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Going by this ranking, the Cowboys have the most elite players on their roster

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The Cowboys top the list in number of players to make the rankings.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Atlanta Falcons vs Denver Broncos Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So, last week the NFL released the final installment of their annual “Top 100 players” list to much fanfare. The list is a great tool for the NFL to generate debate and discussion about which players are overrated and which players are overlooked. It’s a fun, somewhat silly, exercise. The rankings are determined by players themselves, and thus are often more a popularity contest than a rigorously compiled evaluation of individual player’s contributions.

Still, the rankings do inform about the league and where the Cowboys stand among the other 31 teams.

Let’s start with number of players named:

I honestly didn’t know the Cowboys had the most players on the list. From a pure statistical point of view each team should have 3.125 players on the list (100/32). Thus, Dallas has nearly five players above the average. Here’s the list of Cowboys:

Some observations:

  • While the Cowboys place eight players on the list, only one is among the top 45 (Ezekiel Elliott at 18).
  • Four Cowboys appear on the list who were not on the list the prior year: Jaylon Smith, Amari Cooper, Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones.
  • Demarcus Lawrence and Tyron Smith both saw their rankings drop; Lawrence from 34 to 55 and Smith from 39 to 48.
  • Perhaps the biggest negative regarding the Cowboys is Dak Prescott; he plays the most important position in the game and is absent.
  • Also missing from this list is Travis Frederick. That’s understandable considering he didn’t play a regular season snap last season. Surprisingly, Frederick was not on the list in 2018 either, after coming off four consecutive Pro Bowls. This seems more about how players value the center position than Frederick’s actual performance.

Another way of looking at the rankings by team

  • The top of the list shows a lot of teams you’d expect but there are a few surprises.
  • The Browns are tied for seventh on the list with four players. A year before, the Browns had zero players on the list (though they did add two players through free agency: Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde).
  • Only six teams placed more than four players on the list with the Rams, Chargers, Steelers, Vikings and Chiefs joining the Cowboys.
  • Both the Eagles and Patriots - two teams widely regarded as Super Bowl contenders - placed only four players.
  • Six teams placed only one player on the list, including two of the Cowboys’ division rivals (Giants and Redskins).
  • The Buffalo Bills do not have a single name on the list; imagine rooting for a team without a single exciting player.

Points by Team

Obviously, the more players a team places on the list, the better. However, there’s a big difference between being in the top ten as opposed to, say, the 85th player on the list. I’ve developed a simple points system to determine top 100 “points” by team. The formula is the #1 ranked player is assigned 100 points, while the 100th ranked player is assigned a single point.

If we rank each team by top 100 player points we get the following:

Note that despite having the most players on the list the Cowboys “only” rank third in points. The Chargers, with one less player on the list (seven) have more points. Other notes:

  • Statistically, each team should have an average of 155 points. The Cowboys, with 330 points, are 113% above average. The Chargers, with 376 points, are 221% above average.
  • New Orleans ranks seventh in points with only four players, a reflection of having three players among the top 14 and four among the top 41. Those four players average 83 points each(!), while the Cowboys’ eight players average only 41, by comparison.
  • Surprised, again, to see the Eagles ranked among the mediocre.

The following chart pretty well illustrates everything we’ve discussed. Not every team is identified, but you get the gist of how things stand. Cowboys, Chargers, Rams, Chiefs and Saints occupy their own spaces while every other team is lumped in with others.

NFC East

We’ve seen how the Cowboys and their division rivals stand overall but a closer look at the Top 100 makeup of the division is revealing. And it demonstrates the Cowboys possess much more star power than the Giants, Redskins and even Eagles. Note the Cowboys have more players (8) than the rest of the division combined (6).

Also note the Cowboys top players are equally distributed across both the offense and defense. In fact, the Cowboys four defensive players on defense is three more than the Eagles, Giants and Redskins combined. Here’s the player list:

The Cowboys are one of only six teams to place two players at the same position on the list:

  • Cowboys - linebacker
  • Chargers - defensive end
  • Browns - wide receiver
  • Vikings - wide receiver
  • Texans - defensive end
  • Broncos - linebacker

Also noteworthy, the Cowboys have five positions where they didn’t have a player included:

  • Quarterback
  • Tight end
  • Center
  • Defensive tackle
  • Safety

Of those, only one (QB) is considered a “premium” position (QB, WR, LT, DE, CB). Here’s the points by team in the NFC East:

The Cowboys’ collection of big-name talent is clearly evident here. Now, I’m sure Eagles and Redskins fans could argue they deserve to have more names on this list (Ryan Kerrigan, Landon Collins, Jonathan Allen and Malcolm Jenkins come to mind). The Giants, however, seem almost completely bereft of high-quality NFL players with only Saquon Barkley on the list.

Still, at every segment (overall, offense, defense) the Cowboys have more top 100 points than their division rival’s combined.

Position Analysis

The rreceiver position, with 20 spots, easily tops all other position groups. That’s a surprise (to me anyway). Quarterback and defensive end, joining wide-outs among the top three units, is not a surprise. There’s also fewer offensive lineman than expected (only eight). Among those eight, six are tackles, with only one guard (the Cowboys’ Martin) and one center (the Eagles’ Jason Kelce). Only four tight ends make the list, illustrating how difficult it is for teams to field a high quality player at the position.

Here’s the total points by position:

Division analysis

Here we see some real deviations. Six of the league’s eight divisions have between 12 and 15 players on the list; but when points are counted it’s clear the most star power resides in the AFC West.

That’s because the division hosts three of the top 10 players:

  • Patrick Mahomes (#4, 97 points)
  • Antonio Brown (#7, 94 points)
  • Von Miller (#10, 91 points)

Phillip Rivers, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce all rank among the top 21. Add names like Derwin James, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and it’s truly a star-studded division.

At the complete other end of the spectrum is the woeful AFC East, where only seven players made the cut. Predictably the New England Patriots have four of the seven. Those who’ve claimed the Patriots have benefited from facing sub-par divisional competition over the years of their dynasty can certainly use this list as evidence. Consider the Cowboys, with eight names, have nearly three times as many players as the Bills, Dolphins and Jets combined.

The following shows how the AFC West ranks above others, with most of the other divisions lumped together with the NFC East. As noted, the AFC East is a clear laggard and the AFC North has a a high number of players (12) but relatively few points.

So, there ya go. It’s a fun exercise but not one to be taken too seriously. I imagine by the mid-point of the season a substantial number of the names on this would cause double-takes and fans would be clamoring for absent names to take their place. It’s the nature of the NFL where careers are short and elite players face a difficult task staying at the top of the league.

Nonetheless, Cowboys fans have reason to be proud. It’s rare to be the #1 team on this list and it illustrates the quality roster the brain-trust has built over the last few years.