Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 81-90.
1. The future of B.J. Raji: Selected ahead of all but one defensive player in the 2009 draft, Raji for a while appeared on the brink of stardom. He was big enough to absorb two run-blockers, agile enough to slip into the backfield on third down and athletic enough to score the game-winning touchdown on an interception return in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. Since then, however, his star has dropped amid questions about his work ethic and a series of swaps between nose tackle and defensive end. When his contract expired after the 2013 season, Raji could do no better than a one-year deal worth $1.4 million. That places a premium on his 2014 performance, even though some believe he is a better fit as an under tackle in a 4-3 scheme than anywhere in the Green Bay Packers' 3-4. Regardless, Raji has the skills and athleticism to be a top-20 defensive player. If he is back in the 80s next year, it could well be with another team.
2. Sack attention: In 2012, New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones accumulated more sacks (6.0) than all but one rookie. He continued his ascension with 11.5 sacks last season, and in two years his 17.5 sacks have been bettered by only 19 other NFL players. Coincidentally, those figures have earned him a ranking behind 19 other defensive ends. But there is every reason to think Jones can be a consistent double-digit sack man in the Patriots' scheme, and if you go by the theory that sacks draw public attention, it's fair to expect a jump for Jones in future rankings.
3. Mr. Overlooked: Over the past two seasons, Washington Redskins tailback Alfred Morris has rushed for more yards than every NFL player except Adrian Peterson. Morris' 2,888 yards over that span has eclipsed Marshawn Lynch (2,847), Jamaal Charles (2,796) and LeSean McCoy (2,447). Only Lynch (23) and Peterson (22) have scored more touchdowns than Morris (20). And yet Morris finds himself ranked behind 82 other offensive players, including eight other running backs. Rushing yardage isn't the only measure of a running back, but Morris has moved the ball forward more than almost anyone else at his position over the past two seasons. It's surprising to see him so far down this list.