In this article, we will pass the halfway point of our list. Many of you are skeptical of who could possibly fill out the next 40 spots, considering the caliber of players in the last article, namely Kam Chancellor and Larry Fitzgerald. Trust me, there is plenty of talent left on this list. Today we’ll see 1st round draft picks, current and future Pro-Bowlers, and a member of the 2000’s All-Decade Team.
#40. Willie Young-DE-NCST.
In 15 starts last season, Willie Young managed 47 tackles and 3 sacks. This year Young’s role was adjusted as he has only had 7 starts, but his production has increased dramatically. With 2 games remaining this season, Young has already tripled his sack total. Young has wreaked havoc on QB’s this season to the tune of 10 sacks. Young’s production is a bright spot in an other-wise disappointing ending to the Chicago Bears’ season.
#39. Dawan Landry-S-GT.
If It wasn’t for Dawan Landry, the Jets would have lost more games this year and by a much bigger margin. His 92 tackles from the safety position are pretty impressive, but I’m sure the coaching staff would have preferred most of those tackles go to someone who plays a position closer to the line of scrimmage. Nevertheless, when Landry’s number was called to make the play, he did so. He also has been given credit for 1.5 sacks and even took time out from hitting people, to go break up a pass.
#38. Martavis Bryant-WR-Clemson.
Much like when I refer to Virginia Tech as D.B.U., my referencing Clemson as the new W.R.U. is debatable. Different schools pride themselves on being NFL factories for certain positions, but Clemson has as strong a case as any. Martavis Bryant is the second piece of evidence I’m offering you on Clemson’s behalf. So far in Bryant’s rookie season, which has only consisted of 8 games, he has brought in 24 passes. That’s an awfully small number to be this high (or low) on the list, but when those 24 passes have netted Bryant 484 yards, good for a 20 yard per catch average, Bryant seems a little more deserving. Then, when you take a look at his 7 touchdowns, including a 94 yard TD reception, you realize just how explosive of a receiver Martavis Bryant is for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is averaging just under a touchdown per start, I’m excited to see just how high Bryant can climb on next year’s list, with a full season of opportunities.
#37. Aaron Donald-DT-Pitt.
Aaron Donald is yet another rookie finding himself in the top half of this list. A year ago, Donald was one of the best defensive linemen in the country, leading the Rams to draft him 13th overall. Donald hasn’t disappointed this season, giving the Rams 39 tackles, 8 sacks, one broken up pass, and one forced fumble. 8 sacks for a defensive end is a solid season. 8 sacks for a defensive tackle is outstanding. Donald’s 8 sacks are actually good enough for 3rd best in the entire league when it comes to defensive tackles. His career certainly has gotten off on the right foot.
#36. Calais Campbell-DE-Miami.
Calais Campbell has started 12 games this season for the Arizona Cardinals. Campbell plays defensive end in the Cardinals 3-4 scheme, where his responsibilities are endless. On any given play Campbell, can be asked to set the edge of the defensive line, absorb an offensive tackle and guard, and also get pressure on the QB. Campbell’s contributions don’t necessarily show up in the stat column, as the defensive scheme he plays in is designed to have him eat up space and blockers, so the linebackers behind him can be play-makers. Even so, Campbell has tallied 53 tackles, 7 sacks, broken up 2 passes, forced a fumble, and picked off a pass.
#35. Vincent Rey-LB-Duke.
Rey is the kind of guy who shows up to work, gives 100% effort, and leaves little in the tank. There isn’t a lot of flash to Vincent Rey’s game, but without him Cincinnati’s defense would be in trouble. Listed as a weak side linebacker on Cincy’s depth chart, Rey has 103 tackles with 4 pass breakups. Again, nothing flashy, but that is a lot of production from a weak side backer.
#34. Jameel McClain-LB-Syracuse.
Jameel McClain is also a member of the 100 tackle club this season. He’s also had 2.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and forced one fumble. McClain held his own this year for a NY Giants team that made headlines for their under-performing offense. (Everyone but Odell Beckham Jr.) There isn’t much more to say about McClain, other than he came, he saw, he tackled.
#33. Lawrence Timmons-LB-FSU.
Lawrence Timmons is just another name on the long list of great Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers. Timmons has 109 tackles and 2 sacks through 14 games thus far. There isn’t a receiver or a running back in the league that looks forward to lining up against Timmons. His combination of speed and power remind me of those Discovery Channel lion clips where Timmons pounces on a defenseless smaller running back.
#32. Da’Norris Searcy-S-UNC.
Da’Norris Searcy may not have the same tackle numbers as others on this list, with only 47 tackles this year, but who wants to tackle in the cold weather of Buffalo. Searcy would rather stop entire drives on a single play. Rather than make a bunch of tackles, Searcy just takes the ball away. He has broken up 5 passes, forced one fumble, recovered one fumble, and picked the ball off 3 times. His stats would be even better had he not been forced to dig out of 6 feet of snow and fly to Detroit for a home game this season.
#31. Preston Brown-LB-Louisville.
Preston Brown, Lawrence Timmons, and Jameel McClain have similar numbers this season. Brown has 102 tackles, for Buffalo from his outside linebacker position and finds himself between a couple of Bills teammates. His 2 takeaways this year, one fumble recovery and one interception, give him the nod over McClain and Timmons, and with over double the tackles of Searcy, I felt Brown was deserving of this spot.
#30. Nigel Bradham-LB-FSU.
Preston Brown’s teammate and fellow linebacker Nigel Bradham checks in here at #30. Once again, we have extremely similar numbers, but Bradham has been more effective rushing the passer getting to the QB 2.5 times, while still making 98 tackles, forcing 2 fumbles and snagging an interception.
#29. Dwayne Allen-TE-Clemson.
Taking a quick break from the defensive monotony, Dwayne Allen makes the list despite not having a large amount of catches, or even a high yardage total. Allen has caught 29 passes for 395 yards. As I mentioned in the Reggie Wayne section, it seems as though Allen waits for Wayne to get the Colts into the red zone and then goes to work. Allen puts points on the board and has caught 8 TD passes this season. That means one out of every 4 catches results in a touchdown.
#28. Antrel Rolle-S-Miami.
Antrel Rolle continues to do what Antrel Rolle has always done, which is a little bit of everything. He has 74 tackles on the year to go along with 8 pass breakups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and 3 INT’s. 2014 has been just another typical year for Antrel Rolle.
#27. Kyle Fuller-CB-VT.
At the end of yesterday’s article, I mentioned there would be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate on today’s list. If you guessed that player would be Kyle Fuller, you would be correct. As the last member of D.B.U. on the list, Fuller has enjoyed a lot of personal success in his rookie season. That hasn’t translated team-wide, but anyone who has watched Fuller play this year has been entertained at the very least. After having been slated as Chicago’s nickel corner, Fuller found himself starting 12 games this year, producing 60 tackles. Fuller is the clear heir-apparent to Peanut Tillman’s role as the defensive play-maker in the Chicago secondary. In addition to his tackles, Fuller has broken up 7 passes, forced 3 fumbles, and hauled in 3 interceptions.
#26. Eddie Royal-WR-VT.
Joining Kyle Fuller is fellow Hokie, Eddie Royal. My first memory of Eddie Royal is a game against Northeastern, when I was in the south end zone stands of Lane Stadium, and Eddie was in the north end zone so wide open, he was seemingly doing jumping jacks, calling for the ball. That ball never came, and was an early indication of how the rest of that season would go, but thankfully, Eddie still was given a chance to prove what he could do in the NFL and he hasn’t disappointed. This season Royal has put up very solid numbers for San Diego, catching 48 passes for 589 yards and 6 TD’s.
#25. Allen Hurns-WR-Miami.
Allen Hurns has taken Eddie Royal’s numbers and improved them ever so slightly. Hurns has pulled in 46 catches for 636 yards and also 6 TD’s, but without the benefit of a Pro-Bowl caliber QB. Also, someone explain to me the concept of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ helmets. Why is the Jaguar’s tongue blue or teal or whatever they prefer to call it? Is the Jaguar actually part Chow? I digress.
#24. Giovani Bernard-HB-UNC.
Today’s article has been a trip down memory lane for me and I’m sure there will be one more flashback before all is said and done. These are the personal touches you don’t get with ESPN, unless you’re talking to Tom Rinaldi. In what was one of the coldest games I can remember seeing in person, Giovani Bernard put North Carolina on his back and almost carried the team to victory. Virginia Tech looked to have the game in hand, but Bernard would not let the Hokies put the Heels away. He would go for 5 yards here, 6 yards there, another 5 yards, and then he would break one for 25 yards. Ultimately, Virginia Tech held on to win the game, but I left Lane Stadium that night with tremendous respect for Giovani Bernard. Every carry, he ran with intensity and desire. That passion for the game has translated into an impressive start to Bernard’s NFL career. In 9 starts this season, Bernard has 636 yards and 5 TD’s on the ground, as well as having another 248 yards receiving.
#23. Andre Ellington-HB-Clemson.
Andre Ellington is a tremendous talent. He has earned his spot on this list, based on his incredible versatility. Ellington is having a solid season rushing the football, with 660 yards and 3 TD’s thus far, but where Ellington distances himself from other backs, is how natural he is in the passing game, where he has 46 receptions for 395 yards and 2 TD’s, giving him over 1,000 all-purpose yards in 12 games. Continued success for Andre Ellington will mean continued success for the Arizona Cardinals as they gear up for a playoff run.
#22. Lamar Miller-HB-Miami.
Lamar Miller is another young running back having an outstanding season. With 2 games left, Miller has a good chance to be a 1,000 yard back this year. Miller has carried the ball 178 times this season, accumulating 829 yards and 6 TD’s. When you add in his 200+ yards receiving, like Ellington, Miller goes over 1,000 all-purpose yards, though Miller’s have been a bit more conventional by running back standards.
#21. Julius Peppers-LB-UNC.
I also mentioned yesterday, that today’s article would feature a former Defensive Rookie of the Year and member of the 2000’s All-Decade Team. Enter Julius Peppers. Peppers is one of my favorite athletes of all time. I was one of the last people on Earth to get cable, and I remember being in middle school and how excited I was when ACC basketball would come on TV in the middle of the week on WDBJ 7, my local CBS affiliate. While his basketball numbers weren’t all that impressive, I was always drawn to how powerful and explosive he was. I had seen this on the football field, where Peppers was dominant but two sport athletes in college were becoming rare. When Peppers left North Carolina, he became the #2 overall draft pick behind QB David Carr. (Just another reason why I will always believe I could be an NFL GM.) Back to the present, 15 years later Peppers is still every bit the dominant athlete as before. After undergoing a complete position change, Peppers has accounted for 42 tackles, 5 sacks, broken up 9 passes, intercepted 2 others, forced 3 fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles, and found the end zone twice! Defensive touchdowns are a great thing, and Julius Peppers is an all-time great football player.
That concludes today’s portion of the series. Tomorrow, the fireworks will truly begin, as we get into fantasy football superheroes, a player nominated for Man of the Year, and a player who admittedly should have been listed 40 spots ago. Check back tomorrow for 20-11.
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