Top 100, Nos. 61-70: Eagles soaring, falling after title run

Super Bowl runs can be a fickle beast.

Take this group, for example. On one hand, we have a tight end in Zach Ertz who had what some would consider a breakout season in 2017, at least in terms of touchdowns, but others would see as more of the same success. On the other hand, we have Fletcher Cox.

Both are Super Bowl champions. Both have been fitted for incredibly expensive rings. Each saw different results from the same run to glory.

We'll focus on Cox for the sake of introduction. The defensive lineman posted numbers similar to the rest of his career, and played in less than a full regular season for the first time since his rookie season of 2012. His front seven ranked first in the NFL against the run, and fourth in total defense. Where's the cause for criticism?

We'll leave that up to the player testimonials, which will largely be positive. As my theory below proposes, perhaps it was just more difficult for Cox to shine among such talented teammates. I'm sure he'll take that and a Super Bowl ring over the alternative every time.

On to the rankings!

Atlanta successfully avoided the Super Bowl hangover, but Freeman couldn't juke past the Falcons' offensive decline in 2017. As one of the NFL's most explosive offenses regressed toward the mean under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Freeman saw one of, if not the biggest drop in production. The tailback missed two games, finished with 31 fewer carries and four fewer touchdowns and went from 1,079 yards rushing in 2016 to just 865 in 2017. That could explain Freeman's drop from 41 to 70, but in reality, he's probably at least 10 places better than that.

We've arrived at one of our most peculiar slides of the year. Cox missed two games in 2017, but still recorded 5.5 sacks, 26 tackles, two passes defensed and one forced fumble. Oh, and he won a Super Bowl. Maybe this is a product of playing alongside Timmy Jernigan as part of a menacing front four that also included Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Perhaps it was a little more difficult for the singular talent to stand out.

All Ertz needed to break into the Top 100 was a Pro Bowl quarterback. That's at least what we're gaining from this ranking, his first inclusion in the prestigious group in his career, after he posted his third straight 800-plus-yard, 70-plus-reception season. Ertz has hit a two-times multiplier in his last two seasons, doubling his two touchdowns from 2015 by scoring four times in 2016, and doubling that mark with eight touchdowns in 2017. The tight end was a star in Philadelphia's lauded offense, which propelled the Eagles to their first Lombardi Trophy. Welcome aboard, Zach.

Smith popped up in the Top 100 in 2016 but fell out as a result of Jacksonville's struggle-filled season that followed. A massive rebound on the part of the Jaguars has catapulted the deserving Smith back into the Top 100 after a 102-tackle season that saw the linebacker snag three interceptions. Smith capped his bounce-back season with a joyful fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in Jacksonville's postseason upset of Pittsburgh. Yep, the cherry on top of his season was a scoop and score. Sweet.

The defensive tackle continues to build on an established reputation for wreaking havoc on opposing offenses and sees a nice little boost as a result of Tennessee's playoff run and victory. Casey did more of the same in 2017, recording 60 tackles, six sacks, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. He doesn't figure to stop causing problems in the interior anytime soon.

Ah, yes, the meteoric rise of Stefon Diggs. It should have its own YouTube short. The wideout who was once an afterthought seized his opportunity, scoring eight touchdowns and catching 64 passes for 849 yards, and entered local lore as a Vikings hero by taking a last-ditch heave to the crib for a game-winning touchdown in the Divisional Round. It's his first appearance in the Top 100, but likely won't be his last.

Perhaps this drop would have been more stunning had we not seen the last few months transpire. Seattle unceremoniously dumped Sherman shortly before free agency, allowing the corner to almost immediately sign with division rival San Francisco on a self-negotiated, prove-it contract. How he'll perform after returning from an Achilles injury that cut his final season in Seattle short is anyone's guess, but for now, this feels about right for Sherman.

Through the Bengals' decade-long ups and downs, Atkins has been a force, recording at least nine sacks in each of his last three seasons. In 2018, he did that and upped his total tackles to 46 while serving as the consistent nightmare for opponents, frequently commanding double teams and breaking through resistance more often than not. He's as steady as they come, as evidenced by his five-place movement from 2017 to 2018, even as Cincinnati fell out of contention last season.

Hyde was often the overlooked member of Green Bay's secondary and was also frequently exploited by opponents, but a shift to Buffalo produced his best season to date. The defensive back tallied career highs in tackles (82), interceptions (five) and passes defensed (13) in his first season as a Bill, playing a key role for a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. He's in the Top 100 for the first time as a result.

Suh saw his time in Miami come to an abrupt end this offseason, but it wasn't without considerable contributions. One of just five current players to make the Top 100 in every year since 2011, Suh did more of what he's done for the majority of his career, racking up 48 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed in 2017. He moves to his best team in his career in 2018, signing with the Los Angeles Rams, which happen to include Aaron Donald.

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