Pro Football Focus top 101 Players of 2016 Season


1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (2015 season rank: 14)

Super Bowl LI cemented Tom Brady’s legacy and gave him a fifth Super Bowl championship, but his 2016 regular season was something special, too.

Brady ended the regular season with the best grade PFF has ever given a quarterback (99.3), and though his first playoff game — against the Texans — wasn’t stellar, he was once more back to his best in the AFC Championship, and then the Super Bowl, orchestrating the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to take the win.

Brady was both the most careful QB in the league in terms of protecting the football, and the one that made the most big plays on a per-snap basis. He really set the standard for QB play in today’s NFL, despite missing the opening four games of the season due to the Deflategate suspension. This was Tom Brady’s finest season, and to do it at the age of 39 is even more staggering.

Best performance: Week 16 vs. Jets, 92.9 grade

Key stat: Brady led the league in both turnover-worthy play percentage (0.9) and big-time throw percentage (3.8).

2. Aaron Donald, DI, Los Angeles Rams (1)
Aaron Donald’s 2016 season flew under the radar a lot this year thanks to how bad the Rams were in their first season back in Los Angeles, but also because he didn’t quite generate the obvious stats to back up his consistent dominance. “Only” eight sacks is good enough for most interior pass-rushers, but a player like Donald would need to be pushing 20 to fairly reflect the consistent impact he has on games.
Donald notched 82 total QB pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), which was the third-highest figure in the entire league, despite playing almost all of his snaps inside as a legitimate defensive tackle, and not on the perimeter where pressure comes easier.
Donald generates pressure at a greater rate than any other interior defender in the league, and when he does so, it tends to be decisive pressure that makes a legitimate impact on the game. Don’t be fooled by his sack total and think that he was merely okay this past year.
Best performance: Week 1 vs. 49ers, 92.5 grade

Key stat: Aaron Donald generated pressure once every 6.1 pass rushes, the best figure of any interior defender.


3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (unranked)

It speaks to just how good Aaron Rodgers is at his best that he can climb this high on the list, given the start to the season he recorded. After Week 6, Rodgers was PFF’s 29th-ranked quarterback, but by the end of the season, he was doing things that only Aaron Rodgers can do, clawing the Packers into contention virtually by himself and putting them just one game away from the Super Bowl.
Rodgers was virtually impossible for teams to defend late in the season once he found his groove, and even when pressured, his passer rating over the entire year was over 90.0. Had he not experienced relative struggles to start the season, we could have been looking at the No. 1 overall player on this list.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Vikings, 93.1 grade
Key stat: Rodgers recorded a passer rating of 93.8 when pressured during the regular season, the best mark in the NFL by more than five points.
4. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders (6)
Generating pressure is often not enough for some when it comes to judging pass-rushers — they need to see game-changing, impact plays. That’s the step forward Khalil Mack took in 2016. He won the game against Carolina for Oakland with an interception of QB Cam Newton on a simple quick screen, and then later by forcing a fumble on a strip sack to seal the result.
No player generated more pressure on quarterbacks than Mack did this season, but he also made the signature plays that Von Miller has made a habit of in the past; those moments had been relatively lacking from Mack’s tape in previous seasons. Khalil Mack was the game’s most complete edge defender this season, and a true impact player for the Oakland defense.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Broncos, 97.2 grade
Key stat: Mack led the entire league with 96 total QB pressures.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (unranked)
Matt Ryan ended the year as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, and came out of the Super Bowl on the losing side, despite a passer rating of 144.1, setting more than one passing record over the Super Bowls PFF has graded.  Ryan wasn’t perfect this season, and as was a theme of his year, many of the mistakes he made were hidden by the stat sheet, even in the Super Bowl (taking a sack in a critical situation to move them out of field-goal range, for example). All that said, this was still the best Matt Ryan we have ever seen.
The Falcons QB led the league’s most dominant offense this season and was a markedly better player in 2016 under pressure than he has even been in the past. In the end, Ryan was a play or two away from a fairy-tale ending to his season, but it was not to be.
Best performance: Week 9 vs. Buccaneers, 89.8 grade
Key stat: Had a passer rating of 128.9 when kept clean this season, more than five points better than any other player.

6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (9)

bout the only thing keeping Jones this low on the list was missing time over the season with injuries, but even in the Super Bowl, we got to witness the greatness of a player that has been at the top of his game, and who is currently the league’s best receiver. Jones has the perfect combination of size, strength, athleticism and blazing speed that defenses simply can’t match up with. New England’s Julian Edelman may have recorded the catch that will define Super Bowl LI, but Jones had the best catch of the game with an incredible toe-tapping sideline grab.

Jones forced defenses to change how they covered him and the Falcons’ offense this season, and was as big a reason as anybody for the Atlanta offense being as good as it was.

Best performance: Week 4 vs. Panthers, 99.1 grade

Key stat: Jones gained 3.23 yards per route run in 2016 (including the postseason), 0.37 yards more than any other receiver.
7. Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens (16)
Making a position switch along the offensive line isn’t the easiest thing in the world at the best of times, but doing so midseason without skipping a beat is remarkable, and that’s exactly what Marshal Yanda did this season. Yanda played six games at right guard before injuries forced a reshuffle on the Baltimore line, and he ended the year with seven games at left guard. Looking at his game-by-game PFF grade. you couldn’t tell there was any kind of change in his role because his performance never skipped a beat. He did miss three games to injury, but in 13 games this season, he didn’t allow his QB to hit the ground.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Steelers, 85.8 grade

Key stat: In 13 games, Yanda allowed a total of six QB hurries and no other QB pressure.


8. Landon Collins, S, New York Giants (unranked)

There is no greater advertisement for the difference finding the right role can make than Landon Collins’ 2016 season. A year ago, he was a rookie disappointment that had floundered as the deep-lying free safety in the Giants’ defensive scheme. In 2016, though, he was moved closer to the action as their strong safety and became reborn as a true impact playmaker. Collins was everywhere for the Giants this year, impacting the run, covering receivers close to the line and even causing havoc as a pass-rusher on the blitz. He had a very real Defensive Player of the Year case and won PFF’s Breakout Player award.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Eagles, 87.2 grade

Key stat: Collins recorded 46 defensive stops over the regular season, eight more than any other safety.


9. Brandon Graham, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles (unranked)

Brandon Graham generates as much pressure as any other pass-rusher in football, but will never get the credit for it he deserves because he just doesn’t finish well enough and convert enough of those pressures into sacks. Graham hurried the opposing QB this season 83 times, more than every player not named Khalil Mack. However, he only got home six times to finish the play then and there. Pressure in and of itself, though, is impactful — and hugely beneficial to a defense. In Week 8 against Dallas, Graham didn’t notch a sack, but he pressured rookie quarterback Dak Prescott 11 times, and was a huge reason for Prescott’s worst game of the year at that point.
Graham can still improve on his finishing, but even if he doesn’t, we need to appreciate the impact he already has and not focus on the area of improvement when evaluating his play — because that way is losing sight of the forest for the trees.
Best performance: Week 16 vs. Giants, 93.5 grade
Key stat: Graham ended the season with 17 knockdowns, third-most in the league, to go along with 83 total pressures (second-most).
10. Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore Ravens (unranked)
At his best, Eric Weddle is the best safety in the game, and though his final season in San Diego was not up to those standards, his first in Baltimore was right back there. Weddle finished the year as PFF’s No. 1-ranked safety, though he didn’t get a chance to enhance his case the way Landon Collins did in a playoff game. Weddle was excellent in both run and pass defense, where he ably marshaled a Ravens’ secondary that had been crying out for leadership for awhile. The former Charger notched four interceptions this season and three further pass breakups, while missing only three tackles all season.
Best performance: Week 3 vs. Jaguars, 88.7 grade
Key stat: Weddle missed three tackles all season, or one in every 31.7 attempts on the year.</div>

11. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks (unranked)

Seattle’s Bobby Wagner was one of the league’s best run defenders, and a true force for the Seahawks in that area. His ability to read plays quickly, work his way between blocks and still arrive at the ball carrier ready to not just passively make a stop, but to deliver a hit, was unrivaled. He ended the year with 60 defensive stops and allowed just one touchdown all season in coverage. Unlike many off-the-ball linebackers, he was also a significant force as a pass-rusher on the blitz, where he tallied five sacks, 14 hits and seven hurries over the season.

Best performance: Week 4 vs. Jets, 86.8 grade

Key stat: Wagner recorded 26 total QB pressures as a pass-rusher, the most of any off-the-ball linebacker.


12. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (unranked)

There are players who put up bigger numbers than Mike Evans, but none can match the highlight reel he recorded over the 2016 season, and that’s why his grade was always consistently so high. Evans wasn’t just making plays all year as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 target, but he was consistently making ridiculous plays that most receivers simply aren’t capable of. Every receiver can put together an impressive-looking highlight reel over a season — the longevity of that type of performance is always the question. Evans finished the season with an overall grade of 93.3, and was only eclipsed by Atlanta’s Julio Jones after an incredible postseason of play from the Falcon that Evans never had the opportunity to match.

Best performance: Week 12 vs. Seahawks, 91.5 grade

Key stat: Was the most targeted receiver in the game, ending the regular season with 168 passes thrown his way.


13. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys (35)

The battle for the best center designation was fierce this year, with three players all making a good case. In the end, what Travis Frederick is asked to do within that Dallas offense is unparalleled. Frederick was the best player on that line this season. and may be the most important. He is routinely asked to execute blocks many centers aren’t within that zone-blocking scheme, and is asked to do so regardless of how good the player is he is supposed to block. His biggest positive this year, in fact, was his play against the best opposition he faced. If you extrapolated his grade against New York’s Damon Harrison (twice), Cleveland’s Danny Shelton and Minnesota’s Linval Joseph — arguably the game’s best three run-defending defensive tackles — out over a full 16-game season, he would still have one of the five highest grades of any center in the game.

Best performance: Week 15 vs. Buccaneers, 86.3 grade

Key stat: Frederick did not allow a single sack all season across 1,058 snaps of play.

14. Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos (7)

Any concerns that Von Miller’s play would cool down in 2016 after getting a monster contract from the Broncos following his Super Bowl year were wide of the mark. Miller was once again a beast this year and recorded multiple game-changing performances. He ended the season with 24 combined sacks and hits, with 55 additional hurries also to his name. It’s his run defense, though, that may be the most under-appreciated aspect of his game. Miller led all edge defenders this year with 53 defensive stops, nine more than any other player. He may not be the biggest player in any defensive front, but Miller will impact the run game in exactly the same way as he does the passing game: with quickness and agility.

Best performance: Week 12 vs. Chiefs, 93.0 grade

Key stat: Miller recorded 79 total QB pressures over the season, as well as 53 defensive stops (the most defensive stops among all edge defenders).

15. Cameron Jordan, EDGE, New Orleans Saints (33)
Cameron Jordan began the season slowly, with three relatively average games in the month of September before catching fire and burning brightly until the year was over. Jordan was only held without pressure once on the year, and in that game (against Kansas City), he earned strong grades against the run. For the season, Jordan posted 79 total QB pressures, the same number as Von Miller, and was a consistent force against the run game, where at close to 290 pounds, he brings more to the table (literally) than many edge rushers.
Best performance: Week 10 vs. Broncos, 92.3 grade
Key stat: Jordan recorded 79 total QB pressures on the season, the same number as Denver&rsquo;s Von Miller.</div>

16. Alex Mack, C, Atlanta Falcons (unranked)

The key story going into Super Bowl LI was Alex Mack preparing to play through the game with a fractured leg, and while it’s difficult to fairly evaluate how big of an issue that was, at the very minimum he gets some bonus points for the story. Mack didn’t have a bad game against New England by any means, which, given the injury, was an incredible feat. That performance aside, the impact Mack brought the Atlanta running game in particular all season long speaks for itself. Mack allowed 20 total QB pressures over 19 games this season, including the Super Bowl, and was a key facet in the outside-zone runs the Falcons were so keen on throughout the year.

Best performance: Week 15 vs. 49ers, 88.3 grade

Key stat: Mack allowed 20 total QB pressures across 19 total games including the postseason.


17. Trent Williams, LT, Washington Redskins (unranked)

This season, we were reminded that Trent Williams has the potential to be the best left tackle in the game, but it was the first time we have seen him realize that potential since the 2013 season. Even this year, we were robbed of four games of that level of play due to his suspension, but in 12 games, Williams was a dominant force as a run blocker, even kicking inside to guard mid-game at one point and still moving bodies at the point of attack like he was playing against high school kids.

For the season, Williams allowed 16 total QB pressures for the third-best pass-blocking efficiency mark in the league among tackles.

Best performance: Week 6 vs. Eagles, 85.5 grade

Key stat: Only Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth allowed fewer than Williams’ 16 total QB pressures this season, though Williams did miss four games due to suspension.
18. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos (unranked)
Aqib Talib has always had the potential to be the game’s best cornerback, but in the past, we have only ever seen it in flashes, or for brief stretches before he lapsed and we saw him surrender big plays. 2016 was the first year he put it all together, and went the entire year without surrendering a touchdown. Talib allowed just 53.0 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught, for a passer rating of only 49.5, and for much of the year, quarterbacks were statistically better off just throwing the ball away than they were testing Talib in coverage.
Best performance: Week 4 vs. Buccaneers, 92.6 grade

Key stat: Talib didn’t surrender a catch longer than 26 yards all season.


19. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos (36)

It’s hard to believe that Chris Harris Jr. was once an undrafted free agent, because he has put together strong seasons every year of his NFL career since, earning himself a starting spot by the end of his rookie campaign and never looking back. Harris allowed an average of only 8.9 yards per reception in 2016, and 126 total yards after the catch, despite being targeted 84 times. Harris has the versatility to play inside and outside within the Broncos’ defensive scheme, and has consistently been one of the game’s best defensive backs, making PFF’s All-Pro team this year in the newly designated “defensive back” position.

Best performance: Week 13 vs. Jaguars, 92.8 grade

Key stat: Harris notched 28 defensive stops on the season, two more than any other cornerback.


20. David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers (unranked)

The performance from David Bakhtiari this season in pass protection was staggering. He has always been a good pass-blocker, but he kicked that up several more notches in 2016, taking it to a level I’m not sure anybody outside of Green Bay thought him capable of. He allowed 20 total QB pressures over the regular season, despite blocking for a quarterback that held the ball longer than every QB in the game outside of Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor. No tackle had a tougher role when it comes to pass protection, yet Bakhtiari finished with a of 93.4 pass-blocking grade, the best mark in the NFL among offensive linemen.

Best performance: Week 15 vs. Bears, 88.4 grade

Key stat: Bakhtiari allowed 20 total QB pressures across 16 regular season games.