Pro Football Focus did its annual Top 101 players of the season list. The Denver Broncos finished with the second most players in the AFC with six, while predictably, the New England Patriots led the way with seven players.
Four of the six players were on the defensive side of the ball, but there were a few key contributors that were snubbed from the list. Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Brandon Marshall, Darian Stewart and DeMarcus Ware were all left off the Top 101 list.
On any other team not as stacked on the defensive side of the ball, most of those players would have made the list. That's my suspicion, anyway.
On the offensive side of the ball, the only player who had the numbers to suggest he might be on this list was Demaryius Thomas. However, his struggles with drops likely cost him a spot here.
Here are the Broncos' players who made the PFF Top 101:
90. Derek Wolfe, DE, Denver Broncos (unranked)
It’s not too often a team re-signs one of its players during the season, only to see him perform even better once the money has hit his bank account. That’s precisely what happened with Wolfe, however, who ended the season with five straight positively graded games and didn’t have a single performance in the red all season long. He notched at least a sack in each of his final seven games and over that period totaled 34 pressures.
Best performance: AFC title game versus New England: +5.8 grade
Key stat: Wolfe had the highest run-stop percentage among 3-4 DEs at 12.9 percent
Wolfe was a run stopping monster throughout the regular season, but he went into full beast mode in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. His hunger for Tom Brady's children drove him to his best PFF grade of the year.
It's a good thing the Broncos have Wolfe locked in long-term. His tenacity on the interior of that line is a big time motor for this defense's success.
76. Evan Mathis, G, Denver Broncos (59)
Injury and playing time hurt Evan Mathis, but we also saw him slip as a pass-blocker at times during the season. Pass protection has always been the weaker side of his game, but this season it was actually marginally below average, and he surrendered three sacks and 19 total pressures despite splitting time at the position. His run-blocking was still peerless, however, and he had the highest grade in the league among all guards. He may not destroy people, but he is the most consistent guard in football, rarely losing in the run game.
Best performance: Divisional playoffs versus Pittsburgh: +5.4 game grade
Key stat: Mathis was the highest-graded guard in run-blocking at +35.0; the second-highest was +24.6
Mathis was another savvy veteran who saved his best for last, posting his best PFF grade of the year in the playoffs. His run-blocking was key down the stretch against AFC playoff contenders.
He was also the best Twitter follow on the team. I am personally sad to see him move on to greener pastures.
75. Malik Jackson, DE, Denver Broncos (43)
While Derek Wolfe signed an extension early, Malik Jackson held out until free agency and cashed in with the Jaguars after a big season in Denver. Jackson became an every-down player and posted 60 total pressures from 530 snaps rushing the passer during the regular season, and then added 15 more during the playoffs. He may have benefitted from the sheer array of weaponry on the Broncos’ defense, but Jackson was one of the more impressive interior rushers in the league this past season.
Best performance: Week 13 at San Diego: +8.0
Key stat: Jackson notched the eighth-most total pressures among 3-4 DEs last season
You cannot fault Jackson for leaving. His ridiculous contract was well-earned in 2015 as they was a constant force up the middle. If teams tried to keep him double-teamed, then Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware would feast on the outside. It was really a perfect setup of "pick your poison" for opposing offenses. The Broncos are going to miss that somewhat in 2016.
69. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos (42)
You wouldn’t ordinarily expect to hear about a receiver being held back by having Peyton Manning as his quarterback, but that’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Sanders in 2015. (He didn’t see his fortunes improve much in the games Brock Osweiler was starting, either.) Despite the poor-to-average QB play in Denver, Sanders was extremely reliable and maintained that strong level in the postseason, notching at least five catches and 62 yards in each of his three playoff games.
Best performance: Week 15 at Pittsburgh: +4.6
Key stat: Sanders earned the 11th-highest yards per route run figure in 2015, at 2.14.
Everyone's favorite wide receiver actually dropped on this list from the season prior, but Sanders was an impact player for the Broncos in 2015. Despite the quarterback struggles, Sanders was the steady rock at wide receiver. The Broncos need to figure out a way to lock him up long-term.
36. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos (4)
If you take away the two games against the Steelers, Harris would likely have been in the top 10 once again. He earned a +23.4 cumulative overall grade against the rest of the league this season, and a -7.4 grade in those two games against Pittsburgh (keep in mind that 0.0 is considered average on PFF’s cumulative grading scale). Harris also played through a significant shoulder injury down the stretch and into the playoffs, and yet in the Super Bowl, gave up just one catch for 11 yards. He is one of the league’s best corners and showed it again this season—as long as he wasn’t asked to cover Antonio Brown and company.
Best performance: Week 5 at Oakland: +2.9
Key stat: Harris Jr. recorded a PFF cumulative game grade of -7.4 against Pittsburgh this past season, and a +23.4 grade against everybody else.
If you asked PFF, CHJ has always been one of the best cornerbacks in the game. They have been the sole source of massive respect for how well CHJ plays the game. From his technique to his ability to keep players out of the end zone.
The reason for the big drop in 2015 was likely due to his one terrible outing against the Steelers. An outing CHJ will be looking to fix as soon as possible. I wouldn't bet on Antonio Brown getting the best of him again.
7. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos (10)
The postseason enjoyed by Von Miller catapults him up this list, ending in a Super Bowl in which he was the single biggest factor, coming hard on the heels of an AFC Championship game in which the same case could be made. Miller demonstrated that, at the peak of his play, there is no more fearsome edge rusher, as well as the effect a dominant rusher can have on an offense. Miller has an ideal blend of quickness, burst, and bend to completely perplex most blockers tasked with stopping him, and while many players are examples of what you can achieve if you don’t fit the NFL’s ideal prototype measurables profile, Miller is the embodiment of what can happen if you fit it to perfection. Over the regular season, he was a key player on the best defense in the league, but there was no better postseason than the one Von Miller displayed, ending with four-straight dominant displays (including a must-win Week 17 encounter) in which he totaled seven sacks and 30 pressures.
Best performance: AFC Championship Game versus New England: +8.5
Key stat: Miller notched 105 total QB pressures last season (postseason included), the most among all NFL 3-4 OLB by 23 pressures.
How Miller doesn't get ranked higher is insane. His playoff run will go down as one of the greatest of all time. His highest PFF grade was that AFC Championship Game, but his Super Bowl 50 performance was every bit as transcendent.
PFF also ranked Khalil Mack a spot ahead of Miller, thanks mostly to his +15.4 outing against Michael Schofield in the regular season. That is one ranking that I considered dumb as hell. By PFF's own admission, Miller had 23 more pressures on just four more pass rushing snaps.
It's all good, though. Miller has a nice fat diamond ring to go along with a shiny new Super Bowl MVP trophy. And soon, he'll have about a hundred million other reasons to be happy.
Overall, it was nice to see PFF get a lot of Denver Broncos players on this list. They did win a world championship after all. Though I would have put a few more defensive players up in here.