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NFL Top 100: Which Remaining Defensive Player Deserved The Highest Ranking?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Evan Moore #89 of the Cleveland Browns is tackled by  Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 30, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 30: Evan Moore #89 of the Cleveland Browns is tackled by Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 30, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NFL Network concluded their Top 100 Players of 2012, counting down the top 10 with four defensive players remaining. Of the defensive candidates were Darrelle Revis, Haloti Ngata, DeMarcus Ware and our own Patrick Willis.Willis started off the finale, coming in at No. 10, making him the supposed 4th best of these remaining defenders.

A handful of analysts representing NFL Network and debated which defensive player they felt should be of the highest ranking, publishing their selections before the top 10 were released. Warren Sapp, Marshall Faulk, Steve Wyche and others all participated, with surprising results.

To get it out of the way, I'm a little disappointed Justin Smith isn't in this discussion; at one point during the countdown, I wasn't sure who would be ranked higher, him or Willis. Smith came in at a No. 17, but could've been considered for top 10 candidacy. But since he was not in the top 10, it left the lone Willis representing the red and gold.

Now, all of these athletes play entirely different positions where they are asked to do completely different things. And arguably, they are all the best representatives from their respective positions. So how does one begin to compare them?

If I had a criteria, it would look something like this:

  • Leadership
  • Contributions to the team
  • Dominance at position
  • Consistency
  • Clutch performance
  • Multidimensional player

D. Revis, CB:

Revis is the unquestioned best player on the New York Jets, as the league's No. 1 shut down corner. Even though he has been known to shut one side of the field down, he does not reflect the ideal leadership. This is a player who had teammates take salary cuts so he could get a bigger pay day -- and now he might want them to do it a second time. As great a cornerback as he is, I wouldn't go as far to say that Revis is someone you could build a team around. Athletically and from an awareness standpoint, Revis is well above average and in a passing league, he is a hot commodity.

But much to chagrin of the NFL commentators that drool over Revis, he isn't an unbeatable defensive back. Revis doesn't do well against speed, as Ted Ginn Jr., Stevie Johnson and Randy Moss are a few of the faster receivers that have provided long days for the corner. And people are supposed to be intimidated by getting stranded on "Revis Island"? Granted, he is an exceptional cornerback, but due to the nature of his position, I have difficulty ranking him above players who disrupt both run and pass plays up front on a more consistent basis.

H. Ngata, DL:

Haloti Ngata is easily one of the best and toughest defensive lineman in the NFL. This guy has an everlasting motor and works that bull rush real well. He is a balanced player in that he can rush the passer and be a force against the run. In the Ravens defense, that's one of top units in the league, Ngata is an elite player. He's humble, powerful and will do just about anything that's asked of him. Also, very high intellect and patience for a defensive lineman.

Ngata makes the jobs of the men in the secondary that much easier -- he also sets the tone for the defensive line, allowing guys like Cory Redding and Terrence Cody to be factors on game day. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, can also credit Ngata for contributing to his success.

D. Ware, OLB:

DeMarcus Ware is a future Hall of Fame linebacker and the notorious sackmaster of the NFL. Suggs had a great year, J.P.P. had a great year, but Ware still put up 19.5 sacks. In 8 seasons, he has missed one game and not since his rookie year has he seen below double-digit sacks. On a record-setting pace with 99.5 career sacks, Ware is absolutely one of the top defensive players in the league today.

The one negative thing that can be said about Ware is that he does one thing (rush QB's), but he does it exceptionally. Ware is someone that teams have to account for on a weekly basis, and even when they do, he finds a way.

P. Willis, ILB:

And finally, Patrick Willis. Willis is a special player, but even more so since he plays a historically epic position. The inside linebacker position in the NFL has had some real greats -- some of the greatest players to ever step on a football field. And it's a position that seems to come in decades, as we went from Ray Nitschke, to Willie Lanier and Dick Butkus, to Jack Lambert and onto Mike Singletary, and Sam Mills. The 1990's gave birth to Ray Lewis and we are now entering that intermediary where Lewis will hand the baton off to Willis.

Willis is that next great linebacker that people write about. This guy is what NFL legends are made of, but for a lack of considering intangibles and history, NFL "analysts" are putting Willis behind efficient blitzers and over-hyped corners.

Only 1 of 6 NFL heads believes Willis is worthy of the highest ranking.

Steve Wyche: (1) Willis (2) Ware (3) Revis (4) Ngata

Ian Rapoport: (1) Ware (2) Revis (3) Willis (4) Ngata

Bucky Brooks: (1) Ware (2) Ngata (3) Revis (4) Willis

Charley Casserly: (1) Ware (2) Revis (3) Willis (4) Ngata

Chad Reuter: (1) Ware (2) Revis (3) Ngata (4) Willis

Adam Rank: (1) Revis (2) Ngata (3) Ware (4) Willis

Warren Sapp and Marshall Faulk went with DeMarcus Ware and Darrelle Revis as their No. 1's.

Ware is the apparent favorite, while Revis is not No. 4 on anyone's list. It seems that they are high on the players that do one thing particularly well, rather than an all-around dominant football player who is the nucleus of one of the league's top defenses. San Francisco grew into the dominant unit since his arrival in 2007, building around Willis -- and the players follow his lead.

Late round picks were able to step onto this defense, emulating the hard work and tone of Willis, and become good football players.

Willis sets the example for everyone. He is never going to have a high number of sacks or a high number of interceptions, but what he does is invaluable. He blows up plays before they start, he makes crucial third down stops against the run and the pass, he sets the tone for the entire defense and sideline-to-sideline, there is no escaping him.

There isn't a player fast enough or big enough that Willis can't run down. He led a record-setting defense to the post-season in 2011, while the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets both missed the playoffs. And sure, Revis takes away the opposing team's No. 1 WR or removes half the field but Willis assists in making even the league's best offenses one-dimensional. Teams can't run on Willis, can't throw screens against Willis -- he doesn't allow plays to develop and he keeps everything in front him.

Willis quarterbacks the defense, and is so informed when it comes to game film, that like Ray Lewis, is often calling out the offense's play before the ball is snapped. I don't see Revis, Ware or Ngata shouldering any of that responsibility -- not that Ngata would need to. Willis is the standout franchise player that, without fail, represents himself, the 49ers and the NFL with class and excellence.

It is just difficult to understand why these so-called "analysts" were so passive when it came to ranking Willis the highest. It meant nothing to them to place him last because the flashy stats like sacks and interceptions aren't there.

But for me, it's neck and neck between Willis and Ware for No. 1 -- I'll put Willis first but Ware is a close No. 2.

Dylan DeSimone: (1) Willis (2) Ware (3) Revis (4) Ngata

NFL Top 100 No. 10 Patrick Willis (via Fortyniner Spin)

Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80