As the NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2011" nears the top 20, the debate rages on about which players are the best at their respective positions.
Last week, the conversation focused on Ray Lewis' ranking among the 31-40 best players in the game. As one of the game's greatest players, many still regard him as a top 10 talent despite being on the backside of his career.
Given the contentious conversations that ensued following that list, I'm sure my own personal list of players Nos. 21-30 will generate even more buzz with the inclusion of two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and a former No. 1 overall pick.
21. Jake Long, Dolphins: Long has developed into one of the premier offensive tackles in the game after only three seasons. With unique skills that allow him to play with finesse or power, he routinely eliminates the opposition's top pass rusher without the assistance of a tight end or running back. That's the kind of impact the Dolphins envisioned when they nabbed him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.
22. Calvin Johnson, Lions:Megatron has obliterated defenders with his freakish combination of size, speed and athleticism. He is nearly impossible to cover in isolated situations, and his penchant for putting the ball in the paint has made him the Lions' top offensive option. Given his impact and production compared to others at his position, Johnson deserves to be listed among the top 30 players in the league.
23. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Roethlisberger will never earn style points with his play, but his improvisational skills keep the Steelers in the hunt as a perennial title contender. Although he has developed into a more polished and refined pocket passer, it is his ability to turn any game into a sandlot affair that makes him one of the league's most feared playmakers.
24. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Few could've handled the pressure of replacing a legend in Green Bay like Rodgers. He has been magnificent as a starter for the Packers, and his sensational postseason run has put the young passer on par with some of the game's greats. If he continues to rack up rings and yards at his current pace, Rodgers not only vaults up this list but he will make Favre a distant memory in Titletown.
25. Logan Mankins, Patriots: Mankins is underappreciated as an elite blocker due to his position, but a quick look at the tape reveals a dominant blocker with the ability to snuff out the league's most disruptive interior defenders. His combination of brute strength, power and aggressiveness helps him win his fair share of isolated battles at the point of attack.
26. Nick Mangold, Jets: It is not often that a center has the ability to dominate the point of attack against the run, while also possessing the skill to effectively win in pass protection. Mangold not only has those traits, but he showcases a high football IQ that allows the Jets' offense to run smoothly with an emerging star pulling the trigger at quarterback.
27. Patrick Willis, 49ers: The 49ers' defense fell short of expectations last year, but Willis cemented his status as one of the game's best with his stellar performance. He routinely delivered impact plays solely off his speed and athleticism, and his electrifying rush skills overwhelm blockers incapable of dealing with his aggressiveness. With few contemporaries able to match his production and impact, Willis rightfully deserves his lofty spot on this list of top players.
28. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: If not for a gimpy leg that kept him out of the Jaguars' last two contests, Jones-Drew might have made a serious run at the league's rushing title. Although he lacked the burst and acceleration that once made him one of the most explosive runners in the game, his ability to morph into a grinder still makes him one of the toughest backs to defend. When he fully returns to form in 2011, he could climb higher up the chart.
29. Jonathan Vilma, Saints: Vilma is the heart and soul of the Saints' defense. His high football IQ allows Gregg Williams to add creativity to the game plan, but it is his penchant for delivering teeth-rattling shots that sets the tone for the unit. Throw in his instincts, awareness and ability to make game-changing plays, and it's hard to keep Vilma from creeping higher up the list.
30. Darnell Dockett, Cardinals: Dockett has been one of the most disruptive interior defenders in the game over the past few years, yet his game continues to evolve. He possesses rare athleticism and rush skills for a defensive tackle, and his ability to wreak havoc on opponents is a result of his unique talents.