Mike Meredith - CBS Sports

Quarterbacks drive the NFL in every way imaginable. 

Now it's more than ever. It's why they are pushing back against their employers, with quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson all hinting in the offseason that playing for another team might be a good option.

That's because their importance and value has never been greater, especially in an era of wide-open football. 

My 2021 NFL Top 100 list is just more proof of that.

There are five quarterbacks in the top 10, with Patrick Mahomes at the top. The others are Rodgers, Tom Brady, Wilson and Josh Allen. That doesn't even include Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, who was a top 10 player last year after earning MVP honors in 2019.

When he was seventh on my list last year, I wrote about how quickly things change in this league. He wasn't even on the list the year before. This year, that's Allen of the Buffalo Bills.

He was nowhere on my list last year, even though I thought he had a chance to make big strides in 2020. I just didn't think he'd make the strides that he did. Now he's 10th on this list.

I did have a Josh Allen on the list last year -- but it was Josh Allen of the Jaguars, who didn't come close to playing to that level in 2020 as injuries hurt his numbers. 

Buffalo's Allen is now an MVP candidate, even if there are some out there who still wonder if he's a one-hit wonder. They shouldn't. He's a star now, one of the many who make up this list. 

In addition to the five quarterbacks in the top 10, there are nine other quarterbacks on the list. That's a total of 14, or almost half of the starters in the league.

Quarterbacks rule the NFL, and they always have. 

Now there is no doubt about it.

Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
Even though he didn't win a second straight Super Bowl, he's still the best quarterback in the league. He would be the first pick in any open draft of the league's players.
Aaron Donald Los Angeles Rams DE
He was again dominant for the Rams defense, winning Defensive Player of the Year honors for the third time in 2020. He had 13.5 sacks. When he was hurt in the playoff loss to the Packers, you could see the difference in the defense.
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
Happy in Green Bay or not, the reigning MVP remains one of the league's best players. I still think he ends up back in Green Bay. Why let him go?
Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
Those who doubt him learned another lesson last season: Stop it. He had some rough moments in November, but he was outstanding down the stretch and throughout the playoffs on the way to another Super Bowl victory. He's the GOAT.
Travis Kelce Kansas City Chiefs TE
He was second in the league in receiving yards with 1,401 yards, which is amazing for a tight end. He also had 11 touchdown catches on his 105 receptions. He is the best tight end in the league, on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
T.J. Watt Pittsburgh Steelers OLB
He led the NFL in sacks with 15 and was the runner-up as Defensive Player of the Year, despite missing one game. He is also a force against the run.
Davante Adams Green Bay Packers WR
He led the NFL in touchdown catches with 18, even though he had little help from the other receivers opposite him. He averaged 98.1 yards per game, the best in the NFL.
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
He played loose and free early last season and had an MVP start. He cooled some down the stretch, but he remains capable of winning an MVP award.
Myles Garrett Cleveland Browns DE
He had 12 sacks in 14 games and showed his ability to be a game-changer rushing the passer. If he can play an entire season, he should be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season.
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
In his third season, he blossomed into an MVP candidate. His ability to move and make plays made him a tough quarterback to defend. The biggest growth, though, came from the pocket.
Stefon Diggs  Graphic by Mike Meredith
Derrick Henry Tennessee Titans RB
He rushed for an NFL-leading 2,020 yards last season, getting the Titans to the playoffs again. He is a bruising runner who has emerged as one of the best weapons in the game.
Stefon Diggs Buffalo Bills WR
He led the NFL in catches with 127 and yards with 1,535 in his first season with the Bills. He helped make Allen an MVP candidate last season.
Tyreek Hill Kansas City Chiefs WR
He scares defenses with his big-play ability, which opens up the Chiefs offense. He can't be handled in one-on-one situations. He had a career-best 15 touchdown catches last season.
Jaire Alexander Green Bay Packers CB
He has emerged as one of the best cover players in the league. He isn't a big corner, but he makes up for it with his aggressive style.
Jalen Ramsey Los Angeles Rams CB
He was back to being a top-level corner last season in the Rams defense. He can excel at man coverage, but he's improved in his zone play as well. He can take away a receiver in a game, which has great value.
Trent Williams San Francisco 49ers OT
After coming over in a trade from Washington, Williams was dominant as the starting left tackle for the 49ers. He remains one of the league's best and was rewarded with a new contract that makes him the highest-paid tackle in the NFL.
Nick Bosa San Francisco 49ers DE
He missed 14 games last season after tearing his ACL in Week 2 against the Jets. He should be full-go this season, which means he will be back to wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.
Zack Martin Dallas Cowboys OG
He remains a top-level offensive lineman, who excels in the run game and in pass protection. He was the lone bright spot on an injury-plagued Dallas line last year.
Dalvin Cook Minnesota Vikings RB
He finished second in the league in rushing with 1,557 yards and also rushed for 16 touchdowns. His yards-per-rush average of 5.0 shows how impressive he is as a big-play runner.
Khalil Mack Chicago Bears OLB
He had nine sacks and continued to be a force off the edge. He hasn't had double-digit sacks since 2019, which is a concern. But he is still a top edge player.
Christian McCaffrey Graphic by Mike Meredith
Christian McCaffrey Carolina Panthers RB
He was limited to three games last season due to a variety of injuries. He rushed for 225 yards in those three games, also scoring six touchdowns. Healthy again, he should be back to putting up numbers among the best backs in the league.
George Kittle San Francisco 49ers TE
Injuries limited him to eight games last season, but he still caught 48 passes with two touchdowns. When he's healthy, he's one of the two best tight ends in the game.
Deshaun Watson Houston Texans QB
If he can remedy his legal issues, he is still one of the game's best quarterbacks. He's coming off an amazing season where he led the league in passing yards, playing with a bad team.
Xavien Howard Miami Dolphins CB
He led the NFL in interceptions with 10 and limited opposing passers to a completion percentage of 51.5 when throwing at him. He is entering his prime, turning 28 in July.
Joey Bosa Los Angeles Chargers DE
Injuries limited him to 10 starts last season, which is why his sack number dropped from 11.5 to 7.5. But he still remains a handful off the edge for any offensive tackle.
Quenton Nelson Indianapolis Colts OG
He is one of the best run-blocking players in the game, but his pass protection is good as well. He is a complete player who always seems to find a way to get a highlight-reel block in every game.
David Bakhtiari Green Bay Packers OT
He tore his ACL in a December practice last year to cut short another impressive season protecting the blindside of Aaron Rodgers. He remains one of the best pass-blocking tackles in the game.
Julio Jones Atlanta Falcons WR
Injuries limited him to nine games last season, which cut his catches down to 51 from 99 in 2019. He still averaged 15.1 yards per catch, which shows he's far from done. The big question now is whether he will be traded.
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
His play trailed off some in 2020 after winning the MVP in 2019. But he is still a dangerous quarterback who can take over a game. He should be better as a passer in his third full season as a starter in 2021.
Chris Jones Kansas City Chiefs DE
He continued to be a force inside for the Chiefs defense, both in the run game and pushing the pocket. His sack number fell from 9 to 7.5, but he was still impressive in getting pressure inside.
DeAndre Hopkins Graphic by Mike Meredith
Fred Warner San Francisco 49ers MLB
He is one of the best off-the-ball linebackers in the game. He is smart, can run, and knows how to get to the football. He is finally starting to get his due.
Cameron Jordan New Orleans Saints DE
He was a dominant force on the edge of the Saints defense, even if his sack numbers fell from 15.5 to 7.5 last season. He still had a lot of pressures and made life tough for opposing quarterbacks.
Devin White Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB
In his second season, he emerged as a star in the making. He was dominant against the run and played well in coverage, but he also excelled as a blitzer. The best is yet to come.
Tyrann Mathieu Kansas City Chiefs FS
This hybrid safety is the perfect player for the modern game. He can blitz. He can cover. He's good in the run game and he can turn the opposition over.
Darren Waller Las Vegas Raiders TE
He is a pure pass-catching tight end who creates real problems for teams in matchup situations. He is a receiver playing tight end.
DeAndre Hopkins Arizona Cardinals WR
In his first season with the Cardinals, he caught 115 passes for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. He was targeted 160 times, second-most in the league.
Alvin Kamara New Orleans Saints RB
He's one of the special air backs in the league, capable of beating you in the passing game and with his ability to run inside. I just wish he got more carries.
Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers QB
He surprised a lot of people with how he played as a rookie starter, but he was only scratching the surface. This is a franchise passer who will be a star for the next decade.
DK Metcalf Seattle Seahawks WR
Big, strong, fast and he's only just really getting it going. That's downright scary. He averaged 15.7 per catch last season with 10 touchdowns.
Chase Young Washington Football Team DE
He had 7.5 sacks as a rookie, but really came on late in the season. Look for his sack numbers to go way up in 2021 and for him to be much higher on this list next year.
Dak Prescott Graphic by Mike Meredith
Bobby Wagner Seattle Seahawks MLB
He is still a top run-and-chase linebacker, especially in the run game. But his pass coverage has slipped a little as he's gotten older, although he's still good at it. Even so, he's still one of the best in the league.
DeMarcus Lawrence Dallas Cowboys DE
He hasn't had double-digit sacks in either of the past two seasons -- getting 6.5 last season -- but he remains a player who does get a lot of pressure. He's still playing at a high level, even if the sack numbers might not show it.
Leonard Williams New York Giants DE
He was a force last season for the Giants defense, finally achieving the level of play expected of him when he came into the league with the Jets. Williams earned a new contract because of his impressive play.
Lavonte David Tampa Bay Buccaneers OLB
He remains one of the best off-the-ball linebackers in the game. His ability to dissect and chase down plays with his speed is a big part of the Tampa Bay defense.
Justin Jefferson Minnesota Vikings WR
He had an amazing rookie season, averaging 15.9 yards per catch on his 88 catches. He barely looked like a rookie at all, which is scary going forward.
Allen Robinson Chicago Bears WR
Playing in an offense limited by poor quarterback play -- a theme of his career -- he still caught 100 passes for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. If Justin Fields is the real deal, Robinson will finally have a legit quarterback throwing him passes.
Grady Jarrett Atlanta Falcons DT
On a Falcons defense that has struggled over the years, Jarrett has been one of the few bright spots. His ability to play the run and also pressure inside with his quickness and power show up on tape a lot.
Marlon Humphrey Baltimore Ravens CB
He's a smooth cover player who excels playing inside in the slot in their nickel. He is a perfect player for their defensive scheme.
DeForest Buckner Indianapolis Colts DT
The Colts traded to get him from San Francisco last season and he didn't disappoint. He showed off his power on their line, and he continued to be able to provide pressure as a down player, getting 9.5 sacks.
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
His season-ending ankle injury last season sent the Cowboys into a tailspin. He signed a big, new contract this offseason, which will put more pressure on him, but he seems more than up to it.
Shaq Barrett  Graphic by Mike Meredith
Budda Baker Arizona Cardinals SS
He has emerged as one of the best safeties in the league. He is outstanding in the run game and has really improved in pass coverage.
Za'Darius Smith Green Bay Packers OLB
He followed up his 13.5-sack season in 2019 with a 12.5-sack season in 2020. He continues to be a matchup problem for offensive lines with his ability to move inside and outside as a rusher.
Darius Leonard Indianapolis Colts OLB
He had 132 tackles, three sacks and seven passes defenses. He is a playmaking linebacker in the middle of their defense who has a lot of good football in front of him.
Chandler Jones Arizona Cardinals DE
After getting double-digits in sacks in five straight years, he was limited to five games last season because of a torn biceps muscle. He had just one sack, but you have to think he can get back to his pre-injury form.
Michael Thomas New Orleans Saints WR
His 2020 season was a disappointment in a lot of ways. He was hurt for much of the year, suspended by the team for a game for a practice-field altercation, and had career lows in catches, touchdowns and yardage. He played just 10 regular-season games and was clearly not the same player he was the two prior seasons.
Shaquil Barrett Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB
He saw his sack numbers fall from 19.5 to eight last season, but he still was a big part of what the Tampa Bay defense did. Then in the postseason, he amped it up as the Bucs won it all, getting four sacks in the playoffs.
Ezekiel Elliott Dallas Cowboys RB
Elliott is coming off a disappointing 2020 season that saw him rush for career lows in yards (979) and average (4.0). The line was banged up in front of him, but this is a big prove-it year for Elliott coming up in 2021.
Jessie Bates Cincinnati Bengals FS
He is one of the more underrated players in the league. Bates plays in anonymity in Cincinnati, but please take note. He's a heck of a player.
Chris Godwin Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR
He played just 12 games last season, so his numbers dropped from the previous year. He still caught 65 passes with seven touchdowns. He did fracture a finger that seemed to slow his fast start last season.
Minkah Fitzpatrick Pittsburgh Steelers FS
I left him off the list last year, and heard plenty about it. He earned his right to be on the list this season after a slow start in 2020. He is a rangy safety that fits perfectly in the NFL game.
Calvin Ridley Graphic by Mike Meredith
Demario Davis New Orleans Saints OLB
He wasn't quite as good as he was the year before, but he remained a good player on their defense. He is a player who can run to the football and do a lot of good things in coverage. He doesn't get the due he deserves.
Mike Evans Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR
He had another solid season in 2020, getting a career-high 13 touchdown catches. He caught 70 passes, but his average per catch was down from 17.3 in 2019 to 14.4 last season. He did battle some injuries that could have impacted that number.
Nick Chubb Cleveland Browns RB
He was limited to 12 games in 2020, so his numbers came down some from the year before. He still rushed for 1,067 yards. The best thing is his yards-per-rush went from 5.0 to 5.6. That tells you he still showed off his big-play ability.
Andrew Whitworth Los Angeles Rams OT
He was limited to nine games last season, which really impacted the Rams offense. When he's healthy, he's important as the backside pass protector, which means for Matt Stafford this year.
Cameron Heyward Pittsburgh Steelers DE
His sack numbers fell from nine to four last season, but he still had 19 quarterback hits. He is also a good run player, which is key in their scheme.
J.J. Watt Arizona Cardinals DE
He isn't what he was a few years back, but he can still play at a Pro Bowl level. His ability to be a disrupter up front is still evident when you pop on the tape.
Calvin Ridley Atlanta Falcons WR
With Julio Jones hurt for some of the year, Ridley had his best season, catching 90 passes with nine touchdowns. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch and was fourth in the league in yards receiving per game with 90.1. He also tied for the league lead with 23 catches of 20 yards or more.
Corey Linsley Los Angeles Chargers C
He was an important part of the Green Bay offense the past few seasons playing in front of Aaron Rodgers. Now he will fill the same role for Justin Herbert, which is an important thing for a young quarterback.
Brandon Scherff Washington Football Team OG
He's one of the best guards in the league, a player who is good in both the run game and pass protection. It's why Washington brought him back on the franchise tag for another year.
Ronnie Stanley Baltimore Ravens OT
His season was cut short after six games in 2020 when he suffered a fractured ankle. Before the injury, he signed a big contract extension because he's such an integral part of their offense as one of the best tackles in the game.
Tre'Davious White  Graphic by Mike Meredith
Stephon Gilmore New England Patriots CB
His play slipped in 2020, especially in coverage. That was mainly due to injuries, which is concerning since he's 30. But I think in a year where he has to show he can still be a top corner, he will respond with a better season.
A.J. Brown Tennessee Titans WR
In a run-heavy offense, he has become the big-play threat in their passing game. Brown had 70 catches last season with 11 touchdown catches. He has 20 touchdown receptions in the past two seasons.
player headshot
Myles Jack Jacksonville Jaguars MLB
He had his best season in 2020 after moving to the weak-side linebacker spot. He was one of the best off-the-ball linebackers in the league last season, but it was lost because he played on a bad team.
Garett Bolles Denver Broncos OT
After a disappointing start to his career, he flourished last season for the Broncos. His impressive play earned him a big contract extension.
Danielle Hunter Minnesota Vikings DE
He missed all of the 2020 season with a herniated disc in his neck. Hunter was coming off consecutive double-digit sack seasons, and he was sorely missed. He is expected to be back fully this season, although he does want a new contact and that has kept him away from team activities.
Keenan Allen Los Angeles Chargers WR
He was banged up last year, yet still caught 100 passes with eight touchdowns. The injuries did make his yards-per-catch average drop to 9.9, which is concerning.
Harrison Smith Minnesota Vikings FS
At 32, he still has some good football left to play. He wasn't as good last season as he was the year before, but he had to deal with a lot of new faces in the secondary. That matters.
Tre'Davious White Buffalo Bills CB
He started slowly last season after signing a big contact, but he rounded into form quickly. He is capable of playing in zone and can also match up with some of the best receivers if asked to do so.
Justin Simmons Denver Broncos FS
He had another impressive season in 2020, which earned him a big contract that makes him the highest-paid safety in the league. He has the range teams love in the middle of the field.
Terron Armstead New Orleans Saints OT
He continues to be an outstanding pass protector on the left side of the Saints line. Entering his ninth season, he's also improved as a run blocker, which is important with Drew Brees now retired.
Saquon Barkley Graphic by Mike Meredith
Odell Beckham Cleveland Browns WR
This is more about what I think he can do when he's healthy. He's played 16 games in a season once in his seven years in the league. He played just seven games last season when he tore an ACL. But this is based on what he can do when he's healthy.
Tristan Wirfs Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT
As a rookie, he stepped in as the starter at right tackle and solidified a line that became one of the best in the league. He was dominant from the start of the season straight through the Super Bowl victory over Kansas City.
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
He's thrown at least 20 touchdown passes in 12 consecutive seasons, throwing 26 in 2020. He also threw for 4,581 yards playing in front of a bad offensive line. At 35, he has some good football left in his right arm.
Aaron Jones Green Bay Packers RB
His ability to be a threat as both a runner and a receiver is a big part of the Green Bay offense. He creates matchup issues for defenses, which is why Green Bay brought him back as a free agent.
Frank Ragnow Detroit Lions OG
He was one of the best centers in the game last season, which is why the Lions smartly rewarded him with a new contract. He is the anchor for what should be a good offensive line in 2021.
Joel Bitonio Cleveland Browns OG
He is smart, athletic lineman who is a key to their run game. He has also improved In pass protection the past few seasons and has started 16 games each of the past four seasons.
Saquon Barkley New York Giants RB
He is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 2 last season, which limited him to 34 yards rushing for the year. He did have two impressive seasons to open his career, but can he get back to that same level he flashed as a rookie in 2018?
Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams QB
Playing on a bad Lions team last season, he threw 26 touchdown passes and 10 picks. He was traded to the Rams this spring in a blockbuster deal that I think will make his numbers go way up. He's a better player than he is perceived to be.
D.J. Moore Carolina Panthers WR
His catch numbers went from 87 in 2019 to 66 last season. That would be cause for concern, but his yards-per-catch average ballooned from 13.5 to 18.1. That shows he was all about the big plays, tying for the league lead with six receptions of 40 yards or more.
Derwin James Los Angeles Chargers FS
He has battled through a ton of injuries, which is why he's down this low. But if he can stay on the field, he should be much higher on this list next year. But availability is the best ability.
Joe Burrow Graphic by Mike Meredith
Elgton Jenkins Green Bay Packers C
As a rookie, he was an impressive looking player. He played guard, tackle and center. He is a power player who should be one of the league's best this season.
Jamal Adams Seattle Seahawks SS
He had 9.5 sacks for the Seahawks last season, showing off his ability to blitz and play near the line of scrimmage. He struggled at times in coverage, which is not his strong suit.
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
He had an impressive season in 2020, throwing for a career-high 35 touchdown passes. He did throw 13 picks, which was more than double from the year before.
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
He was 29 yards short of 4,000 passing yards and less than 200 away from 1,000 rushing last season. That tells you the type of threat he is as a quarterback. He needs to be more consistent week in and week out and faded some down the stretch last season.
Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals QB
If he had played his entire rookie season, he would be higher on this list. My prediction is he will be much higher on this list next year.
Wyatt Teller Cleveland Browns OG
He came from Buffalo in a trade a few years back and has emerged as one of the best guards in the league. His ability to move in their scheme is impressive. He has a nasty streak.
Adam Thielen Minnesota Vikings WR
All he does is keep putting up impressive numbers. He had 14 touchdown catches last season to go with his 74 catches.
Tyler Lockett Seattle Seahawks WR
He had his best season with 100 catches and 10 touchdown receptions. He is a perfect complement to D.K. Metcalf on the other side.
Darious Williams Los Angeles Rams DB
He is the "other" corner on the Rams defense, but he had an impressive season in 2020. He showed off some big-time cover skills. Now he has to show he can do it again.
L'Jarius Sneed Kansas City Chiefs SAF
Some might be surprised to see him on this list. They shouldn't be. As a rookie, he was outstanding in coverage for the Chiefs. In his second season, he will be a Pro Bowl player.

JUST MISSED: Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos; Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants; John Johnson, S, Cleveland Browns; Quinnen Williams, DT, New York Jets; Adrian Amos, S, Green Bay Packers; Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys; Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo Bills;  Rodney Hudson, C, Arizona Cardinals; Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings; Jonathan Jones, CB, New England Patriots; Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders; Patrick Peterson, CB, Minnesota Vikings; Mechi Becton, T, New York Jets; Amari Cooper, WR, Cowboys; Ryan Ramczyk, T, New Orleans Saints; Fletcher Cox, DT, Eagles; Ali Marpet, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans; Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team; Jack Conklin, T, Cleveland Browns; Jeffrey Simmons, DT, Tennessee Titans; D.J. Humphries, T, Arizona Cardinals; Taylor Moton, T, Carolina Panthers; Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints; Marcus Williams, S, New Orleans Saints; Orlando Brown, T, Kansas City Chiefs; Anthony Harris, S, Philadelphia Eagles; Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders; James Bradberry, CB, New York Giants; Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns; Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns; David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers; Darius Slay, CB, Eagles; Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers; Shelby Harris, DT, Denver Broncos; Marcus Maye, S, New York Jets; Brandon Linder, C, Jaguars; Bradley Chubb, EDGE, Denver Broncos; Chris Harris, CB, Los Angeles Chargers; J.C. Tretter, C, Cleveland Browns.