Pete Prisco's Top 100 NFL Players of 2019: Aaron Donald edges Patrick Mahomes for No. 1, Chargers have most on list

It pains me. It really does.

How can I have a non-quarterback atop my NFL top-100 list? It always has to be a quarterback, right?

Not this year. This time around, the No 1 player in the league is Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. He edges out Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who had a sensational first year as a starter.

At times, Donald can't be blocked. He's clearly the best defensive player in the league, but I think he's the best player period, which is why he gets the top spot on my list.

Yes, it hurts since I am a quarterback guy.

I made up for it by having three quarterbacks in the top 10 and 13 in my top 100. Some might quibble with me having Tom Brady in the sixth spot, but he didn't have a great regular season in 2018 before lighting it up in the playoffs. Here's proof: Brady had just 56 more passing yards than Giants quarterback Eli Manning, had a lower completion percentage than Manning and threw 29 touchdown passes and 11 picks to 21 and 11 for Manning.

Manning was seared for his play last season, which gives you an idea of how Brady's regular season wasn't that special – which is why he's ranked sixth here.

For the record, the Chargers have the most players in my top 100 with eight, followed by the Cowboys (seven), and the Saints and Chiefs with six each.

So dive in, look around, complain, moan and groan – I expect all of it – but putting together a list like this isn't easy. Good players get left out because we have an abundance of them in the NFL right now and there is a giant middle class after the 25 or so dominant group of stars.

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1
Aaron Donald Los Angeles Rams DE
It's hard to imagine him playing much better than he did the past two years. But he continues to work at it, so why not?
2
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
He was sensational in his first year as a starter. If he has another season like he did in 2018, he will top this list next year.
3
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
In an offense that was hit hard by injuries -- including his own -- he still threw 25 touchdown passes and just two picks last year. Watch out in the new system.
4
Von Miller Denver Broncos OLB
He continues to be the best edge rusher in the league. He had 14.5 sacks last season with four forced fumbles.
5
Khalil Mack Chicago Bears OLB
In his first season with the Bears, he was a force off the edge with 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
6
Tom Brady New England Patriots QB
His regular-season numbers weren't great, but he turned it on the playoffs -- which we have come to expect. I know some will question him being this high. You shouldn't.
7
Julio Jones Atlanta Falcons WR
The number that stands out is the 104.8 yards per game receiving he averaged last year. That's more than six yards better than second best.
8
DeAndre Hopkins Houston Texans WR
He had 115 catches with 11 touchdowns and just turned 27. He should have another big year with Deshaun Watson.
9
Bobby Wagner Seattle Seahawks MLB
On a young Seattle defense, he had his best season in 2018 and was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. His ability to run and get to the football is huge in their scheme.
10
J.J. Watt Houston Texans DE
After two injury-marred seasons, he played like the Watt of old in 2018. He had 16 sacks, second best in the league, and he was again a force against the run.
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11
Saquon Barkley New York Giants RB
He went over 2,000 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, which speaks volumes about how special he is as a player. With a year under his belt, I expect more carries and rushing yards this season.
12
Odell Beckham Cleveland Browns WR
When he's on the field, he changes the way a defense defends. He just needs to stay on the field in his new home with the Browns.
13
Luke Kuechly Carolina Panthers MLB
Even though he's behind Wagner on this list, it's close. It's really close. He can run, cover and is outstanding against the run.
14
Michael Thomas New Orleans Saints WR
He led the NFL with 125 catches and also had nine touchdowns. Entering his third season, he's already one of the receiver elite.
15
Antonio Brown Oakland Raiders WR
His yards-per-catch number went down last year with the Steelers, which could be a sign age is creeping into his game. A change of scenery will be good for him.
16
Ezekiel Elliott Dallas Cowboys RB
He led the league in rushing last year and should again push for that title. The health of Dallas' line should make him even better in 2019.
17
Calais Campbell Jacksonville Jaguars DE
His sack numbers went down some, but he was better last year than he was in 2017 when he got Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
18
Fletcher Cox Philadelphia Eagles DT
He is a force in the middle of the Eagles' line. He can push the pocket but he's also good against the run.
19
Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
His numbers weren't as gaudy last season, but they didn't need to be. He can still carry a team at the age of 40.
20
Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts QB
He returned last season to remind the league that he's still among the game's best. Luck carries the Colts.
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21
Travis Kelce Kansas City Chiefs TE
With Rob Gronkowski now retired, Kelce is the game's best tight end. He is a mismatch for defenses in the passing game.
22
Cameron Jordan New Orleans Saints DE
He had 12.5 sacks last season and continues to be a force against the run. The Saints did the wise thing giving him a contract extension.
23
Alvin Kamara New Orleans Saints RB
He is a special dual threat in the backfield. With Mark Ingram gone, his carries should go up.
24
Tyreek Hill Kansas City Chiefs WR
His status for this season is still up in the air, but when he's on the field he's an electric playmaker.
25
Jadeveon Clowney Houston Texans OLB
He is a good pass rusher -- not a great one -- but he's also really good against the run. His sack numbers do need to go up.
26
Demarcus Lawrence Dallas Cowboys DE
The Cowboys gave him a big-money deal for a reason this offseason. He is an issue for any offense with his ability to come off the edge.
27
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
His 2018 season was better than his 2016 MVP season. With better protection this year, the numbers should go up.
28
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
If only he were allowed to throw it more. He's proven that he should be getting a bigger dose of the offense. He's special.
29
Todd Gurley Los Angeles Rams RB
He would be higher on this list were it not for the knee concerns. If he's healthy, he's a top-15 player. Big if.
30
Stephon Gilmore New England Patriots CB
He was the best corner in the league last season and carried it over to the postseason.
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31
A.J. Green Cincinnati Bengals WR
Injuries shortened his 2018 season, but he remains a big-play threat and one of the best in the NFL.
32
Christian McCaffrey Carolina Panthers RB
He can run it, catch it and is a do-everything back. He just needs more carries.
33
Jalen Ramsey Jacksonville Jaguars CB
He wasn't as dominant as expected last season, but I see him bouncing back in a big way. The talent is there to be the best in the league.
34
Chris Harris Denver Broncos CB
He is the best slot corner in the league and has been that for a while. He is playing on a one-year deal that should turn into a mega-deal in 2020.
35
Philip Rivers Los Angeles Chargers QB
He's another of the aging quarterbacks who just continue to play at a high level. How much longer can he do it?
36
Jamal Adams New York Jets SS
He was sensational for the Jets last year and is a game-changing type safety who is still just a young player.
37
Geno Atkins Cincinnati Bengals DT
He continues to be a force inside for the Cincinnati defense. He plays the run but can also push the pocket.
38
David Bakhtiari Green Bay Packers T
There is no better pass protector at tackle in the league. And that's important when you have Aaron Rodgers.
39
Chris Jones Kansas City Chiefs DE
He emerged as a power player for the Chiefs in his second season in 2018. He will be much higher on this list next year.
40
Le'Veon Bell New York Jets RB
He hasn't touched a ball in a game that matters since January of 2017. That's a long time, which is why he's down this list some.
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41
Frank Clark Kansas City Chiefs DE
The Chiefs landed a good player when they got Clark in a trade. He can rush the passer and he plays with a violent style.
42
Patrick Peterson Arizona Cardinals CB
He is suspended for the first six games, which means he can't go to the Pro Bowl. But he's still an outstanding cover player.
43
Zach Ertz Philadelphia Eagles TE
All he does is catch passes. Ertz is a big-time factor in the middle of the field.
44
Harrison Smith Minnesota Vikings FS
He is a rangy safety who is also good up near the line of scrimmage. The Vikings regressed as a defense last year and Smith's play did just a bit from the year before.
45
JuJu Smith-Schuster Pittsburgh Steelers WR
He's now the Steelers' No. 1 receiver, which will bring on my more scrutiny. I say he handles it well.
46
Zack Martin Dallas Cowboys G
Like the entire Dallas line, he wasn't as good last season as he was the year before. But he continues to be a dominant guard in both the run and pass game.
47
Derwin James Los Angeles Chargers FS
He impressed as a rookie with his ability to play in space, but also play up near the line. He will be even better now with experience.
48
Akiem Hicks Chicago Bears DT
The Bears are his third team, which is hard to believe considering how well he played last season. He's a mountain of a man.
49
Melvin Gordon Los Angeles Chargers RB
Gordon is just behind the elite backs in the league -- but not by much.
50
Kevin Byard Tennessee Titans FS
He might not be a household name, but NFL people know all about his ability to play both near the line and in space.
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51
DeForest Buckner San Francisco 49ers DT
His sack numbers went from three in 2017 to 12 last season, which shows you the growth he's making as a player.
52
Quenton Nelson Indianapolis Colts G
He was impressive as a rookie starter, going to the Pro Bowl. With a year of seasoning, he might be the best in the league in 2019.
53
Myles Garrett Cleveland Browns DE
His ability to pressure the quarterback landed him with 13.5 sacks last season. With more help up front this season, that number should be higher.
54
Marshal Yanda Baltimore Ravens G
He continues to play at a high level to earn this spot. He has been the rock on the Ravens' line.
55
David Johnson Arizona Cardinals RB
His numbers weren't great last season, but there are reasons for it. I see him bouncing back in a big way, maybe even with a 1,000-1,000 season.
56
Joey Bosa Los Angeles Chargers DE
He had only six starts because of injury last season, but he had 5.5 sacks in those games and two sacks in the playoffs. He just needs to be on the field.
57
Davante Adams Green Bay Packers WR
He caught 111 passes last season for an offense that wasn't nearly as good as expected. He remains the go-to player for Aaron Rodgers.
58
Tyron Smith Dallas Cowboys T
Injuries have dropped him down some on this list because he hasn't been as dominant. A full season of good health will push him back up. I think he's the best when healthy.
59
Casey Hayward Los Angeles Chargers CB
He continues to play corner at a high level. He wasn't as good as he was the year before, but he was still a top-notch cover player.
60
Kenny Clark Green Bay Packers NT
He emerged as a real rock in the middle of the Green Bay defense the past two years. He's just scratching the surface.
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61
Mitchell Schwartz Kansas City Chiefs T
He is a rock on the right side of the Chiefs' line. He is arguably the best right tackle in the game.
62
Chandler Jones Arizona Cardinals LB
His ability to get to the quarterback will be key to the Cardinals' defense going forward. He has 30 sacks the past two seasons.
63
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers QB
He's a little lower on this list than some might expect, but he is still capable of carrying the Steelers to a Super Bowl.
64
Ryan Ramczyk New Orleans Saints T
This former first-round pick has proven to be a heck of a player. He's good in pass protection, but he's also outstanding in the run game.
65
T.Y. Hilton Indianapolis Colts WR
This smaller receiver continues to have a big game. He had 76 catches with six touchdowns and averaged an impressive 16.7 yards per catch, despite missing two games.
66
Grady Jarrett Atlanta Falcons DT
He is a wrecking ball in the middle of Atlanta's defense. His contract situation bears watching this season.
67
Eddie Jackson Chicago Bears FS
He's got the range teams need on the back end with the way the game is played now. He had six picks last season, two returned for touchdowns.
68
Andrew Whitworth Los Angeles Rams T
This veteran, likely playing his last season, is still a dominant player on the blind side for the Rams.
69
Kyle Fuller Chicago Bears CB
He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with seven in his breakout season for a good Bears defense. At 27, he's just now hitting his prime.
70
George Kittle San Francisco 49ers TE
Even on a team with quarterback issues last season, he had 88 catches and averaged an eye-opening 15.6 yards per catch.
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71
Yannick Ngakoue Jacksonville Jaguars DE
He has 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons and had 9.5 a year ago. It's no wonder he's looking for a big contract.
72
Cam Newton Carolina Panthers QB
His shoulder injury bears watching this summer, but when healthy he's an MVP candidate.
73
Keenan Allen Los Angeles Chargers WR
He remains their go-to receiver, catching 96 passes last season. His yards per catch average did drop some.
74
Carson Wentz Philadelphia Eagles QB
Health is the only thing that has held him back. With a hefty new contract, he has to stay on the field.
75
Melvin Ingram Los Angeles Chargers DE
Like teammate Joey Bosa, his ability to push the pocket from the edge is impressive. He plays hard all the time.
76
Eric Weddle Los Angeles Rams FS
He is the glue on the back end for any defense, and now it's the Rams. His ability to diagnose is as good as any safety in the game.
77
Jurrell Casey Tennessee Titans DE
His ability to play both the run and the pass equally well is impressive. He had seven sacks last season, but had a ton of pressures.
78
Lane Johnson Philadelphia Eagles T
He's a big part of their offense with how he holds up at right tackle. He's good both in pass protection and in the run game.
79
Desmond King Los Angeles Chargers DB
You might be surprised to see him on this list, but he's coming off two big-time seasons for the Chargers.
80
Jaylon Smith Dallas Cowboys MLB
His play was unreal considering what he came back from in terms of that devastating injury in his bowl game in college. Watch out this season.
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81
Trey Flowers Detroit Lions DE
He only had 7.5 sacks for the Patriots last season, but his ability to influence the quarterback in more ways than that earned him a big deal from the Lions.
82
Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
He was having an MVP-type of season until a late-season swoon, but I see him continuing to have success in the Sean McVay offense.
83
Jason Kelce Philadelphia Eagles C
He remains one of the league's best centers. His ability to move is so important to the Eagles' offense.
84
Adam Thielen Minnesota Vikings WR
He caught 111 passes with nine touchdowns in 2018. He continues to improve each season.
85
Byron Jones Dallas Cowboys CB
He had his breakout season as a cover player in 2018, moving to corner full time. He's there to stay.
86
Mike Evans Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR
He led all receivers with at least 50 or more catches with a per-catch average of 17.7. He also caught 86 passes with eight touchdowns.
87
Mike Daniels Green Bay Packers DE
He was limited to 10 games last season because of injury. But when healthy, he's a force on their line.
88
Darius Leonard Indianapolis Colts OLB
As a rookie, he was named first-team All-Pro and helped solidify the middle of the Colts' defense.
89
Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns QB
If he can continue to grow like he did last year as a rookie, he will be much higher on this list next year.
90
Julian Edelman New England Patriots WR
He missed four games for suspension last year, but still ended up with 74 catches and went on to win Super Bowl MVP.
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91
Bradley Chubb Denver Broncos OLB
He proved to be a nice bookend for Von Miller in his rookie season. I expect a big jump this season.
92
Lavonte David Tampa Bay Buccaneers OLB
He is an off-the-ball linebacker, which is why he doesn't get the due he deserves. It's hard to believe he's never been to the Pro Bowl.
93
Rodney Hudson Oakland Raiders C
He was the rock on their line last season, especially good in pass protection. With more help now, he should be better.
94
Xavien Howard Miami Dolphins CB
He had seven picks for the Dolphins last season, earning a big contract from the team. Now the pressure is on.
95
Danielle Hunter Minnesota Vikings DE
He had 14.5 sacks for the Vikings last season, his second as a full-time starter. Scary thing: He's only 24.
96
Deion Jones Atlanta Falcons LB
Injuries forced him to miss much of last season, but he's back healthy again and should be all over the field for the Falcons' defense.
97
Damon Harrison Detroit Lions DT
He is a force against the run, which often gets overlooked. But he is vital to any defense that he plays on.
98
Demario Davis New Orleans Saints OLB
In his first season with the Saints after coming over from the Jets, Davis was all over the field for the Saints' defense.
99
Travis Frederick Dallas Cowboys C
He's coming back from Guillain-Barre syndrome that forced him to miss last season. So expect him higher on this list in 2020.
100
Shaq Mason New England Patriots G
He had his best season in 2018. The biggest improvement has come in pass protection.

JUST MISSED: Terron Armstead, T, New Orleans Saints; C.J. Mosley, LB, New York JetsXavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota VikingsCameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh SteelersBrandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia EaglesEarl Thomas, S, Baltimore RavensKawann Short, DT, Carolina PanthersBrandin Cooks, WR, Los Angeles RamsRobert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams; Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings; Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati BengalsTrent Williams, T, Washington RedskinsDavid DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers; Brandon Brooks, G, Philadelphia Eagles; Jonathan Allen, DT, Washington Redskins; Jerry Hughes, DE, Buffalo BillsDevin McCourty, S, New England PatriotsDarius Slay, CB, Detroit LionsMalcolm Jenkins, S, Philadelphia Eagles; Jarran Reed, DT, Seattle SeahawksDenzel Ward, CB, Cleveland BrownsLeighton Vander Esch, LB, Dallas CowboysJoel Bitonio, G, Cleveland Browns; Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans; and John Johnson, S, Los Angeles Rams.

Graphic illustrations created by Mike Meredith.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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