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NFL: Bringing Justice back to Player Rankings

Imagine the discussion among NFL Network executives some time around the end of the 2010-11 season… Executive #1: “The lockout is becoming inevitable, which will mean our already limited spectrum for programs and topics of discussion is going to become … Continue reading →

07 Jul 2011, 16:15 IST

Much has been made about the ranking of Ray Lewis, Ben Roethlisberger, and Greg Jennings.

Imagine the discussion among NFL Network executives some time around the end of the 2010-11 season…

Executive #1: The lockout is becoming inevitable, which will mean our already limited spectrum for programs and topics of discussion is going to become very scarce. We need something that will fill up hours of programming and keep people interested about the very league that our network revolves around. Any ideas?

Executive #2: “We could start a reality game show in which Antonio Cromartie’s 9 kids will compete every week for attention and fatherly love from their dad. Every week Antonio will hand out child support to each kid in an elimination ceremony, and which ever kid doesn’t receive child support on a given week will be eliminated. At the end of the competition, the last kid remaining will become the only kid that Antonio has to pay child support for. Part of the revenue we generate will go to the mother’s of the eliminated children. Antonio will have fewer kids to worry about. The single mothers will get money to raise their children. And we will get good publicity for helping them out, and 8 hour-long episodes, plus re-runs, to fill our programming. Everybody wins.”

Executive #1: “No, no, no. We need something that will involve Warren Sapp because his analysis, on-set presence, and witty remarks are all can’t-miss TV.”

Executive #2 “Well we could have Warren be Antonio’s right hand man on show, like Big Rick was for Flava Flav on “Flavor of Love.”

Executive #3: “I got it! A countdown of the best 100 players in the NFL. We will hand out ballots to players around the league, and give them no definite and concise criteria for the voting, just say, “Rank the best 100 players in the NFL.” Then we will air hour-long shows that reveal 10 players at a time. Then we reveal those ten players, featuring who you know who… that’s right, Warren Sapp! During this reaction show we will call up NFL players and ask them how they feel about their ranking. They will say, “I am just happy to be on list,” or “I am just trying work hard to become number one.” After the ten players are revealed and the reaction show airs, we will replay these hour-long shows and every older version of these shows throughout the week. This way we will fill hours and hours of programming, and get publicity from other networks and players despite the lockout because they will complain about and criticize the rankings.”

Executive #1: “I love it, especially the part about Warren Sapp and filling up programming specials.”

Ok, that probably seemed harsh (and extremely insensitive towards Cromartie’s poor kids), but I don’t like it when misguided executives screw up a great idea like this with careless planning. I usually love countdowns like these because they are always bound to spark discussion. But a great idea was quickly turned into a borderline joke because players were not given a definite criteria on which to base their votes.

During one of their reaction show, Lindsey Soto, the show’s host, even admitted that there was no criteria for the voting. To this, Marshall Faulk said that having no criteria was a problem. So I’m glad we got that cleared up.

The NFL Network should have specified how strongly players should have considered factors like career achievements, season to season consistency, post-season experience and success, and their performance last season.

If season to season consistency and career achievements were supposed to be strongly considered, then there is no way that Arian Foster should be five sports higher than Maurice Jones Drew. On the flip side, if last season’s performance was supposed to be strongly considered, then Donovan McNabb should not be ranked 200, let alone 100. If post season experience and success was supposed to be a factor, then Ben Roethlisberger, should be closer to 11 than 41, and much higher than quarterback counterparts, Phillip Rivers and Michael Vick. I could go on and on about the illogical reasoning behind the ranking of players on their list.

The network isn’t the only party to blame though. The players basically turned this into a popularity contest by voting for players with the best reputations. This was exemplified with Ray Lewis, who will go down as one of the best defensive players ever but is in the tail-end of his career, being ranked 4th overall. Ten years ago, this ranking would be totally justified. But not in 2010, when, as a middle linebacker, Ray Lewis didn’t even rank in the top 5 in tackles, and has lost a step or two. Maybe he has the 4th best reputation or resume in the league, but he isn’t the 4th best player.

Well if you have such a big problem with their list, why don’t you make a better one? I will.

I am not going to make list that ranks all NFL players against one another because trying to compare a 5’10 running back to a 6’7 offensive tackle is simply apples to oranges. So instead, I am going to start a “Top 10 Series” that ranks each the top 10 players at each position. This way, I am comparing apples to apples by comparing players of the same position like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.

I know other websites like ESPN have already done the very same thing, but I am in the same struggle for NFL material to discuss and cover as they are, so I will put my two cents in anyways.

Unlike ESPN and the NFL Network’s rankings, my lists will have clearly-defined criteria for my rankings. List below is a run-down of what I will take into consideration.

What will be strongly considered?

  • 2010-11 Season Performance In the “What have you done for me lately” league, players will be predominantly judged on what they have done for their teams lately.
  • Talent Pretty self-explanatory. However, ability is not only measured with player’s 40 times and highlight reel plays. Awareness, ability to perform in the crunch time, and heart also make up the measure of a player’s talent.

What will be less strongly considered?

  • Post-season experience and performance. A player like Ben Roethlisberger gets an edge over quarterbacks Phillip Rivers and Michael Vick because he has proven that he can lead a team to a Super Bowl. This will be not be considered as strongly for positions like cornerback and tight end because they do have less profound of an impact on their team’s playoff performance.
  • Consistency over the last 3 years of play. Obviously Adrian Peterson’s consistent production will be valued more than Adrian Foster’s one season of production. This isn’t to say that Foster won’t have another season like that, but unlike with Peterson, we don’t know if Foster is able to have consecutive great seasons.
  • How good he makes the players around him look. This pertains more to positions like quarterback and middle linebacker (the quarterback of the defense). Great players often not only do their specific job, but also bail a teammate out, who isn’t as capable of doing his job. For instance, Larry Fitzgerald made Cardinal quarterbacks look good last season by making extraordinary adjustments on and catching many off-the-mark passes.
  • Versatility A perfect example of this is at the wide receiver position. Players like Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne, who can do everything from catch a 8 yard in route on 3rd and 7 to burn the cornerback for a 60 yard touchdown early in the first quarter, have an edge over players like Deshawn Jackson and Mike Wallace who generally just make plays by burning the defense with a go-route.

What will be moderately considered?

  • Durability If a great player cannot stay on the field, then he is about as useful as the ball boy. Players who have had one time injuries (like Tom Brady’s 2008 torn ACL), and haven’t missed any other time will not be affected. A player who rarely ever plays all 16 games in season, like Frank Gore and Bob Sanders, stock will take a hit because you have to be on the field to make a difference.
  • Intangibles Just like some employees in an cooperate office have more leadership abilities and alpha dog approach than some of their co-workers, and vice versa, there are athletes in all team sports that either show strong or no leadership abilities. Some NFL players demonstrate leadership vocally (like Ray Lewis) while other do it through their relentless work ethic (like Peyton Manning). Either way, players who are the leader, or “heart and soul of their team” will have an edge, because those qualities are rare and not every players posses them.
  • Experience This will really only be considered when two players are at a deadlock. So hypothetically, if I were stuck whether to rank higher, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, I would side with Manning because even though Rodgers’ stock is higher after his Super Bowl victory, Manning has overcame more hurdles during his longer career and thus is more experienced.
  • Probable incline/decline in player’s career. Just like the other categories in this section, this will only be used if two players are deadlocked. Age and potential could be a factor in the ranking of the young player who is bound to improve like Ndamukong Suh. An inevitable decline due to old age could also be factored in for a player like Ladainian Tomlinson. You’re probably thinking, “Wait, you just said that experience will help an older player like Ladainian Tomlinson. Well, if came down to that, then declining production caused by old age would take precedent over experience. Why? Because if the 49ers signed Jerry Rice to a one year contract tomorrow, even though he would have more experience than anyone on the field, he wouldn’t be able to produce and keep up at 48 years old.

What probably won’t be considered?

  • Player’s attitude and off the field behavior. This more than likely won’t be factored into any decisions for these rankings, but I wanted to point out that part of being a pro football player is not only helping the team on the field, but also putting aside personal agendas and complying with common goal of team (winning), and not being a distraction off the field.
  • Number of Pro Bowls Obviously almost all of the players that you find in my rankings have made at least one Pro Bowl roster. With that said, it isn’t an important aspect for me, mostly because players resent playing it in the first place, and often times two or three players at one position will opt out of it. So for instance, if three quarterbacks in the AFC opt out of it, that means that the sixth best quarterback in the AFC will get to add Pro Bowl to his resume, not because he deserved it, but because players better than him didn’t want to go.

What won’t be considered?

  • The size of the market that the player plays in. This shouldn’t have to be said, but I am not going to pick Mark Sanchez just because he has to deal with the pressures of the New York media. On the flip side, I won’t discriminate against a quarterback like Matt Cassel because he plays in a small market and different time zone.
  • Popularity and Reputation. Player’s jersey sales, twitter followers, and reputations amongst fans and help players for these rankings. As I mentioned before, I thought that players’ reputations was factored into the NFL Network’s rankings far too much. Because the players had to rank a lot guys whom they have never played with or against, they had to rely on that players’ reputation.

When forming these rankings, the definitive question that I will ask is “What 10 players at a given position would I want on my team next season if I desperately needed to win a Super Bowl.” The qualities listed above are what was evaluated and factored into the answers for that question.

When judging my rankings, and which players I have higher than others, it is important to remember that most of these players are extremely close in terms of talent, and most of my decisions are a matter of personal preference. For instance, two players like Deshawn Jackson and Brandon Marshall, are both extremely talented, but one is a 5’10 vertical threat and the other is a physical, 6’3 Terrell Owens 2.0. It is arguably a dead heat in terms of talent, but I may prefer one type of receiver over the other, and rank him higher. It doesn’t mean that the receiver whose skill-set I value more is without a doubt a better receiver; it just means that I prefer his skill set.

Just to give you schedule for how this will go down, over the next couple of weeks I will present the rankings for the following positions (in the order that I will present them):

  • Running Backs
  • Middle Linebackers
  • Offensive Linemen
  • Defensive Ends
  • Tight Ends
  • Defensive Tackles
  • Wide Receivers
  • Cornerbacks
  • Outside Linebackers
  • Quarterbacks

Get your media guides and pre-season publications out because, lockout or not, we’re talking football.

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