Last 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 first through 10th. Players were ranked using the following criteria: performance and value to team. All respondents participated on condition of anonymity.
1. QB Tom Brady / New England Patriots
Brady was exceptional in the regular season, completing 324-of-492 passes for 3,900 yards with 36 touchdowns and a mere four interceptions. Including the postseason, Brady went 339 passes without throwing a pick. The Patriots underwent some drastic changes in the passing game, with WR Randy Moss departing, WR Deion Branch returning and rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez emerging as the NFL's brightest young tandem at their position. The constant was Brady, who garnered Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America MVP honors for his efforts.
2. QB Aaron Rodgers / Green Bay Packers
Rodgers' mobility, accuracy and arm strength are his greatest assets and allow him to create on the move like few passers in the game. The Packers struggled to run the ball at times this season, and a host of injuries threatened to knock them out of contention, but Rodgers helped keep them afloat. And in the postseason, he was magnificent. Rodgers epitomized the term "dialed in" in the divisional round win at Atlanta, completing 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three TDs in a resounding 48-21 win.
3. QB Peyton Manning / Indianapolis Colts
We might have no clearer example of the "value to team" portion of our criteria than Manning. He willed a Colts team beset by injuries to first place in the AFC South. Playing without key weapons such as TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie down the stretch and without much of a running game to fall back on, Manning delivered, throwing for 4,700 yards and 33 TDs. While Manning threw 17 picks, that was only one more than a season ago — and he attempted 108 more passes than in '09. The Colts needed him to play to his high standard this season, and, except for a three-game stretch, he did just that.
4. QB Michael Vick / Philadelphia Eagles
Vick was never better than he was this season. In just 12 games, he set career highs in passing yards (3,018), TD passes (21) and passer rating (100.2) while committing a mere nine turnovers. And did we mention that Vick still has that rare speed? He rushed for 676 yards on 100 carries. At age 30, and after two seasons out of football and one on the bench, Vick played like a legitimate MVP candidate.
5. QB Philip Rivers / San Diego Chargers
Rivers' case is very similar to Peyton Manning's. He was outstanding for a team heavily dependant on him, setting career highs in passing yards (4,710) and completions (357) with 30 TD passes and a 101.8 passer rating even with a supporting cast that was without WR Vincent Jackson (holdout) and TE Antonio Gates (foot) for extended stretches. Rivers has established himself as one of the NFL's top passers — a quarterback capable of lifting up the play of everyone around him.
6. LOLB Clay Matthews / Green Bay Packers
Matthews garnered PFW/PFWA Defensive MVP honors after recording 13.5 sacks and 60 tackles for Green Bay's swarming defense. A late bloomer, Matthews didn't start until he was a senior at USC, but he has emerged as one of the game's top outside linebackers and pass rushers. Excellent effort, coupled with very good athleticism, makes him special.
7. SS Troy Polamalu / Pittsburgh Steelers
Time and again, Polamalu made big plays for the NFL's most imposing defense. His most memorable play came in Week 13, when he blitzed off the left edge, hitting Ravens QB Joe Flacco as he was preparing to throw off a three-step drop. Flacco fumbled, Steelers LOLB LaMarr Woodley recovered, and the Steelers later capitalized with the eventual game-winning TD. Polamalu has exceptional speed and is effective both bursting through the line in run support and covering a lot of ground quickly in pass defense. Some would say he's the Steelers' most indispensible defender.
8. ROLB James Harrison / Pittsburgh Steelers
There is a case to be made for Harrison as the NFL's top all-around linebacker in 2010. In addition to notching 10.5 sacks, Harrison racked up 100 tackles. What's more, he defended five passes and pulled in a pair of interceptions. Looking for more measures of his disruptiveness? He also forced a half-dozen fumbles. So strong and low to the ground, Harrison can be a nightmare to block as a pass rusher, and he's an above-average run defender, too.
9. DRE Julius Peppers / Chicago Bears
Here's a case where a player's numbers don't tell the entire story about his impact. Peppers, who has had six seasons in his career with double-digit sacks, notched 54 tackles and eight sacks in his first season in Chicago, but his effect on the rest of the defense was profound. Even when he didn't get to the quarterback, he was difficult to block, which helped the rest of the Bears' front four. Peppers, who has rare athleticism, also defended nine passes, with two interceptions.
10. QB Matt Ryan / Atlanta Falcons
Ryan's third NFL season was his best, as he set career bests in yards (3,705) and touchdowns (28). Ryan is an accurate, prudent passer who doesn't take many undue risks (his end-of-half interception vs. Green Bay in the divisional round aside) and fits the Falcons' scheme to a "T." The Pro Bowler has a very bright future.
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.
This article first appeared in the Pro Football Weekly print edition dated Feb. 6, 2011, which previews Super Bowl XLV. The print edition breaks down the big game in North Texas, including how the teams match up, five keys to the outcome, which club holds the edge at each position, how the teams compare statistically and much more. The issue also includes Nolan Nawrocki's mock draft, PFW's Super 50 of top players in 2010, a feature on former Giants RB and Super Bowl XXV MVP Ottis Anderson, and our annual Griddy Awards honoring top NFL broadcasters. You can purchase a copy of the Super Bowl preview print edition at retail outlets across the country or online at PFWstore.com, where you can buy either a print copy or an electronic (PDF) version.