Top 100 lists are all the rage this time of year. The NFL Network produces their nonsensical popularity contest every year. Personally I have a difficult time caring. Those rankings make zero sense, and often include players who had dreadfully bad seasons just because of past reputation.
If we’re looking for top-100 debate fodder, I prefer these lists to be at least partly based on analytics. At least then there’s some objectivity behind it.
My favorite NFL analytics site, Pro Football Focus, has put together their list of the top 101 players from the 2012 season. Here are the links to all of the ratings, in case you’re curious as to where some non-Seahawks ended up.
As you might expect, there are a bunch of current Seahawks on the list. The Seahawks were among the best teams in the league, and if you believe these ratings, it was because the team had an above average number of elite players.
If you do the math, each team “should” have 3-4 players on the team. There were six Seahawks from the 2012 team on the list, which demonstrates that Seahawks players were well-liked by PFF’s metrics. Seattle also added two additional players from the list in free agency.
Lets take a look at the Seahawks who made the list. I quoted some of the comments, but didn’t feel I could quote them all without it being some sort of copyright violation. If you want to see what they wrote for each of the eight current Seahawks, you’ll have to click on the links above.
5) Richard Sherman
Playing almost exclusively on the left, Sherman was outstanding. He picked up the highest grade of all corner backs in coverage. Well deserved.
Best Performance: Week 16 versus San Francisco, +5.0
Key Stat: His combined 23 interceptions and pass deflections were the most of any defensive player.
23) Russell Wilson
The rookie third-rounder looked a little out of his depth early on but starting in Week 5 he was something else. With just five interceptions the remainder of the season (including one hail Mary in the postseason) Wilson was efficient at times and dynamic at others as defenses struggled to come to grips with him. His 2012 season proved all the doubters wrong.
Best Performance: Week 16 vs San Francisco, +7.7
Key Stat: Had the fourth-highest accuracy percentage of all quarterbacks.
35) Max Unger
40) Marshawn Lynch
51) Percy Harvin
55) Russell Okung
58) Antoine Winfield
61) Bobby Wagner
Noticeably absent from this list are Chris Clemons and Earl Thomas. Thomas is widely considered the best safety in the game right now, but his metrics from 2012 showed an up and down year. If you look as his overall rating (+2.8) it’s easy to see why he was excluded.
Clemons, on the other hand, had a very good +14 rating on the year. When you consider that Bobby Wagner’s performance was rated +13.1, and that Wagner was #61 on the list, confusion is understandable as to why Clemons was left off.
I posed that question to Steve Palazzolo, one of the six members of the committee generating these rankings. His response was, “first, you can’t take overall grades and apply them across positions. Second, he was our 11th ranked 4-3 defensive end and I think only six 4-3 defensive ends made the list.”
To rephrase, it’s easier to accumulate a higher rating at certain positions than at others, and that is taken into account in overall rankings. So, while there were ten 4-3 defensive ends better than Clemons in 2012 according to PFF’s performance ratings, there was only one inside line backer who’s performance rating was better than Wagner’s.
Considering only about half the teams use a 4-3 defense now, it would have been almost impossible for 11 4-3 defensive ends to make a list that only includes 101 players. You may disagree, but I found that to be a perfectly logical and acceptable answer.