The fine staff over at Pro Football Focus (you know, the "Every Game. Every Player. Every Play." folks) came out with its list of the Top 101 Players of 2011. It is not your typical ranking because it is based primarily on PFF's unbiased play grading and treats every position equally. This is not an MVP list, so thankfully it does not begin with the ten best quarterbacks (only the single best one!). Because it is not based purely on stats, the list is not without flaws or controversy. I thought it might be fun to run down which Packers made the list and what PFF had to say about them. I will also include a short bit on which players from the other NFC North teams appear on the list.
No. 1 Aaron Rodgers
For the top 10, PFF did a more in-depth analysis, which you can read here. They also provided the following summary:
● Set all-time single season QB rating record of 122.5
● Led NFL in yards per attempt at 9.3; next best mark was 8.6 from Tom Brady
● 7.5:1 TD:INT ratio, throwing 45 touchdowns and 6 interceptions on the season
● Completed 68.5% of his passes
● Facing Goal-to-go had a TD:INT ratio of 19:1
No. 38 Clay Matthews
The Claymaker took an awful lot of criticism this year as his sack number fell to just five. With virtually no one else on the Packers’ defense generating pressure, Matthews was that rare type of player who actually had to contend with extra attention on a consistent basis. Even then he overcame it to finish fifth in our 3-4 outside linebacker rankings, but was able to do with a truly complete performance that saw him making plays in every phase of the game. That’s a rare trait for a 3-4 outside linebacker, and the Packers playmaking was pivotal in a number of close contests.
Best Performance: Week 13 at New York Giants
Key Stat: Actually managed six more combined sacks, hits and hurries (66) this year than in 2010.
No. 53 Jordy Nelson
The Packer receiver was something of a touchdown machine as teams struggled to devote enough of resources to stopping him from getting in behind defenses. He dropped only two passes while having the second-highest Yards Per Route Run of any receiver and was a quarterback’s best friend. Literally. When quarterbacks threw at him they had a 150.8 QB rating in 2011.
Best Performance: Week 11 versus Tampa Bay
Key Stat: Led the league in Deep Pass yardage (total amount of yardage on balls that travelled over 20 yards in the air) with 637 yards.
No. 71 Brian Bulaga
So when a rookie tackle plays badly, don’t give up on him because he may just do a ‘Bulaga’. As a rookie Bulaga won a Super Bowl but was arguably the worst starter the Packers had. A year later he’s turned himself into one of the best right tackles in the league. Finishing second among RTs in our ratings despite missing four games, Bulaga earned the third-highest run blocking grade of all tackles. What’s more, he only gave up one sack and two quarterback hits. Quite the turnaround.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus New Orleans
Key Stat: Had the third-best pass blocking efficiency of all right tackles after giving up 20 combined sacks, hits, and hurries on 409 pass blocks.
No. 98 Josh Sitton
Another good year for Sitton who in our guard rankings finished fourth overall for his pass blocking, and fifth with his run blocking. His pass protection was a particular highlight with him only allowing his QB to hit the ground three times all year. Not as dominant with his run blocking as the other guards on the list (and seven penalties are too many) but still another fine year from a fine player.
Best Performance: Week 1 versus New Orleans
Key Stat: Gave up just nine pressures (two sacks, one hit and six hurries) all year.
Overall, I would say I agree with which Packers were included and their rankings based on 2011 performance. I guess I was a little surprised to not see Charles Woodson or Greg Jennings on the list. Woodson may suffer on PFF-style play grading from his unique role on the Packers defense relative to other cornerbacks in the league. Jennings probably just did not have a good enough 2011 to stack up against the other wide receivers that made the list.
The rest of the NFC North
No. 10 Jared Allen, DE
No. 55 Adrian Peterson, RB
No. 61 Percy Harvin, WR
No. 75 John Sullivan, OC
No. 83 Kevin Williams, DT
No. 100 Erin Henderson, OLB
No. 4 Calvin Johnson, WR
No. 76 Stephen Tulloch, ILB
No. 81 Matthew Stafford, QB
No. 43 Matt Forte, RB
No. 47 Julius Peppers, DE
I know what you're thinking: the Minnesota Vikings have more players on this list than the Packers? Yes -- in fact, they tied with the Ravens, Texans, Eagles, and 49ers for the most players on the list. I'm not sure what this means, but it could be that the lowly Vikings are not really so lowly and that they could surprise some people this year. I was surprised to see Stafford so low on the list. You can read the explanation by PFF here.