The NFL wrapped up its annual list of the top-10 players. It also revealed, like it does every year, that lists like these are flawed, biased, and a victim of popularity influence over talent. That being said, one cannot really measure talent or make an impenetrable argument that one player is better than another closely-related player except that I can, and I did, and I am now revealing who the top-10 players of 2019 are.
For the purposes of their list, players vote on who their most talented colleagues are and the results are well, they are certainly results. There are many lists which are perfect and this is one of them. Many players are not on it, and that’s because they won’t be in the top-10 most-talented players next season. Instead, the following 10 will be and exactly in this order, for the reasons listed below. Have a disagreement? Take it up with the list.
It is never too early to start chatting about the 2019 NFL season. This takes every player back to Square 1 to start racking up their stat lines.
With some players naturally in better positions than others to succeed, we have ranked the following 10 NFL players from No. 10 to No. 1 for 2019.
P.S. A couple of stars from last year did not make our cut.
10. Antonio Brown wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite Brown’s drama with the Steelers, he is still one of the NFL’s most talented and brilliant players. The All-Pro wide out recorded a league-high 15 touchdowns last season and has averaged a stellar 100 receiving yards per game over his last five campaigns. It is no wonder that the Steelers are already fielding trade offers for Brown as we speak. While this is brewing, Brown continues to work out like a warrior to be in top physical shape and offer his best to a new club for 2019.
This is the lowest Brown’s been ranked since 2015 when he was eighth; a tiny byproduct of Ben Roethlis berger missing the list for the first time due to age and Ben-related injuries, however Mason Rudolph makes a push for Offensive Rookie of the Year since he gets to throw to Brown, Smith-Schuster, and former Oklahoma State teammate James Washington.
9. Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
As a staple on the Eagles defense, Cox finished his last season with a career-best 10.5 sacks and a menacing total of 24 quarterback hits. This came along with 46 combined tackles and a fumble recovery. His dominance on the field should continue as he is primed to play several franchises in 2019 with sketchy and/or young quarterbacks. This would include the likes of the Bills, Jets, Bears, Giants, Redskins and the Dolphins. Talk about some savory offensive pairings for Cox to sample.
It’s a shame that Cox plays in the same league as Donald; he’d be the unanimous decision for top defensive interior if it weren’t for the Rams superstar. Cox’s pass-rush win rate in 2018 (20.9%) is the fourth-best single-season mark of any defensive interior in the PFF era. And his 91.2 pass-rush grade this past season, another career-high for the big man, also ranks inside the top 10 among qualifiers since 2006.
From PFF’s Austin Gayle in his latest feature on Cox comparing him and Donald:
“Among the 125 interior defensive linemen with 500 or more pass-rush snaps since 2015, Donald ranks first in pass-rush grade (95.9), total pressures (375) and pass-rush win percentage (22.1%). Cox ranks second behind Donald in all three metrics.
And the trend continues, as Donald led all at his position in pass-rush grade in each of the past four seasons (2015-18). Cox ranked second two of the years (2017 & 2018) and third in another (2015).”
8. Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
It takes a lot to make a top 10 list out of hundreds of viable NFL players. But, there is nothing to indicate Brees chokes in 2019. He finished last season with a 115.7 quarterback rating and having completed 74.4 percent of his passes — both of which were tops in the league. All the while he threw for 32 touchdowns versus only five interceptions. The future Hall of Fame quarterback will be surrounded with most of the same talent on offense as he was last season, which primes him for amazing success in 2019.
On his 489 regular season attempts, Brees’ ball placement was deemed to be ‘perfect’ 20.0% of the time and ‘accurate’ 71.5% of the time, which ranked sixth and first among the league’s quarterbacks this year, respectively. Among the 44 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks throughout the regular season, Brees’ positively-graded throw rate of 27.6% ranked fourth, while his absurdly low negatively-graded throw rate of 7.0% was far and away the best mark in the league.
Brees took home PFF’s 2018 top passer award following what was a record-setting season for the veteran signal-caller this past season.
From PFF’s Mark Chichester:
“When you add it all up, Brees was the clear top passing quarterback in the league, and it showed in his PFF passing grade, the only one above 93.0 in the NFL this season. In his 18th year, Brees has continued to demonstrate that he can produce on any field he steps foot on, and he has continued to demonstrate the traits that arguably make him the most accurate quarterback of all time. After an incredible, record-breaking season, his performance throughout the season is more than deserving of the award.”
7. Bobby Wagner, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
Wagner was graded the highest at his position last season according to Pro Football Focus. This is after he tallied 138 combined tackles in addition to an interception returned for a 98-yard touchdown, two forced fumbles and one sack. He is thriving and should be slated for another magnificent season. This is especially true because the four-time All-Pro will be pitted against some vulnerable offenses in 2019. Those would include Wagner facing the Cardinals twice in addition to playing the Browns, Bengals, Ravens and the Buccaneers. Fun stuff.
Wagner finished the year ranked first in overall grade (91.9), coverage grade (90.4) and run-defense grade (91.8) among qualifying off-ball linebackers in 2018. Only two off-ball linebackers in the PFF era (2006-18) have earned 90.0-plus marks in all three facets: Wagner in 2018 and Kuechly in 2015. Wagner also missed just one tackle across 140 attempts this past season.
Though Kuechly isn’t too far off the Seahawks phenom, Wagner takes the cake for top off-ball linebacker in the NFL right now coming off one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen at the position.
6. Saquon Barkley, running back, New York Giants
Barkley lived up to every expectation and beyond as a rookie. He was a gem to own in fantasy football in his first season after he recorded a ridiculous 2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns. For this, the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year should keep delivering the goods in 2019. With quarterback Eli Manning continuing to struggle, and no signs of a change of command at that position as of yet, Barkley should remain his quarterback’s favored dump-off candidate once again this fall.
We’ve already seen enough from Barkley to slot him at No. 43 on this list. His 85.9 overall grade, 84.6 rushing grade and 86.4 receiving grade all rank inside the top-five among qualifying rookie running backs in the PFF era (2006-18). Looking specifically at his pass-catching ability, Barkley caught more passes (91), gained more yards after the catch (787) and forced more missed tackles on receptions than any rookie running back since 2006.
And all signs point to Barkley being much more than a one-year wonder. He earned 81.0-plus overall grades in all three years at Penn State (2015-17) and logged 80.0-plus receiving grade in his last two collegiate season
5. Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints
Thomas is developing into one of the NFL’s premier receivers. He recorded a league-high 125 receptions while doing so at a magnificent 85 percent catch rate last season. Why for any reason, would this stop in 2019? Thomas and the aforementioned Brees have amazing chemistry, and the 25-year-old receiver should continue to give fits to opposing defenders for the foreseeable future.
4. Khalil Mack, linebacker, Chicago Bears
When the Oakland Raiders were not willing to make a deal to keep Mack around, they shipped him off to the Bears. With a fresh change of scenery and perhaps a chip on his shoulder, Mack crushed it in Chicago. He managed 12.5 sacks in 14 games, along with 47 combined tackles, six forced fumbles and glorious pick-six to kick off the season with his new team. As long as he stays healthy, Mack should continue being opposing quarterbacks’ worst nightmare come September.
Mack’s transition from Oakland to Chicago went swimmingly. He kept his streak of 90.0-plus graded seasons alive in the Windy City, earning a 90.7 overall grade, 87.4 run-defense grade and an 86.0 pass-rush grade in his first year with the Bears. He’s also recorded 70 or more pressures in four consecutive seasons while logging pass-rush win rates above 15% every single year. Entering his age-28 season and Year 2 with the Bears, Mack is the NFL’s top edge defender in the game right now.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott is our top choice at running back on this list. He has been simply amazing thus far in his NFL career. With the exception of his suspension-shortened season, Elliott led the league in both 2016 and 2018 for rushes and rushing yards. And, in all three of his seasons, he led the NFL in rushing yards averaged per game. His career average is a stunning 101.2 per contest. Whether it’s leaping over defenders or ripping off some huge runs, Elliott remains on tap for another smashing year.
2. Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
We did not forget about the NFL’s MVP for 2018. Mahomes put up stellar first season as a starter. Not many quarterbacks exceed 5,000 passing yards and score 50 passing touchdowns in one season. Mahomes achieved multiple records and there is no way he takes a cliff dive in 2019. His chemistry will only get better with his ultra-talented offensive teammates on an offense that averaged a league-high 35.3 points per game last season. Magical to watch, Mahomes suiting back up and hitting the field cannot happen fast enough.
Mahomes’ 46 big-time throws were three more than anyone else in the NFL. He broke PFF’s single-season deep passing yardage record with 1,514 yards on passes of 20 or more yards downfield, and that’s with three dropped deep balls on the year. In fact, Mahomes had 35 dropped passes from his receivers this season, the third-most of any quarterback in the NFL.
Named PFF’s 2018 MVP, Mahomes is no flash in the pan. PFF’s Mike Renner sees the Kansas City signal-caller continuing to dominate the NFL far beyond the 2019 season.
“The superlatives for the second-year quarterback go on and on. In only his second year in the NFL, he’s already the league’s most valuable player. While the season didn’t end the way he or Chiefs fans had hoped, the rest of the NFL should be scared for seasons to come.”
1. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
Donald is a guy who opposing quarterbacks should be downright scared to face in 2019. The 27-year-old pass rusher will return after recording league and career-highs of 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for losses of yards. This was accomplished en route to earning AP Defensive Player of the Year honors. He should continue being a force to contend against with no end in sight as to how many punishing hits and tackles he has up his sleeve this fall. It’s hard to imagine him playing much better than he did the past two years. But he continues to work at it, so why not?
Donald doesn’t get a new contract, reports in Week 1, becomes third player after Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards, and the Rams are forced to make him the first non-QB to make $20 million per season.