And here we are: the final players listed in the Screw Pete Prisco's Top 50 NFL PLayers list. These players are in the players 41-50 bracket, and they are listed alphabetically:
Jeff Hartings: The Pittsburgh Steelers are a power running team, and it seems no matter who is running with the ball they make big gains. Last year, an aged Jerome Bettis teamed with Duce Staley and the quick and agile Willie Parker to form a solid "running back by committee." One of the reason they were successful with this is center Jeff Hartings. Hartings is the anchor of a dominant offensive line. They are not spectacular at pass protection, but they are extremely good at attacking the defense and using their size and quickness to open holes. Hartings was a Pro Bowler when he played in the NFC. In 2001, he signed a free agent contract with Pittsburgh and moved to the AFC. He'd be a starter in the AFC Pro Bowl every year is not for Kevin Mawae.
Levi Jones: People scratched their heads when the Bengals drafted Jones in the first round 4 years ago. Today, he's one of the best LTs in football. With Willie Anderson, he bookends an outstanding o-line that can maul opposing defenses. Jones keeps himself at around 300 pounds, allowing him to utilize his quick feet to keep speedy pass rushers off his QB.
Willie McGinest: Has he lost a step? Yes. Is he any less of a playmaker? No. There's nothing in the stats that shows McGinest is not the same active 3-4 linebacker that causes havoc for opposing offenses. And if you think stats lie, then I'll point you to the playoff game New England had against Jacksonville. He collected 4.5 sacks that game. That is a difference maker defined. As a blitzing linebacker, he still gets to the QB in a hurry, and is still a sure tackler. Over the years he has grown smarter, and adapts very well with each game plan.
Mike Minter: Mike Minter scares me. Actually, he scares a lot of people. He's not great in coverage, but he is extremely good at hitting people. Minter is the anchor in Carolina's secondary. For a safety, he has a knack for getting INTs and scoring with them. Ken Lucas gets a lot of publicity for Carolina's secondary, but really it is Minter that makes it all work.
Jonathan Ogden: He might have trouble with speed rushers like Dwight Freeney, but then again most people have trouble containing Freeney. Ogden is still a premier LT, and is vital to Baltimore's running game. His size and skill allow him to engage defenders quickly, and he's very good at the second level. He is one of the better offensive linemen in football. Like all dominant linemen, he'd excel no matter where he's placed on the o-line.
Bob Sanders: Last year was Bob Sanders' first year as a Pro Bowler, but even during his rookie year he played at a Pro Bowl level. While Freeney adds game-breaking ability to the Colts defense, Sanders adds toughness. He is a safety cut from the same mold as a John Lynch. He hits hard, tackles with authority, and is outstanding playing down in the box. He does not have Troy Polamalu's coverage skills, but Sanders does close on the ball carrier rapidly, and he is extremely quick. Sanders can also pry the football lose and generate turnovers, a must for a Tony Dungy safety.
Osi Umenyiora: I almost left Osi off the list, mainly because I was a little on the fence with his production in 2005. He collected 15 sacks while working the other side of the d-line with Michael Strahan. However, if you look at Osi's stats, you can see a steady improvement each year. And if you look at Strahan recently, he might be benefiting more from Osi and Osi from him. Umenyiora is a big DE, but he is quick and has good moves to get by tackles and hit the QB. He is also stout against the run. Teamed with Strahan, the Giants have one of the best d-lines in football.
Adam Vinatieri: I can hear people screaming now: "What the hell is this? A kicker!" Yes, kickers do have a stigma against them, and sometimes it is justified. However, remember that the criteria for this top 50 is the player must be a "difference maker," regardless of position. Adam Vinatieri is indeed a difference maker. When he strides out onto the field to attempt a game-winning or game-tying field goal, you can see the body language of the opposing players and fans shift. They know he's going to make it. Vinatieri is also not just any kicker. He might be the best ever. He's made more big kicks in his career than anyone. New England would not have their 3 Super Bowl victories without him. He is also a workout demon, participating in off-season workouts with the linemen and the wide receivers. He makes it a point to fit in with the team and work as hard as they do. Vinatieri is not just a kicker. He is a football player.
Mike Vrabel: New England's defense is built around its linebackers, and while players like Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest got much of the publicity during their Super bowl runs, the one player often overlooked was Mike Vrabel. Vrabel has always been a consistent playmaker in New England's defense. In 2003, he collected 10 sacks. Again, I remind you he is a linebacker. Vrabel is also outstanding in coverage, and in Bill Belichick's complicated defensive schemes, a linebacker as versatile as Vrabel is necessary. Last season, New England's defense was a shell of its former shelf. For several games, Vrabel had to play inside linebacker for the first time in his career. Vrabel responded by having the best season ever, collecting 104 tackles, 5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 2 INTs with one returned for a TD.
Roy Williams: Ok, I promised the boys over at Blogging the Boys that I'd name more than one Cowboy to the top 50. Here's my second Cowboy addition: Roy Williams. Williams is knocked for his average coverage skills, but what he lacks in coverage skills he makes up for in playmaking ability. He collected 3 sacks, forced 3 fumbles, and snatched 3 INTs last season. One of those INTs effectively ended the season for the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. Williams also a hard hitter and a good tackler. There. My Cowboy quota is fulfilled.
And there you have it folks! The Screw Pete Prisco's Top 50 list is complete. Just to give you an idea how dumb Prisco's list was, he had Larry Fitzgerald (2 years in the league) on it, but no Hines Wards. He listed Shawn Taylor ahead of Bob Sanders and Roy Williams. Mike Peterson was part of his "just missed" list. Yes, Mike Peterson: a man that has never played in a Pro Bowl, nor been listed to an All-Pro team. Prisco simply doesn't know what he's talking about.
Now, I'm sure you're wondering why certain high-profile players are not on the list. The answer is simple: high profile does not mean you are a real difference maker. Some players might make the ESPN highlight reel, but that doesn't mean they are good. Difference makers can change the momentum of a game at any time under any set of circumstances. Guys like Randy Moss do not fit this for the simple reason that he's lazy. Moss can make amazing plays and circus catches that make Stuart Scott at ESPN drool, but for every play like that he gives you he will take 3 more off. He doesn't work out in the off-season, and hasn't significantly improved his game in any one area. For example: his blocking still stinks, and often he will whiff on blocking plays because he doesn't like doing it.
Michael Vick is left off because the next accurate pass he makes from the pocket will be his first. QBs that cannot throw accurately from the pocket are worthless. I leave rookies off because they need to show me something other than just one year. This means no Shawn Merriman, Demarcus Ware, or Cadillac Williams.
I left Ben Roethlisberger off because he is not, in my mind, a difference maker. He is a fine young QB with a very bright future. Soon, I think he can develop into difference maker. But right now he does not have the ability to dominate games like Carson Palmer. He manages games well, and minimizes mistakes. Also, Pittsburgh was a Super Bowl caliber team before Roethlisberger arrived. They won games with scrubs like Kordell Stewart at QB, and one of the main reasons Pittsburgh won it all this year was they did not have to face New England in the playoffs. They even lost to them, again, during the regular season last year.
If you think I should have included a player, or you think certain players had no business being on this list, then let your feelings known. Post in the comments. Hope you enjoyed the list!