Who's the NFL's best wide receiver? Tight end? Cornerback? What about the second-best defensive tackle -- after Aaron Donald? To preview the 2021 NFL season, we set out to answer those questions and much more.
We surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rushers to interior offensive linemen and all the way through tight ends. This is the second edition of these rankings, and several players moved up or dropped from last year's lists.
Here's how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy -- even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2021. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who's the best today? Pretty simple.
We'll roll out a position per day over the next 11 days. Here's the schedule:
By far the most difficult position to rank, wide receiver is loaded with deserving candidates.
More than 20 receivers got at least one vote, and the only easy call was who would go No. 1. From second place on, evaluators preferred different flavors: the crafty route runners, the speed demons, the body-you-up receivers with size and strength, the physical forces who look like running backs with the ball in their hands, or the big names who are one healthy season away from regaining greatness.
And, of course, ranking No. 10 required a tiebreaker between two young stars.
One truism with the NFL receiver pantheon: You must put up big numbers to belong.