The NFL Network's list of the "Top 100 Players of 2011" is reaching interesting territory now. With picks No. 21-30 having been revealed Sunday, the two shows that remain feature the very cream of the crop, player-wise, and should foster fierce debate among fans who have little else to discuss thanks to the lockout.
The only NFC East player to make the list in the 21-30 range was Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who came in at No. 29.
Now, a disclaimer first: While I enjoy this list as a topic of debate, I do not put any extra significance on it because the voters are NFL players. I know it's easy to think, "Well, they'd know best," and ideally they would. But as someone who's covered professional athletes for the past 17 years, I can promise you any player-voted rankings are at least as fraught with bitterness, jealousy and agenda as are rankings voted on by fans or media. Players are liable to vote a fellow player lower than he should be for reasons as simple as not liking how much money the guy makes. So for me, this list is merely a jumping-off point for discussion, not some infallible judgment from on high. Please keep that in mind as we discuss it here and in posts to come.
As for D-Jax, I'm looking at his ranking in the context of his position -- specifically, the other wide receivers ranked nearest to him on either side. Atlanta's Roddy White came in at No. 24 and Detroit's Calvin Johnson at 27. The Colts' Reggie Wayne and the Bears' Devin Hester were right behind Jackson at No. 31 and 32, respectively.
Compared to those other four receivers, I think I agree with Jackson's placement on this list. If I were picking a receiver for my team, I would not pick him over Johnson or White, who in my mind are more consistent, reliable pass-catchers. I think Wayne is that as well, but he lacks the electricity that those other two provide. The excitement Jackson brings when he has the ball in his hand (combine with his brilliance as a return man) elevate him above Wayne, for me. He's also clearly ahead of Hester, whose ranking would seem to have almost everything to do with his return-game abilities. Jackson may not beat Hester as a return man, but he's not far behind. And he's a considerably better receiver.
We've discussed Jackson here a few times, and I think he's a unique guy when it comes to these rankings. I think there are very few, if any, players in the league more lethal when the ball is in their hands. I just don't feel the ball is in Jackson's hands enough. Whether that's his fault, Andy Reid's fault, Michael Vick's fault or whether it has something to do with the Anthony Weiner scandal is, frankly, immaterial. The fact that Jackson caught only 47 balls in 2010 keeps him out of the top echelon of NFL receivers, in my opinion. But when he's involved in the play, I watch it.