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
Calais Campbell, Defensive End, Arizona Cardinals
(TD: #21, RC: #75, CT: #51, RR: #67, DH: #47, DP: #50, RT: #83) I am a huge fan of Calais Campbell. 3-4 defensive ends have become faster and faster in recent years, but the veteran Campbell is still one of the very best at the position. He lead the team in QB hits despite mostly working on the inside, where he ate blocks and destroyed offensive lines. His 61 tackles, including 16 for a loss, are not usual numbers for a 3-4 defensive end. But he’s not your usual defensive end. He gets lined up all across the line, using his incredible wingspan to create space and wrap up ball carriers. His 2.5 sack performance against Green Bay in week 16 was a sensational display of blocker destruction.
Reshad Jones, Safety, Miami Dolphins
(TD: #49, RC: #83, CT: #64, RR: #46, DH: #46, DP: #55, RT: #50) Miami’s defense lacked difference makers in 2015, particularly in the secondary. However Jones stood out as one of the few stars of the team. He was fourth in the league with 135 tackles, snagged 5 interceptions and took two back to the house for touchdowns. Without his presence roaming around the field the Miami defense would have been a whole lot worse. Their pass defense, ranked 29th in the league, was only protected from shipping points by his nose for the ball and dogged chasing.
Harrison Smith, Safety, Minnesota Vikings
(TD: #38, RC: #77, CT: #81, RR: #25, DH: #36, DP: #64, RT: #51) From one safety covering up a bad defense’s mistakes to one enhancing a good defense with his own superb play. Harrison Smith had a terrific season. He is perhaps the most versatile safety in the NFL – capable of lining up as a deep centre fielder or coming up to play a hybrid linebacker role or lining up in the nickel. He is good against the run, can blitz and even do some man coverage. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest ranked safety in 2015 – despite missing 3 games towards the end of the season.
Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints
(TD: #68, RC: #36, CT: #50, RR: #91, DH: #38, DP: #39, RT: #37) Even while missing a game, and Jimmy Graham, Drew Brees still put up some amazing numbers. 4,870 yards, 32 touchdowns while completing 68.3% percent and throwing just 11 interceptions. For Brees those numbers are not overly exceptional but at 36 they are more than acceptable. Brees has long been the king of passing volume. Hitting the 5,000 yard mark 4 times – and it would have been a 5th this year if he had played every game. In 2015 he finished 3rd in QBR and 6th in Football Outsiders DYAR. Despite the loss of Jimmy Graham to Seattle and the aging Marques Colston Brees was able to keep firing and gelled well with a series of newer weapons including Ben Watson at tight end and the young receiver duo of Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead.
Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
(TD: #48, RC: #39, CT: #53, RR: #31, DH: #56, DP: #48, RT: #56) Of all the surprises in the NFL last season, one of the biggest was the explosion of Allen Robinson. After playing just 10 games in his rookie year and netting only 11.4 yards a catch in 2014 not that much was expected from Robinson. After one catch in week one against Carolina it looked like it would be another poor season – and then in week two everything changed. 155 yards and two scores against Miami and the full “take him away” treatment from Bill Belichick the next week changed perceptions, and Robinson just kept going. In the end Robinson racked up 1,400 yards for 14 touchdowns at an impressive 17.5 yards per catch. Quite the jump from his rookie year. He became the go-to guy for Blake Bortles and one of the main reasons for optimism about the Jaguars this season.
Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
(TD: #79, RC: #43, CT: #38, RR: #64, DH: #55, DP: #24, RT: #18) From one blossoming youngster to a veteran still chugging away, Larry Fitzgerald comes in at #35. After a few years trying to catch wayward passes from the likes of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Drew Stanton and John Skelton Larry Fitzgerald finally got the chance to prove he is still a devastating threat as Carson Palmer played the whole year. With quality quarterback play Fitzgerald had his first 100 catch season since 2007 and his first 1,000 yard season since 2011. At age 32 he was a different player to what he used to be during Arizona’s Super Bowl run in 2008. A move into the slot suited his declining speed and brilliant blocking. He was a big part of Arizona’s improved ground game thanks to the change of position, even lining up as a tight end on a few occasions. Fitzgerald was also superb in the playoff win over Green Bay, racking up 176 yards on 8 catches and scoring the winner in overtime.
Ezekiel Ansah, Defensive End, Detroit Lions
(TD: #46, RC: #33, CT: #37, RR: #60, DH: #49, DP: #33, RT: #48) Ziggy Ansah finally fulfilled some of the potential Detroit saw in him back in 2013 when they drafted him 5th overall.As a raw rookie Ansah was not particularly involved. He came in for obvious passing downs and did terrorise quarterbacks with his physical abilities but his understanding of the game and overall positioning was not good. Fast forward to 2015 and he is a different player. Ansah started all 16 games put together a strong season both as a pass rusher and more impressively a run defender. His length and quickness made him a consistent threat as a pass rusher – he racked up 14.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss but more impressively he got 34 QB hits which was the 4th most in the league. His positioning and use of leverage was vastly improved in 2015 as well, making him a tricky run block assignment as well. Going forward Ansah is a threat to lead the league in sacks in 2016 and should be even better as an all round player than he was last season.
Earl Thomas, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
(TD: #39, RC: #21, CT: #28, RR: #78, DH: #57, DP: #17, RT: #62) Thomas has long been considered the king of deep safeties – 2015 was no different. His exceptional range and anticipatory skills allow Seattle to play with a lower strong safety or a nickel and crowd the underneath zones while Thomas provides protection across the deep part of the field. His performance against Carolina in week 6 was exceptional as he made life miserable for Cam Newton.
Doug Martin, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(TD: #60, RC: #14, CT: #16, RR: #81, DH: #74, DP: #25, RT: #32) Coming into 2015 most thought the career of Doug Martin was dead. Injuries and poor performance in 2013 & 2014 were par for the course for Martin and he looked like he would be on his way out of the Bucs, and maybe the NFL. Then in 2015 he shed some weight, got healthy and bounced back in a big way. 1,402 yards at 4.9 yards a carry was a spectacular return to form for the Muscle Hamster as he went to his second Pro Bowl and was voted to first team All-Pro for the first time in his career. Tampa Bay also looked after him a little better that they had in previous seasons. 288 carries + 44 targets is a decent amount of work but not nearly as onerous as in his rookie year when those figures were 319 carries + 70 targets. That protection helped keep Martin chugging against some hard defenses late in the year as well.
Todd Gurley, Running Back, Los Angeles Rams
(TD: #45, RC: #24, CT: #24, RR: #79, DH: #62, DP: #31, RT: #33) We round out today’s piece with the sensational rookie Todd Gurley. There was a of negativity around the Rams picking Gurley tenth overall last year – and I don’t disagree with most of it. The running back position is not as valuable as it used to be and production is fairly widely available at the back end of the draft. Still, when you hit on a stud like Todd Gurley it’s hard to remain cynical. Gurley missed the first two games of the season with a lingering college knee injury. His first game back was not good. Just 9 yards on 6 carries against Pittsburgh. As it turns out that would be just a sighter before he began tearing down the NFL. His second game in the league came against the Arizona Cardinals and their terrifying defense. The only terrifying thing that day was that Todd Gurley managed to get 146 yards without finding the endzone. His path of rage continued as his second through fifth games all saw him go over 100 yards total and over 5 yards per carry. At times he was like a real life nightcrawler – disappearing and reappearing in another place at a far faster pace than humanly possible. That brutal acceleration and transition of speed into power is what made him such a nightmare to tackle. When you bare in mind that Gurley only played 13 games and was behind a terrible offensive line his 1,106 yards and 4.8 yards a carry becomes far more impressive than it seems on face value.