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Texans' Brian Cushing's rebirth rightly rewarded

No one expected that much out of Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing heading into last season. He was coming off a PED-marred sophomore campaign where he simply didn't play as well as he did in his rookie season.

He was changing schemes to an inside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense and many thought he wouldn't fit. Instead, he put together a season that was worthy of Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

Debate: "Top 100" surprises

NFL Network continued with the "The Top 100: Players of 2012," rolling out Nos. 61-70. Our analysts debate the rankings. More ...

After not making our Top 100 players last year, Cushing checked in at No. 54. I've given the voters a lot of grief for some of their selections -- (Vilma, Really!?), but they nailed this one. Cushing deserves it. Let's hand out a few other awards.

Rookie that wasn't overhyped

Broncos pass rusher Von Millerabsolutely belonged at No. 52. For the first three-quarters of the season, no one outside of Jason Pierre-Paul made more game-changing plays.

Rookie that was slightly overhyped

We can't kill Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson's placement on this list because he was so valuable on special teams. But the reality is that he was just an average cornerback as a rookie. He'll get better fast.

Longtime veteran that isn't coasting on his reputation

Dan Hanzus nailed this one last night. Tony Gonzalez is ageless.

Longtime veteran that is getting by on reputation

Brian Urlacher is still a very good player, but he's not better than Lance Briggs. (Who ranked much lower on this list.)

Honorable mention: Darren McFadden. He's ranked way too high, but the guys at DDFP summed it up better than I can.

Sign of the times

Dolphins tackle Jake Longfell 31 spots in the rankings to No. 59. He's the third tackle on this list and only one more -- Jason Peters -- is going to make the top 50. We think this makes sense. 2011 wasn't a great year for left tackles. While there are plenty of very good tackles, we don't know how many are playing a truly elite/Hall of Fame-caliber level.

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