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Top 100 Players of 2023, Nos. 30-21: Sauce Gardner debuts as top rookie; Austin Ekeler among three RBs

"The Top 100 Players of 2023" -- voted on by the players themselves -- is underway on NFL+! The series concludes with a two-hour live show -- "The Top 100 Players of 2023: The Top 10" -- on Monday, Aug. 7, on NFL+.

Derwin James
Los Angeles Chargers · FS

James' impact is felt in every facet of the Chargers' defense. And his 2022 stats reflect that do-it-all attitude, as he had 115 tackles (five for loss), four sacks, five QB hits, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. With his ability to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, it’s no wonder the Chargers made him the highest-paid safety in NFL history with a four-year, $76.4 million extension ahead of last season.

Nick Chubb
Cleveland Browns · RB

Chubb has become a familiar face on this list in his years with the Browns, and he makes his fourth-straight appearance after a career-high 1,525 rushing yards in 2022. Chubb has had at least 1,000 rushing yards in all but his rookie season (996 yards), consistently ranking him at the top of the RB standings year after year, and this past season was no different.

Dexter Lawrence
New York Giants · DT

Lawrence's breakout season was a key part of the resurgence that saw the Giants earn their first winning record since 2016 and their first playoff win since the days of Eli Manning. Lawrence led the Giants in sacks (7.5) and had 70 pressures on 741 pass-rushing snaps, per PFF, earning him the second-highest grade among interior defenders (91.6). The Giants rewarded Lawrence with a four-year, $90 million deal to keep him around long term.

T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers · OLB

Watt set a high standard for himself with his 22.5-sack season in 2021, but even if injuries prevented him from quite reaching that height again in 2022, the Steelers edge rusher's performance still deserves attention. Despite fighting through a torn pectoral, arthroscopic knee surgery and a rib issue, Watt nevertheless was able to play in 10 games and record 5.5 sacks, still showing his prowess in his limited availability and earning a fifth-straight Pro Bowl nod.

Jaire Alexander
Green Bay Packers · CB

Alexander missed all but four games in 2021 due to injury but bounced back strong in 2022, recording career bests in interceptions (5), tackles for loss (4) and passer rating allowed (66.4), while also adding on 14 passes defensed for a ballhawk rate of 17.7 percent, per Next Gen Stats. Alexander capped off his comeback season with his second Pro Bowl selection.

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · RB

Tennessee continued to rely on its workhorse to carry the offense, and carry it Henry did, logging the most rushing attempts in the league (349). In a rebound season after missing half of 2021 with injuries, Henry collected 1,538 rushing yards, his fourth time hitting the 1K benchmark, along with 13 TDs, as he continued to plow through defenses at an incredible rate.

Roquan Smith
Baltimore Ravens · ILB

Smith changed teams from the Bears to the Ravens almost halfway through the 2022 season, and yet he proved equally dominant with either jersey on. With three interceptions, 4.5 sacks, six passes defensed and 169 tackles (third in the league), Smith made impacts in all areas of the game. For his efforts was named first team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler -- both for the first time in his career.

Sauce Gardner
New York Jets · CB

Sauce brought his skills as a shutdown cornerback to the next level in his rookie year and earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors for his impressive play. After never giving up a touchdown while at Cincinnati, Gardner was almost perfect in his first NFL season, giving up only one score while leading the league in passes defensed (20), making it all but assured by season’s end that he’d be named DROY.

A.J. Brown
Philadelphia Eagles · WR

After three strong years in Tennessee, Brown was traded to Philadelphia during last year’s draft and quickly adjusted to his new stomping grounds. His 1,496 receiving yards set a single-season franchise record, and he and DeVonta Smith became a top pass-catching pair. As Brown signed a four-year extension with Philly after the trade, Eagles fans will be happy to have this guy on the team for the years to come.

Austin Ekeler
Los Angeles Chargers · RB

Ekeler continued to prove himself as one of the top do-it-all backs, breaking records along the way. He finished second in rushing TDs with 13, and his 107 receptions were also top-five among all positions, emphasizing his two-way abilities. He became just the fifth player in the Super Bowl era to have at least 800 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs, 700 receiving yards and five receiving TDs in a single season, according to NFL Research.

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