Later tonight, NFL Network will reveal the players ranked 11-20 in their second annual Top 100 player list. The list is voted on by players and is primarily a vehicle for discussion and commentary. Given that we've seen fullbacks showing up on the list, it is safe to say this is not something that can be considered a particularly accurate ranking system.
The 49ers have had five players in the rankings thus far: 28) Frank Gore, 43) Vernon Davis, 67) Joe Staley, 69) Carlos Rogers and 85) NaVorro Bowman. They have two players remaining and it seems logical that Justin Smith and Patrick Willis will be those two players.
It sounds like one of Smith or Willis will show up on tonight's list, leaving the other in the top ten. Patrick Willis was ranked No. 23 and will be climbing the rankings in spite of injuries knocking him out of three games last season. In spite of being a wrecking ball in 2010, Justin Smith did not appear on last year's list. Earning 13 wins and a spot in the NFC Championship Game will help get deserving players a bit more publicity for these kinds of lists.
Although this list is as much about peer respect as anything else, it still raises some interesting questions for 49ers fans comparing Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. I would argue that Justin Smith had the "better" 2011 season, but Willis has the higher ceiling as a player moving forward.
We don't really have a clear set of factors that go into these rankings. Some people see them as a ranking of 2011 performances, while others (including myself) view this as where players stand right now looking ahead to the 2012 season. Using the former, I'd imagine Smith deserves the higher ranking. Using the latter, I'd suggest Willis deserves the higher ranking.
How do you view and compare Smith and Willis? I'm not here to say one is better than the other, because they do a lot of different things in the 49ers defense and have different skills. They're both beasts at what they do.