EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The annual #NFLRank project got underway last week as a panel of 85 NFL analysts across ESPN's many platforms went through the process of ranking the top 100 players in the league on each side of the ball.
As of Monday, two St. Louis Rams -- linebacker James Laurinaitis (No. 93 defense) and left tackle Jake Long (No. 63 offense) -- had cracked the list. On Tuesday morning, another Ram made the cut, this time in the form of defensive end Chris Long. Long moved up three spots from his spot at No. 40 on last year's list.
Defense, No. 37, Chris Long
Stats & Info: Long has 33 sacks in the past three seasons, the eighth-most in the NFL, after he had only 17.5 sacks during his first three seasons. Long has never missed a game in his NFL career.
My take: The former No. 2 overall pick has been surpassed by teammate Robert Quinn as this team's premiere pass-rusher, but Long remains one of the better defensive ends in the league. He had just 8.5 sacks in 2013 but he also has 39 quarterback pressures and 20 quarterback hits according to coaches' review. There were plenty of times when Long missed a sack by a split second because Quinn simply beat him to the punch. At this point in his career, it's unlikely to expect Long, 29, to transform into a 15- to 17-sack per season player, but his consistency and durability make him a valuable piece of this defense and team. With Quinn garnering more attention than ever following his breakthrough 2013 season, don't be surprised if Long's sack total gets a bit of a bump this year.