Splash’s Top 100 (2020): Players 80-71
Oct 13, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) celebrates with Washington Redskins offensive guard Brandon Scherff (75) after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
No. 80: Darren Waller, Tight End, Las Vegas Raiders:
The wide receiver-turned-tight end exploded for a massive campaign in 2019. After 18 catches in four seasons with the Ravens and Raiders, Waller caught 90 balls for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. Waller had five games with 100 yards, including a mammoth 134-yard performance against the Vikings. While the Raiders did go 0-5 in those games, Waller was a dynamic field stretcher who should be aided by Las Vegas triple-dipping on pass-catching threats in the draft. Waller should be the top passing option for the Raiders as they make their Las Vegas debut, and he should be on your fantasy radar when Travis Kelce and George Kittle are selected.
No. 79: Darius Slay, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles:
The 2017 All-Pro returned to the Pro Bowl in 2019. However, he will not be returning to the Lions as they dealt him to Philadelphia for a pair of picks in the 2020 draft. Slay wrapped up his Lions career with 19 interceptions and 104 pass deflections over seven seasons. At his best, he is a top-five cornerback in the league. At his worst, he is a reliable starter. The Philadelphia secondary has been a relatively weak spot over the last few seasons, and Slay should bring his presence to stabilize the unit. Slay’s lockdown ability and ball-hawking ability will bring new life to Philadelphia.
No. 78: Fred Warner, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers:
Highlighted in my article on breakout players, Warner’s second season might have been worthy of a Pro Bowl nod had he not been surrounded by the most talented defense in the NFL. In Year 3, Warner has a serious chance of being an All-Pro in the absence of Luke Kuechly. Warner is excellent in coverage, and he occasionally looks like a cornerback with his innate ability to break on the football and make impactful plays. In 2019, Warner combined for 10 interceptions and pass deflections while displaying enough versatility to record a trio of sacks.
No. 77: Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
After five solid seasons in Denver, Barrett popped in his first year with the Buccaneers. He had 14.0 sacks in the blue and orange before ransacking the league for a league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019. Barrett had 19 tackles for loss and 37 quarterback hits. The only players to match those stats in a season are J.J. Watt (twice) and Aaron Donald. Barrett was the only one of the group to not win Defensive Player of the Year during that season. Through four weeks, Barrett was on pace for 36 sacks. While he cooled off later in the season, he recorded at least a half-sack in eight of Tampa Bay’s final 10 games including four in two games against the Falcons.
No. 76: Joel Bitonio, Guard, Cleveland Browns:
The lone bright spot on Cleveland’s offensive line for the last couple of seasons (sorry, J.C. Tretter), Bitonio has cashed in with a pair of Pro Bowls in 2018 and 2019. Thankfully for his sake (and the sake of the offense), the Browns invested heavily in the offensive line, adding tackles Jedrick Wills in the draft and former All-Pro Jack Conklin in free agency. Only 28, Bitonio likely has more productive seasons in front of him, and he should continue to rack up the individual accolades as the Browns improve around him. Bitonio has made the last two All-Pro second teams, and he has made a pair of PFF All-Pro first teams. Cleveland, please do not waste his career as you did with Joe Thomas.
No. 75: Austin Ekeler, Running Back, Los Angeles Chargers:
While Melvin Gordon was going on his “I want money” media frenzy, Ekeler put up 1,550 yards from scrimmage, just 31 fewer than the newly-departed Gordon’s best season (on 118 fewer carries). His rushing efficiency dipped from its 5.3 yards-per-carry in his first two seasons, but his 2019 was still significantly more efficient than Gordon’s. Ekeler was inked to a four-year extension in March, and he should be in line to threaten 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in 2020. Ekeler finished ninth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, and his versatility could help the Chargers back into the playoffs.
No. 74: Adam Thielen, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings:
While his stats were down in 2019 due to injury, Thielen showed up in a massive way when it mattered in the playoffs, hauling in seven balls for 129 yards in an overtime win over the Saints. Owner of a pair of 1,200-yard seasons, the soon-to-be 30-year-old will be the unquestioned top option in the Minnesota passing attack as Stefon Diggs was traded in the off-season. Thielen will likely receive as many as 160 or 170 targets, and he is a threat for a 100-1,000-10 campaign in 2020.
No. 73: Orlando Brown Jr., Offensive Tackle, Baltimore Ravens:
From NFL Combine laughing stock to Pro Bowl right tackle, Brown has made a massive jump in reputation. Brown played every snap for the NFL’s best offense, paving the way for a legendary rushing attack. He effectively uses his 6-foot-8, 345-pound frame to eject defensive linemen, and his technique is efficient enough to cause only two accepted penalties all season. Brown’s incredible rise to one of the best right tackles in the game makes Baltimore’s future financial situation all the shakier as the Ravens now have two franchise-caliber tackles that need comically large sacks of money soon.
No. 72: Brandon Scherff, Interior Offensive Line, Washington Redskins:
The former fifth overall pick made his third Pro Bowl in 2019. After battling with injuries in 2018, Scherff played in 11 of 16 games for Washington, being on the field for 69 percent of their offensive plays. While his teammate and regular Pro Bowl selection Trent Williams is no longer employed by the Redskins, Scherff signed a one-year deal in April, so he will be around at least through next season. The line around him is in constant flux, but Scherff could be a stabilizing influence for the passing offense through Dwayne Haskins and the rushing offense through Adrian Peterson.
No. 71: Anthony Harris, Safety, Minnesota Vikings:
The five-year veteran and former undrafted free agent had a breakout 2019 season. He tied for the NFL-lead in interceptions with six while swatting 11 passes as a free safety. Swapping roles with Harrison Smith seemed to unlock an extra gear for the former Virginia Cavalier. While he was passed over for a Pro Bowl nod, Pro Football Focus noted Harris as a member of the All-Pro first team. Harris turned 29 earlier in June, so his prime may be on the shorter end, but 2019 should be a productive campaign for Harris.