The NFL Network has done a countdown that ranks the top one hundred players in the league as determined by other players during each offseason since 2011. The Green Bay Packers have had a player ranked 26 times over the course of the show, including six players on the “Top 100 Players of 2015.”
The six Packers to appear this year are Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, Eddie Lacy, Julius Peppers and Randall Cobb. While it is difficult (if not impossible) to definitively rank the top players in the NFL, were the Green Bay Packers that made the list represented relatively fairly?
Aaron Rodgers- Number 2
Previous Ranks: number 11 in 2014, number 6 in 2013, number 1 in 2012, number 11 in 2011
Position Rank: 1st among quarterbacks
Too high, too low, just right? Just right. There are those who argued that the reigning MVP should have the highest spot, and therefore Rodgers was ranked too low. But Rodgers’ position at number two, behind J.J. Watt, is a fair placement for the Packers’ quarterback. Yes, Rodgers is more valuable than Watt (if the two players switched teams, the Texans would win more games than the Packers), but Watt was more than deserving of the number one spot. The gap in skill level between Watt and the next best defensive end is greater than the distance between Rodgers and the second best quarterback.
Analysis: Placing Rodgers at number two does not take away from his season at all. He was recognized in the category that mattered when he was given the MVP award, by a wide margin of votes, over Watt. In a poll determined by other players, Watt’s complete dominance on the defensive side of the ball, as well as his occasional contributions on offense, was sure to catch his peers’ attention. Rodgers has appeared on the list every year since the show began, and the lowest he has been ranked is 11th. To be consistently ranked in the top eleven players, even in an unofficial ranking such as this, shows the respect that Rodgers commands from the rest of the NFL.
Jordy Nelson- Number 18
Previous Ranks: number 83 in 2014, number 80 in 2012
Position Rank: 5th among wide receivers
Too high, too low, just right? Just right. Nelson has been undervalued the last few seasons after breaking out in 2011, but he performed like a top five receiver in 2014. Statistically, the only receiver currently ranked below Nelson who has an argument to be above him is Demaryius Thomas. He had more yards and receptions than Nelson, but had fewer touchdowns. Thomas was ranked 20th, just two spots behind, which shows that the two are rightfully regarded as similar players.
Analysis: Nelson took the next step in his career by putting up numbers worthy of recognition as a top five receiver in the NFL. He continues to be one of the best deep threats in the league, as well as arguably the best sideline receiver in football. Nelson also excels after the catch, having recorded a touchdown of at least 70 yards in each of the last five seasons. As long as he stays healthy, he should continue to have stellar seasons that warrant the praise of the rest of the league.
Clay Matthews- Number 51
Previous Ranks: number 77 in 2014, number 31 in 2013, number 27 in 2012, number 19 in 2011
Position Rank: 6th among linebackers
Too high, too low, just right? Too high. Matthews is undeniably the Packers’ best defensive player, and is one of the best pass rushers in the entire NFL. But relative to other linebackers in the league, Matthews should probably be lower. Matthews earned a spot at number 51 because he further displayed his versatility by successfully transitioning to inside linebacker. Based on recent performances, he warrants a spot closer to the top ten at his position rather than the top five.
Analysis: While Matthews is one of the best pass rushers, he is not one of the best pure inside linebackers in football. In terms of this year’s rankings, less heralded players like Connor Barwin and Terrell Suggs should have been ranked higher than Matthews was. It is not Matthews’ fault that he was forced to change positions midway through the season, but Matthews was largely average for a significant part of last year, and finished the season ranked as the 27th best outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus.
Eddie Lacy- Number 60
Previous Ranks: number 90 in 2014
Position Rank: 7th among running backs
Too high, too low, just right? Just right. Lacy ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards, first downs, and rushes of at least 20 yards, eight in the league in yards per game, and ninth in the league in carries. Lacy also ranked in the top seven in rushing touchdowns. Being rated as the seventh best running back in football by his peers is right where he belongs.
Analysis: Lacy proved that he was an above average running back during his rookie season and placed himself firmly in the conversation of being a top ten running back in his second year. He posted his second straight 1100 yard season despite being in an offense that focuses on passing the ball. Heading into 2015, Lacy appears poised to take the next step and throw his name into the discussion of the five best running backs in football.
Julius Peppers- Number 71
Previous Ranks: number 54 in 2013, number 26 in 2012, number 10 in 2011
Position Rank: 12th among linebackers
Too high, too low, just right? Just right. The goal of the show is to try and rank the NFL’s players for the upcoming season. In 2014, Peppers had a rebound year from his lackluster final season in Chicago, but it is yet to be seen whether last year was an anomaly or a sign of a rebirth in the twilight of his career. Peppers was rated much higher than 12th by Pro Football Focus, earning the distinction as the fifth best linebacker by their standards. He occasionally seemed to disappear throughout the year and did not have as gaudy numbers as other linebackers, so his position on this list makes sense.
Analysis: Peppers was a valuable asset to the Green Bay defense last season. It gave the Packers a legitimate pass rushing threat opposite Matthews, and Peppers ensured that the team’s quarterback pressure did not disappear when Matthews moved inside. But he is also likely on his last NFL contract, and it will be interesting to see if he seems to slow down heading into his age-35 season.
Randall Cobb- Number 100
Previous Ranks: none
Position Rank: 19th among wide receivers
Too high, too low, just right? Too low. Cobb performed more like a top-ten receiver in 2014 than a top-twenty player. He far outperformed many of the receivers who were ranked higher than him, such as Julian Edelman, Brandon Marshall, and Larry Fitzgerald, and had a much bigger impact on the Packers’ success than those other receivers had for their respective teams. His outlook heading into 2015 also looks significantly higher than many of the receivers who were ranked ahead of him.
Analysis: Cobb made his debut on the Top 100 in his fourth season in the league, and it seems highly likely that his ranking improves for next year. He is the number two receiver to Nelson, which likely takes away from some of his league-wide recognition, but he finally broke out in his fourth year and there is no sign of him slowing down. He ranked in the top ten in nearly every category, except receiving yards where he ranked 11th, and should put up similar numbers in 2015.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .