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.
21. Rob Gronkowski, Tight End, New England Patriots
In just his second season as a pro, “Gronk” re-wrote the NFL record books for tight ends. The 6-foot-6, 265 pounder is quick enough to exploit the seam against linebackers and is simply too large for cornerbacks or safeties to cover.
22. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
Although he’s already won a pair of Super Bowls, Ben isn’t yet a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he’s headed in that direction. Roethlisberger can extend plays like no other and is one of the very best “clutch” quarterbacks in the game.
23. Duane Brown, Left Tackle, Houston Texans
After struggling early in his career, Brown has transformed himself into an elite left tackle. Matt Schaub’s blindside protector didn’t give up any sacks in 2011.
24. J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt was phenomenal as a rookie as he was among the very best 3-4 ends in football. Watt is disruptive and has been an integral piece in the Texans defensive transformation.
25. Jared Veldheer, Left Tackle, Oakland Raiders
Jared Veldheer anchored a solid Raiders offensive line and he was individually outstanding in 2011 in just his second season. Carson Palmer will be well protected in 2012.
26. Clay Matthews, Outside Linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Clay Matthews has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three NFL seasons and is one of the very best playmakers at the outside linebacker position. Matthews has forced 10 turnovers in his short time in the league and has scored three touchdowns.
27. Tamba Hali, Defensive End, Kansas City Chiefs
Playing on a defensive line littered with early-round busts, Tamba Hali has been a pass rushing force for the Chiefs despite often facing double teams. Hali is one of the quickest players off the edge in football and earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2011.
28. Eric Weddle, Safety, San Diego Chargers
Eric Weddle may not be as well known as Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, but at this point in his career he’s a better safety. Weddle is both cerebral and rangy and came away with seven interceptions in 2011.
29. Jake Long, Left Tackle, Miami Dolphins
The former first-overall pick in the draft has not disappointed Dolphins fans as he’s one of the elite left tackles in the game. Long has made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons and continues to be a centerpiece of the Miami offensive line.
30. Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle, New England Patriots
The Patriots defense was statistically bad in 2011, but not due to the efforts of Vince Wilfork. This 6-foot-2, 325 pound 4-time Pro Bowler plugs the middle and holds the point like no other player at his position and he’s a big reason why the Patriots are a consistent playoff team.
To see players ranked 31-40, click here.
To see players ranked 41-50, click here.
To see players ranked 51-60, click here.
To see players ranked 61-70, click here.
To see players ranked 71-80, click here.
To see players ranked 81-90, click here.
To see 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