Top 100 Players of 2019, Nos. 40-31: Young safeties shine

It's that time of year again, when NFL players cast their votes to identify the best in the league heading into the 2019 NFL season. From July 22 through the 31st, NFL Media will reveal a new set of 10 names daily from the "Top 100 Players of 2019." Check in here and on NFL Network each day at 9 p.m. ET to see where your favorite players rank.

Ertz was historically good last season. The six-year pro had 116 receptions, an NFL record for tight ends. He added 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns and formed a high-flying tight end duo with rookie Dallas Goedert. Since Carson Wentz was drafted in 2016, Ertz has three straight seasons with 800-plus yards and 70-plus receptions. If Wentz can stay healthy for a full season, Ertz should continue to thrive. There were thoughts that Wentz over-targeted Ertz over the past few seasons, but that only helps the tight end. He's had over 100 targets in each of the last three seasons, including a team-high 156 in 2018 (59 more than the next closest receiver). Expect Ertz to continue getting the ball often in 2019 with Wentz under center.

A change of scenery in 2015 changed the course of Hicks' career. He was traded from New Orleans to New England that fall, and subsequently earned a huge payday from the Bears the ensuing offseason. Hicks was solid with the Saints and Patriots, but he became a new player under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Hicks has had seven or more sacks each of his three seasons in Chicago and set a new career high in tackles each year. Fangio is off to Denver, so it'll be interesting to see how Hicks performs in 2019. This is his first Top 100 appearance, and if he keeps improving as he has each year in Chicago, it won't be his last.

Allen has quickly become one of the league's best receivers. He lost most of his 2015 and 2016 seasons to injury, but hasn't missed any games since then. It's just his second Top 100 appearance, but the Chargers projected season bodes well for him moving forward. In 2018, Allen had his second straight season of 95-plus catches and 1,100-plus yards. He had a dominant stretch from Week 10 through 14 when he scored a touchdown in five straight games, punctuated by his 14-catch, 148-yard masterpiece in the comeback win over Pittsburgh. The Steelers' defense is probably still having nightmares.

  Jamal Adams tried to warn us. He really did. After missing the 
  Pro Bowl (and the Top 100) as a rookie, he vowed he would never miss the game again. To make good on that promise in 2018, Adams doubled his passses defended from six to 12, tripled his forced fumbles from one to three and quadrupled his quarterback hits from two to eight. Adams was also 11th in the NFL in solo tackles (86). We haven't seen any tweets from Adams about never missing the Top 100 again, but I don't think it matters. He won't have to worry about that. He's only 23, and he's likely to make the cut for a long time to come. 

Jones teamed with Dee Ford to form one of the best pass rushes in the league in 2018 -- at least in terms of sack numbers. The Chiefs' 52.0 sacks on the year was tied for most in the NFL, and Jones accounted for a team-high 15.5 of them. His career total before last season was 8.5. Despite the lower numbers early in his career, Jones has been elite since the Chiefs drafted him 37th overall in 2016. He has won 15.7 percent of his pass rushes over the last three years, which ranks fourth behind only Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Geno Atkins. Ever heard of them? Jones should be an elite defensive end for a while.

With or without Aaron Rodgers, Adams has proven he's a legit No. 1 receiver. In 2018, he had his best season yet -- 111 receptions, 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns. That's three straight 10-plus touchdown seasons. The most impressive aspect of Adams' career is that even as he's been asked to do more, he's only gotten better. His catch percentage has improved each year. Adams has become a guy the Packers can't live without. After Adams, Jimmy Graham had the second-most receptions on the team with 55. Yes, Adams more than doubled the next closest guy. He's become that good.

Here's a player who has pretty much been the same guy for three straight years. Gordon's been between 880 to 1,110 rushing yards, eight to 10 rushing touchdowns and 40 to 60 catches each season. But here we are, celebrating his first Top 100 bid. Last year was actually Gordon's least productive of the three in terms of rushing yards, but that was due to injuries costing him four games. Gordon's 5.1 yards per attempt was eighth in the league, ahead of Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara, among others. He's a top running back in the league, and he deserves to maintain his high spot in the Top 100.

The Vikings upgraded from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins in 2018, and Thielen's production spiked after the switch -- 22 more catches and five more touchdowns. How did he only rise three spots in the Top 100? Before a slow last few weeks of the season, Thielen was looking like a top-five receiver. He started the season with eight straight 100-yard games, but the Vikings were just 4-3-1. The Vikings sputtered down the stretch with key losses to New England, Seattle and Chicago, which cost them a playoff spot. If Thielen and the Vikes can get back to the postseason, he might get the respect he deserves.

Luckily, the voters didn't penalize Goff for his no-show in Super Bowl LIII and rewarded him for his strong regular season. He's firmly established himself as the Rams' franchise quarterback, and they'll likely reward him with a new contract after next season if he maintains this pace. Consecutive NFC West titles have given him valuable playoff experience that is hard to come by with young quarterbacks. The division is significantly improved for 2019, though. The Cardinals -- with Kyle Murray running the show -- are no longer a pushover. The 49ers will get Jimmy Garoppolo back from his torn ACL. And the Seahawks, when led by Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, will always be a threat. This is a big-time prove it year for Goff.

James joins Adams as one of the most impressive young safeties in football -- except he's already ranked higher than Adams and this is his first year eligible. It's not often a rookie can come in and completely shift the culture of a team defense, but that's what James did. It was wild that he fell to 17th in the draft. It all worked out perfectly for him, though. The Chargers defense allows him to play all over the field and do what he does best -- make big plays.

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