Picking the top 50 players in the NFL is tough.
|At 6-feet-4, 310 pounds, Michael Oher is a handful for any defense. (Getty Images)|
The bottom 25 is a challenge.
Like in previous years, I usually put together the bottom 25 with an eye on a rising star or two. In years past, it's been Houston's Andre Johnson and Arizona's Adrian Wilson.
This year, it's Baltimore offensive tackle Michael Oher. As a rookie, he was really good. As a second-year player, he could be on his way to the Pro Bowl.
By now, his life story is well chronicled, with a best-selling book and a movie that followed. That all brought him a lot of attention.
His game is about to bring even more. He played mostly right tackle last season, but did get five starts on the left side, where he seemed to play better. The Ravens are moving him to the left side this season, the glamour spot. He has great feet for that side of the line, protecting Joe Flacco's blind side against the all-important speed rushers.
Oher is 48th on my list this season. Want to bet he's in the top 25 on next year's list?
Here's the rest of the bottom 25 with a handful of players who just missed.
Stew over this 25 for a day or so. The top 25 is coming next.
26. LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers: In 2008, James Harrison was the Steelers' best outside linebacker. Woodley passed him last season. He is a power rusher who can also hold up at the point of attack. He started slow, but really came on late.
27. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: He was the Jacksonville offense last season. Jones-Drew answered a ton of questions about whether he could be a feature back. If only he had help from the passing game.
28. Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots: Wes Welker caught a lot of passes because of Moss's speed. He is still one of the game's best deep threats -- ask any secondary player.
29. Jake Long, T, Miami Dolphins: He's a rock on the left side of the Miami line. He's improved greatly as a run blocker, and he excels in pass protection. He had one bad game -- the opener against the Falcons -- and then played at a high level in 2009.
|Julius Peppers had 10 1/2 sacks last season -- his final with the Panthers. (US Presswire)|
31. Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears: He's had double-digit totals in sacks in six of his eight seasons, getting 10½ last year for Carolina. Some scouts wonder if he wasn't just on a cash dash. He did get a huge deal from the Bears.
32. Elvis Dumervil, OLB, Denver Broncos: Dumervil really looked comfortable playing in the 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker after coming into the league as a defensive end. He led the NFL in sacks with 17 while his speed makes up for his lack of ideal size.
33. Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets: He is now the best center in the NFL and excels in the middle of the Jets line. He is especially good in the run game, an athletic center who can get out and move.
34. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens: After Ed Reed, he is now the best player on the Baltimore defense. He is a tough, physical player who really anchors in against the run.
35. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys: He might be the most complete tight end in the league. He is a good receiver and a willing blocker -- Tony Romo loves having him.
36. Steve Hutchinson, G, Minnesota Vikings: He played the entire season on a shoulder that needed surgery and he still played at a high level. He's a mauler in the run game.
37. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings: It's a shock to me that he's on this list. He really played well in 2009. Can he do it again this season -- if he plays?
38. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Forget the off-the-field stuff, he's still a top quarterback. Now that he seems to be more focused, how much better can he be?
39. Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati Bengals: This is a rising player at the corner position. He isn't a burner, but he has great technique and he knows how to play the ball.
40. Brandon Marshall, WR, Miami Dolphins: The Denver Broncos tired of his act, but they will miss his ability. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he is strong and knows how to get open. A new team will be good for him.
|Miami coach Tony Sparano has a new toy in receiver Brandon Marshall. (US Presswire)|
42. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Houston Texans: He has a great instinct for getting to the football, combined with great speed. That adds up to a lot of tackles.
43. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis Colts: He had 100 catches last season for the first time in his career. He's not a great blocker, but he is the prototype for the modern NFL tight end.
44. Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona Cardinals: He's the best in-the-box safety around, but he's also improved as a coverage player. His speed is a big asset for the Arizona defense.
45. Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans: He led the NFL in passing yards in 2009, which says a lot about him. He has emerged as one of the top passers in the game. Durability was the only issues before 2009 and he started every game last season.
46. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens: He had his breakout season in 2009. His 5.3 per rush average was topped only by Chris Johnson among the league's top rushers. He's also a big threat in the passing game.
47. Darnell Dockett, DT, Arizona Cardinals: He is a flamboyant player who plays as well as he talks. He has a relentless style that makes up for his lack of bulk.
48. Michael Oher, T, Baltimore Ravens: This is bound to open some eyes but it shouldn't. Check back in a year and then we'll debate it some more.
49. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers: Imagine the type of numbers he could put up if he had some help -- or a quarterback? He is still one of the most-feared receivers in the game but the broken arm won't help.
50. Jay Ratliff, DT, Dallas Cowboys: He is a vital part of the Dallas defense. He plays the run well, but he can also get pressure inside.
Just missed: Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots, Michael Roos, T, Tennessee Titans, Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys, DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, T, New York Jets, Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons, Jon Beason, MLB, Carolina Panthers, Chris Gamble, CB, Carolina Panthers, Johnathan Joseph, CB, Cincinnati Bengals, Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys, Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers, Daryl Smith, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars, Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis Colts, Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings, Will Smith, DE, New Orleans Saints, Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers, Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions, James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers, Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers, Chad Ochocinco, WR, Cincinnati Bengals, Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers, Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston Texans, Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles and Albert Haynesworth, DT, Washington Redskins.