With the NFL regular season beginning this weekend, ESPN recently released its list of the league’s top 100 players heading into the 2021 season.
Three former Cal player made the top-100 list, which is down from four a year ago.
ESPN used a panel of more than 50 NFL experts to rate players based on how good they will be in the 2021 season. Emphasis was placed on expectations for the upcoming season rather than past performance.
As expected, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the highest ranked former Golden Bears player. He is ranked No. 3, which may seem a little low for the reigning MVP, but is well ahead of last year’s ranking, when he was No. 23 overall and seventh among quarterbacks.
He demonstrated he still has it at the age of 37.
Here’s is what ESPN said about Rodgers
Here's everything you need to know about what Rodgers means to the Packers: According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), the team's chances of making the playoffs would have dropped from 70% to 24% -- and its Super Bowl chances from 6% to 0.2% -- if Rodgers had decided not to play for Green Bay this season. -- Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Rodgers has posted the two highest single-season passer-rating marks in NFL history: 122.5 in 2011 and 121.5 in 2020. And last season, he became just the third player in NFL history to lead the league in passing touchdowns (48) while throwing the fewest interceptions (five), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
What they are saying: "I can't fathom [him] not being in Green Bay. That's where my mind's at. I don't only love the player, but I love the person. I love working with him on a daily basis. I think we all do -- from the players in that locker room to the coaching staff. Again, I don't even want to let my mind go there." -- Matt LaFleur, Packers coach
2021 projection: 4,296 passing yards, 35 TDs, 9 INTs (179 yards/2 TDs rushing)
The next-highest ranked ex-Cal player is Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, who comes in at No. 65, four spots higher than he was a year ago. He is ranked 10th among wide receivers this year.
He had 100 catches for 992 yards in his first year catching passes from Justin Herbert, and he should have similar success this season.
Here is what ESPN said about Allen.
Allen is one of the most valuable receivers in the league. The four-time Pro Bowler signed an extension in 2020 for four years, $80.1 million, and then had his third career season with 100-plus receptions. -- Shelley Smith
Signature stat: Allen is one of four players with at least 200 receptions over the past two seasons, and his 58 catches inside the numbers in 2020 were the third most in the NFL.
What they are saying: "As advertised. There's not better. He's just always open, just one of those guys." -- Joe Lombardi, Chargers offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 1,104 receiving yards, 7 TDs
The former Cal player who took the biggest hit from 2020 was New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. He is ranked 94th this time, dropping 64 spots from his No. 30 ranking at this time a year ago.
Jordan was selected for the Pro Bowl for the sixth times in 2020, but his sack total dropped from 15.5 in 2019 to 7.5 last year.
Here is what ESPN said about Jordan.
Jordan's production dipped last season with just 7.5 sacks. But the six-time Pro Bowler has always been more than just a sack artist. He ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks (48) and batted passes (16) since 2017, and he's a big reason the Saints rank fifth in yards per rush allowed over that span. -- Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Jordan has never missed a game in 11 seasons, and he ranks first among all defensive linemen with 3,356 snaps since 2017. (He also ranks first by far among all defensive linemen in snaps since 2011 with 8,560.)
What they are saying: "By far the best defensive end I've ever played with. You can have guys who are good as pass-rushers, good at setting the edge and being good run defensive ends. But when guys have the full package like that, that's a tackle's nightmare. What really separates him is his physicality. I think by the end of the game, guys just don't want that smoke." -- Demario Davis, Saints linebacker
2021 projection: 8 sacks, 54 tackles, 1 forced fumble
One other ex-Cal player was on the top-100 list last year – offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz. He was ranked 72nd last year, but was released by the Chiefs in the offseason after missing most of the 2020 season with a back injury that required surgery.
Schwartz is not on an NFL roster at the moment, although he has not indicated that he has retired.
Cover photo of Keenan Allen by Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports
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