Every year Pro Football Focus counts down their top 101 players of the season. The list is not simply a list of their top-graded players, it is a list compiled by their staff that considers more than just the raw numbers. It is only meant to rank this season and not account for past or future performance. This season, six Browns made the list, but only one made the top 50 and there was one notable player left off entirely. Let's start with a summary of who was picked and where they ranked, and I'll add some comments afterward.
82. Alex Mack
75. Joe Haden
74. Josh Gordon
61. Donte Whitner
59. Karlos Dansby
12. Joe Thomas
The first thing I noticed going through the list was Josh Gordon's ranking. Not only was he toward the back end of the list, he was only the tenth best receiver according to PFF. That's insane, crazy, stupid, embarrassing, whatever you want to call it. It's simply wrong. I could maybe understand if they ranked Calvin Johnson ahead of Gordon, but it's shameful to have ranked this many receivers ahead of Gordon based on 2013 performance alone. I understand Gordon has his off-field problems, but this list didn't factor those in. The writers don't really offer an explanation for ranking him so low other than a half-hearted (and mostly incorrect) reference to "garbage time" stats. I checked how Gordon was rated by PFF and was a little surprised to see he was graded as the 13th best receiver, and only 15th if you just look at his pass grade. A big part of this seems to be his catch rate (66th) but I think it's important to differentiate that from his drop rate, which was basically the same as the top ten receivers. This grade and by extension ranking in the top 101 illustrates my biggest problem with the PFF grading system, but that's a discussion for another post.
The next thing I noticed on my way down the list was our big free agent signings. It's pretty nice to see both of them ranked so highly, especially since both spend a lot of time in the box, where PFF's grading system shines. I found it particularly satisfying that they had Whitner ranked almost 40 spots higher than TJ Ward. Whitner has spent most of his career outside the top 50 safeties in the league, let alone players, but he's also had a couple years where he performed at or above TJ's level, so I'm not too upset about the switch in the short term. Dansby has been one of the most consistently good linebackers in the league over the course of his career, so while his ranking wasn't exactly a surprise, it was still nice to see.
The last Brown on the list was Joe Thomas, checking in at number 12. He was the highest ranking tackle, mostly due to his pass protection, which was far and away the best in the league. Weren't there people who thought Thomas was having a down year? For shame. He's still the best tackle in the league, and it isn't particularly close. We as Browns fans tend to laugh at fans who think their team has it bad with someone like Tony Romo or who look down on an 8-8 season, but I think Joe Thomas is our version of that same feeling. I think we've lost our perspective when it comes to offensive linemen. Some day Joe Thomas will retire and then we'll get a reality check. In the meantime though, it's fun to say the Browns are the best in the league at something.
Now if you're like me you read over this list and thought "wow, six players in the top 101, that's pretty good!" But then you got a bit of a nagging feeling like you were forgetting something. Where's Jordan Cameron? For the season, Cameron was second in yards and third in receptions among tight ends. I would have thought he would crack the list. But when I checked the PFF grades it became clear why he did not. Cameron was an absolutely abysmal run blocker last season, checking in with a grade of -11.4 (anything below about -2 is pretty bad). I might argue that PFF puts too much stress on run blocking from tight ends, but that grade is pretty awful and I'm inclined to believe it, so I can understand why he got left off the list.
What about you? Do you agree or disagree with the players who made the list? Maybe you think Joe Haden or Alex Mack deserved a better ranking. Do you disagree with me about Josh Gordon's 2013 performance? Let me know in the comments.