In-Season NFL

The Top-20: AFC’s Best Players

Now that the first half of the 2019 NFL season has passed, it’s time to rank the top players in each conference. It’s always interesting to rank the players with the greatest impact around the league, and through 8 games there have been some incredible performances that deserve some recognition. This list is subject to change as the season progresses, and be advised that many great players will inevitably be left off the list; don’t be mad when your favorite player doesn’t make the cut. This list will be based off statistics from NFL.com and rankings from ProFootballFocus.com and will be based solely on their performances so far this year, disregarding their play in years past.

20. Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills (74.1) – 19th highest-graded safety. Poyer has the stats to say he is the better Bills safety, but he isn’t as consistent as his fellow Buffalo teammate. Poyer is the better player against the pass and has the ball skills and speed to cover receivers and make plays on the ball deep down-field.

19. Ronnie Stanley, T, Baltimore Ravens (80.5) – 7th highest-graded tackle. It can be difficult to protect your quarterback when he scrambles and runs RPO’s so often. Stanley has been unfazed by Lamar’s running and it still grading as a top tackle in the NFL. With perfect size and great technique, Stanley is a dominant tackle who the Raven’s can count on to keep their franchise QB upright for years to come.

18. Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo Bills (77.8) – 10th highest-graded safety. Hyde is an aggressive, smart, instinctive safety that leads the dominant and unforgiving Bills secondary. His ability to come up and play the run is an underrated aspect of his game and he plays with sound technique and fundamentals. The statistics don’t stand out but his presence is felt by the opposing team. Hyde plays with a great motor and can single-handedly disrupt a team’s game plan. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 07: Jamal Adams #33 of the New York Jets reacts against the Denver Broncos during the second half in the game at MetLife Stadium on October 07, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

17. Jamal Adams, S, New York Jets (81.4) – 8th highest-graded safety. Though the Jets have not played well on defense as a whole this year, Adams is still making plays every game. Adams possesses the ability to stuff the run and play around the line of scrimmage, where his hard-hitting shows up as he loves contact and punishing the offense. His coverage ability is underrated, too, as he is able to be the “rangy” free safety if asked to play that role. His relentless motor and effort are noticed on film and Adams plays with passion and aggressiveness that is unrivaled by any safety today.

16. Mitchell Schwartz, T, Kansas City Chiefs (84.7) – 3rd highest-graded tackle. Schwartz is a key component to the Chiefs offense, as he allows the quarterback to stay in the pocket and the receivers to get open down the field. With an 80.3 pass grade and 80.9 run grade, Schwartz is a great example of versatility and balance at the tackle position. He has no weakness in his game as he can anchor and hold off edge defenders and also get to the second level and run block as well as anyone. Schwartz is the engine that makes the Chiefs offense drive so well, and he is a key player for the AFC Championship-hopeful Kansas City squad.

15. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (81.3) – 8th highest-graded quarterback. Is he a running back? No, he isn’t. He’s an efficient quarterback that can run like a receiver. After his week 1 slaughter of the Miami Dolphins where he scored 6 touchdowns, Lamar caught the attention of defenses around the league when he showed off his arm with some pretty-looking deep balls. While everyone knows his legs are his greatest threat, Jackson is proving to be a good passer that can move the ball down the field, as we’ve seen his accuracy and completion percentage improve steadily. Is it too much of a stretch to say that right now, he is the best quarterback of the entire 2018 draft class? We sure don’t think so.

14. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (84.1) – 6th highest-graded quarterback. Undefeated through 8 weeks. We’ve said that about Brady and the Pats before. Nothing has changed this season, as Brady is still on pace for 4,500 yards and 26 touchdowns, having another Hall-of-Fame type season. Tom is taking what the defense gives him, as he has scored a few rushing touchdowns from the goal-line this year proving he can get it done with his legs, too (sarcasm). No case needs to be made that Brady is a top player in the weak AFC East.

13. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (81.7) – 7th highest-graded running back. What a year for Chubb, as he has solidified himself as a top-10, maybe even top 5-back in the league. With the highest yards per attempt in the league at 5.5, Chubb is making the most of his opportunities and is producing great numbers on limited carries. Barely in the top-10 in attempts, Chubb is 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards. His yards per attempt is so high due to his ability to make the first man miss. He can beat you with power, with speed, and with agility and is the definition of a “workhorse” or “bell-cow” running back.

12. Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos (90.8) – Highest-graded safety. Eleven passes defended so far. ELEVEN. Through the first half of the season, no safety has more passes defended than Simmons. His coverage grade of 90.3 is the highest of all safeties and the guy flies around the football field. Still a young player in his second season, Simmons has made a huge leap and has already catapulted himself into a top-5 safety in the NFL. While he isn’t necessarily elite against the run, his pass coverage and ability to lock down in the passing game make Simmons one of the best free safeties in the game.

11. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (77.6) – 13th highest-graded quarterback. It was truly disappointing when he hobbled off the field against Denver a couple weeks ago, but Mahomes is still a top 5 player in the AFC West this year. With 15 touchdowns and just 1 interception, Mahomes was playing at his usual MVP level before going down. Leading the league in passing yards at the time of his injury, he is still the best quarterback in the league and will prove it once he comes back. At the top of the league in yards per completion, quarterback rating, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns: Mahomes is in a class of his own.

10. D.J. Reader, DT, Houston Texans (90.0) – 7th highest-graded interior defender. With an elite grade of 89.9 against the run this season, Reader has been a force in the middle. Not many guys can take on double teams and penetrate into the backfield like Reader has this season. He’ll be asked to rush the passer more now that Watt is done for the year, something he is capable of and equipped to do with a multitude of pass-rushing moves.

9. D.J. Chark Jr., WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (86.0) – 3rd highest-graded wide receiver. What a season for Chark, as his 6 touchdown catches are tied for the league lead so far. His 16.9 yards per catch is the most in the entire NFL for receivers with more than 39 receptions. With over 600 yards, Chark is on pace for around 80 catches, 1200 yards, and 12 touchdowns. The stats look great, and the spectacular catches do too. Chark is a fast, big-bodied play-maker who knows how to elevate and high point the football like the best of them.

8. Cameron Heyward, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers (91.2) – 3rd highest-graded interior defender. Heyward is more than a run-stuffer. While he can control a double-team block and stack and shed like nobody’s business, he can also get after the quarterback and rush the passer. Heyward is the leader of the Pittsburgh defensive line that has been solid all year, and Cam is the prototypical professional when it comes to handling his business without complaining or asking questions. Dominant dude in the middle of a strong defense. 

7. Jamie Collins Sr., LB Kyle Van Noy, LB Jonathan Jones, CB & Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots You simply can’t pick just one or two of these guys for the Patriots defense. It’s no surprise the Pats defense in fantasy football is a top-10 scorer, regardless of position. These four have all had impressive campaigns this year, grading above 82.9 and all ranking in the top-10 for their respective position groups. This defense thrives when it can be “multiple”. Belichick loves to move guys around, having versatility throughout each level allows his key players to make an impact . These are the four that make it all happen, and they have all performed to the New England Patriots standard and beyond.

6. Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars (91.9) – Highest-graded interior. Not much needs to be said here to make a case for Calais. Though this list is specifically focusing on this season, Campbell’s track record and resume give you a good idea of how he’s played so far. You won’t find a bigger, more massive player in the sport and Calais plays big too. Dominating against both the run and pass, Campbell plays with great pad level for his size and has the strength to defeat any lineman, regardless of if they bring another man to chip or double. His three-sack game against the Titans this season gave a glimpse of how dominant this dude can be on any given Sunday.

5. Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers (88.7) – 6th highest-graded edge defender. Bosa is an emerging star in the league after another dominant performance so far this season. Bosa continues to make strides against both the run and pass and has developed a plethora of pass-rushing moves that he deploys often. His ability to set the edge but also get after the passer makes him an every-down edge who can do it all for the Chargers defense. There are no holes in his game and Bosa’s effectiveness and production can be seen if you watch just five to ten plays of his tape.

Oct 20, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) rushes with the football during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

4. Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders (90.8) – Highest-graded running back. Jacobs is a stout, powerful back with some juice to him. He doesn’t possess elite, breakaway speed but makes up for it with the ability to break through any arm tackle. He has enough burst to gallop into the second level and turn the corner on the outside and loves contact. He plays with great balance, great vision, and can make guys miss like the best of them. His contact balance is truly special and he is able to bounce off defenders like a bowling ball and ramble on for a few extra yards every time he gets a carry.

3. Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts (87.5) – 2nd highest-graded guard. We might as well call Nelson “Pancake,” from here on out. This beast of a man has more pancake blocks than you’d think was humanly possible. His ability to get out and move on a swing block is unmatched, and his run-blocking as a whole is impressive as he is the 2nd-highest graded guard in that area. His pulling ability isn’t his only strength, as his pass-blocking is among the top of all guards this year too, and his anchor is as strong as anyone in the game. Nelson has the nastiness, the motor and the tenacious and relentless effort that would make any coach proud.

2. T.J. Watt, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (91.6) – Highest-graded edge defender. This man has been a beast in 2019. Playing with a perfect blend of power and speed off the edge, Watt defends against the run and pass at an elite level. 6 sacks and 23 tackles don’t tell the whole story. Watt flies around the field better than anyone on the Pittsburgh defense and has also recorded 3 forced fumbles, 4 passes defended and an interception on the season so far. While his older brother J.J. has been the best Watt bro in the last half-decade, it might be time for T.J. to take the reigns and dominate like we’ve seen his brother do so often. Watt flashes on film as the Steelers best defender and he will only improve from here.

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (84.4) – 5th highest-graded quarterback. After Mahomes went down with an injury, the MVP race opened up and allowed Watson to sneak his name into the conversation. A career year for Watson, the signal-caller has elevated the play of his offense by extending plays with his feet and taking care of the ball. Though he is being hurried and sacked at a league-leading rate, Watson stays calm and poised under pressure. The numbers back up his PFF grade as Watson has thrown for the 6th-most yards and is tied for 2nd-most touchdown passes, while also adding five scores on the ground to go along with his impressive completion percentage right around 70%. His intangibles, including his exemplary leadership skills, are what really sets Watson apart from the rest as his confidence, maturity, and clutch factor make him nearly unstoppable with the game on the line. This dual-threat play-maker has a strong, accurate, and underrated arm and can run as well as any quarterback playing today. His knowledge of the game and film study has helped to elevate him into one of the favorites for MVP this year.

References:

https://grades.pff.com/#/ratings/home

http://www.nfl.com/stats/player



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