Once again, these gents are in alphabetical order:
Ronde Barber: Like Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber is a staple of the Tampa 2 defensive scheme. He's not big. He's not fast. He's not a shutdown corner. But damn, the man can make plays! Barber is the gold standard for Tampa 2 scheme corners. He covers well in space, closes on the ball carrier well, and tackles with force. He can pry the ball lose, cause fumbles, and make receivers think twice about reaching high for the ball. He's gotten a little older, but he still makes plays.
Drew Brees: He is no fluke. Brees silenced many doubters last year with a worthy encore to his stellar 2004 season. Brees does not have a strong arm. He is not tall. However, Brees is very good at reading defenses, staying calm in the pocket, and delivering the football with accuracy. He is also very sure-footed and able to step up and out of pressure. When receivers aren't open, he will not hesitate to run. Brees has developed into an outstanding QB, and in the right system he can dominate games.
Brian Dawkins: Last year the Philadelphia Eagles hit a bad patch year. Every team goes through it. Indianapolis went through one in 2001, New England in 2002. The Eagles will rebound and continue to play the same, aggressive style of defense that has come to define Philly football. One reason they are able to play this way is Brian Dawkins. Dawkins is a devastating hitter with outstanding closing speed. He can blitz and get to the QB, or snuff out a run play. His coverage skills are not great, but he is not asked to play that way. He is asked to punish ball carriers, which he does very well.
Larry Johnson: I normally don't jump on a youngster's bandwagon, especially a running back. Everyone was on Willis McGahee's nuts after the 2004 season. He followed it up by stinking up Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2005. But with Larry Johnson, it's hard to ignore his amazing 2005 season. He started only 11 games and ran for an eye-popping 1,750 yards and 20 TDs. The KC kid averaged 5.2 yards a run! If this were simply a one year wonder, I'd leave him off the list. But Johnson did something similar the year prior, running for 581 yards and 9 TDs in just a few games. Johnson is for real, and he has the potential to vault into the top 10 bracket.
Ray Lewis: Even though his best days are behind him, and this off season he seems to be whining more than usual, Ray Lewis is still a damn fine linebacker. His antics and his methods to stay focused and excited during games have grown tiresome though. What is mistaken for "intensity" is actually just wasted energy on the sideline. At his age, Ray needs to conserve and focus, rather than rant and rave. However, when Ray is on, he can run with the best of them. He tackles well and has the ability to change a game with one play. It could be a hit, a turnover, whatever. Ray can still make plays.
Santana Moss: Um, somebody cover this guy! Seriously, Santana Moss played liked a man possessed last season. The Washington Redskins do not run a complicated offense. Their o-line is a patch job, and their QB flat out stinks. Head coach Joe Gibbs is all about minimizing mistakes and winning with defense. Yet, despite this philosophy and the fact that the Redskins had no second receiving opinion, Santana Moss played amazing football in 2005. Moss is good at creating space and running routes. And when he gets his hands on the football, he is extremely good at making people miss.
Simeon Rice: It's hard to leave Rice off this list. He's had double digit sacks in 7 of the last 8 years. Tampa Bay uses Rice in a similar way the Indianapolis colts use Dwight Freeney. While Rice does not have Freeney's quickness or moves, he can give opposing offenses fits.
Will Shields: I don't like putting guards on a Top 50 list. Teams treat them like a dime a dozen, and in many ways they are. A strong offensive line must have stability at the tackles and the center. Guards, typically, get rotated out every year. However, Will Shields is the exception. Shields is a very big man who will run you over and make you cry for ya momma! Yet, with that size, Shields is a very good pulling guard, using his speed and agility to engage lineman or linebackers in traffic. He would dominate no matter if he played guard, tackle, or center. Running backs like Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson have really benefited from Shields' play.
Jason Taylor: Unappreciated and undervalued, few realize just how good Jason Taylor is. Taylor has gotten double digit sacks in five of the last six years. Nick Saban's coaching should help Taylor, as he is very good against the run. He also uses his height well to bat balls down at the LOS. In the last two seasons, he's had 21 passes defended. That's good for a nickel corner, let alone a defensive end!
Jonathan Vilma: The Jets were B-A-D, bad, bad, BAD last season. Yet, despite their dismissal record, Jonathan Vilma did not cave. Vilma managed to turn out a better season than his highly touted rookie campaign. He logged 173 tackles in 2005, with 128 of those solo tackles. In 2004, he had 105 tackles total! Vilma sheds blockers well and can stand ball carriers up. He is quick, intelligent, and should fit in perfectly with the system new head coach Eric Mangini is bringing in from New England.
Players in brackets 41-50 will be up soon! You might be asking, "Why isn't Randy Moss listed yet? Where's Dante Culpepper? Michael Vick? Clinton Portis? Matt Hasselback? Ben Roethlisberger? And didn't you promise the boys over at BTB that you'd list more than one Cowboy in the top 50?"
Patience. All questions will be answered when the Screw Pete Prico's Top 50 NFL players concludes.