- ESPN staff writer
- Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
- University of Florida graduate
Who’s the NFL’s best pass-rusher? Wide receiver? Cornerback? What about the second-best defensive tackle — after Aaron Donald? To preview the 2021 NFL season, we set out to answer those questions and much more.
We surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive linemen and all the way through tight ends. This is the second edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up and dropped from last year’s lists.
Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2021. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who’s the best today? Pretty simple.
We’ll roll out a position per day over the next 11 days. Here’s the schedule:
Week 1: edge rushers (July 5), interior defensive line (July 6), off-ball linebackers (July 7), cornerbacks (July 8), safeties (July 9), offensive tackles (July 10), interior offensive line (July 11)
Week 2: quarterbacks (July 12), running backs (July 13), wide receivers (July 14), tight ends (July 15)
The race for pass-rush king was wide open after injuries derailed many of last year’s contenders. Each player from last year’s top four fell in the rankings. Meanwhile, two dominant players from the AFC North were glad to unseat them.
The edge rusher category — outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense, defensive ends in a 4-3 — is so loaded with dynamic playmaking that double-digit sack pedigree isn’t always enough to crack the list. Edge players get paid more than any other position save quarterback because of their ability to wreck a game plan each Sunday. Let’s start with the No. 1 player:
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