100. Kwon Alexander, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Alexander is one of the most underrated players in the entire league. He has accumulated 238 total tackles in his two seasons and was fourth in the league in tackles in 2016. With youth on his side, Alexander looks to take another step in year three to prove that he is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. The Tampa Bay defense needs to improve drastically if they are serious about a playoff run, and Alexander is the guy to be the leader of the defense.
99. Melvin Ingram, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers
Ingram just inked a 4-year, $66 million contract with the Chargers a few weeks ago after putting up an eight-sack season last year. He will likely improve on that number this season as the Chargers transition to a 4-3 scheme, where Ingram will be able to play his more natural position of 4-3 defensive end. In addition, Ingram will likely be freed up a bit more as teams game plan to stop second-year standout Joey Bosa, which will increase his production even further. Assuming Bosa is able to stand up to double teams this season, the Chargers could very well have one of the best edge rusher duos in the NFL in 2017.
98. Brandon Graham, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham comes in at 98 on our list. Graham had a breakout season in 2016, finally reaching some of the tremendous potential at his disposal. The Michigan defensive end was the 13th pick in the 2010 draft and for years was seen as a player who, if not a bust, at the very least didn’t live up to the expectations of a first round pick. Last year, however, things changed for Graham when the Eagles added defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. His 4-3 defense was a perfect fit for the speed rusher, who impacted the game more than his 5.5 sacks would suggest. To improve on his ranking for next year, Graham will need to finish off those pressures that he got last year and bring down the quarterback. But with stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, and new additions in ex-Raven, DT Timmy Jernigan, plus rookie defensive end Derek Barnett, there should be a lot of one-on one-opportunities for Graham to take advantage of. Graham should feast on those chances next year and continue to make noise in the league.
97. Gerald McCoy, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The heart and soul of the Tampa Bay defense has been Gerald McCoy since they drafted him third overall in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma. McCoy made his fifth straight Pro Bowl in 2016 and the fourth All-Pro of his career. He has often played around lesser talent along the Tampa Bay front seven, but as they finally began to put some pieces together last season, McCoy took off as their leader. Pressuring the quarterback consistently as an interior defender is one of the hardest jobs in the NFL, but McCoy is one of the best in the business at it. He’s a top 10 defensive tackle plus a top five interior rusher, and his statistics back those statements up. McCoy has had seven or more sacks each of the past four seasons, an extremely impressive number for a defensive tackle. He commands double teams and helped Noah Spence have an impressive rookie season. McCoy has been underrated throughout his career, but now that there’s talent around him in Tampa this defense is ready to takeoff behind him.
96. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
In 2015, Todd Gurley was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, an All-Pro, and ran for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2016, Gurley did none of the above and was statistically one of the worst running backs in the NFL. He ran for under 900 yards and averaged a horrific 3.2 yards per carry this past season, but the drop off in performance can’t all be put solely on him. Gurley was playing against eight men or more in the box on a consistent basis because nobody feared the Rams’ passing game. He also happened to play behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Gurley was hit behind the line more frequently than pretty much every back in the NFL in 2016. With new head coach Sean McVay taking over, Jared Goff entering year two, and with new personnel on the offensive line, the 2015 Gurley should be back in 2017. With so little help around him, Gurley started to play poorly and would often ignore solid short gains for home run plays, and that rarely worked out. If Gurley can begin to trust his vision more often in 2017, the 227 pound freak athlete running back should be back in a big way.
95. Mike Daniels, DL, Green Bay Packers
There are few players in the NFL more underrated than Mike Daniels. Daniels was a fourth round pick out of Iowa in 2012 and has yet to make an All-Pro team or even a Pro Bowl in his career. For all the hype that Clay Matthews gets, Daniels has been a far better player the past three seasons. Since becoming a starter on the Packers defensive line in 2014, Daniels has been one of the best all-around interior defenders in the league. The stocky 5-technique defensive end isn’t put in the same position to rush the quarterback that many edge defenders are, as he’s usually absorbing multiple blocks to get Nick Perry and Matthews one-on-ones. In five seasons for the Packers, Daniels has 158 tackles and 22 sacks, which are not stats that pop off the page. Rarely are top 10 interior defenders as unknown as Daniels, but he’s the glue that holds the Packers defense together. The former high school wrestler uses his stout frame (6-0, 310 lbs) and rare strength to manhandle larger interior offensive lineman. He’s a great pass rusher who uses his bull rush to get through offensive lines, and an even better run defender who often makes plays that more athletic linebackers can’t even make. Daniels more than deserves recognition as a top 100 NFL player.
94. Damon Harrison, NT, New York Giants
Nose tackles have one of the most unnotable and under-appreciated jobs in the NFL, eating up double teams and stopping the run. In a predominantly passing league, most of the attention goes to the elite pass rushers, such as Von Miller and Khalil Mack. However, nose tackles are equally as important as their pass rushing counterparts; teams will run the ball all day on you if you are unable to stop it. We saw this last season with the Denver Broncos. While Demarcus Ware and Von Miller comprised one of the best edge rusher duos in the NFL, teams were able to run the ball up the middle consistently on the Broncos’ elite passing defense, which was one of the factors contributing to their 9-7 record. The New York Giants, on the other hand, didn’t have this problem. Edge rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul were able to pressure the quarterback consistently while Harrison and Jonathan Hankins stuffed the run on the inside, which helped propel the Giants’ struggling offense to the playoffs. The 6’4”, 350 pound Harrison was named an AP All-Pro last year in recognition of his elite run stopping ability. While he may not get talked about that much, Snacks is by far one of the best nose tackles in the league right now. Look for him to anchor the Giants’ run defense as they make another playoff run this season.
93. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Thomas broke onto the scene as a rookie in 2016. The Saints’ receiver totaled 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns in his first year, and the team has since shipped Brandin Cooks away. Thomas’ rookie season is arguably the best rookie year of any receiver since Randy Moss. With Drew Brees leading the offense, Michael Thomas is set to have another huge year and stamp his name atop wide receiver rankings. I would expect Thomas to finish with well over 1,000 yards and around 100 catches in year two.
92. Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs has only been in the league for two seasons, but he has had to deal with a quarterback roulette. After a year with Teddy Bridgewater and some time with Shaun Hill, he is finally getting settled in with Sam Bradford. Having a full year with his quarterback will hopefully take Diggs to the next level and prove that he is a top receiver in this league. The Vikings added weapons this offseason to take some of the pressure off the young receiver, so Diggs should get more open looks and less focus from defenses. Fans should look for a 1,000 yard season from Diggs in 2017.
91. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Tyler Eifert is entering a contract year in 2017 and will be looking to cash in big in 2018. The fifth-year tight end has solidified himself as one of the top tight ends in the NFL when healthy, but has not yet played a full 16 games in a season so far in his career. Eifert had a down year last year, appearing in only eight games and racking up a total of 394 yards due to injury. If he can stay healthy this season, Eifert will be quarterback Andy Dalton’s go to red zone target and will hopefully put up some big numbers in a revamped Bengals’ offense.