Ngata Is Ninth On 'Top 100' NFL Network Players' List
SUGGS NOMINATED FOR ESPY AWARD
By Joe Platania
Haloti Ngata is the next man up.
The Ravens' stalwart defensive tackle, heading into his seventh year in the NFL after being the team's first-round pick in 2006, is being touted by many observers -- both inside and outside the organization -- as being the next so-called leader of the highly regarded Baltimore defense.
That reputation was burnished Wednesday night as Ngata was the only one of seven Ravens to get enough players' votes to finish in the top 10 of the NFL Network's "Top 100" active-players list.
Ngata finished in ninth place -- up from 17th on last year's list -- and was ranked as the best at his position for a second straight year. He also came in just behind more nationally known offensive stars such as quarterbacks Tom Brady (New England) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), and wideouts Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) and Calvin Johnson (Detroit).
Despite such glittering talent at the skill positions, Ngata was one of four defensive players in the top 10, along with New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis and Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
"[Ngata] is a complete defensive lineman," said one of his constant one-on-one opponents, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.
Ngata, who played at Oregon in college, is a three-time Pro Bowl honoree and two-time All-Pro. He's known for his lightning-fast reads and quick feet, not a common combination for someone with a 340-pound frame.
Since Ngata became a Raven, the team's defense has not ranked lower than fifth best in run-stuffing each year.
"He can use his speed and quickness to beat you," Ravens center Matt Birk said.
Plus, despite Ngata's nasty on-field attitude, he is soft spoken and was more modest when he met the media at the team's recent mandatory minicamp earlier this month. In fact, he expressed disappointment in the decline in his play last season, after a 10-pound weight loss and a thigh bruise that seemingly rendered him not as effective or consistent as in the past.
"I had a couple of problems," Ngata said. "But I just didn't feel probably just as powerful at the end of the season as what I usually feel. I just didn't feel that strong, so I think a little bit this year I'm going to probably try to get up on the weight a little bit just to help me with some of that power. I think being a little bit lighter kind of made me lose some of that power. So, we'll see how it goes.
"You know, [being Defensive Player of the Year] would be cool. ... I think it would be awesome just to be a Defensive Player of the Year, because I think that would help our team get to a Super Bowl. So, if it happens, it happens. But, that's something I'm not really thinking about. I just want to help our team win."
The NFL Network list is determined by a players vote, so opponents around the league are well aware of Ngata's prowess. That can also translate to more attention on the field, which may have contributed to a second-half malaise during which Ngata still played better than most at his position.
"They pretty much know Haloti, and he does get double-teamed, pretty much all the time," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Some other guys rose to the occasion. Pernell McPhee put some pressure on the quarterback with some single blocks. [Paul] Kruger, we moved inside in some of those situations, [Terrence] Cody in the run game especially.
"But sure, he gets a lot of attention. They know who he is. The Jets game, if you think about that game for Haloti, was the one where they really struggled to block him."
If Ngata were to win Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012 -- as many think he can -- he would be the fourth different Raven to take that honor, following inside linebacker Ray Lewis (2000, 2003) free safety Ed Reed (2004) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (2011).
Speaking of Suggs, the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year picked up an honor of his own Wednesday when he was nominated for an ESPY Award as the Best NFL Player.
Suggs is up against Rodgers, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson. The winner will be announced July 11 at the 20th annual ESPY ceremony at Las Vegas. Votes are being accepted now at ESPN.com.
Curiously, Suggs ranked only 11th on the NFL Network list, a standing that isn't likely to be helped this year, and could be hurt significantly, by his Achilles tendon surgery, which could keep him off the field at least half the season.
Secondly, with Suggs (ranked 11th), Reed (16th) and Lewis (20th) all ranked outside the top 10, the Ravens had actually had one fewer top 10 player (Ngata) on the list than they did in 2011.
Ngata's ranking rose significantly, as did Suggs', whose placement was up a full 29 spots. That represents the second-highest rise by any of the seven Ravens on the list; running back Ray Rice went up 34 spots (56-22).
But, mostly because of Reed's decrease in interceptions, his ranking fell from No. 5 to No. 16. Lewis' four-game absence with an injured toe likely contributed to his decline from No. 4 to No. 20; in 2011, Lewis was the highest-ranking defensive player in the "Top 100."
Despite that, Reed's 57 interceptions are the most by any active player. His next regular-season pickoff will tie him with Hall of Fame cornerback Emmitt Thomas for 10th on the all-time interception list, and his ranking was three spots higher than that of the player to which he is most compared, Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (19th).
The Ravens, Pittsburgh and San Francisco -- the top three defenses in the league last year -- each have a league-high four defensive players on the list.
The NFL Network's annual ranking of the top 100 active players featured seven Ravens on last year's list, tied with the Green Bay Packers for the league high.
The same number will populate this year's rankings, tied with San Francisco and Philadelphia for the most from one squad.
The difference this year is that four Ravens -- Suggs, Lewis, Ngata and Reed -- are all in the top 20. Last year, only Ngata, Reed and Lewis ranked that high.
Even after 16 seasons, Lewis was the highest-ranked defensive player on last year's list. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was named the league's top player.
Further back in the 2012 rankings, three Ravens' standings have already risen significantly. Quarterback Joe Flacco went from No. 90 to No. 74, fullback Vonta Leach's number went up 20 notches to No. 45, and running back Ray Rice rose from No. 56 to No. 22
(Leach's initial ranking of No. 65 came after his final season as a member of the Houston Texans.)
Two years ago, a pair of Ravens appeared on the top 100 all-time list, with Reed at No. 88 and Lewis at 18. San Francisco wide receiver Jerry Rice earned the top spot.
On the two active-player lists, current NFL players' top 20 preferences were then put through a point system, with the top 100 totals making up the final list. On the all-time list, retired players' preferences and longtime media members' votes were the determining factors.
Posted June 28, 2012