PFN Top 100 NFL Players of 2020: 50 through 26
Commentary provided by PFN NFL Betting Analyst James Aguirre. Follow him on Twitter @James_AG1.
50) Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys
Tyron Smith is a two-time All-Pro and arguably the best player on what has been considered one of the top offensive lines in the league for the past several years. PFN NFL Draft analyst Matt Valdovinos has him ranked as the 3rd best offensive tackle in the league. He’s a tremendous athlete for his size, and when he is on the field there isn’t a pass rusher in the league he can’t stone wall.
He has missed three games per season since 2016. While people point to the absence of Ezekiel Elliott as the reason for Dak Prescott’s rare struggles, they should actually be mentioning how Smith’s absence is detrimental to the Cowboys. Games missed is the only reason Smith isn’t higher on this list.
49) Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
Darius Leonard has had as impressive a start as possible to his football career. As a second-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Leonard earned first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie, leading the league in tackles and being one of the leaders of a defense that ranked 10th in Football Outsiders DVOA and 13th in yards per play allowed at 5.5.
With back to back seasons of over 100 tackles and an All-Pro selection already on his resume, Leonard has one of the brightest futures among the young defensive stars in this league.
48) Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
It’s a little ironic that Dak Prescott and Smith are so close in the rankings considering what was pointed out about Prescott’s success in Smith’s write up above. That said, the Cowboys have not known a losing season since Prescott took over in 2016. Wins are not necessarily a quarterback stat, but quarterbacks do matter the most when it comes to winning games.
In 2019, Prescott was 2nd in passing yards, 4th in passings touchdowns, and 6th in yards per attempt. He also produced impressive numbers in his NextGen passing stats as well. Prescott was 5th in intended air yards per attempt (how far the ball traveled before it reached the receiver), 3rd in completed air yards, and completed 2.5% more of his passes than his expected completion percentage suggests he should’ve completed.
Prescott also finished the 2019 season as QB5 in PFN’s Offensive Share Metric.
47) Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers
Like Leonard, Derwin James earned All-Pro honors as a rookie with the Chargers. The 17th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft allowed the 9th fewest yards per target amongst defensive backs according to Pro Football Reference advanced stats. He also ranked 6th in combined tackles, 8th in solo tackles, and 2nd in pressures amongst DB’s.
James played just five games in 2019. Without him, the Chargers pass defense went from the 10th ranked unit in DVOA in 2018 to the 20th ranked unit in 2019. His impact on the field was sorely missed and will be a welcome addition to the Chargers’ 2020 squad.
46) Brandon Brooks, OG, Philadelphia Eagles
PFN Draff analyst Matt Valdovinos ranks Brandon Brooks as the 3rd best interior offensive lineman in the league. Some would even say that’s too low. Brooks has been as consistent as they come, missing just two games during his time with Philadelphia, six overall since his 2013 sophomore year.
According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 2nd in runs to the middle/guard, 14th in adjusted line yards, and 11th in adjusted sack rate. A steady force like Brooks is hard to come by. The Eagles will sorely miss him in 2020.
45) Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons
Grady Jarrett was one of the steals of the 2015 draft, falling all the way to the 5th round because of his size, as Valdovinos points out in his top-20 interior defensive linemen rankings.
Jarrett has been one of the most dominant interior pass rushers in the league the past two seasons, producing 13.5 sacks and 54 pressures. He produced the 6th most pressures in 2019 amongst interior defensive lineman.
44) J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
The five-time All-Pro’s 2019 season was cut short due to injury, but J.J. Watt still proved he was near the top of his game. His 24 pressures extrapolated to a full season (48) would’ve landed him inside the top 10 in the league. He had the same amount of QB knockdowns (12) as Nick Bosa as well two more than Jadeveon Clowney, despite playing just half the season.
Watt proved he could still play at a high level in his 9th season. The only question is if he can make a full recovery and continue to be a force in 2020.
43) Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
If it weren’t for Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox would be the top interior defensive lineman in the league. Cox has missed just two games for the Eagles since 2016, helping them rank no worse than 6th in Football Outsiders adjusted line yards in that time frame. Cox earned AP first-team All-Pro honors in 2018 as well. Here’s what Matt Valdovinos has to say regarding what Cox puts on tape:
What can really be said about how good Fletcher Cox is? He’s been at the top of the league since he first put on an Eagles jersey. He’s an outstanding athlete who is simply devastating as a pass-rusher. Cox can win at any alignment with an elite blend of speed, power, leverage, and hand usage. He wrecks gameplans consistently.
42) Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Kansas City Chiefs
I’m not sure why Tyrann Mathieu has been on three teams in three years, but the Chiefs aren’t complaining. The 69th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft earned his second AP first-team All-Pro selection in 2019, aiding the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl victory under Andy Reid.
Mathieu helped improve the defense from the 26th ranked unit in DVOA to the 14th, including a jump from the 12th ranked pass defense to the 6th. The Chiefs also went from 24th in yards per play allowed (5.9) in 2018 to 16th (5.4) in 2019.
His 56.5% completion allowed was 11th amongst safeties, while his 5.1 yards per target was 5th amongst safeties, 9th lowest allowed in the league. I’d say the Chiefs are happy with their acquisition.
41) Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Minkah Fitzpatrick’s advanced cover metrics won’t wow you by any means. According to Pro Football Reference’s advanced defensive stats, he gave up the 9th most yards per completion (14.9) and 12th most yards per target (9.3) amongst safeties in the league. Where he made his impact felt in 2019 were the turnovers he created. Fitzpatrick had the 2nd most interceptions of any defender (5), three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, two defensive touchdowns, and a partridge in a pear tree.
His playmaking ability earned him AP first-team All-Pro honors in just his second season. The young defensive star should only continue to improve under Mike Tomlin.
40) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
In this day and age where running backs are considered mostly replaceable, Ezekiel Elliott did enough at Ohio State to convince the Cowboys to select him with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. And to be fair to Elliott, his production hasn’t disappointed.
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Elliott led the league in rushing in 2016 and 2018, while also leading the league in yards per game from 2016-2018. While it can be argued his production is largely replaceable, the fact simply is that he has been very productive since joining the league in 2016.
39) Lane Johnson, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Lane Johnson, the 4th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has certainly lived up to his billing. Aside from 2016, he has missed just 10 games in six seasons, earning an AP first-team All-Pro selection during the Eagles Super Bowl run in 2017.
PFN’s Matt Valdovinos has him ranked as the 5th best offensive tackle in the game. Here is what Matt has to say about the seven-year pro.
Lane Johnson went from being the third tackle taken in his draft class to one of the top tackles in the NFL. Johnson was a special athlete coming out of Oklahoma, but many thought he was raw and would need time to develop. Johnson had a quality rookie campaign but really stood out in his sophomore year.
Since then, Johnson has continued to refine his technique as he utilizes his impressive physical tools. Johnson has become a wall in pass protection and a key component of the Philadelphia run game.
38) Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
If it weren’t for Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz might be considered the best receiving TE in the league the past few seasons. Ertz ranked 12th overall in targets in 2019 (2nd amongst TE’s) while earning the 6th most targets in 2018 (1st amongst TEs). His drop% is actually lower than Kelce’s as well over the past two seasons (3.2 and 3.7 for Ertz compared to 4.7 and 5.9 for Kelce).
Ertz has been Carson Wentz’s most consistent target throughout his career, and that could very well continue in 2020.
37) Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill is one of those players defenses need to be aware of every time he is on the field. His game-changing speed is a critical reason for the Chiefs passing attack being so potent the past four seasons. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, his 3.2 yards of separation when the football reaches his hands was top-10 in the NFL in 2019.
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In just four seasons, Hill already has two AP first-team All-Pro selections under his belt, one of which came in 2018 when he led the league in yards per touch with 15. Hill’s uniqueness is what separates him from the pack of NFL wide receivers.
36) Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
Davante Adams was selected in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft. It took a couple of seasons, but Adams has developed into Aaron Rodgers’ top target, leading the Packers in target share since 2017. His 28% and 29% marks in 2018 and 2019 respectively were both top-3 in the league.
Adams is one of the most nuanced route runners in the NFL and a threat to lead the league in receiving yards or touchdowns in a given season. Adams finished 2nd in 2017 and 2018 in receiving touchdowns amongst receivers. It’s totally reasonable to say Adams is the best WR in the league.
35) Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers was long considered the best quarterback talent in the game during his prime. While he is no longer among the elite QBs in the league, Rodgers has shown he still has plenty of winning football in him.
In his first season with Matt LeFleur, Rodgers was 8th in intended air yards per throw (8.9), threw for just over 4,000 yards, and had a fantastic TD/INT ratio of 26/4. The Packers also won 13 games and reached the NFC title game. Despite being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Rodgers has a lot to prove after the Packers selected Jordan Love with their 1st round pick in the most recent NFL Draft.
34. Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
After posting seven sacks as a rookie in 2017, Myles Garrett had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2018. He registered 13.5 sacks and 48 pressures, both ranking 6th in the NFL. Despite a suspension shortened 2019 season, Garrett’s 2.9 pressures per game would’ve put him on pace for right around 48 pressures, matching his 2018 total. He also posted a robust 10 sacks in just 10 games, an obviously ridiculous pace.
While no one player is responsible for a team’s overall metrics, the Browns went from the 7th ranked defense in passing success rate (via Sharp Football stats) from Weeks 1-11 to the 26th ranked unit in Weeks 12-17. Garrett belongs in the conversation of elite pass rushers in the league, and should only continue to improve.
33) Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Godwin exploded on the scene in 2019, posting 86 receptions, 1,333 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns in 14 games while also finishing as the WR7 in PFN’s Offensive Share Metric. He was 4th in the league in yards per target (11.0) and 2nd in yards per game (95.2). His 71% catch rate amidst a 10.4 average depth of target was higher than even DeAndre Hopkins.
The addition of Tom Brady will probably lead to a down-tick in Godwin’s overall numbers, but he and Evans form by far the best WR duo in the league. Both should make Brady look good in 2020.
32) Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
When people talk about the Cowboys offensive line, the first name that comes up is often Zack Martin. It is not without good reason. The four-time first-team All-Pro has missed just two games in his six-year Cowboys career. The Cowboys have long been considered the best offensive line in the league, and Martin is the prime reason for that. PFN’s Matt Valdovinos sums up Martin’s placing in the league perfectly:
Martin has been the best guard in the NFL for the past five years. While he’s not the physical specimen Nelson is, he has the best hands and feet in the league, and his ability to leverage his body is elite. People take Martin’s excellence for granted simply because he has been doing it for years.
31) Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota Vikings
Danielle Hunter burst on the scene in his sophomore season, posting 12.5 sacks as a pass-rush specialist for the Vikings. After a season of getting acclimated to a full-time starter, Hunter has registered back-to-back 14.5 sack seasons, good for the 4th most in each season. He ranked 16th in the NFL in pressures with 38 in 2018 and followed that up with another 36 in 2019, good for 13th most in the league.
After releasing Everson Griffin, the Vikings will be looking to Hunter as their top pass rusher in 2020. If the past two seasons are any indication, Hunter will be up to the task.
30) Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
While getting a bit long in the tooth, Drew Brees has still kept his spot amongst the game’s elite QBs. The Saints don’t ask Brees to challenge teams downfield much, as his 6.7 and 7.1 intended air yards per throw (how far the ball travels before it reaches the target) respectively in 2018 and 2019 rank near the bottom of the league the past two seasons. However, he has been remarkably accurate, even for a short-range thrower. He finished 1st in completion percentage above expectation in 2018 (+6.9) and 2nd in 2019 (+6.3) en route to finishing as 2019’s QB6 in PFN’s Offensive Share Metric.
But as we all know, above all else, QBs are judged by wins. Brees is not lacking in that department either, finishing 8-3 in 2019 and 13-2 the previous year. I’m not sure how much longer we will have Brees for, but let’s just enjoy arguably the most accurate quarterback to ever play the game while he is still playing.
29) Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
The Giants selection of Saquon Barkley with the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft sparked a lot of discussion regarding positional value and draft strategy in the NFL. While running back is by and large considered the most replaceable position on offense, there’s no denying Barkley’s athletic prowess. That elite athleticism has translated to immediate results on the field.
As a rookie, Barkley led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,028, while earning 121 targets and 261 carries. Despite missing three games in 2019, Barkley was still 11th in receiving yards amongst RBs (438) and 8th in targets (73). Both figures were right above Ezekiel Elliott. He reached 21.87 miles per hour on his 67-yard rushing touchdown in Week 17, faster than even Kansas City Chiefs rookie speedster Mecole Hardman. While Christian McCaffrey is by and large considered the best back in the league, Barkley would be my pick. At the very least, it’s a razor-thin margin between the two.
28) Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Von Miller has been the model of consistency during his career in Denver. The three-time AP first-team All-Pro has missed just one game since the 2014 season. Up until last year, Miller had recorded double-digit sacks every season since 2013, where he played just nine games.
Despite only posting eight sacks, Miller ranked 12th in pressures in 2019 with 37. Oddly enough, that was two more than he recorded in 2018 when he posted 14.5 sacks. I have no doubt the sack total will spike again for Miller, as he has shown no signs of slowing down.
27) Ryan Ramczyk, OT, New Orleans Saints
While Zack Martin has been widely considered the best guard in the league, the best offensive tackle has been a little bit more of a debate. Some would put Ryan Ramczyk’s name at the top of the list, and they’d have a compelling argument in doing so.
Ramczyk earned his first AP first-team All-Pro selection in 2019. He has missed just one game in his three-year career with the Saints, playing 100%, 95%, and 99% of all snaps since 2017. As noted by PFN’s Matt Valdovinos, Ramczyk surrendered zero sacks in 2019, more than earning his All-Pro selection. His stellar pass blocking was a major contributor to the Saints offensive line ranking 3rd in Football Outsiders adjusted sack rate in 2018 and 2019.
Ramczyk has also shown prowess in the ground game. The Saints ranked 5th in adjusted line yards on runs behind the right tackle in 2018 and 7th in 2019. Ramczyk should continue to be a force on the edges during his time in the NFL.
26) Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
If it weren’t for an inordinate lack of touchdowns, Julio Jones might be considered far and away the best wide receiver in the league. During his stellar career, he has led the league once in receptions, twice in receiving yards and targets, and three times in receiving yards per game and yards per touch. He even led the league in yards from scrimmage in 2015 with 1,871.
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The two-time first-team All-Pro showed no signs of slowing down in 2019, ranking 6th in receptions, 2nd in targets, 2nd in receiving yards, 3rd in receiving yards per game, and 5th in target share. If you want to call Jones the best wide receiver in the NFL, I won’t argue with you. Ignore the most volatile stat of all stats (touchdowns), and he has as strong a case as any to hold that moniker.