Every single summer, outlets looking for content release lists ranking the top NFL players. These rankings almost always create discussion and controversy among the various NFL fanbases. Sometimes the fans are right and the people who made the list are way out of left field with their takes.
Some popular football analysts including Jon Ledyard, Trevor Sikkema, and Ted Nguyen (among others) recently did one of these exercises and tried to rank the top-100 players in the league. I think fans fail to realize how hard it is to narrow down a list of 100 players when there are so many talented NFL players. I don’t envy the task, and I didn’t think the list they came up with was actually bad. I have a ton of respect for those guys and enjoy a lot of their content myself.
With that said, there were no Dolphins on their list. Not a single one. To be fair, the Dolphins roster isn’t exactly a top of the line roster. It consists mostly of unproven first and second-year players combined with roster castoffs from other teams.
Despite what Chris Sims might tell you, rookies shouldn’t be considered for these rankings and neither should second-year players if we are being completely honest.
There are two players on the Dolphins who I think should be considered for being ranked inside the NFL top-100. Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. They have been standout performers for multiple seasons now and its time they get their day in the sun.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) May 28, 2020
Making the case for Xavien Howard:
Howard is a good NFL cornerback is definitely one of the best players on the Dolphins’ current roster. However, the argument for him being a top-100 player is actually harder to make than some Dolphin fans may think.
The first hurdle to get over with Howard is his injury history. The only season he played 16 games was in 2017. He played in seven games in 2016, 12 in 2018, and only five this past season.
The second hurdle to get around is Howard’s up and downplay at times. He’s had two good seasons to go with two underwhelming seasons. He struggled in coverage as a rookie earning 57.6 grade from PFF, and he struggled last season earning a 57.0 grade from PFF.
I know PFF grades shouldn’t be the end-all and be-all of football stats but the film backs up the numbers with Howard.
While those numbers aren’t great Howard’s 2017 and 2018 numbers and film were worthy of one of the top cornerbacks in the league and definitely worthy of a top-100 player.
In 2017, Howard recorded four interceptions and a 63.6 grade in coverage which is obviously a vast improvement from 2016. The 2017 season was when Howard started making plays on the ball and creating turnovers.
Howard is a ball hawk and will risk his positioning in coverage to make an interception which can lead to some big plays for the offense. For me though, I would much rather have a CB willing to take risks. Creating turnovers is the most valuable thing an NFL defense can do in today’s offensive focused game. Howard’s ability to create turnovers is one of the most valuable traits a CB to have.
Howard really blew up in 2018 having the best season of his career by far. He recorded a league-high seven interceptions and recorded a 75.3 grade in coverage from PFF. If you watch Howard’s film from 2018 you will see a shutdown CB running down interceptions all over the field. Again being able to create turnovers is so valuable to a defense, and Howard had seven by himself!
When Howard is healthy like he was for all of 2017 and most of 2018 he is definitely a top-100 player, and he needs to get some more consideration on these rankings. If you need a reminder, go watch his 2018 highlights and tell me what you see.
Making the case for Byron Jones:
The case for Howard could be considered a bit of a stretch, but I have absolutely no doubt in my mind Byron Jones is one of the NFL’s top-100 players. Since coming into the league in 2015 as a first-round pick by the Cowboys, Jones has had just one season where his PFF grade in coverage was less than 70.0.
Here are Jones coverage grades since coming into the league:
To put all of this into some perspective, Xavien Howard’s best season was graded as a 75.3. If you pop in some of Jones’ film you will see a CB who blankets receivers so well QBs don’t even throw his way that much. Last season Jones was only targeted 53 times which ranked 74th among all qualifying CB’s.
The biggest complaint lobed at Jones is the lack of interceptions on his stat line. While I do believe CB’s who get interceptions are a little more valuable, Jones is so good in coverage it honestly doesn’t matter if he only has two career interceptions.
I think a lot of people forget that INTs are not the only indication of ball production for a CB. Pass breakups exist and CBs who can get them are very valuable. Jones has 43 PBUs over his first five seasons equaling 8.6 PBUs a season which is pretty good.
Jones is a freak athlete and one of the smoothest CBs I’ve watched in the past couple of years. He’s so fluid and technical in coverage it’s hard for WRs to find a way to separate from him.
Ironically, Jones wasn’t even a CB until 2018. Although he played CB in college, Dallas converted him to safety when he entered the league. Even when he was playing out of position he played well.
There is no world where the player I’ve described here is anything less than a top-100 player in the NFL.
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