The folks at Pro Football Focus are wrapping up a lot of 2011 content as the offseason hits the summer doldrums. They ran through a list of their Top 101 players from 2011 and they have declared 49ers defensive end Justin Smith the number two player in the entire league. He ranked behind No. 1 Aaron Rodgers and ahead of No. 3 Drew Brees.
The 49ers had five players ranked in the Top 101. Along with Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman was ranked No. 14, Patrick Willis was ranked No. 20, Ray McDonald was ranked No. 45, Aldon Smith was ranked No. 64, and Carlos Rogers was ranked No. 78. They have been high on McDonald all season long, but it is interesting to see their ranking of Rogers compared to Aldon Smith given that Aldon Smith was not an every-down player.
While I sometimes see some inconsistencies in the PFF rankings, I do think they can be spot on from time-to-time. With a guy like Justin Smith, it is always nice to see him get recognition. Although he does not put up the gaudy statistics of 4-3 defensive ends, there are few players that can match Smith's impact on a game. He can get sacks and tackles, but his general ability to disrupt plays in the backfield is second to none.
The 49ers elected not to draft a defensive lineman in the 2012 NFL Draft. It goes to show both their belief in Smith's continued abilities, as well as some measure of potential they see in Demarcus Dobbs and/or Will Tukuafu. They at least have arguably the best defensive end in the league from which they can learn. Smith is able to impact the game even when he is not accruing counting stats. That is a skill that can be so crucial, particularly for a 3-4 defensive end. Ideally Dobbs and Tukuafu are paying seriously close attention to Smith's work.
Just because it remains so awesome: