As we close in on the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, 8 teams remain. The Titans, Bengals, Chiefs, Bills, Buccaneers, Rams, Packers, and 49ers. Each team has shown, up to this point, a tremendous ability to work together and win as a team. However, there are a select few players that I shined brightly both in and out of the playoffs. In this playoff preview from the sports wave, I will rank the best 15 players remaining in this year’s playoff. It is important to note that I am ranking them based on two non-quantifiable aspects, 1. how they rank within their position group and 2. how important they are to the success of their team. Thus, quarterback’s do own the most amount of spots on this list while lineman own the least. Still, this list has an unique range of players and position groups from both conferences.
Check out next week’s edition on the Sports Wave as I rank the remaining 15 players from the final four teams.
15. Kevin Byard – Safety
After a down 2020 season and many questioning the Titans for giving Byard a ginormous contract, Kevin Byard resurrected and became the best safety of 2021. Part of this regenerated dominance is the total revitalization of the Titans’ defense after a dreadful 2020 campaign. In simpler terms, the Titans’ defense better results in Kevin Byard playing better. Additionally, Byard’s move to playing more free safety significantly improved the back end of the secondary. As a result, Byard only allowed a passer rating of 68.7 when targeted, 51.7 completion percentage, and had 13 pass breakups. Overall, pretty good season from a safety. Thus, it is impossible to exclude Byard as he is vital to the success of the Titans. Oh, and he a whopping five interceptions as a safety.
14. Creed Humphrey – Center
While he may play an often overlooked position, no one denies Creed Humphrey’s difference for the Chiefs. After an abysmal offensive line performance in the 2020 postseason, the Chiefs knew they had to retool their O-line. All-in-all, this might be the best turnaround for an offensive line in the last 15 years. The Chiefs drafted Humphrey and Trey Smith in the 2021 NFL drafts in the 2nd and 6th rounds. Additionally, they traded for Orlando Brown signed Joe Thuney, resulting in a complete overhaul. Humphrey undoubtedly stands out as the best out of all of those moves. He has the highest pass-block win rate out of any offensive lineman in the league, and he is only a rookie. Unquestionably a top-15 player and arguably a top-10 player.
13. Cooper Kupp – Wide Receiver
The elusive slot receiver exploded during the 2021 NFL season with near-record receiving yards and league-leading 16 touchdowns. No can compare to Kupp’s lightning-fast first step. Additionally, his ability to read and recognize coverages made him a threat even at the goal-line, where he could find the tiniest crease. Even when he isn’t producing big numbers, like last week, his presence is undeniable. Through decoy routes, fake sweeps, and run-blocking plays, Cooper Kupp never takes any plays off. The Rams certainly need Kupp this week as the high-ranking Buccaneer run unit will look to contain the pass.
12. Chris Jones – Interior Defensive Line
Many questioned Chris Jones’ talent after the strange decision to move him from his regular position as an IDL to an ED. However, Chris Jones proved every doubter wrong after moving back to the inside and dominating opposing offenses. Despite only playing IDL for about half of the season, Jones recorded 65 pressures which came in 3rd for all interior linemen. Jones’ performance against the Cowboys stands out as one of the best for any defensive player all season. While Jones wasn’t needed too much against the helpless Steelers, the Chiefs will undoubtedly need him against the high-flying Bills’ offense.
11. Derrick Henry – Running Back
The most controversial pick on this list, despite not playing since Week 8, Henry makes an appearance at number 11. Slotted to play against the Bengals this upcoming week, Henry is undoubtedly the best player on the Titans when healthy. However, will we get fully healthy, the earthquake-causing monster known as King Henry? Or will we get a shell of the former offensive-player of the year award winner? Nonetheless, Derrick Henry cemented his spot on this list after a fury 100-yard rushing performances early in the season. If the Titans can even get a fraction of those performances against the Bengals on Saturday, no one will ever doubt the King again.
10. Trent Williams – Left Tackle
In my opinion, the best offensive lineman from the 2021 NFL season, Trent Williams, finally makes the divisional round of the playoffs. This year, the 33-year-old has been the immovable rock for the 49er’s offensive line, and he continued that performance into the playoffs. His 98.3 PFF Grade and 92% Pass Block Win Rate speak for themselves. Despite the 49ers’ offensive line inconsistencies, Williams proves his value for the 49ers. This weekend, Williams will be counted on to perform valiantly against the vaunted Packers’ pass rush.
9. Joe Burrow – Quarterback
The first Quarterback to make the list, this guy unquestionably deserves it too. Joey B continues to dazzle and impress everyone both on and off the field. Despite being a 2nd-year player, he has the poise and virtue of a 10-year veteran. However, what sets him apart is his ability to make plays when it matters most. His past four-game stretch, where he has led Cincinnati to four straight wins, is the most impressive feat of all. Although he plays for the lowly Bengals, Joe Burrow has gained the respect and admiration of fans across the country. If he continues his hot streak against the Titans on Saturday, we might just have to move him up.
8. Deebo Samuel – Wide Receiver/Running Back/Flex
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Deebo Samuel royal thickness cruising through your screen! I easily say that the most critical player to the 49ers’ success on offense is the 6 foot, 215 pound WR from South Carolina. Maybe I’m exaggerating Deebo’s performance because I love watching him play, but you cannot deny the numbers he continues to produce. Nonetheless, if San Francisco plans to win against the Packers this weekend, they will need Deebo to put up Deebo numbers. Additionally, an NFL 1st all-pro appearance does not hurt in these rankings.
7. Jalen Ramsey – Cornerback
The best CB in the NFL and arguably the best CB since Revis Island, Jalen Ramsey comes in at 7. Simply put, Jalen Ramsey has played lights out for this dominant Ram’s defense in 2021. Although he doesn’t have the interception numbers like J.C. Jackson or Trevon Diggs, no wide receiver is excited to line up across from Ramsey. His advanced stats back his tremendous skill, allowing a 71.1 passer rating when targeted and 6.4 yards overall. While his 2021 season may be a bit worse than his 2020 campaign, Tom Brady will face a menace this weekend on the other side of the ball.
6. Davante Adams – Wide Receiver
I know what many of you are thinking. How do you have Adams above Ramsey? Why do you think Adams is a better receiver than Cooper Kupp? All because of one-word: reliability. If I am an NFL quarterback and I have to rely on one guy to complete a catch to make a first down, I would choose Adams over any other pass catcher in the NFL. Although he isn’t flashy and doesn’t have the same production as Cooper Kupp, no other wide receiver proves their play-making ability like Davante Adams. He shreds single coverage like a saw that chews metal and makes it seem easy. Overall, I do not think their is a better skill position player remaining in the NFL playoffs.
5. Josh Allen – Quarterback
At last, the top-5 and at number 5, the current King of Buffalo, Josh Allen. Josh Allen’s performance against the Patriots was legendary. Despite thousands of reports saying Josh Allen couldn’t play in the cold, Allen proved everyone wrong with arguably the best performance from a QB all season. No one can deny his skill, and no one can deny how crucial he is to the success of the Bills. The only thing separating him from the rest is his lack of experience. I want to know that he can sustain these performances into a Super Bowl appearance before I can improve his spot.
4. Patrick Mahomes – Quarterback
I think you can mix and match any of these top-4 guys, and it logically would make sense. The difference between one and four is very minimal, and if under the right circumstances, I can see any of these four at number one. Nonetheless, Patrick Mahomes finally appears at number four. After a mid-season hiccup where every single stupid NFL fan called Mahomes washed, Mahomes returned like a demon waiting to feast on helpless sinners. After rattling eight straight victories, Mahomes returned to the playoffs with a vengeance for any media pundit that called him overrated or regressed to the mean. This weekend, Mahomes will look to continue his hot streak against the Bills as he faces a top-10 defense.
3. Aaron Donald – Interior Defensive Line
Some people may disagree with the placement of Aaron Donald and question whether or not he belongs in the top-5. Yet, I fail to see an accurate list without Donald amongst the best. To put it in perspective, Aaron Donald had a Pass Rush Win Rate of 26%, which is a total FIVE percentage points higher than the next IDL. He dominates football games, and even a five-year-old can tell that he is a man amongst boys. Additionally, his swim move could knock down skyscrapers because of how powerful it is against opponents. While he didn’t have the most remarkable wild card performance, I can safely say that the Buccaneers will be watching Donald closely on Sunday.
2. Aaron Rodgers – Quarterback
Finally, the two big boys. Now, in my opinion, I think Brady has been the best QB of the 2021 NFL season based on the ridiculous stats he put up. However, I will not be upset when Aaron gets his name announced on February 10th as the NFL MVP. Nonetheless, after an offseason filled with rumors surrounding Aaron and his status with the Packers, the revenge tour continues. While Rodgers achieved many impressive statistical feats over the past season, the best has to be his INT-TD ratio. At 37-4, I have no idea how he pulls off such magic. If Rodgers can continue to pull off the magic and score even more touchdowns, we might see Rodgers in a Packer uniform for the last time on Super Bowl Sunday.
1. Tom Brady – Quarterback
I just do not think that there is a single better postseason player than Tom Brady. While he would also get my vote for MVP, he simply is near-unstoppable come playoff time. I could list a million different stats or game performances that prove his greatness but you’ve already heard them all at this point. Without saying much else, Tom Brady is the GOAT and I need to see bad performances before I start moving him backward.