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Top 100 NFL players: No influence here, other than scouts, film

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Terrell Suggs would be in the top 20 if he wasn't in danger of missing the 2012 season. (Getty Images)  
Terrell Suggs would be in the top 20 if he wasn't in danger of missing the 2012 season. (Getty Images)  

This list of the top 100 players in the NFL isn't the same as some of the others you will see.

You won't see a fullback.

More on NFL: Top 100
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You won't see a kneel-down-and-pray quarterback who plays like a fullback on this list in an attempt to draw in eyeballs.

You won't see some pet-project guard who, through television broadcast reviews and number crunching, some say had his best season.

Nope, this is my list. It's based on eyes (mine), ears (listening to scouts) and hours of watching tape.

If you're looking for conventional lists, look elsewhere. You won't find Tim Tebow, nor would you find him in my list of the top 300 players in the NFL. You also won't like where some of the perceived stars are placed and, yes, I still think Troy Polamalu is overrated.

This is a list based on actual football evaluation heading into the 2012 season. Injured stars who are out for the season -- or likely out for the season -- won't be on this list. That means Eagles tackle Jason Peters and Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, two sure top-20 players, aren't included.

So dig in and enjoy. And compare it to those other lists out there and get as fired up as you want.

It's just an opinion. So don't beat me up too badly.

Hear that, Maurice Jones-Drew?

Pete Prisco's Top 100 Players
RankPlayerPos.TeamPrisco's TakePrev.

1

Aaron Rodgers

QBGreen Bay
Green Bay
He was special in 2011, winning league MVP honors and there's no reason to think he will slow down.6

2

Tom Brady

QBNew England
New England
There are no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Just keep him away from the New York Giants.1(t)

3

DeMarcus Ware

OLBDallas
Dallas
This explosive rusher has to be accounted for on every play. He missed out on the sack record, but not by much.3

4

Calvin Johnson

WRDetroit
Detroit
He is so good he sometimes commands triple coverage.29

5

Darrelle Revis

CBN.Y. Jets
N.Y. Jets
His ability to line up in man coverage against the league's best receivers really sets him apart from most of the other corners.13

6

Drew Brees

QBNew Orleans
New Orleans
He broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season, a mark that he's threatened before. He also threw 46 touchdown passes.10

7

Jason Pierre-Paul

DEN.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants
It's hard to believe he's just scratching the surface on what he can do. He's already one of the best edge rushers in the game.NR

8

Julius Peppers

DEChicago
Chicago
He didn't have huge sack numbers for the Bears, but he was a force last season. He had one of his best all-round seasons.11

9

Larry Fitzgerald

WRArizona
Arizona
He once again put up big numbers, despite little help on the other side and so-so quarterback play.18

10

Rob Gronkowski

TENew England
New England
He emerged as the league's best tight end in 2011 and there's no reason why he can't be even better. He's too fast for linebackers and too strong for safeties.NR

11

Jared Allen

DEMinnesota
Minnesota
He led the NFL in sacks with 21 1/2, bouncing back from a so-so 2010 season.59

12

Andre Johnson

WRHouston
Houston
He was limited to eight starts because of injuries, which limited his numbers, but he's still one of the league's best.5

13

Patrick Willis

LBSan Francisco
San Francisco
This tackling machine is the best inside/middle linebacker in the game. He is also good against the pass.15

14

Justin Smith

DESan Francisco
San Francisco
He is an all-day battle for whoever is lined up across from him. Smith can rush the passer and he's good against the run.75

15

Eli Manning

QBN.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants
Two Super Bowl titles in five years has established him as one of the top passers in the league. It isn't always pretty, but he finds a way in the clutch.NR

16

Ben Roethlisberger

QBPittsburgh
Pittsburgh
He suffered through injury issues again in 2011, which hurt his ability to play the way he usually does. When healthy, this two-time Super Bowl winner is especially good in crunch time.21

17

Carl Nicks

GTampa Bay
Tampa Bay
This mauler in the run game is as good as it gets at opening holes. He's also improved as a pass protector. The one knock is that he sometimes get too aggressive.26

18

Mario Williams

DEBuffalo
Buffalo
He missed most of last season for the Texans with a torn pectoral muscle, but there's a reason the Bills paid him a mega-contract in free agency. Being back to his down-end spot in the 4-3 will help too.20

19

Maurice Jones-Drew

RBJacksonville
Jacksonville
He led the league in rushing for a team that couldn't throw the football. He was a one-man band.37

20

Philip Rivers

QBSan Diego
San Diego
He threw for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdown passes for a team that was battered by injuries. He carried the Chargers all season long.14

21

Jimmy Graham

TENew Orleans
New Orleans
He had his breakout season in a 2011, a big, fast pass-catching tight end who has only scratched his potential.NR

22

Duane Brown

OTHouston
Houston
He was one of the better left tackles in the league in 2012 after a slow start to his career. He didn't give up a sack.NR

23

Joe Thomas

OTCleveland
Cleveland
He remains rock solid as the left tackle for the Browns.46

24

Geno Atkins

DTCincinnati
Cincinnati
He was a dominant inside player last season, beating up on good guards at times. He has the quickness to get a pass rush, but he's strong enough to hold up against the run.NR

25

Haloti Ngata

DTBaltimore
Baltimore
He is a top player, but he didn't play as well as in previous season in 2011. He did have problems with a bruised thigh that affected his play.17

26

Ed Reed

SBaltimore
Baltimore
He isn't the same player he was a few years ago, but he's still a big part of the defense. He doesn't have the same range he once did.35

27

Brian Cushing

ILBHouston
Houston
He's a good tackling inside linebacker who probably gets knocked down some because of the questions about performance-enhancing drugs. Not on this list. He was special last season.NR

28

Adrian Peterson

RBMinnesota
Minnesota
He will be coming off a torn ACL, so he's a tough player to place on this list. He works so hard that I expect him to be close to what he was, which was special. If he's healthy, he's higher on the list.16

29

Johnathan Joseph

CBHouston
Houston
He went from Cincinnati to Houston as a free agent and responded with his best season. He is a better cover player than some thought he could be.NR

30

Vince Wilfork

DTNew England
New England
He is a wide load in the middle of the New England defense. But he's also much quicker than his body would make you think. Wilfork is so athletic he moves around the New England line.60

31

Clay Matthews

OLBGreen Bay
Green Bay
His play, despite what the Packers might say, tailed off some from 2010. But he remains one of the better outside 3-4 rushers.8

32

LeSean McCoy

RBPhiladelphia
Philadelphia
He is a versatile back who can run it and catch it. He makes the Eagles' offense go.64

33

Peyton Manning

QBDenver
Denver
Where would he be on the list if he were healthy? Right near the top. Until we know if he's all the way back, I'll keep him here.1(t)

34

Dwight Freeney

OLBIndianapolis
Indianapolis
His sack totals were way down and he wasn't the same player as in years past, but he still has double-digit sack ability. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to moving to outside linebacker.9

35

Eric Weddle

SSan Diego
San Diego
He went to his first Pro Bowl last season, which was well-earned. He's a rangy safety who fits with the modern game. He tied for the league lead with seven interceptions.HM

36

Arian Foster

RBHouston
Houston
He was limited to 13 games last season, but he still was fifth in the league in rushing with 1,204 yards. He's also a weapon in the passing game.32

37

Cameron Wake

OLBMiami
Miami
He is a premier pass rusher who has improved against the run. He would be even better if he had help on the other side.31

38

Tyron Smith

OTDallas
Dallas
He was outstanding as a right tackle as a rookie and now moves to the left side where he can better utilize his athletic ability. This is the next great O-lineman in the league.NR

39

Troy Polamalu

SPittsburgh
Pittsburgh
Yes, he's a good player. No, he isn't as good as most think. He's good in the run game, but he has issues in coverage.28

40

Brian Urlacher

MLBChicago
Chicago
At 33, he had one of his best seasons in 2011. Urlacher looked years younger.82

41

Tamba Hali

OLBKansas City
Kansas City
He is coming off his best season with the Chiefs, emerging as a top-level pass rusher. He also holds the point against the run.27

42

Wes Welker

WRNew England
New England
He is the prototypical slot receiver, a vital part of the New England passing game. What would the New England offense be without him?HM

43

Jason Witten

TEDallas
Dallas
He is still the No. 1 target in the Dallas offense, Tony Romo's security blanket. He is outstanding in the middle of the field.19

44

Marshal Yanda

GBaltimore
Baltimore
This right guard has emerged as one of the league's best. He is a tough-guy mauler who can also block well in protection.NR

45

Trent Cole

DEPhiladelphia
Philadelphia
Ask any offensive tackle to name a pass rusher who earns their respect, and it's Cole. He plays hard all the time and he has the burst off the edge.91

46

Steve Smith

WRCarolina
Carolina
Some thought he was near the end in 2010, but Cam Newton helped rejuvenate his career. He can still stretch the field.NR

47

Champ Bailey

CBDenver
Denver
Even at the age of 34, he is still a top corner. He isn't what he used to be, but he's still damn good.40

48

Matt Ryan

QBAtlanta
Atlanta
He's done a lot of good things in the regular season, but it's time he wins a playoff game.50

49

Nick Mangold

CN.Y. Jets
N.Y. Jets
When he was out early last season, the Jets missed him badly. He is tough in the run game and has improved in pass protection.39

50

Matt Stafford

QBDetroit
Detroit
He was finally healthy and we saw what he could do when he threw for more than 5,000 yards.NR

51

Hakeem Nicks

WRN.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants
Victor Cruz got a lot of attention last season, but Nicks is the Giants' best receiver. He is big and can get vertical, which makes him a tough matchup.70

52

Ray Rice

RBBaltimore
Baltimore
This do-it-all back can run inside and he can also be a big part of the passing game. Sometimes, the Ravens get away from him too much and it cripples the offense.94

53

Jahri Evans

GNew Orleans
New Orleans
He had a lot of penalties last year, which hurt his reputation. But he remains one of the game's most powerful, athletic guards.68

54

Derrick Johnson

ILBKansas City
Kansas City
He was all over the field for the Chiefs in 2011. He showed why they made him a first-round pick four years ago.NR

55

Joe Haden

CBCleveland
Cleveland
He didn't get the attention he deserved playing for a bad Browns team, but he emerged as a top cover corner last season.NR

56

Jake Long

OTMiami
Miami
It's become trendy to pick his game apart, but he battled through injuries last season and missed the final two games.23

57

Mike Wallace

WRPittsburgh
Pittsburgh
He was really explosive early last season, but tailed off late. If not, he'd be higher on this list. I think he will be next year.89

58

Calais Campbell

DEArizona
Arizona
The Cardinals rewarded him with a big contract last week for a reason. He was their best defensive player last season.NR

59

Chris Long

DESt. Louis
St. Louis
He had his breakout season in 2011, emerging as an impressive pass rusher and a guy who will play the run.NR

60

Brandon Flowers

CBKansas City
Kansas City
He's an outstanding man-cover player who gives the Chiefs a lot of versatility in the back end because he can match up with good receivers.85

61

Roddy White

WRAtlanta
Atlanta
He might not always be consistent, but he remains one of the better receivers in the NFC. As Julio Jones gets better, he will do even more.36

62

Robert Mathis

OLBIndianapolis
Indianapolis
His sack numbers weren't his best, but he had one of his best seasons for the bad Colts team in 2011. He now moves to a 3-4 rush linebacker in the new defense.53

63

Matt Forte

RBChicago
Chicago
He showed his value to the Bears last season with a sensational all-round performance. He did miss time with a knee injury.NR

64

A.J. Green

WRCincinnati
Cincinnati
As a rookie he flashed star potential -- and that was with a rookie quarterback and without an offseason. Scary.NR

65

Jason Babin

DEPhiladelphia
Philadelphia
He had 18 sacks after signing with the Eagles, teaming with Trent Cole to give Philadelphia a nice 1-2 punch.NR

66

Frank Gore

RBSan Francisco
San Francisco
He is one of the tough inside runners in the league. But has he peaked?NR

67

Brandon Carr

CBDallas
Dallas
He was good last year for the Chiefs in man coverage and will now be the No. 1 corner in Dallas. There's a reason he was paid as a free agent.NR

68

Jordan Gross

OTCarolina
Carolina
He was once again the rock on the Carolina line. He did have a rough go of it against Jared Allen.NR

69

Andrew Whitworth

OTCincinnati
Cincinnati
He is one of those players who never gets the due he deserves. He is a good pass protector who has improved as a run blocker. He never backs down.NR

70

Adrian Wilson

SArizona
Arizona
He's been one of my favorites for a long time and bounced back from a subpar 2010 season to play at his usual high level. The amazing thing is he did it with a torn biceps tendon. Wow.44

71

Greg Jennings

WRGreen Bay
Green Bay
Watch the tape of the Kansas City-Green Bay game and you'll know his value to the Packers. He is their down-the-field weapon.80

72

NaVorro Bowman

ILBSan Francisco
San Francisco
He emerged last year as a force playing next to Willis. He flies to the football like Willis, but he isn't quite as good in pass coverage yet.NR

73

Josh Sitton

GGreen Bay
Green Bay
He had some knee issues last season, which hurt his performance some. But when he's healthy, he's one of the game's better right guards.90

74

Ndamukong Suh

DTDetroit
Detroit
He was good at times last season, but not as good as he was as a rookie. He needs to quit being so aggressive. He gets trapped a lot and overruns plays.12

75

Sean Weatherspoon

OLBAtlanta
Atlanta
This weak-side linebacker will be the star of the Atlanta defense. As he became more comfortable with his responsibilities he looked much improved.NR

76

Lardarius Webb

CBBaltimore
Baltimore
The smooth cover corner earned a big paycheck with his best season in 2011. Entering his fourth season, he should continue to improve.NR

77

Von Miller

OLBDenver
Denver
He was explosive as an edge pass rusher as a rookie. It's scary to think how good he can be in a year or two.NR

78

Tony Romo

QBDallas
Dallas
It's easy to just dismiss him at times, but Romo deserves to be on this list. He might be the most picked-on player in the NFL.NR

79

Victor Cruz

WRN.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants
He came out of nowhere to become one of the league's better receivers. He is terrific after the catch and was a huge part of the Giants' Super Bowl run.NR

80

LaMarr Woodley

OLBPittsburgh
Pittsburgh
He was limited to 10 games and still had nine sacks. He does a nice job against the run as well.41

81

Nnamdi Asomugha

CBPhiladelphia
Philadelphia
He was miscast last season in the Eagles defense after signing a big free-agent deal. But he played much better in the second half and still has elite cover skills.4

82

Daryl Smith

OLBJacksonville
Jacksonville
He is a quiet leader of a defense that made big strides last season. Smith isn't flashy, and he doesn't get sack numbers, but he's one of the game's best 4-3 outside linebackers.NR

83

Cam Newton

QBCarolina
Carolina
He was sensational as a rookie when he didn't have an offseason. How good can he be? Very, but he needs to cut down on the interceptions.NR

84

James Laurinaitis

MLBSt. Louis
St. Louis
He gets lost playing for a bad Rams team, but he is a tackling machine who can also cover in the passing game.79

85

Ray McDonald

DESan Francisco
San Francisco
He doesn't get the due he deserves because of others on the defense. But he plays hard, makes a lot of plays and is starting to get the attention.NR

86

Dwayne Bowe

WRKansas City
Kansas City
One has to wonder how good he could be if he had a quarterback.49

87

Logan Mankins

GNew England
New England
He had a bad Super Bowl, playing on a torn ACL, but he is a mauler when healthy.HM

88

Chris Johnson

RBTennessee
Tennessee
Yes, his numbers were down after a contract issue to open the season. But he still has that explosive speed. Watch for a big bounce-back season.7

89

Jared Veldheer

OTOakland
Oakland
He was sensational early last season and had a few hiccups later, but I still think he's an emerging star at left tackle.NR

90

J.J. Watt

DEHouston
Houston
As a rookie he was a big part of an improved Houston defense. It will be a shock if he isn't one of the best 3-4 down players in the league.NR

91

Brian Orakpo

OLBWashington
Washington
He has 28 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons, nine last season.83

92

Darnell Dockett

DEArizona
Arizona
He wasn't as good as Campbell last season, but he's still one of the better down lineman in the league. Dockett plays with a nasty streak.73

93

Chris Gamble

CBCarolina
Carolina
The Panthers think he should have been in the Pro Bowl, and they might be right. He had one of his best seasons.NR

94

Brandon Marshall

WRChicago
Chicago
We saw a hint of what he can do with real quarterbacks in the Pro Bowl. Now he's reunited with Jay Cutler, which should be a good thing.76

95

Michael Turner

RBAtlanta
Atlanta
He continues to be a workhorse in the Atlanta backfield. But is he starting to slow down because of all the carries?52

96

Charles Woodson

CBGreen Bay
Green Bay
His play slipped some in 2012 after an amazing 2011 season. He isn't as good a cover player as he was a few years ago.33

97

Earl Thomas

SSeattle
Seattle
This rangy player has all the tools to be a dominant safety in a passing league. His cover skills are impressive.NR

98

Aldon Smith

OLB-DESan Francisco
San Francisco
He had 14 sacks as a rookie being used mainly in situational packages. He has a chance for so much more.NR

99

James Harrison

OLBPittsburgh
Pittsburgh
He had nine sacks in 11 games and was once again a big part of the Pittsburgh defense. But he's starting to show signs of age.24

100

Darren Sproles

RBNew Orleans
New Orleans
He is the modern prototype for the NFL back. He was the NFL's best free-agent signing in 2011. He's also a great return man.NR

10 who just missed

Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Lance Briggs, OLB, Chicago Bears
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans
Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints
Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers
Tyvon Branch, S, Oakland Raiders
Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina Panthers

Teams with most players: Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers (6 each)
Position with most players: Linebacker (17)
Number of players on the rankings for the first time: 36
Top rookie: Melvin Ingram (No. 173)
Tim Tebow: Not ranked (well, he's ranked No. 705)


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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