As NFL.com’s list of the top 100 players for 2022 was revealed during recent days, it was pretty obvious that relatively few Kansas City Chiefs were going to be included. Once we knew that Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones was the first player to be named (at 39th) on the NFL’s list — which happened last week — it was clear that only tight end Travis Kelce and quarterback Patrick Mahomes were yet to be named. When the final 10 players were revealed on Sunday, Kelce was ranked tenth and Mahomes came in eighth.
Now ESPN has released its own top 100 list for the coming season — and its results are strikingly different — starting right at the top.
1. Patrick Mahomes • QB • Kansas City Chiefs • 2021 rank: 1
Mahomes is a great playmaker in part because of his ability to complete unconventional throws. He has completed passes without looking at his intended receiver, throwing left-handed and in numerous other unorthodox ways. No other quarterback has produced like him through 63 career starts, and he is primed for another big season. And Mahomes will be energized by a number of factors in 2022: the significant moves made by all AFC West rivals, having a mostly new group of wide receivers, a career-low QBR (62.2) last year and his miserable second half in last season’s AFC Championship Game against the Bengals.
Signature stat: Since Mahomes became the Chiefs’ starter in 2018, he leads all NFL quarterbacks in ... a lot of things. He is at the top of the leaderboard over that span in Total QBR (75), passing yards (18,707), passing touchdowns (151) and yards per dropback (7.6). Mahomes’ .790 win percentage is the best of any quarterback to start at least five games.
What they are saying: “He has so much confidence, and when he walks in the room, results occur because of that confidence every day in practice. That’s rare. You don’t come across that very much.’’ — Chiefs quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy
2022 projection: 4,610 passing yards, 36 TDs, 12 INTs (358 yards/3 TDs rushing)
And while ESPN ranked Kelce lower, he was still listed as the league’s top tight end.
17. Travis Kelce • TE • Chiefs • 2021 rank: 10
Kelce will be 33 in October, but he is showing no signs of a career slowdown. He has six straight 1,000-yard seasons, a record for tight ends. But Kelce is not a typical tight end. Two-thirds of his 2021 receptions came when he lined up as a wide receiver or in the slot.
Signature stat: Since the start of 2018, Kelce and Davante Adams are the only NFL players with at least 5,000 receiving yards during that span. Kelce has recorded 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last six seasons — that’s the most 1,000-yard receiving seasons by a tight end in NFL history.
What they are saying: “He’s just the best at what he does and continues to do it year after year.’’ — Chiefs general manager Brett Veach
2022 projection: 87 receptions, 972 yards, 7 TDs
Three other Chiefs players made ESPN’s ranking. Jones was ranked 40th, followed by center Creed Humphrey (68th) and right guard Joe Thuney (97th).
ESPN also published an article in which their writers Seth Walder, Matt Bowen, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid debated the top 100, identifying snubs, overrated (and underrated) players and rookies who might find their way onto the list this season. Walder named eight players who were snubbed — including Kansas City right guard Trey Smith.
As for Smith, he ranked second in pass block win rate and third in run block win rate among guards. If those aren’t top-100 numbers, I don’t know what are.
In general I think we’re too slow to anoint young NFL players when they play at an extremely high level and too slow to bump down veterans when decline hits — please forget I said this when reading about the next player [who was Los Angeles Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner] — particularly for those who weren’t highly drafted. But all Smith did in his first season in the NFL was play incredibly well.
At the end, we are left with the differences in the way these lists are created. The NFL.com ranking is based on player voting (similar to the Pro Bowl vote, which is split equally between players, coaches and fans), while the ESPN list is based on a panel of 50 of its contributors, which we assume to be the service’s 32 NFL team writers (ESPN Chiefs beat reporter Adam Teicher wrote the introductory text for all Chiefs on the list) and its national NFL writers. (All-Pro selections are also made after a vote among selected NFL journalists).
While it’s useful (and interesting) to see how players, coaches and fans view the NFL’s players, it is the job of NFL journalists to be as well-informed as possible about players across the whole league. ESPN’s panel has an additional advantage: it includes writers who are genuine experts on individual teams, so their perspectives add another level of understanding that can only be seen daily exposure to those teams.
So while the NFL.com ranking is worth noting every season — just as the Pro Bowl is — the ESPN list (just like the annual All-Pro team) probably gives us a better idea of the real value of these players.