Last week, NFL Network released their annual “Top 100 Players” list. This list is voted on by the players and gives us a look at what NFL players think about their peers. Like any sports list, it has been heavily debated over the last week with seemingly everyone having a different opinion. Here’s who the players had in their top 10.
Hard to argue with the players, although the order is a little questionable. I thought I’d give it a shot and make “Tenpenny’s Top 10”. This list will be my top players heading into 2020.
10. Michael Thomas, Saints WR (Players’ List: 5)
Thomas had a record breaking 2019, catching more passes in a single season than anyone ever has with 149. He also accumulated over 1,700 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Thomas is the best route runner in the NFL and has some of the surest hands. He catches anything thrown his way and has established himself as a top receiver.
While Thomas is certainly deserving, I have two wide receivers ranked ahead of him. Yes, Thomas is a reception machine but he is lacking in athleticism compared to other wide receivers. He doesn’t have elite speed or leaping ability that could potentially help bail quarterbacks out on poor throws/tight coverage. Luckily, Thomas has the most accurate quarterback in history throwing him the ball in Drew Brees which plays to Thomas’ strengths. I’m not trying to take anything away from Thomas, but he is in the perfect situation for his skillset and having the best stats does not always mean that you are the best at your position.
9. George Kittle, 49ers TE (Player’s List: 7)
This is probably going to enrage a lot of Chiefs fans because Travis Kelce is not in my top 10, but George Kittle is the best all-around tight end heading into 2020. There’s a reason Kittle was ranked PFF’s top player of 2019 and that’s because he does everything well. From blocking, to short routes, to deep routes, there is nothing Kittle can’t do.
There’s a tenacity that Kittle brings on every play. The 49ers offense cannot operate without Kittle. His ability to open up holes for running backs also opens up holes for him in the passing game. The receiving yards he has been able to put up the last two seasons with average, to below-average quarterback play is incredible (he holds the record for most receiving yards in a single-season by a tight end). Kittle turns 27 this season and is just getting warmed up as he enters his prime.
8. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals WR (Player’s List: 8)
The newly acquired Arizona Cardinal wide receiver is one of the most feared offensive weapons in the NFL and will be welcomed with open arms. The Clemson product is a lethal deep threat and might have the best hands in the NFL.
Hopkins had a “down year” by his standards in 2019 which equated to 104 receptions, 1,165 yards and 7 touchdowns. Not bad for a down season. Opposing defenses always have to pay extra attention to Hopkins, often opening the door for his teammates to make plays. Hopkins can take the top off of defenses but also runs efficient underneath routes. Hopkins is open even when he’s not open thanks to his athleticism. A quarterback’s dream.
7. Julio Jones, Falcons WR (Player’s List: 11)
The player’s heavily underrated Julio Jones by leaving him out of the top 10. Jones is the best wide receiver in the league and has been since 2014. Jones is an absolute freak. At 6’3 220, he can body up any defender and his 4.39 speed allows him to break away on any play.
Jones is entering his tenth season in the league and is still just as big of a threat as he was when he entered the league. Teams know what he can do and they still can’t slow him down. The only knock on Jones is he doesn’t always find the end zone as often as you would expect. He hasn’t reached double-digits touchdowns since 2012, his second season. Still, he has the track record and still has the tools to be the top receiver in the league.
6. Stephon Gilmore, Patriots CB (Player’s List: 9)
It’s a passing league, but Stephon Gilmore is doing everything he can to slow it down. The best corner had another remarkable 2019 leading the league in interceptions (6) and pass breakups (20). It’s amazing teams are still throwing his way. The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year is able to erase opposing teams top wide receivers and seemingly cut the field in half. I expect more of the same from him in 2020.
5. Christian McCaffery, Panthers RB (Player’s List: 6)
The best non-quarterback offensive weapon. McCaffery is a matchup headache. He’s a slot receiver playing running back, except he’s really good at running back too. With nearly 2,400 total yards and 19 touchdowns in 2019, it seems impossible to slow him down. Running backs are valued less and less every season, but McCaffery is the exception to the rule. When you’re an elite duel threat like McCaffery, there’s very few defenses that can slow him down. His ability to make defenders miss in the open field makes every play a potential touchdown play.
4. Lamar Jackson, Ravens QB (Player’s List: 1)
The reigning MVP was voted number one by the players and it’s hard to argue after the season Jackson had. He lead the league in passing touchdowns with 36 and also rushed for 1,200 yards. He was a walking highlight.
A thing that concerns me with Jackson is, can he do it again? This is always a concern when a young player has early success and it’s hard not to think that NFL defenses will catch on. I want to see Jackson do it again before I rank him ahead of the other two quarterbacks on my list. I want to see Jackson win a big game late in the season. I want to see Jackson win a game with his arm (his only game over 300 yards passing was week 1 against the Dolphins). Teams are going to start taking away the run and forcing Jackson to beat them with his arm. If he can do that in 2020, it will be easy to move him up on the list.
3. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB (Player’s List: 2)
Wilson is the first quarterback in NFL history to have a winning record in his first eight seasons in the league. He has been nothing but consistent and continues to be a top quarterback every year. His ability to turn nothing into something never ceases to amaze me. His touchdown throw to Tyler Lockett is one of the most incredible throws I have ever seen.
Wilson is a winner. He can beat you with his arm or he can beat you with his legs. He can beat you with his first stringers, second stringers or third stringers. Whatever Seattle trots out with Wilson, he’s going to do everything he can to beat you. You can easily make a case for him being the best quarterback in the NFL.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs QB (Player’s List: 4)
What!!!??? A Chiefs site that doesn’t have Mahomes at number one!!!???
Lower your pitchforks, I’ll explain. There is no player more valuable in the NFL than Patrick Mahomes. He should’ve been ranked the top QB in 2018, but I respected the prove it argument, same I made with Jackson. Then he proved it. Fought off injuries, was down double-digits in every playoff game and still won the Super Bowl. For the players to turn around and vote him the third best quarterback was completely outrageous.
There’s no question in my mind that the 500-million-dollar man is the best quarterback in the NFL. You are familiar with his accolades and skills. There’s not a single player more valuable than Mahomes. There is, however, a better football player.
1. Aaron Donald, Rams DT (Player’s List: 3)
Nobody in the NFL plays there position better than Aaron Donald. It’s just a fact. He’s looks like a man amongst boys every time he steps on the football field.
You could argue any of the three mentioned quarterbacks above as the best at their position and I would listen. You could even throw in Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and I still wouldn’t call you crazy for arguing either of them as the top quarterback. However, if you say any defensive lineman, actually make that any defensive player is better than Aaron Donald then we aren’t watching the same sport.
Donald’s combination of strength and speed make him impossible to block. He’s led the league in tackles for loss the last two seasons and has 33 sacks during that same time. Teams have to double and triple-team him just to try and slow him down. He has a permanent residency in opposing teams backfield and that isn’t changing anytime soon. Sure, no GM would take him over any of the three quarterbacks ranked behind him, but Donald is the best football player in the NFL.