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Best Active NFL Player at Every Jersey Number

Listen to “Debating the Best NFL Player at Each Jersey Number (Ep. 19)” on Spreaker.

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NFL players take pride in the digits they wear on their jerseys. Those numbers represent them as much as their last names do, and players are associated with them forever.

Of current players in the league, who is the best at each number? Some, such as No. 12 and No. 21, present epic competitions. Others, like those in the 40s, have few viable contenders.

You may notice the podcast above. My co-host Jake Ausman and I actually discussed many of these numbers on the air. Please, give it a listen, subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t already, and leave one of those glorious 5-star reviews! Now, let’s get into it…

From 1 to 99, here’s the best heading into the 2018 season.

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1 — Cam Newton

He’s not playing like an MVP right now, but Cam is clearly the best #1 in the league.


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2 — Matt Ryan

Nate Peterman gave Ryan a run for his money, but Matt Ryan is still the best #2 in the league. He saw a decline in production last season, as did the entire offense, when Kyle Shanahan left. The pressure is on Ryan to get the offense back to the 2016 level, and he will have the weapons to play with.


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3 — Russell Wilson

Wilson is a magician outside the pocket. He has to be since his offensive line can’t form a pocket for him. Wilson deserves more than this organization has put around him offensively, but maybe a rookie running back and veteran Brandon Marshall can bring some kind of help. Maybe.


Deshaun Watson

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4 — Deshaun Watson

The rookie wasn’t perfect, but he was the quarterback Houston has needed before going down with a knee injury. Reports say his rehab has gone well, so we hopefully can expect Watson to pick up where he left off last season.


Dan Bailey

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5 — Dan Bailey

That’s right, a kicker. Bailey is one of the best kickers in NFL history, ranking second in career field goal percentage (88.15%). He’s currently one of the best kickers in the league, and he’s definitely a better player than our quarterback choices: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, and Blake Bortles.

Johnny Hekker

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6 — Johnny Hekker

Oh yeah, I’m following a kicker up with some punter love! Hekker has been voted to the first team All-Pro four times and the second team once. I’m sure he enjoyed last season, since he attempted his least amount of punts by far due to offensive success (65). Even with this, he’s considered among the best in the league.


ben roethlisberger

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7 — Ben Roethlisberger

It was an incredibly rough start to the season for Big Ben. It looked as though it was his last year, but he finished the season strong and is back for another run at the AFC title.


Kirk Cousins


8 — Kirk Cousins

Cousins took his talents to Minnesota to the tune of a fully guaranteed deal. He continues to be effective from the pocket, but will need to continue improving on his accuracy and decision-making when he’s flushed out.


Drew Brees

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9 — Drew Brees

It’s obvious Brees’ stats took a dip last season, since the offense has evolved. However, Brees continues to play at an elite level and he completed a career-best 72% of passes, with a league-best 7.5 yards per attempt. Remember, there’s always numbers to make or break your argument.


DeAndre Hopkins

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10 — DeAndre Hopkins

Feed Nuk the ball no matter what! If the quarterback can get the ball near him, it seems like he will come down with it. Unfortunately, he hasn’t always had quarterbacks capable of getting it within ten yards of him. Fortunately, Watson should be back to lead this offense and get Hopkins the football.

Larry Fitzgerald

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11 — Larry Fitzgerald

At 34 years old, Fitzgerald continues to be one of the best receivers in the league after his transition to the slot. Of course, I have to defend Fitz, to some, with this selection over Julio Jones. Well, Larry Fitzgerald is the better route-runner, he has better hands, he’s a better and more willing blocker, and his football intelligence is off the charts. Julio is more athletic, but still needs a coach to scheme him open. We saw this by the drop in production without Shanahan, and he still seems unable to get the ball in the red zone. This choice is closer than I made it out to be, but the best #11 in the league is the veteran in Phoenix.


Aaron Rodgers

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12 — Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in the league by far. So when we ask who is the best player that will wear #12 this season, I’m not concerned with legacy, I’m looking at what they can do in 2018. He can make every throw, extend plays with his legs, get the ball out quick, and he has a cannon for an arm. If we actually base MVP off of who the most valuable player is, last season proved it was Mr. Rodgers.


Odell Beckham Jr.

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13 — Odell Beckham Jr.

Odell unfortunately went down after just four games last season, but he was on pace for another terrific season. He has been known to start slow and end the season in terrific fashion, but if we project his stats from four games over the full season, he would have finished with 100 receptions for 1,208 yards and 12 touchdowns. Expect OBJ to return to form this season.


Stefon Diggs

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14 — Stefon Diggs

While Diggs certainly is inconsistent, he is also a great route-runner and possesses elite quickness. He’s not on an offense that will feed a high volume of targets to him, but Diggs will still put up a few huge performances in 2018.


Patrick Mahomes

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15 — Patrick Mahomes

The choice was between young, electric Mahomes and veteran receiver Crabtree, so I went with the Chiefs’ quarterback. Yes, the sample size on Mahomes is very small, but he looks like he can lead a deadly offense immediately. Sure, mistakes will be present this season, but the fire power he also will bring is enough to make him the best #15 in 2018.

Jared Goff

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16 — Jared Goff

After many labeled Goff a bust after his first season, he followed it up with a solid season. He certainly still has room to grow, but the development from year one to year two was pretty remarkable. It’s almost as if Jeff Fisher wasn’t a great coach.


Davante Adams

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17 — Davante Adams

Adams has developed into the Packers’ most reliable receiver after really struggling early in his career. This is one of the reasons why they could let Jordy Nelson go this offseason, so now Adams is the clear top option in Green Bay.


AJ Green

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18 — AJ Green

AJ Green is Mr. Reliable. He was over 1,000 yards yet again and even had eight touchdowns. His numbers were slightly down since the Bengals really struggled for awhile and he had problems getting open, but even with Andy Dalton throwing him the ball, he continues to put up elite numbers every year.


Adam Thielen

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19 — Adam Thielen

Thielen is one of the league’s best route-runners, has the speed to get vertical, and has the size to come down with the ball. He proves that hard work pays off, and the Vikings now have one of the most dangerous slot weapons in the league.


Jalen Ramey

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20 — Jalen Ramsey

The second-year corner was voted to the first team All-Pro, and I expect him to get many more.

Patrick Peterson

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21 — Patrick Peterson

Peterson was the bright spot of a poor team last season. Receivers do not look forward to the week they see Pat Pete. And yes, he’s the better #21 than Ezekiel Elliott, who dropped a full yard per carry last season when his offensive line got a bit banged up. Elliott performs well because of his teammates, whereas Peterson performs well despite his.


Harrison Smith

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22 — Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith is playing like the best safety in football right now. He can disrupt the running game near the line of scrimmage or shut down a tight end or slot receiver. He’s a game-changer.


Micah Hyde

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23 — Micah Hyde

Hyde is an All-Pro who is incredibly versatile for the Bills. He was in the discussion for Defnesive Player of the Year before getting injured.


Jordan Howard


24 — Jordan Howard

Despite playing on a bad offense, Jordan Howard still managed to find success running the football. He ran for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns, while only putting the ball on the ground once. Howard also played banged up for much of the season, and he continued running the ball despite having no business being on the field. He showed extreme toughness. To top it all off, Howard saw eight or more defenders in the box on 43.1% of his carries. If he was on a different team, he’d be amazing. Hopefully the receiver additions will help Howard see a bit more room to run this season.


Chris Harris Jr

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25 — Chris Harris Jr.

Despite the Broncos defense taking a nose dive last season, Harris still ranked as one of the top slot corners in the league. He’s athletic, reads the quarterback well, and has rare reaction time on passes.

Le'Veon Bell

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26 — Le’Veon Bell

Bell is easily one of the best talents in the league today. His patience, vision, and quickness with the ball is deadly. He also runs routes better than most receivers in the league.


Kareem Hunt

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27 — Kareem Hunt

Hunt broke onto the scene in excellent fashion last season. He was effective running inside and outside, and he combines power and speed as good as we’ve seen recently.


Melvin Gordon

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28 — Melvin Gordon

Gordon is scary in the open field. He is also a better receiver than most give him credit for. Gordon struggles with trusting his blockers, but I would too if I went from running behind a Wisconsin Badger offensive line to an injury-depleted Chargers line.


Xavier Rhodes

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29 — Xavier Rhodes

Rhodes may be the most physical corner in the league, and he finally has learned to play physical without being flagged. Because of this, he was voted to the first team All-Pro.


Todd Gurley

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30 — Todd Gurley

Gurley redeemed himself in 2017, as the Rams leaned on him as their workhorse. He can do absolutely anything asked of him, and he will continue to do so in 2018.

David Johnson

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31 — David Johnson

David Johnson went down for the season immediately in 2017, so many forget just how good he is. He has a legitimate chance at 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in 2018.


Eric Weddle

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32 — Eric Weddle

While Weddle struggled against the run, the veteran still shows great awareness and reaction against the pass.


Dalvin Cook

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33 — Dalvin Cook

The Vikings used Cook as their workhorse before being lost to an ACL tear. He was among the league leaders in rushing yards when he went down, and he’s an excellent receiving back.


Rex Burkhead

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34 — Rex Burkhead

Burkhead didn’t have a defined role for the Patriots last season, but he showed he can be effective in both the running and receiving game. With Edelman back and Dion Lewis gone, it will be interesting to see how Burkhead’s role changes in 2018.


Charcandrick West

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35 — Charcandrick West

This is less about the player and more about the other guys wearing the number. A lot of things would have to happen for West to have a significant role in 2018, but he’s still a talented third down player.

DJ Swearinger

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36 — DJ Swearinger

Swearinger is excellent against the run and thrived when he came down into the box.


Jahleel Addae

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37 — Jahleel Addae

Though he misses too many tackles, Addae is aggressive against the run and continues to improve in coverage.


Tramon Williams

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38 — Tramon Williams

Williams had a comeback season in 2017, and now he made his return to Green Bay, where he won a Super Bowl.


Tashaun Gipson

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39 — Tashaun Gipson

Gipson thrived this past season with the Jaguars. He intercepted four passes while playing a lot more in the slot.


Jarrad Davis

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40 — Jarrad Davis

The young, athletic linebacker was easily an improvement to the Lions’ defense last season, but he will need to improve if he wants to continue being the best #40 in the league.

alvin kamara

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41 — Alvin Kamara

The lightning to Mark Ingram’s thunder. Kamara was one of the most electric players in the league last season. He is always a threat to take it to the house.


Morgan Burnett

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42 — Morgan Burnett

Burnett is a versatile player, but typically plays better when closer to the line of scrimmage. It will be interesting to see his new role in Pittsburgh.


George Iloka

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43 — George Iloka

We’re still waiting for Iloka to make the jump to a top tier talent, but we may have to settle for simply a solid safety. He has great range and athleticism to make plays on the ball.


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44 — Vic Beasley

It certainly was a down year for Beasley. He’s just as quick and athletic, but it appeared he showed the few moves he had in 2016 when he had 15.5 sacks, then didn’t adjust in 2017, which resulted in just 5. Luckily, there isn’t much at #44.


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45 — Deion Jones

Jones’ speed and physicality makes him an excellent hybrid linebacker for the Falcons. Unfortunately, he continues to be bullied in short yardage situations because of his size.

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46 — James Develin

Develin is a short yardage guy for the Patriots, but he has also shown skills in the receiving game. He’s a very reliable player for Belichick and New England.


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47 — Jake Ryan

The young Michigan product is a good, but not great, linebacker for the Packers. Good, but not great, is enough to be the best #47 in the league.


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48 — Bud Dupree

Dupree continues to be an explosive edge presence for the Steelers. He has improved his sack total each of his three seasons, so we’ll see if the pattern continues in 2018.


Daniel Sorensen

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49 — Daniel Sorensen

Sorenson was pretty good in coverage for the Chiefs and certainly made some plays, but the biggest reason he’s here is the lack of #49 talent.


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50 — Sean Lee

His combination of intelligence, athleticism, and instincts makes him one of the biggest difference makers at the linebacker position. The second he steps on the field, he immediately elevates the subpar group around him. If he stays healthy, it should be another great season from him.

Alex Mack


51 — Alex Mack

Mack is an incredible talent at center for the Falcons. He gets to the second level as good as anybody (though he can be a bit too quick), and he continues to improve in pass protection.


Khalil Mack

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52 — Khalil Mack

Mack is asked to do a number of things on the Raiders defense, but he excels when rushing the passer. Hopefully in the new scheme he can focus even more on getting to the quarterback.


Maurkice Pouncey

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53 — Maurkice Pouncey

Maurkice slightly beats out his brother for this spot, since Mike Pouncey switched numbers after joining the Chargers. Maurkice had his best year of pass protection in 2017, giving up no sacks and improving his hand technique.


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54 — Bobby Wagner

Wagner is easily a top-three inside linebacker in the league, and he may actually be the best. He quietly continues to perform at an elite level.


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55 — Terrell Suggs

Coming off of an injury, the veteran linebacker amassed 11 sacks and 4 forced fumbles, earning his way to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2013.

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56 — Derrick Johnson

While he had a down season, Derrick Johnson is still the best #56 in the league. He continues to rack up the tackles, but the sacks and other athletic plays may be in the past for the veteran, unless he found the fountain of youth this offseason.


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57 — CJ Mosley

Mosley is a complete linebacker and a great leader of a great defense. He should continue to sharpen his skills and carry the torch of elite inside linebacker talent of the Ravens.


Von Miller

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58 — Von Miller

Miller continues to be an offensive linemen’s nightmare. He’s the most devastating speed-rusher, has a first step that keeps you up at night, and possesses an entire repertoire of moves that ensures tackles can’t get a clean block on him by themselves. The Miller and Chubb combo this season should be a fun pass rush to watch.


Luke Kuechly

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59 — Luke Kuechly

Despite some injuries and his numbers coming down from previous seasons, Kuechly is still a major headache to quarterbacks. His pre-snap reads are accurate, he can plug the A-gaps or bring pressure off the edge, and Kuechly really excels as a coverage linebacker in both man and zone.


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60 — Max Unger

Unger played every single snap last season, and his presence on the field was felt by opposing defenses. Ingram, Kamara and Brees will thank him if he can accomplish this feat again.

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61 — Rodney Hudson

Hudson’s tremendous strength and active feet makes him a great all-around talent at the center position.


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62 — Jason Kelce

Kelce is so good in space. As an offensive line guy, seeing a center as good at the second level as Kelce is about as good as it gets.


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63 — Corey Linsley

Linsley may be one of the best one-on-one drive blockers in the game, but especially with Mr. Rodgers taking snaps, he needs to improve his pass protection. Possibly most importantly, he needs to improve his pre-snap reads.


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64 — Josh Kline

Kline is a very good interior lineman that simply gets the job done. He rarely wows you with a play, but rather plays an old school, smash mouth style of football for the Titans.


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65 — Lane Johnson

Lane Johnson has been key to Philly’s success. He makes these run-pass options possible. When you look at Johnson’s skillset, he feels like an elite left tackle, but he just happens to make his home on the right.

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66 — David DeCastro

DeCastro is currently the best guard in the league. He can do everything asked of him, and he will rarely misstep.


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67 — Ryan Kalil

He’s suffered some health issues, but Kalil continues to make those around him better when he’s on the field.


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68 — Andrew Norwell

The Panthers made a big mistake not getting this guy back. He is an outstanding all-around talent that will make this Jaguars offense even better.


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69 — David Bakhtiari

Agent 69 was the best left tackle in the game last season. He possibly has the most important job in football: protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side. He clearly does it well, since he gave up just one sack last season despite facing many elite edge rushers. He was a bit banged up last season, so he can improve even more if he can manage to stay healthy.


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70 — Zack Martin

The first Cowboy lineman, but won’t be the last. Martin is a top-five guard without debate, but more like top-three.

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71 — Trent Williams

Williams is a guy that not only wants to beat you, he wants to embarrass you. He has all the nastiness, physicality and quickness that it takes to be a great lineman.


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72 — Travis Frederick

Frederick is consistently the most dominant center in the league. He has the quickness that separates himself from most of the league’s interior linemen.


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73 — Marshal Yanda

Yanda unfortunately was lost for the season in just the second game. I expect him to return to form and make his seventh Pro Bowl this season.


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74 — Joe Staley

Joe Staley has put in serious work for the 49ers since 2007. He continues to have significant success, but it is often hidden by the fact that San Francisco has played some pretty pathetic football. It’s worth watching some 49ers tape from the past couple seasons and focusing on Staley. The veteran tackle still has it.


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75 — Bryan Bulaga

Injuries have been the story for Bulaga since getting his contract. To the frustration of many Cheeseheads, he played in just five games last season. However, the guy is fantastic when he’s on the field. He may be the best pass protector at the position, and he attacks in the run game with the best of them.

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76 — Mike Daniels

The underrated defensive lineman for the Packers is finally earning some recognition around the league. He has been a force for Green Bay, and he simply does all the little things right. He should enjoy playing under a coordinator like Pettine this season.


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77 — Tyron Smith

Smith seemed to play banged up all of last season, and because of this, his production declined. He’s still one of the best linemen in the league, but he needs to play healthy to keep the title of the best #77.


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78 — Jack Conklin

Conklin is about as solid as it gets at the right tackle position. He’s growing into a player who can be trusted with most any assignment, but an ACL tear in the playoffs throws a wrench into the equation. Hopefully he is able to recover and get back on the field sooner rather than later.


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79 — Brandon Brooks

Brooks looks like a bulldozer guard, but he also has excellent footwork. He continues to be one of the most underrated linemen in the league.


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80 — Jimmy Graham

Graham is still a great receiving tight end who can high point the ball with the best of them. He struggles with his blocking, which caused him to lose snaps in Seattle. Hopefully the change of scenery can revive his career and put him in the conversation for top tight end yet again.

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81 — Quincy Enunwa

Enunwa found some success last season and nearly went for 1,000 yards. Hopefully he continues to grow into his role for the Jets so I feel less bad about him being the best #81 in the NFL.


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82 — Delanie Walker

Walker is a good athlete, talented receiver, and great blocker. He is an all-around talent at the tight end position.


Terrance Williams

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83 — Terrance Williams

Williams is mostly a blocking receiver who gets left alone because he doesn’t make defenses pay. He somehow is still the best #83 we have in the league today, and he will have to play like the best for the Cowboys to have success this season.


Antonio Brown

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84 — Antonio Brown

What is there to say about Antonio Brown that hasn’t already been said? He somehow always finds a way to lose the defender despite having a huge spotlight on him, and he is magic after the catch.



85 — Vernon Davis

Are you surprised to see Vernon Davis here? Yeah, I am too, but he’s the #85 I am most confident in. He performed better than Ebron and Eifert is always injured, so the old veteran is the best #85 heading into 2018.

Zach Ertz

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86 — Zach Ertz

Ertz is such a good receiver that it makes up for his poor blocking. He’s 6’5″, 250 pounds, and can run any route. He’s a problem.


Rob Gronkowski

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87 — Rob Gronkowski

For as long as Gronk decides to play football and not wrestle in the WWE, he will be the most dominant tight end in the game. Take what I said about Zach Ertz, and now add that he can block and is willing to.


Greg Olsen

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88 — Greg Olsen

Olsen was off the field for the majority of 2017, and Newton struggled because of it. He makes everyone else on his team better, he’s a hyper-intelligent player, and he is an all-around talent at the tight end position. He beats out Demaryius Thomas because I’m not willing to put lazy players who quit on plays at the top spot.


doug baldwin

Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano

89 — Doug Baldwin

Baldwin has the quickness and physicality to win in the slot, the speed to win down the sideline, and the route-running to always get open. While Russell Wilson doesn’t have many weapons, he has a great one in Doug Baldwin.


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90 — Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney finally played a full season in 2017, and his presence was felt. He finished with 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and recovered 3. If the Texans can keep Clowney and Watt on the field at the same time, watch out.

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91 — Fletcher Cox

Cox shows incredible athleticism for an interior lineman. He can stand his ground on combo blocks, cross his lineman’s face with ease, and he gets to the quarterback in an amazing way for a defensive tackle.


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92 — Leonard Williams

While Williams isn’t a premiere pass-rusher like you think of when you brainstorm the top ends in the league, he is still a really solid player for the Jets. He’s great against the run and not terrible rushing the passer, but we’ll see how he performs as THE guy on the defensive line this season.


Calais Campbell

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93 — Calais Campbell

Calais Campbell is a monster. A 6’8″, record-setting monster. He went to Jacksonville and enjoyed the best season of his career, while playing on the best defensive unit in the league. He set a franchise record with his 14.5 sacks, which was second in the league.


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94 — Cameron Jordan

Cameron Jordan is consistent and terrific. He’s totaled at least 7.5 sacks in each of the past six seasons, so why not make it seven in 2018. He is the leader of the much-improved New Orleans defense, which is looking to take in the next step this season.


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95 — Kyle Williams

Williams is quietly elite. He’s extremely well-rounded, is able to generate a pass rush, and acts like a brick wall against the run.

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96 — Muhammed Wilkerson

When Wilkerson tries, he’s nearly unstoppable. Obviously motivation and motor is a concern, but if there’s any person who can pull it out of him, it’s Mike Pettine. Wilkerson will enjoy playing in Green Bay with Mike Daniels and their pass-rushers.


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97 — Geno Atkins

Atkins has been a freak at the defensive tackle position for quite some time. He’s elite against the run, but he also generated nine sacks. He’s gotten at least nine sacks four different times in his career, which is incredible for a tackle. Everything he does on the field looks so natural.


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98 — Linval Joseph

Joseph is a brick wall in the middle for the Vikings. You don’t hear his name much since he gets caught in the mess down in the trenches, but he very well could be the most important player on this great defense. His presence is felt when he’s in the game, and there’s a large hole in the defense when he’s on the sideline. He helps to free up those great pass-rushers so they can hear their name called for the sack.


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99 — Aaron Donald

It’s a tough choice between two powerhouses on the defensive line. Since Dr. Watt is coming off of another injury, I’m choosing Aaron Donald. He’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year anyways. He’s a complete player, and he should be paid like it.



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