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Top 100 Players of 2018, Nos. 31-40: Goff, Hunt land on list

With this group of stars, I've uncovered a peculiar trend.

New sensations seem to consistently land in the 30s.

Welcome to the new and the old, the group of 10 that welcomes the hottest names in the game and the most frequently productive ones, too. In this group, you'll find four new arrivals to the Top 100 altogether and a second-year man who was just a few places higher in his rookie season.

We've realized with this exercise that recency bias has plenty of power in where these players land, with even more favor given toward those who start seasons on hot streaks. This group also seems to occupy the tier below trusted stars (which exists below future Hall of Famers). Consider this tier three: The budding heroes. Some go on to cement their legacies; others fall by the wayside, a victim to a variety of unfortunate outcomes.

But before they've met their fate, they first meet their week: The week of the 30s (and No. 40). Let us dive in!

  Tyreek Hill serves as the living case against the point I made in relation to 
  Kareem Hunt below, which is, "Hey folks, let's slow down a bit on crowning this rookie." The reason? Hill was in almost the same spot last year as a rookie, at No. 36, and has maintained his hold on a top-40 spot through two seasons in the NFL. The deuces-chucking cheetah essentially doubled his output in receiving yards, going from 61 catches for 593 yards in 2016 to 75 grabs for 1,183 yards in 2017. He bested his rookie-year touchdown total by one (from six to seven), and even managed to take a punt back for a touchdown. Sure, his punt return numbers weren't as good, and he was deemed too valuable to put back there to return kicks, but two seasons in, Hill stands as one of the league's more feared deep threats with a gamebreaking ability matched by few. 

We talked about what missing six games and the playoffs could do to ranking for a guy like Ezekiel Elliott. Well, here's his teammate. Smith is still one of the league's best left tackles, and his 21-position drop (from 18 to 39) can largely be attributed to a less-powerful Cowboys run game and the Cowboys simply not being as imposing or effective as they were a year prior. It's not a Smith thing, it's a team thing.

How do you do, Jared? A year after learning on-camera in which direction the sun rises and sets, Goff rocketed beyond the stratosphere for the league's most-surprising team. Armed with a new offense and a coach to which he could relate much better than milquetoast Jeff Fisher, Goff flourished in Year Two, shaking off the struggles of being a rookie and connecting with a new cupboard of talent. Instead of Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, Goff was throwing to Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp, and the numbers showed, blasting through his 5:7 TD-to-INT ratio with a 28:7 mark in 2017. He completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,804 yards and posted a 100.5 passer rating as the leader of a high-flying Rams attack. Expectation comes with winning; it comes with landing at No. 38 in the Top 100, too.

(Jon Gruden voice) Here's a guy who landed in the Top 100 as a rookie and just grinds, man, just gets after it day in and day out, a real grinder. (Regular voice) Seriously, though, Bosa continued to do what made him one of the league's best 100 in 2016, racking up 70 tackles, 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles as part of a Chargers defense that should be even better in 2018. The sky is the limit for the former No. 3 overall pick. Expect him to be back here next year.

Thielen is the last of four straight newcomers (Hunt, Lawrence and Bouye are the others) to the Top 100 in this group of 10. I guess when you take the league by storm, your peers place you in the reserved seating located between 31-40. Thielen did just that in 2017, flourishing when teamed with Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum, catching 91 passes for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns. The oddest part about this pick? Anyone who watched the Vikings' offense during their trudge to 8-8 in 2016 could have seen this coming. But better late than never for a Top 100 appearance, I suppose.

Bouye was a big free-agent splash for the Jaguars and one that instantly paid off for the upstart squad. I'll admit, I had some concerns about whether he'd be able to bring what he did well in Houston over to Jacksonville, but he exceeded most expectations, racking up 56 tackles and six interceptions while playing opposite Jalen Ramsey in one of the league's most menacing defenses. There's a reason Jacksonville made it to the doorstep of the Super Bowl (no, it isn't Blake Bortles). It can be found in Jacksonville's defense.

It's hard not to love the career arc of Lawrence, a defensive end who was stellar in 2015, couldn't stay on the field in 2016 and burst through his glass ceiling in 2017. Lawrence racked up 14.5 sacks to go along with 58 tackles and four forced fumbles, serving as the defensive end Dallas needed and was trying to acquire when it drafted Michigan's Taco Charlton. Instead, the Cowboys found production from Lawrence, who they franchised while waiting to see if he can do it again. His 2017 performance was enough for his peers to give him his due; we'll see if the Cowboys do the same with the dollars next offseason.

This ranking is a great example of how short the memory is for some players in this league. Hunt had a phenomenal start to his rookie campaign but eventually regressed back toward reality, failing to break 100 yards rushing in nine of his final 11 regular-season games. That doesn't diminish what he did as a whole in 2017: a league-best 1,327 yards rushing on 272 attempts (4.9 yards per carry), eight rushing touchdowns, 53 catches for 455 yards and three receiving touchdowns. It's just that his star shined a little less bright in the middle portion of the season, and Kansas City inexplicably went away from him while clinging to a lead in an eventual playoff loss to Tennessee. We're not holding that against Hunt -- it's just a top-35 ranking as a rookie isn't all that common. Then again, neither is Hunt.

A year after Clowney's Texans exploited Oakland's backup left tackle situation to the wonderment of many, Houston failed to reproduce such entertainment due to a visit from the injury bug. The Texans lost their star quarterback, one half of their backfield and an assortment of others ( J.J. Watt, anyone?), removing them from the limelight. Not to be forgotten was Clowney, who posted his best sack (9.5) and tackle total (59) in his career in his first full season played. That last part alone is commendable for a guy who's struggled to stay healthy. If that levels out, Clowney will only continue to improve and rack up Top 100 appearances, of which this is his second and is a 17-position jump.

Stafford is the model of consistency. He's thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 20-plus touchdowns in each of his last seven seasons, he hasn't broken 15 interceptions since 2013 and his completion percentage has been above 60 in each of his last four campaigns. What more can you ask for from your quarterback? Detroit found a godsend at the position when it selected Stafford in 2009 out of Georgia and continues to reap the rewards, even if the rest of the team isn't quite up to snuff. How consistent is Stafford? He landed in this exact same spot last season. Keep on keeping on, Matthew.

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