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#NFLRank 50-26: Norman, Gurley, Brees make the cut

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Bennett ranked too low on ESPN top 100 (1:00)

DE Michael Bennett ranks 46th in ESPN's top 100, but ESPN Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia makes the case that he deserves to be higher. (1:00)

This is not an MVP vote. It was a simple process, detailed here:

The parameters: Rate players based on how good they are -- not what positions they play or how many endorsements they have. All NFL players were eligible.

The process: Rate every player on a scale of 1-100. A score of 100 implies an all-time level of excellence; a 1 is for a player who doesn't belong in the NFL.

The panel: More than 50 voters. NFL analysts, reporters and statisticians -- both from ESPN and outside ESPN -- including former players and NFL front-office members.

That's it. We considered all NFL players and had a deep group of analysts rate them based on how good they are -- nothing more.

Here are the players who rank from 50-26.

Players No. 100-51


50. Devin McCourty, S, Patriots

Avg. rating: 83.87 | 2015 rank: 56

Instincts and range in the deep third of the field, coupled with a high football IQ, have helped McCourty serve as a steadying center-field type presence (18 career interceptions) as he was named a captain in just his second NFL season. Another thing McCourty has going for him: "He's an outstanding tackler," according to coach Bill Belichick. -- Mike Reiss


49. Thomas Davis, OLB, Panthers

Avg. rating: 84.18 | 2015 rank: 98

The heart he showed in becoming the first NFL player to successfully overcome three ACL surgeries on the same knee (right) doesn't begin to describe what he has meant to this team and organization. He's arguably the best all-around outside linebacker in the NFL in terms of his ability to tackle, rush the passer and defend. Davis again showed his heart when he played with a broken arm in the Super Bowl. "From the time I first met Thomas to now, he's been the same guy, that steady rock, the heart and soul of who we are as a football team," coach Ron Rivera said. -- David Newton


48. Clay Matthews, OLB, Packers

Avg. rating: 84.24 | 2015 rank: 40

A 6.5-sack season last season doesn't jump off the page, but consider the sacrifice Matthews made for the team by playing at inside linebacker the last year and a half. His pass-rush opportunities were more than cut in half. In 2016, however, he's going back to his natural outside linebacker position. All the while, Matthews never complained publicly about his role. "Clay's a competitor; you have to literally fight Clay to get off the field," Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss said. -- Rob Demovsky


47. NaVorro Bowman, ILB, 49ers

Avg. rating: 84.60 | 2015 rank: 81

Jerry Rice. Ronnie Lott. Patrick Willis. Those are the only three players in 49ers history with more first-team All-Pro honors than Bowman's four. "He's obviously the alpha dog on that defense and sets the tone for everybody just in how he conducts himself in everything that he does," coach Chip Kelly said. "That's the type of people you want to build your organization around." -- Nick Wagoner


46. Michael Bennett, DE, Seahawks

Avg. rating: 85.24 | 2015 rank: 60

Bennett was one of four players with at least 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season. His versatility is what makes him special. He is a defensive end when the Seahawks are in their base look and swings inside when they go to their sub packages. Bennett consistently makes plays behind the line of scrimmage and is one of the league's premier pass-rushers. -- Sheil Kapadia


45. Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers

Avg. rating: 85.47 | 2015 rank: 74

Olsen has arguably the biggest and most complicated route tree of any tight end in the league, and he has the smarts and talent to run all of them. He also has some of the best hands of any tight end in the league. Yes, including Rob Gronkowski. Over the past three seasons, Olsen has more catches (234 to 193) and receiving yards (2,928 to 2,892) than Gronkowski, who did miss nine games to injury in 2013. -- David Newton


44. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Broncos

Avg. rating: 85.69 | 2015 rank: 79

Versatility sets Harris apart from virtually all of his peers as he is an elite cornerback on the outside and is considered to be the best slot cornerback in the league, according to many personnel executives. Or as Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said: "Can line him up anywhere against everybody and he'll just compete.'' Harris does, despite Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl ring, still play every play in practice like the undrafted rookie he once was. -- Jeff Legwold


43. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts

Avg. rating: 85.8 | 2015 rank: 12

Don't be fooled by Luck's disappointing numbers -- 15 touchdowns and 13 turnovers -- in seven games last season. The former No. 1 overall pick was barely healthy. Go back to the 2014 season when Luck threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns if you want a better picture of what he can do. This is a redemption season for the $140 million quarterback. -- Mike Wells


T-41. Kawann Short, DT, Panthers

Avg. rating: 86.00 | 2015 rank: NR

Short last season perfected his ability to "slither'' past offensive linemen and get a strong push up the middle, which led to 11 sacks, tying for the NFL lead among defensive tackles. "You could easily make the case he's our best defensive player,'' defensive line coach Eric Washington said prior to the Super Bowl. -- David Newton


T-41. Harrison Smith, S, Vikings

Avg. rating: 86.00 | 2015 rank: NR

Smith briefly became the league's highest-paid safety this summer, though his profile might still not be as high around the league as it is with his Vikings teammates. "I think people should know enough about him right now," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "I feel like he's one of the most underrated players in this league. I get to compete against him every day. He's out there doing some things that just make you say, 'Wow.'" Smith, who made his first Pro Bowl last season, tied for third in the league with five interceptions in 2014. -- Ben Goessling


40. Fletcher Cox, DE, Eagles

Avg. rating: 86.2 | 2015 rank: 95

Cox has developed into one of the best defensive players in the league. A mix of overwhelming power and athleticism, he racked up 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles last season while playing in a two-gap 3-4 defense. Now in Jim Schwartz's wide-9 attack, Cox is expected to be even more of a destructive force. "I've said this before, he was drafted for a scheme similar to this, so it will be good to get him back to that and really see what he can do," Schwartz said. "We expect great things from him." -- Tim McManus


39. Drew Brees, QB, Saints

Avg. rating: 86.33 | 2015 rank: 34

For the first time in his 15-year career, Brees missed a game because of injury last season -- and he still wound up leading the NFL in passing yards for the fourth time in five years. The 37-year-old ranks fourth all time with 60,903 yards and insisted he can keep it up for five more years "minimum." Teammate Zach Strief believes him, saying Brees is "like a weirdo" with his tireless work ethic and competitive drive. -- Mike Triplett


38. Marshal Yanda, G, Ravens

Avg. rating: 86.44 | 2015 rank: 58

Yanda has gone to five straight Pro Bowls and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 16th-best player in the NFL last season. He is the Ravens' best offensive lineman since Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, and some believe Yanda has a shot at joining him at Canton. "He's just a special human being and a special player," coach John Harbaugh said before adding, "and he's a Hall of Famer someday." -- Jamison Hensley


37. Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals

Avg. rating: 86.51 | 2015 rank: NR

Talk about rejuvenated. Palmer had the best season of his career in his mid-30s last year. He threw for a career-high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, while recording the third-highest completion percentage of his career. He also led the Cardinals to a 13-3 record, and won his first playoff game while making it to the NFC Championship Game, the furthest point he has ever gone. He was even one of three players who received an MVP vote. -- Josh Weinfuss


36. Kam Chancellor, S, Seahawks

Avg. rating: 86.62 | 2015 rank: 36

The Seahawks played without Chancellor (holdout) in the first two games last year and allowed 61 points in two losses. But after Chancellor returned, they allowed 15.43 points per game, the lowest of any defense in the NFL. "He doesn't say much but he goes out there, and just the power he brings when he hits guys, it just amplifies the game for us," teammate Cliff Avril said. "It hypes us up." -- Sheil Kapadia


35. Justin Houston, OLB, Chiefs

Avg. rating: 86.67 | 2015 rank: 16

With 40.5 sacks since 2013, Houston is second to only J.J. Watt over that span. That's eight behind Watt, but Houston has also because of injuries played in 10 fewer games than Watt during that time. Houston is more than just a pass-rusher, however; he's also an excellent run defender. Houston's availability for the season is in question. He had ACL surgery in February and has yet to practice since. -- Adam Teicher


34. Zack Martin, G, Cowboys

Avg. rating: 86.78 | 2015 rank: 57

If you're ranking Cowboys' offensive linemen, Martin could rank higher than offensive tackle Tyron Smith. He has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two years. He is technically precise and smooth athletically, but there is a little bit of a mean streak to his game. He plays hurt. He plays tough. He could become the NFL's highest-paid guard next season when the Cowboys look to sign him to a long-term deal. -- Todd Archer


33. Gerald McCoy, DT, Bucs

Avg. rating: 86.96 | 2015 rank: 27

I'm constantly told by teammates, coaches and opposing players that McCoy has one of the "scariest get-offs in the NFL." Defensive end Robert Ayers called him a "monster" the other day. McCoy has 26.5 sacks over the past three years, which is impressive considering he didn't have a dominant edge rusher during that span and had to create a lot of that chaos up front alone. -- Jenna Laine


32. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Jets

Avg. rating: 87.00 | 2015 rank: 50

Wilkerson is one of only four players in Jets history to post at least 10 sacks in two seasons. He made his first Pro Bowl and landed a five-year, $86 million contract. Versatility is his strength; he can play any position on the defensive line. -- Rich Cimini


31. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

Avg. rating: 87.09 | 2015 rank: 25

Bell's versatility sets him apart. Since 2013, Bell leads all running backs with 119 yards from scrimmage per game. He has unique vision and patience and is like an elite slot receiver in the passing game. The only thing holding back Bell is his decision-making off the field. Bell has faced trouble with the NFL's drug policy in back-to-back seasons, and he is suspended the first three games of the 2016 season. "The guy has been nothing but an energy-bringer to this group and has endeared himself to the entire team quickly," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "He's been through some adversity." -- Jeremy Fowler


30. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets

Avg. rating: 87.29 | 2015 rank: 9

Revis allowed a few more big plays than usual last season, but he still compiled the lowest completion percentage among corners (46.5) for passes thrown into his coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Former cornerback-turned-analyst Eric Allen said Revis has "revolutionized bump-and-run coverage." -- Rich Cimini


29. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

Avg. rating: 87.33 | 2015 rank: NR

Just imagine what Gurley can do with a full, completely healthy season. He finished third in rushing as a rookie last season, even though he was limited in camp, didn't take on a full workload until Week 4 and then sat out the regular-season finale. Gurley gained 1,106 yards, on his way to being named Offensive Rookie of the Year, and broke 46 tackles, sixth most in the NFL. Now that he's a full season removed from that torn ACL, he should be even better in 2016. -- Alden Gonzalez


28. Geno Atkins, DT, Bengals

Avg. rating: 87.96 | 2015 rank: 77

After an unbelievably dominant 2015, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther recently said Atkins has "raised his game" in 2016, meaning he expects Atkins to be even better. Three times in the six seasons he's played, Atkins led all interior defensive linemen in sacks. -- Coley Harvey


T-26. Josh Norman, CB, Redskins

Avg. rating: 88.31 | 2015 rank: NR

Norman unexpectedly landed in the Redskins' laps, becoming the NFL's highest-paid corner after an All-Pro season. He's coming off a four-interception season, returning two for touchdowns. His length, instincts and work habits have fueled his rise from fifth-round pick in 2012 to a No. 1 corner. Norman said, "I don't feel like I've got the money, to be honest with you, because I'm still working. I'm still trying to be better at something." -- John Keim


T-26. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys

Avg. rating: 88.31 | 2015 rank: T-6

After the 2014 season in which he led the NFL in touchdown catches, Bryant was much higher on this list. Athletically, few in the game can do what he does. He will make the incredible catch look routine. As he makes his way back from a broken foot that limited him to nine games last season, he will have to be more technically precise, but the Cowboys don't doubt that he will be dominant again. -- Todd Archer