With NFL training camps set to open in just over two weeks, the return to action is near. 2020 is a unique time for the league with so much talent at each position; the future looks bright. While the season remains a short time away, for a fun experiment, I have identified the top NFL players at each jersey number, starting with 99. This list is made of long time veterans who continue to flourish and remain among the NFL’s elite, along with young talent who have burst onto the scene and staked their claim among the top players in the game. In deciding on each player, I based my decision on their current standing and a future outlook for their career.
99. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
The best defensive player in football, Donald, is an easy choice for the number 99. The perfect combination of size, speed, power, and football instincts, he can beat any opposing offensive lineman with ease en route to opposing quarterbacks. With 72 sacks already over his career, capped off by a 20.5 sack season in 2018, Donald has racked up the accolades, with six trips to the pro bowl along with making the league-wide all-pro team five times.
98. Maxx Crosby, Oakland Raiders
Selected by the Raiders in the fourth round of last year’s draft, Crosby was one of the team’s lone bright spots. Starting in ten games, he notched ten sacks and 47 tackles, with 16 being for a loss. Finishing the runner up for the defensive rookie of the year award behind 49ers star pass rusher Nick Bosa, Crosby displayed the speed and athleticism to be an every-down pass rusher in the league.
97. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
In a tight battle with his younger brother Nick, the edge went to Joey due to his steady play over his four seasons in the NFL. Fully healthy last season after a foot injury forced him to miss time in 2018; Bosa was back to hunting down opposing quarterbacks, racking up 11.5 sacks in 2019. A technician with his hands, he is constantly able to beat opposing offensive tackles around the edge and possess the power to push them back into the quarterback’s lap.
96. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals
Even at the age of 31, Dunlap is still playing at a high level. Currently ranked 11th in current NFL players in sacks, he added another nine last season in 14 games. Remaining one of the most under-appreciated players in the NFL due to his time on the lonely Bengals, Dunlap was recently selected to the all-decade team by Pro Football Focus.
95. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
The former number one pick was on his way to his first defensive player of the year award last season before becoming suspended. Heading into his fourth season in the league next year, Garrett has already recorded 30.5 sacks, 104 tackles and 65 QB hits in 35 games. He is also top five in the league in total pressures with 131 since entering the league in 2017.
94. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
The leader of the Saints defense, the University of California alumn, has posted double-digit sacks the last three seasons, including a career-high 15.5 last season. With one of the most explosive first steps in the entire league followed by his trademark swim move, he has established himself as one of the most consistent pass rushers in the entire league. An important figure in the Louisiana community off the field also, Jordan is a multiple-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.
93. Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens
A twelve-year veteran in the NFL, Campbell can still play at a high level. Following a three year stint in Jacksonville, after a nine-year tenure with the Cardinals in Arizona, Campbell found a new home in Baltimore this past offseason. Standing at 6’8 and weighing over 300 pounds, he is one of the most powerful interior defensive linemen in the entire league, regularly eating up blocks and clogging up lanes in the run game. An underrated pass rusher his entire career, he has posted 88 sacks, with 31.5 of them coming over the last three seasons.
92. Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
Two years into his career, Davenport had a better second season in the league after a disappointing rookie year. A rare combination of size, speed, and strength, he is one of the best run defenders in the entire NFL. While his pass rush skills are still developing, Davenport posted six sacks last season along with 16 QB hits and looked to be trending towards becoming an elite pass rusher.
91. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
One of the most feared defensive players in the entire game, Cox often looks like a man playing amongst boys. Featured among one of the best defensive lines in the league in Philadelphia, he continually demands attention and regularly eats double team blocks. While his numbers aren’t as flashy as other defensive linemen on this list, over his career, he has averaged 45 tackles, six sacks, and at age 29, he still has good football left in him.
90. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
In one of the best seasons over the past few decades in 2019, the younger Watt brother proved just how good he is. Setting a franchise record in forced fumbles in a single season with eight, TJ was a favorite for the defensive player of the year trophy, which was ultimately won by Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. On the verge of superstar status, he is in a rare territory over his first three seasons in the league, becoming one of only five players to record 30 sacks, 30 TFL, and 70 QB hits.
89. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
A run on tight ends starts with the former Sooners standout, who in 2019 had his best season as a pro, catching 64 passes for 852 yards and ten touchdowns. A go-to target for quarterback Lamar Jackson, Andrews is able to use all of his size at 6’5 to high point the football over smaller defenders. On his way to becoming a top-five tight end in the league, he also does a tremendous job of reading opposing defenses and finding the soft spots to get open.
88. Evan Engram, New York Giants
After a solid rookie season in 2017, Engram has seen a drop off in almost every major statistical category. A victim of an ongoing quarterback carousel in the meadowlands, he has also battled a slew of injuries, missing 14 games over his three seasons in the NFL. A matchup nightmare for opposing defenses when healthy, look for him to have a breakout season in 2020 following the addition of new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
87. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
The best in the league at his position and a fan favorite in Kansas City, Kelce has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last four seasons. A perfect complement to the Chief’s wide receivers’ speed, he has some of the surest hands in football, along with the size and mobility to run away from almost any opposing defensive player. With over five consecutive seasons posing at least 72 catches, 875 receiving yards, and four touchdowns, he is entering rarified air in the history of NFL tight ends.
86. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
A staple of the Eagles offense over his seven-year NFL career, Ertz is a do it all tight end. One year removed from a 116 reception season that saw him break the NFL record for receptions by a tight end, he maintained that level of play last season, with 88 catches for over 800 yards and six touchdowns. A willing blocker also, Ertz is one of the toughest in the business and one of the best at opening up holes for his running backs.
85. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
A flashback to the 80s type of player in the modern-day NFL, Kittle is one of the most athletic players in the entire league. A matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to game plan against, his 2,945 receiving yards is already the most by an NFL tight end over the first three seasons of a career. He is also the most violent blocking tight end in the game, allowing Kyle Shanahan’s offense to finish second in rushing last season.
84. Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
The first receiver on this list, Davis has had an up and down first three seasons with the Titans. With just over 140 catches for 1,800 yards, many in Nashville are still waiting for the former top-five pick to turn into the elite pass catcher that many expected him to be. A big and strong wide receiver, he has struggled with drops over the last few seasons with ten since 2018. On this list, due to the lack of competition behind him, 2020 is a make or break year for Davis as he was surpassed by A.J. Brown as the number one receiving option on the Titans last season.
83. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
One of the lone bright spots for a Bengals team that has struggled mightily over the past few seasons. Boyd has quietly been one of the most productive receivers in the game. The go-to guy in Cincinnati in 2019 in a lost season for star receiver AJ Green. Boyd caught 90 passes for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. As the franchise hands the reins over to college sensation and last year’s number one pick Joe Burrow, look for Boyd to rise among the best wideouts in the game.
82. Jamison Crowder, New York Jets
The longtime member of the Redskins and now New York Jets had his best season as a pro last year. Featured in a receiver core that is desperate for playmakers, he set new career highs in targets with 122 and receptions with 78. Following the departure of longtime jet Robbie Anderson to the Carolina Panthers during this offseason, look for Crowder to become the number one target for Sam Darnold in 2020.
81. Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
In a close battle with the Charger’s Mike Williams, Hooper claimed the spot as the best number 81 in the league. Coming off his best season as a pro that saw him finish top ten in both receptions and receiving yards among tight ends, he signed a massive four-year deal worth 44 million dollars this past offseason in Cleveland. This deal makes him the highest-paid at his position in the league.
80. Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
In a disappointing season for the Browns in 2019, Landry shined, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards. With his longtime friend and former LSU Tigers teammate Odell Beckham Jr garnering most of the attention from opposing defenses, Landry is the beneficiary of single coverage on most of his routes allowing him to remain so productive with over 80 receptions in each of his first two years in Cleveland.
79. Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles
A disappointing Achilles injury will keep him on the sidelines next season; however, Brooks has become one of the best guards in the game since landing in Philadelphia. Coming off three straight pro bowl trips, he was named the highest-rated offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus last season. An impressive feat playing on an offensive line for the Eagles that features longtime veteran center Jason Kelce and future hall of fame left tackle, Jason Peters.
78. Laremy Tunsil, Houston Texans
One of the best young left tackles in the game today, Tunsil has been an anchor for a Texans offensive line that struggled mightily before his arrival. In his first season in Houston after famously being traded for two first-round draft picks, he had his best season as a pro. He appeared in 14 games for the Texans while only giving up three sacks on the way to his first-ever all-pro team selection.
77. Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
The benchmark for offensive tackles over his ten year NFL career, Smith looks well on his way to a place in the hall of fame. A seven-time pro bowler, along with a four-time first-team all-pro member, he has been playing at an elite level ever since the Cowboys selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The only question mark that remains is will his body hold up, as a bevy of injuries have caused him to miss time over the past few seasons.
76. Duane Brown, Seattle Seahawks
Like Smith, the 34-year-old Brown has been playing at a high level for a long time. A 12 year NFL veteran, he remains one of the most vital pieces to the Seahawks offense due to his elite run blocking skills and ability to keep Russell Wilson upright, with just five sacks allowed in 28 games over the past two seasons.
75. Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins
One of the most underrated offensive linemen in the entire NFL, many are unaware of how good Scherff truly is. A technically sound guard, he can hold up in one-on-one pass blocking against any pass rusher in the league. He also has the athleticism and physicality to pull and lead the way for the Redskins ground game. Selected 5th overall by Washington in 2015, former general manager Scot McCloughan called Scherff one of his two best draft picks over his tenure as the Redskins GM.
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