Daily Brew: The inexact science of grading players

The final grades are in. That simple phrase used to keep me up at night after my engineering finals back in college, but in this case, it refers to the NFL's 2019 season. The grades I'm referring to are the ones put forth from our good friends at Pro Football Focus. Over the past five to seven years, PFF has become the most universally accepted grading source for the NFL and college football. It's almost as if it's become gospel for many fans. So many times I've heard, "Well, PFF gave (insert player's name here) a 90.5 for his performance last week." Honestly, it makes me cringe.

Many that have listened over the years know that I'm not the biggest fan of using PFF as the sole reason for applauding a player's performance or denigrating his play. There are a multitude of reasons why, but I will admit that those guys really do study the game and have elbowed their way to the top as it pertains to quantitatively assessing NFL and college player performances. As such, they unveiled their Top 101 players for 2019 and the number one player in the league in 2019 was... 49ers tight end George Kittle.

The top 10 went as follows:
1. Kittle
2. Rams game-wrecking DT Aaron Donald
3. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
4. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
5. Eagles G Brandon Brooks
6. Steelers LB T.J. Watt
7. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
8. Saints WR Michael Thomas
9. Saints T Ryan Ramczyk
10. Steelers interior DL Cameron Heyward

The Texans faced four of those players in 2019 and will face four of them in 2020. They will face Watt and Heyward in Pittsburgh and Mahomes in Kansas City, while facing Jackson at NRG Stadium.

The highest-ranking Texan on the list is wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins at No. 39. Defensive interior star D.J. Reader came in at No. 52, while quarterback Deshaun Watson came in at No. 87. The Titans led the AFC South with seven players, including three offensive linemen, receiver A.J. Brown, running back star Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was the highest-rated Titan on the list at No. 61. Calais Campbell was the only Jaguar on the list, while five Colts made the list with only one in the top 70 (guard Quenton Nelson) and just two in the top 91.

Arguments can be made for dozens of players to make the list, but the fact that linebacker Zach Cunningham didn't make the top 101 is criminal. And, he's exactly why I have a hate/less hate relationship with PFF - the eye test tells you, and told me, that he's one of the top 101 players in the league, but the metrics don't, apparently. He has the respect of many throughout the league, that much I know. Maybe when the grades are posted next year, that'll be his year.

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