"The Top 100 Players of 2016" continued Wednesday on NFL Network with the unveiling of Nos. 81 through 90.
In a league driven more than ever before by quarterback play, it's absurd to rank a productive signal-caller behind a gaggle of rotational defensive tackles.
With Cousins landing at No. 85 and Smith at No. 81, a pair of typically overlooked passers have been given their due. That's especially true for Smith, who makes the list for the first time despite generating 11-plus wins for the third time in five years. Often maligned as a paint-by-numbers game manager, Smith doesn't wow viewers with flashy physical traits or big numbers, but he's furnished the Chiefs with a reliable option under center for three consecutive seasons.
Cousins sports a shorter resume, but his better moments from last season reveal a confident passer willing to throw the ball downfield. Completing nearly 70 percent of his throws, the Redskins starter whipped 29 touchdowns while recording the lowest interception percentage of his career (2.0).
If we're serious about listing the 100 most valuable players in the NFL, mid-range starting quarterbacks should be in the conversation.
To argue otherwise is to say that quarterback-needy teams would be better off with tight end Delanie Walker (No. 82 on the list) than Smith -- or wideout Allen Hurns (at No. 89) over Cousins. You're stuck in neutral without a passer, but Smith and Cousins prove that teams can get to the playoffs with a serviceable option at the helm.
Other takeaways from Wednesday's unveiling:
»Matt Forte is the Top 100's first running back off the board at No. 90. If the new Jets playmaker needs any extra motivation, tumbling 42 spots from last year's perch at No. 48 should do the trick. Was Forte so different from 2014 to 2015? No, in fact his yards per carry was higher in 2015. He missed three starts, though, and played a much smaller role in the passing game.
» At No. 86, Jonathan Stewart finally made the Top 100 after eight NFL seasons. The late-career love has plenty to do with Carolina's stellar campaign, but Stewart's resume over the past season-plus speaks for itself. He was one of the league's hardest runners at the end of 2014 and continued to shine for much of last year. He won't be the last Panther to make this list.