Senior NFL Columnist

NFL Top 100: On a list loaded with quarterbacks, Rodgers is clear No. 1

Familiar faces: Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. (USATSI)
Familiar faces: Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. (USATSI)

It's time again for my annual list of the NFL's Top 100 players. This is something that started out years ago with a Top 50 when few were doing such things.

In the years since, there are more and more lists ranking the league's players. But this list isn't one that grades the players just on how they played last year, or their popularity, but on where they rank heading into 2013.

As usual, it is a quarterback heavy list -- especially at the top. There are eight passers in the top 40, including three in the top 10.

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For the second consecutive year, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is No. 1. He remains the best player in the league, and would be the top overall pick if the entire league was being drafted.

Putting together a list like this is tough. Moving guys up and down the board for five days is a challenge. Among the tough choices were:

 Where to put Bucs corner Darrelle Revis, who is coming off an ACL injury. When healthy, he's one of the NFL's best players. But it's too much speculation to think he will simply be the same player. Nobody knows. So I put him at No. 35.  Next year, if healthy, he'll be much higher.

 What do you do with the four young quarterbacks who did so many good things last year, three of them as rookies? What I did was put them all together in order, starting at No 80.

 Who should be the second receiver behind Detroit's Calvin Johnson? There are so many good ones, and some of the best ones, including Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals, are coming off down seasons -- for them. So I went with Cincinnati's A.J. Green behind Johnson. But it was close between him, Fitzgerald and Julio Jones of the Falcons.

So take a look, complain all you want, and just remember it's an opinion based on watching the tape, talking to scouts and general managers and no personal biases:

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: The scary thing is that he is just now getting into his prime and he's had to deal with some so-so offensive line play. He gets better every year.

2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans: In 2012, he was as dominant as any down lineman that we've seen. He couldn't be blocked.

3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: He had 122 catches and nearly 2,000 receiving yards. He commands a double on almost every play. How do you stop him?

4. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos: After missing all of 2011 because of neck surgery, he bounced back to look like the Manning of old -- just in a new uniform. He got my MVP vote. All the talk of a dead arm proved to be false.

Tom Brady remains an ageless wonder in New England. (USATSI)
Tom Brady remains an ageless wonder in New England. (USATSI)
5. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: When does he start to slow down? It wasn't in 2012. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, had 34 touchdown passes and just eight picks.

6. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Coming back from an ACL to do what he did was special. It's hard to believe that he almost took down the single-season rushing record coming off that injury. Amazing.

7. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals: If not for Watt, he might have been the Defensive Player of the Year. He is some kind of special inside. He had 12 sacks from the tackle spot.

8. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos: He is an explosive edge rusher who spends his afternoons in the backfield. Miller has great speed, plays with intensity and is a good tackler.

9. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks: He is cocky, brash and plays with a nasty edge. Oh, he can also cover. He had eight picks and led the league with 32 passes defended. He's damn good. Just ask him.

10. DeMarcus Ware, OLB-DE, Dallas Cowboys: His sack numbers were down to 11½, but he is still the premier outside 3-4 rusher in the league. Now he has to move to a down end, which shouldn't be a problem.

11. Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers: He is the class of the inside/middle linebackers of the league. He can run, he can tackle and he gets to a lot of plays others don't.

12. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: The Saints had a season of issues, but Brees remained a constant in terms of being one of the NFL's best. He did throw more interceptions than in 2011, but the bad defense led to some pressing on his part.

13. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins: Moving to a down end spot from a 3-4 rush guy, he responded with 15 sacks and was as dominant as he was standing up. He doesn't get the due he deserves.

14. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: He had 97 catches and led all receivers in 40-plus-yard receptions with seven. He also had 11 touchdowns. If he gets more help on the other side in 2013, watch out.

15. Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens: He is a force in the run game and has developed as a pass protector. He is a perennial Pro Bowler who plays nasty on the inside.

16. Duane Brown, T, Houston Texans: This former first-round pick emerged as the league's best left tackle last season. He stoned a lot of pass rushers.

17. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Bad quarterback play has hurt his production, especially his yards-per-catch average, but he is still one of the best at taking over a game.

18. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers: He was limited to 12 games because of injuries, but he still managed to get 13 sacks. He had little help from the other side, too.

19. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: He missed time with injuries last season, but when he was on the field he was special. He remains the league's best tight end and a weapon that Brady loves having.

20. Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: He had 19 ½ sacks, but he didn't get one once Justin Smith got hurt. He can still get after it with that speed, and he's only just beginning.

21. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants: He didn't have the kind of year the Giants hoped he'd have. He looked heavy and wasn't as explosive. But he remains as talented a pass rusher as there is in the game.

Haloti Ngata was a key cog in the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl. (USATSI)
Haloti Ngata was a key cog in the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl. (USATSI)
22. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens: Injuries slowed him early in the season, but he came on in the second half and played well in the postseason. When healthy, he's still a top inside player.

23. Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers: He was having another big-time season until he suffered a shoulder injury late. He demands the double nearly every play, which is the ultimate sign of respect.

24. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: He finally won a playoff game, getting that monkey off his back. He also had his best season, putting up big numbers in an explosive pass offense.

25. Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers: He is a rangy cover safety who can also tackle. He is perfect for the modern game. He had to cover for a lot of bad plays in that secondary last season.

26. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: He is the big-play threat in one of the league's most explosive offenses. His numbers would be even better, but he has so many other talented pass-catchers around him.

27. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: Injuries limited him some in 2012 and his numbers were down from the year before. But he still had 85 catches and nine touchdowns.

28. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants: He didn't have the season the Giants expected, but there were a lot of reasons why. He's still one of the best.

29. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He played 13 games because of injuries and still threw 26 touchdown passes. He was getting some MVP consideration before his injury.

30. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs were the top-ranked run defense in big part because of McCoy. In 2012, he showed why the Bucs picked him third overall.

31. Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears: He had 11 ½ sacks and continued to be a good run player for one of the best defenses in the league.

32. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals: He has emerged as much more of a cover player than a return man, and he's damn good at the latter. He is about to go on a Pro Bowl run. He had seven picks last season.

33. Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos: Don't let the Baltimore game fool you. He had a good season in coverage, but just had a rough go of it in the playoff loss.

Demaryius Thomas has benefited from Peyton Manning's precise passing. (USATSI)
Demaryius Thomas has benefited from Peyton Manning's precise passing. (USATSI)
34. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos: Getting Peyton Manning was fantastic for this speed receiver. He had somebody who could get him the ball when he was open.

35. Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He would be much higher on this list if I knew he was healthy. Nobody knows for sure if he will be the same player. But even 80-percent of him is pretty good.

36. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens: He was special in the playoffs and Super Bowl, but his regular season was just OK. He didn't even complete 60 percent of his passes.

37. Ryan Clady, T, Denver Broncos: Now back to playing tackle for a quarterback who needs his blindside protected, Clady once again showed he's one of the NFL's best.

38. Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears: He had 118 catches, third best in the league, and had 11 touchdowns in his first season with the Bears. The only knock is his yards-per-catch average, which was 12.8.

39. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns: He is a premier cover corner who doesn't get the due he deserves because the Browns aren't good. He needs to be a little more committed to get to the next level.

40. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, New York Jets: On a bad team, his play was somewhat overlooked last season. He is on the verge of being one of the NFL's best down players.

41. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: He rushed for 1,613 yards as a rookie sixth-round pick to finish second in the league. He is a tough, powerful inside runner who is a perfect fit in the Washington scheme.

42. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: After an injury-shortened season in 2011, he bounced back to look like the Johnson of old. I think he's slowing down a little, which is an age thing, but he's still a top-level player.

43. NaVorro Bowman, ILB, San Francisco 49ers: He isn't far behind Willis and at times he has played better. He can cover a little better against the pass.

44. Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins: His brother got more attention last season, but this Pouncey was the best center in the league.

45. Joe Thomas, T, Cleveland Browns: He remains among the upper-level tackles in the league and should be on this list for a while.

46. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys: He led all tight ends with 110 catches and remains Tony Romo's favorite target.

47. Evan Mathis, G, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles line was horrible for most of 2012, but Mathis was as good as any left guard in the league. He is tough and he can move.

48. Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears: He is a penetrating up-the-field defender who plays with great quickness -- sometimes too much as he gets caught out of position in the run game.

49. Daryl Washington, ILB, Arizona Cardinals: He emerged as one of the league's best young inside linebackers in 2012. He had nine sacks, which says a lot about his athleticism. He will miss the first four games on a suspension in 2013.

50. Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis Colts: He made the smooth transition from down end to stand-up rusher for the Colts' new defense. And he continued to be an effective edge rusher.

51. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks: He is the centerfielder on a good defense, showing off both range and the ability to tackle. He is just now getting to his prime.

52. Jahri Evans, G, New Orleans Saints: He lost Carl Nicks last year, but still played at a high level. He is huge in keeping the rush out of the face of Brees.

53. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: He was fourth in the league in rushing coming off an ACL injury. And he averaged 5.3 per carry on an offense that had no passing game.

54. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: He is starting to slow down some, but he still had 12 sacks and has to be accounted for on all passing plays.

55. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals: He had had 6 ½ sacks, but he was also a force against the run in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme.

56. Joe Staley, T, San Francisco 49ers: He's good, but I tend to think some overrate him. This is about where he belongs. He isn't a top-20 player.

57. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys: He had 92 catches and 12 touchdown receptions, emerging as a star in the making. It's scary how good he can be.

58. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens: He is a big reason why the Ravens are Super Bowl Champions. He can run it and he can catch it. He doesn't get the ball enough.

59. Jerod Mayo, ILB, New England Patriots: He was good in his first couple of seasons, but was really good last year. He is more an all-round linebacker now, able to blitz and cover.

60. Carl Nicks, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He missed most of last season with a toe injury after signing as a high-priced free agent. When he's on the field, he's a violent, nasty player.

61. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons: He had 92 catches and averaged 14.7 per catch for the Falcons last year. He remains an elite receiver.

62. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys: Bash him all you want, but he deserves to be here. He carried the Cowboys last year and almost got them into the playoffs. He was third in yards passing and had 28 touchdown passes.

63.Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He averaged 19.2 per catch on his 72 receptions, showing why the Bucs spent big to sign him.

64.Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons: In what was expected to be his last season, Gonzalez had a huge year for the Falcons. Now he's back for one more after deciding not to retire.

65. Andy Levitre, G, Tennessee Titans: He signed a big contract with the Titans for a reason. He was the Bills best lineman, and one of the best guards in the league the past two years.

66. Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Atlanta Falcons: He is a run-and-chase linebacker who has a knack for the big play. He was much more consistent in 2012.

67. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: He really came on strong in the second half when the Panthers used less of the read-option. I think he make huge steps last season. Some will say this is too high. Watch.

68. Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets: When Revis went down, Cromartie stepped up and had a big season for the Jets. He is a physical freak.

69. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills: He had five interceptions last season and also had 76 tackles. He is a ball-hawk in the secondary.

70. Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears: Even though he's getting up in the years, he's coming off one of his best seasons. He made a ton of big plays in 2012.

71. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers: He averaged 16.1 per catch and had 73 catches. Showing he can still scare defenses down the field.

72. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants: He had 86 catches and 10 touchdowns, but he wasn't as good as he was in 2011. He seemed to struggle with all the extra attention at times.

73. Mike Iupati, G, San Francisco 49ers: He is a nasty mauler in the run game and moves well for a big man. But he sometimes has lapses where he isn't as dominant.

74. Reshad Jones, S, Miami Dolphins: His name isn't known by a lot of fans, but it should be. He is an emerging safety in a league where there aren't enough of them.

75. Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos: He had 118 catches in his final season with the Patriots. He remains the best slot receiver in the league, but for how long?

76. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals put the franchise tag on him for a reason. He is emerging as one of the next good pass rushers.

77. Jared Veldheer, T, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders line has struggled at times the past two years, but he has been steady both seasons.

78. Trent Williams, T. Washington Redskins: He is coming off his breakout season as a pro. He was has developed into what the Redskins thought he would be when they drafted him in the first round.

79. Derrick Johnson, ILB, Kansas City Chiefs: He is a thumper in the run game, but on a bad defense he didn't get the due he deserved in 2012. On another team, he gets more recognition.

80. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: As a rookie he led the Colts to the playoffs with a lot of late-game magic. He sees it like a veteran already. He will be much higher next year.

81. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers: With just seven regular-season starts, it's tough to find a spot for him. But he's just now scratching the surface.

82. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Despite his size, he showed in his rookie season that he has what it takes to be a top-level quarterback. It's early, but he gets it.

83. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins: He was electrifying until he hurt his leg late and then suffered the ACL injury in the playoff loss. I think it will help make him a better quarterback in the long run.

84. Ndmukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions: After a slow start, he was a force in the second half of the season. He finished with eight sacks. Surprised to see him here? Don't be.

85. Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs: He had his first double-digit sack season with 10 and emerged as a real force on the Chiefs defense.

86. Russell Okung, T, Seattle Seahawks: He is the anchor of the Seattle line, the guy who protects Russell Wilson's backside. He is coming off his best season.

87. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks: He had 1,590 yards and averaged 5 yards per rush. He is a big reason why Seattle made the playoffs.

88. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans: He had 1,421 yards, but his per-carry average was down to 4.1, which has to be a concern.

89. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills: It's a shame he doesn't touch the ball more. The guy is as explosive as any back in the league.

90. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers: He had his breakout season with 85 catches and nine touchdowns. He seemed to really come alive when Kaepernick went into the lineup.

91. Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots: He is still a force in the middle of their defense. Wilfork can play the nose or as a 4-3 tackle. He is tough to move.

92. Luke Kuechly, MLB, Carolina Panthers: He led the league in tackles as a rookie and didn't have much in terms of tackle help in front of him.

93. Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions: There were times last season where he was better than Suh. He has so much quickness off the ball.

94. Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo Bills: Yes, he had a slow start in his first season with the Bills, but he is still an effective pass rusher.

95. Brandon Flowers, CB, Kansas City Chiefs: He is a good cover player who is key to the Chiefs defense.

96. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers: He had some injuries last season, which slowed him. He wasn't as good as his brother last year, but he's not far off.

97. Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks: He is an explosive playmaker when he's on the field. But he's had trouble staying there and his per-catch average of 10.9 needs to be better.

98. Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This second-year player showed in his rookie season that he will be a Pro Bowl-caliber player soon. Think another Derrick Brooks.

99. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens: He isn't the player he was early in his career, but he can still crank it up when he needs to do so. Coming back from the torn Achilles tendon, he looked heavy most of 2012.

100. Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He is so much more comfortable on the inside for the Steelers, even if the outside linebackers in their defense get most of the attention.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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