By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Does the NFL Top 100 list really matter? Well, no. But it also doesn’t not matter, you know?
If you know, you know.
Nevertheless, even if it is largely a popularity contest more than anything else, making the list still likely feels pretty good for a football player. In a league with 1,700 or so players at a dozen or so different positions, landing on that top 100 list is most definitely an honor; it’s just not worth getting up in arms when certain things on the list don’t make much sense.
In any event, there was just one member of the 2019 Patriots who ended up on the list. And though that number was low, the ranking was quite high, as cornerback Stephon Gilmore came in at No. 9.
The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore has risen to the status of being arguably the best cornerback in the game.
The accompanying commentary from teammates and opponents — even from those within the AFC East — was glowing.
“When you have a shutdown corner, you always hear from him that he’s a shutdown corner. But Steph doesn’t say a whole lot. … He takes a lot of pride in not giving up anything, whether it’s a walkthrough, whether it’s practice, and obviously in the game. … It’s been fun to see him become the best corner in football.”
–Matthew Slater, Patriots special teams captain
“His tape speaks for itself. His numbers speak for itself. And he’s a guy that I watch. When they played Cincinnati, he made a pick-six playing Cover 0 and playing outside leverage. You know how hard that is? I think he’s probably the only guy doing that. I texted him after the game, I was like, ‘Bro, you motivated me today.'”
–Tre’Davious White, Bills CB
“His technique … his technique is flawless. Staying in front of a receiver, being aggressive when you need to be aggressive. He’s a ball hawk.”
–Xavier Rhodes, Colts CB
“He’s one of those DBs that you sit back and you’re like, ‘How do I get open? How do I beat him?’ Because he’s just so athletic and [has] an incredible football IQ.”
–Braxton Berrios, Jets WR
“He’s just, he’s fluid. You could try to do little things and he just stays on top of you. He’s like a big blanket.”
–Robby Anderson, Jets WR
“He erased a lot of guys out there, man. He was out there competing at a high level. He made so many plays, man.”
–Darius Slay, Eagles CB
“That comes from experience. A lot of cornerbacks are not able to do that. He watches film and knows once one goes inside, two gotta be coming out, and he baited the quarterback. He stayed on him for a while, and then he backed off him. That’s why he took a big leap this year.”
–Allen Hurns, Dolphins WR
Gilmore intercepted a career-high six passes in 2019 while also tying a career-high with 20 passes defensed — matching his same number from the 2018 season. He scored the first two touchdowns of his career in 2019, scoring one in Miami and one in Cincinnati. All of that came after a tremendous 2018 season, which ended with Gilmore making a game-changing interception in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII. (Gilmore came in at No. 22 on the “Top 100” list a year ago.)
Slater and Ben Watson pointed specifically to Gilmore’s diving interception while covering Amari Cooper as a real highlight in a season full of them.
“I mean, it’s hard to intercept a shallow crosser,” Slater said. “That would’ve been a tough catch for a receiver, let alone a DB. So I think that was a play that kind of summed up the year he’s had.”
It was that type of work that led to Cooper finishing that game with zero catches.
As for summing up his own body of work, Gilmore kept it simple.
“Challenge guys each and every play,” Gilmore explained. “And make it hard on them. Shut guys down this year. That’s what I did.”
While Gilmore does not have the braggadocious personality of, say, a Darrelle Revis or a Richard Sherman, he is never lacking for confidence. When asked if he had to pick the No. 1 player in the entire NFL, Gilmore didn’t hesitate: “Umm. I would pick myself.”
Nine cornerbacks made the Top 100 list, with Gilmore the highest-ranked.
CORNERBACKS ON TOP 100 LIST
92. Darius Slay, Lions
86. Marlon Humphrey, Ravens
76. Marshon Lattimore, Saints
60. Logan Ryan, Titans
53. Marcus Peters, Rams/Ravens
47. Tre’Davious White, Bills
37. Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars/Rams
28. Richard Sherman, 49ers
9. Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
Gilmore’s spot in the top 10 was clearly well-earned. Here’s what that top 10 looked like, with a minor controversy sitting at the No. 4 spot.
10. Derrick Henry, Titans RB
9. Stephon Gilmore, Patriots CB
8. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans WR
7. George Kittle, 49ers TE
6. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers RB
5. Michael Thomas, Saints WR
4. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs QB
3. Aaron Donald, Rams DT
2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB
1. Lamar Jackson, Ravens QB
Mahomes’ ranking was controversial, sure, but he did miss a couple of games due to injury, while Lamar Jackson had his MVP season in Baltimore. At that point anyway, it’s splitting hairs.
One thing that did stand out on the list from a New England perspective was that Gilmore was one of only two Patriots players from the 2019 season to make the list. The other was Tom Brady at No. 14, who made the list more on reputation than performance from last season.
Candidates who likely should have received some recognition would be safety Devin McCourty, linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy, and running back James White. While the biggest snub of all was without a doubt Julian Edelman.
The receiver carried the Patriots’ offense, catching 100 passes for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns. Despite defenses knowing that Tom Brady only wanted to go to No. 11 with the ball, Edelman still produced, setting a career high in receiving yards. He also showed off his arm some more, throwing a touchdown in a 17-10 win at Philadelphia and finishing the season with some solid passing stats: 2-for-2, 47 yards, TD.
Despite an impressive age 33 season, Edelman landed just outside the Top 100 list, at No. 101.
“He’s one of the complete guys, man,” Tre’Davious White said of Edelman. “Going against a guy like that, you gotta be able to cover the whole field as a defensive back — from the A gap to the deep third.”
Of course, the voting on this list every year is anything but scientific. Some players say they’ve never been asked to participate in the vote, while others say they just vote for their teammates and friends. Still, it always serves as a solid offseason reminder of what took place the year before, and what might lie ahead in the upcoming season.