After an offseason that seemed to last ages, football is finally almost here. In just under two months, the 100th NFL season will kick off. There will be storylines to monitor, new players to watch, and highlights everywhere you go. It will be glorious. First, we need to make it through the next 50 days. In pursuit of that goal, we ranked the 50 best players in the NFL right now. The rankings are based on what they did last year, what they’ll likely do this year, and (of course) our own personal feelings on the matter.
Here are the 50 best players in football ahead of the 2019-20 NFL season.
1. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
Donald is perhaps the first defender in NFL history to be universally recognized as the best overall player in football, and deservedly so. He’s been a wrecking ball for years on the interior defensive line, racking up insane stats despite spending most of his time at defensive tackle.
Donald finished last year with a league-leading 20.5 sacks and 41 QB hits, along with 25 tackles for loss. Absolutely outrageous numbers. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year has had a legitimate case for MVP over the last two seasons, and at only 28, still has some of his best years ahead of him. To thrive as he has during the biggest offensive explosion in league history is remarkable, and it’s hard to find anyone who would argue he isn’t the best the league has to offer.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes would not have appeared on this list one year ago. But in his first season as a starter, he set the league on fire; his cannon arm combined with Andy Reid’s offensive genius is a pairing created in a football lab. The Chiefs obliterated nearly every defense they came across, with Mahomes’ ability to extend plays and hit receivers from any angle at any distance being the force behind them.
If not for the existence of Donald (who may yet prove to be an alien), Mahomes would be the top player in the league after throwing for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, astounding numbers for a first-year player. Year One of the Patrick Mahomes experience was a whirlwind, and an encore in 2019 will cement his place atop lists like these for years to come.
3. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Chicago Bears
It was a bit of a shock when the Raiders traded Mack, and rarely has a trade looked so bad so quickly. Perhaps feeling miffed after Oakland offloaded him despite years of excellent service, Mack was on a warpath all season. He finished with 12.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and a ridiculous six fumbles forced despite missing two games due to injury.
Highlights of Mack handling very large offensive linemen like they were children made the rounds on every form of social media. Teams were forced to dedicate at least two, and some times three, players to stop him from living in the backfield. That still didn’t work.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Last year was a down year by Rodgers’ standards, tossing only 25 TDs and hitting on 62 percent of his passes to total just under 4,500 yards as the Packers missed the postseason. But he only threw two picks and apparently played the entire year on a fractured leg. By most down year standards, it’s still pretty damn good.
Rodgers was clearly disillusioned by Mike McCarthy by the time he got fired. With a new coaching staff to rejuvenate him, it’s reasonable to believe Rodgers will once again return to his form as one of the three best QBs in the league at any given moment.
5. Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Miller had a quiet year by his standards, notching 14.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss on a Denver team that struggled to win all season. That doesn’t change the fact that Miller remains one of the scariest sights any offensive lineman can see across the ball. While Mack earns his money through a deadly combination of strength and technique, Miller remains unmatched in his speed off the edge.
He still has the quickest first step out of any defender, and his ability to contort his body and bend just out of reach of the linemen remains one of the most amazing sights in the league. He’ll be a front-runner for NFL sack leader again this year and will do so unlike any other edge defender in the league.
6. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
The immortal Brady will remain in the top 10 of any list until he finally retires, it seems. Brady doesn’t put up big stats anymore, at least by his standards, as he tossed 29 TDs and 11 interceptions for a total of 4,355 yards last year. More importantly, he won games, made the right throws when it mattered most, and once again was crowned Super Bowl champion.
The Patriots’ playoff run showed a clear shift in their offensive mentality; they built up their offensive line, and with Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, will rely on the ground game more than the 41-year-old Brady. But, as we’ve all learned time and time again, count out Brady at your own risk. He’s still one of the best QBs in the game.
7. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Speaking of successful old QBs, Brees had another excellent, record-breaking year in Sean Payton’s efficient offense. He tossed only five picks while throwing 32 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards as the engine behind one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
While Brees and New Orleans suffered a second consecutive heart-shattering playoff loss, Brees will continue to break his own records and put up gigantic numbers. Few players are more impactful on their team than the longtime Saint, and he’s already established himself on the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks.
8. Antonio Brown, WR, Oakland Raiders
Say what you want about AB’s off-field antics, he remains the most dangerous receiver in the league. His route-running is pristine, he adjusts to balls in the air like no other, and if you give him a few more seconds, he’ll always get open. He caught 104 balls for 1,297 yards and a league-leading 15 TDs despite apparently being quite unhappy in Pittsburgh.
It remains to be seen how Brown fares when he isn’t catching balls from Ben Roethlisberger, the perfect quarterback to match Brown’s style. It’s a good bet, though, that he’ll continue to prove he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the greatest wideouts of this century.
9. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
If it wasn’t for his myriad of injuries, Jones would likely be in the running for one of the greatest receivers ever, much less in today’s game. As is, the 6’3” Jones is as unguardable as any pass-catcher in the league; he’s somehow both bigger and faster than anyone who tries to cover him.
Jones led the league with 104 yards per game and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. Defenses just have no answer for him. Even when he’s only at 70 percent, like he was much of last year, he’s a nearly unstoppable force. AB’s consistency gives him a very, very slight edge, but Jones is the very embodiment of dominance when he’s fully healthy.
10. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans, WR
Hopkins has been making some noise and rallying support for his claim of best receiver in the league; he doesn’t quite have the resume of AB or the awe-inspiring athletic traits of Jones, so it’s hard to put him above those two. One thing Hopkins can claim is the best hands in football. He can grab anything and everything within his catch radius. “When he’s covered, he’s open” can be an overused trope in football, but no player embodies it more than Hopkins.
He’s succeeded with some truly terrible quarterbacks, and Deshaun Watson has been a blessing. Last year, Hopkins caught 115 balls for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns as the No. 1 option in Houston. He has a ways to go to be a legitimate contender for the top receiver in the NFL, but he’s firmly established himself in the upper echelon in only six seasons.