Throughout the offseason, Baseline Times will be ranking the top 100 NFL players for the 2021 season.
Every Thursday night, 10 players will be released with a short discussion about what separates them from the rest of the pack. Rankings are based on both past performance and projections for next year.
Previous Top 100 NFL players:
80. Harrison Smith, S, Vikings
No team has done a better job in the past decade of keeping their defense intact than the Vikings, and Smith is their longest-tenured player. Though he was never truly game-changing, few active players have played at a high level for as long. Last year was his first Pro Bowl snub in six years, but he was just as impressive as always and shows no signs of slipping off.
79. Roquan Smith, LB, Bears
A bruising linebacker very much in line with the Chicago tradition, Smith broke out as a do-it-all player in his third season. He led the league with 18 tackles for loss and ranked second with 98 solo tackles. He was also the first Bear to rank top 10 in the league in tackles since Brian Urlacher.
Chicago’s defense was merely average last year despite tons of talent, but Smith was not part of the problem. He should have been an All-Pro, and likely will be this season.
78. Danielle Hunter, DE, Vikings
Once the unquestioned leader of Minnesota’s pass rush, Hunter missed all of last season with a neck injury. He racked up 29 sacks in the two years before that, earning Pro Bowl honors both times, and will rank much higher on this list next year if he proves he can return to form.
77. Amari Cooper, WR, Cowboys
It’s almost impossible for a wide receiver to live up to being the No. 4 overall pick, but Cooper has come pretty darn close. In two and a half seasons with Dallas he has scored 19 touchdowns and become Dak Prescott‘s favorite target.
His stats are not exactly eye-popping — he has yet to top 1,200 yards in a season — but he has the ability to make contested catches and make defenders miss in the open field.
76. Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals
Chandler Jones has always been in someone else’s shadow. He never got the respect that contemporaries like J.J. Watt and Von Miller did, but statistically he is almost as impressive. Once those players saw a dip in production, his 19-sack 2019 season was obscured by Stephon Gilmore‘s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
But since entering the league in 2012, no one has more than Jones’ 97 sacks — even though he missed most of last year with an arm injury. He and Watt may not produce gaudy numbers together in Arizona, but it is going to be pleasure to watch them both try and cement their cases for the Hall of Fame.
75. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Ravens
Humphrey is one of only a few cornerbacks left who can truly match up with any receiver. Since 2018, he has earned a grade of 90.0 from Pro Football Focus in single coverage, second only to Stephon Gilmore.
His play took a small step back last year but his physical brand of coverage still helped him force eight fumbles, the second-most ever by a defensive back. As he enters his fifth year, he is only going to better.
74. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seahawks
Metcalf was one of the hardest players to rank on this list. On the one hand, just look at him. His 229-pound frame instantly makes him one of the league’s best deep threats, as evidenced by his 10 touchdowns last year. On the other hand, he lacks the polish so far to get open against elite defenders — Jalen Ramsey held him to 87 yards combined in two games last year.
But he is still much more than just the freak athlete who chased down Arizona’s Budda Baker. He is already the best wideout Russell Wilson has ever played with. If he can improve his quickness and route-running, he has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
73. Demario Davis, LB, Saints
The 32-year-old Davis still possesses the physicality of a player five years younger and was on the field for nearly every defensive snap in New Orleans last year. Now entering his tenth season, Davis stands out even on a defense filled with veteran leaders. His energizing prescience will be invaluable as the franchise tries to find its footing without Drew Brees.
72. Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
It’s easy to dismiss Jones’ 25 touchdowns over the past two years as a product of playing on the Packers. Reaching the end zone is not too hard when Davante Adams can make a 50-yard play on a whim.
But Jones is the rare workhorse back who also makes every rush count. He averaged 5.5 yards per attempt last year, second best in the league and almost unprecedented for a fifth-round pick.
With excellent vision, Jones weaves through gaps with ease and patience. It appears that he lacks explosiveness, but avoiding sharp cuts helps him maintain his speed and always gives him a chance at a big play.
71. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
Is Keenan Allen the most underappreciated player in football? The sure-handed Chargers wideout made his fourth-straight Pro Bowl last year and was eight yards away from his fifth 1,000-yard season, but is rarely mentioned with the league’s best. He unsurprisingly emerged as Justin Herbert‘s favorite target and will be invaluable while Herbert grows more comfortable in the pocket.