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Ranking the NFL Network's top 10 players of 2013

The NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2013" concludes Thursday night with the announcement of the top 10 players. We don't know the order of the players yet, but NFL Network did announce their identities on Monday.

In alphabetical order, here goes: Tom Brady, Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, and Patrick Willis.

At this stage of the show, there are no huge surprises left. It would have been stunning if any of these players were left off the list entirely. (Although you could make an argument that ignored tight end Jimmy Graham belongs ahead of a few players left on the list.) 

Ian Rapoport did a nice job breaking down how each of the top 10 players got on the list, avoiding any opinion about which player belonged on top. I won't be so diplomatic. We won't know the official order until the NFL Network's back-to-back shows air Thursday, starting at 8 p.m. ET, but here's how my top 10 would look, given the remaining players.

10. Arian Foster, Houston Texans: He's still a great workhorse back in a league without many of them, but you could make the argument that Foster isn't even one of the five most dynamic players at his position.

9. Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers: He's one of the scariest pass rushers in the league, with plenty of help from Justin Smith. But making the top 10 feels a little premature.

8. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers: Like a defensive Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, Willis' physical skills might already be slightly declining. (Check out Matt Ryan's comments about Willis' pass coverage skills.) Also, like Brady and Manning, Willis wins many downs before the snap.

7. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: Rapoport made a great point Monday on NFL Network's "NFL AM," saying Manning's return was somewhat taken for granted. A year ago, we weren't even sure he'd ever be able to play a full season or look like "Peyton Manning" again. His arm might not be what it once was, but Manning never won with arm strength, anyway.

6. Von Miller, Denver Broncos: I was tempted to rank him even higher. He's already the best pure pass rusher in the league and a complete player who also disrupts the running game.

5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: His play in the first half of last season rivaled any stretch of his career. Brady's famous pocket presence has eroded somewhat over the years, but in most ways Brady is a better player now than when he was winning Super Bowls.

4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: It says a lot about the era we're living in that Megatron only ranks fourth on my list. He's a virtually unguardable wide receiver at the very top of his game, coming off a 1,964-yard season. Johnson has improved his timing and route running, which goes along nicely with his otherworldly athleticism.

3. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Watt might have enjoyed the most dominant defensive season of any player in NFL history. The crazy part: It's not that crazy a notion. I can't wait to see what Watt does for an encore. Like a lot of transcendent players, he's changed the way we view his position.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: This list isn't about what player had the best 2012 season. It's about what player is the best.

Rodgers is still the guy I'd take for one game, one season, one career. He's the most talented at the most important position. I thought about ranking him first, which is where he finished last year.

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: It's nice to know when you are watching historic greatness.

Enjoy Peterson's prime while you can.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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