argue that he was a top player.
Now it's hard to imagine he still can be.
Tomlinson is nowhere to be found on my top 50 list this year. That doesn't mean that I think he's done, but his days as an elite player are over.
An injury-riddled 2008 season saw him rush for 1,110 yards and only a 3.8 average. He turned 30 this week, which is the supposed magic number for running backs: and not in a good way.
Johnson's going up, Tomlinson is going down.
That's the NFL, baby, where change is rapid.
Probably like your heartbeat after you dissect this list.
|Manning and Brady keep a hold on the 1-2 spots for a fourth consecutive year. (Getty Images)|
2. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: He's right there with Manning, but missing last season drops him to the second spot. He's said to be all the way back, which Pats fans have to love.
3. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Cowboys: One number says it all: 20. That's his sack total from 2008. He's the best pass-rushing linebacker in football.
4. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: He's big, strong and corners can't handle him in single coverage. If Schaub stays healthy, his numbers should be huge.
5. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: It's too bad he plays in an era with those two top guys. He's had an amazing three-year run in New Orleans with amazing numbers. Now he needs to win a ring.
6. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: His playoff run stamped him as one of the top two receivers in the league. He's only scratching his potential, which is scary.
7. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: He puts fear in defenses every time he touches the ball. Imagine if he had real help from the passing game.
8. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders: Nobody throws at him. That's the ultimate sign of respect. He's finally getting some now.
9. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings: He's an all-out player who never lets up. He creates problems with his power and his speed. Turning around his off-field problems has really helped.
10. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Two Super Bowl titles in five seasons is amazing. He seems to grow as a passer each season. The game can be won on his right arm, which he showed in the Super Bowl.
11. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Redskins: When he's on the field, he's a game disrupter. The only concern would be how he plays after getting the big check from the Redskins.
|Ed Reed's big plays only partly show his value to the Ravens. (Getty Images)|
13. Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers: After a down season in 2007, he bounced back with a good one last season. His contract is an issue, but he will play in 2009. You wait and see.
14. Shawne Merriman, OLB, Chargers: He missed all but one game last season with a knee injury, but he's on schedule to be back at 100 percent by the open of the season. He's a lot like Ware when he's healthy.
15. James Harrison, OLB, Steelers: He's the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He can rush, and he showed in the Super Bowl that he could cover with his pick for a score. He plays a nasty game.
16. Ryan Clady, T, Broncos: As a rookie in 2008 he allowed a half a sack. That's amazing. He's that good. He's the next great left tackle in a league with good ones.
17. Randy Moss, WR, Patriots: With Tom Brady back, his numbers should skyrocket. He can still run by defensive backs.
18. Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts: He's a speed rusher who might be the most disruptive edge rusher when he's healthy. He has an impact on the game even when he's not getting sacks.
19. Mario Williams, DE, Texans: The past two seasons have taught us that this is a premier pass rusher, even if his sack numbers went down last season. Still think he shouldn't have been the top pick?
20. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: He carried the Chargers last season. They are now his team, not L.T.'s. Rivers really elevated his game last season. He's a tough guy. Some will see this as high, but I love this guy.
21. Kevin Williams, DT, Vikings: He plays the run well and he can rush the passer as well as any inside player.
22. Champ Bailey, CB, Broncos: The chic thing is to say his skills are eroding. I don't buy it. He's still one of the best.
23. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Ravens: He's in the prime of his career, and his rush ability is vital to the Baltimore defense. He can also play in coverage.
|Steve Smith averaged 18.2 yards for 78 catches in the '08 season. (Getty Images)|
25. Steve Hutchinson, G, Vikings: After a drop in play in 2007, Hutchinson regained the top spot at the position last season.
26. Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals: Coming off arm problems, he's back throwing again, which is why he's this high. When he's healthy, he might be even higher. Bashers take note: Brady stays in the second spot coming off his injury, so Palmer stays this high.
27. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: He has been the Colts' go-to guy the past two seasons and with Marvin Harrison gone, there isn't a doubt. He's undervalued by most.
28. Patrick Willis, ILB, 49ers: He's a tackling machine. In two years, he's established himself as one of the league's best defensive players.
29. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals: At his age, he remains a big-time passer. His ability to stand in against the rush is as good as any. It's a treat watching him carve up defenses, but it's even better talking to him.
30. Adrian Wilson, S, Cardinals: He showed his value to the nation last year during the Cardinals' Super run. He's a violent tackler and excels in the blitz game. He is Mr. Cardinal.
31. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons: Even at 33 he continues to put up huge numbers. Now that he's in an offense with a good quarterback, those numbers will be even better. He has three Pro Bowl type years left.
33. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys: He's a great threat in the middle of the field and has improved as a blocker. Tony Romo loves him and with T.O. gone he might be even more of a factor.
34. Darnell Dockett, DT, Cardinals: He is quick and relentless and was a big reason the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl. His contract issue is clouding things heading into this season, but he'll play.
35. Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers: He bounced back from a sub-par 2007 season to have a good 2008 season. He has improved in pass coverage greatly from his early days.
36. Kris Jenkins, DT, Jets: He rejuvenated his career after being traded to the Jets. He's a large man who anchors in against the run.
|Clinton Portis has six 1,000-yard NFL rushing seasons at age 27. (Getty Images)|
38. Bob Sanders, S, Colts: The only thing that has held him back has been the injuries. If he can stay healthy, he can be as good as any at this position.
39. Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos: When he's on the field, he puts up huge numbers. The off-the-field stuff is a concern.
40. Jahri Evans, G, Saints: Most don't pay enough attention to this athletic, strong guard. He should be in Pro Bowls. Scouts rave about him.
41. Chris Snee, G, Giants: He's much more than the son-in-law of coach Tom Coughlin. He's a mauler in the run game.
42. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: He wasn't the same last season as injuries bothered him. If he's healthy, he's higher on this list.
43. Vince Wilfork, NT, Patriots: Over the past two seasons, he has developed into a top nose tackle. He is entering a contract year, so look for a big one.
44. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Texans: He's an every-down linebacker who keys the Houston defense. As the team gets more exposure, so will he.
45. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: He had a huge season in 2008, rushing for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 5.5 average shows his big-play ability.
46. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans: He's a short corner, but he plays big. He doesn't back down. He's a good cover player and a good tackler.
47. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets: In his second season in 2008, he emerged as a premier cover player. He'll be a Pro Bowl player for a long time.
48. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: He answered a lot of questions last season as to whether he could be a feature back. Now he has to show he can do it again.
49. Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles: He bounced back from his benching to have a big season in 2008 and a very good postseason. With a lot of weapons on board now, plus a big line, I think he will be even better in 2009.
50. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants: He's a dominant pass rusher who emerged as a Pro Bowl player last season. Getting back Osi Umenyiora on the other side will help him be even better
Just missed: Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens; Joe Thomas, T, Browns; LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Steelers; Greg Jennings, WR, Packers; Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles; Jordan Gross, T, Panthers; Steven Jackson, RB, Rams; Richard Seymour, DE, Patriots; Jon Beason, LB, Panthers; Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots; Asante Samuel, CB, Eagles; Jake Long, T, Dolphins; Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions; Joey Porter, OLB, Dolphins; Roddy White, WR, Falcons; Davin Joseph, G, Bucs; Shaun Rogers, DT, Browns; Wes Welker, WR, Patriots; Charles Woodson, CB, Packers; D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Browns; Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys; Terrell Owens, WR, Bills; Jay Cutler, QB, Bears; Andre Gurode, C, Cowboys.