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Media bias strikes again: 2 Bengals among ESPN’s top 100 NFL players

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Bengals players were disrespected by this ranking, but what else is new?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals fans unite!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have had enough. Media bias against Cincinnati took another gigantic leap this week when ESPN released its annual NFLRank top 100.

I would call for a boycott of ESPN, which in the Bengals’ case stands for Extra Specially Predisposed to Narrow-mindedness, but I know it won’t do any good. There are just not enough of us out there to make any difference in the grand scheme of things.

But come on. Adriel Jeremiah Green is only the 22nd best football player on the planet? That is not only showing an incredible amount of disrespect to one of the best football players to ever lace up his cleats, it is just plain stupid. That’s especially true when you look at some of the players selected above him.

I know it is not a very popular position to take, but Tom Brady is not the best player in the NFL. He is 40-years-old and works under schemes perfected by (without a doubt) the best coach in the land with an eye toward protecting him. He is surrounded by some of the best overall talent in football. He is smart, and he rarely makes a mistake. But is he really the best football player in the NFL? I don’t think so.

I really can’t argue with Aaron Rodgers at No. 2, and I would probably have him at No. 1. The No. 3 pick is the RamsAaron Donald, who is certainly one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. But if you are going to try to justify Donald at No. 3, there is no way you can justify Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins at No. 41.

Green (22) and Atkins (41) are the only Bengals among the top 100 list. Similarly, Green (17) and Atkins (68) were similarly the only two Bengals to make the NFL Top 100 list, which is constructed by NFL players, via NFL Network.

ESPN explains its pick by saying Donald has “a quick first step and lightning-fast hands,” and that he creates “chaos between the tackles like few ever have,” descriptions that apply equally as well to Atkins.

While it is true Donald has more sacks in the past three years combined than Atkins, let’s not forget that in 2014 Atkins was coming off of a torn ACL in his right knee and was limited to only three sacks.

But in the past two years, no defensive back has been better than Atkins, who was named first-team All-Pro for the second time in 2015 following an 11-sack season and finished 2016 with nine sacks and his fifth Pro Bowl nomination. Donald tallied 19 sacks during that same period of time.

ESPN tabs Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski at No. 11, primarily based on two things: the fact that he plays for New England and the fact that, when healthy, he is among the best tight ends in the land. But Gronk is rarely healthy. The last time he played a full 16-game schedule was in 2011 and he managed only eight games last year. This year, he is coming off of back surgery and is part of a Patriots’ offense that is expected to feature more of a deep passing attack.

Three members of “America’s team” (the Dallas Cowboys) made it into the top 20. Guard Zack Martin is at No. 15 and Tyron Smith, who is not even the best tackle on the Cowboys’ squad let alone one of the best players in the NFL, comes in at No. 19. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is suspended for the first six games of 2017 pending appeal, is tabbed at No. 20. I don’t see any media bias there, do you?

Cleveland’s Joe Thomas was selected at No. 16. Thomas is unquestionably a great player and has played in 9,934 consecutive snaps since he broke into the league as a rookie in 2007. He deserves a high ranking. But should he be ahead of Green?

Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs was selected at No. 17. Berry is a real feel-good story, having overcome cancer to return to his place as one of the best safeties in the league. But Berry may not even be the best player on his own team. Cornerback Marcus Peters and wide receiver Tyreek Hill made the NFL All-Under-25 team and defensive lineman Chris Jones looks poised to take over leadership of a defense that finished at No. 24 last year. And he is probably not the best safety in the game, either, with Seattle’s Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and even Landon Collins of the New York Giants arguably ahead of him.

And then there is Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, who comes in at No. 21. Although Kelce had a breakout season in 2016 with 85 receptions for 1,125 yards, he was not much of a red-zone threat, accounting for only four touchdowns. But the tight end position in Kansas City will always put up big numbers, as long as Alex Smith is leading the offense.

Green is far and away the best player on his team. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Green was well on his way to his sixth-straight 1,000-yard season before a hamstring injury that he suffered on the first play of the Bengals 10th game cut his year short. Green was averaging 107.1 yards per game through those first nine games and still managed 964 yards on 66 receptions and four touchdowns.

All bias aside, Green deserves to be a top-10 selection under any set of criteria, and even under ESPN’s own less-than-scientific approach, has earned no less than the No. 11 spot accorded to Gronk. But, like Kenny Anderson and his battle to earn his well-deserved spot in the NFL Hall of Fame, Green is being punished for playing in small-town Cincinnati.

Green may be undervalued by ESPN, but he is certainly not under-appreciated by the fans of Cincinnati, and by those football aficionados who are not blinded by the bright lights of the big cities.

But Green and Atkins are not the only ones who have been underrated by the ESPN list. Vontaze Burfict is without a doubt one of the best linebackers in the National Football League. While injuries and suspensions have limited his effectiveness, he is the clear leader of a Bengals’ defense that is consistently among the league leaders in scoring defense. Of course, Burfict’s reputation around the NFL as a dirty player kept him off of that list. Otherwise, there is no doubt that he is among the league’s best.