Third 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 21st through 30th. Players were ranked using the following criteria: performance and value to team. All respondents participated on condition of anonymity.
21. WR Andre Johnson / Houston Texans
This is how tough Johnson is: He played on an injured ankle for the vast majority of the season. This is how strong and talented he is: Even with the injury, he caught 86 passes for 1,216 yards and eight TDs. He caught the game-tying TD in a comeback win at Washington and the game-winner vs. Kansas City. Without him, you could argue, the Texans might have won only four games. He is the epitome of a complete receiver.
22. ROLB Terrell Suggs / Baltimore Ravens
In the second half of the season and two postseason games, Suggs was dominant, notching 7.5 of his 11 sacks in Baltimore's final nine regular-season games and racking up five sacks in the postseason. The Ravens' only consistent edge rusher, Suggs came up big repeatedly.
23. DT Haloti Ngata / Baltimore Ravens
Ngata had his finest all-around season as a pro in 2010, notching 63 tackles and a career-best 5.5 sacks. He has rare athleticism for his size and can be a nightmare matchup. His pressure on Texans QB Matt Schaub led to CB Josh Wilson's game-winning interception return for a touchdown in Baltimore's Week 14 overtime win. Ngata can line up as a three-technique tackle, at end and at nose tackle, giving the Ravens a host of options.
24. MLB Brian Urlacher / Chicago Bears
After missing basically the entire 2009 season with a wrist injury, Urlacher was outstanding in '10, recording 125 tackles and four sacks with 10 passes defensed and an interception. His return to health — and Pro Bowl form — helped make the Bears' defense one of the NFL's best.
25. RB Adrian Peterson / Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings plummeted in the NFC North standings, but it can't be pegged on Peterson, who rushed for 1,298 yards, breaking the 100-yard rushing barrier five times. His 118 yards at Philadelphia in Week 16 is a wonderful example of what makes him special. With the Vikings out of playoff contention and starting rookie QB Joe Webb and with the Eagles vying for a first-round bye in the postseason, Peterson helped key an upset win.
26. FS Ed Reed / Baltimore Ravens
In just 10 games, Reed intercepted an NFL-high eight passes and fortified the Ravens' secondary. His playmaking ability — a product of instincts, intelligence, athleticism and hard work — is legendary. He's a certain Hall of Famer.
27. QB Josh Freeman / Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Freeman's maturation helped keep the Buccaneers in the playoff hunt until the very end of the 2010 campaign. In only his second season, Freeman had to work with a young receiving corps and banged-up offensive line, but he made very few critical mistakes, throwing only six interceptions. Freeman didn't allow inexperience to hold him back.
28. WR Dwayne Bowe / Kansas City Chiefs
An underachiever during most of his first three seasons, Bowe finally put it all together in '10, going on a seven-game stretch for the ages. On an offense thin at wideout, his emergence gave the Chiefs diversity and helped QB Matt Cassel make a huge leap. The NFL leader with 15 TD catches, Bowe didn't just play physical this season, he also added a speed dimension to his game.
29. RB Chris Johnson / Tennessee Titans
Perhaps the NFL's fastest back, Johnson is the catalyst for the Titans' offense. His speed opens up what otherwise might be an ordinary attack. If he gets a step on the defense, he's gone. Also, he has proven to be capable of carrying a heavy workload for two consecutive seasons. Only 25 years old, the best might be yet to come for Johnson.
30. WR Calvin Johnson / Detroit Lions
Even with the Lions starting three different quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton) because of injuries, Johnson hauled in 77 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 TDs. Boasting a combination of rare speed, size and strength, Johnson forces opponents to pay extra attention to him.
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.
Friday: PFW's Super 50: 11th through 20th