Last night, the NFL Network concluded its countdown of the top 100 players as voted on by the players. This is the third time the network has compiled the list, and once again, the reigning league MVP placed in the top position. This wasn't a revelation. What did surprise, however, was that Aaron Rodgers couldn't be found anywhere in the top five. Rodgers had topped the list a year ago, after he too won the league MVP and led the Packers to a 15-1 record.
In full disclosure, we expected the players to give the top spot to Adrian Peterson with Rodgers to be right behind him, therefore allowing for a "would you really take Peterson over Rodgers" discussion. That quickly morphed into "HE'S NOT IN TEH (sic) TOP FIVE?!?"
The top 100 list should be taken with a spoonful of salt; this is the same list that included Dennis Pitta but not Jimmy Graham, and just a year ago listed John Kuhn. The 2013 list isn't even Rodgers' worst snub. Back in 2011, the inaugural edition of the top 100 placed Rodgers outside the top 10 despite his brilliant late season heroics and playoff run. Current players just do not make for reasonable talent evaluators.
So while our original plan for today's Lunch Break had to be scrapped, we have perhaps a more interesting question:
Who would you kick out of the top 5 of the NFL Network's top 100 to make room for Aaron Rodgers?
My initial feeling was to remove J.J. Watt. Calvin Johnson broke the single-season receiving yardage record, Peterson came close to doing the same for rushing yards, and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are quarterbacks who had typically great seasons. After further consideration, I decided Watt deserved to stay. A 20+ sack season is an incredibly rare accomplishment, and yet it wasn't even Watt's finest accomplishment last year. Watt had the 9th-most passes defensed in the entire league, the only non-defensive back in the top 30. No other defensive lineman finished among the top 60. That's the equivalent of having an extra cornerback or coverage linebacker on the field in addition to his league best 20.5 sacks and excellent run defense. I just couldn't take him off my list.
I also couldn't kick out Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. While in my estimation Rodgers performed better than both last year (and should again in 2013), elite quarterbacks should be in the top 5. Brady and Manning's performance should remain elite for at least another season.
So for me it came down to Peterson or Johnson. I suspect that most people would rate Peterson's 2012 higher due in part to his recovery from a torn ACL and the Vikings' playoff berth. Johnson's team didn't have nearly the same success, and their inability to win games played a role in the Lions passing the ball a league high 740 times. However, this list is supposed to partially account for expected production in 2013. If we view the question as "who will have the worse season this year," the answer for me is Peterson.
Purple Jesus is in his late 20s and already has 1,754 carries worth of wear and tear, not to mention the track record for 2000+ yard rushers in their following season leaves a lot to be desired. Of the seven other running backs with 2000 yard seasons, two (Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis) saw their yardage cut by more than half the following year. Three others (Erik Dickerson, O.J. Simpson, Chris Johnson) lost 600 or more yards the year after. While Peterson is an athletic freak, the same could be said about all the other backs in the 2000 yard club, and all but Barry Sanders were actually younger than Peterson at the time of their big season. Looking at history, it's hard to imagine a non-injury scenario where Peterson has a better 2013 than Megatron. Accordingly, I'm kickin' Peterson out of the top 5.
So who are you sending out of the top 5? Cast your vote in our poll and voice your opinion in the comments.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn