The Cincinnati Bengals have two players that made this year’s Pro Football Focus Top 50 NFL Players list. The order might surprise you.
While most fans are focused on the NFL Top 100 list that is made up by the NFL players themselves, there has been an interesting list put out there by Pro Football Focus ranking their Top 50 NFL Players. PFF listed two Cincinnati Bengals players in their list in cornerback William Jackon III and wide receiver A.J. Green. This should come as no surprise as Green has been a longtime top-five receiver in the league and Jackson coming off a remarkable 2017 season. The order in which the two were rated might, however, surprise some fans.
The Bengals were at the top of the list with Green at number 50. Coming off a down season, Green has fallen in lists ranking players even though the reason for the down production in 2017 wasn’t primarily on him. Given the terrible showing from the offensive line last season, the offense failed to get anything going until late in the season. Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton spent the entire season with little to no time in the pocket resulting in a poor performance as well.
There’s also the fact that outside of Green, Dalton had no weapons in the receiving group to take attention away from Green. Defenses drastically slanted towards Green’s side of the field forcing Dalton and company to prove they can win without him. Tight end Tyler Eifert was out for the season after week two, and ninth overall pick wide receiver John Ross failed to have any production at all due to injuries and lack of playing time. Even with all of that going wrong and the lack of any run game, Green was still able to manage to haul in 75 catches for just over 1,000 yards.
PFF’s analysts Steve Palazzolo and Sam Monson, makers of the list, point out Green’s drop in yards per route run from 2.86 to 2.09 from 2016 to 2017 was a major contributing factor in his spot on the list. Given the productions from other top receivers in the league like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, likely Odell Beckham Jr. had he been healthy, Green’s production has not met the likes of these star players.
William Jackson came into the list ranked at 42nd after his breakout season. Jackson spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve which made him a question mark coming into the 2017 season. Not getting to start until the injury of fellow cornerback Adam Jones, Jackson took the opportunities he was given to make a name for himself last season as one of the top lockdown cornerbacks in the league.
Until Jones went down with an injury, Jackson was splitting outside snaps with the veteran cornerback. Jackson ranked second among NFL cornerbacks last season with a 36.1 passer rating when being targeted proving his lockdown abilities on 687 snaps. Unlike Green, Jackson was able to have a breakout season and become a star in the league without relying on his supporting cast. Even when matched up against top receivers in the league like Antonio Brown, Jackson managed to not give up a single catch to Brown on seven attempts and broke up four of those.
I would like to see Jackson start to shadow the number one receivers in games this season. Given the new defensive scheme under Teryl Austin has a primary focus of being aggressive and get after the quarterback consistently, I think we could see Jackson and the rest of the Bengals secondary have a solid season. Austin was also a cornerbacks coach before becoming a coordinator who could help Jackson develop even more. The future is bright for the young star, and it will be interesting to see how Cincinnati utilizes him in the upcoming season.
As far as ranking Jackson vs. Green, it’s an argument that could go on without everyone swinging to one side. Green has been a consistent star for the Bengals since being drafted in 2011. Jackson has one great season under his belt and will have to continue that lockdown play for me to swing that direction. Regardless, it’s safe to say that both players belong on this list.