More than 50 coaches, managers and players make their choice

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Who is the best cornerback in the NFL? Wide receiver? Offensive tackle? What about the second best defensive tackle – after Aaron Donald? To get a look at the 2021 NFL season, we’ve decided to answer these questions and more.

We interviewed over 50 executives, coaches, scouts and league players to help us stack the top 10 players in 11 different positions, from edge rusher to inside offensive linemen and to tight ends. This is the second edition of these rankings, and several players have moved up and down last year’s lists.

Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their top 10-15 players for a position, then we compiled the results and ranked the candidates based on the number of top 10 votes, composite average, interviews , research and film study aid from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had multiple ties, so we severed them by isolating the two-man game with extra votes and follow-up calls. Each section is filled with quotes and voter nuggets on each guy – even honorable mentions.

The goal is to identify the best players now for 2021. This is not a five-year projection or an award of excellence. Who is the best today? Simple enough.

We compile all job rankings here, so check back for new job groups as they are posted.

edge rushers

The race for the pass rush king was wide open after injuries derailed many competitors last year. Every top four player from last year has fallen in the rankings. Meanwhile, two dominant AFC North players were happy to oust them.

The edge rusher category – outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense, defensive ends in a 4-3 – is so loaded with dynamic play that the double-digit sack pedigree isn’t always enough to break the list. Edge players get paid more than any other position except the quarterback because of their ability to destroy a game plan every Sunday.

Two electrifying defenders from AFC North lead the 2021 standings.


Inside defensive linemen

Executives typically rank inside defensive linemen by one criterion: Which player most often destroys your game plan with strength, length and speed – over and over again?

The top pick is obvious, and is a candidate for the NFL’s best overall player. Then the following choices were pretty clear. After that? It has become incredibly difficult. Players 6-15 were in a virtual tie, requiring at least 30 tie-offs.

The young interior linemen climbed at a rapid pace while the game of the top veterans had hardly abated. And at least one legend had to be removed from the list.

The NFL’s inside defensive line – defensive tackles in any setup and defensive ends in a 3-4 defensive roster – will have inside offensive linemen and quarterbacks questioning the sanctity of their pockets in 2021 .

Yeah, you guessed it; Aaron Donald was # 1 by far. But who made up the rest of the top 10?


Linebackers

Versatility is a bonus for linebackers.

“Can he do it all? That’s what I’m looking for,” a Pro Bowl linebacker told me. “What made Ray Lewis different was that he was a guy every time when the LBs were over for the first and second downs.”

Today’s top linebackers are called upon to instigate turnovers, play physically against the run, master pass covers, fly from touch to touch for acrobatic tackles, and, if they’re good enough, to sidestep. ‘line up in the lunge against a dangerous pass catcher.

There are enough players in the league to handle these tasks, with this year’s top 10 stacked linebackers – in the middle in all lineups and away in a 4-3 – featuring established veterans and youngsters. rising stars.

Three new players made the roster this year, starting with a linebacker who jumped six places.


Cornerbacks

The NFL is full of great cornerbacks – but not enough of the really great ones. League evaluators lamented the scarcity of game-changing corners, which is a problem in an increasingly first-pass league.

Executives and coaches want corners that are able to cover a No. 1 man receiver with minimal help and move easily to the crease, who can attack into space and win with instinct and footwork. It’s a big demand, but that’s also why elite corners are paid for. They are rare.

The list of this year’s top 10 cornerbacks, however, has its share of greatness. It features a well-defined No.1, rising young stars, aging but still competent turns, and an average Baltimore tiebreaker at New England.


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