Splash’s Top 100 (2021): Players 100-91

Splash's top 100 (2021): Players 100-91

It’s time to identify the 100 best players in football, beginning with Nos. 100 through 91. The series started with 21 players who will be in the 2022 version of this list.

No.100: Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Before playing the last eight games of the 2020 season, Brown had played just one of 25 games since Week 16 of the 2018 season. Despite missing significant time (and being the WR3 for the Buccaneers), Brown had a strong second half of the 2020 season. 45 catches, 483 yards, and four touchdowns is far from elite production, but when you factor in that Brown played 80% of snaps in just one of those games, the extrapolated stats begin to approach Brown’s legendary production in Pittsburgh. Brown deserved every bit of his 86.0 PFF receiving grade in 2020, even better than his 2018 season with the Steelers (79.0).

No.99: James Bradberry, Cornerback, New York Giants

Bradberry took a sizable leap in 2020, earning his first Pro Bowl nod. Across 15 games with the Giants, Bradberry earned a career-high 79.8 PFF grade with a 79.9 coverage grade. Before 2020, his previous career-highs were 69.5 and 70.2 respectively. He tacked on three interceptions and 18 pass deflections, tying for second in the NFL. Per PFF, Bradberry forced a league-leading 17 incompletions and allowed a passer rating of just 70.1. Perhaps the most incredible anecdote of Bradberry’s season was that he was fifth in total coverage snaps, and he had the highest forced incompletion rate of any corner with 200 coverage snaps.

No.98: J.C. Jackson, Cornerback, New England Patriots

Among cornerbacks to have 400 snaps in coverage, Jackson ranked third in passer rating allowed, just behind Xavien Howard and Darious Williams (Bradberry was fifth). Despite notorious levels of inconsistency at the position, Jackson has now had a coverage grade in the 70s in all three of his seasons, and 2020 was Jackson’s third consecutive season with a passer rating in the 60s or lower. He was not quite as statistically dominant as he was in 2019 (with an otherworldly 35.9 passer rating allowed), but Jackson did haul in nine interceptions. In addition to the nine interceptions, Jackson added five pass breakups. His 14 total passes defended was tied for eighth while his interceptions were second to Howard.

No.97: D.J. Moore, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers

Over the last two seasons, 18 players have combined for 20 seasons with 1,175 or more receiving yards. The only players to do it twice are Travis Kelce and Moore. Kelce gets to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes. Moore has had to catch passes from a bevy of quarterbacks ranging from below-average to downright horrendous. Five players have attempted 50 passes for the Panthers over the last two seasons. Moore has a higher passer rating (39.6) than one of them (33.2, Will Grier). The second quarterback ranked 48th out of 48 quarterbacks with 50 attempts in 2020 (Phillip Walker). The top three are no longer employed by the Panthers (Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, and Teddy Bridgewater). Carolina ranks 30th in team passer rating since 2019, and their 2021 starter started 25 games for the 31st-ranked team. Ouch.

No.96: Marcus Maye, Safety, New York Jets

With Jamal Adams out of town, Maye assumed the role of superstar safety for the Jets, and he took it in perfect stride, even earning a higher PFF grade in 2020 than Adams. Only Bobby Wagner played more snaps than Maye’s total of 1,137, and he parlayed his every-down consistency into an 82.9 overall PFF grade. That 82.9 grade ranked fourth among safeties with at least 200 snaps in 2020. Maye had a well-rounded season, earning a grade no worse than 64.7 in run defense, tackling, pass-rushing, and coverage. After Week 5, only Adrian Amos beat out Maye’s 89.3 grade. Statistically, Maye had a pair of interceptions, defending a total of 11 passes. He also forced a pair of fumbles and had two sacks.

No.95: Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns

Now a two-time All-Pro, Conklin bulldozed his way to his best season as a pro in 2020. His overall 84.0 grade was the highest of his career, bolstered by a career-high 81.5 pass-blocking grade. He added a 78.8 run-blocking grade. Conklin also ranked fifth in pass-block win rate among tackles. He was a model of consistency for the Browns offense as he had a 60.0 PFF grade or higher in 16 of 17 games. He earned elite run-blocking grades (90.0 or higher) in three games including the Pittsburgh playoff game. Conklin should be a long-term stalwart at right tackle for the Browns.

No.94: Marcus Peters, Cornerback, Baltimore Ravens

While Peters was not quite as good as he was in 2019, he did had a dynamic statistical profile. Peters had four interceptions and four forced fumbles, ranking in the top 10 in both. He had nine total passes defended, adding a 10th against the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs. Peters earned a 72.1 grade in coverage, twice breaking 90.0. Peters racked up four games with a PFF grade above 85.0. The two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler should be right back in that conversation entering his age-28 season with the Ravens.

No.93: Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Cleveland Browns

Ward has rattled off three strong seasons even if he has yet to play a full season. Ward ranked second with 18 pass deflections despite missing four games in 2020. The 2018 Pro Bowler earned a 74.6 coverage grade in the regular season, ranking 10th in cornerback coverage grade until his injury (minimum of 100 snaps). Health is always a question, but Ward has earned grades of 78.9, 69.9, and 70.5 in his three seasons, posting coverage grades in the 70s in each season. 12 games of borderline cornerback play is incredibly valuable in the modern NFL.

No.92: Tom Brady, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After trending downward in 2018 and 2019, Brady flashed back to MVP-caliber Brady for stretches in 2020. There were enough hiccups (and surrounding star power) to keep Brady from going higher than No.92, but the future Hall of Famer had his most passing touchdowns since 2007, highest QBR since 2016, and best PFF grade since 2017. It was perhaps the most unique Brady season as he set a career-high in big-time throw percentage (7.1%) and had the highest average depth of target of his career. After returning from the bye week, Brady posted a 94.1 PFF grade in Tampa Bay’s eight-game winning streak.

No.91: Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys

Cooper surpassed 1,000 yards for the fifth time in six seasons. Since being drafted, Cooper is one of four receivers to have five 1,000-yard, five-touchdown seasons, joining Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans, and DeAndre Hopkins. Coopers seems to have solved his biggest problem in the NFL: drops. Cooper dropped just three of 128 total targets, 3.2%. It was the first time in his career he had a drop rate below 5.5%. He also made the most of his contested catch opportunities, hauling in nine of 15 attempts. With more consistent quarterback play from Dak Prescott in 2021 (as opposed to the likes of Andy Dalton), Cooper should post his first career 1,200-yard season.

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Main Image Credit:  Embed from Getty Images

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