Analysis

Hakeem Nicks, Darren Sproles rank too low in NFL's 'Top 100'

I know lists like NFL Network's "The Top 100: Players of 2012" are supposed to create conversation. You can make a list of anything top to bottom and you'll find people to wholly disagree with it. The list could be the top 10 sunny days of 2011 and you'll get retorts like, "That's ridiculous. May 27 was way sunnier than June 6."

When it comes to this list of Top 100, I'm surprised at how vociferous I am with what I disagree with and what sparks me when I see some of the names. Tim Tebow should be higher. So should Tony Romo. (Quarterback is the most important position on the field, it should be weighted more.) Marshawn Lynch was the best running back in the game for November and December and he barely squeaks in?

Debate: 'Top 100' surprises

NFL Network began to unveil "The Top 100: Players of 2012" with Nos. 91-100. What's the biggest surprise? Let's debate! More ...

But that was soooo last week. Now we're at Nos. 90-81, and after seeing this portion of it Wednesday night, I had four immediate observations:

90. Hakeem Nicks: I want to tell the players who voted that this is not a fantasy football list. Sure, there's a good number of wideouts with better overall numbers than Hakeem Nicks, but seriously -- 90th? Do you know where I have him ranked among NFL wide receivers? Third -- Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and then Nicks. Show me another WR who can succeed in the swirling winds of New Jersey, in a physical division in inclement elements as good as he can. For everyone who says Mike Wallace or Roddy White, I'll just point to Nicks' 444 receiving yards in the playoffs and 10 catches in the Super Bowl. Nicks is the rare all-weather receiver who can dominate a game in a dome or in the rain. Wes Welker? Don't make me laugh. I dismiss slot guys because they can't line up on the edge and win a one-on-one battle, catch jump balls in the end zone or make a play when there's not a play to be made. Nicks has it all.

88. Michael Turner: Next year, he might not be on the list at all. Turner is interesting not because he's got a combination of two things that are working against him (age and size), but because of what his decline means. The Falcons are a microcosm of the NFL. In 2007, Atlanta felt they needed a 300-carry-per-year running back to compete. Now? They've been slowly shifting the burden of success to Matt Ryan, as the league, since 2007, has seen such an evolution in the passing game. Watch: Matt Ryan is going to become this year's Matthew Stafford. He'll throw for 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns because he's got some of the best weapons in the game at his disposal and this is the direction the NFL is going. Eventually every team will be like the Packers: Your top RB gets 10-12 carries a game and a goal-line chance if he's lucky.

86. Darren Sproles: If you're the second-best player on the best offense in the league, shouldn't you be a tad higher than this? (And yes, he's more talented than Jimmy Graham.) How many short screens did he turn into highlight-reel touchdowns? How many draws did he somehow break for 20-plus yards? He constantly either bailed the Saints out or helped their offense fire on all cylinders. Whenever his number was called, Sproles answered. I think that's worth more than four years and $14 million. And more than No. 86.

83. Fred Jackson: There's no player in the league I feel worse for than Jackson. He didn't get his first carry in the NFL until he was 26. His entire career, the Bills have treated him like someone who they always felt they could do better than at RB. The Bills draft Marshawn Lynch. Jackson outplays him. Then the Bills draft C.J. Spiller, even though Fast Freddie is averaging over four and a half yards a carry. He finally gets his chance to be a mail-carrying running back ... and gets hurt midway through his breakout 2011 season. Now he's 31, watches Spiller finally "get it" and will probably be phased out. But hey, Freddie, be ready to step in again if he falters! If I could give any NFL player 10 years back on his life -- Well, first it would be Brett Favre because I miss the circus he brings -- but Jackson would be second.

Follow Jason Smith on Twitter @howaboutafresca

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