NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2021" continues Saturday, Aug. 28. The order for players ranked 1-10 will be revealed over the course of two hours beginning at 4 p.m. ET. The players who make up that group were revealed on Sunday in alphabetical order. With that in mind, NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund uses her statistical models to provide a look at the most deserving players who didn't make the top 10 this year.
I love the Top 100 shows on NFL Network, mostly because it's fun to see what the players think of their peers but also because it gives me some insight into what the people most closely involved in execution find valuable.
My goal is to always improve my models, so comparing lists allows me to find some useful nuggets to help grow and expand. My models have predefined criteria for ranking players -- most notably, win share overall and win share relative to position -- and I've evaluated my top 100 players based on the 2020 season alone. Players who were injured are often the source of the biggest discrepancies between my list and that of the players. I create my overall rank by looking at the win share rankings at each position -- paying special attention to players ranked at the top of their position by a wide margin -- and positional value is also factored in. For example, the top five most valuable in order: quarterback, pass rusher, left tackle, cornerback, wide receiver.
This all leads me to the top 10, which was revealed on Sunday in alphabetical order. I can tell you my model thinks there were some snubs. Based on my criteria, five players in my top 10 didn't make the players' top 10. Let me know if you agree or disagree, and why. You can find me on Twitter @cfrelund.
The biggest difference between my list and the players' list was our rankings of the Packers cornerback, who was revealed at No. 41. I calculate Alexander as not only having the highest win share among corners for 2020, but also for 2021. Next Gen Stats shows that he averaged 7.5 yards of pre-snap cushion per coverage snap in 2020, the third-most in the NFL (min. 300 coverage snaps), and only allowed 1.8 yards of separation per target when in off coverage (5 or more yards of cushion), a league low. In coverage, Alexander allowed a 67.0 passer rating (fifth-lowest) and a 50 percent completion rate (tied for second-lowest). Among my top 10 corners in the league, Alexander also had the least help, meaning the combined win share of his fellow corners was the lowest, which can be interpreted as asking more of Alexander ... and he delivered.
At No. 16 on the players' list is the guy who leads the league in turnovers caused by pressure with 14 since 2018. His 56 QB pressures last season tied for fourth-most and his seven turnovers caused by pressure topped the NFL (NGS). Garrett's average burst -- meaning the speed he reaches over the first 3 yards he travels -- is the second-fastest in the league since 2018, per computer vision.
OK, this one is kind of nitpicky, as Diggs checked in at No. 11 on the players' list. The 2020 receptions leader accounted for 93 receptions, 1,173 yards and five touchdowns on 120 targets when aligned wide, second-most in the NFL. He also earned 2.7 yards per route run (tied for seventh-most), 685 receiving yards on play-action targets (most in the NFL) and 50 receptions for 490 yards on hitch routes, also the most receptions and receiving yards for that route in the league (NGS). Diggs' ability to change direction, as measured by his hips rotating at least 90 degrees while keeping his speed, ranked third-best among wide receivers when measured by computer vision.
I know safety isn't one of the five highest-value positions I supplied in the intro, but Baker, who ranks No. 19 on the players' list, is a Swiss Army Knife. His versatility creates exceptional value. For example, NGS shows that his nine QB pressures in 2019 ranked fourth among defensive backs. In 2020, Baker's ability to limit yards and first downs earned by opposing rushers and pass catchers combined ranked best at the safety position.
Cynthia, did you know that analytics-folk are not supposed to find value in running backs? I'm not witty so I'll just say that this is how the model worked for the parameters I set, and the Browns, a team well-known for their analytics proficiency, paid the man so I feel like it's legit. With that out of the way, NGS shows that Chubb, who ranks No. 26 in the players' list, earned 327 rush yards over expected in 2020, the second-most in the NFL. His +1.75 RYOE per rush ranked first, as did his +17 rushing first downs over expected. First downs and touchdowns are given a lot of weight in my model. PFF also adds that he was the only player in the league to gain at least 4 yards per rush after contact last season (4.1).