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My Top 100: Aaron Rodgers remains cream of NFL crop

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When it comes to NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2016," there's plenty of room for argument. So as the list is unveiled, NFL Media's Gregg Rosenthal, Chris Wesseling, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ike Taylor will be sharing their own takes on the top 100 for 2016, identifying who they think are the league's best heading into next season.

"The Top 100 Players of 2016" will conclude on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. The conversation will continue on the "Top 100 Players Reactions" show, airing immediately after at 10 p.m. ET.

» No. 1: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
» No. 2: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
» No. 3: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
» No. 4: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
» No. 5: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
» No. 6: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
» No. 7: Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
» No. 8: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
» No. 9: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
» No. 10: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers

Aaron Rodgers has been the NFL's best player for more than a half-decade, ever since his magical 2010-2011 Super Bowl run. It's a shame his surrounding talent disintegrated throughout last season because he was beginning to envision possibilities and interrogate limits that other quarterbacks don't possess the creativity to explore. Tom Brady was well on his way to his third MVP award -- leading the NFL's juggernaut offense -- when attrition hit his offensive line, backfield and receiving corps in November. His late-career excellence is what separates him from Joe Montana in GOAT debates. Cam Newton owned the 2015 regular season. If he repeats that dominance this year, he'll bypass Brady and Rodgers.

J.J. Watt has a chance to vault past Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White as the greatest defensive force the game has ever known. Aaron Donald played at Watt's level in 2015 after taking home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. Von Miller's performance in the two most important games of the season was as impressive as any we have ever witnessed, effectively overshadowing a similarly sterling postseason run from Luke Kuechly. Rob Gronkowski has rewritten the early-career expectations for tight ends, as Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson respectively did for quarterbacks and running backs in the 1980s. Gronk broke the mold. Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are the most consistently unstoppable offensive weapons in football.

» No. 11: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
» No. 12: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
» No. 13: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
» No. 14: Khalil Mack, OLB/LB, Oakland Raiders
» No. 15: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
» No. 16: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
» No. 17: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
» No. 18: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
» No. 19: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
» No. 20: Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Russell Wilson and Cam Newton were the best players in the league during the second half of the 2015 season. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady looking down the barrel of age 40, it feels like Wilson and Newton are leading a changing of the quarterback guard. Odell Beckham Jr. rivals Randy Moss and Don Hutson for the most impressive start to a career by a wide receiver in NFL history. Since making his pro debut in Week 5 of 2014, Beckham has 25 receiving touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski is the only other player with at least 20 receiving scores over that span.

Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman are the cream of the current cornerback crop. Geno Atkins has been a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate in two of the past four seasons. Khalil Mack pulled off a convincing Von Miller impression for the majority of the 2015 regular season.

If Adrian Peterson is still the game's most dynamic runner in his early 30s, Le'Veon Bell is a more complete running back. Bell must stay healthy to crack the top 10 this season. DeAndre Hopkins might have bypassed Jordy Nelson as the NFL's best boundary receiver, routinely pulling off acrobatic catches at the sideline and in the corner of the end zone. Dez Bryant led the league in combined receiving touchdowns from 2012 through 2014. He gets a pass for battling through a painful foot injury last year.

» No. 21: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
» No. 22: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
» No. 23: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins
» No. 24: Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks
» No. 25: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
» No. 26: Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
» No. 27: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
» No. 28: Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers
» No. 29: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
» No. 30: Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore Ravens

If Martavis Bryant weren't suspended for the 2016 season, Ben Roethlisberger would be my preseason pick for MVP. The game film shows that he and Carson Palmer were the league's best intermediate/deep passers last season. Playing through a pair of major injuries that would have knocked many quarterbacks out of the lineup, Drew Brees deserves credit for leading the NFL in passing yards and authoring a typically excellent season.

Earl Thomas is his generation's version of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. Nobody should be surprised if Todd Gurley overtakes Adrian Peterson as the league's consensus preeminent running back as soon as this season; he was that impressive as a rookie, taking control of games despite woeful quarterbacking and a subpar run-blocking line. It's football negligence to leave A.J. Green out of the discussion of the NFL's best wide receivers. There's no Anthony Muñoz or Walter Jones at tackle in today's NFL, but Marshal Yanda might just be their equal on the interior. He's a future Hall of Famer.

Ndamukong Suh was unfairly maligned for his Miami debut. He still ranks with Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins as the game's dominant defensive tackles. Kawann Short isn't far behind after a breakout season during Carolina's Super Bowl run. Fletcher Cox has been the NFC East's most disruptive defensive force for two straight seasons.

» No. 31: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
» No. 32: Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys
» No. 33: Michael Bennett, DL, Seattle Seahawks
» No. 34: Jurrell Casey, DL, Tennessee Titans
» No. 35: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
» No. 36: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
» No. 37: Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints
» No. 38: Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» No. 39: Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins
» No. 40: Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers

Tyron Smith is the NFL's most impressive offensive lineman in an era without a dominant left tackle on par with Anthony Muñoz or Walter Jones. Toiling in SEC country, Jurrell Casey might be the league's most underappreciated superstar. Darrelle Revis' 2015 decline was greatly exaggerated. Outside of one-sided matchups with DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, he was superlative. Doug Martin was a tackle-breaking machine in a contract year, while Josh Norman played like the Defensive Player of the Year in the first half of the season. Can those two breakout stars repeat that success in 2016?

What to do with Andrew Luck? The players ranked him No. 7 in 2015 and No. 92 in 2016. He was disappointing even before his season-ending injury, but those seven starts shouldn't overshadow the obvious difference-making talent on film in more than 50 games prior to last season. Luck is a litmus test: If you can't see that he's a top-50 NFL player, I question your eye for football.

» No. 41: Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets
» No. 42: Zack Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
» No. 43: Jamie Collins, LB, New England Patriots
» No. 44: Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
» No. 45: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
» No. 46: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
» No. 47: Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns
» No. 48: Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings
» No. 49: Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
» No. 50: Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers

Brandon Marshall (45) and Eric Decker (41) rank first and third in receiving touchdowns since the start of the 2012 season. Ryan Fitzpatrick's career year was largely the result of enjoying the luxury of two power forwards in the red zone. Allen Robinson set a new franchise mark with 14 receiving touchdowns while pacing the NFL with 31 receptions of 20 or more yards. A true alpha dog, he wins at the catch point with size, length, exceptional ball skills, uncanny body control and superior leaping ability. Demaryius Thomas was plagued by drops and poor quarterback play, but still finished seventh in receptions and receiving yards. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.

A legitimate MVP candidate in 2014, Tony Romo would be higher on this list if the Cowboys could trust him to stay healthy for 16 games. Philip Rivers is one of the smartest and most accurate quarterbacks in the league, but he needs a full season from No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen and better blocking up front.

Two years into his career, Zack Martin already rivals perennial Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda as the NFL's best interior lineman. Joe Thomas remains old reliable, the lone bright spot on an overhauled Cleveland offensive line. Greg Olsen held the Panthers' passing game together last season after Kelvin Benjamin was lost to an ACL tear. He has emerged as the best tight end not named Rob Gronkowski.

Colts offensive coaches told NBC's Cris Collinsworth last season that they game planned for the freakishly athletic Jamie Collins more than any other player except for J.J. Watt. If Earl Thomas is the premier safety of his generation, Harrison Smith might be next on the list. A do-it-all safety, Smith can cover, stop the run and blitz effectively.

» No. 51: Darius Slay, CB, Detroit Lions
» No. 52: Linval Joseph, DT, Minnesota Vikings
» No. 53: Eric Berry, S, Kansas Chiefs
» No. 54: Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore Ravens
» No. 55: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
» No. 56: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
» No. 57: Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos
» No. 58: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions
» No. 59: Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals
» No. 60: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona Cardinals

The injured trio of Jordy Nelson, Jamaal Charles and Tyrann Mathieu present a stiff ranking challenge. Mathieu was one of the top handful of defensive stars in the league last season. Nelson had established himself as the game's greatest boundary receiver prior to tearing his ACL last summer. Charles, who is coming back from his second ACL injury, has rivaled Adrian Peterson as the most dynamic back of the past decade. It takes a leap of faith to believe they will return to dominant pre-injury form without skipping a beat this season.

The best pure run-stuffers in football, Brandon Williams and Linval Joseph ranked behind only the game-wrecking trio of Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins and Kawann Short at defensive tackle on my midseason All-Pro list last year. They control the line of scrimmage. Darius Slay is a younger version of Aqib Talib, who makes more big plays and covers better receivers than ballyhooed teammate Chris Harris. A no-brainer choice for Comeback Player of the Year, Eric Berry returned to Pro Bowl form while anchoring a stingy Kansas City secondary last season.

Bruce Arians called one early-season effort from Calais Campbell "as dominating a performance as you could ask for a defensive lineman." At 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds, he has size and strength to slide between end and tackle, reminiscent of former Patriots great Richard Seymour. More of a pure edge rusher, Ziggy Ansah has translated his prodigious physical gifts into high-end production as a sack artist.

» No. 61: Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
» No. 62: Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» No. 63: Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
» No. 64: Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
» No. 65: Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston Texans
» No. 66: Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
» No. 67: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
» No. 68: Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills
» No. 69: Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis Colts
» No. 70: Malcolm Jenkins, S, Philadelphia Eagles

Justin Houston rivals Von Miller as the game's most explosive edge-rushing force when healthy. This relatively low ranking reflects the fact that the beginning of his 2016 season is in jeopardy following offseason ACL surgery. Gerald McCoy has been one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive tackles of the past half-decade, but his play dropped a level last year. Alshon Jeffery established a career high in yards per game in spite of lingering hamstring, groin and calf injuries. A smooth leaper specializing in 50-50 balls, Tyler Eifert emerged as the second-most dangerous red-zone tight end behind Rob Gronkowski.

As strong in coverage as any cornerback not named Patrick Peterson, Johnathan Joseph turned in one of his best seasons in a stellar 10-year career. He was one of the key cogs on a defense that led the NFL in most major categories during the second half of the season. Bobby Wagner didn't play up to the dominant standard he showed in 2014, but he remains just behind Luke Kuechly in the middle-linebacker pecking order. Per Pro Football Focus, Larry Fitzgerald generated a 119.2 passer rating when targeted last season, behind only Doug Baldwin's 141.0 and A.J. Green's 121.9.

Marcell Dareus contributed to Rex Ryan's toothless pass rush last season, but he remains a beast in the run game. Vontae Davis slipped a bit in 2015 after authoring an impressive 2014 campaign that was the best by a Colts defensive back since the prime of Bob Sanders' career. Malcolm Jenkins rivaled Harrison Smith as the premier all-around safety in the league last year.

» No. 71: Sheldon Richardson, DE, New York Jets
» No. 72: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
» No. 73: Mike Daniels, DE, Green Bay Packers
» No. 74: Pernell McPhee, LB, Chicago Bears
» No. 75: DeMarcus Ware, LB, Denver Broncos
» No. 76: Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos
» No. 77: David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
» No. 78: Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins
» No. 79: Terron Armstead, OT, New Orleans Saints
» No. 80: Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills

As dominant as Muhammad Wilkerson has been over the past few years, it's telling that Sheldon Richardson is viewed as the more indispensable talent inside Jets headquarters. Carlos Dunlap has always been disruptive with QB hits and hurries. The sacks finally came last year, as he broke Eddie Edwards' official franchise record with 13.5 sacks. One of the most overlooked defensive linemen in the game, Mike Daniels has joined Clay Matthews as Dom Capers' most valuable building blocks in Green Bay.

Pernell McPhee was a home-run pickup last offseason and should have been rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod as the lone star on a Bears defense that performed better than expected for the majority of 2015. DeMarcus Ware's difference-making impact can't be denied. The Broncos' dominant defense slipped in November and December when he was nursing a back injury and played lights-out in the postseason when he returned with a fury. Chris Harris Jr. might be a tad overrated by the analytics crowd, but he shuts down most smaller receivers not named Antonio Brown.

Combining rare explosiveness, power and receiving ability, David Johnson led the league in yards from scrimmage once he joined the starting lineup in November. Bruce Arians believes he has a chance to become one of the "all-time best" running backs. Reshad Jones was the most effective box safety in the league last season. The Saints rewarded Terron Armstead with a new mega contact because he's one of the three most valuable players on the roster, along with Drew Brees and Cameron Jordan. Sammy Watkins was nearly unstoppable down the stretch last year, averaging 113 yards and a touchdown per game in the final six weeks. The Bills are in deep trouble if his Jones fracture lingers into the 2016 season.

» No. 81: Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
» No. 82: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
» No. 83: Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
» No. 84: Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons
» No. 85: Olivier Vernon, DE, New York Giants
» No. 86: Thomas Davis, LB, Carolina Panthers
» No. 87: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
» No. 88: Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots
» No. 89: Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings
» No. 90: Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Keenan Allen was enjoying a breakout campaign in 2015 -- through eight weeks, he had 67 catches, tied for third most in that span in a given season in NFL history -- when a lacerated kidney ended his season in early November. It wasn't just the numbers. Allen was routinely pulling off spectacular catches and out-muscling defensive backs in heavy traffic. Given the benefit of a strong supporting cast in 2012, Matt Ryan led the NFL in completion rate and flirted with 5,000 yards on a 13-3 division winner. He hasn't changed, but the offensive line cratered the next two years, and the receiving corps had no quality depth beyond Julio Jones in 2015. If Jordan Reed can stay healthy -- a huge "if" -- he can emerge as the league's second-most dangerous receiving tight end behind Rob Gronkowski.

The lone star on Atlanta's defense, Desmond Trufant earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 after playing at that level without recognition the year before. Olivier Vernon was a terror down the stretch in a contract-year push, living in opposing backfields for the Dolphins. Will that late-season stretch carry over to the Giants? One of the best coverage linebackers of his generation, Thomas Davis is so fundamentally sound that coaches on other teams use his game tape as a training tool. In a decade as an NFL starting quarterback, Alex Smith has never had a wide receiver as productive as Jeremy Maclin was in 2015.

Devin McCourty held the defensive backfield together after the Patriots lost the top three cornerbacks from their Super Bowl XLIX squad. Anthony Barr has yet to post monster sack numbers, but he's already one of the most complete 4-3 outside linebackers in the league, generating pressure, stopping the run and hanging with running backs and tight ends in coverage. A rare three-down back in today's NFL, Devonta Freeman ran with power and toughness belying his 5-foot-8, 205-pound frame.

» No. 91: Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots
» No. 92: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
» No. 93: Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
» No. 94: Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
» No. 95: NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers
» No. 96: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
» No. 97: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
» No. 98: Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans
» No. 99: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
» No. 100: Malik Jackson, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars

Billed as a two-down thumper coming out of Alabama, Dont'a Hightower also has been an effective pass rusher in sub-packages. He made nine plays in the backfield in a Week 7 victory over the Jets. Nine! NaVorro Bowman's reconstructed knee has limited his coverage skills, but he still led the NFL with 154 tackles as the beating heart of the 49ers defense. Lavonte David was in the discussion for best linebacker in the league under Greg Schiano back in 2013. He took a step back the past two years in Lovie Smith's scheme.

Delanie Walker was the Titans' aerial attack in 2015, beating linebackers and safeties on slants, crossers and seam routes over the middle of the field. Travis Kelce rivals Rob Gronkowski as the NFL's most dangerous run-after-the-catch threat at tight end. As a rookie, Marcus Peters tied for the league lead in interceptions and passes defensed and ranked seventh among cornerbacks in opposing passer rating. He has lockdown potential. Emmanuel Sanders is the lone No. 2 receiver in the top 100. Malik Jackson rivaled Von Miller as the most disruptive force on the field in Super Bowl 50.

I thought about opting for Marcus Mariota's upside as the last quarterback on the list, but I decided it was unfair to snub Andy Dalton, even if the departures of former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu result in some regression. Odell Beckham Jr. is giving Eli Manning new life in his twilight years.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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