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.
51. Cameron Wake, Outside Linebacker, Miami Dolphins
Despite being one of the best pass rushers in football, Cameron Wake is still far from a household name. Wake has gone from the CFL to a force in which NFL offensive lines have to make their primary focus.
52. Ed Reed, Safety, Baltimore Ravens
Ed Reed is a surefire Hall of Famer who has almost single handedly changed the safety position from the in-the-box physical type of yesterday to a playmaking position which changes games. When healthy Reed is still the best safety in the game.
53. Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, Denver Broncos
2011’s second-overall pick earned his stripes as a rookie by making the Pro Bowl despite battling injury. Miller had 11.5 sacks with three forced fumbles in his first season and looks to improve on that in 2012.
54. Daryl Smith, Linebacker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Few top players fly under the radar as much as Jacksonville’s Daryl Smith. Smith has been more than solid for his entire eight-year career and he’s versatile enough to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, at each of the linebacker positions.
55. James Harrison, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Better known for the money he gives to NFL charities via weekly fines, Harrison is one of the most feared players in football. Dirty or not, Harrison makes plays and nothing backs that up better than perhaps the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEIyUBf0X8E
56. Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
Victor Cruz exploded onto the scene in 2011 as he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards with nine touchdowns while helping the Giants to a Super Bowl title. It will be tough for Cruz to top those numbers in just his third season, but the 25-year old gives us no reason to believe he can’t.
57. LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
In his second full season as a starter, McCoy transformed himself into one of the most explosive running backs in football. His 1,309 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns earned him first-team All-Pro status in 2011.
58. Justin Tuck, Defensive End, New York Giants
Justin Tuck has been the centerpiece of a dynamic Giants defensive line that has won a pair of Super Bowls. Although Tuck’s sack numbers dropped in 2011, he still commands double-teams which helped teammates Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora.
59. Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Chicago Bears
Cutler doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy personality and that could be part of the reason he doesn’t get credit among even the Bears own fanbase as being an elite player. Prior to his thumb injury which ended his 2011 season prematurely, Cutler was playing as well as any quarterback not named Rodgers or Brady.
60. Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan may be the most forgotten about franchise quarterback in football due to his steady play and lack of playoff victories. Ryan has had a better than .500 record in each of his four NFL seasons and his touchdown totals have risen each year. With Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside, look for Ryan to make another leap in 2012.
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