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.
71. Vincent Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vincent Jackson is one of the league’s elite receivers at winning jump balls and he’s a better route runner than he’s given credit for. Jackson will help Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman tremendously this season.
72. Brian Urlacher, Middle Linebacker, Chicago Bears
The Bears captain has become one of the most beloved sports figures in the history of Chicago and he’s still playing at a very high level. Urlacher has a tendency for making big plays and is the true heart and soul of the Bears defense.
73. Dashon Goldson, Safety, San Francisco 49ers
Every team wants a Troy Polamalu (in his prime) type of player and the 49ers might just have it in Dashon Goldson. Goldson delivers punishing hits and also makes big plays which helped the 49ers to their breakout season.
74. Tony Romo, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Although Romo doesn’t have any championship hardware to his credit, he’s very effective on a weekly basis. Much of the time Romo looks like a Top 5 quarterback but then there are his well documented late-game mistakes which keeps him ranked 74th.
75. Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears
Brandon Marshall’s notorious off-the-field issues make his new Chicago landing spot his third in four seasons. On the field Marshall is fearless over the middle and is a physical mismatch for most defensive backs.
76. Antonio Gates, Tight End, San Diego Chargers
The former basketball player will one day be enshrined in Canton and although it appeared as if Gates lost a step last season he battled several injuries. A healthy Antonio Gates is about as good as any tight end in the game.
77. NaVorro Bowman, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Teammate Patrick Willis gets most of the well deserved press, but Navarro Bowman was a dominant player in his own right last season. Bowman is a tackling machine and is very underrated in coverage.
78. Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
Welker is clearly the best slot receiver in football and it’s not really debatable. He’s explosive with normally reliable hands and has earned the trust of Tom Brady. Although Welker is probably not as good as his statistics show, he would make any team better.
79. Josh Sitton, Offensive Guard, Green Bay Packers
The former UCF Knight has become one of the very best guards in football. Sitton is a monster in the run game and is a more than adequate pass protector.
80. Nick Mangold, Center, New York Jets
Nick Mangold has started since his rookie season and is one of the leaders of the Jets offense. Mangold’s mental attributes are almost as great as his physical skills, as he has aided in Mark Sanchez’s development.
To see the players ranked 81-90, click here
To see the players ranked 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