CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Top 25: No changing of guard with Peyton, Brady around

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Prisco's Top 50: 26-50

Time has an impact on a lot of things. Look at your waistline, or hairline. Think about your ability to handle two consecutive nights out in Vegas, compared to when you were 21.

You would think time would also change the hierarchy of the NFL's top players.

Surprisingly, it hasn't done so the past six or seven years.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady keep their grip on the top of their teams and these rankings. (Getty Images)  
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady keep their grip on the top of their teams and these rankings. (Getty Images)  
Any list of the top players still starts with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. It's been that way for a while.

Manning and Brady. Brady and Manning.

It's chic to say Drew Brees has joined the Big Two to make it a Big Three at the top of the quarterback pecking order -- and some might even have Brees ahead of Brady. But if you took a poll of general managers and asked them to pick the quarterback they'd most want to play with right now, I'd bet Manning and Brady would get the most votes.

That's why they top my list of the Top 50 NFL players, just as they have the past five years.

Brees is a close third, just off the pace. There is another quarterback in the top 10 -- San Diego's Philip Rivers. That might seem high, but I think he's just behind Brees, the man he replaced in San Diego.

The difference is Manning, Brady and Brees all have Super Bowl rings.

Rivers is where Brees was last spring, stats heavy and title-free. But another great season, possibly capped by a Super Bowl victory, could push him into the top five.

For now, Manning and Brady still stand above.

Time hasn't ruined their game -- at least not yet. Now for the league's top 25:

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts: He turned 34 in March, but he is still playing at a high level. Some Colts insiders say he had his best season in 2009. Could he actually be getting better?

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: It's trendy to bash him and say he wasn't the same player he had been in 2009. I don't buy it. His yardage total was the second-best of his career.

3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: Winning a Super Bowl helps his cachet, but he's just outside the Big Two. Win another one, and we might have to re-think that.

Darrelle Revis helped the Jets surrender only eight TD passes last season. (US Presswire)  
Darrelle Revis helped the Jets surrender only eight TD passes last season. (US Presswire)  
4. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets: Revis Island is a quarterback's nightmare. He is now the best cover player in the NFL, and there's great value in that, which is why he's clamoring for a new contract.

5. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys: His sack numbers fell from 20 to 11 last season, but he is still the elite pass-rushing linebacker in the league. He has also improved against the run.

6. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans: His 2,000-yard season makes him a big jumper on this list. Now he has to get his contract issues behind him and show he can have another big season.

7. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: This quiet receiver -- yes, there is one -- is the game's best. He is big, strong and fast. He's in his prime now.

8. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: The only knock on him is his fumbling problems. He has big-play speed, and he can run inside the tackles.

9. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers: Many will say this is way too high, but I think he's an elite passer now. He averaged 8.8 per attempt last season, best in the league.

10. Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts: He had 13½ sacks in only nine starts, limited by injuries. When he's healthy, there is no better down edge rusher in the game.

11. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: He had another big season with Kurt Warner, but it will be interesting to see what happens now with Matt Leinart.

12. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: He is an intense player who can rush the passer but also can hold the point against the run. He's the key to the Vikings defense.

13. Ryan Clady, T, Denver Broncos: He's the best pass-blocking tackle in the game. He owns the left side. He did suffer an offseason knee injury that is a concern, but the Broncos think he will be ready.

Aaron Rodgers was fourth in the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating. (US Presswire)  
Aaron Rodgers was fourth in the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating. (US Presswire)  
14. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: He has proven beyond a doubt that the Packers did the right thing letting Brett Favre go. He is perfect for their offense, playing with a swagger you want to see at his position.

15. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: He doesn't get a lot of action, so he'll never have big interception numbers. But you can bet quarterbacks know all about his cover skills.

16. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers: The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year finally got some much-deserved attention last season. He is a good cover player who has a knack for the big play.

17. Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans: He didn't get double-digit sacks last season for the first time in three. But he had some shoulder issues that bothered him throughout and still had nine sacks. He's a rare breed of athlete for a man his size.

18. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: How good would he be on a team with more offensive help? Jackson fought through some injury issues last season and still put up huge numbers. He's a dual threat.

19. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos: He's getting up in years, but he still was a Pro Bowl player last season. He remains a top-tier cover corner who will one day be in Canton.

20. Joe Thomas, T, Cleveland Browns: He is a diamond on a bad team. He is a tough-guy tackle who has excelled from the time he started as a rookie. As the Browns improve, his talent will be more appreciated.

21. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens: The 2009 season wasn't his best, but he's still the NFL's top safety. He reads the field better than any safety in the game. He is a ball hawk.

22. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers: This fourth-year player is a tackling machine. He is also smart and instinctive and tough. He's the Ray Lewis of this generation.

23. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts: He is as consistent as any receiver in the game. With Marvin Harrison gone in 2009, Wayne really emerged as the No. 1 weapon, even though he had been that for two years. He is underappreciated.

24. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: He is the security blanket for the Chargers passing game. He knows how to get open on third down. This former basketball player might be on his way to the Hall of Fame.

25. Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings: He's as good an interior player as there is in the league. He can play the run, but he's quick enough to get pressure inside.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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