My top 20 NFL players

Just a few of the players featured in Jason La Canfora's top 20 list. (Associated Press)

Just a few of the players featured in Jason La Canfora's top 20 list. (Associated Press)

Since I’ve been on a little kick lately of throwing out things that are anything but quantifiable -– best and worst divisions in football, for instance — I figured I’d finish the week in that vein. I recently was asked to submit a list of the best 20 players in the NFL for a survey being conducted by The Sporting News.

First of all, that’s impossible, and in a game as regimented as football -– with so many position groups impacting very different aspects of the game -– fuhgetaboutit. It makes for an interesting conversation starter, but no two people are going to see this the same way. It’s fairly nebulous -– the definition of best player is open to interpretation -– and it’s also hard not to value certain positions, like quarterback, above others, like safety.

But as I sat on the train back from New York last night to put my list together, I figured I’d try to spread the wealth around to various positions, while still valuing some above others. I wanted it to at least represent various parts of the game (and frankly my list vastly underestimates special teams; I should have probably put in Devin Hester or Darren Sproles given what they can do in the return game). Anyhoo, the lists that The Sporting News receives are kept confidential, but here’s mine.

Now, there’s one caveat here –- I ain’t ranking ‘em 1-20. This is already subjective enough. But I tried to keep it to guys who are best in breed, often by a long shot, guys who have a “freak of nature” aspect to their game in many places, who force opponents to alter the very way they game-plan from one Sunday to the next. In general, I tried to find guys still in their prime or on the upswing, yet there are exceptions (with a great era of left tackles winding down, with Jonathan Ogden retiring and Orlando Pace slowed, I opted for Walter Jones, who I think will bounce back this season).

So here goes. For most of these guys no explanation is necessary. I’ll throw in a few words about some guys. As always, please feel free to tell me how silly I am, mention the obvious selections I left off, and pick my list apart. I’m interested to see what you guys come up with in the comments. I may not have included enough QBs (Philip Rivers for one), but, again, I wanted to sprinkle some love around the field. And, again, these are in no particular order, just how they kinda popped into my head.

Tom Brady

Peyton Manning

Andre Johnson

DeMarcus Ware

James Harrison

Albert Haynesworth

Nnamdi Asomugha

Larry Fitzgerald

Randy Moss – Perhaps getting a little older, but still a crazy collection of speed, size and skill and with Brady back now, look out.

Drew Brees

Haloti Ngata – Might be the most underrated player in the league, a game-changer on the inside, a freakish athlete who unlike most elite DTs is as strong in the fourth quarter as the first. He and Haynesworth are the two best DTs in the NFL for my money.

Ben Roethlisberger

Steve Smith – Like Moss a little older, but for his small stature and with a lack of a strong No. 2 most of his career and facing rolled double coverage every Sunday, what he accomplishes amazes me.

Jared Allen

Troy Polamalu

Adrian Peterson – I probably undervalued this position, but I find these guys drop off at a quick rate due to grinding and are often a product of superior systems and linemen, as well as more teams going to a rotation. They are readily replaced in the draft. But still I probably should have put one more in. Michael Turner may have been that guy, but it’s only been one season as a feature back. LaDainian has to bounce back. I just wasn’t feeling a lot of RBs, I guess.

Walter Jones – The last guy I put on the list, and I said up top, I understand why many might disagree.

Joe Thomas – I think he’s rounding into a total stud and will be a monster at LT for a long time.

Asante Samuel – Some thought he was a product of New England’s system, playing all that Cover-4 with corners playing quarters and squatting on routes, but this dude changes games.

Jason Witten – Felt like I should have a tight end in the mix, and I’ll give him the edge over Tony Gonzalez due to less tread on the tires.

So there you have it. My 20. Who you got?

Randoms: I’m going to be on vacation the next week, but will definitely check in here a few times, especially if something big goes down. We had this getaway scheduled before I changed jobs and we haven’t taken a real family vacation in three years, so we’re really looking forward to it. My 4-year old could live in the water all day long, and my 2-year old likes to walk the circumference of the baby pool with a truck in his hand, but otherwise doesn’t want much to do with the pool or beach. So wish me luck placating these two at the same time. Guessing we might be coming home with a pet hermit crab, too (any of you who have been to the beach in Maryland, Delaware or Jersey know that drill, of course) …

Gotta get some new music on the iPod before we leave. A buddy of mine of recommended The Hold Steady. I’m so lame when it comes to new/newer music. I end up going for any obscure Iggy Pop bootleg I can find, or looking for Johnny Thunders imports or filling in a gap in my collection here or there than checking out new stuff. I have to work on that … Have to say the performance of the U.S. national team continues to impress on the pitch. I’ve been pretty hard on Bob Bradley, and I’m still not sure he’s the answer when it comes to the World Cup, but at this rate the U.S. men might get a seed, which means a better draw, and who knows. With all the problems going on with the strike in South Africa, I continue to think Cupa Mundial 2010 is going to end up in the U.S. or Europe or maybe even U.S./Canada … For those fans of NFL Total Access, got to hang out with John Buzzeo for a little while when I was doing the show from the studio at the NFL offices in New York. Like everyone else I’ve encountered at league headquarters in NYC or the NFL Network studio in LA, he was as cool a cat as there is. Great dude …

And, in closing, some words I never figured I would write, but, alas I’ve got to keep it real: I did my make-up for the first time Thursday. Weird. Weird. Weird. Out in LA there is a great team of artists, and my wife had been earning rave reviews for her work on my mug the past two weeks, but, as I found myself alone at the NFL offices after business hours Thursday, 40 minutes from going live and not a make-up artist in sight, I gave it a shot. Guess it didn’t turn out too bad, because the guys in my ear from out in LA didn’t mention anything. Of course, I had to call my wife midway through, because I was applying the stuff in the wrong order (the concealer goes first, duh), but, sadly, this has to be considered a milestone of sorts for me. Sorry dad.

— Jason La Canfora

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