We've finally reached the conclusion of the NFL Network's "The Top 100: Players of 2011" series, as well as the end of my own list of the league's best players.
While I acknowledge the difficulty in attempting to pick the best player in the league, my criteria consists of impact, production and value to the team. Throw in their contribution to a winning program, and it's imperative these players are recognized as difference makers in their respective organizations.
Given those factors, it makes sense that this list features two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, a pair of elite running backs and some of the most feared defenders in the game.
Let's take a look at the best players in the game:
1. Tom Brady, Patriots: No matter what criteria is used to determine the best quarterback in the game, Brady is at the top of the list. He has three Super Bowl rings (in four tries), two Super Bowl MVPs, six Pro Bowl appearances and is a two-time first-team All Pro. His winning pedigree also is reflected in his penchant for delivering outstanding performances in the clutch. Brady orchestrated last minute game-winning drives in two Super Bowl wins and has a laundry list of late-game heroics to cement his status as the game's top player.
2. Peyton Manning, Colts: The argument could be waged that no one is more important to his teams' success than Manning. He directs the Colts' high-powered offense with the precision of an orchestra conductor. From calling his own plays at the line to manipulating safeties with his eyes, few can rival his overall impact on the team. Consider the fact that he has been able to single-handedly keep the Colts afloat while the team battled numerous injuries, and Manning is most deserving of this ranking.
3. Darrelle Revis, Jets: The term "shutdown corner" is thrown around loosely, but Revis has epitomized the moniker with his exceptional play over the past three seasons. He has taken on the challenge of guarding the opponent's No. 1 receiver without help and causes even the elite to struggle. Revis challenges receivers at the line in press or off in shadow coverage, effectively locking down half of the field to force opponents to find alternatives in the passing game.
4. Julius Peppers, Bears: It's not a coincidence the Bears defense regained its bite after adding Peppers. He is a freakish athlete with an array of skills that allow him to impact the game in a variety of ways. Peppers is arguably one of the most dominant defenders that we have seen in ages, and his robust career stat line (89 sacks, 33 forced fumbles and eight interceptions) makes him worthy of his placement on this list.
5. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys: Ware has a strong case to be higher on the list after amassing 80 sacks and 25 forced fumbles over a six-year period. He is a disruptive force off the edge with the athleticism and skills to routinely defeat single- or double-teams in pass protection. If his pass rushing prowess isn't enough to merit his high standing, Ware is also the NFL's best run-stopping linebacker. His outstanding all-around game makes him a solid choice in the top 10.
6. Andre Johnson, Texans: The Texans' No. 1 receiver is an absolute monster on the outside. His combination of size, speed and athleticism overwhelms defenders, and his dominance is reflected in consistent production over eight seasons. Johnson is a two-time league leader in receptions and receiving yardage in spite of facing a host of double coverage. Others are vying for his spot as the top receiver, but Johnson's combination of skills and production makes him the clear choice.
7. Chris Johnson, Titans: The fastest man in the NFL is also the most dangerous running back. Johnson is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and he routinely breaks off big runs despite seeing eight- and nine-man fronts on an every down basis. If his 2,000-yard season in 2009 didn't prove his greatness, then his three consecutive seasons over 1,200 yards has let the world know that he is the real deal.
8. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: Fitzgerald has been one of the best at the position since he entered the league in 2006. As a big, physical receiver with exceptional ball skills, he has made the jump ball the "go to" play for the Cardinals. But he has also developed a solid all-around game that allows him to defeat opponents with his underrated running skills. With five seasons of 90-plus receptions and 1,000 or more yards, Fitzgerald is the model of consistency and worthy of mention on this list.
9. Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Peterson's fumbling woes threatened to overshadow his outstanding production as the Vikings' workhorse. He has topped 1,200 yards rushing in each of his four seasons and perennially ranks as one of the league's top five rushers. With a hard-hitting running style that wears down opponents, Peterson is the battering ram that every offensive coordinator covets. Throw in his emerging receiving skills, and it is difficult to find a more dynamic weapon in the game.
10. Haloti Ngata, Ravens: Interior defenders are normally held in high regard, but Ngata's skills warrant special recognition. At 6-foot-4 and 350-plus pounds, Ngata overpowers double- and even triple-teams with his sheer strength and power. While that's expected from a man of his size, it's Ngata's athleticism that sets him apart from other interior defenders. He is able to slide through cracks on stunts/games with his burst and routinely makes plays in the backfield by defeating blockers with an explosive first step. Ngata doesn't rack up impressive sack totals from his interior spot, but his disruption and impact is one of the reasons the Ravens' defense always ranks as one of the best.