“You’re going to take umbrage with parts of this list,” says Andy Benoit in the explainer for The MMQB 400, a ranking released by Sports Illustrated that ranks (you guessed it) the top 400 players in the NFL.
Benoit’s prediction that there will be umbrage taken is perhaps the only accurate part of the list, a project flawed in every aspect. The rankings of Packers players alone show exactly how ludicrous this list is from top to bottom.
Benoit says he ranked players with one simple question: “Does Player A do his job better or worse than Player B does his job?” That’s fair, but dangerous. That logic argues that a player ranked, say, 285th in the league (a number I didn’t choose randomly) is better at what he does than the previous 115 players ranked below him.
It’s also added that all these rankings were “film-based” with stats not factoring in at all, although Benoit argues “Ninety nine times out of 100, the film shows what the stats tell anyway.”
Here’s how the Packers fared on Benoit’s list, from lowest to highest.
285 - NT Letroy Guion
Not even halfway up his list of 400 players, Benoit makes a serious head-scratcher. Guion’s 285 ranking puts him as Benoit’s 42nd best interior defensive lineman, which makes sense, I guess, but it also puts Guion above more than a few players who made much bigger impacts for their teams, including Atlanta’s Taylor Gabriel, Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray, and Kansas City’s actual starting quarterback Alex Smith.
Even if Smith is worse than Guion at his job (and he’s not), there’s just no way a starting caliber quarterback should be ranked almost 100 spots lower than a guy who’s perhaps the fifth best defensive lineman on a team whose defensive line isn’t particularly good.
226 - OLB Nick Perry
What does it mean to be the 226th best player? Well, in Perry’s case it means he’s slightly better than Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio (who played five games last year) and slightly worse than Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan. I think the stats match the film on that evaluation. Or do they?
209 - WR Randall Cobb
Next up is Randall Cobb. Although stats don’t matter in this, Benoit dings Cobb for having bad stats in the evaluation he forgot to finish writing:
“He's a great utility weapon, but Cobb has only one 1,000-yard season under his belt (1,287 yards in 2014). Entering 2015”
What happened entering 2015? We’ll never know.
200 - S Morgan Burnett
The Packers, Benoit argues, should “strongly consider” signing Burnett to a third contract. This rating feels fair, but Burnett’s comparables are Antonio Gates and Joe Staley, which will be useful the next time you’re thinking about how good Morgan Burnett is; he’s worse than a 37-year old tight end and better than a 33-year old left tackle.
180 - S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Benoit says Clinton-Dix could “blossom into a top-five safety” this season, which apparently translates to only being slightly better than half of the top 400 players in the NFL.
154 - OLB Clay Matthews
This ranking makes me feel like Robin Williams in Jumanji, because in 2017 there’s no way I would take Clay Matthews ahead of the previous four Packers players on this list, much less 255 other NFL players. If this list is film based, I would really like to know what Clay Matthews film Benoit was watching.
145 - RT Bryan Bulaga
“It was far from certain that the 2010 first-rounder would pan out given his run of knee injuries,” Benoit writes of a player who took over as a starter as a rookie and has only missed five games in the three seasons following his most significant injury.
143 - TE Martellus Bennett
This entire list is predicated on how well a player does his job and “a player’s raw talent, cultivated skill set, and role within his team’s system were taken strongest into consideration.” With that in mind, how can Benoit rank Bennett 143rd? Isn’t it possible his role with the Packers could move him up or down this list significantly? 143 could be extremely high or low depending on a lot of things that we simply can’t know about Bennett.
97 - WR Jordy Nelson
Sure. Fine. 97 is fine. Let’s just move on down the list to the next Packers player.
63 - LT Davi-
Wait, hold on a second. Benoit ranked Alshon Jeffrey the 89th best player in the NFL? As in eight spots better than Jordy Nelson?
Jeffrey’s film must be incredible.
63 - LT David Bakhtiari
Another point where value gets confusing. Benoit has Bakhtiari as the fourth best offensive tackle in the league. That’s fine, I guess. But why 63rd if the other offensive tackles are 38th (Joe Thomas), 25th (Trent Williams), and and 11th (Tyron Smith)? Are the other tackles that much better at their jobs than Bakhtiari? Are other players that much more valuable?
Oh, and the 226th best player in the league sends his personal congratulations to Trent Williams for his excellent ranking.
58 - DE Mike Daniels
Daniels is described as the “an upper-middle class man's Ndamukong Suh” which is a compliment, I think? Suh is only ranked seven spots higher than Daniels, so if it is, it’s a very slight compliment.
It’s noteworthy that Benoit considers Olivier Vernon, ranked 57th, as a better run defender than Daniels, specifically naming him the best play-side or backside run stopping defensive end.
6 - Aaron Rodgers
And here’s the big one. Andy Benoit, based on what he assures us is voluminous film study, says that five NFL players are better at their jobs than Aaron Rodgers. That list includes Le’Veon Bell, Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, J.J. Watt, and Tom Brady.
I would concede Brady under duress, but it’s ludicrous to suggest the rest of those players are better at what they do than Rodgers, who even Benoit says could be “quite possibly the most talented passer in the history of football.”
Putting Watt so much higher than Rodgers is particularly troubling and calls into question Benoit’s methodology. By what film is Benoit ranking Watt higher than Rodgers? Sure, Rodgers wasn’t his typical self in early 2016, but Watt played just three games last season, so we can safely assume that he threw that season out.
So was Watt better than Rodgers from 2011 through 2015, a stretch during which Rodgers won two MVP awards? Could any film possibly show that?
I’m not asking that question rhetorically; I really would like to know.
And that’s why this list (and others like it) are such a problem. It forces both the evaluator and the reader to make comparisons that are functionally impossible and logically silly.
Even if J.J. Watt was demonstrably better than Aaron Rodgers, it wouldn’t even matter. Defensive ends (even generational, game changing ones) are inherently less valuable than quarterbacks by an enormous margin.
Save yourself the trouble. Don’t rank players. Watch the game, understand it as best you can, and don’t worry about where a guy ranks on an arbitrary list of players.