It's that time of year again, when NFL players cast their votes to identify the best in the league heading into the 2021 NFL season. Check out the results of this year's voting to see where your favorite players rank.
The healthy version of Thielen remains a very good wideout. In the red zone, he’s great. The eighth-year veteran hauled in a career-high 14 touchdowns last year. That gives him 20 over his last 104 catches. While he’s no longer the volume target that he once was, his plus hands and route-running allow him to move the chains at a high rate (52 of his 74 receptions in 2020 went for first downs) despite being a possession receiver (12.5 yards per catch). It’s reliability that benefits not only Kirk Cousins but budding star Justin Jefferson.
The three-time Pro Bowler makes his first appearance on the list and it’s much deserved. After acquitting himself so well amid thousands of dropbacks, Armstead flexed his versatility in 2020 as the Saints transitioned to a run-heavy scheme at times. The left tackle’s flexibility will serve New Orleans well as its offense figures to become more balanced in the post-Drew Brees era. Armstead should have debuted on this list years ago.
While the Titans defense experienced marked decline last year, Simmons improved. The 2019 first-rounder had made an instant impact in an abbreviated, nine-game rookie season, and he was Tennessee’s best pass rusher in 2020 despite working predominantly inside and the only consistent presence on its defensive line. His 44 pressures reminded many why he was considered a top-10 talent coming out of college. Now more than two years removed from the torn ACL suffered in his draft preparation, the best is likely yet to come.
Midway through the 2019 season, Diggs was traded along with a seventh-round pick from the Lions for a fifth-rounder. It’s safe to say Seattle won that deal. Diggs has been a constant playmaker since joining Pete Carroll’s defense. In 2020, that amounted to five interceptions, 10 pass deflections and his first Pro Bowl selection. The Seahawks shuffled the deck a bit this offseason with what has been a problematic secondary, making Diggs more important than ever.
DK Metcalf is the showstopper in the Seahawks’ receiving corps. But is he their best wideout? The 5-foot-10 Lockett couldn’t be built more different, yet his resume merits a debate. In 2018, Russell Wilson accumulated a perfect passer rating when targeting the undersized star. Over the past two seasons, Lockett has served as Wilson’s security blanket by continually finding holes in opposing defenses. He collected a career-high 100 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2020 -- only seven other receivers hit both of those benchmarks.
The trade that sent Tunsil from the Dolphins to the Texans for a pair of first-rounders was questionable the moment it was made. A former first-rounder himself, Tunsil has delivered on his end of the deal. It’s not his fault Houston is no longer a contender. The premier left tackle allowed just two sacks last year while earning his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection. He’s proven to be one of the most dependable blindside protectors at a time when it can be hard to find a decent one.
Here is one Dave Gettleman signing that has aged well. Bradberry was solid at times in four years with the Panthers, but his best season thus far was his first with the Giants. Fittingly, his debut on this list follows a Pro Bowl nod. The former second-round pick boasts prototypical size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) and remains consistently active (three interceptions, career-high 18 pass deflections in 2020). He’s not yet among the game’s top corners, but his quietly stellar play warrants inclusion with the second tier.
The prize acquisition for the Bengals is coming off a magical year with the Saints. Hendrickson cashed in with a four-year, $60 million deal after registering 13.5 sacks, more than double his career total heading into 2020. Maybe he just needed to play more. His 53% snap count in 2020 was a personal best. He was also hampered by injuries for much of his first three seasons. The challenge ahead in Cincinnati is not only to remain healthy but prove he’s more than a situational pass rusher.
Last year was a lost one for Thomas, and this one is already off on the wrong, injured foot. Once he returns, it’s hard to project what he’ll do without future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees in tow. Thomas had been the focal point of the Saints’ passing game over his first four seasons while amassing an NFL record 470 receptions. That’s why he ranked No. 5 on this list in 2020. But he looked nothing like his All-Pro self during an injury-riddled campaign. While the extended layoff and apparent friction with the organization has created uncertainty, he’s proven to be one of the league’s best wideouts when healthy.
The last we saw of Mayfield, he was nearly leading the Browns to a huge playoff upset of the Chiefs after playing the best ball of his pro career during the second half of 2020. He’s closed out all three of his seasons on a high note. He’s also gotten off to slow starts each year. Perhaps all the turnover at head coach and offensive coordinator were the primary cause. Will stability on the sideline manifest into consistency on the playing field? Cleveland needs more from its QB in order to fulfill Super Bowl aspirations. Mayfield’s past suggests he’s up for the challenge.