On Tuesday, ESPN published their annual list of the NFL’s top 100 players. Unlike the annual NFL list — which is is based on player votes — this list is compiled by votes from ESPN contributors. And rather than being a reflection of the previous season (players vote at the end of the year before), this list is meant as a projection for 2020 — that is, how ESPN’s contributors think these players will do in the coming season. Players who are already injured (such as Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James) aren’t even considered.
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB (2)
Over the past two seasons, Mahomes was No. 1 in many key stat categories including QBR (79). And at 24 years old, he should only continue to get better. Plus, the Chiefs gave him yet another high-end offensive asset in the draft when they took running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: He has played 36 games in his career, including the postseason, and never lost by more than one score or posted a Total QBR below 50 in a game. In other words, Mahomes has never had a below-average game. It’s by far the most consecutive games with a QBR of 50 or greater to start a career since the metric was first calculated in 2006.
What they are saying: “If there was ever a player that was truly deserving of the largest contract in U.S. sports history, it’s definitely Pat Mahomes.” — Brett Veach, Chiefs GM
2020 projection: 4,477 passing yards, 33 TDs, 10 INT (281 rushing yards)
Well... duh. Going into this season, it is painfully obvious that Mahomes is the face of the NFL. Barring injury, there is no reason to expect he will be anything less than he was in 2019. What else needs to be said?
11. Tyreek Hill, WR (16)
Hill’s numbers were down last season mainly because he missed all or most of five games due to injuries. But he was still an effective deep threat. Nineteen percent of Hill’s catches went for 20 yards or more, and his 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV sparked the Chiefs’ comeback. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Hill was considered open on 31.5% of his targets last season, the second-highest rate among wide receivers with at least 80 targets (Jamison Crowder, 32.8%).
What they are saying: “He would have been a great center fielder. He has the unusual ability to follow the ball down the field.” — Andy Reid, Chiefs coach
2020 projection: 79 catches, 1,121 yards, 8 TDs
The Saints’ Michael Thomas (5) and the Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins (8) precede Hill on this list. I’ll go along with Thomas, but I am not convinced Hopkins will be as effective with Kyler Murray as he was with Deshaun Watson on the Houston Texans. It could definitely happen — but I’m from Missouri. Show me.
17. Travis Kelce, TE (18)
The Chiefs do many things with Kelce, and his ability to do them well is one reason for Kelce’s consistency. He lined up as a slot receiver or wideout most often, and he caught more passes (73) from these spots than when he lined up as a traditional tight end (24). — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Kelce is the first tight end in NFL history with four straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons, a streak that’s still active heading into 2020.
What they are saying: “They’re asking Kelce to do some things that are very, very difficult, and he pulls it off. It’s maddening to not only our team but, I think, any team that plays the Chiefs.” — Jon Gruden, Raiders coach
2020 projection: 88 catches, 1,093 yards, 9 TDs
You don’t need me to tell you that Kelce is behind another tight end ono this ranking — the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle is ninth — but I’m quite interested in what happens after this season. Presuming that Kelce has another season with 1,000 receiving yards — which ESPN (and almost everybody else) is projecting he will — he’ll become the only tight end to ever have five of them. And he’ll have done it consecutive years, too. I’m very curious about what becomes of the “But... blocking!” argument a year from now.
29. Chris Jones, DT (40)
The Chiefs signed Jones to a long-term contract this year because he has unusual ability to rush the quarterback from a defensive tackle spot. Jones had a 20.4% win rate as an interior rusher the past two seasons, which is third best in the league, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He pressured Jimmy Garoppolo into throwing an interception in Super Bowl LIV. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Over the past two seasons, Jones’ 23.5 sacks when lined up at DT are second in the NFL, trailing only Aaron Donald’s 30 such sacks.
What they are saying: “Chris has really proven to be an elite player at his position and really one of the best defensive players in the National Football League. With his age and his talents, we’re certainly expecting more great things to come.” — Brett Veach, Chiefs GM
2020 projection: 43 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
It’s not a surprise that the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald is the only defensive tackle ahead of Jones on this list; it’s only a surprise that Donald and Jones are 27 spots apart. Your move, Stone Cold.
36. Tyrann Mathieu, S (86)
Mathieu has an impact from a variety of spots. He actually lined up more times last season as a slot corner (411) than as a free safety (359). It’s why he was named All-Pro as a defensive back and not a safety. He also was a linebacker on a significant number of plays (223). — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Mathieu has a league-high 13 interceptions since 2013 when lined up at slot corner, five more than any other player. While Mathieu is listed as a safety, he has lined up at slot corner for 2,384 snaps, his most at any pre-snap position.
What they are saying: “He’s kind of fun to be around. He’s [all] business. He shares that with the guys around him. He has those instincts, you can’t teach that part.” — Andy Reid, Chiefs coach
2020 projection: 76 tackles, 3 INT
It’s proper that Mathieu has rocketed up 50 spots from his 2019 ranking; it may be that no player in the league combines high-level versatility and leadership more effectively than he does. It’s becoming more and more likely that decades from now, the story of the Chiefs from this period will begin with the acquisition of Mahomes in 2017 and Mathieu in 2019. In Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, Mathieu has found his home.
72. Mitchell Schwartz, OT (92)
Schwartz is not only an effective right tackle, but the Chiefs can count on him being in the lineup on every down. He had a streak of 7,894 straight plays snapped last season because of a knee injury. But he missed just four snaps and was back at his spot. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Since Schwartz debuted in 2012, the only player who has played more regular-season offensive snaps than his 8,060 is Tom Brady (8,297).
What they are saying: “I think he probably could play anywhere along the line. He’s highly intelligent, not only in the books but also football-wise.” — Andy Reid, Chiefs coach
No offense to David Bakhtiari (34) Ronnie Stanley (43) Tyron Smith (60) Laremy Tunsil (64) Ryan Ramczyk (66) or Lane Johnson (71), but Schwartz deserves better than this. Fight me. But I’ll grudgingly admit that ESPN did right in moving him up from near the the bottom of 2019’s rankings. Do better.
85. Frank Clark, DE (58)
Clark started his first season with the Chiefs slowly but finished with 12 sacks in the final 11 games, including the playoffs. He was the eighth NFL player to have at least five sacks in the postseason. His three sacks in the divisional round win over the Texans were particularly big, as the Chiefs played without their other top rusher, Chris Jones. — Adam Teicher
What they are saying: “He can win with speed, he can win with power, he can win inside as a rusher, he can win outside as a rusher. He’s dominant against the run. He has almost no weaknesses to his game.” — Brett Veach, Chiefs GM
2020 projection: 43 tackles, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
As Teicher correctly notes, Clark was a bit of a disappointment in the first half of last season — when no one knew he was fighting through a nagging (and painful) injury; that’s likely why he dropped 27 spots from last year. But if he can remain healthy and continue to play as he did through the latter half of the season (and the playoffs), he’ll be back where he belongs in 2021.