*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. *
People don't talk about T.Y. Hilton enough. He's ninth among active players in career receiving yards, behind guys like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones but ahead of DeAndre Hopkins and Alshon Jeffery. Hilton isn't mentioned much with those names, perhaps because he's played in the shadow of Andrew Luck, and the Colts have missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. Regardless, Hilton has tallied more than 850 receiving yards in each of his seven seasons, topping 1,000 five times. T.Y. is one of the most reliable and consistent receivers in the NFL, so this seems like a fair range to throw him in.
How did Matt Ryan drop 40 spots in the Top 100? In 2017, he threw for 4,095 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and was ranked No. 29. In 2018, he threw for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions and is ranked No. 69. Ryan's 2018 season was sneakily almost equivalent to his record-setting 2016 MVP season. The difference was the Falcons got off to a slow start last year, lost five straight in the middle of the season and failed to make the postseason. Two years ago, Ryan had the Falcons one Julio Jones catch away from consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances, so players clearly factored in winning. That's why Ryan falls here, despite his statistical improvement.
If you asked any non-Bronco if they knew who Phillip Lindsay was at this time last year and they said yes, they were lying. Lindsay was an undrafted rookie from the University of Colorado and bullied his way up the running back depth chart before becoming the starter midway through the season. In his eight starts, Lindsay scored seven touchdowns, including two in his breakout 157-yard game versus the Bengals in Week 13. More consistent quarterback play ( Joe Flacco vs. Case Keenum) and a better offensive line (Mike Munchak is the new o-line coach) would help Lindsay avoid a sophomore slump.
Ford's 2018 season -- his last in Kansas City -- is going to be remembered for one play and one play only. If he lined up a few inches back, the Chiefs are Super Bowl bound and might have a Lombardi Trophy. That play overshadowed his otherwise dominant season. Ford had a career-high 13.0 sacks and 55 combined tackles and led the league with seven forced fumbles. He was one of the few bright spots on a Chiefs defense that struggled to stop anyone all year. In the offseason, Ford was traded to the 49ers and subsequently signed a five-year, $87.5 million deal. As you can see, lots of great things happened to Ford over the past year. If only he could have that one play back.
It's amazing how much playing with the right quarterback and coach can change the course of a career. Ebron was released by the Lions last March. He signed with the Colts, played one season and now he's looking like one of the league's top tight ends. Ebron led all tight ends with 13 touchdowns, two more than he had combined in the first four years of his career with Matthew Stafford and Jim Caldwell in Detroit. Ebron and Jack Doyle, coming back from kidney surgery, will team up to pair one of the NFL's best tight end duos in 2019.
Here's an upset at No. 65. JPP hasn't been in the Top 100 since 2013, back when he was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls and looked like one of the best young defensive ends in football. A lot has happened since then, and a car accident in May could keep him out for a significant portion of next season, so this could be the last appearance for JPP. He did have a bit of a renaissance in 2018, totaling 12.5 sacks, his most since 2014. Now 30 years old and with the severe neck injury from the accident, the clock is likely winding down for Pierre-Paul.
A ranking this high for Cooper seemed completely unrealistic when he was traded from Oakland to Dallas in October. He was averaging less than 50 receiving yards per game in the first six games of the season and looked destined for a second straight underwhelming year. The Cowboys looked foolish for surrendering a first-round pick to get Cooper, but he meshed perfectly with Dak Prescott. His Week 14 performance against division rival Philadelphia -- 10 catches, 217 yards, three touchdowns (including the overtime winner) -- cemented the trade as a major victory for Dallas. And at just 25 years old, Cooper fits right in with the Cowboys' young core.
Injuries derailed Clowney early in his career, but he's been excellent over the past few years. Last year in particular was no doubt Clowney's finest work -- and it conveniently (wink wink) came during a contract year. His overall grade for PFF was 89.5, a huge increase from his previous career high of 77.8 in 2015. Clowney finished the year with 9.0 sacks, which is solid -- especially considering the Texans defense ranked 28th in passing defense. Houston's secondary didn't play up to the level that Clowney and J.J. Watt needed and that limited their upside. Both were still Pro Bowlers, but better secondary play would unlock a new level, especially for Clowney. He'll play on the franchise tag in 2019, so the sense of urgency to get a big pay day is still there.
Le'Veon who? Conner wasn't as good as the former disgruntled Steeler, but he was close. Compared to Bell's first season as a starter, Conner was actually better than Bell. He was 11th in rushing yards and tied for third in rushing touchdowns. The Steelers' offense, with Big Ben under center, has been able to plug pieces in and out with ease. Remember when 32-year-old DeAngelo Williams rushed for 900-plus yards and 11 scores in 2015 while Bell was suspended and then injured. Conner, 24, has the potential to be in the Top 100 for a long time. With Big Ben aging and Antonio Brown residing in Oakland, the Steelers could pivot to a more run-heavy offense.
This marks the second young Cowboys defender in the Top 100, as Smith and Leighton Vander Esch make up one of the league's top linebacking duos. Smith was a projected top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but a torn ACL and a dubious diagnosis saw him fall to Dallas in the second round. Doctors wondered if he would ever play again, giving him a 50-50 chance of his career being over before it started. Since then, Smith's proven to be a steal. He was 14th in the league with 121 combined tackles in 2018 and, most importantly, he played 95 percent of possible snaps. His health is holding up, and if it continues that way, the Cowboys will remain one of the most dangerous young defenses in football.