The NFL season is right around the corner and all the lists of top players of the NFL are out. There is only one problem with these lists: they look back on the 2016 season too much. This list will look forward to the 2017 season and predict who will be the top 100 players for the 2017 season. The Game Haus staff compiled their lists together to rank who they think will be the top 100 players this upcoming season.
This is the fourth installment, containing players 70-61.
70. Casey Hayward, CB, Los Angeles Chargers
Hayward may not be as known as he should be, but has had five solid seasons in the NFL. Last year, his first season playing for the Chargers, Hayward 57 total tackles, seven interceptions, 20 passes defended and one touchdown.
In 2016 Hayward made his first Pro Bowl as he starts to enter his prime. The Chargers’ team will be markedly better this season, including their defense. With Hayward and Jason Verrett as corners and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram getting pressure on the quarterback, it’s hard to imagine the Chargers’ defense not getting better.
Hayward should benefit from the players around him and be a top 100 player again.
Comments: “The Chargers’ defense is becoming a sneaky good unit, and Casey Hayward is a huge part of that. Last season, Hayward clowned around to the tune of a passer rating of 53.4 when he was targeted. Hayward also allowed just one touchdown last season and led the NFL in picks last season with seven. Hayward enters his age 28 season in 2017, and expect him to fight for the crown of best corner in the NFL this season.” –Tim Miller
69. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Los Angeles Rams
After playing for the Bengals for the first 11 years of his career, Whitworth will now be a Ram after signing with Los Angeles in free agency. At age 36, Whitworth made the third Pro Bowl of his career and is aging well.
Now Whitworth’s job is going to be protecting Jared Goff’s blindside and clearing holes for Todd Gurley. The offense may not be the greatest in 2017, but Whitworth will turn in a good campaign. Age is a concern and Whitworth will show signs of aging, but he is still good enough to turn in a solid season.
Whitworth brings a ton of experience to a young offense and could be the piece that helps them grow and get better.
Comments: “This guy ages like fine wine. Unless age finally catches up with him, I could actually see him being ranked higher. Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and he is easily one of the best”- Robert Hanes
“Whitworth will always be criminally underrated as one of the consistently best tackles in football. The numbers speak for themselves: 14 pressures given up in 570 offensive snaps in 2016. I’m not sure why he constantly gets overlooked, but he’s maybe the most steady offensive tackle behind the great Joe Thomas.”-Blake Van Poucke
68. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins
Suh may not be racking up the stats like he did earlier in his career, but he is still playing solidly in Miami. In 2017 he finished with 72 total tackles, five sacks, six passes defended and one fumble recovery.
The Dolphins chose Charles Harris Jr. with their first round pick. Putting him with the likes of Suh, Cameron Wake, William Hayes and others should create more threats for opponents’ offensive lines. The defensive front will be strong and Suh will get more one on one looks in 2017.
He does more than the numbers show you and will continue to do so in 2017.
Comments: “Suh is the forgotten superstar after he signed in Miami. Even with the second least amount of sacks in his career, he was still as productive as he’s been in years past. He’s vastly improved the Dolphins run game and has been the linchpin of one of the most improved defensive units in 2016. As his sack numbers drop, his effectiveness in other areas rises.”-Blake Van Poucke
67. Michael Bennett, DE/DT, Seattle Seahawks
Although he had only five sacks in 2016, his lowest total since 2011, Bennett still played solidly. He missed five games last season, which severely hindered the amount of stats he was able to total.
If he can stay healthy in 2017, Bennett will return to be a force on the field. He has the added value of playing defensive end on running downs and sliding into defensive tackle on passing downs. He matches up with several different types of linemen and uses whatever competitive advantage he has over them to get to the quarterback.
With Bennett fully back in 2017, he will be a top 100 player yet again.
Comments: “Michael Bennett is a character off the field, and he channels his minor case of the crazies onto the field. Bennett was the best run stopper in the NFL last season, earning a grade of 93.0 last year against the run. He played 354 of his 689 snaps as a tackle last season, further adding to his value as a versatile lineman. The Texas A&M product tallied 16 tackles for loss, which was good for tied second in the NFL last season. Bennett will continue to okie-doke sorry offensive linemen this season and help lead a perennially stout Seahawks defense.” –Tim Miller
66. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen has gotten better as he has gotten older. The last three seasons he has had over 1,000 receiving yards each year. Last season he had 80 receptions for 1,073 yards and three touchdowns.
He may have found it hard to get in the endzone in 2016, but he still had the second most receiving yards of a tight end. Cam Newton had a down year and he still found Olsen often. In 2017 it should be expected that Newton will bounce back and still be looking to find his favorite target, Olsen.
The Panthers will continue to feature Olsen and he will perform well in a division not known for playing great defense.
Comments: “The fact that this man is still overlooked baffles me. He will go down as one of the best tight ends to play the game.”- Robert Hanes
“Olsen could be considered the most important player, outside of Newton, for the Panthers. He’s been such a reliable target for Cam Newton and a guy that seems to make every play. He eclipsed the 1,000 yard receding mark for the third straight season and continues to improve his hands and route running as a tight end. The Panthers passing game without him is a giant mess.”-Blake Van Poucke
65. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ defense has been much better since getting rid of Chip Kelly. Without having to be on the field for what seems like an eternity, players have stepped up. One such player is Brandon Graham. He finished 2016 with 59 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one pass defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovered.
Graham will be coming off his best all around season as a pro and will be looking to add to it in 2017. Philadelphia was a good defense in 2016, allowing just 20.7 points per game, but they have added some key pieces to the mix. Derek Barnett, Chris Long and Sidney Jones were all acquired in the offseason and will make the Eagles’ defense better. A lot of attention will still be paid to Graham, but the other quality players on the defense will take some pressure off of him.
Graham will continue to create a good tandem with Fletcher Cox on the Philadelphia defensive line in 2017.
Comments: “Brandon Graham is a solid edge player but Fletcher Cox takes huge pressure off of him. Graham has never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season and it looks like that is his ceiling. There are many players better than Graham and he should be in the 90’s” -Matthew Hagan
“Graham deserves to be much higher on this list. His effectiveness doesn’t necessarily show up on stat sheets, but he gets QB pressures more than nearly every player in football. 83 in 2016 is an insane number. Only Khalil Mack had more last year. The guy makes it incredibly difficult to get anything going against that Eagles defensive front.”-Blake Van Poucke
64. Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota Vikings
Hunter is the only player on this list that played in the NFL last season and did not record one start. How did he do it? He put up solid numbers and got after the quarterback. His future looks very bright. In 2016 he recorded 12.5 sacks, 54 tackles, one pass defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered and one touchdown.
He still has his fair share of improvement to do in stopping the run, but Hunter has made the most of his opportunities to rush the passer. The 2017 Vikings’ defense should have another good year and Hunter will get more snaps, meaning the potential is there for him to have even more of a breakout year.
The 2017 season will tell us a lot about the third year man out of LSU, but if his first two seasons indicate anything, it is that he is on the right track to be one of the best defensive ends in the league.
Comments: “Danielle Hunter had 12.5 sacks without a single start and only played 57 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Hunter is going to be the sack champion as he and Brian Robison switch roles. By the end of the 2017-18 season, NFL fans will be debating if Hunter is the best defensive end in the NFL.” -Matthew Hagan
63. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
This will be the 14th season for Larry Fitzgerald in the NFL, but he is still producing.The ageless wonder has remodeled his entire game to be able to stay productive in the NFL for as long as possible. Last season he had 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns.
Fitzgerald isn’t just putting up numbers, he has also been a great run blocker, which is an underappreciated trait in a wide receiver. Carson Palmer didn’t have a great season last year and Fitzgerald still had a big season. If the quarterback play is similar or better, Fitzgerald will be able to put up another 1,000 yard receiving season and justify his spot on this list.
Father time may work against Fitzgerald, but he has done a great job of doing everything he can to produce at a high level, so that should be expected again in 2017.
Comments: “Every year, football nerds try to paint Larry Fitzgerald as old and feeble. Fitzgerald, however, does not care about the haters. Fitzgerald dropped just seven of his 223 targets in the past two seasons, good for the second best catch rate in the NFL (97.9 percent). He was graded as the No. 9 wide receiver in the NFL last season, and will continue to be one of the best wide receivers in the league until he hangs it up, which seems like it won’t come until he’s 45. Father Time waits for no man, sans Larry Fitzgerald.” –Tim Miller
62. Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots
Everyone talks about the Patriots’ offense, but they also had the best defense in the NFL last season. Hightower is a player that doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but has been an anchor in the middle of the New England defense. In 2016 Hightower totaled 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble and one safety in 13 games played.
The Patriots have added Stephon Gilmore and rookie Derek Rivers to the mix, which should make them a top NFL defense once again. Hightower won’t always have the most eye-popping stats, but if you watch the games he has an impact beyond that of his stats.
With more talent around him in 2017, Hightower will be in a good position to have an even better year in 2017.
Comments: “Hightower’s value is incredibly high as one of the leaders on that Patriots defense. In terms of absolute value (AV), he had the highest of any Patriot on defense. The guy flies around the field and has ridiculous closing speed. Patriots try and use him in many different ways but still outline his strengths by rushing the passer 30% of his snaps. He causes plenty of problems for opposing quarterbacks.”-Blake Van Poucke
61. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant is another player that didn’t put up video-game level stats last season, but is still a great talent. In 13 games Bryant recorded 50 receptions for 796 yards and eight touchdowns.
A lot was made out of Dak Prescott’s favorite receiver being Cole Beasley, but Bryant had a decent season. He has also had to fight off a lot of injuries in his career, but when he is healthy, he is dynamic. A full offseason with Prescott should help improve his 52.1% catch percentage. Even if Prescott has a sophomore slump, Bryant should be able to put up enough numbers and draw enough attention to help the rest of the offense.
The connection between Prescott and Bryant is expected to be much better in 2017 and if it is, Bryant should have another great season.
Comments: “Bryant is on a team that is built to run the ball and that hurts him. He also has missed 10 games over the past two seasons. If Dak takes a big leap, and Dez can stay healthy, then he will prove to be better than this rank.” -Matthew Hagan
“Based on talent, Bryant should be higher, but he hasn’t meshed with Prescottt enough yet. His production will go up and he will have a better season in 2017. With Ezekiel Elliot facing a possible suspension, Bryant will be what opponents want to stop the most.”-Joe DiTullio
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