Splash’s Top 100 (2020): Players 90-81
Jan 12, 2020; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) walks off the field after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in a NFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
No. 90: CB Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers
After a solid rookie campaign, Alexander stepped up in 2019. In terms of disrupting passes, there are few better than Alexander. He had 17 pass deflections, fourth-most in the NFL. He also added a pair of interceptions. No matter the coverage, Alexander excels, using his compact frame to shadow receivers and wreak havoc in the defensive backfield.
The former first-round pick still has plenty of room to grow and move up the top 100 in the future. Only 23, Alexander likely has the better part of a decade to be a lockdown corner with the Packers.
No. 89: EDGE Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers:
Smith recorded 42 percent of his career sacks in 2019, a mammoth 13.5 in his first season with the Packers. Smith was sixth in sacks, fourth in tackles for loss, and he tied for first in quarterback hits. His 37 quarterback hits are tied for the sixth most since 2006, trailing only J.J. Watt (four times) and Aaron Donald (2018). A first time Pro Bowler in 2019, Pro Football Focus included Smith on their first-team All-Pro. PFF credited Smith with 93 pressures, by far the most in the NFL. He should continue to be dominant in Green Bay’s defensive front.
No. 88: DL Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons:
Jarrett’s sack total has grown in each of his five seasons, culminating in a 7.5-sack campaign in 2019. Jarrett was included on the AP and PFF All-Pro second teams, and he made his first Pro Bowl. The now-27-year-old posted double-digit tackles for loss for the second time and double-digit quarterback hits for the third straight season.
Jarrett was inconsistent at times in 2019, but he recorded sacks in back-to-back games three times, so when he got home, he made sure to get home again. Jarrett had 2.5 sacks in a game against the Saints, the most since his 3.0-sack game in Super Bowl LI.
No. 87: TE Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
The three-time Pro Bowler had a slightly down 2019 season. He averaged 10 yards fewer per game, failing to match the 1,163 yards he posted in 2018. Ertz was still very productive, hauling in 88 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns despite missing a game. Ertz had 11 games with at least 50 yards including four weeks with three games of 90-plus yards.
He may no longer be on par with Travis Kelce or George Kittle, but Ertz is a reliable weapon for a playoff fixture in Philadelphia. Entering his age-30 season, Ertz should have a handful of productive seasons left in the tank.
No. 86: WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys:
One of the smoothest route-runners in the NFL, Cooper made his fourth Pro Bowl in 2019. He posted a career-high 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns in his first full season in Dallas. Cooper averaged a robust 15.1 yards per catch, higher than Tyreek Hill.
Even sharing the spotlight with another 1,100-yard receiver and future star CeeDee Lamb, Cooper should be the primary passing threat for the Cowboys for years to come. Just 26, Cooper is just beginning to enter his prime. Dallas handsomely rewarded Cooper with a $100 million contract over the next five seasons.
No. 85: QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles:
Wentz is one of the most polarizing players in the league based solely on his injury history. When on the field, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. When off the field, his backup quarterback was winning playoff games (sorry, Josh McCown). In four seasons, Wentz has played all 16 games just twice.
In 2019, Wentz played every game, throwing for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions to go along with his first 4,000-yard season, but the injury bug struck in the playoffs. Granted, the injury came off a questionably-dirty hit by Jadeveon Clowney. Either way, Wentz needs to stay on the field in 2020.
No. 84: OG Shaq Mason, New England Patriots:
Mason has been a consistent cog in the New England offensive line for five seasons now. The two-time Super Bowl champion has yet to make a Pro Bowl, but the AFC has been loaded at guard for much of his career including three more members of the top 100.
With the retirement of Marshal Yanda, the fourth guard spot has opened up in the AFC, but with multi-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner coming to the conference, it will be a challenge for Mason or his honorably mentioned teammate Joe Thuney to crack the Pro Bowl roster.
No. 83: S Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills:
Hyde had yet another solid campaign for the Bills. Leading one of the best secondaries (and defenses as a whole), Hyde allowed zero touchdowns in coverage (per Pro-Football-Reference). The 2019 Bills were second in points allowed, third in yards allowed, and fourth in passing yards allowed.
Alongside honorable mention Jordan Poyer and a future inclusion, the Bills come into the 2020 season with a top-five secondary in the NFL. Hyde will turn 30 at the end of the season, but he should still be a good player for the next few seasons.
He should lead a Bills team that wins its division for the first time since realignment.
No. 82: CB Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers:
Hayward finished his fourth-consecutive solid season with the Chargers, earning a nod on PFF’s All-Pro second team. The former Packer swatted away eight passes and picked off a pair. In his eight seasons, no defensive back had a higher rate of forced incompletions than Hayward. Hayward has been stellar in Gus Bradley’s heavy Cover-3 scheme since 2017 with his quickness, propensity to play the football and consistency. There are a handful of better cornerbacks in the NFL, but Hayward is routinely underrated as a top-tier corner.
No. 81: DL Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears:
After three straight excellent seasons in Chicago, Hicks only played five games in 2019. He totaled 23 sacks, 38 tackles for loss, and 53 quarterback hits in those seasons. Of the nine players to match those stats between 2016-2018, only Ryan Kerrigan and Jadeveon Clowney rank lower than Hicks in the top 100. Hicks tumbles from his 2019 ranking of 12th due to injury but he should have a bounce-back campaign in 2020 with honorable mention Robert Quinn and a future inclusion on Chicago’s edges. Hicks will turn 31 during the season, but he should have another good season.