Just like the NFL Network's "The Top 100: Players of 2011" has attracted a lot of attention for the positioning of some of the league's top players, my list has drawn the ire of some who expect certain big names to reside at the top of the order.
Well, this week, I'm sure the debate will certainly reach a fever pitch with the NFL's two best safeties on the list, as well as a former Super Bowl MVP.
11. Drew Brees, Saints: Brees has been a model of consistency at the position throughout his career, but has taken his game to another level since arriving in New Orleans in 2006. He has topped the 4,000-yard mark in five consecutive seasons and thrown 30 or more touchdowns three consecutive years. Although his interception numbers were high last season, he continues to play the game at an ultra-high level and is worthy of being considered one of the league's best quarterbacks.
12. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders: The mystique of the shutdown corner has been perpetuated by the sensational play of Asomugha. He snuffs out receivers with his tenacious and aggressive approach at the line of scrimmage. Although he doesn't shadow the opponents No.1 receiver at all times, Asomugha neutralizes his assigned man and shrinks the field for the offense. His ability to take away one side of the field is a substantial impact for the defense, even if he doesn't produce game-changing interceptions.
Kirwan's player rankings
13. Clay Matthews, Packers: Matthews has taken the league by storm with his relentless play off the edge. He excels at creating disruptive plays against the run and pass, and must be accounted for at all times. With a unique blend of speed, athleticism and strength, Matthews has racked up 23.5 sacks in only 28 starts, cementing his status as an ultra-productive pass-rushing threat.
14. Ed Reed, Ravens: If impact is measured by game-changing moments, then Reed deserves this lofty ranking. He has snared 54 career interceptions in nine seasons, including his league-leading eight interceptions a season ago. Although his lingering neck injury has prevented him from being a physical enforcer in the middle of the field, his penchant for play-making causes even elite quarterbacks to worry about his whereabouts.
15. Troy Polamalu, Steelers: Polamalu is the most important piece of the Steelers' defensive puzzle because of his rare and remarkable skill set. He is capable of being active and aggressive against the run, while also thriving as a ball hawk in the back end of the defense. His ability to make game-changing plays separates him from other safeties and puts him squarely among the top 20 players in the game.
16. James Harrison, Steelers: No one embodies the Steelers' toughness like Harrison. He strikes fear in the hearts of his opponents with his scowl, but it is his ability to wreak havoc off the edge that troubles offensive coordinators. His diminutive height (6 feet, 242 pounds) gives him leverage to blow past blockers with speed or power, and his free runs to the quarterback typically result in punishing hits and turnovers. Harrison's 25 forced fumbles over the past four seasons reflect his game-changing production.
17. Joe Thomas, Browns: Thomas has cemented his status as the premier left tackle in the game despite playing for a scattershot offense in Cleveland. He routinely eliminates the opponent's top rusher and is the bedrock of the Browns' rushing attack. With few offensive tackles possessing his combination of size, strength and technical savvy, it is a must that Thomas ranks in the top 20.
18. Roddy White, Falcons: White has quietly closed the gap on the league's best receivers by showcasing a game that has little flaws. He is an extraordinary playmaker with the skills to beat opponents on vertical routes or as a possession-type receiver. He's excelled as the Falcons' No. 1 option with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 34 touchdowns during that span. White is one of the most productive players in the game and deserving of being mentioned among the league's elite.
19. Dwight Freeney, Colts: Freeney continues to terrorize opponents with his frenetic rush style, cleverly using a combination of speed and agility to win isolated matchups off the edge. He has posted double digit sack totals in seven of his nine seasons, which reflects his ability to consistently be a disruptive force. While most veterans over 30 are starting to show signs of slowing down, Freeney's game continues to improve.
20. Jared Allen, Vikings: The Vikings' disappointing season overshadowed the exceptional play of Allen. He posted his fourth straight season with at least 11 sacks and showed more versatility in his game by coming up with two interceptions. Although others might possess better athletic attributes, Allen's energy and relentlessness allow him to win consistently off the edge as one of the league's most disruptive players.