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NFL 100: The best single-season grades in the PFF Era

By Mark Chichester
Aug 20, 2019

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The 2019 season will be PFF’s 14th full season of collecting data and grading every player on every play of every game in the NFL, and it’s safe to say we have seen plenty of change around the NFL in our 13 years so far. The game has changed, offenses are running more plays and now use spread defenses with more pass-catchers; the rules have become tougher on defensive players and quarterbacks are playing longer than ever before.

With all that has changed, one thing that hasn’t is that the NFL still produces some of the top athletes on the planet, and that has allowed us to see some incredible performances over the past decade-plus. With the NFL celebrating its 100th season, we decided to dig into the PFF database and highlight a full team of the top season-long performances we have graded. From current Hall of Famers to future Hall of Famers, and to players who are just getting started, here is the Team of the PFF Era.

Offense


Quarterback: Tom Brady, New England Patriots (2016) — 94.9

Tom Brady’s 2016 season didn’t just end with an emphatic come-from-behind victory, nor it didn’t just end with a fifth Super Bowl title and another Super Bowl MVP award. Tom Brady’s 2016 season, from start to finish, was the greatest season-long performance that we’ve seen by a quarterback. Brady completed 384 of his 574 pass attempts (including postseason) on the year and recorded 4,691 yards, 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions, ending the year with just seven turnover-worthy plays next to his name. In his 15 games from Week 1 to Super Bowl LI (he was suspended for the first four games of the campaign), Brady earned just two sub-72.0 single-game grades, while he graded above 80.0 nine times and above 90.0 on five separate occasions. It was about as faultless a performance as we’re ever likely to see. In the 13 years that PFF has data for, there have been 388 instances where a quarterback has dropped back to pass at least 300 times in a season; among that group, 2016 Tom Brady’s negatively graded play rate of 6.9% ranks first.

Running back: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2012) — 92.4

In 17 games (including one postseason game) the then-26-year-old Adrian Peterson ran for 2,196 yards and 1,438 yards after contact, both of which still stand as the best single-season marks ever recorded by a running back in the PFF era. In a season that ultimately ended in MVP honors, Peterson led the league in rushing grade (92.5), in runs of 10 or more yards (64) in yards after contact per attempt (3.89) and in total missed tackles forced (68). And he earned just three sub-70.0 game grades all year.

Wide Receiver: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (2016) — 93.5

In a career chock-full of dominant seasons, Julio Jones’ 2016 campaign stands out as the best we’ve ever seen from a receiver. That year, Jones earned a 93.4 receiving grade and a 93.5 overall grade — both the best single-season marks we’ve ever seen from a wideout in the PFF era — after he hauled in 102-of-149 targets for 1,743 yards, nine touchdowns and 72 first downs. In the PFF era, there have been 743 instances where a receiver was targeted at least 75 times over the course of a single season, and among them, 2016 Julio ranks second with an average of 3.23 yards per route run.

Wide Receiver: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (2015) — 92.5

In what would undeniably be the greatest receiver tandem of all time, Jones is joined by Pittsburgh-turned-Oakland great, Antonio Brown. Brown’s 2015 season, like Julio’s 2016 season, was something special. He set PFF records for most targets (202) and receptions (143) in a single season, and he recorded 1,953 yards, 699 yards after the catch, 13 scores and 78 first downs. He caught 96.0% of the catchable passes thrown his way, dropping just seven passes on the year, he forced 25 missed tackles after the catch, and he led all receivers that year with 53 plays of 15 or more yards.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (2011) — 92.9

Rob Gronkowski will arguably go down in history as the greatest tight end to ever play the game, and his 2011 season is unlikely to ever be beaten from a grading standpoint. In 19 games (including three postseason appearances), Gronk recorded 16 single-game grades of 70.0 or higher, earning 80.0-plus marks in nine of those contests. He caught 107 of his 143 targets, dropping just eight of the catchable balls thrown his way, and he totaled 1,585 receiving yards, 743 yards after the catch and a PFF-era record 20 touchdowns. Among the 85 instances where a tight end was targeted at least 100 times over the course of a single season, Gronk’s 2011 season ranks third in yards per route run (2.45), first in explosive plays (51), first in passer rating when targeted (138.5) and first in receiving grade (91.9).

Flex O: Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears (2015) — 92.0

Jeffery’s career year deservedly earns a spot on this list. Outshined only by Antonio Brown and Julio Jones in 2015, Jeffery ended the year with a 92.1 receiving grade that still stands as the third-best single-season grade ever recorded by a wide receiver. He hauled in 55 of his 95 targets — he dropped just two passes — and ended the year with 811 receiving yards, four receiving touchdowns and 39 first downs, despite only playing in nine games. His average of 2.87 yards per route run that year was beaten by only Jones (3.04), Brown (2.91) and Steve Smith (2.90).

Left Tackle: Jonathan Ogden, Baltimore Ravens (2007) — 95.0

As dominant an offensive lineman as there has ever been or ever will be, Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden’s 2007 season is the highest-graded season we’ve ever seen from an offensive lineman. He earned elite grades in both pass protection (93.9) and as a run-blocker (91.1), and he graded below 75.0 in just three of his 11 games. As a pass-blocker, he allowed only eight pressures from 303 pass-blocking snaps, and his ensuing pressure allowed rate of 2.6% is still tied (with David Bakhtiari, 2017) for the sixth-best figure ever recorded by a left tackle in a single season. As a run-blocker, he produced an impact run-block percentage of 18.1% that ranks as the sixth-best mark ever recorded by a left tackle over the course of a single season.

Left Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (2013) — 94.9

Mathis’ 2013 season was the crown jewel of a seven-year stretch that saw him record elite overall grades in each year from 2009 to 2015, and to this day, it is still the gold standard for left guards. In 2013, Mathis was an integral part of Nick Foles’ and Chip Kelly’s statistically excellent offensive season, recording pass-blocking (82.0) and run-blocking (94.7) grades north of 80.0. While he was good in pass protection that year — he allowed only 24 pressures from 621 pass-blocking snaps — it was his work in the run game that ensures his inclusion on this list. Among the 302 instances where a left guard played 300 or more run-blocking snaps over the course of a single season, Mathis’ 2016 impact run-block percentage of 20.6% ranks fifth, four spots below his PFF-era single-season record of 26.0%, that he set in 2015.

Center: Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles (2017) — 93.9

The driving force at the heart of the Eagles’ Super Bowl campaign, Kelce was outstanding in every facet of the game in 2017. His 93.9 overall grade is still the best single-season mark of the PFF era for a center, as is his 94.6 run-blocking grade. Like his former teammate Mathis, he was adequate in pass protection in 2017, allowing just 22 pressures from 719 pass-blocking snaps, but it was his work in the run game that truly set him apart from the rest. In 19 games, Kelce recorded an impact run-block percentage of 22.9% — the best mark ever recorded by a center in the last 13 NFL seasons.

Right Guard: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens (2015) — 93.8

Few offensive guards have shown as well as Yanda over the last 13 years. In fact, the All-Pro guard has earned overall grades north of 80.0 in 11 of his 12 of his professional seasons. But the best year of his excellent career came in 2015 when he paired an outstanding performance in pass protection (90.3 pass-blocking grade) with a career-best contribution as a run-blocker (92.7 run-blocking grade). Over the last 13 years, there have been only two instances where an offensive guard has played more than 500 snaps yet earned elite grades as both a pass-blocker and run-blocker — Yanda’s 2015 season is one of them.

Right Tackle: Damien Woody, New York Jets (2008) — 92.2

Damien Woody’s work on the Jets’ right side of the offensive line was truly spectacular at its best, and his outstanding 2008 season more than deserves the starting spot on the Team of the PFF Era. On the field for 1,000 snaps across 16 games, Woody recorded 12 single-game pass-blocking grades north of 70.0. He allowed 19 pressures on his 557-pass-blocking snaps, giving him a league fifth-best pass-blocking efficiency rating (97.5), and he ended the year with an impact run-block percentage of 14.4% that still stands as the second-best mark ever recorded by a right tackle with at least 500 pass-blocking snaps in a season.

Defense

Edge defender: Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams (2013) — 93.6

To this day, Robert Quinn’s outstanding 2013 season still holds the best overall grade ever recorded by an edge defender, and for good reason. Playing 99.4% of his pass-rush snaps from the right side, Quinn was almost unblockable all season long and ended the campaign with 19 sacks, 21 hits and 51 hurries from his 478 pass-rush snaps. His 91 total pressures are still tied for the sixth-most ever recorded by an edge defender over the course of a single season; he led the league that year in pass-rush productivity and also ranked fifth among his peers in run-defense grade (84.2).

Interior Defensive Lineman: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (2018) — 95.0

There are a number of Aaron Donald seasons that would have been good enough to take this spot. If it weren’t his 2018 season, it would have been his 2017 season, which he finished with a 94.4 overall grade; if it weren’t his 2017 season, it would have been his 2015 season, which he finished with a 93.0 overall grade. You get the point. Donald’s 2018 season surpassed what we thought was possible — even for him — for a player on the defensive interior. His 95.0 overall grade is the best single-season grade ever recorded by a player at the position; his 23.0% pass-rush win rate and his 10.1 pass-rush productivity both ranked first among interior defensive lineman last year.

Interior Defensive Lineman: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals (2012) — 93.9

Atkins’ brilliant 2012 season rightfully gets him lined up next to Donald on the defensive interior. That year, Atkins’ sheer dominance both against the run (90.8 run-defense grade) and the pass (92.8 pass-rushing grade) saw him finish the campaign with, what was at the time, the highest-graded season ever recorded by an interior defensive lineman. His led his peers in pass-rush win rate (14.6%) that year, and his 9.2 pass-rush productivity rating is currently tied for the sixth-best single-season mark ever recorded. He complemented his pass-rush prowess with a run-stop percentage of 10.6% — 10th among players at the position  — off the back of 28 run stops and just two missed run tackles.

Edge Defender: Von Miller, Denver Broncos (2012) — 93.4

Von Miller’s 2012 season was a sight to behold, as the then-sophomore edge defender churned out 19 sacks, 15 hits and 52 hurries from his 470 snaps as a pass-rusher, all good for the league’s second-best pass-rush productivity rating (12.0) and the league’s best pass-rush win rate (18.9%). As if that wasn’t enough, Miller also powered his way to the position’s highest run-defense grade — making him one of only two edge defenders in the PFF era who played at least 1,000 snaps in a season and earned elite grades in both the pass-rush and in run defense, the other being Khalil Mack (2015).

Linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers (2015) — 93.8

Kuechly’s dominant 2015 season is still yet to be topped. In 16 games (including three playoff games), the Panthers linebacker earned 14 single-game grades above 70.0, with six of those grades cracking the 90.0 mark. A dominant force in every facet of the game, he ranked in the top-three among linebackers in run-stop percentage (13.3%, third), passer rating allowed (48.8, first) and tackling efficiency (20.4, second), ending the year without a Super Bowl ring, but with 87.0-plus grades as a run defender (90.2), a coverage defender (93.2) and as a tackler (87.8).

Linebacker: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks (2018) — 91.8

Wagner finished the 2018 season ranked first in overall grade (91.9), coverage grade (90.4) and run-defense grade (91.8) among qualifying off-ball linebackers. Only two off-ball linebackers in the PFF era (2006-18) have earned 90.0-plus marks in all three facets: Wagner in 2018 and Kuechly in 2015. As good as they come as a tackler, Wagner holds first and second place for the PFF record for the most tackles made without a miss, the top mark ringing in at an astonishing 140 tackles.

Cornerback: Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts (2014) — 93.3

People often forget just how dominant Davis was with the Colts in 2014, but the reality is that he put forth a season up there with the very best that year. Targeted 92 times on the year, the then-sixth-year cornerback allowed just 41 completions for 444 yards, zero touchdowns and only 19 first downs, deservedly earning an elite, 92.5 coverage grade that still stands as the second-best single-season coverage grade ever recorded by a cornerback. In the PFF era, there have been 1,082 instances where a corner was targeted at least 50 times over a single season; among hat group, Davis’ 2016 season ranks tied for 16th in catch rate allowed (44.6%) and 11th in passer rating allowed (41.2).

Cornerback: Asante Samuel, New England Patriots (2006) — 93.2

Asante Samuel was nothing short of dominant at his best, and his 2006 season was a prime example of that. He saw a whopping 112 targets that year yet allowed only 57 completions, coming away with 12 interceptions and 21 pass breakups in the process. His 93.1 coverage grade that year is yet to be beaten by a cornerback, and his 31.0 passer rating allowed is still the third-best mark ever recorded by a player at the position.

Safety: Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (2012) — 93.2

The former Bills star was simply sensational on the backend of his team’s defense in 2012, grading above 90.0 in three of his games on the year. His 94.7 coverage grade is still tied for the best grade ever recorded by a safety (see below), in large part due to his six combined pass breakups and interceptions and 24 total defensive stops.

Safety: Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears (2018) — 93.2

Eddie Jackson’s body of work across his 625 coverage snaps last year was some of the best that we’ve ever seen from a safety. In 14 games, Jackson earned a single-season coverage grade of 94.7 which not only led all defensive players in the NFL last year, but it’s tied for the best mark ever recorded by a safety in the PFF era (2006-present), narrowly beating out Ravens legend Ed Reed (92.7, 2009) and Vikings standout Harrison Smith (92.2, 2017). With two years now in the books, Jackson’s defensive success rate (forced incompletions+coverage stops/targets in coverage) of 45.5% is currently the second-best mark of the PFF era, trailing only Charles Woodson and Adrian Amos (both 47.1%).

Flex Defense: Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers (2012) — 92.2

Once a mainstay of the San Diego Chargers’ secondary, Weddle simply dominated throughout his 2012 season. He earned grades of at least 85.0 as a run defender (90.5), as a coverage defender (91.7), as a pass-rusher (86.2) and as a tackler (87.4) — making him the only safety in the PFF era to achieve such a feat over the course of a single season. That season, he ranked fourth among safeties with 37 total stops, and his 54.3 passer rating allowed ranked third among those who saw at least 30 targets.

[Editor’s note: Check out all of our advanced statistics and information including every player’s grade, dating back to 2006, with PFF Elite and Premium Stats 2.0. Sign up today to gain access!]

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