So there was a great debate last week on what makes up an “elite” player in the NFL and what the difference between “elite” and “great” is. So here we go, I’m going to lay the whole thing out for you and seeing as these are my own personal definitions- they are correct and should be treated as gospel.
We’ll start with the largest category of players in the league- the “average” players (you might even want to call them serviceable). An average player is someone who should play out their rookie deal, then sign a mid-level contract with a different team once the rookie deal is up. This second contract is likely to be their last. They might do one thing extremely well, or just do everything OK, but they are by no means special players. Current AFC East and North players who fit this bill- Brandon Spikes, Pat Chung (he got lucky and got a third deal), Quinton Coples, Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis, LeGarrette Blount, Jacoby Jones, Ben Tate, or Brian Hartline (he may have a second contract with the Fins, but let’s not pretend he’s anything more than average).
The next category of player is your “good” player. These guys are the type of players that you want to keep around on your team and make a difference on a semi-bi-weekly basis. “Good” players are usually the type of guys that look special to fans and executives of other teams so they tend to get overpaid in free agency or to stay put. They may have also had one special season at some point in their career, but then never finished the job of becoming “elite” for one reason or another. Examples of “good” players in the AFC East or North right now would be Julian Edelman, CJ Spiller, Mike Wallace, Eric Decker, Elvis Dumerville, Arthur Moats, Pacman Jones, or Paul Kruger.
Next we our “very good” players, these are guys that are starting to show consistency and will soon become among the elite at their position. This is a category that I would generally reserve for young players that have only one or two years of time in the league and just plain don’t have the service time yet to be considered elite. I would expect nothing less than 10 very productive years out of any player in this category. Current AFC E/N examples would be: Kiko Alonzo, Mohammed Wilkerson (although he’s borderline elite), Brent Grimes, Josh Gordon, Geno Atkins (last year’s injury set him back), Jimmy Smith, Jason Worilds, or Chandler Jones (here because everyone else seems to think he’s good, I however feel like he is one of the most overrated players in the league). Note, “very good” players can be older chaps who were once elite (i.e. Chris Johnson or Ray Rice)
Next we have our “elite” players. “Elite” guys are top 5 at their position in the league today and have a chance to be Hall of Fame candidates. There is not an “elite” player on every team and in my eyes you have to have shown some real consistency over a long period of time to be considered “elite”. Current “Elite” AFCE players: Tom Brady, Darrell Revis, Rob Gronkowski (although he could be “very good” because of all the injuries), AJ Green, Nick Mangold (maybe, but he could also be swapped for Wilkerson here) and that’s about it.
Last but certainly not least, we have our “Great” players. “Great” players are guys that will be talked about in future generations, hall of famers (usually first ballot) and are in the conversation of best “x position” ever (or evah if you’re from Boston). “Great” players are all considered “elite” (that’s pretty much the first criteria) and there are usually only a handful of them in the league at any given time. Current “great” players in the NFL today are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and maybe Calvin Johnson or Darrell Revis (although both of those guys have some work to do yet).
I know that there will be some questions about why I rank guys this way or why I say “great” is better than “elite”. To that I say, it’s not the “elitest of all time,” it’s the “greatest of all time,” so there.
(note: I didn’t include any of the QBs in either division because let’s be honest, outside of Tom Brady every single one of these guys is average at best among the current QBs in the league.)
(note 2: I had some difficulty finding up and coming “very good” players on the Ravens or Steelers, I sure hope that’s a sign of times to come…)
Bonus college football program ranker:
I also have strong opinions of players based on where they went to college. There is a lot of research behind this, so you should consider it science.
Schools that I would never take a guy from:
Ohio State (overrated frauds)
Penn State (see, OSU…)
Florida (thugs and hoodlums, just look at what happened to the Pats when they had all those Gators)
Schools that I may not like, but I’d certainly take their guys:
The greatest college football program in the history of ever (but use caution when drafting their guys, its HOF or garbage can with these guys):
Florida State University