Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 51-60.
1. Quick rise: Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu made quite an impression on #NFLRank voters during his injury-shortened rookie season. After 11 NFL starts, and while still recovering from a major knee injury, Mathieu ranks as the No. 58 defensive player and eighth among safeties. Mathieu certainly spent plenty of time around the ball last season, totaling 68 tackles, two interceptions and nine defensed passes in 751 snaps. Without the injury, he would be an obvious Pro Bowl candidate for 2014. With it, the most reasonable hope is that he will return to his 2013 form by the end of the season. First impressions are important, however, and Mathieu made a great one.
2. Newton vs. Ryan: Who would you pick as your quarterback? The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton or the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan? By a small three-spot margin, #NFLRank voters chose Newton. There is no doubt that Newton is younger (by four years) and has a more diverse skill set. But as quarterbacks age, their success depends more on pocket passing. Newton's running ability has added 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns to the Panthers' offense over the past three seasons, but his production on the ground has decreased each year and it's difficult to imagine it as a substantial portion of his game five years from now. That brings the debate between him and Ryan to passing. Ryan has always been a more efficient passer than Newton, and his career Total Quarterback Rating (68.4) is substantially better than Newton's (55.5) even though it includes rushing yards. With all due respect to voters, Newton isn't a sure bet over Ryan in 2014, let alone in the long-term.
3. Pity the guards: Here we are, just halfway through the #NFLRank reveal, and already the No. 3 and No. 4 guards are off the boards. That's right. Of the top 50 offensive players named in this project, only two are guards. You will have to wait for their names, but we do know that the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Iupati is at No. 53 and the Philadelphia Eagles' Evan Mathis is No. 59. Alex Boone, Iupati's fellow guard with the 49ers and a contract holdout, isn't among the top 100. Guards are increasingly more important in an era of quick passes and short(er) quarterbacks, and five were selected in the first rounds of the 2012 and 2013 drafts. But it will take a while for that transition to make its way to the general public.