The NFL features so many talented players that even men in the lower sections of the top 100 play at an All-Pro level.
With the pandemic causing a backup in sports stories and events, bloggers and journalists had plenty of time to create long lists this summer as they waited for real news to return. While crossing my fingers every time I talked about the upcoming NFL season, I began putting together a list of the top 100 players in the league. Now, we’re publishing it in an eleven-part series over the next two weeks.
A quick reminder that free agents, rookies, and players who opted out of the 2020 season don’t appear in the top 100. These articles aren’t ranking the best players from last season, although last year’s production is part of the evaluation process. Instead, the top 100 examines players’ skills, production, and proven staying power.
If you haven’t already, I suggest checking out the previous rankings to get a better context for the upcoming list. Hopefully, you’ll check back in every few days for the latest edition as we climb the NFL hierarchy.
80. Casey Hayward, CB, Los Angeles Chargers
Hayward hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2017, and 2018 was one of his worst seasons. However, advanced metrics reveal that the 30-year-old defensive back makes a larger impact than most fans realize. The Associated Press (AP) awarded Hayward with Second-Team All-Pro selections in 2016 and 2017, but Pro Football Focus (PFF) remains an even greater supporter of the Vanderbilt product.
In a recent article previewing Los Angeles’ season, PFF’s Steve Palazzolo praised Hayward,
Casey Hayward Jr. is one of the league’s most underrated players, but he has been a true stud during his NFL career. Over the past decade, nobody has recorded a higher forced incompletion than Hayward. He has been as good as any No. 1 cornerback in the game.
When PFF’s Sam Monson put together the ideal NFL secondary, he chose Hayward to lineup alongside Stephon Gilmore. Over the past decade, Hayward received four total All-Pro selections from the analytics site.
However, I believe PFF slightly overvalues Hayward, so seven cornerbacks outrank him on the top 100.
79. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were a mess for most of last season. Between Jonah Williams landing on injured reserve (IR) before the year’s start, A.J. Green deciding not to play, and the Bengals benching Andy Dalton for a few games, Mixon was one of the lone bright spots for Cincinnati.
The former second-round pick struggled during Cincinnati’s first eight games. Behind the team’s horrendous offensive line, Mixon averaged 40 yards per game and fewer than 3.2 yards per carry. However, the 24-year-old turned things around during the season’s final eight weeks.
From Weeks 10-17, Mixon averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 102 yards per game. After producing zero 100-yard games in Weeks 1-8, Mixon amassed four during his hot streak. He closed the season on a high note, tallying a career-high 162 rushing yards in a 33-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Behind a better offensive line, Mixon could easily make the Pro Bowl. With Green and Williams returning and Joe Burrow taking over the offense’s reigns, the young running back should experience a breakout year soon.