Second of a five-part series
With the help of coaches and evaluators from around the NFL, we present the top 50 players of 2010, today featuring the players ranked 31st through 40th. Players were ranked using the following criteria: performance and value to team. All respondents participated on condition of anonymity.
31. DRE Dwight Freeney / Indianapolis Colts
One of the NFL's most feared pass rushers, Freeney has rare speed off the edge and a patented spin move he uses with devastating effect. He must be accounted for at all times, and he can impact the game even if he doesn't sack the quarterback.
32. DT Ndamukong Suh / Detroit Lions
The athletic, instinctive Suh already has established himself as one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the game. He notched 10 sacks as a rookie, most among defensive tackles. He plays with intensity and toughness, and he figures to be very, very difficult to block for many, many years. The Lions can move this three-technique around the line, making him even more difficult to handle.
33. ILB Patrick Willis / San Francisco 49ers
On balance, this wasn't Willis' best season — and he still notched 128 tackles and a half-dozen sacks. There aren't many playmaking middle linebackers in the league. Here is one of them. He's the key to the 49ers' defense.
34. RB Michael Turner / Atlanta Falcons
Turner makes this list for his exploits as the focal point of his team's ground game. The Falcons have one of the NFL's most old-school, physical offenses, and Turner, who rushed for 1,371 yards and 12 TDs, is the hammer.
35. WR Greg Jennings / Green Bay Packers
A very deserving first-time Pro Bowl selection, Jennings became the Packers' primary passing weapon after TE Jermichael Finley was lost for the season in Week Five. A constant matchup problem because of his deceptive speed — he never tips his routes — and the fact that he can effectively line up at any one of Green Bay's five wideout slots, Jennings finished the season tied for second in the league with 12 TD catches and was fourth with 1,265 receiving yards.
36. CB NNamdi Asomugha / Oakland Raiders
Slated to be an unrestricted free agent, Asomugha, who turns 30 in July, is going to become a very, very wealthy man, whether it's back in Oakland or with a new club eager to have him lock down one side of the field. Asomugha didn't have an interception in 2010, but teams simply don't test him often. He's a blue-chip player.
37. RB Ray Rice / Baltimore Ravens
Rice, who racked up 1,776 combined rushing-receiving yards in 2010, can take an ordinary check-down pass and turn it into a thing of beauty. He can take a handoff, shed tacklers and leave them grasping at air in his wake. When the Ravens need a play, they turn to Rice.
38. CB Tramon Williams / Green Bay Packers
A case could be made right now for Williams being the top big-play corner in the league. In his first year as a full-time starter, he outperformed teammate Charles Woodson, ranking No. 1 in the league with nine interceptions (including playoffs). His playmaking instincts have been uncanny down the stretch and in the postseason.
39. CB Charles Woodson / Green Bay Packers
Woodson remains a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback with tremendous versatility and is one of the biggest keys in Dom Capers' unpredictable, multilook defense. Able to line up outside against an opposing team's best wide receiver or in the slot, a position from which he often blitzes, Woodson has amazing toughness and can do it all. There isn't a better cornerback in the league in terms of tackling and run support.
40. QB Jay Cutler / Chicago Bears
Cutler can be maddeningly inconsistent, but he is unmistakably one of Chicago's most valuable players. However, his season came to a very disappointing end after being knocked out of the NFC title game with a knee injury.
The following PFW editors contributed to this story: Arthur Arkush, Dan Arkush, Michael Blunda, Eric Edholm, Kevin Fishbain, Mike Holbrook, Eli Kaberon, Alex Mayster and Dan Parr.
Thursday: PFW's Super 50: 21st through 30th