ESPN.comâ€™s Merril Hoge (former Steeler) put together a recent article on the NFLâ€™s Top 10 Playmakers; I will have an agreement or disagreement with him and write about all ten of the playmakers. As you may already have heard, and if you have not listened yet, what are you waiting for? Blake Kelley and I discussed this topic on our weekly podcast show (July 17) “Gridiron Tailgating.” It was an interesting segment and a small part of an exciting show, which turned out really well. We would love to hear your comments on the Top 10 list and look forward to reading â€˜em and arguing back with you! Today we’ll go back and forth on the 5th through 10 rankings, and tomorrow the 1 through 4.
Troy Polamalu Steelers SS: DISAGREE – Polamalu is one of the most exciting players to watch on Sundays, but after a decent, not too exciting year, he drops out of my Top 10. On game day, fans await to see him in the Black & Gold uni, playing close to the line of scrimmage, ready to rip someoneâ€™s helmet off. He is not a guy whose numbers will jump out at you, so you cannot say too much about his 77 tackle season. His performance went down a notch with only one sack, three picks which isnâ€™t too bad, and was only in on one forced fumble. With no defensive touchdowns last year, this USC safety missed his first games of his career, (3) and did not make enough plays for the Steelers. My #5 Playmaker will be CB Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos. Make no mistake about it he is the best cover corner in the NFL. Champ is his name and shutting down one side of the field is his game. Opposing QBâ€™s donâ€™t go his way, they throw away from him or they pay the price (10 interceptions.) He is a sure tackler (86 tackles) and knocked away 21 passes last season, while taking one throw to the house. This former Georgia Bulldog has the best speed, hands, and coverage ability of any CB in the league.
Tom Brady Patriots QB: AGREE – Brady is “Mr. Cool” under pressure, as he masters at the two-minute drill hurry-up offense and is a comeback quarterback. When the gameâ€™s on the line he is the best in the business, adding two more fourth-quarter comebacks to his resume. Brady had a 2:1 TD-INT ratio (24 TD: 12 INT) and completed close to 62% of his passes for more than 3,500 yards. He is a flat-out winner and makes play when his team needs them the most. Bradyâ€™s accuracy keeps on improving and last year may have been his best year when he continued to make plays with an awful group of WRâ€™s to throw to. He does more with less and shows toughness along with his patience in the pocket.
Shawne Merriman Chargers LB: DISAGREE – This was one of the toughest decisions to make, I made this choice because San Diegoâ€™s 3-4 defense is one of the main reasons why he gets so many sacks (17.) He highly benefits from their system and players around him, (Williams, Castillo, Olshansky, and Phillips) with the d-line in front of him, keeping the big uglies away. He is a product of great coaching and almost half of those sacks came against horrible offensive lines (Oakland, Buffalo, and St. Louis.) Not to take away anymore from him, this 272-pound Maryland Terrapin is not in my Top 10 because I have the Windy City Flyer ahead of him. Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears was a return specialist and touchdown-making machine last season. He took a total of 7 back to the house: With three via the punt, three via kickoff, and one off a missed FG. The missed kick was returned a record-tying (teammate Nate Vasher) 108 yards at New York! Hester loves to play under the lights (5 of 7 TDâ€™s during Nite games) and made his presence felt at SB XLI, returning the opening kick for a score (first time ever!) Teams this year will now exclusively boot it away from him on both punts and kicks. Hester is very dangerous and his explosiveness will allow him to play contribute on the offensive end in â€™07. He has a ton of different juke moves to make defenders miss and he can break tackles. Teams will game plan around him and theyâ€™re well aware of his game-breaking ability. Hesterâ€™s nickname fits him well and whenever he touches the ball he can take it to the end zone for six. He lights up scoreboards, and this former member from the “U” could be the fastest player in the NFL, as he draws comparisons when darting into the open-field, to former Bear great Gale Sayers. #23 is the one of the most entertaining players to watch and is worth the price of admission.
Jason Taylor Dolphins DE: DISAGREE – He was the Defensive Player of the Year in â€™06 but this former “Zip” (Akron) does not have enough zip to make his way into my Top 10. With 13 ½ sacks and nine forced fumbles he creates havoc in the backfield. I do not think he has the same type of impact on the game for a defensive end as Julius Peppers does. Peppers is a better playmaker (13 sacks) and shows rare coverage skills for a DE. Julius can intercept the ball with ease and is a better all-around player. His pass-rushing skills are done with speed, strength, and technique. He can also play offense and this former North Carolina Tar Heel is just reaching prime. The sky is the limit for him and you will always need to double-team him, unlike Taylor, because his size/speed combination is unheard of. Peppers makes offensive coordinators loose sleep at nite and is like the anti-Rogaine; coaches go bald, losing their hair over his disruptive play. He is due for a big contract extension and is worth every penny Carolina will give him. He plays the run and pass, and can absolutely knock the quarterback out of the game, putting his fear in offensive tackles, while imposing his will on the game.
Carson Palmer Bengals QB: DISAGREE – Palmer is an elite QB, has probably the strongest “cannon” in the league, and uses his “rocket-arm” to complete passes most QBâ€™s do not even dream of completing. Yet, Palmer is not ready to make my Top 10 list of Playmakers. Therefore, I will replace him with RB Larry Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs. Larry Johnson is a lock for 1,700 to 1,800 yards a year now, and he can run right over almost any defense in the league. Linebackers here him coming and get out his way, as this 230-pound former Penn State Nittany Lion comes through like a five-ton truck. Johnsonâ€™s as tough as nails and runs the ball with authority, close to 30 times a game at usually five yards a clip. He ran for over 100 yards 11 times last season and scored 17 touchdowns, on the way to another MVP-type performance. Like Vince Young, Johnson is the “Man” in K.C., as he is their entire offense most of the time. They count on him for over 400 carries a season, and he produces and gets stronger during each game of the year. He can run in between the tackles with the all-time great RBâ€™s and is only getting better. Johnson is a true playmaker and is counted on more than any other back in the NFL.
Jamal Williams Chargers DT: STRONGLY DISAGREE – This mammoth of a nose tackle (350 pounds) is a strong force in the middle of a San Diego defense that helps free up the LBâ€™s (Merriman and Phillips) to roam and get to the quarterback for an abundance of sacks. He is a Pro-Bowl caliber lineman, but on the list for Top 10 Playmakers?!? Are you kidding me Mr.Hoge??? He is definitely off my list because he does not make PLAYS! Hence – the word “play” in playmakers ~ Williams put up only two sacks, close to 70 tackles, and forced a grand total of zero fumbles. The best DT in the league, Bears Tommie Harris, put up just as many sacks by Week 2, in a single game! I would not include any defensive tackles on my list of playmakers. Sorry, but Iâ€™ll go ahead and replace him with a bold selection – in Philadelphiaâ€™s finest, Eagle RB Brian Westbrook. Westbrook is another offensive performer who is counted on for more and more by his Head Coach Andy Reid, in a pass-first offense. Still, Westbrook runs for over 1,200 yards and leads the team with 77 catches for close to 700 yards. Yearly he puts up double-digit numbers in touchdowns (11 in â€™06) and he went for almost 2,000 total yards on the season. Last year Westbrook did damage in the Playoffs also, and was the main reason the Philly went far and won a game vs. New York. He ran for over 115 yards in both games during the primetime stage and scored three times. Westbrook ran for seven yards a carry vs. New York and nine per rush vs. New Orleans. He is the most versatile RB weapon in the NFL, as he can put up 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game (Week 7 @ TB), score three TDâ€™s in a game (Week 3 @ SF), catch 12 passes and still run for over 100 yards (Week 11 vs. Tenn.), and also run the ball more than 25 times for over 120 yards! He averages five yards a carry and nine yards per reception. For 21 times a game the Philadelphia Eagles can be sure giving this Pro-Bowl back the ball will end up being a great move. He is a very elusive, multi-threat, all-purpose RB, and will shake defenders like a McDonaldâ€™s customer putting on the salt for his/her French fries. Philly might want to take more advantage of this one-of-a-kind athlete whose skills are among the best in the NFL.
* Honorable Mention * – Around this time next year you might see a young up â€˜nâ€™ coming player like Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson cracking the list, making my Top 10. So keep your eyes out for this budding star, who is a force to be reckoned with in the Arizona secondary. Wilson, the former N.C. State Wolfpack third round selection, is one of the biggest hitters in the league at 6-foot 3, 230 pounds, he can lay the lumber (5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles), and take away a quarterbackâ€™s throw (4 picks) running it back to the house as he did in Week 4 @ Atlanta For 99 yards! He is an intimidator and few go straight towards him, whether it is a QB, RB, WR, or a TE. Adrian Wilson is a Top 5 Safety; he will make headlines this season, and grab more peopleâ€™s attention (you Madden players know what Iâ€™m talking about) as a known commodity/playmaker.