As if it weren’t enough to leave Shady McCoy and Jeremy Maclin out of the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2011 list, ESPN has apparently decided to blatantly ignore them as well. The sports media giant released an offensive power ranking earlier today (because, let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot else to talk about right now), based on the votes of all eight of its divisional bloggers, and not surprisingly both of the young Eagles guns found themselves shut out once again.
I say not surprisingly, of course, because the final twenty-person list is a nauseating mound of pure, unadulterated garbage. It looks like the last-minute computer printout someone who’s never watched football in their life would bring to their first fantasy draft. In 2009. I’m not totally certain what a “player power ranking” is supposed to judge – whether it’s a player’s skill, production, value, or simply how much he can bench-press – but for the life of me I can’t think of one single criteria that would land Reggie Wayne higher on the list than Desean Jackson, or exclude LeSean McCoy from a list that dubs Antonio Gates the 10th best offensive player in football.
This is exactly the kind of uniformed, fad-driven pop journalism that drives me insane. Most sports writers – or, I should say, NFL bloggers – are too wrapped up in themselves and the general consensus of their “community” to ever question accepted opinion. Rather than watch hours of film and pour over dozens of games to judge, on their own, who they think is the best offensive player in the league, they just phone-in the same, cliche rankings that any half-hearted football fan could recite to you from memory. Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson yadda yadda yadda wake me when it’s over.
Is it any coincidence that this “offensive power ranking” looks exactly like last year’s “fantasy power ranking”? Of course not. It’s a nauseating mix of stats, popularity, and whatever everybody else is saying. Forget the fact that Jeremy Maclin is – statistically – one of the best possession receivers in all of football, or that he had more touchdowns in 2010 than Andre Johnson as the number two option for the Eagles. Forget that Shady is a better pass-catcher and a better blocker than both CJ and Peterson. Forget that Antonio Gates missed six games last year. All that matters, apparently, is that the list matches up with what the same people said last year. The above-listed five players are the only ones who received a unanimous vote (all eight bloggers had them somewhere on their respective lists). At least one blogger failed to list each of the remaining players anywhere in their top ten. Only one blogger – one out of all eight – thought Desean Jackson was a top-ten offensive player. My TV must be broken.
And it’s not just the slights of obviously good players that bugs me. It’s the fact that so many professional sports journalists actually making a living by regurgitating the overused, outdated opinions of the majority and never bothering to do any actual reporting. Any idiot can pull up the 2010 stat sheet and make a list out of the top players at each position. But stats alone don’t make good players. Take a closer look at these “power rankings”. Of the top ten players, only one (Roddy White) went to the playoffs, and the Superbowl Champion Packers have only one representative (Greg Jennings) on the list, falling in at 18. If this was a “stat ranking,” I’d be totally fine with it. But when you talk about power – the ability to change games, convert third downs, block a linebacker, dominate your opposition and help your team win games – you need to dig a lot deeper. You have to research, you have to actually watch all the players and teams you’re attempting to rank, you need to look beyond popular opinion . If and when ESPN decides to do that, then maybe I’ll ease up on my criticism. And maybe players like Shady will finally get their due.