While the NFL’s TV network is slowly counting down its top 100 players, the controversial player rating website Pro Football Focus – both loved and hated by coaches and players alike – released its top 101 players of 2015 – all in one swoop and one more than NFL Network is planning over the next two months.
The website is unflinching in its rankings. When its metrics find a weakness in a player, it can be relentless. Matt Kalil can attest to PFF’s brand of evaluating left tackles.
If Adrian Peterson needs any motivation from PFF’s top 101, he should just know he didn’t make the list. Granted, running backs weren’t overly represented, but A.P. can be a little salty he wasn’t included on the list that had three running backs on it – Doug Martin (No. 38), Jonathan Stewart (No. 83) and Lamar Miller (No. 85).
But not all Minnesota Vikings were disrespected. If PFF counted down like NFL Network does, it wouldn’t be until June until the first Viking shows up. Fortunately, PFF didn’t hold readers hostage to find out who they like. It was an eclectic group that included all positions without draft-mindset thinking that five of the top 10 are quarterbacks.
In fact, the top player on this year’s list is Aaron Donald, a defensive tackle for the Artist Formerly Known as the St. Louis Rams. Jersey sales be damned, their list includes players that showed it on tape – which should be the ultimate barometer of player talent.
Four Vikings made the list and all of them were the top 50. Here’s the rationale PFF used to rank them where they did.
Anthony Barr was the highest ranked Viking at No. 20. The only linebacker rated higher than Barr was Carolina’s Luke Kuechly, which should bode well for his inclusion on NFL Network’s list.
“An edge rusher in college,” PFF wrote, “Anthony Barr has developed into one of the league’s more impressive young off-the-ball linebackers. He graded well as a pass-rusher in 2015, but it wasn’t as a situational edge rusher for Minnesota, rather just on the blitz from conventional linebacker alignment. He also graded well against the run and, most impressively for a pass-rushing convert, in coverage. Barr closes on plays in front of him very quickly, can hit landmarks, and gets in the way of passes, as he demonstrated by picking off Peyton Manning when facing Denver in Week 4.”
Not far behind was Harrison Smith at No. 22. The only safety to finish in PFF’s top 10 defensive players in coverage grade, pass rush grade and run defense grade, it’s hard to imagine he finished as deep as No. 22.
“Harrison Smith has become arguably the NFL’s best safety, capable of doing everything you need a player at that position to do – and do all of it well,” PFF wrote. “He graded highly in every facet of play PFF measures, including discipline and penalties, and is the fulcrum around which the Minnesota secondary swings. He was the only safety to break into the 90s and the ‘blue-chip elite’ band of PFF’s new grading system, with a mark of 92.8 for the season.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise for those who didn’t follow PFF’s weekly rankings was center Joe Berger, who quietly clocked in at No. 40 overall and second among centers – behind only Travis Frederick of Dallas (No. 35).
Explaining why Berger graded out so well, it was pointed out that no center was better in run blocking grades. Considering how often the Vikings ran the ball, that is saying something.
“Joe Berger was one of the stories of the 2015 season – or, at least, would have been, if you could convince the league to care about center play,” PFF tersely opined. “Thrust into a starting position when Pro Bowler John Sullivan went down, Berger ended up starting all season and playing well enough to win the inaugural PFF John Hannah Award, given to the best run-blocker in the league. For a journeyman backup lineman to step in and play at an All-Pro kind of level is truly extraordinary, and should be far more talked about than it has been.”
The final Viking on the list was Linval Joseph, who checked in at No. 48. What made his selection as high as he was so impressive was that he was able to accomplish his grades in just 12 games – trailing only Donald and J.J. Watt (No. 5) for interior defensive linemen.
“But for injury, Joseph could have found himself far higher up this list,” according to PFF. “For a stretch during the season, the DT was one of the most dominant forces in the league. Against the Rams in Week 9, he was virtually unblockable, and almost single-handedly destroyed the rushing attack, notching seven stops and three total pressures that day. Joseph even put forth an excellent performance in Minnesota’s lone postseason game, returning to cause problems for the Seahawks’ rushing offense. This was by far the best season of Joseph’s career, and could signal the emergence of a new defensive stud.”
Whether players, coaches or fans buy into the metrics that PFF utilizes, it seems clear that PFF has a healthy respect for the Vikings and, perhaps the greatest irony of its list is that it doesn’t include Peterson – who is obviously going to be the highest-ranked Viking on the NFL Network list.
If nothing else, Vikings fans have been given hope that A.P. won’t be riding solo of the NFLN Top 100 like he did last year.