We are beginning our NFL Top 100 series, in which NFL Analyst Charlie Bernstein ranks the Top 100 players in the league. There are no backup quarterback media darlings, punters, kickers or long-snappers in this list, just the most elite players for the 2012 season.
61. Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Speed keeps defensive coordinators up at night and Wallace has become one of the most feared deep threats in football. He’s becoming a better route runner and he’s not afraid to go over the middle.
62. Aldon Smith, Defensive End, San Francisco 49ers
Smith was fantastic as a rookie in 2011 as he tallied 14 sacks, tops for any rookie. Surrounded by great defensive talent in San Francisco, Smith is only going to get better.
63. Jason Babin, Defensive End, Philadelphia Eagles
Babin seems to be somewhat of a late bloomer as he’s recorded 30.5 sacks over the past two seasons after just 17.5 over his first six years. Babin has acquired a collection of moves and he’s more than a handful for any offensive tackle.
64. Calais Campbell, Defensive Tackle, Arizona Cardinals
Calais Campbell has become one of the best defensive linemen in football, earning him a $55 million contract extension. Campbell can rush the passer from the defensive tackle position, as well as hold the point of attack and can even play outside.
65. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions
After a superb rookie season, Suh had a sophomore slump in 2011 as his numbers were down considerably across the board. Still, Suh will likely return to his dominant ways in 2012 as teammate Nick Fairley should be healthy at the start of the season which should cause less double-teams.
66. Joe Haden, Cornerback, Cleveland Browns
Although Joe Haden hasn’t experienced much winning in the NFL, he continues to stand out often being matched up against the opponent’s best wideouts. Haden is an ascending player at his position and should be the centerpiece of a very underrated Browns defense.
67. Vernon Davis, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis saved his best games for the biggest moments as he is a mismatch for any team at the tight end position. Davis has too much speed for linebackers and too much size for safeties to cover and he will likely by the 49ers top target in 2012.
68. Matt Forte, Running Back, Chicago Bears
Quite possibly the least respected great running back by his team, Matt Forte has been the heart and soul of the Bears offense ever since his rookie season. Forte is the Bears best offensive weapon and next season he’ll be playing for a new contract somewhere.
69. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
Prior to 2011, Asomugha was considered the second-best at his position behind Darrelle Revis. After signing in Philadelphia, Asomugha struggled mightily in the Eagles zone scheme and he’s looking to make a comeback in 2012.
70. Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys
Tyron Smith was fantastic as a rookie tackle and he will likely move from right tackle to left tackle in 2012. Tony Romo will finally feel safe when he turns away from his blindside.
For players 71-80, click here
For players 81-90, click here
For players 91-100, click here
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie