With the regular season finished up I thought it would be a good time to look back at our OTC Valuation metric to see who the top players were at each position. If you haven’t followed the OTCs value this year it’s a metric that combines various data including snaps, statistical performance, and PFF grades to assign a salary based on that data within the market for the position. You can read more about it and how you can access the OTC values here.
This is still a work in progress that we’ll tweak a bit during the year (there will be a note of which position in particular right below) and during the offseason we’ll hopefully go back and revalue some past seasons just to see how varied the numbers are from year to year.
Before we jump into this I would like to thank PFF for letting me work with their data this year to come up with this. If you don’t subscribe to PFF’s elite package it’s something I highly recommend. So without further ado here are our top players of the 2019 NFL season.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seahawks, $29.25 million
Almost all season long Wilson trailed Lamar Jackson by a few million but Jackson sat for the final game of the year to rest for the playoffs and that was enough to tip the scales for Wilson who was able to play in 16 games. Wilson was dynamic this year and is the sole reason that the Seahawks were as good as they were. Wilson threw for over 4,100 yards rand for over 300 and had 34 combined touchdowns. One thing I will say is that the QB numbers at the top were somewhat down this year which in part is why Wilson’s value comes in under $30 million so this is something I may revisit this year to see if we made the value system too difficult or not. Partially QBs are hard to reach their salary maximums because there is so much cheap talent in the draft that also produces at a reasonable level.
Runner Up: Lamar Jackson, $28.8M; Best Value: Dak Prescott, $28M over annual salary
Edge Rusher: TJ Watt, $21.3M
Watt was absolutely dominant this year for the Steelers. Watt played in nearly 87% of the teams defensive snaps en route to a 14.5 sack season in which he forced a league leading 8 fumbles. Per PFF he had 81 pressures on the year and was their highest graded edge rusher as well. Every time I watched the Steelers this year Watt seemed unstoppable. He is now eligible for a new contract and will become the highest paid defensive player in the NFL when extended.
Runner Up: Danielle Hunter: $20.8M; Best Value: Watt, $19M over annual value
Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas, $19.3M
This was a two person race until Chris Godwin was injured late in the year allowing Thomas to pull away. Thomas was phenomenal this season. He was the top graded player by PFF in their receiving category and led the NFL with 149 receptions for 1,725 yards. He accomplished that playing with two quarterbacks this season and maintained over an 80% catch rate. And its not like Thomas is playing opposite all stars either to make things easy. He is simply un-guardable.
Runner Up: Chris Godwin, $17.2M; Best Value: Godwin, $16.4M over annual salary
Interior D-Line: Aaron Donald, $17.5M
This was not even close with Donald being worth about $2 million more than the next closest player at the position. The perennial All Pro finished the season with 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and 80 QB pressures. He led all interior linemen with 83.8% playtime. While one can argue the merits of paying Donald $5.4 million per year more than the next closest player you can’t argue that he is the best at the position by a wide margin.
Runner Up: Cameron Heyward, $15.5M; Best Value: Kenny Clark, $10.3M over annual value
Running Back: Christian McCaffrey, $15.6M
McCaffrey had such a ridiculous start to the year that he was in the early MVP discussions. McCaffrey finished the year in the 1,000/1,000 club rushing for a career best 1,387 yards and adding 1,005 receiving yards. Though the team fell apart late and McCaffrey’s performance became more of an example of why a dominant running back doesn’t really change the fortunes of a team it should not discount from a great performance especially on a team with a QB situation as bad as the Panthers. He will be looking for a new contract this offseason which should be a fascinating situation to watch unfold.
Runner Up: Nick Chubb, $12.8M; Best Value: Aaron Jones, $11.9M over annual salary
Left Tackle: Jake Matthews, $15.4M
Matthews was one of only nine left tackles to hit the 99% snap threshold and played the most snaps at the position being on the field for 1,189 snaps in 2019. It was that durability that saw him claim the top spot for left tackles in the valuation metric. On a per game basis Ronnie Stanley was better but Matthews played all 16 games compared to just 14 for Stanley. Per PFF Matthews ranked 5th best for pressures allowed per pass snap and was top 15 in penalties per snap.
Runner Up: David Bakhtiari, $15.1M; Best Value: Dion Dawkins, $10.6M over annual value
Cornerback: Richard Sherman, $14.7M
This was one of the more volatile positions with the top player constantly shifting around before Sherman came out ahead with a strong finish to the season as some others cooled off. Sherman solidified his place in the Hall of Fame with 3 interceptions, 11 passes defensed and only allowing a ridiculous 8.4 yards per reception with just 67 yards allowed after the catch, basically showing him to be attached to the hip of any receiver this year.
Runner Up: Stephon Gilmore, $13.8M; Best Value: Tre’Davious White, $10.7M over annual value
Linebacker: Luke Kuechly, $14.1M
There isn’t much left to say about Kuechly, who has been named to 7 straight Pro Bowls and deservedly so. At this point the only discussions about Kuechly should be where he rates among the all time players at the position. Just an all around terrific player Kuechly finished the season with 144 tackles and two interceptions while logging over 1,000 snaps on the season.
Runner Up: Demario Davis, $13.3M; Best Value: Jamie Collins, $10.2M over annual value
Right Tackle: Ryan Ramczyk, $13.6M
Ramczyk was about as good as it gets this season. He led the position with 0 sacks allowed and was tied in pressure rate at just 3.03% per dropback. He was PFF’s top graded pass blocker and 2nd highest graded run blocker. The first round draft selection should become the highest paid right tackle in the NFL as soon as the Saints decide to extend him.
Runner Up: Mitchell Schwartz, $12.6M; Best Value: Ramczyk, $11.4M over annual value
Safety: Justin Simmons, $12.7M
Simmons has certainly peaked at the right time as he is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. Simmons finished the year for the Broncos with 4 interceptions, 11 passes defensed and 93 tackles. Per PFF his 53.2% completion against was 7th best in the NFL among players with over 500 snaps and he was the top graded safety in that group. Simmons was just one of four safeties to not miss a snap this year.
Runner Up: Anthony Harris, $11.9M; Best Value: Simmons, $11.9M over annual value
Guard: Zack Martin, $11.7M
Martin is universally recognized as the best guard in the NFL and has certainly proven time and time again to deserve the honor. Martin was the top graded pass blocker and third best run blocker by PFF. Martin was one of only a handful of players to not allow a sack all season. Not surprisingly Martin was named to his 6th straight Pro Bowl.
Runner Up: Brandon Brooks, $11M; Best Value: joe Thuney, $10.2M over annual value
Tight End: Travis Kelce, $10.9M
Another year another 1,000 yards season and Pro Bowl selection for Kelce. No player at the position is more consistent than Kelce. Kelce plays every game and basically every snap. He was the only tight end with over 90% playing time and finished with 12% more playing time than the next closest player at the position (Zach Ertz at 80.5%). While he may not be the most dynamic tight end, a distinction that goes to the 49ers George Kittle, its hard to argue against Kelce’s performance and durability year after year.
Runner Up: Darren Waller, $10.3M; Best Value: George Kittle, $9.3M over annual value.
Center: Ryan Jensen, $10.4M
The Buccaneers center was third in the NFL in snaps played and one of just six players to log 100% playing time at the position. Per PFF Jensen was the 5th best run blocking center and 4th best pass blocking center, which was the best combo in the league. Jensen was credited with just one sack and 15 pressures allowed.
Runner up: Brandon Linder, $10.1M; Best Value: Connor McGovern, $8.2M over annual value