Top NFL Players Heading into 2016 (Part I)

The NFL off-season is officially half way over and for all the fans that means that you have almost made it through. Since the season is virtually almost upon us with OTAs underway throughout the league it is time for everyone to start their predictions and evaluations of each team and each player. This countdown is a compilation of the top 20 NFL players going into the 2016 season. Each player is ranked by their stats, value to their team, and ability to make stand out plays. Let’s kick this off with number 20…

Top NFL Players Heading into 2016 (Part I)

20. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans– DeAndre ‘Nuke’ Hopkins was a lightning rod on a rather lackluster Texans offense that was shown the door by the Chiefs in the wild card game of last year’s playoffs. Hopkins led his team with an astounding 111 receptions which landed him at fourth in the league. Hopkins’ catches led him to 1,521 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on just one fumble. Hopkins returns to Houston this year with a new arm in Brock Osweiler to get him the ball and some new offensive weapons to take the pressure off of him. With all of the new acquisitions made by the Texans this offseason, there is no reason to not believe that Hopkins could have a record year in 2016.

19. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers– The Steelers had one of the most potent offenses in the league last year and did so without Le’Veon Bell in the backfield for most of the season. Bell only had 113 rush attempts, 556 yards, and three touchdowns in the six games he played in last year. Those stats are in no way a fair representation of what Bell is capable of. With Antonio Brown out wide for the Steelers, the run game is not the most important factor to their offense. But that fact will allow Bell to have a big year. With Martavis Bryant being suspended and Brown’s success last season, all eyes will be on the latter receiver which will open the door for a well-rested Bell to take over the offense this year when he is needed.

18. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints– At the age of 37, Drew Brees is headed into his 16th season in the league. This would make many think that he should be on the downward slope of his career when in fact that is not the case. Brees threw for 4,870 yards, 32 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions, and a 68.3 percent completion percentage. Those numbers were considered a down year for the future Hall of Famer. Brees returns this season to an offense that can score and score quickly. Expect Brees to go out and increase those numbers from last year and maybe even finish his career off in style with the Saints.

17. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals– An ACL injury sidelined the “Honey Badger’s” stellar Pro Bowl season last year. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson combined with the Cardinals front seven to make opposing offensive coordinators stay up late to game plan against them. Mathieu finished last season with 80 tackles and five interceptions with one being a defensive touchdown. Mathieu had a suspect start to his career after his dismissal from LSU but quickly turned it around once he joined forces with Peterson in Arizona. With Mathieu coming off of that ACL injury that sat him down earlier than desired last season, expect to see him come out and show us why he was given the nickname “Honey Badger” in the first place.

16. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals– One other Cardinal that knows a thing or two about ACL injuries is the 14-year veteran Carson Palmer. Palmer finished third in the MVP voting last season after a stellar year that reminded us all of his USC days. Palmer out-threw MVP Cam Newton but lacked the flare that the eventual MVP winner carried throughout the year which may have been why he wasn’t handed the trophy. Palmer threw for 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns, and only 11 interceptions. With his young “Bird Gang” defense on the other side of the ball, expect to see Palmer set the pace for NFC quarterbacks this season.

15. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons– The success of Julio Jones may have been the only thing the Falcons could have been excited about last season. Jones led the league with 1,871 receiving yards on 136 receptions which also a league best. Jones is not as exciting or exotic as Odell Beckham or Cam Newton but instead just shows up and does his job. This may be why many people don’t really give him the credit he deserves. Jones has 34 career touchdowns through six injury filled seasons. He returns to a Falcons team with a chip on its shoulder so expect to see him have another big year for the birds.

14. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings– Definitively one of the best backs in the league, Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,485 yards at the age of 30. To see a running back still putting up those kind of numbers at that age is unheard of in this day and age of running back surplus. Peterson leads this team alongside young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Peterson takes the brunt of the big plays which takes the pressure off the the soon-to-be third year signal caller. With the offensive weapons signed on to play in Minnesota next season, Peterson could have a pivotal year for the Vikings.

13. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks– The Legion of Boom has dominated the NFC over the past three years and it is led by the ever so intimidating Richard Sherman. Sherman is more famous for his rant after beating the 49ers than his actual statistical career. Sherman compiled 50 tackles and only two interceptions last year when the offenses were avoiding his side of the field. The sheer fact that offenses are willing to avoid an entire side of the field because they fear Sherman tells exactly why he made it into the top 20. Expect to see Sherman and the Seahawks terrorizing the NFC once again.

12. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams– At the age of 24, Aaron Donald was ranked number one in many lists last season (only his second in the NFL). Donald racked up 11.0 sacks and 69 tackles. His consistency is what has made him such a focal point in the league over his short three-year career. Expect to see Donald and his dangerous Rams defense bring a flare for the dramatics to Los Angeles this season and maybe even take the Rams to postseason this year.

11. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers– The Carolina Panthers dominated every single headline last year that didn’t involve deflated footballs and for good reason. The Panthers tore through the NFC with ease for a majority of the season before being shut down by the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Luke Kuechly led the charge defensively for the NFC Champions with 118 tackles and four interceptions. Kuechly was the definition of field general on the defensive side of the ball last season for the Panthers. Every time you saw the Panthers’ defense on the field, Kuechly was involved in every single play made. Expect Kuechly to stay just as hot as he has been for the past three years and lead his Panthers back to the Super Bowl.

That concludes the first half of our top 20 players going into the 2016 NFL season list. Come back for the second half of our list to see who steals the honor of best in the league.