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TBT: NFL Top 100 of 2011

With what is likely the final Raven to be inducted on the NFL Top 100 of 2014 being revealed yesterday, we examine some honored Ravens from the 2010 season on that NFL Top 100 list.

Larry French

On Wednesdsay, Terrell Suggs came in at No. 26 on the NFL Top 100 of 2014, likely making him the final Raven on the list given Baltimore’s down season in 2013. Suggs was the Ravens' most valuable player according to Pro-Football Reference, so he would certainly be worthy of the top Raven billing.

The NFL Top 100 is a show that takes player input to create a list of the top 100 players going into the upcoming year.  The premise is that, if you were starting a team from scratch, who would you choose?

The list is built by surveying players after the season ends and asking them to rank the top 20 players. Then, the results are tallied and interviews are given about the players providing some rare insight into what players think about their peers.

I both enjoy and hate the NFL Top 100.

The Negative

The only way to really hate the NFL top 100 is to take it too seriously by getting too torn up about who is ranked ahead of who. So, of course, almost everyone takes it way too seriously, including the writers and analysts for NFL websites – although to be fair, they are probably just click-mongering themselves to pass the time in the doldrums of the NFL's down time in June and July. Still, that leads to a lot of unnecessary argument over this person’s ranking relative to another’s that can be tiresome.

The NFL Top 100 is inherently vague and unscientific. By asking players to rank just 20 of their peers, by default they will leave many players out or allow mediocre players to rank highly. A player can just rank his own team 1-10 after all.  Players are also notorious for ranking players according to hype – whether its draft status, a recent and huge contract, and so forth. Guys that everyone knows are average, like John Kuhn, can slip onto the list just because they happened to get six touchdown carries from the 1-yard line. Many deserving players are left off, especially if their team isn't good or they didn't produce in the "right" statistic.

The Ravens have certainly benefited from this at times with average players like Bernard Pollard making the list in 2013 due to the Super Bowl victory, while being penalized also as long time best-at-position players like Marshal Yanda were ignored for years (until 2014, after his worst season – see what I mean?)

Anyway, to make the list too scientific would be invite more problems than it solves. The Top 100 Best Players of All Time managed to do it when it was released in 2010 but that polled a high number of writers and historians and went out of its way to be comprehensive. That was a pretty accurate list. Obviously, players have neither the time nor frankly the objective capability to rank their peers appropriately. The list is for fun, not for serious ranking and evaluation of players.

The Positive

Without a doubt the most worthwhile aspect of the NFL Top 100 is the opportunity to see what players say and think about their peers. Fans never get to see this because press conferences are usually just company line exercises. The NFL Top 100 grants that with a few brief interviews. Of course, the full picture isn’t given necessarily in a few sound bites, but it’s better than what we usually get. Players are given film to break down from games they played recently against their peers and share insight into what happened on that play that may not be obvious to us.

With that said, for TBT we’ll look at some of the more notable Ravens to get shunned or enshrined on the list in 2011.  One of the more refreshingly honest opinions on NFL players — Walter Football — has thankfully compiled each year's lists in one place, the only location that I could find them for the old top 100s.

Who Made the Cut after the 2010 Season

2010/2011 seems like recent history outside of football but within the NFL, it is a lifetime ago.  Let’s first examine who made it.

Ray Lewis – 4th

Ed Reed – 5th

Haloti Ngata – 17th

Terrell Suggs – 40th

Ray Rice – 56th

Joe Flacco – 90th

The Ravens were fresh off a devastating defeat to the Steelers in the Divisional playoff after putting in a 12-4 season and still having to play as a wild card. As a result, their defensive stars were ranked very highly while Flacco and Rice rounded out the offense.

Ray Lewis naturally heads up the Raven selections at No. 4. Patrick Willis, long an understudy of Lewis, calls Lewis a "forefather of the game", heaping praise on Lewis for his multidimensional qualities. John Harbaugh calls him "the best middle linebacker ever to play the game". The segment shows a clip of Lewis intercepting a pass against Carolina while Steve Smith desperately attempts to tackle him before Lewis finishes off the pick-six.

Lewis still had the aura of an ageless wonder at this time although he was by then undoubtedly declining even if we didn’t know it. According to PFR, Haloti Ngata was actually our best player in 2010, and it is probable that Ngata was making Lewis look better than the other way around. Still, Lewis remains one of the most revered players in the NFL among his peers and to be sure his reputation preceded him – not every 36 year old plays at a high level.  Fourth out of 100 is probably a bit high for Lewis in 2011 in all reality but so it goes with the NFL Top 100.

As I described before, Ed Reed was a worthy DPOY candidate in 2010, so this ranking definitely is good — and one spot ahead of Troy Polamalu appropriately. As his video on the Top 100 that year notes, he led the NFL with eight interceptions despite just 10 games played. Naturally, the video then goes on to show clips of old seasons, like 2004 and 2008, with Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins commenting about plays he made against them, which should be immaterial for a 2011 list. But at least his production in 2010 warranted it, so it wasn’t just a reputation vote. Of course, his increasing brittleness at this time after a major hip injury would suggest that you probably would not want to start a team with him at FS but I digress.

Terrell Suggs is a seemingly endless source of great quotes and his 2011 Top 100 video segment is no different.

I’m trying to think of how to incorporate "Shield on my arm, sword in my right, cape on my back – This is where we fight!" into my everyday life but I’m sure it will be easier said than done.

Anyway, Suggs was a dominant pass rusher in 2010, greatly improving on his down year in 2009.  As always he showed up big in the biggest games, causing a huge strip sack against the Steelers in the playoffs that led to a Cory Redding touchdown. He turned in 11 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two pass deflections for the season.  He recovered a big fumble against the Chiefs in the Wild Card as well as strip sacking Matt Cassel.

The following pass rushers were ranked ahead of Suggs:  Julius Peppers (10th), Demarcus Ware (11th), Dwight Freeney (15th), Clay Matthews (19th), James Harrison (21st). I’ll let you be the judge of the validity of that. The Bears did make the NFC Championship, Matthews and Harrison played in the Super Bowl, and Ware had 15.5 sacks.  Freeney definitely made it to 15th on reputation, turning in fewer stats all around than Suggs. In fact, Jared Allen outperformed Freeney and he was 80th.

Ray Rice’s 56th ranking seems about right for what was definitely a solid campaign. 2009 remains Rice’s best year; however, 2010 and later 2011 would be extremely good seasons for No. 27. He racked up 1,220 yards, five touchdowns, 4.0 YPC and 1776 yards from scrimmage in 2010 but in fairness to him, he time-shared significantly with Willis McGahee (100 rushing attempts, five touchdowns, 380 yards), much to the chagrin of my fantasy team. He turned in a considerably more statistically productive 2011 the following year when McGahee was shipped out of town.  Maurice Jones-Drew accurately notes Rice’s value as a receiver. In this day and age, a back who can’t produce in the pass game, is in many ways simply less valuable.

Flacco’s 90th ranking also seems appropriate given his accomplishments to that point. His segment was probably the most fascinating of the clips simply because it was given as bonus footage from Al Saunders, the Offensive Coordinator in Oakland at the time, who notes Flacco’s calm demeanor and accuracy – a rare diversion from the normal player insights. Flacco had a strong 2010 season but the season would end prematurely as his go-ahead touchdown pass would be dropped late in the fourth quarter at Heinz Field as well as his great pass on 4th and 18 to keep the team alive. This would become a problem the following year as well.  Still, Flacco continued to make the list suggesting that players thought more highly of him than many fans at that time.

Who Got Left Out

Admittedly, I can’t think of anyone who played so well that their absence offends me. Lardarius Webb was not yet the dominant CB he would become, Marshal Yanda was stuck playing out of position at right tackle, the receiving corps was old and fairly unimpressive, and Todd Heap was still good but clearly on borrowed time. If someone can think of a Raven who was unfairly missed in the NFL Top 100 of 2011 (after 2010 season) be sure to mention it in the comments.