Lists are trouble. Lists are arbitrary. Lists are the only positive thing the internet has left to offer us.
So it is with NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2019," a ranking compiled via ballots filled out by thousands of players. The result of this two-week exercise is supposed to broadly represent the hierarchy of athletes playing professional football in the United States, a counterpoint-slash-prettier cousin to "Madden" rankings as a way to grade players.
It asks the big questions: Who's the best? Or at least, Who do the players think is the best? Which should be the same thing. Right?
As with all rankings and lists, the "Top 100" is not meant only to standardize and educate, but to ostracize and infuriate. Every year, players are left out or ranked too low, inspiring them to express their discontent on the web. These players' umbrage is so great that, overnight, the Chips on their Shoulders multiply and their Motivation Levels rise to heights previously undetected by the league's Motivation Meters.
But for those who don't take the player-curated list so personally, there are broader themes and questions that arise out of this ranking and are worth analyzing: trends that are strange, results that are questionable and choices that are flat-out wrong.
Sometimes the players get it right; I personally agree with the decision to rank reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald as the game's top footballer, the first defender to receive the honor since J.J. Watt in 2015. Good eye, professional athletes! But that doesn't mean there aren't faults in the ranking.
I've got five qualms, five issues with this product that does not completely align with my worldview. Here they are:
1) Drew Brees higher than Patrick Mahomes? In 2019?
I can understand the potential reasoning behind voting Brees ahead of Mahomes. Players of all ages, rookies and veterans, usually defer to guys who, over time, have displayed excellence and continue to do so deep into their careers. That benefits Brees. A 39-year-old in the MVP conversation leading one of the league's most high-octane offenses toward home-field advantage? Crown him! Yeah, so it seems like some of these votes might have been tallied before the close of the 2018 season, when Brees' long ball started to sputter, while Mahomes, on the other hand, rose to the challenge. Both QBs lost in their respective conference title games, but while Brees blew the Saints' opening overtime possession by throwing an interception (which preceded the Rams' game-winning field goal), Mahomes drove Kansas City 48 yards in 21 seconds to set up a game-tying field goal and send his match into overtime (where the Patriots ended matters before Mahomes could get his hands on the ball again). The player who watched all seven hours of that special Sunday would have had no choice but to place Mahomes ahead of Brees, as the reporters did at "NFL Honors" when they named the Chiefs QB the league's Most Valuable Player.
2) Why did Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson plummet?
The underlying bias in this exercise is that certain players are boosted by their team's overall performance. Would second-year safety Derwin James be so high on this list (the second-best safety at No. 31 overall, one slot behind Eddie Jackson) if the Chargers hadn't tied for the AFC's best record at 12-4? Is Derrick Henry even on this list if Tennessee hadn't been a playoff contender (or if the Titans hadn't caught the flailing Jaguars flat-footed on a short week)? The same argument can be made in the opposite direction. Great players can be penalized for their teams' substandard seasons. Take Ryan as the clearest example. His numbers from 2018 are almost identical to those of his 2016 MVP campaign -- and yet, due to Atlanta's major injury issues and missing the postseason, Ryan dropped 40 spots from No. 29 last summer to 69. And then, what about Roethlisberger and Russ, who put up stellar statistical seasons, only to have their clubs fall short either before or in the postseason and see themselves drop 26 and 14 spots, respectively? Quarterback is the single hardest position to master in football, and maybe sports. And yet these three multi-time Pro Bowlers lose stock in the eyes of their colleagues because their clubs weren't in the title game. Yeah, football is a team sport, but this list -- the Top 100 Players list -- is all about celebrating individual accomplishment. So celebrate individual accomplishment!
3) DeAndre Hopkins NOT in the top 10?
What more does Nuk have to do to get top-10 respect? Over the past four years, there have been just eight receiving seasons of 1,375 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Hopkins has three of them -- and one of those seasons came with Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden splitting snaps under center. Woof. Pertaining to starting QBs, Hopkins has crawled through rivers of s--- and come out clean on the other side. And yet, not clean enough to garner top-10 consideration. I know he's only one spot short of the honor, but that one-gap difference feels 20 times as wide. Nuk belongs to be in the conversation with Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, who've benefited from outstanding QB play for their entire careers.
4) Fewer receivers! More offensive linemen!
I don't want this point to make it seem like I hate "fun" or "cool catches" or "yards of separation" or what have you. That's not the case. I just wanted to point out how imbalanced the appreciation is among players for those outside the hashes versus those in the trenches. Why are there 20 wide receivers (the most of any position group) on this ranking and just 12 offensive linemen and tight ends combined? There's just one center (Jason Kelce) and one guard (Zack Martin). Jeez, at least two make the Pro Bowl! Where's David DeCastro, who dropped out of the list entirely from No. 44 in 2018, or Quenton Nelson, who made first-team All-Pro in his rookie season? There's no love for Jared Cook, whose career year kept the Raiders just barely above water last season, or O.J. Howard, who was deemed by Pro Football Focus the second-best tight end in football?
5) Get a Bills player on there!
Only one team does not feature at all on this year's listicle: the Buffalo Bills. Last season, Buffalo boasted two players, LeSean McCoy and Micah Hyde; McCoy followed that up with a career-worst campaign, while Hyde had an above-average season but fell back to the pack from his 2017 Pro Bowl campaign. Listen, the Bills went 6-10, but they weren't pitiful pushovers; Cleveland went 0-fer-friggin'-everything in 2017 and still got Carlos Hyde on the ensuing ranking. (I know, Carlos wasn't part of the 0-16 business, having spent the 2017 season in San Francisco. Stop ruining my flow.) What do the Bills have to do to get some love from you players? Offer Buffalo News subscriptions or free round-trip tickets to Niagara Falls with ponchos included?! I have an easier solution. Go sign into NFL Game Pass, watch Matt Milano and Tre'Davious White impact plays and re-evaluate your ranking/life choices.
BONUS: A moment of silence for these highly paid snubs ...