We're now inside the final 30 of the Top 100.
This is where we enter elite company. These players are in the highest tier of the league, and barring injury, will land in this group on an annual basis, barring injury.
There are usually few surprises in this group, and none should serve as such with this week's selections. The only way for these men to go is up -- and they're already pretty high on the list.
If we need to pick a specific player to spotlight in this group (update: we do), we'll go with a quarterback who found himself in the top 10 last season after an incredible campaign that resulted in a Super Bowl appearance. It isn't unfamiliar territory for Matt Ryan, though, as he's seen himself leap from unranked in 2016 to No. 10 in 2017, and from No. 17 in 2013 to unranked in 2014.
As we've seen far too often with these rankings (and really, with the nature of this game), it's all about what you've done lately. Thanks to that 2016 run and another playoff berth last season, Matty Ice seems to have found his footing.
On to the rest of these stellar athletes!
Shady has been the unquestioned engine behind Buffalo's offense since his arrival in 2015, posting his best season as a Bill in 2016 but proving just as valuable in 2017 as Buffalo squeaked into the playoffs on the back of his 1,138 yards rushing and six touchdowns. How important is McCoy to Buffalo? When he went down with an ankle injury against Miami late in the season, doom and gloom set in for the Bills, but thanks to a thrilling Bengals win over the Ravens, the Bills ended their postseason drought. Bills fans can thank McCoy for a large share of work done in returning to the playoffs.
As we mentioned above, Ryan has been about as volatile as possible when it comes to the Top 100, but that didn't stop Atlanta from rewarding him with a new contract in May. At 33 years old, Ryan has settled into his role as Atlanta's unquestioned franchise quarterback, even as he's dealt with different offensive coordinators. That last part can be listed as the reason for a drop of nearly 900 passing yards from 2016 to 2017, as well as his fall from 38 to 20 touchdowns (and his Top 100 slide from 10 to 29), but no one is questioning his ability.
We heard less about Jones once he was dealt from the Patriots to the Cardinals, but he hasn't stopped producing. Jones recorded a league-best 17 sacks in 2017, a career high for him but not surprising, considering it was his fourth season of double-digit sacks in his six years in the NFL. As a result, Jones vaulted from No. 85 in last year's Top 100 to No. 28. It will be interesting to see how his performance is affected under new head coach Steve Wilks, but one thing is for certain: Jones is coming into his own, and it's proving GM Steve Keim wise in trading for him.
It's quite a compliment (and accomplishment) for a player, who at age 34 posted yet another 1,100-plus-yard season, to land in the Top 100. And to think, he was considering retirement! Fitzgerald is a surefire future Hall of Famer who has shown he still has plenty left in the tank, as evidenced by his continued success, even after moving to the slot in recent years. As faces come and go, Fitzgerald remains the constant in the desert finding himself in the Top 100 in every season in its existence and inside the top 30 for the fifth time.
Look up. Do you see that? That mass of human way up in the sky isn't Superman. No, it's Jordan, on his meteoric rise from No. 99 in 2016, unranked in 2017 and all the way up to No. 26 in 2018. That's what a stellar team season will do for a player, as will a career-high in his position's most important statistic: sacks. Jordan posted 13 in 2017, one half-sack better than his 2013 total, and finds himself back in the Top 100 for the second time in three years. Opposite the league's second-best offense (in terms of yards per game), Jordan was a menace off the edge for the Saints' defense, which did its part in helping New Orleans to an 11-5 record and an NFC South crown. With most of the same team coming back, these Saints are loaded and ready for another deep run.
Newton has seen one of the larger rises and falls in the Top 100 in recent years, ascending to the top spot after an incredible 2015 campaign in which his Panthers went 15-1 and ended up in the Super Bowl, then plunging to No. 44 after Carolina failed to make the playoffs in the following season. A return to competition and the postseason brought Newton back to where he should be, up 19 spots to 25 after he completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and set a career-high in rushes (139) and rushing yards (754). As Newton nears 30, the Panthers look to build on their 2017 success with their defined star at quarterback.
The after-touchdown dancing, reality dating show starring, towel throwing tight end has grown into a massive part of Kansas City's offense and with it, the Chiefs' fortunes always go. Take Kansas City's playoff loss to Tennessee for example: After Kelce left the game due to a concussion, the Chiefs slowly lost their grip on what seemed to be a commanding lead as the offense ground to a halt. This example alone isn't enough to bolster Kelce's selection to the Top 100 (his third, and his highest yet), but these statistics are: 83 catches, 1,038 yards, eight touchdowns. The pride of Cleveland Heights continues to cause nightmares for opponents. Keep dancing, Travis.
Peterson has moved from being one of the league's most promising cover corners to an established star, so much that this year's draft prospects even talked about how much they look up to him in trying to become one of the sport's best. Much like A.J. Green, Peterson has landed in the Top 100 in every year possible since he was selected right after the wideout (draft buddies!) in the 2011 draft. He only snagged one interception in 2011, but it's difficult to do so when teams actively look in the opposite direction. With Peterson, we find a four-place drop, which is minimal and can largely be chalked up to Arizona finishing 8-8. Under new coach Steve Wilks, we'll get to see how Pat Pete leads a new era of Cardinals football.
Green's 2016 season left a lot on the table due to injury, which forced him out of Cincinnati's final six games, but he rebounded with authority as part of an otherwise underwhelming offense, catching 75 passes for 1,078 yards (his sixth 1,000-plus-yard season in seven years) and eight touchdowns. Cincinnati's offense was one of the worst in the league in terms of yards per game, but most of that blame falls on a weak offensive line, which the Bengals have since attempted to address in the offseason. Green has had high expectations placed on him since he was selected fourth overall out of Georgia in 2011, and as his Top 100 history shows -- he's appeared in the rankings in every season possible in his career -- he's considered one of the league's greats, no matter how his team performs.
He's a four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, and at 27, he's solidified his status among the league's best defenders. As a result, Wagner sees his highest ranking yet, jumping 18 positions from 39 to 21, even as the Seahawks failed to make the playoffs. That's simply how good Wagner is. The linebacker posted yet another 100-plus tackle season, racking up 133 takedowns, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and six passes defensed as a key leader of Seattle's defense. Even as older pieces have departed, Wagner, at 27, is in the prime of his career and remains one of the NFL's best, as evidenced by his third selection to the Top 100.