We asked the Around the League writers for their three big takeaways from the season:
- Where were you when you learned that Jimmy Graham was left off the "Top 100" list? OK, you don't remember, and neither do I. Still, it's a low-level travesty that the New Orleans Saints tight end didn't crack this list when the likes of Dennis Pitta, Jacoby Jones, Bernard Pollard and Charles Woodson did. Graham's production over the past two seasons speaks for itself. It's an omission that compromises the integrity of the entire list. So yeah, this was messed up.
- OK, so how do we fix it? If you want to improve matters, let's make some tweaks to the voting process in 2014. We understand that the player voting represents the hook of the "Top 100," and we think they should continue to have the loudest voice in the room. But let's add coaches, front-office men and perhaps some media figures hand-picked by the players. We can call it the Jimmy Graham Memorial Checks and Balances Plan.
- It's not all bad. I certainly rather NFL Network air fresh and expertly produced "Top 100" programming over, say, old "Hard Knocks" episodes in which a wild-eyed Herm Edwards tries to talk himself into the Brodie Croyle era. Beyond that, the players got the top 10 right. Who can argue with Adrian Peterson at No. 1? And we're pleased to see Peyton Manning get the No. 2 spot. I feel like too many people got lazy and dismissed his amazing comeback season because of the playoff loss. But Manning still was Manning. He blew expectations away.
- Ed Reed at No. 18? Outrageous. And a clear example of why the "Top 100" voting process borders on a sham. Reed's placement reveals this list for what it really is: A popularity contest and a career retrospective. We hammered the players last year for ranking Reed at No. 16, and they've gone and done it again. Hall of Famer? Yes. The 18th best player in football today? Child, please.
*And I have all sorts of issues with the messy trainwreck at Nos. 89 and 90 ... *
- As teams catch up with the read-option, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks correctly points to Percy Harvin (as No. 90) as the player who will allow the Seahawks to stay ahead of the curve. Percy's among a small tribe of NFL X-factors who thrive in open space and must be accounted for on every down. So, naturally, these hobby horses ranked Jacoby Jones (at No. 88) two spots ahead of Harvin. I wouldn't have a problem with Percy going 50 spots higher.
- On the subject of Cameron Wake, Gregg Rosenthal nailed it back in May: The eternally underrated pass rusher might be one of the 10 best defensive players over the past three seasons. But 15 sacks in 2012 apparently didn't impress his peers, who locked Wake in the basement at No. 89. Meanwhile, old-as-the-trees Charles Woodson ranked four spots higher. ... We live in dark times.
- The emergence of the current crop of young quarterbacks is rightfully one of the NFL's biggest stories. (Even if they were ranked a little high on the Top 100.) Less talked about: The young pass rushers. Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt and Von Miller all were ranked as top 10 players. They all are 24 years or younger. It's going to be a lot of fun watching this trio over the next decade.
- Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins got jobbed with his No. 36 ranking. J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Atkins clearly were the three most dominant defensive players in the NFL last season. The other two are rightfully in the top 10 while Atkins is below nine other defensive players. Leading a defense that ranked first in points allowed, second in sacks and second in turnovers over the second half of the season, Atkins posted the most sacks (12.5) by a defensive tackle in 13 years. He also shattered Pro Football Focus' record for most combined sacks, hits and hurries by a defensive tackle while lapping the field with 46 defensive "stops" in the run game.
- What sticks out about this list is that Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is the highest-ranked offensive lineman at No. 28. It's hard to quibble the ranking. This generation simply lacks the dominant left tackles such as Anthony Munoz, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden of previous generations. Even more interesting is the growing belief that right tackles are gaining ground on the "blindside" in importance, as evidenced by three of the top four picks in the 2013 NFL Draft being ticketed for the right side.
- The players have caught plenty of flak for this list, but give them credit for nailing one position. It's hard to find fault with the running-back pecking order, which is more than we can say for Hanzus' feeble attempt at rankingthe top 30 NFL backs. After Adrian Peterson as the obvious top tailback, the players have Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, Doug Martin, Chris Johnson, Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson and Maurice Jones-Drew. Slight adjustments can be made (where's C.J. Spiller?), of course, but this is the one position where the rankings most closely reflect reality.