Our very own Michael Lombardi recently presented his annual **blue-chip/red-chip ratings for 2011**, ranking the top 10 or so players at each position group and putting them into two tiers. It's an argument-starter, to be sure. Some of the more eye-opening decisions included leaving Frank Gore off the top 10 running back list and placing Calvin Johnson in the second-tier of wide receivers. What was your biggest gripe with Lombardi's list?
I love my man Lombo and respect his opinion on matters like this to a high degree. But I have to quibble with a few things here.
Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature. He fits every criteria of the blue-chip description and he's done it despite constant upheaval at the quarterback position and without any substantial time at all with an elite passer. He's in my top five at receiver, period.
I also was surprised that neither of the Ravens' starting guards -- Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda -- made his list in any capacity.
And I'm putting Maurice Jones-Drew and Jamaal Charles in the red-chip category ahead of Michael Turner. They're more explosive and more versatile than Turner. Turner is a stud, for sure, but at this stage of his career, I'm taking MJD or Charles ahead of him.
I didn't have much of a beef with the lists. That's why Michael Lombardi is the best in the business. He knows his stuff.
I do disagree with two elements, though. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson may need to be more consistent, but he's as blue chip as they come. We'll see that for sure if Matthew Stafford stays healthy. Johnson commands double teams, makes plays in traffic and is someone who can't come off the field. If he did, the Lions would be very easy to defend.
Speaking of defense, I'd replace Barrett Ruud as a red chipper with James Laurinaitis of the Rams. While Ruud is highly productive, a lot of his plays are made downfield and are followed by first-down signals. If he's so valuable, why would the Buccaneers let him go? He's excellent as a chase and cover linebacker and he's still one of the better inside backers in the NFL, but Laurinaitis is a stud. He's a masher against the run, he's much better in pass defense than you'd think and he's got that natural leadership quality that will make him a star for years.
I don't have a gripe, but would like to point out that Lombardi agrees with a little-known point that I first talked about on **the Dave Dameshek Football Program** last week -- Eli Manning is the fourth-best quarterback from the 2004 draft class, trailing Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub.
My biggest complaint is that Steven Jackson is the third-best running back in the NFL. Does Lombardi mean currently? There are at least seven running backs on that list I would take over Jackson, and even then, the wear-and-tear on him in recent years means his value is going to start declining this season. That is truly a puzzling placement.
When I worked for the Jets, we had a similar color system to grade veteran players and it was tied to a numerical grade as well. We had very few "blue" players tagged with a numeric grade of 9.0 or better. Not every position in the NFL has five elite players. Just because a guy was ranked fifth at his position did not necessarily warrant a blue grade. In fact, we broke up red grades into red and pink. A red grade went to an ascending player in the top 10 at his position with a numeric grade of 7.9 or better; an older player at the same numerical grade who was not going to get any better received a pink grade.
Lombardi worked hard at his list and he is more than qualified to stack a board. He also knows that every list is different and internal discussions at the club level over stacking a board is healthy. My issue is with the receivers. Ask yourself what color grade the quarterback has as it relates to blue or red for a receiver. Of the five blue receivers, only Larry Fitzgerald played last year without a blue or red quarterback. Calvin Johnson was tops on the red list and he clearly didn't play with a blue or red QB.
Tell me again why **NFL Network's Top 100 Players list** couldn't have benefitted from Lombardi's opinion? This looks a lot more accurate than that player-generated list that Adam Rank and I complained about all summer on **the Dave Dameshek Football Program**.
Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but I take issue with Philip Rivers listed as the No. 3 QB overall, two spots ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Like Rivers, Rodgers has three statistically dominant seasons. Like Rivers, Rodgers was tremendously productive last year in spite of a number of injuries around him. Unlike Rivers, Rodgers puts tremendous pressure on a defense with his legs. And unlike Rivers, Rodgers has a ring. Matter of fact, with his 2010 postseason alone, Rodgers has more career playoff wins (4) than Rivers (3).