Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was the Defensive Player of the Year three seasons ago. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2011. Now he's barely hanging on as a 'Top 100' player, according to votes compiled by NFL players.
The NFL is the ultimate year-to-year league, a fact we were reminded of during NFL Network's first episode of the "Top 100 Players of 2013" on Saturday. Polamalu cratered from No. 19 on last year's list to No. 91 this season. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew went from No. 12 all the way down to No. 98. The sad truth is that Polamalu and MJD still are probably ranked too high.
Consider some of the other players ranked from Nos. 91 to 100. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams don't have big names like Polamalu and MJD. But there's no doubt that any general manager or coach would prefer younger, in-prime talent over Polamalu and Jones-Drew.
The NFL often is about availability. Injuries sidelined Polamalu and Jones-Drew in 2012, and there is reason to doubt whether either player will ever reach their previous highs. Polamalu always relied on his outstanding speed and instincts to cover up his freelancing style. Now it's harder for him to recover when he takes a wrong step.
Jones-Drew has been one of the best running backs in the NFL for years, but he's reached a career crossroads. He's 28 years old, entering his final contract year and he's coming off a serious foot injury. Eleven running backs rank ahead of MJD on the list this year, and only one is older. The longtime Jaguar will need a big year to earn a top-level contract in 2014, but that's not usually how it works.
In the ultimate year-to-year league, it's a lot more likely that Polamalu and Jones-Drew fall off the list in 2014 entirely rather than climb back up.
Some other notes from the first show:
» The Baltimore Ravens' Dennis Pitta is a 'Top 100' player. Really? There's no way he's among the best tight ends in the NFL. This deserves another post.@greggrosenthal.