Pro Football Focus finished its release of the top 101 players in the NFL, based on their play and grades last season. Evan Mathis, signed by Arizona in the offseason to play right guard, and receiver Larry Fitzgerald already were revealed as the 76th and 43rd best players.
The Cardinals had three more, all in the top 20. Cornerback Patrick Peterson came in 19th, quarterback Carson Palmer came in 15th and safety Tyrann Mathieu was 10th.
This was written of Peterson:
Finally at full health, Patrick Peterson had arguably his best season as a pro for the Cardinals, and shut down a who's-who of receivers over the course of the year. Peterson wasn't beaten for more than 56 yards in any one game, and was one of the few players to enjoy success against Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown, limiting him to just two receptions for 26 yards on six targets when the two met, albeit in one of the games Brown was without Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback.
Best performance: Week 13 at St. Louis: +2.6
Key stat: Peterson averaged 18.9 coverage snaps per reception allowed, the best mark among CBs.
This was written of Palmer:
Whether it was his injured thumb or just a postseason meltdown, Carson Palmer's playoff performance drags him out of the top 10 and away from the very highest spots of the Top 101. At the end of the regular season, Palmer had earned PFF's vote for both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. In a passing system that saw him have the highest average depth of target (11.3) in the league, Palmer should have been one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in the league, but actually completed 63.7 percent of his passes and threw just 11 interceptions over the regular season. He was our highest-graded QB over that span, but in two playoff games, he went from bad to worse, ending with the lowest passing grade we have ever given a quarterback in a postseason game to send the Cardinals home.
Best performance: Week 15 at Philadelphia: +6.7
Key stat: Palmer led the NFL in average depth of target (11.3 yards downfield), and yet still completed 63.7 percent of his passes.
And still yet, this was written of the Badger, who gets so much PFF love:
Tyrann Mathieu was robbed of a chance of appearing higher on this list by a torn ACL late in the season, causing him to miss the final two games and the playoffs. At the point he went down, he was enjoying a Defensive-Player-of-the-Year kind of season, and even with the two missed games, he finished on our shortlist for that award. Whether you view him as a safety (where he is listed by Arizona) or a cornerback (where he plays 67.5 percent of his snaps), you have to appreciate the sheer playmaking ability of a DB who has quickly become one of the league's great matchup weapons on defense. Capable of playing in a variety of different roles and positions, Mathieu just has a nose for making plays, and showed that this season.
Best performance: Week 7 versus Baltimore: +5.9
Key stat: Listed by Arizona as a safety, Mathieu was PFF's highest-graded cornerback in 2015, where he played 67.5 percent of his defensive snaps.
Pro Football Focus gets criticized for a lot of things, especially when it comes to their grading system. But just looking at the names on the list for the Cardinals and the seasons they had, these make sense. Peterson was fantastic. Palmer had the best quarterback season in team history. Mathieu made big play after big play, and his value doesn't always come on the stat sheet.
That gives Arizona five in the top 101. Some could say John Brown, Mike Iupati, David Johnson or even Chandler Jones deserve to be in there. Perhaps they do. However, Brown had several games where he was no factor. Johnson didn't come on strong until late in the season. Jones gets graded up and down by PFF.Iupati is one of the best at his position.
Does this seem about right? Should there have been more Cardinals, or is it time to get angry at PFF again?