Peers voted Ndamukong Suh the 51st-rated player on NFL Network's "The Top 100 Players of 2011" list, and he has played only one season. Where will he be ranked next year, with more games under his belt and vaunted rookie Nick Fairley joining him in the middle of the Detroit Lions' defensive line?
Coaches often say that one area every young interior lineman must improve upon when entering the NFL is playing strength -- the act of using their brute force against the grown men of the professional game. Take that into account when reading this comment on Suh from an AFC personnel executive, made with one month left in the Lions star's first season: "From a strength standpoint, it usually takes time. And he's like an established veteran."
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So what happens if Suh takes just an average leap for a young defensive lineman going from Year 1 to Year 2? It's pretty scary to think about, considering some already regarded him as a top-20 defender at the end of his rookie campaign. Add to the above-mentioned raw strength the athleticism that helped make Suh the first interior lineman to notch 10 sacks in four years and just the second rookie to hit double-digits.
All that's why I think there's a real good chance that, when this list is compiled in 2012, Suh will be a top-20 player, at least. Maybe more attention from offensive coordinators (although Suh received plenty last season) will lead to the numbers leveling off a little and creating more opportunities for Fairley. But this ranking is voted on by players, who look by that stuff and focus on the toughest matchups. Chances are, by the end of next season, few will present more of a challenge than Suh does.
I can see Suh soaring into the top 25 next year, and maybe even higher. Suh has barely scratched the surface on a career that will allow him to rank as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history.
Suh's remarkable talent is a given. What will do the most to carry him to greater heights is his tremendous desire and focus. The kid has such an unbridled passion for the game. He wants to be the best player every time he sets foot on the field. And with Fairley next to him, Suh will have even greater freedom to dominate.
This isn't a boy named Suh, folks. This is a man named Suh. After all, we're talking about someone who posted a legitimate All-Pro season while playing in the interior of the defensive line and registered a double-digit sack total.
Consider the Lions didn't really catch stride until the final month of the season and that Fairley now joins Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch on an already formidable defensive front? Forget about it.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz lets his linemen attack and play the run on the way to the quarterback. Last season, the Lions rarely had the kind of leads that quarterback Matthew Stafford should be able to provide in 2011 -- which means more opportunities to tee up the pass rush.
I like Suh's odds of landing in the top 25 a year from now.
Suh deserved this high ranking for 2011 after showing that he'll be problematic for opposing offenses for years. He's the type of talent that can transcend scheme or players around him because he's so physically gifted and flat-out nasty. He'll draw more double and triple teams as time moves on, but he'll also become more savvy as he learns tendencies and opposing personnel.
I only see Suh getting better and ranked higher by his peers as his career progresses because teams will have to game-plan around him. That's one of the highest compliments a defensive player can receive. The talent alongside Suh on the defensive line will also allow for one of them to make a play on nearly every down due to favorable matchups.
Suh was one of the most dominant defensive players in the league as a rookie and I only see him getting better with more experience. He played on natural talent and instincts last year, but an offseason spent working on the fundamentals should lead to more improvement and better production. As a rule, most players make a significant jump in their play between their first and second year, so I would expect Suh to continue to play at a Pro Bowl level going forward.
Also, the addition of Fairley will certainly lead to better play and production from Suh. The Lions now have the flexibility to flip-flop their interior tackles to take advantage of mismatches. This will not only help the defense on early downs, but allow the unit to dictate matchups on passing downs. This could help Suh surpass the 10 sacks that he amassed during his rookie season.
Based on his expected development and the potential impact of Fairley, I can see Suh emerging as a top-30 player next season.