I did this same exercise last year for This Given Sunday and it was not fun. The silver lining was that I put Cam Newton #1 and he had a disastrous season. Last year on only Brees made it as a top 10 player in the NFC South for the Saints. A clear sign the team isn’t drafting well enough. This year wasn’t much better, though I did sneak one more Saint on the list. Hopefully Michael Thomas will be on this list soon. I just couldn’t justify putting him over anyone else on this list… as badly as I wanted to. You’ll also notice Cam Newton is off this list after being #1 last year, so things can change quickly. No way I could justify having him on here after the positively miserable season he just put together.
1. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
It kills me to do this but he’s the reigning MVP much like Cam Newton last year so he deserves this spot. His 117.1 QB rating last year was 5th best all time and better than any single season Brees has ever had by that metric. Credit where credit is due, his performance last season was nothing short of historic.
2. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan wouldn’t be nearly as special without this guy. I considered having Jones at #1 because an argument can easily be made that he’s the best player. I think he’s clearly the best receiver in the league.
3. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
That scary concussion against the Saints makes me wonder how much football he has left in him. I had him #2 last year and I maintain he’s the best defender in the division. His play recognition, speed, strength, coverage skills and iq are all off the charts.
4. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
He drops one spot from last year, though you could make the argument he deserves to move up given how well he played. I just don’t think at this point I can really list him ahead of the top 3, but Brees could easily end up having a better statistical season than Ryan.
5. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If the Bucs stand any chance at making the playoffs it’s because they have one of the best receivers in the NFL. I still maintain Evans won Johnny Manziel his Heisman and without Evans the controversial QB wouldn’t have had half the college career.
6. Vic Beasley, Jr., OLB, Atlanta Falcons
A devastating pass rusher that just led the league in sacks. Teams are going to pay a lot more attention to him this year. I think a poor rookie season left him a little disrespected last year but it’ll be interesting to see if he can duplicate those numbers now that teams will focus on slowing him down all year.
7. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
Amazing he still put up his ho-hum great numbers last year considering how awful his quarterback played. Can you imagine how much worse it would have been without Olsen?
8. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He’s still ridiculously awesome. We forget that because of who he plays for, but he’s one of the golden standard players at defensive tackle.
9. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints
One of the most complete defensive ends in the NFL that doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
10. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
He’s got great balance, hands and he’s explosive. I’m honestly surprised he’s become such a good player but honestly I’d list this guy as the #1 Saints killer.
Honorable mentions that just missed the cut (these would round out the top 20):
Falcons: Alex Mack, C – Matt Bryant, K, Desmond Trufant, CB
Panthers: Trai Turner, G – Cam Newton, QB – Thomas Davis, LB – Kawann Short, DT
Saints: Michael Thomas, WR, Mark Ingram, RB
Buccaneers: Lavonte David, LB