There has been much debate about "The Top 100 Players of 2011" as voted on by the NFL players all over the internet and on the television. My first reaction once the first group of 10 was announced was to hold off my commentary, instead waiting until the complete list was announced.
I have been holding back my thoughts until, as Popeye always said, "I can't stand no more".
The other day I was prepping for the NBA draft (Yes, the NBA draft. I love basketball and love the draft, which is the highlight of my summer), listening to a podcast featuring Bill Simmons and Chad Ford discussing the upcoming selections and the league in general. In their conversation they discussed how former NBA players who are now general managers have a tendency to pay players for past performances and over-evaluate their skills. As players they felt they should be paid for the past, therefore as executives they operate with the same belief.
Listening to this conversation made me believe that this might be the problem I am having with the current "Top 100." As we all know, in any sport "then is then" and "now is now," and the smart teams pay for what a player can do right moving forward.
Each week I watch the show and wonder if some of the voters actually watch the league or just rely on past performance. Yes, I understand there is long a withstanding and misguided principle that permeates throughout the league that centers on the belief that only players who play -- or have played -- can actually understand player evaluation. Needless to say, I don't agree with that principle. This top 100 ranking proves that even if you played the game, it's not automatic that you can appreciate talent.
I nearly came out of my chair when I saw that Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings was voted the No. 74 player, while Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was voted 45th. Are you kidding me? Hypothetically, if Chiefs GM Scott Pioli called Packers GM Ted Thompson to offer this trade, based on these rankings, Thompson would actually have to sweeten the pot. The reality is that Thompson would have laughed and said get lost (and maybe added a few curse words).
How do I know this? I watch tape, I study talent, and Jennings is a far superior talent then Bowe, who has only one good year, but even in that good season he struggled to separate from tight man coverage, lacking the burst and acceleration to win against top cornerbacks (watch him against Champ Bailey). Trust me on this one, teams playing the Packers worry about having enough talent to handle Jennings in a man-to-man system. Teams playing the Chiefs just make sure they press Bowe.
Jared Allen, Trent Cole and John Abraham have unique talent to rush the passer and for each of them to rank behind fullback Vonte Leach is comical. Leach plays fullback, a position not often used by many teams and even when used, does not impact the game anywhere near what an excellent pass rushing defensive end would. If the players feel Leach is one of the top 100 players in the league, then I am not watching the same game. Leach is a good player, but he is a role player. Role players, unless they score touchdowns, don't impact the game.
The "Top 100" list should be reserved for players that impact the game.
That concept leads me to another chair-raising rating done by the players, placing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at No. 41. Really? There are 40 players in the league better than Big Ben? I don't think so. I love Jamaal Charles, but he is not better than Big Ben. Neither is Devin Hester, or for that matter most of the players in front of Roethlisberger. Do you think the Steelers beat the Jets without Roethlisberger moving in the pocket to convert two critical third downs? No way. Could Hester or Charles make those kinds of plays? You know the answer.
We all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, therefore the blue-chip quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, and Big Ben -- should all be in the top 10, no questions asked. To have Rivers at No. 26 is not an accurate portrayal of the best players in the league, nor is it to have Rodgers outside the top 10.
America loves lists, from David Letterman's "Top 10" to the five best steak houses. Formulating lists inspires debate, which is always entertaining. However, in football -- as in chess -- there is one position/piece that is valued above all others. Chess has their queen, capable of moving in any direction and attacking from all over the board. Without a queen on the board, a chess player is incapable of winning.
The same theory applies to the quarterback. Without a great one, teams won't win. Therefore, making an accurate list of the game's top players requires placing blue chip quarterbacks in the top 10.
This list has problems all over the board. Each time I look at it I have a problem with the rankings. Andre Gurode is not the 57th best player in the league. No way. Just ask the Cowboys. Brian Waters of the Chiefs a better guard then Chris Snee of the Giants? Please. That one is not even close. And I could go on and on.
I really love the concept of the "Top 100" players, as voted on by the players. But the reality of the list makes me believe the players are watching a different game than I am.