Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 91-100.
1. Jay Cutler ascends -- a bit: Chicago Bears fans blanched at last summer's suggestion that there were 96 offensive players better than their quarterback. Now, after a season in which injuries limited him to 11 games, and his backup performed at a higher level in five replacement games, Cutler has moved all the way up to No. 93. He is ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles (No. 99) but behind 15 other quarterbacks as voted by a broad-based panel of ESPN contributors. The Bears, of course, don't share this assessment. They recommitted to him in January with a contract extension that ties them together for the next three years. (He is fully guaranteed $54 million over that span.) In Chicago, at least, Cutler's second season with quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman has spurred genuine hopes for a career year. If so, he's sure to break 90 in next year's ranking.
2. Steve Smith remains relevant: One of the best receivers of this generation is now 35 and wrapping up his career with a new team. Smith caught 64 passes last season for the Carolina Panthers, but his yardage dipped by more than a third and he signed with the Baltimore Ravens to play alongside established pass-catchers Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta. Smith checked in at No. 97 in this ranking, behind 27 other receivers, but it's reasonable to expect a productive season. He remains in phenomenal shape, and his well-documented emotions should fuel him beyond the limits that his age suggests.
3. Mr. Overlooked: Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is the type of player who can be easily missed in a national league-wide ranking. He has gone without a sack in two of the past three seasons and has a total of 13 in his seven-year career. But every good defense must be strong in the middle, and Mebane has developed into one of the league's best and most reliable run-stoppers. He has started 56 consecutive regular-season games dating back to 2010 and has missed only five of a possible 112 games in his career. Meanwhile, Football Outsiders considered Mebane the NFL's third-best run-stopper among interior linemen last season based on the "stop rate" statistic. According to Outsiders, Mebane stopped opposing runners short of a successful play on 91 percent of his tackles.