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RealSport NFL Top 100: Selections 30-21

With the NFL’s top 100 well under way, we here at Real Sport thought we would give you our own version; Th

With the NFL’s top 100 well under way, we here at Real Sport thought we would give you our own version; The RS 100. Every writer here had the chance to vote for the 100 best players from the 2015 season. This ranking was done regardless of position value or salary cap cost. It was simply based on who had the best 2015 season. As a result you won’t see quality players like Jordy Nelson anywhere on our ranking as he didn’t play a single snap in the 2015 season. Voting panel: Toby Durant, Remy Cabache, Cameron Tennyson, Rebecca Rennie, Daniel Hernandez, David Pruett, Ryan Tolster  

  1. Desmond Trufant, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons

(TD: #35, RC: #52, CT: #48, RR: #59, DH: #30, DP: #42, RT: #26) Trufant’s presence in the top 30 may surprise some people. He’s not a big household name and the Atlanta defense is far from spectacular – except for Trufant that is. As Dan Quinn tries to bring his successful Seattle formula to the Georgia Dome it has become apparent that Trufant is the key to that plan. His incredible ability to read a receiver and react to the ball has allowed him to play brilliant coverage in both zone and man as well as have success in the tricky cover 3 press that Richard Sherman has excelled in. What separates Trufant is that he does this all with one of the worst pass rushes in the league and without Earl Thomas. Despite those deficiencies Atlanta were seventh in the league against #1 receivers.

  1. Andy Dalton, Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals

(TD: #44, RC: #30, CT: #30, RR: #51, DH: #40, DP: #61, RT: #29) The Red Rifle checks in #29, which may surprise many. Dalton never been considered a brilliant quarterback, but he has been improving through his career in Cincinnati and put in his best season by far in 2015. With career highs in competion percentage (66.1), Yards per attempt (8.4), touchdown percentage (6.5), QB rating (106.2) and QBR (73.11) it was a banner year for Dalton. The 5th year quarterback lead lead the Bengals to the best passing offense in the NFL – by Football Outsiders DVOA – despite playing only 13 games.

  1. Geno Atkins, Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals

(TD: #17, RC: #63, CT: #67, RR: #16, DH: #27, DP: #37, RT: #43) Geno Atkins may have been surpassed by some of younger interior defensive linemen but he can still get it done on the field, as he proved in 2015. 11 sacks, 17 tackles for a loss and 21 QB hits is a very good season for a defensive tackle. Amazingly it’s not his best single season. But after injuries derailed him for two years after a brilliant 2012 campaign it was great to see him return to form. At his best Atkins is a wrecking ball of a defensive tackle. His quickness off the ball and stoutness at the point of attack makes him very difficult to handle one on one. The presence of Carlos Dunlap on the outside may have made life a little easier for Atkins but he can single-handedly ruin an offenses day, that’s a rare skill. Atkins made his second appearance on the AP first team All-Pro team last season as well as his taking a 4th trip to the Pro Bowl.

  1. Eric Berry, Safety, Kansas City Chiefs

(TD: #56, RC: #27, CT: #29, RR: #15, DH: #52, DP: #30, RT: #28) After a battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that cost him most of the 2014 season, and could have cost him far more, Berry returned to the NFL in 2015 and had an impressive season on the field. Is that “feel good story” rubbing off on his ranking here? Perhaps a little but he performed well against both the run and the pass, helping rookie Marcus Peters look like a megastar and was a major part of Kansas City’s spectacular defense against running backs (3rd in the league) and tight ends (2nd) in the passing game.

  1. Richard Sherman, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks

(TD: #26, RC: #23, CT: #27, RR: #47, DH: #29, DP: #57, RT: #27) Surprisingly Richard Sherman is not our highest ranked cornerback. It’s not that he had a bad season, but there were times where he was less Sherman-y than he has been in previous years. He was still terrific. Seattle were ranked first against #1 receivers and he is a huge reason for that. Seattle played a little less of the cover 3 press in 2015 then they had before, and started to move Sherman around the field rather than leave him as the left corner. That seemed to affect his play negatively early in the season but he came roaring back late on, it just wasn’t enough to keep him at the top of the cornerback pile.

  1. Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive End, New York Jets

(TD: #25, RC: #20, CT: #34, RR: #35, DH: #77, DP: #16, RT: #21) In a world where JJ Watt did not exist Muhammad Wilkerson would get a lot more attention as a truly great player. Instead, he has to carve out a place for himself in the shadow of Watt. Wilkerson had his best season as a pass rusher under rookie head coach Todd Bowles. 28 QB hits and 12 sacks is fantastic for a 3-4 defensive end, especially when he has blitzing linebackers flying around as frequently as Wilkerson did. Both those numbers lead the team by a long way, as did his 11 tackles for loss. His impressive 7 passes defensed also speak to his excellent positional sense and intelligent play. Wilkerson seems set to play the 2016 season on the franchise tag as the cap-strapped Jets try to keep their stacked defensive line together. It’s an injustice that he hasn’t got at  least a similar contract offer to Fletcher Cox’s 6 year, $103 million deal that was signed last week. If Wilkerson hits the open market then he could easily become the highest paid defensive player in the league given his pass rush ability and brilliance against the run.

  1. Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals

(TD: #22, RC: #18, CT: #17, RR: #27, DH: #51, DP: #63, RT: #25) After a disappointing 2014 season Patrick Peterson bounced back in a big way in 2015. The issue, it seems, is that he was suffering from undiagnosed and unmedicated diabetes. Peterson didn’t allow more than 56 yards in a single game in 2015, and had a terrific battle against Antonio Brown when they played the Steelers, holding him to two catches & 26 yards (albeit without Ben Roethlisberger). With his illness now understood and carefully managed Peterson was back to being the elite shutdown corner we have come to know him as.

  1. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

(TD: #29, RC: #9, CT: #18, RR: #82, DH: #2, DP: #67, RT: #7) As you can see from the spread of our voting, Aaron Rodgers’ 2015 was incredibly divisive. Statistically it was a down year for Rodgers. His lowest completion rate (60.7%) since he became a full time starter. Just 6.7 yards per attempt and a QB rating under 100 for the first time since 2008. However he still threw 31 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. He added 471 yards and 4 scores with his legs and spent all season without his favourite target Jordy Nelson and a patchwork offensive line that almost got him killed more times than I – or he – cares to remember. Many consider Rodgers as the best player in the NFL, but it is so difficult to separate Rodgers difficulties from the injuries and poor performances around him. He had probably the 3 most memorable passes of the season – his roof-scraping hail mary to beat Detroit and then throwing 2 hail mary’s in the same drive to take Arizona to overtime in the playoffs – but also a number of games where he just didn’t look himself. 23 feels like a good spot for Rodgers, but next year he could well be #1.

  1. Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys

(TD: #15, RC: #37, CT: #33, RR: #18, DH: #21, DP: #38, RT: #39) The Cowboys left tackle just misses out on the #1 offensive lineman spot in our rankings. Tyron Smith had yet another superb year as the blindside protector for Tony Romo and the bevy of awfulness that replaced him at quarterback. Smith gave up just 22 pressures (per Pro Football Focus) in 2015 but it was his run blocking where he truly excelled, helping to get the corpse of Darren McFadden to over 1,000 yards. Smith was particularly impressive against Seattle in week 8 where he held Michael Bennett without so much as a QB hit never mind a sack. Smith’s big wingspan and incredibly strong hands give him a range in pass protection that few can match and when he comes forward as a run blocker and locks his hands onto the defender it’s over. It’s hard to think that Smith is only 25.

  1. Chris Harris Jr, Cornerback, Denver Broncos

(TD: #24, RC: #35, CT: #21, RR: #21, DH: #23, DP: #52, RT: #24) Chris Harris has long been considered very good, but this it became understood that he was truly exceptional. While it’s easy to look at the Broncos pass rush and say “well anyone could cover when the QB is so worried about Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware” but those two, along with Derek Wolff, Brandon Marshall and the others, are only allowed such license to go QB hunting because Wade Phillips knows he has the coverage behind to go man to man and not worry about a thing. Harris was an absolute monster against everyone not named Antonio Brown in 2015. His low stats of 2 interceptions and 6 passes defensed speaks to just how infrequently he was targeted thanks to having receivers tucked away in his pocket every Sunday.

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RealSport NFL Top 100: Selections 30-21

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