In-Season NFL

The Top-20: NFC’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. Brandon Scherff, G, Washington Redskins (80.9) – 4th highest-graded guard. Scherff has been a solid player for years now, and this season is no different. One of the highest graded guards in the league, Scherff is playing smart, tough football in his contract year. One of the few bright spots on the Redskins this season, his run-block grade is top-3 at his position. The two-time pro-bowler has put together some impressive tape this season and looks to be just entering his prime. He is more than respectable against the pass as well and is one of the best all-around players on the interior of the offensive line in the NFL.

19. Dexter Lawrence, DT, New York Giants, (81.3) – 11th highest-graded interior defender. This rookie entered the league ready to go. His size was never a question, and he plays as big as his 6’4, 340+ pound frame suggests. Lawrence has been disrupting the backfield every game this year, and the Giants should be thrilled about his production and impact so early in his career. His consistent ability to penetrate into the backfield against the run or pass have made him a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate this season. Of all 3 Clemson defensive lineman taken in the first round, Lawrence looks to be the best in the NFL, by a long shot.

18. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Seattle Seahawks (85.0) – 13th highest-graded edge defender. Traded from Houston, Clowney has already made his presence felt in Seattle. The Seahawks desperately needed a game-changer on the defensive line and they got one. Clowney is incredibly effective against the run where he effortlessly sets the edge as good as anyone. He can rush the passer with a lighting quick first step and get off, as well as strong hands and great power, that makes him so difficult to contain. He can also drop into coverage and defend against the pass (see his pick-6 vs. Kyler Murray) where he has graded at 90.3 this year, an elite grade proving he can truly do it all for the Seahawks defense.

17. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (87.4) – 3rd highest-graded quarterback. It doesn’t seem like a great year statistically, but Wentz is having a strong 2019 season. The Eagles are running the ball more this year with newly acquired backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, so Wentz is playing more of the game-manager type role this season. His touchdown to interception ratio 14:4 is very high and his tape has been strong so far. Wentz’s short and deep passing accuracy has been spot-on and he can extend plays with his feet as well as anyone in the game.

16. Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons (90.2) – 4th highest-graded interior defender. With the 3rd-highest run-defense grade of all interior defenders this year, Jarrett is proving why he is a top name on the defensive line. He is anything but a one-trick-pony, as his pass-rush grade of 81.8 is top-10 at his position as well. A force on the inside, Jarrett is having a great 2019 campaign that has solidified himself among the top defensive tackles in the NFL.

15. Erik McCoy, C & Ryan Ramczyk, T, New Orleans Saints– Who would have predicted Erik McCoy, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, would be the best center in the NFL after his first 8 games in the league? Even with a relatively low grade of 72.2, McCoy leads all his peers at the position for the highest grade and the tape backs it up too. Ramczyk is the 2nd-highest-graded tackle in the league and has added even more impressive tape to his stellar career. After a brilliant rookie season last year, Ramczyk is showing the Saints why he deserves to be the highest-paid right tackle in the league when the time comes. The Saints aren’t 7-1 without these two controlling the line of scrimmage, and Drew Brees should be incredibly grateful to have these guys protecting him.

14. Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers (85.4) – 3rd highest-graded running back. Second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (8) have brought Jones’ name into the conversation of best young running backs in the league. Jones may not have ideal size for an every-down back, but he makes up for it with incredible speed, agility, and elusiveness running through the hole. With impressive power for his size and above-average vision as a ball-carrier, Jones is making a case for breakout player of the year in my books.

13. Dee Ford, DE Arik Armstead, DE & Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers– This is one of the most deadly trios in the league, with all three of these edge defenders grading above 86.3 so far this season. Before the season, many people anticipated the 49ers having one of the best defensive lines in all of football. Well, those people were correct and the San Francisco defensive line is, in fact, the best in the NFL thanks largely in part to these three. They can all rush the passer, set the edge, and stop the run at a very high level. Explosive, powerful, smart, and productive players.

12. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (87.3) – 4th highest-graded quarterback. After 2 incredible weeks passing for a total of 734 yards and 8 touchdowns, Rodgers is back to his “Discount Double-Check” self and is tearing up defenses once again. Even after a slow start to the season, Rodgers remains one of the most dangerous decision-makers around. It took some time to get comfortable in the new LaFleur system but he is finally dominating and playing back at the MVP level this season.

Dec 30, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) is congratulated by wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

11. Chris Godwin, WR & Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – This dynamic duo is the best in all of football at the receiver position, by a mile. While Godwin is in the middle of his breakout season, on track for career highs in every category, his teammate Mike Evans continues to bully defensive backs at an elite level. Evans has the highest yards per catch average in the NFL at 17.4 yards (min. 38 catches) and Godwin is right behind him. Both these guys have scored 6 touchdowns (most in NFL) and are already over 650 yards for the year. Absolutely unstoppable.

10. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints (88.1) – 4th highest-graded wide receiver. Leading the entire NFL in catches and receiving yards through the first half of the season is difficult enough. Doing it without your Hall-of-Fame quarterback is impressive. Recording the most catches for a first down this year is a cool stat. Is there anything that Mike T can’t do? He is a freakish athlete with incredibly strong hands, superb route-running for his size, and an unparalleled ability to find open space, make spectacular contested catches, and find the end zone.

9. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings (84.8) – 4th highest-graded running back. Leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns (9) and also yards (823) is no surprise for the former Seminole. Cook has the size, speed, power, and elusiveness to tear up any defense in the league. If you have ever created a player in Madden to play running back, chances are you designed someone that plays like Dalvin Cook. You’d expect the leader in touchdowns and yards to also have the most carries this season, however, Cook is 3rd in attempts. He is the leader in runs of 20+ yards (6) and has the ability to break loose and score from anywhere on the field. Cook is a clear-cut top-5 running back in the league this season.

8. Erik Kendricks, LB, Anthony Harris, S & Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota Vikings – The Purple People Eaters have all graded over 87.3 for the season and are ranked top-10 for their positions. Kendricks (91.6 grade) is among the league-leaders in tackles this year and has played exceptional football along with Hunter (89.3) who has been dominant and destructive versus the run and pass. These three have been nothing short of brilliant, as the Vikings defense is one of the most stingy and relentless groups in the entire league. With an elite play-maker at all three levels of the defense (safety, linebacker, and edge), the Minnesota defense is top 5 in the NFL.

7. La’el Collins, T, Dallas Cowboys (89.1) – Highest-graded tackle. If Dak ends up getting the 40$ million he is asking for, you better be able to protect him. Dallas shouldn’t worry too much about that considering they have the best tackle in all of football. Collins is the premier tackle in the league right now given his size, strength, and football IQ. The dude was born to play tackle with that body and he has the football knowledge, fundamentals and technique to shut down the most dangerous edge rushers in the league. As an offensive lineman if you don’t hear your name called it means you’re probably doing your job. You rarely ever hear Collins’ name mentioned on the T.V. broadcast, and when you do, it’s because he is making some incredible blocks for his offense.

6. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers (93.1) – Highest-graded tight end. Kittle is known for his pass-catching abilities, but how about his pancakes? Every week there is a new video that surfaces of Kittle absolutely mauling defenders into the ground. His run-blocking grade is top 5 of all tight ends and his pass-blocking grade is the highest of any player with at least 400 snaps this season. Aside from blocking guys into the turf, Kittle makes his money through the air where he is the best receiving tight end in the game. With an absurd 93.2 pass grade, Kittle dominates opposing defenses with impressive speed and polished route-running. Kittle can run like a receiver, take the top off the defense or make his money in between the hashes, and has the savvy route-running skills that make him impossible to cover down the field. Kittle is 4th in catches and 3rd in yards for a tight end this year in an offense that runs the ball more than any team in the league. Imagine what he could do in Kansas City or on a passing team with a great QB.

Nov 26, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Brandon Brooks (79) in action against the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

5. Brandon Brooks, G, Philadelphia Eagles (90.8) – Highest-graded guard. With an impressive 87.9 pass block and 86.4 run block grade, Brooks is the prime example of a well-rounded, elite guard in today’s NFL. Brooks can hold up well against the bigger nose tackles against the run, yet can also pass off a switch to the tackle when a speed-rusher runs a twist or stunt into his gap. He plays well against any type of defender and is a do-it-all guy that elevates the play of those around him. Brooks has the perfect balance and combination of size, speed, power, and technique at his position. The Eagles are thrilled to have him back as he has been one of the most solid and consistent offensive linemen this year.

Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack #52 warms up before a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

4. Khalil Mack, DE, Chicago Bears (90.8) – 2nd highest-graded edge defender. There is no player in the NFL as scary as Khalil Mack coming off the edge. While his sack numbers might not stick out, his performance on the field sure does. With 4 forced fumbles already, Mack is playing at the highest level, setting an example for how to dominate and destroy an offense. Though he’s known for his ability to get after the quarterback he’s just as phenomenal against the run and has had another brilliant season thus far. If you don’t think so, just ask the tackles that have to block him what they think.

3. Christian McCaffery, RB, Carolina Panthers (88.8) – 2nd highest-graded running back. I’m not sure how McCaffery isn’t the highest-graded running back, maybe because he catches so many passes? This guy is unstoppable. You can stack the box with 8 or use a safety to cover him out of the backfield, but either way, he will get what he wants. After putting on some muscle in the off-season, it has shown in his tape this year as he is fighting through contact and breaking tackles better than anyone. His top-tier vision, awareness, burst, and pass-catching make him one of the most difficult guys to bring down between the trenches or out in space. CMC for MVP?

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams (92.2) – 2nd highest-graded interior defender. This guy is an animal, a freak, a monster, whatever you want to call him. Defensive lineman weighing 280+ pounds shouldn’t be able to move the way that Donald can move. His quickness, get off, and speed at the snap of the ball is lethal. His technique is absolutely perfect, his hand placement is always on point and he can flip his hips and move his feet better than anyone. He uses the chop, club, rip move better than any player to ever play the game and his combination of size, speed and sound fundamentals make him the most dangerous defender in the NFL and there’s no debate.

SEATTLE, WA – DECEMBER 10: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to throw the ball in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field on December 10, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

1. Russel Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (91.0) – Highest-graded quarterback. Having himself an MVP-type campaign so far, Wilson is leading the league in touchdown passes (17) and is top-10 in passing yards (2,127) and completion percentage (68.4) while only turning the ball over one time. His intelligence and IQ are what sets him apart, and Wilson seems to never make a bad decision or a bad throw. Starting with fundamentals, his technique is flawless and his feet in the pocket and quick release are absolutely perfect. His athleticism allows him to scramble outside of the pocket and make throws on the run better than anyone else in the league, yet his arm strength and accuracy are top of the class as well. Interestingly, he actually has a higher passing grade from outside the pocket and that shows his ability to improvise and make plays on his own. Wilson should be the MVP this year leading his team to a 6-2 record so far.

References:

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

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

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