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Top 100, Nos. 41-50: Deshaun Watson makes his mark

This group has the most character of any revealed thus far.

At No. 41, we find the league's Comeback Player of the Year, a wideout who exploded for a Chargers team that came painfully close to making the playoffs in 2017. From there, we find three Steelers, including one whose life took a sharp turn due to injury but is rebounding in inspiring fashion. And wedged among them is a running back who surprisingly is making his first appearance in the NFL Top 100 Players of 2018 after a memorable season as one half of a breakout backfield.

Oh, and then there's Deshaun Watson.

The rookie quarterback who burst onto the scene in 2017 has done the same in the Top 100, landing at an even 50 after less than half of a season of play. That's what can happen when a franchise that has long sought a franchise player at the position suddenly appears to have found its future.

Watson quickly became one of the league's most electrifying players upon his early season arrival, causing defenses fits, best displayed in a thrilling loss to Seattle. The quarterback instantly made Houston's weekly tilt a must-see event thanks to his dynamic ability and constant threat to break a big play with either his arm or legs.

Watson has run to No. 50 in this group, and should he return fully healthy and ready for much more, he can be expected to become a mainstay among this prestigious group.

On to the rest of the rankings, from Nos. 50 to 41:

It's rare to see a rookie land in these rankings, and even more unusual to see a player who appeared in just seven games in his career finish in the top 50 of this prestigious group. But Watson isn't just any player. The dual-threat quarterback temporarily lit the league on fire with his play in six starts, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions and rushing 36 times for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Watson proved Houston correct in trading up for him in the 2017 NFL Draft, at least for now. Should he do more of the same over a full season, it's likely we'll see him back in these rankings at a much higher position.

Big Play Slay's best season yet came in 2017. The defensive back picked off opposing quarterbacks eight times, recorded 60 tackles and a career-high 26 passes defensed (double his previous high of 13). Detroit's defense improved as a result, jumping from 14th to sixth in the league against the pass, allowing 243.2 yards per game. Slay proved Detroit wise in locking him up on a four-year contract in 2016 with his play in 2017.

The third Steeler of this group posted his best season yet, recording 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed as a havoc-wreaking defensive tackle. The 295-pound defender figures to continue causing problems for opponents and landing in the Top 100 as a result, making his second appearance at No. 48 in traditional Pittsburgh fashion: As a relentless, hard-headed defender of whom his late father would be proud.

Shazier's career took a frightening turn when he suffered a significant spinal injury in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and while his football playing future is very much in jeopardy, that doesn't take away from what he's done to this point. The athletic linebacker lands in the Top 100 for the first time in his career at No. 47 and serves as an inspiration to countless people. He also logged quite a season in 2017, recording 89 tackles, a career-high 11 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Minnesota blew the doors off the league in 2017 with an unheralded quarterback, but much of the credit is due to the Vikings' defense. We saw teammate Xavier Rhodes land in the Top 100 last week at No. 55, and welcome another defensive back dressed in purple after Smith matched his career-high in interceptions (five), set a new high in passes defensed (12) and logged 78 tackles to boot. The hard-hitting safety makes his second appearance in the Top 100 at his highest ranking.

Adams got his money in late December and his first appearance in the Top 100 (he narrowly missed it in 2017, landing at 101) after a 74-catch, 10-touchdown campaign. What makes that performance even more impressive is the fact Adams did a lot of that damage without all-universe quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sidelined with a broken collarbone. A different quarterback didn't matter all that much to Adams, Green Bay's new No. 1 receiver, cemented by his payday and the Packers' release of Jordy Nelson. He figures to make yet another appearance in the Top 100 in 2019, which could be even higher than his No. 45 finish.

DeCastro makes his second-straight appearance in the Top 100 after serving as a crucial part of one of the league's better offensive lines. DeCastro appeared in 15 games, clearing holes for Le'Veon Bell to rush for 1,291 yards, the third-best mark in the league. The former first-round pick also protected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw Pittsburgh to the league's third-best offense, racking up 377.9 yards per game in 2017. DeCastro's consistency is key to his and Pittsburgh's success, which is why he finds himself in the Top 100 at his highest ranking yet.

New Orleans' crowded backfield went from three to two early in the season and opened the floodgates for premier production. With Ingram serving as the hammer to the two-headed monster that was the Saints' running game, New Orleans rushed to an NFC South crown and playoff run that ended in stunning fashion in Minneapolis. No matter though, as the Saints look to continue battling for the division title and attempt another deep run on the backs of Alvin Kamara and Ingram, who posted his second straight 1,000-plus-yard season and a career-high 12 touchdowns. At 28, he's running harder and better than ever as part of one of the league's most explosive offenses. For his efforts, he lands in the Top 100 for the first time at No. 43.

The Seahawks might be in the midst of a fluid rebuild, but that isn't stopping Earl Thomas from continuing to play well. After seeing his season end prematurely in 2016 due to a broken leg, Thomas returned to play 14 games and record 88 tackles, seven passes defensed and two interceptions. With Richard Sherman and a host of veteran mainstays gone for other clubs, Thomas remains -- for now -- one of the league's best safeties, marked by his sixth-straight appearance in the Top 100.

The Chargers' offense was undercut by Allen's knee injury early in 2016, but they had a healthy Allen in 2017, and boy, did it pay off. Allen caught 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns, nearly tripling the next closest receiver's yardage output ( Melvin Gordon, 476 yards) as Los Angeles' runaway receiving leader. The NFL's Comeback Player of the Year landed in the * Top 100* for the first time at No. 41 and returns to a team that is widely expected to contend for the postseason. If Allen replicates his 2017 performance, it's fair to expect him, Philip Rivers and Co. to be playing in January.

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