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The MMQB 400 Mailbag: Rankings of Sherman, Carr, Wilson and More

Andy Benoit gives the deep dive explanations for some of the player rankings that were deemed controversial, and points out where he was, definitively, an idiot

The MMQB 400 is Andy Benoit’s ranking of the best players in football.

Not joking, but did you forget Richard Sherman for a while considering his rank?
—Jeremy Miles

Sherman very well could be a top-5 corner if I do this list again next year. This is a critical season for him. What was evident on film in 2016, and what people within the league are talking about, is that Sherman, still one of the game’s best boundary defenders, really struggled against in-breaking routes. Think slants, post patterns, crossers and digs. I wrote about this back in April. Sherman’s change-of-direction agility was not the same. The question is: How much did his undisclosed knee injury factor in? We’ll find out. My sense is the Seahawks are wondering this, too. Sherman was floated in trade talks because if he plays in ’17 like he did in ’16, he’ll be seen as an athlete in decline. It’s possible his value has peaked. I hope not. Sherman is a uniquely gifted player and the league is more entertaining with him front and center.

Derek Carr at 124?! You may hate the Raiders, but you can’t honestly think he is the 124th best player in the league. 123 better players? I am certainly glad the NFL players realize how good he is as they voted him 11th best. Why would there be such a discrepancy between what players think and you think?
—Spencer Read

Something to keep in mind: There are 32 teams in the NFL. So to say Carr is the 124th-best player is the same as saying he is one of the four best players on a typical NFL team. Which is where I had him in Oakland. I haven’t heard a single Raiders fan complaining about Khalil Mack being ranked eighth, Kelechi Osemele 66th or Rodney Hudson 102nd. No. 124 is a good ranking. I had Carr as the 10th-best QB overall, with expectations that he’ll climb up that list this season. Prior to getting hurt, Carr was excellent down the stretch in 2016.

Regarding where Carr’s fellow players ranked him, here’s the reality about player voting: It’s just as flawed as any other form of voting. Most players study only one team per week. In fact, they study only a small handful of players within that one team. So most players who have seen Carr have not seen 20 of the other starting quarterbacks. They have little to compare him to. And this is to say nothing of the “popularity contest” factor in the voting, which is every bit as prevalent in player voting as it is in fan voting.

Having Russell Wilson below Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Derek Carr, and Joe Flacco and not in your top 10 among QBs makes no sense. Put all the players above behind the pathetic Seahawk line and none of them come close to the production of an injured Wilson. Conversely, put Wilson on those teams and he outperforms all of them.
—Mike Millman

Wilson is fascinating, because how you view him hinges largely on what traits you most value in a quarterback. I learned to study the game at NFL Films, in Ron Jaworski’s and Greg Cosell’s office. Those guys really value classic dropback pocket passing. So that was the lens I initially studied through. The more I’ve studied, and the more NFL coaches I’ve gotten to know and watch film with, the more I’ve valued pocket passing. The reason is, from a schematic standpoint, it is by far the best avenue for sustained down-to-down success, both for a QB and the other 10 offensive players on the field. It is markedly easier to craft a playbook for a pocket passer than for a run-around guy.

Wilson is challenging, though, because he’s been so effective at times running around. For his first few seasons, he was one of the best run-around guys of all-time. He still is, but what’s more, he is developing into more of a pocket passer himself. That’s something I never thought he’d do, and it’s what I’d submit as Exhibit A if I were arguing that he’s ranked too low on my list.

What we don’t know is Wilson’s ceiling as a pocket passer. He definitely has a ceiling, though. The fact of the matter is, at barely 5' 11", there are times when he literally can’t see from the pocket. It’s apparent every week on film. And so the Seahawks have had to design more of a quick-strike passing game, where he gets the ball out in almost the blink of an eye.

Which brings us to the last part you must consider when comparing Wilson to other established quarterbacks: What the run-around plays and quick-strike game have in common is the QB doesn’t work through full-field progression reads. The Seahawks rarely ask Wilson to be a full-field progression reader. The other thing I learned in my early visits to NFL Films: If there’s something coaches don’t even ask a player to try, it’s almost always because they believe that player can’t do it well.

How does Davante Adams of the Packers not make the list? He had almost 1000 yards receiving and 12 TDs last year.
—Jon Ferg

I was surprised myself when it was pointed out to me that Adams didn’t make the list. Now that the dust has settled and I’ve had a chance to step back, I can say that I probably underrated Adams. He improved more than any other wide receiver in football last season. I got too hung up on his entire body of work (which has been inconsistent) and should have given more weight to what he’s done recently. I had Adams in my “Class B, Group 3” of wide receivers, ranked right behind Keenan Allen, John Brown, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon LaFell.

(For perspective, I put players into Class A, B, C and D. Class A = star, Class D = backup. Then within those classes, I put players into Groups 1,2 and 3. From there, the rankings were crafted.)

How in the world did you not rank Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith? Are you some kind of idiot?
—Andy Benoit

Yes. This was where I blew it. I had Jimmy Smith as a “Class B, Group 1” corner, so he should have been ranked somewhere behind Xavier Rhodes and above Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He got lost in the shuffle. Amazingly, no one from my eight-person team of researchers noticed his absence either. I’m not blaming the researchers; I have them because they’re tremendous football minds and have an eye for details. I just marveling at the power of human folly. Nine of us didn’t notice that our bus had pulled out and Jimmy Smith was not on it. Maybe if he didn’t have almost literally the plainest name in America, we’d have noticed. Who knows. But my mistake here, no question.

How could anyone come to a conclusion that Rodney McLeod is a better safety than Landon Collins? Not to even get into the other 13 safeties you ranked ahead of him.
—Matt Cavanaugh

Maybe (probably) my perspective is biased being a Giants fan, but if Landon Collins was named a first-team All-Pro team last year by members of the AP, PFWA and SN, how can he be ranked as the 14th best safety overall, and only 7th best SS?
—Ryan McGreevy

Collins is a very specific type of player. He’s basically a linebacker who plays safety. The Giants have to hide him in certain man coverage scenarios. But here’s the thing: the Giants do hide Collins well, using him as a roving type defender whenever possible. And Collins, in response, has developed into a superb playmaker. So I hear you. If Collins plays like he did last season, he’ll shoot up this list in 2018. But what usually happens with players who have distinct weaknesses is, over time, those weaknesses get more and more exposed. Teams will go after Collins this season if for no other reason than that will prevent him from being able to run free and be the aggressor. Let’s see how he does.

Your Statements about Jack Conklin, who you ranked as the 280th best player:

Conklin struggled against quality pass rushers for much of his rookie season, though he finished with strong performances against Justin Houston and Dante Fowler. The nature of Tennessee's offense, with all the max-protection, play-action concepts and multi-tight end sets, provides plenty of help to the tackles, but first-round picks still should be able to win one-on-one.

Rebuttal: Conklin only gave up one sack based upon stats compiled by the Washington Post. As a rookie he was named as an All-Pro.
—DC Roberts

Sacks-allowed stats can be very misleading. The Titans’ offense features a lot of chip-blocks and condensed formations—tactics that alleviate a great deal of burden from offensive tackles. When evaluating a player, just as important as his results is his process. How does he look performing his job? How athletic is he? How fundamentally sound? A player’s process sheds the most revealing light on his big-picture outlook. Conklin did some nice things as a rookie, but he has a lot in his game to clean up.

Curious about your rankings as they relate to the Browns’ front seven. Christian Kirksey and Emmanuel Ogbah were omitted, yet you ranked Carl Nassib and Danny Shelton? The only logical explanation for this is that you don't see well-defined roles in Gregg Williams’ defense for Kirksey and Ogbah, but Kirksey's 148 combined tackles last season and Ogbah's six sacks surely place them among the top 400, even if you (somehow) think Nassib and Shelton are better.
—Justin Whelan

Love getting a Browns e-mail. I went through my Browns film notes carefully and what stood out was how up-and-down Kirksey can be. He’s a flash player, no doubt, but he’ll have some negative plays, too. Ogbah needs to find his NFL position. He doesn’t have the quickness to come off the edge, he must develop an inside pass rushing game.

I like Nassib’s size, motor and athleticism (which is better than what initially meets the eye). And I can say the same for Shelton; he has very good feet for a big man.

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Ranking the top 400 players in the NFL is an impossible task, so kudos on doing a solid job from top to bottom. I do, however, have to inquire about why Mike Evans is ranked so low. I was expecting a top-30 ranking at the very least. When I saw he was ranked 70th, I was curious why so low?

In his first three seasons compared against other top WRs' first three seasons, Evans has more receiving yards than the GOAT Jerry Rice, more receptions than Randy Moss, and more TDs in three seasons than Julio Jones had his first four seasons.

He belongs in the mix with Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and A.J. Green ... all of those WRs are ranked in the top-33. How is there such a gap from Green at 33 to Evans at 70? Give Evans (and the Bucs) a little more love and respect.

A.J. Crisp

You make a great case for Mike Evans. I did have him No. 5 among all receivers. So where we differ, I suppose, is in how we see the value of the receiver position. I viewed the fifth best receiver as 70th, you believe it should be somewhere in the top 40. Ranking players in this fashion becomes a very inexact science of course, as we’re comparing players across 14 different positions. I think we see Evans the same way. He’s a tremendous player.

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