A Better Top 100 List

A Better Top 100 List

Because the NFL Network is putting together an abomination.
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For the better part of the past two months, the monstrosity otherwise known as the Top 100 Players of 2016 has been shoved down all of our collective throats no matter how much we might protest. We all know about the list and it's nonsensical rankings. Based on the rankings of the players, the NFL Network unveils a countdown of the best players in the league over the span of 10 weeks. The result is that it generates something timely to talk about in a period where nothing timely is actually happening. It’s a brilliant league creation to retain fans year round as people love both rankings and the debate that they inevitably create.

As we’ve found out this year, the list itself is an unmitigated disaster. I don’t need to go through the countless amount of atrocities that have been unveiled each week here. An important part of the problem is the mystery around how the list is created and what it means. The list is intended to project who will be the best players next season, not a lifetime achievement award. Players must have forgotten about this part, as athletes whose 2015 seasons were derailed by injuries, like Jordy Nelson and Andrew Luck, were forgotten in this exercise.

Perhaps more concerning is the methodology behind how the list is crafted. Players are asked to rank their top 20 players in the league. The results are averaged together and the final list is put together. While on the surface this may seem fine, it also means that numerous players are listing guys like Kirk Cousins and Allen Hurns as the premier talents of the league. The implications of this are simple — players aren’t creating honest, accurate lists but rather one towards the agenda of their friends and teammates. This explains the inordinate amount of players on the list from a 5-11 Jaguars team.

It’s time to accept this list for what it is: a vague listing of some of the league's big named players filled with head-scratchers and ignorance designed to appeal to casual fans with limited knowledge of non-skill position players. It is not an actually representative list based on production, game film, and certainly not future potential. I’m sure the NFL knows this and I’m even more sure that they like it this way. Each disgracefully high or low placement creates noise in these otherwise silent months and that's exactly how they like it.

With all that being said, I decided to put together my own Top 100 list to coincide with the conclusion of the program this Wednesday. I hope that my list better reflects what actually happens on Sundays instead of the clickbait garbage that floods my timeline every Wednesday night.

Players are ranked by their skill level at their respective positions, not their value to their team. In general, I gave players coming back from injury the benefit of the doubt to appreciate what they can do when they are healthy.

100. Marcus Peters

99. Jeremy Maclin

98. Darius Slay

97. Stephon Gilmore

96. Sammy Watkins

95. Everson Griffin

94. Ryan Shazier

93. David DeCastro

92. Charles Johnson

91. Kyle Long

Marcus Peters quickly usurped Sean Smith as the top corner on the Chiefs defense and emerged as another playmaker on the team's explosive defensive front. He could emerge as a true shutdown corner in the next two years. On the opposite side of the ball, Jeremy Maclin showed that he could thrive as a number own receiver outside of Chip Kelly’s offense. He helped partially revive a lifeless downfield passing attack with sneaky speed on the perimeter.

After a disappointing rookie season, Sammy Watkins became one of the league's best deep threats in the second half of last season. His ranking is subject to variance based on the play of second year starter Tyrod Taylor. Ryan Shazier quietly put together a monster game in the Wild Card playoff game against the Bengals. His unmatched athletic traits for a linebacker could lead him to be a matchup nightmare for offensive coordinators.

90. Anthony Barr

89. Devin McCourty

88. Allen Robinson

87. LeSean McCoy

86. Jason Peters

85. Alshon Jeffery

84. Ryan Kalil

83. Deandre Levy

82. Jimmy Graham

81. Travis Fredrick

It's a telling statement about Devin McCourty's value that the Patriots evaluated him as a more unexpendable asset than All-Pro Darrelle Revis this offseason. His role as the centerfielder on their defense immensely helped Super Bowl Hero Malcolm Butler settle into a outside corner role.

Even though his season was marred by injuries, LeSean McCoy showed the same lateral agility and vision that made him the league's best rusher two years ago. Jason Peters, one of the lineman responsible for that season in Philly, showed signs of aging in a season marred by injuries in 2015. He should return to form as one of the best blindside protectors in football. Ryan Kalil, meanwhile, was the key piece on an overachieving Panthers line last season.

Allen Robinson enjoyed a breakout season due to the growth of Blake Bortles. He shows everything you could want out of a number one receiver. Alshon Jeffery should only be helped out by the addition of last years first round pick, Kevin White, who should draw attention away from the standout receiver.

80. Cameron Wake

79. Amari Cooper

78. Mike Iupati

77. Carlos Dunlap

76. Josh Sitton

75. Doug Martin

74. Jordan Reed

73. KJ Wright

72. Eric Berry

71. CJ Mosley

Headlining a trendy offense in 2016, Amari Cooper put together a rookie campaign that nearly rivaled that of Odell Beckham’s. With a polished, full route tree and breakaway speed at his disposal, there is no reason he can’t be an elite wideout for the next 10 years. Healthy for the first time in years, Jordan Reed was largely responsible for the surprising rise of the Redskins down the stretch last year. He shows rare explosiveness for a tight end and can run routes like a receiver.

Josh Sitton and Mike Iupati have been two of the league's premier guards for years. It is still to be seen if Doug Martin can repeat last year's surprise 1,400-yard effort behind a suspect offensive line. Is he the back of 2012 and 2015 or 2013 and 2014?

70. LaVonte David

69. Demaryius Thomas

68. Chandler Jones

67. Donta Hightower

66. Linval Joseph

65. Desmond Trufant

64. Trent Williams

63. Bobby Wagner

62. Sheldon Richardson

61. Carson Palmer

Carson Palmer’s return to the upper echelon of quarterbacks was one of the most surprising developments. His arm looks as good as ever and he can throw a deep ball rivaling Big Ben for the best in the league. He’ll be joined by Chandler Jones in Arizona to put together one of the best rosters in the league. Jones immediately corrects the Cards' biggest weakness by giving them a bonafide pass rush monster.

Even though he doesn’t get the attention of some of the more vocal corners, Desmond Trufant is one the best cover corners in football. He is the only playmaker on a weak Falcon’s defense. Demaryius Thomas has to be better in 2016. He just dropped too many balls last year to justify his contract extension last offseason.

60. NaVorro Bowman

59. Thomas Davis

58. Cameron Jordan

57. Malcolm Jenkins

56. Brandon Marshall

55. Andrew Whitworth

54. Greg Olson

53. TJ Ward

52. Jordy Nelson

51. Harrison Smith

It’s crazy that Brandon Marshall was traded for just a fifth round pick last year. In 2015, he showed no signs of aging and was largely responsible for the Jets development on offense. It's yet to be seen if he can do it again with the Jets soap opera of a quarterback room.

We saw just how big of a difference Jordy Nelson makes to the Packers offense last year. Without his talents on the perimeter, the offense struggled to move the ball against above average defenses. Greg Olson emerged as a blue chip talent and was Cam Newton’s top option last year.

Malcolm Jenkins, TJ Ward, and Harrison Smith represent some of the league's premier safeties who don’t get nearly enough attention. Jenkins and Smith are two centerfield playmakers who can cover like corners and force game changing turnovers.

50. Jaime Collins

49. Eric Weddle

48. Drew Brees

47. Clay Matthews

46. Gerald McCoy

45. Ezekiel Ansah

44. DeMarcus Ware

43. Chris Harris

42. Zach Martin

41. Cam Newton

Even though he may have slipped a half step, Drew Brees is still the force that makes the Saints go. His accuracy and pre snap awareness have allowed him to compensate for his lack of arm talent. Still, as Peyton Manning showed over the last year and a half, father time is undefeated in sports.

This ranking is meant as no slight to Cam Newton. He took major steps forward as a passer last season after years of inconsistent play. The former Auburn star is the single best third down threat in the league. He still needs to improve his accuracy a bit more to sustain this level of performance over years.

Jamie Collins and Clay Matthews are two of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL. Expect Clay Matthews to return to a high-level after he moves back to a more suitable position on the outside.

After nearly whiffing on the flashiness of Johnny Manziel in 2014, the Cowboys unearthed Zach Martin, who has quickly become an All-Pro at guard. Martin was a major reason behind the Cowboys rushing attack in 2014 and looks to have the same type of impact this year.

40. Josh Norman

39. Marcell Darius

38. Kam Chancellor

37. Calais Campbell

36. Darrelle Revis

35. Fletcher Cox

34. Aqib Talib

33. Robert Quinn

32. Dez Bryant

31. Russell Wilson

With his weekly feats of acrobatic madness, Josh Norman jumped into the discussion of the top corners in the NFL. He has to prove that he can succeed outside of Carolina’s zone heavy scheme to be in the same conversation as Sherman and Peterson. He’ll be tested by Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant twice a year now. Even though Chris Harris is loved by the metrics, it’s telling that that Broncos had Aqib Talib cover the opposing team's top threat week in and out. Darrelle Revis may have taken a step back last year, but he remains the generation's best corner.

Like Jordy Nelson, Kam Chancellor’s absence went a long way in showing how valuable he is. Although Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman get the accolades, he is the heartbeat of the Legion of Boom. Look for Fletcher Cox become a household name this year. After two years of quiet dominance, he will be set loose by new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

30. Jamaal Charles

29. Marshall Yanda

28. A.J. Green

27. Adrian Peterson

26. Muhammad Wilkerson

25. Deandre Hopkins

24. Geno Atkins

23. Todd Gurley

22. Khalil Mack

21. Joe Thomas

Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have been the best two running backs of their generation. Against all odds, Peterson lead the league in rushing even when teams knew the Vikings were running the ball with a running back at age 30. Charles' career average yards per carry of 5.5 should be something of legend. Even so, running backs tend not to age gracefully. Second-year sensation Todd Gurley could surge past both of them this season.

Similarly, Joe Thomas and Marshall Yanda have been the best guard and tackle in the league for nearly 10 years running. In a passing league, Yanda may be the best run blocker in the league.

Even with suspect quarterback play for much of the season, AJ Green and Deandre Hopkins put up numbers to make fantasy owners salivate week after week. The two possession receivers should be even better with more stability at the quarterback position in 2016.

20. Earl Thomas

19. Justin Houston

18. Ndamukong Suh

17. Richard Sherman

16. Tyron Smith

15. Le’veon Bell

14. Ben Roethlisberger

13. Julio Jones

12. Patrick Peterson

11. Aaron Donald

I’m giving Ndamukong Suh the benefit of the doubt here. Even though he had a quiet 2015 season, he has been of Hall of Fame level defensive tackle at a position that traditionally doesn’t get much attention. There is no reason to compare him to Albert Haynesworth yet. As good as Suh is, Aaron Donald may be even better. With rare explosiveness, he rivaled J.J. Watt for the best defensive lineman in the game last year. He could jump into the top five on this list a year from now if he repeats that.

Fully healthy in 2015, Patrick Peterson showed that he is the best cover corner in the NFL. He shut down the likes of Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown. He is a freak athlete that can compare to any receiver in football.

Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell are easilly the best quarterback-running back duo of the last five years. Roethlisberger has finally become the statistical monster believers always knew he could be in the Steelers spread attack with a track team of receivers on the outside. Bell has rare elusiveness and vision that is reminiscent of Barry Sanders. He just needs to stay healthy.

10. Tom Brady

The greatest quarterback of all time had one of his best seasons last year. The best pre-snap quarterback ever save for Peyton Manning. Showing no signs of decline despite his age.

9. Andrew Luck

Forget 2014. Luck has the look and feel of an all-time great quarterback. There is a reason that general managers and scouts still fall head over heels for his talents. He could surpass even Rodgers a year from now.

8. Antonio Brown

The best route runner in football was only kept from the single season receiving record due to injuries at the quarterback position. Expect him to pick up where he left off last year.

7. Tyrann Mathieu

The single most versatile defender in the league right now. He can cover, stop the run, go after the quarterback, and generally wreak havoc on any offense if he returns to 2015 form. Last year's ACL tear could keep him from that.

6. Odell Beckham

Beckham has a very similar skill set to Brown, but is a slight faster with the playmaking prowess of an all-time legend. Like Brown, he could break records if he can get consistent quarterback play.

5. Luke Kuechly

The best player on the best team in the league last year, Kuechly is on an almost Ray Lewis-like career arc. He’s scary fast and relentless in pursuit, and worse yet, he can even cover.

4. Von Miller

The best pure pass rusher in the league and the most important reason the Broncos won the Super Bowl. When you get a 4.4 athlete who can bend around right tackles with ease across from DeMarcus Ware, problems start to happen for opposing offenses. Just ask Cam Newton.

3. Rob Gronkowski

As good as Tom Brady is, Gronkowski might just be more valuable to the Patriots offense than him. Gronkowski is utterly uncoverable, simple as that. He’s already the best tight end ever and still has years left to pad his resume.

2. J.J. Watt

What is there left to say about Watt? Without him, the Texans are a three-win team last year. Even in a down year, he still won Defensive Player of the Year.

1. Aaron Rodgers

How could it be anyone else? The best player at the most important position in sports, and it isn’t all that close. His first month of 2015 displayed complete master of the position. He can read defenses, extend plays, make any throw from any angle, scramble, and draw free plays for lethal shots against defenses. When it is all said and done, Rodgers could easily be the best quarterback to ever play the game.
Cover Image Credit: Black Sports Online

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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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I Wouldn't Trade My DII Experience To Play DI Athletics Any Day

I'm thankful that I didn't go DI because I wouldn't have had the best four-year experience as a college athlete.

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As a high school athlete, the only goal is to play your varsity sport at the Division 1 level in college.

No one in high school talks about going to a Division 2 or 3 school, it's as if the only chance you have at playing college athletics is at the DI level. However, there are so many amazing opportunities to play a varsity sport at the DII and DIII level that are equally fun and competitive as playing for a division 1 team.

As a college athlete at the DII level, I hear so many DI athletes wishing they had played at the DII or DIII level. Because the fact of the matter is this: the division you play in really doesn't matter.

The problem is that DII and DIII sports aren't as celebrated as Division 1 athletics. You don't see the National Championships of Division 2 and 3 teams being broadcasted or followed by the entire country. It's sad because the highest levels of competition at the DII and DIII level are competing against some of the Division 1 teams widely celebrated across the country. Yet DII and DIII teams don't receive the recognition that DI athletics do.

Not everyone can be a DI athlete but that doesn't mean it's easy to be a DII or DIII athlete. The competition is just as tough as it is at the top for DII and DIII athletes. Maybe the stakes are higher for these athletes because they have to prove they are just as good as DI athletes. Division 2 and 3 athletes have just as much grit and determination as Division 1 athletes, without the glorified title of being "a division 1 athlete."

Also, playing at the DII or DIII level grants more opportunities to make your college experience your own, not your coach's.

I have heard countless horror stories in athletics over the course of my four-year journey however, the most heartbreaking come from athletes who lose their drive to compete because of the increased pressure from coaches or program. Division 1 athletics are historically tougher programs than Division 2 or 3 programs, making an athlete's college experience from one division to another significantly different.

The best part of not going to a division 1 school is knowing that even though my team doesn't have "DI" attached to it, we still have the opportunity to do something unique every time we arrive at an event. Just because we aren't "DI" athletes, we still have the drive and competitive spirit to go to an event and win. We are great players, and we have broken countless records as a team.

That's something we all have done together, and it's something we can take with us for the rest of our lives.

We each have our own mission when it comes to our college athletic careers, however together we prove to be resilient in the fight for the title. Giving it all when we practice and play is important, but the memories we have made behind the scenes as a team makes it all worth it, too.

The best part of being apart of college athletics is being able to be passionate about your sport with teammates that embody that same mindset. It's an added benefit to having teammates who become your best friends because it makes your victories even more victorious, and your defeats easier to bare.

No matter what level an athlete is playing at in college, it's important that all the hours spent at practice and on the road should be enjoyed with teammates that make the ride worthwhile. The experiences athletes have at any level are going to vary, but the teammates I have and the success we've had together is something I cherish and will take with me forever. I'm thankful that I didn't go DI because I wouldn't have had the best four-year experience as a college athlete.

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