Top 100, Nos. 11-20: Russell Wilson rises despite team's struggles

Well well, what do we have here?

Typically, when a star player's team fails to make the postseason, we see his ranking suffer within a range of increments. It could be two spots, it could be 20 -- but it's almost always something.

Russell Wilson is here to challenge that.

Wilson sees a 13-position boost in this year's rankings, even after his Seahawks narrowly missed the playoffs with a 9-7 finish. The reason is a little bit more difficult to uncover, because the numbers aren't exactly clear.

Wilson completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,983 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 95.4 passer rating in 2017. This, a year after his 64.7 competion percentage, 4,219 yards and 92.6 passer rating produced 13 less touchdowns but landed the Seahawks in the postseason.

A dive into team statistics doesn't reveal much else:

2016 Seahawks offense

-42 sacks in 2016 (111 hits)

-99.4 rushing yards per game (25th in NFL)

2017 Seahawks offense

-43 sacks (121 hits)

-101.8 rushing yards per game (23rd in NFL)

The difference? Wilson's persistence.

The quarterback handed the ball to a rotation of backs that included Alex Collins (who's now a productive part of the Baltimore Ravens), Christine Michael, C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls in 2016, yet saw a very slightly better production from a 2017 cast of Eddie Lacy, Mike Davis, Chris Carson, J.D. McKissic and Rawls. In both seasons, Wilson finished either first or second on the team in rushing.

Meanwhile, Wilson ran for his life at times and battled through injuries at various junctures, yet continued to serve as both the engine and the lynchpin of Seattle's offense. Without him, it doesn't work. In fact, without him, there is no offense.

Perhaps that explains it. In speaking with Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, Wilson seems to have earned a do-it-all dynamo reputation around the league.

"(Wilson is thought of highly because of) his ability to extend plays and he never has help and he's always able to somehow -- he should have won MVP, I think, this past year," Barr told me Tuesday. "No offensive line, no running game, can't name three receivers on his team and he just makes plays."

This is all accurate. But why MVP?

"Because he balled," Barr replied.

That's good enough for me. But I'm still not letting the Seahawks get away with this nonsense.

Onto the rankings (which includes two Jaguars)!!

Kamara blew the doors off the league as a rookie as one half of the league's most dynamic backfield in 2017, rushing 120 times for 728 yards and eight touchdowns in what began as a spell back role and became a complementary-at-worst role. He also did even more damage in the passing game, catching 81 passes for 826 yards and five touchdowns. With the threat of Kamara in both the running game and passing game, and downhill hammer lead back Mark Ingram, New Orleans' backfield has become the envy of the league. It also snagged Kamara some hardware -- Offensive Rookie of the Year -- and a debut in the top 20 of the Top 100.

How much is a leap into contention worth for one player? An launch from the 90s to the teens. Griffen finds himself inside 50 -- no, inside 20 -- for the first time in his career, a year after making his first appearance in the Top 100 at 92. Why, you ask? Let's start with a career-high 13 sacks, add in a career-high three forced fumbles and then zoom out to consider Griffen's impact on the Vikings' defense as a whole. He's the best edge rusher Minnesota has seen since Jared Allen, and that's as part of the league's No. 1 defense in yards allowed per game. At 30, his prime has arrived a little later than most, but that doesn't diminish Griffen's value for the Vikings.

Roethlisberger is on the back nine of his career, but he's still one of the league's best and the driver of a coveted football Ferrari. Armed with Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Roethlisberger has plenty of toys to finish his career on a high note -- that is, if he doesn't let the next generation bother him too much. While Mason Rudolph waits with a clipboard, Roethlisberger will look to continue his excellence, posting his first 4,000-plus-yard season since 2014 and maintaining one of the most impressively consistent TD-INT ratios the game will see. In 2017, it was 28:14 (2:1 for you math wizards who are eager to follow the rules), following a 29:13 2016 and a 21:16 2015. His passer rating hasn't dipped below 90 since 2008. He's earned his right to hang onto his job with a desperate grip until he says he wants out. If Roethlisberger keeps playing like this, he'll probably get that privilege -- and keep finishing in the upper half of the Top 100.

NFL Films captured a great clip of Ramsey talking with teammate A.J. Bouye in which one of the two says "we might really have two All-Pro corners." Their Top 100 rankings are about as close as they can come to that without actually earning the honor. Ramsey did his part, securing All-Pro status after he became a bonafide lockdown corner in his second season, recording 63 tackles, 17 passes defensed and four interceptions. If the Jaguars' front seven made opposing quarterbacks shake in their boots, Ramsey popped up in their dreams, turning them to nightmares and errant passes into turnovers. If things keep trending that way in Jacksonville, Ramsey can take up a summer home in the Top 25 to go along with his residences in opposing quarterbacks' heads. Oh, and we should add: This is quite a position for a first-timer in the Top 100. Keep eating, Jalen.

Mack's ranking falls slightly here because of his team's decline. It's the only explanation, because statistically, he remains about as reliable and consistent as they come. Mack didn't break 15 sacks in 2017 as he did in 2015, but he stayed close to what he did in 2016, which earned him the No. 5 ranking in the Top 100. He falls back into the teens this time around at No. 16, but that shouldn't be taken as an indictment of his work. Mack's best years remain ahead of him, especially if Oakland can rebound under familiar face Jon Gruden.

Where do we start with Gronk? We could talk about his racehorse (second-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes), his on-field antics or his flirtation with retirement. Or we could talk about why he's here on this list: He's the league's best tight end. The former Arizona Wildcat posted his fourth 1,000-plus-yard season in 14 games in 2017, catching 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns as a key part of the AFC champion Patriots. With Gronkowski on the field, New England moves from good to elite -- it's just that simple. As with most of the players inside the top 20, Gronkowski is the type who is vital to a team's success. His seventh Top 100 appearance is no accident.

Campbell stunned many when he made the leap from the contending Cardinals to the middling-at-best Jaguars, but his foresight proved to be correct with Jacksonville's magical 2017 campaign. With a defense led by but not limited to Campbell's hellraising, Jacksonville rolled to an AFC South crown and came within one half of reaching its first Super Bowl. Campbell, long one of football's best-kept secrets hiding out in the desert, finished tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 14.5. His play and Jacksonville's ascension to the league's elite launched Campbell from No. 83 to No. 14, finally receiving the credit he's long been due. It's his fourth appearance in the Top 100 but highest ranking by a long shot, with his previous high being No. 71 in 2016.

One of the most peculiar products of the 2016 season was the sharp decline of Hopkins' Top 100 ranking, falling from No. 19 to completely out of the Top 100 (he was No. 103). It turns out the signing of Brock Osweiler cost those involved more than just Houston's second-round pick. But Nuk returned to prominence in this year's rankings, rocketing up from 103 to 13 thanks to two important, interdependent factors: his statistics, and his tantalizing potential when paired with Deshaun Watson. A year after the Osweiler Experience (short name: Brocktober) sapped the Texans of a competent offense and left Hopkins short of 1,000 yards for just the second time in his season, Houston saw a rebirth at the position in the form of Watson, who found Hopkins 38 times in six games for 551 yards and six touchdowns. That thrill ride ended abruptly with Watson's ACL injury, but Hopkins continued to ride his wave, finishing with 96 receptions for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns in 15 games. That wave also deposited him back in the upper tier of the Top 100, right where he belongs.

Ask almost any current pro his opinion on who is the premier middle linebacker in the NFL, and he'll likely respond with Kuechly. One need not look further than his appearances in these rankings: a total of six appearances, with all but one coming inside the top 20. Kuechly returns in 2018 at No. 12, an eight-place improvement on his 2017 ranking, which came after the linebacker appeared in just 10 games. This time around, Kuechly played in 15 games, logging 125 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six passes defensed, three interceptions and one forced fumble. An anticipated loss of Thomas Davis after 2018 ( or 2019?) is a little bit easier to stomach when considering Kuechly will be there (given he can remain healthy).

Wilson has vaulted from budding star to bonafide superstar. As with most franchise quarterbacks, the Seahawks go as Wilson goes, but this one feels a little more special due to the aforementioned consistency followed by a rise in the rankings. Will Seattle supply Wilson with enough talent to win the NFC West again? The other half of the division appears to only be getting stronger, so GM John Schneider will have to keep pace. We know Wilson will hold up his end of the bargain.

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