Who's the NFL's best interior offensive lineman? Wide receiver? Cornerback? What about the second-best defensive tackle -- after Aaron Donald? To preview the 2021 NFL season, we set out to answer those questions and much more.
We surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive linemen and all the way through tight ends. This is the second edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up and dropped from last year's lists.
Here's how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy -- even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2021. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who's the best today? Pretty simple.
We'll roll out a position per day over 11 days. Here's the schedule:
A year ago, NFL evaluators bemoaned the lack of elite play when ranking the league's top guards and centers. This year's list appears stronger. The top three players only strengthened their cases, and promising young centers replaced aging players.
Other veterans got better --- and had to, with an ascending guard from Green Bay rising in the pantheon. Defenses around the league are prioritizing inside quarterback pressure, resulting in an impressive list of defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends. Offenses know they must be ready; the top player certainly is.