As NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2011" heads into the top 30 (Sunday, at 8 p.m. ET.), the debates about who deserves to be included are getting more contentious.
With that in mind, I'm sure my next tier will elicit even more discussion considering that I included two quarterbacks, the league's leading rusher and two future Hall of Famers on defense.
39. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, LT, Jets: Ferguson isn't normally the first name that comes to mind when rattling off the best pass protectors, but a close look at the film reveals a player who has all of the tools. His combination of size, strength and athleticism is rare, and the Jets are not afraid to leave him isolated against elite rushers. Few defenders can win those one-on-one matchups, solidifying Ferguson's status as one of the top left tackles.
38. Charles Woodson, CB, Packers: It's rare that a player's skills are better near the end of his career than the beginning. However, Woodson's game defies logic. He has become even more disruptive since turning 30 -- he has 30 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles and eight sacks since 2006. Woodson's versatility has allowed defensive coordinator Dom Capers to use him as the centerpiece of the Packers' game plan.
37. Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens: While a 15-year veteran is not supposed to be the best player on the field, it often feels that way with Lewis. He still has a knack for delivering game-changing plays and his high football IQ allows him to maintain his level of play at a time when his speed and athleticism are starting to fade. Throw in his leadership and infectious personality, and it's easy to see why Lewis remains one of the most respected defenders.
Kirwan's RB rankings
36. Jordan Gross, LT, Panthers: Lost in the Panthers' dismal season was the stellar play of Gross. He is on the cusp of being regarded as the gold standard at left tackle based on his durability and production. With the Panthers set to hitch their hopes on a young quarterback, coach Ron Rivera will need his premier pass blocker to be at his best in 2011.
35. Chris Snee, G, Giants: Snee embodies the vision that Tom Coughlin has for the G-Men with his hardhat-and-lunch-pail mentality. He wears down defenders at the point of attack and sets the tone for his teammates with his relentless play. Though he hasn't garnered attention on a national scale, Snee is regarded by those in the league as one of the best interior blockers.
34. Arian Foster, RB, Texans: It would be easy to dub Foster as a "one-year wonder" after watching him rise from obscurity to become the league's top rusher. However, his hard-nosed, one-cut running style is built for the long haul. It shouldn't be a surprise to see him among the top runners for the next few years.
33. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: The Chargers' postseason failures are the only reason Rivers isn't ranked higher. He has three straight 4,000-yard seasons while averaging a remarkable 8.6 yards per attempt and keeping his interception totals to a minimum. What makes Rivers' production stand out is the fact that he has been able to keep the Chargers rolling with an ever-changing cast of pass catchers.
32. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: Vick has always been a dangerous playmaker, but his development as a passer has taken his game to another level. He completed over 60 percent of his passes for the first time in his career to go with 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Considering his running skills are still on par with most running backs, Vick remains the NFL's ultimate offensive weapon.
31. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: The former basketball player turned tight end remains a major mismatch in the passing game. He abuses linebackers on vertical routes, and his combination of size and post-up ability makes him an impossible assignment for smaller defensive backs. As San Diego's most explosive weapon in the passing game, Gates specializes in putting the ball in the paint (69 career touchdowns) and creating big plays (33 receptions over 20 yards in the past two seasons). With few tight ends providing such an impact, he deserves this lofty status.