Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 31-40.
1. On the rise: Adding to the ubiquitous comparisons and ratings, #NFLRank firmly declared the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick a top-10 quarterback. His status as the No. 33 offensive player puts him at No. 9 for his position, ahead of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler, among others. Why is that? Consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Game have something to do with that, as does one of the best combinations of running and passing attributes in the NFL. As he ages and his career advances, of course, more attention will be placed on Kaepernick's performance in the passing game. What's already impressive is the way he takes care of the ball. In 639 regular-season attempts, Kaepernick has thrown only 11 interceptions.
2. NFC North tussle: This reveal brought us a fun comparison. Is Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has played in 26 NFL games, already a better receiver than the Green Bay Packers' Jordy Nelson? #NFLRank voters thought so. Jeffery put his ball skills on full display in last season's 89-catch, 1,421-yard breakout season. There are few receivers who have a better chance to win a physical fight for an airborne ball. What few probably realize is that Nelson had an almost identical statistical season in 2013 for a team that played half the year without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Nelson is faster than Jeffery, and more versatile in terms of route capabilities, and is still only 29. Jeffery has all the buzz, which is understandable, but this is a race that deserved to be close and it was. Only two offensive players separate them in this list.
3. Battle upfront: Of the 10 defensive players in today's reveal, seven are defensive linemen or 3-4 outside linebackers. If you could pick only one, who would it be? You didn't ask me, but I think I might go with the lowest-ranked of the group. The New York Jets' Sheldon Richardson is the reigning NFL defensive rookie of the year after doing a stunning job adjusting to playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. If a player who supposedly was best-suited to play tackle in a 4-3 can have that kind of season as a rookie in a 3-4, I can't wait to see what's next. Linemen in the 3-4 aren't expected to be playmakers -- that's usually the role of linebackers and defensive backs -- but Richardson transcended those types of expectations.