Tim and Mike: What conclusion can be drawn from the top 10 of the NFL Network's 100 players?

Posted Jun 26, 2013

Tim and Mike discuss who their top 10 would be on the NFL Network's Top 100, and whether Calvin Johnson would trade his top 10 status for team success

Training camp is four weeks away, and the Lions really have Hope – Chris Hope, the safety they signed this week. That might be important to the Lions' defense, but other issues are getting more national attention.

The top 10 on the NFL Network's top 100 players for 2013 will be released Thursday night, and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been in the spotlight for a week because of the investigation into a murder in the Boston area.

Start on a lighter note for the first course of this week's breakfast: what conclusion can be drawn from the top 10 on the players poll of the top 100?

Mike: We know the names of the top 10 but not the order, and regardless of how they are ranked 1-10, there's a clear message from the players. They respect impact and put a high value on certain positions.

The top 10 will have three quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady), three pass-rush stars (Aldon Smith, Von Miller and J.J. Watt), two running backs (Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster), wide receiver Calvin Johnson and middle linebacker Patrick Willis.

Notably missing are an offensive tackle or a cornerback. Joe Thomas of the Browns was the top-rated offensive tackle at No. 28. Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals was the No. 1 cornerback at No. 33.

Just missing the top 10 were quarterback Drew Brees at No. 11 and DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys' pass-rush star, at No. 12.

That means four quarterbacks and four pass-rushers made up two thirds of the top 12. The players put value on players who operate the offense, and the guys who get to the quarterback.

It also tells me why the Lions were so high on defensive end Ziggy Ansah. They drafted him fifth overall because of his potential to get to the passer.

Tim: When Jim Schwartz took the Detroit Lions coaching job in 2009, he said job No. 1 was to find a quarterback. Then, he and general manager Martin Mayhew spent considerable resources building a defensive line that has since become the backbone of the Lions defense.

As the top 10 indicates, throwing the football and getting to the passer are the two most important elements to lasting success in the NFL.

I have absolutely no problem with the 10 names left on the NFL Network's list. It will be interesting to see how they fall in rank.

If I was starting a franchise right now, there would be no doubt my No. 1 choice would be quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's the No. 1 player in the NFL, in my opinion, even if the vote doesn't ultimately fall that way.

Of the 10 players still remaining, my top 10 would go something like this: Rodgers, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt, Patrick Willis, Von Miller, Aldon Smith and Arian Foster.

What does your top 10 look like?

Mike: I'd need a top 42, because my top 32 would be quarterbacks – one for each team. Over a full season, the quarterback is the most important reason a team wins or loses. Everybody else comes after that.

But sticking to conventional rules – which I hate doing in everything from sports lists to express checkout lines – my top two would be Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Rodgers has been the best quarterback in the league for the last three seasons, and he's young enough (he turns 30 on Dec. 2) that he'll be at his peak for at least five more years.

Brady is 35, and at this stage of his career it's a year-by-year proposition. For 2013, he's still a high-impact performer.

After Rodgers and Manning, the rest of my top 10 would be Peterson, Johnson, Watt, Miller, Patrick Peterson, Clay Matthews, Peyton Manning and Arian Foster.

I'm tempted to put Andrew Luck in the top 10 instead of Manning, but Manning's regular-season record, and what he did last season with the Broncos, can't be denied.

Notice how the Bears are the only NFC North team without a top 10 player?

Tim: The highest Bear on the list was at No. 27 with receiver Brandon Marshall, who set franchise records for receptions (118) and yards (1,508) last season.

Look, let's not feel too bad for the Bears. Since Calvin Johnson entered the league in 2007, the Bears have won an NFC North title, had four eight-win-or-better seasons and have never won fewer than seven games in a season.

Ask Calvin Johnson if he would trade that kind of team success for an individual reward like a top 10 mention.

I wonder what he'd say.

Mike: I'm sure he'd say he has enough awards, honors and recognition, but not enough victories. And that's what he plays for.

In terms of winning, how important is the signing of safety Chris Hope? Is it just insurance in case Louis Delmas needs relief because of his knee problems?

Louis DelmasS Louis Delmas

Tim: I think that's exactly what this is. The Lions feel pretty good about the talent level of the safety trio of Glover Quin, Louis Delmas and Don Carey, but that knee has to be a concern when it comes to Delmas.

He missed eight games last year – five in 2011 with a separate knee issue – and he told reporters this spring that the knee is the same it was last year.

The Lions will try and manage the injury with scheduled days off, but who knows how it will react come training camp. Delmas is sometimes his own worst enemy because the guy loves to be on the field and loves to compete.

Hope is an 11-year veteran and played three seasons under Jim Schwartz in Tennessee (2005-07) as a full-time starter at strong safety. He knows the scheme and Schwartz knows him.

He hasn't been a full-time starter since 2010, but he is a guy who can add depth and make a start if needed.

Let's change gears from Hope to misery. The Patriots are in a bad spot with the Aaron Hernandez mess. The legal process certainly has to play out before any conclusions can be made, but does this put even more light on the character evaluation process when it comes to the draft?

Mike: It does in terms of how the public views character, but in recent years, teams increasingly have put more emphasis on character in making decisions on player acquisitions.

There were character questions about Hernandez going into the 2010 draft, which is why he was still available when the Patriots drafted him in the fourth round.

The Patriots have taken chances before on players with character issues, and they will again. So do other teams. It's a question of the price they're willing to pay for the risk, in terms of draft position for rookies or money for free agents.

Putting any potential legal or criminal issues aside, this will underscore Tom Brady's value. Wes Welker left to sign with Denver. Rob Gronkowski had surgery on his back and forearm. Now Hernandez is involved in this issue.

The Patriots will look to Brady to lead them on the field, as he has for the last 12 seasons. I wouldn't bet against him doing it again.

Tim: The new rookie wage scale might allow teams to take a few more risks because a bad decision doesn't have as much of a financial impact in terms of setting an organization back years.

Teams will always have to find the right balance between risk and reward.

The Lions know this as well as any team.