In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing remotely offensive about the order of NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2020" countdown. But in this writer's humble opinion, the ranking, which was revealed over the last four nights, has its share of slights and oversights.
Some things are inarguable. Lamar Jackson, the reigning MVP, deserves the top spot. Aaron Donald, last year's No. 1, remains unquestionably the top defensive player in the game. Michael Thomas, who set the single-season receptions record in 2019, leapt over the likes of DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones to become the players' top receiver.
But other conclusions are more than arguable; they're debatable; no, they're ... TAKE-able.
Below are the five things that the players got wrong in this year's list, a.k.a. the five reasons I can't sleep at night:
1. Jimmy Garoppolo > Dak Prescott? Null.
The first rule of list-making: locate a fan base's greatest vulnerability and exploit it, of course. OK, maybe that's not the goal, but the players did just that in their ordering of the top 13 QBs, especially in the mid-40s, where Prescott came in at No. 46 (QB9) while Garoppolo was ranked No. 43 (QB8). Though Jimmy G, in his first full season as San Francisco's starter, "led" the 49ers on a franchise-best turnaround and to within a half-quarter of a Lombardi Trophy, I tend to give more credit for last season's success to Kyle Shanahan, George Kittle and The Scheme. Look no further than Garoppolo's performance in the postseason, during which he was rarely called upon and outmatched when he was, as a knock against his individual ability. Dak Prescott didn't even make the postseason, you bot. Why are you rooting against SPORTS?! Whoa, slow down, italics. Correct -- Dallas didn't make the postseason with Prescott at the helm. But Dak, a former Offensive Rookie of the Year, two-time division winner and $31.4 million man, enjoyed his most prolific statistical season in 2019, throwing for more yards, more TDs, fewer interceptions and taking 13 fewer sacks than Jimmy G in the process. Somehow Prescott, with his resume, is the one playing on the franchise tag while Garoppolo is halfway into a megadeal and the Guy to Build Around. The front offices said it, not me. Really there's little separating the two in this vote -- three spots is nothing -- but on principle, valuing Garoppolo higher than Prescott for tossing shovel passes to Deebo Samuel and overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders is something I cannot get behind.
2. Players way too low on Myles Garrett
I dunno when these polls were taken -- I'm not privy to that information and have been locked in my apartment for five months -- but my guess is most of them were conducted after Nov. 14, 2019. That's when Garrett, the defensive face of the Browns franchise, ripped Steelers QB Mason Rudolph's helmet off and struck him in the head with it late in a Thursday night blowout win for Cleveland. The reckless, misguided act led to a suspension that cost Garrett the final six games of the 2019 season. Now, I don't know why the players voted the way they did when it came to the Browns DE. Perhaps it was because of his violent outburst. Maybe it was because he wasn't on the field late in the season. Regardless, he suffered a 31-point drop in the Top 100 ranking, going from No. 49 in 2019 to No. 80 this year. Garrett was on pace for a career-best 16-sack season before he was suspended, good for third in the league. If this is an example of players policing their own, it's a weird flex, but OK. All I know is this ranking won't stand the test of time. Garrett was a top-five pass rusher in 2019 and worthy of a 30-slot rise, not fall, in an objective, performance-based ranking. (Meanwhile, and this is beside or barely related to the point, Jadeveon Clowney, who had one standout performance on national TV -- Week 10 vs. San Francisco -- in a subpar three-sack season, is No. 41 and a 22-point riser.) Not that Garrett minds much; he has 125 million reasons, 100 million of which are guaranteed reasons, to frankly not give a damn.
3. It's time, Tom
Brady being ranked the No. 14 player in football and the No. 5 QB going into 2020 reminds me of the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, when in one of Derek Jeter's final at-bats on a national stage, starting National League pitcher Adam Wainwright may or may not have grooved a fastball right down the middle of the plate to the leadoff Yankees shortstop, resulting in a double and a standing ovation. It's an act of performative respect, purely ceremonial. Brady wasn't bolstered by top receiving talent in 2019 but he wasn't his best self either, especially in his final game as a Patriot, a loss in the Wild Card Round to visiting Tennessee. TB12 completed just 60.8 percent of his passes (a lower rate than Kyle Allen's) and averaged 6.6 yards per attempt (fewer than ... oh, Kyle Allen, again) in 2019; since becoming a starter, he'd never had a season in which both of his marks in those categories were that low. And yet, to the players, he's an acronym, a living legend, a statue (in the pocket) waiting to be erected. His contemporaries look upon him in awe, but their evaluation of his 2019 season is awful. (I'll see myself out of this word document.)
4. At least one player per team, please
Last year, I whined that the Bills were the only team not to have a player in the Top 100, offering Tre'Davious White and Matt Milano as tribute. Well, the players apparently read my work over that summer because they voted three Bills players onto this year's list: White, ex-Viking Stefon Diggs (still counts) and Josh Allen, who, funny enough, was the wrong Josh Allen to make the list. However, the players continue to leave out entire franchises in their ranking. This time around, there are no Bengals, Dolphins, Jaguars, Lions, Jets or Washington Football Teamers. (Caveats: Five players -- Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Darius Slay, Jamal Adams -- were on one of those squads for part or all of the 2019 season, but all were traded, three for at least one first-round pick.) I am once again asking for the players to institute the same policy the MLB All-Star Game uses (I missed baseball, what can I say?): every franchise must be represented on the list by an active member of the roster. My picks? Joe Mixon, Byron Jones, DJ Chark, Matthew Stafford, C.J. Mosley and Terry McLaurin.
5. Let's make special teams special
Who does Justin Tucker have to kick to get a vote around here? The greatest kicker of his generation gets no respect from his peers, year in and year out, in this exercise. In fact, a kicker hasn't been listed since Adam Vinatieri in 2015 (No. 98). Coming off his second straight first-team All-Pro season, and third in four years, Tucker should at least warrant some consideration from the board. But the players overlooked Tucker's league-high 57 extra-points made and 28-of-29 field goals made. Sure, it wasn't his showiest year, I'll give you that. But it's hard to blame him for making his lone 50-plus-yard attempt when his team is scoring touchdowns all damn day. Tucker isn't the only specialist to garner little attention from this so-called open-minded jury of peers. Johnny Hekker. Matthew Slater. Pro Bowl long-snapper Morgan Cox. All snubbed. Some day, and that day may never come, the specialists will earn their 150-second highlight package on NFL Network. Some day ...