It is that time of the NFL year where ranking lists dominate the news cycles, and you can’t blame anyone for doing it. There isn’t a ton of news coming out after the draft and free agency settle down. So these lists are a nice way to stir up discussion. Pro Football Focus is no exception as they are putting out their Top 50 NFL Players list, and a couple of Bengals have already seen their names shown up. However, the order is a little strange.
The list starts off with A.J. Green at 50, which should be shocking enough to Bengals fans. Green had a down season, but that was mostly due to the Bengals offense having a terrible year. The offensive line was a mess, and Andy Dalton spent a lot of the season working with little to no time. On top of that, the team was without Tyler Eifert after Week 2 and John Ross failed to carve out a roll after being drafted ninth overall; it didn’t help that he was almost always hurt. Defenses just worked to take away Green as often as possible, and he still ended up with 75 catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards.
PFF analysts Steve Palazzolo and Sam Monson point to Green’s drop in yards per route run dropping from 2.86 yards in 2016 to only 2.09 last year as a major reason for his place on the list. They also say he is just below top receivers like Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. They do reveal he is the fifth overall receiver on the list, though. As long as Green is ranked in the top five I have a hard time arguing with it. The top receivers are so hard to seperate from each other that something little is just enough.
What may be even more surprising about the PFF list is that William Jackson comes in ranked 42nd. He is coming off of his first season of being able to play after missing his rookie season due to injury. Jackson didn’t start at the onset of the season. In fact it took Adam Jones getting injured for Jackson to officially become a starting corner, although Jones and Jackson were splitting perimeter duties before that.
Why is Jackson ranked to high? His metrics are off the charts. Jackson only allowed a 36.1 passer rating when being targeted last season, which was the second best of any corner last year. Jackson only played 697 defensive snaps last season, but we should see a lot more from him next season as a day one starter.
The question becomes is Jackson really a better NFL player than Green already? You should have a hard time saying yes. Green has been so consistently good that I feel like sometimes he gets forgotten about among the other top receivers. You could also make an argument that those other receivers have been in better situations the past two seasons whether it has been coordinators, supporting cast and/or quarterback throwing them the ball.
Jackson can shine without relying on his teammates. It doesn’t matter how talented his linebackers are when he is stripping a pass away from Antonio Brown in the end zone. Speaking of Brown and Jackson matching up, it is hard not to mention just how well the Bengals’ young cornerback did against arguably the best receiver in the NFL two times last season. Seven targets, four pass breakups and zero receptions allowed is the stat line heard around Cincinnati. Doing stuff like that gets you mentioned with players on the same talent level as Green.
If Jackson keeps doing stuff like that in 2018 then it won’t be surprising for him to continue to climb up these types of ranking lists. But for now, we’re going to say Green is a better NFL player than Jackson. Though, it’s a debate we’re happy to have.
What do you think?