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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

TPL 100 2013: 100 - 91

Introduction | #100-#91 | #90-#81 | #80-#71 | #70-#61 | #60-51 | #50-41 | #40-#31 | #30-21 | #20-#11 | #10-#1

So here we go! Another summer, another run down of The Pulling Linemen's top 100 players in the NFL.

Sure, you could go to NFL.com and see where the players voted one another, but why would you do that when your 3 favourite UK linemen have put together a far superior list?!

Over the next 100 days, running right up until opening night, we'll be revealing a new player every day. So make sure you check back regularly to see where your favourite player comes in. And as ever, if you agree or disagree, or just want to have a debate, leave a comment or hit us up on twitter, @PullingLinemen.

100. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos (TD = --, PG = --, GS = 57)
2012 ranking: --

P: Jeffrey Beall
Champ Bailey just missed out last season, but in 2013 he finds himself as the opening player in our top 100.

There's no doubt that Champ's play has declined since his peak in 2005-6, and at no point was that clearer than in Denver's playoff loss to Baltimore where Bailey failed to cope one on one with Torrey Smith's speed. That performance sticks out not just because it was the last time we saw Bailey, but because it was so atypical of his career performance and his level of play in 2012. Sure, he's been overtaken by some of the younger guys in the ranks of today's elite cover corners, but having just finished his 14th season in the NFL to still be trusted to take on the oppositions best receiver on his own is a testament to his ability against the pass. Part of the reason he's here though is the way he plays against the run, a responsibility many corners shirk. Bailey's ability to diagnose the run, come off his coverage responsibility and get involved with the bigger boys is why he's still so respected by fans and coaches alike.

That run-playing mentality is also why a move inside to safety will eventually happen in the not so distant future, which could extend an already Hall of Fame worthy career even further. (Toby Durant)

99. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers (TD = --, PG = 56, GS = -- )  
2012 Ranking: 57

P: Kyle Tsui
There are about 27 reasons why Jon Beason shouldn't make our top 100 list for 2013, and each of them is a regular season game he's missed during the last 2 years, but the Panthers' linebacker is still young enough at 28 to have a huge impact in the NFL in his 7th season.

For his first four years with the Panthers, Beason didn't miss a start, and ranked as the team's leading tackler in three of them. He earned two votes as AP Defensive Rookie of the Year (finishing 2nd behind Pat Willis in 2007), made three Pro-Bowls, and twice was voted to the All-Pro team. Even his 2011 season start well, signing a then huge for a MLB 5-year $50 million contract, but things went down hill quickly after an Achilles injury put him on IR after just 1 game, and his 2012 season lasted just 4 games due to knee and shoulder injuries.

But following 3 surgeries, Beason is aiming to come back stronger than ever, and his play during his first four seasons suggests he can still be a force, even now permanently moving to OLB with the arrival in Carolina of Luke Keuchly. Beason himself thinks he'll be even better than he was before, and whilst that's a little too much to hope for if he comes back even 75% of the dominant tackler with enviable ball skills for an MLB, he'll be fully deserving of his slot here at #99. (Phil Gaskin)

98. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers (TD = 87, PG = --, GS = 83)
2012 ranking: --

P: Mark Runyon | Football Schedule
It would take doing something really special to have only had seven starts (and only eight games of significant game time) in your entire NFL career to make the TPL100. Luckily for Colin Kaepernick, “leading your team to a Super Bowl appearance” definitely qualifies as something really special.

Unlike the first two names on our list, one of whom is on the tailend of his career, and the other of whom is trying to get back from a second season-ending injury, Kaepernick's star is one that is unquestionably ascending. While it was pretty obvious that the Nevada product was eventually going to take the reigns of the 9ers – you don't draft a quarterback in the second round to be a long-term clipboard-holder – last year's offense was still primarily built with Alex Smith in mind – and it was a Smith-centric O that Kaepernick came in to run when the then-starter when down with concussions. While of course there were tweaks to offense to take advantage of the huge skillset Kaepernick boasts – his 4.53 40 time, his huge arm (tying for a league-best 8.6 yards per attempt), his effective quarterback play (his 97.9 passer rating would have ranked 7th in the league over a full season) – it was still an offense and roster primarily built for another quarterback. Despite that, he put up impressive numbers across the board, and led his team to (arguably) within a questionable officials' call of hoisting the Lombardi trophy.

In 2013, Kaepernick should only get better. He's now The Guy. The entire offensive playbook will be re-written with him and him only in mind; he now gets all the starters reps in training camp; the offseason roster changes will undoubtedly have been made to fit around Kaepernick. Coming in half way through 2012 to take charge of a team he had yet to fully win over (we're looking at you, Vernon Davis), the second year quarterback almost led his team to a World Championship. No-one should be surprised if, next season, we can drop the word 'almost'. (Gur Samuel)

97. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos (TD = --, PG = --, GS = 54)
2012 Ranking: --

P: Mark Runyon | Football Schedule
A first round pick by the Broncos in 2010, Thomas was plagued by injuries early on in his career, including a concussion and an off-season achilles tear in 2011, which is why he hasn't appeared on our list before now.

Thomas' raw athletic ability was clear in 2011, when he was hauling in wayward passes from Tim Tebow twice a game. The question was whether, with a real quarterback, Thomas could be come a consistent threat and number 1 receiver. Well one season with Peyton Manning answered a lot of those questions. 94 catches, 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns are great totals for Thomas, and he showed he could be a week-in, week-out threat by going over 100 yards receiving in 7 games (he also had a 99 yard game).

The question now is if this level of production is sustainable. With Wes Welker and Montee Ball entering Manning World in 2013, Thomas could easily see his targets decrease over the season, and while he's still most definitely the teams deep threat, Peyton's lack of deep ball passing late in the season is worrying for those long jump balls Thomas is so good at.

Based on his potential Thomas could easily fly up the rankings in future years, but for now he'll have to make do with #97. (TD)

96. Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (TD = 54, PG = --, GS = -- )
2012 Ranking: 74

The past few offseasons has seen the Steelers purge some of their older and more expensive veterans, for a multitude of reasons. Certainly, a lack of cap room played a part in the decision, but so did an awareness that the Steelers as a team were getting old, and playing old and slow (at least in the eyes of some commentators) – and that it was time for a new generation of leaders, especially on defense, to step up. Some of the old fixtures of the franchise – Aaron Smith, James Farrior, James Harrison – are gone; others (we're looking at you, Troy Polamalu) must be aware that their salaries are outweighing their recent form, and so may end up being faced with the same 'pay cut or get cut' decision Harrison faced. So who will Pittsburgh turn to when looking for a new leader for the next generation of the hallowed Steelers defense? They could do a lot worse than looking to Lawrence Timmons.

P: Jeff Bryk
After seeing only sub-package duty his first two years in the league, Timmons took over the starting right-inside 'backer spot a few games into the '09 season, and has remained the starter since. The former Seminole offers a combination of attributes highly prized in any inside linebacker – durability, having missed just two games in his career; experience, heading into his seventh season and his fifth as a starter; and, unusually for someone with as much experience, youth, as Timmons only turned 27 a few weeks ago. That's right, people – he's still growing and improving as a linebacker. That much was clear from his 2012 campaign, his first without the veteran Farrior by his side; in his first year as the experienced guy in the middle, Timmons racked up the second highest tackle total, as well as the second highest number of sacks, of his career, while also claiming a personal-best three interceptions.

Of course, Timmons still has room to improve, as evidenced by his 22-place drop from his 2012 ranking in the TPL100. He needs to do a better job of taking charge of the Steelers' defense – Dick LeBeau still doesn't yet trust him with the 'green dot', i.e. being the lone defender with a headset in his helmet – but again, he's still only 26, and as he matures, his arrow will have nowhere to go but up. If 2013 can bring him his first back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons, and if he can prove to his coaches that he truly can be the leader he has every opportunity to become, then Timmons could soon be talked about with the same awe and respect that manning the middle of a Pittsburgh Steelers defense rightfully warrants. (GS)

95. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers (TD = --, PG = 52, GS = --) 
2012 Ranking: 60

Maurkice Pouncey (L) with his twin
and some other guy | P: killmylandlord

Finally we have a lineman in the TPL100, and Maurkice Pouncey kicks us off at number 95. In his three years in the league, Pouncey has elevated himself to be considered one of the best Centres in the NFL, having garnered Pro-Bowl and All-Pro selections every single year, impressing enough  to gain two votes as Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, an outstanding feat for an offensive lineman, particularly an interior guy. That rookie year was almost perfect for Pouncey, helping the Steelers all the way to the AFC Championship game, but the ankle injury he picked up in that game kept him out of the Super Bowl two weeks later, with his teammates eventually losing to the Packers. Had Pouncey been on the field, the outcome could have been very different.

Injuries have followed Pouncey somewhat since, missing two games towards the end of 2011 with a high ankle sprain, and another in 2012 with a knee sprain, but he has consistently battled back to play at the highest standard he's set himself. He's as smart on the interior of the OL as he is powerful, and his elite hand and foot speed mean he is able to adjust to everything put in front of him. Stout against bull rushes, and athletic in the run game, Pouncey is likely to anchor this Steelers OL for a very long time, and if he is injury-free for the remainder of 2013, expect to see him leap back up our rankings in the TPL100 of 2014. (PG)

94. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (TD = 77, PG = --, GS = 87)
2012 Ranking: --

My favourite non-Patriots player (on offense at least), checks in at 94 after an impressive, and for most an unexpected, rookie season.

Russell Wilson wasn't supposed to see the field in 2012. He was the 6th quarterback taken in the draft, a 3rd round selection who was taken after a punter by a team who had just bought in a highly touted backup as a free agent to be their starter. But when Wilson came into rookie camp those preconceptions began flying out of the window and he was soon named the starter.
P: Mark Runyon | Football Schedule

Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell kept things simple for Wilson early on, but when the playbook was opened up and Wilson was allowed to do what he'd done during his time with NC State and Wisconsin, the Seahawks became the talk of the NFL and find themselves with an overloaded bandwagon going into 2013.

Many will remember Wilson's 2012 campaign for the "Fail Mary" in week 3 that beat the Green Bay Packers and bought the referee lockout to an end, but for me it will be his record tying 26 touchdown passes (tied with Peyton Manning no less), his 8-0 home record which included wins over Green Bay, New England and San Francisco, his 5 game winning drives including an overtime march down field in Chicago and the way he drove defenders crazy with his scrambling.

With the ability to make every throw you could want and good accuracy on deep passes Wilson was able to blend his natural scrambling ability and hardworking nature into a playoff win and very nearly an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. In the off-season the Seahawks went out and traded for Percy Harvin, adding a dynamic playmaker to an offense that averaged 37 points in their last 6 games of the season (including playoffs). With Harvin added to the likes of Marshawn Lynch and Sidney Rice, Russell Wilson & and the Seahawks offense looks set to continue impressing everyone both on and off the field. (TD)

93. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TD = 98, PG = --, GS = 61)
2012 Ranking: --

P: Wikimedia Commons
When Greg Schiano, within days of being named the new head coach of the Buccaneers, proclaimed that he wanted a 'bellcow' running back, many saw the writing for the wall for LeGarrette Blount and assumed that Tampa Bay would take Trent Richardson with the fifth-overall pick in 2012. Yet, it wasn't Richardson that the Bucs had their eyes on - but rather that little hamster-looking fella out of Boise State...

Yes, for all the pre-draft hype about Richardson, or the ascendancy of sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, you'd be hard pushed to argue the best rookie running back in 2012 wasn't Doug Martin. Though he had something of a fast start - going for over 100 yards from scrimmage in his first regular season game as a pro and getting his first NFL touchdown the following week - it was his first game after the team's Week Five bye that the Muscle Hamster truly arrived. Starting in a home game against the Chiefs, Doug Martin had six back-to-back games where he amassed over a hundred yards on the ground and through the air. Martin quickly proved that while he may not be quite as naturally talented as a pure rusher as Richardson, at least when comparing their college tape, Martin fits the mould of the modern NFL running back much better then Richardson by not just being able to catch out the backfield but actively being a dangerous weapon as a receiver as much as a rusher, in addition to showing the ability to block.

Of course, this is a list for the upcoming season, not the season just gone - and with that in mind, it's scary to think how much more room Martin still has to grow. As a blocker he's solid, but the team did not trust him yet on third downs, where more complex and exotic blitz packages require a more solid grasp of protection
schemes than blocking on first or second down. While he did have an incredibly strong streak of games in the middle of season, he also had some poor games - getting 16 yards on 9 carries against the league's worst defense in an away trip to New Orleans in particular, and in the ten games outside of that streak, he only managed better than four yards a carry three times. He also only had five games on the season where he went for over 100 yards on the ground. Still, when you combine all aspects of his game, he still had a phenomenal rookie season, finishing fifth in rushing yards, tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns, ninth in rushing yards per attempt, and best of all, second in total yards from scrimmage behind only Adrian Peterson. He can also claim to have broken one of the all-time greats' records, with his efforts against Minnesota, Oakland (site of his 4-touchdown, 272-yard game) and San Diego breaking Walter Payton's record for most yards from scrimmage in a three game span, becoming the first player in NFL history to cross the 600-yard mark in a three-game period.

And that's with missing a Pro Bowl guard for the entire season, and having an All-Pro guard go on IR after Week 9. With Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks slated to be ready for the 2013 season, Martin won't be being compared with Richardson or Morris this year, but with the likes of Peterson and Foster.

92. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens (TD = --, PG = --, GS = 38)  
2012 Ranking: 48

P: Paul Gardner
He may finally have his Super Bowl ring, but T-Sizzle finds himself falling from 48 to 92 in the annual TPL100 list for 2013, and may even be lucky to find himself here. So why the massive fall for a guy who is just a couple of years removed from being voted the NFL Defensive Player of the Year? Put simply, we're just not sure what's left in his tank.

2011 was a huge year for Suggs. Aside from his DPOY award, he also earned his fifth Pro Bowl place, his first First Team All-Pro nomination, and lead the AFC is sacks with a total of 14 in the regular regular season. But as soon as his year was over, things went a little awry. Suggs managed to tear his Achilles tendon in a pickup basketball game during the off-season, although he claims it was an off-season workout programme, and underwent immediate surgery for what was presumed to be a season-missing injury. Suggs pledged he'd be back, and in a remarkable 5 and a half months, he was, taking the field in week 7 of 2012 against what many pundits thought would be even remotely possible. What was evident, however, is that whilst Suggs still had some pop, he just didn't Sizzle any more. Aside from a stunning 10 tackle, 2 sack performance against the Broncos in the playoffs, Suggs managed just 2 sacks in his 11 other games, and a regular season combined tackle total of just 22. Now obviously he was limited in this time, coming back from a severe injury, but at the age of 30 and with 10 NFL seasons under his belt, big question marks still remain over what he can do in the future.

No doubt T-Sizzle will still have a job to do for the Ravens, particularly now that the guys who stepped up to fill his shoes in 2012: Paul Kruger (9.0 sacks, now with Cleveland Browns) and Dannell Ellerebe (4.5 sacks, now with Miami Dolphins) have moved on, as well as linebacking stalwart Ray Lewis retiring, but by our reckoning Suggs' time as one of the most disruptive forces off the edge may well be done. (PG)

91. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (TD = 57, PG = 93, GS = --)
2012 Ranking: --

P: Nathan Rupert
Chris Johnson's 2,000 yard campaign was a long time ago now, and it looks like he'll never get close to that again. That 2009 season saw him get a massive 408 touches and tear off runs at 5.6 yards a carry. But since then things have been far from plain sailing for "CJ2K", to the extent that he didn't make our 2012 top 100 after a horrible 2011 season which saw his production plummet to just 4.0 yards a carry and only 4 touchdowns. It even earned him the wooden spoon in our 2011 awards show and killed a million fantasy teams too. Not all of the blame should be laid at his door however, the Titans offensive line has steadily declined in performance since 2009, but it had looked like that game-changing burst of speed and incisive vision had disappeared overnight.

2012 was something of a bounce back year for Johnson though. A much more respectable 4.5 yards a carry and 6 trips to the endzone are encouraging signs, even if his 5 fumbles are a worrying career-high. This off-season the Titans have gone to great lengths in an attempt to get Chris Johnson back to his best. A 6 year, $46.8million investment was made in ex-Bills left guard Andy Levitre, along with the addition of the monstrous Chance Warmack via the draft should create many more lanes for Johnson this season, and also provide more stability to the Titans passing attack, relieving some of the burden from Johnson's shoulders. He might not get back to that 5+ yards a pop guy, but 2013 should be a return to prominence for CJ2K. (TD)

So there you have it, the first 10 of this years top 100. If you think any of these players are too low, or lucky to be included at all, then please do leave a comment and we will address the questions in our mailbag at the end of the series!!

- The Pulling Linemen (@PullingLinemen)

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