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Top 100 NFL Players of 2021: 90-81

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.

This week’s list is filled with veterans who took a big step forward last year, as well as some unsung young heroes.

Previous Entries: 100-91

90. Derwin James, S, Chargers

So far, James has lived up to his pre-draft evaluation: if he can stay healthy, he is a game-changing safety. He fell to the Chargers at No. 17 in the 2018 draft because of a leg injury and was a first-team All-Pro that season. However, his leg sidelined him for all of 2020 and most of 2019. He is reportedly fully healthy, and a successful start to the season could quickly change the narrative surrounding him.

89. J.J. Watt, DE, Cardinals

No one has dropped down this list as quickly and as suddenly as Watt. Once the consensus best player of his generation, it feels like much longer than three years since he recorded 16 sacks and was named a first-team All-Pro. Last year, he had five sacks and 17 quarterback hits, both career-lows for a full season.

Now, Watt will suit up for a team besides Houston for the first time. Expectations are low, and Watt has punched his ticket to Canton regardless of how he performs. But he will need to regain at least some of his old form if he wants to be remembered as one of the greatest defensive players of all time.

88. Stephon Tuitt, DT, Steelers

Tuitt bounced back from a 2019 injury and finally made the jump from “good” to “elite” in his seventh NFL season. One of ten players to post double-digit sacks, Tuitt made offensive lines pay for focusing too much attention on T.J. Watt.

87. Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders

Making fun of the Raiders’ draft picks has become something of a national pastime, but Jacobs is no joke. He racked up 12 touchdowns and 1,303 yards from scrimmage in his sophomore campaign and made his first Pro Bowl. He lacks the explosiveness to compensate for a bad offensive line — his longest rush last year was 28 yards — but has emerged as a true every-down back in a time where that role is supposed to be dying out.

86. Leonard Williams, DT, Giants

Leonard Williams played the best football of his six-year career in 2020. (Adam Hunger/Associated Press)

Williams’ shaggy mane of hair and massive 6-foot-5 frame have become one of opposing linemen’s least favorite sights. He has been a true workhorse since entering the league in 2015, missing only one game in six years. But last year, he finally lived up to his status as the No. 6 overall pick.

He posted career-highs in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (14) while leading a rejuvenated Giants defensive line. His 62 quarterback pressures were more than double anyone else on the team. New York rewarded him in March with a $63 million dollar contract.

85. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys

Lawrence has not justified the five-year, $105 million contract he signed in 2019. However, he has been much better than his 11.5 sacks in the past two years suggest. Lawrence is disruptive and physical, two traits that were lacking in Dallas’ 28th-ranked defense last year. He could experience a resurgence if bruiser Micah Parsons draws enough attention from opposing offenses.

84. Allen Robinson, WR, Bears

While he has never matched the heights of his 2015 breakout season, Robinson’s quiet consistency has anchored the Bears’ offense with 200 receptions in the past two years. His 1,250 yards last year ranked ninth in the league, ahead of Pro Bowlers Keenan Allen and A.J. Brown.

Few players are better than Robinson at making contested catches, whose size and sure hands give him an edge over most cornerbacks. If Justin Fields meets expectations, Robinson could be in for a career year in 2021.

83. James Bradberry, CB, Giants

Bradberry hasn’t become a star quite yet, but New Yorkers know how intimidating he can be in pure man coverage. Bradberry is not an aggressive corner, but possesses elite instincts and keep up with the league’s best route runners. Don’t let that style fool you — he was instrumental in the Giants’ upset of the Seahawks last year, holding the 6-foot-4 D.K. Metcalf to five receptions.

The five-year veteran went to his first Pro Bowl last year. He also posted a 79.8 grade on Pro Football Focus — seventh-best among cornerbacks and better than stars like Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White.

82. Joel Bitonio, G, Browns

Joel Bitonio is one of the most reliable players in the NFL. He has not missed a snap since 2016. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Browns’ offensive line was the biggest factor in their success last year. They have three lineman on this list, more than some entire teams. Their blockers are that good.

Bitonio is a head coach’s dream. He has not missed a snap at left guard in the past four years and has been a second-team All-Pro for three years straight. Guards rarely get credit for their team’s success, but Nick Chubb and Baker Mayfield may not have become stars without Bitonio’s steady prescence.

81. Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals

Burrow’s Week 10 ACL injury remains the most enduring and tragic image of the 2020 NFL season. Before his season was cut short, Burrow put up over 300 passing yards five times and was immune to most of the growing pains young quarterbacks experience. He is unquestionably the Bengals’ quarterback of the future.

However, Cincinnati questionably passed on left tackle Penei Sewell in the draft. Their offensive line is virtually unchanged from the group that at one point allowed Burrow to be sacked 16 times over three weeks. If he can not stay on his feet, it won’t matter how talented he is.

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Top 100 NFL Players of 2021: 100-91

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.

100. Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers

First-round edge rushers typically take a few years to reach their potential, and Burns’ sophomore stat line suggests that he is in for a big 2021. With ten sacks and three forced fumbles in 14 starts, Burns quietly helped anchor a disappointing Carolina defense and will be a mainstay in a group that lacks an identity.

99. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens

Stanley had Pro Football Focus’s top pass-blocking grade when a Week 8 injury ended his season, and led all tackles in the stat in 2019. Lamar Jackson‘s mobility certainly helps in that area, but Stanley has proven more than capable of matching up with T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett twice a year. He has the tools to be truly elite, but will need to be on the field for more snaps before he enters that conversation.

98. Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

After missing all of last year with an ankle injury, no one knows if Miller is still the perennial All-Pro that dictated opponents’ game plans. He was a shadow of his former self in 2019 when he posted career-lows in sacks (8) and quarterback hits (20). This year he might be upstaged by rising star Bradley Chubb. Still, the former Super Bowl MVP’s experience should help him finish within the top 100 NFL players.

97. Terron Armstead, OT, New Orleans Saints

Though a case of COVID-19 kept Armstead from starting all 16 games for the first time in his career, he has been a mainstay at left tackle in New Orleans for seven years. Last season, he reached his third-straight Pro Bowl, a level of consistency that will be invaluable as the Saints look for Drew Brees‘ successor.

96. Calais Campbell, DE, Baltimore Ravens

One of the most physically intimidating pass rushers of the last decade, the 300-pound Campbell is nearly 35 and looking to end his career with a Super Bowl ring. He was slightly disappointing last year with a career-low four sacks — three of which came in a monster performance against Philadelphia — but more than justified the fifth-round pick Baltimore traded away for him. There is no reason to believe Campbell won’t earn his fifth-straight Pro Bowl nod this year.

95. Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders

There are only two other tight ends on this list, both of whom will predictably rank much higher. But in a league obsessed with speedy wideouts, Waller made a name for himself in 2020 with nine touchdowns and nearly 1,196 yards. He essentially was the Raiders’ passing game, accounting for almost a quarter of the team’s total targets. That speaks more to the lack of talent in Las Vegas than to Waller’s ability, but he will still be all over highlight reels next year.

94. Richard Sherman, CB, Free Agent

Though a rumored reunion with the Seattle Seahawks is unlikely, Sherman will make an immediate impact wherever he ends up. His All-Pro days are behind him at age 33, but he remains perhaps one of the most intelligent corners in NFL history. Expect Sherman to emerge as a locker room leader on yet another Super Bowl contender before his Hall of Fame career is up.

93. John Johnson III, S, Cleveland Browns

Johnson had the league’s most unsung comeback story last year. After a horrific 2019 that ended in six games with a shoulder injury, Johnson played every defensive snap for the Browns in 2020. He allowed only 51 receptions, second-best among safeties. Despite lining up across from former No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, Johnson has emerged as the leader of Cleveland’s secondary and one of the top 100 NFL players.

92. Frank Ragnow, C, Detroit Lions

Ragnow is already the league’s highest-paid center. Now he needs to prove he’s worth $70 million. A second-team All-Pro in 2020, Ragnow did not allow any sacks and committed only three penalties. He will play alongside rookie Penei Sewell next year in what could suddenly be a top-caliber offensive line.

91. Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

On a defense loaded with famous faces, White was lost in the crowd after being drafted at No. 5 in 2019. But in the final minutes of Super Bowl LIV, he intercepted Patrick Mahomes in the end zone to cap a stunning postseason performance. White had 38 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in three playoff starts. If he can carry that momentum into 2021, All-Pro status will not be out of the question.