10 rising #NFLRank stars
Absent from top 100 this year, Liuget and others soon will be mainstays
Ranking the top 100 NFL players on each side of the ball was tough enough.
Settling on 10 up-and-comers from a longer list of non-qualifiers seemed impossible without slighting players worthy of inclusion.
I began by consulting ballot results to see which players had come closest to qualifying for the Top 100 lists. We had balloting information for 250 players on each side of the ball, speeding the process. With an eye toward longevity, I favored ascending players younger than 27, about the average age of teams once they reduce rosters to 53. I did not consider rookies, because they had not played in the NFL. Analysis from Pro Football Focus and ESPN Stats & Information helped paint a fuller picture, and, in some cases, I consulted NFL Game Rewind to watch plays from last season.
Once finished, I ran my list by an NFL scout just to see whether anything stood out to him as being way off the mark. Despite his endorsement, it was still a tough challenge.
So, with apologies to Kelechi Osemele, Jermaine Gresham, Tyron Smith and some of the others worth consideration, we take a closer look at five each of the offensive and defensive players set to join the future Top 100 and stay awhile.
Baltimore at San Diego, Week 12, fourth-and-short, late third quarter. The Ravens hand off to Bernard Pierce on a zone run to the weak side, away from Liuget. Liuget beats left tackle Michael Oher across the formation and runs the full width of the hashmarks -- 18 feet, 6 inches -- before tracking down Pierce for a 2-yard loss. Impressive. Teammate Kendall Reyes deserves mention, as well. He and Liuget give San Diego a pair of ascending 23-year-old defensive ends. It's tougher for 3-4 ends to pile up stats or disrupt plays obviously enough to stand out. Liuget was easy to spot last season as he collected seven sacks and six tackles for loss. The Chargers have a new coach in Mike McCoy, but they retained defensive coordinator John Pagano, so there is continuity for Liuget.
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ESPN.com's #NFLrank project lines up the 100 top players on each side of the ball.