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New Orleans Saints Jordan, Brees, Thomas make Pro Football Focus Top 101

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2016 wasn’t a banner year for the Saints, but a few stars still shined. Pro Football Focus gave them their due in the annual Top 101 players ranking.

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates with wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) after a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the time of the year when post-season accolades are a trendy topic. Between dubious Pro Bowl voting and the NFL Honors ceremonies, it’s a time for players to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Pro Football Focus is getting in on the fun as well with their annual Top 101 players ranking. It’s an interesting list that offers rare insight into the game, and is well worth your time.

Even though things didn’t go as planned for the Saints this year, the cream still rose to the top. Here are the Saints who made the list:

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints defensive end Paul Kruger (99),defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and free safety Vonn Bell (48) celebrate after they get a safety against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

15th Overall: DE Cameron Jordan

Cameron Jordan began the season slowly, with three relatively average games in the month of September before catching fire and burning brightly until the year was over. Jordan was only held without pressure once on the year, and in that game (against Kansas City), he earned strong grades against the run. For the season, Jordan posted 79 total QB pressures, the same number as Von Miller, and was a consistent force against the run game, where at close to 290 pounds, he brings more to the table (literally) than many edge rushers.

Jordan was a notable snub for the Pro Bowl, with Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett getting in over him despite posting fewer sacks and tackles for loss. But teams that win get more attention and more votes, so Jordan was left out in the cold. Good on PFF for recognizing his value.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates after a two point conversion during the second half of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

83rd Overall: QB Drew Brees

Drew Brees may not be playing quite at his best, but he is still an excellent quarterback, finishing the season with a completion percentage of 70.0, and a passer rating of 101.7. Brees, in fact, was far better than that most of the season, but two ugly divisional games late in the year dropped his grade significantly. Brees this season was excellent when kept clean (108.3 passer rating), but when the heat was applied, he wasn’t quite the same player, throwing only three touchdowns and seeing his completion percentage fall almost 20 points, to 56.9.

Saints fans spent weeks crowing about an offensive line that looked vulnerable on paper last offseason, but it wasn’t much of an issue until late in the year. Without All Pro-caliber left tackle Terron Armstead in the lineup and a rotating cast inside at guard, the Saints struggled to keep Brees clean and it put a hurting on his numbers. Hopefully they address that issue this spring.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) catches a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (13) in the fourth quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

93rd Overall: WR Michael Thomas

Another rookie makes the Top 101 in this season for first-year players. Michael Thomas was the sixth receiver taken in the 2016 draft, but by far the best in his first year, almost doubling the receiving yardage of Giants WR Sterling Shepard, in second. Thomas caught 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, breaking 20 tackles along the way and dropping only four balls all season. The Saints got him on the field early with a basic route package and it worked out to perfection, maximizing the impact of a potential playmaker from the get go.

While he was snubbed from Offensive Rookie of the Year contention in favor of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and his 28 turnovers (14 interceptions, 14 fumbles), Michael Thomas has been given acclaim all throughout the broader NFL community. His 92 receptions as a rookie is second all-time, behind only the 101 passes caught by Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin back in 2003. Feel free to get a #13 jersey.