On Thursday night at 8 pm, look for A.J. Green to be named to NFL Network’s list of the Top 100 Players of 2013. This week’s episode will reveal the players ranked from 20 to 11.
“I’ll say top 15 and he’s still growing,” said Reggie Nelson. “A.J. is doing a tremendous job of leading by example and just going out there and practicing hard. There’s not a day where he doesn’t run his routes at full speed.”
“It’s an honor just to be on there because the players vote,” said Green. “It’s all about respect.”
The Top 100 is selected by active players; although according to NFL Network only 481 of them (28.3%) took part in the voting process.
“I’ve always wondered about that,” said Leon Hall. “I’ve never voted and I don’t know when that voting happens.”
Green will become the second Cincinnati player to appear on this year’s list, joining Geno Atkins who was ranked number 36.
“He came in 36th?” said Hall. “That’s kind of weird and unexpected considering how dominant he’s been. I don’t know how many players I would put in front of him. I’d put a few – Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, those kinds of guys. But I think Geno got ripped off – I’m not going to lie.”
“I thought that he could have been higher because he’s probably one of the best d-tackles in the league,” said Green.
“I’m pretty sure that my teammates believe that I should be number one or whatever,” said Atkins with a laugh. “I’m just happy to be on the list.”
While the Top 100 is hardly scientific (Tim Tebow made it last year at #95), the presence of two Bengals in the top 40 is a sign of the team’s growing notoriety around the NFL. Two years ago when the series started, the only Cincinnati player on the list was Terrell Owens (#91) and he did not play for the Bengals in the season that followed. Last year, Green was the only Cincinnati player to make it at #77.
“All we do is go out and play football – that stuff is just somebody’s opinion,” said Nelson. “But it’s nice to be in the Top 100 – it’s certainly better than not making it.”
Green and Atkins have more in common than making this year’s list. In addition to being former Georgia Bulldogs, the Bengals standouts let their play speak for itself.
“They’re old school and that’s the way I like it,” said Hall. “They just work hard and produce on the field. They both have confidence and that’s a key, but they don’t express it to everybody.”
“We’re both Georgia boys so we’re used to winning and hard work,” said Green. “That’s been instilled in us since we’ve been there. We just come to work every day. We really don’t talk that much – we just go play football.”
And the Bengals duo isn’t satisfied to simply make the list.
“It’s great that some guys think so highly of me, but I feel like I still have a long way to go to be the receiver that I want to be,” said Green.
“I’ve got to do it again this year,” said Atkins. “That list was for last year, and I’m focused on the 2013 season.”
The fact that the Bengals top two players are both no-nonsense, hard-working pros has a huge impact on the team’s locker room culture.
“Say you have a young receiver coming in here and he thinks that A.J. Green is the best in the NFL,” said Hall. “Then he sees A.J. at work and he thinks, ‘He’s already the best and he’s still working hard.’ That makes him say, ‘I’m going to work hard because I want to be where he’s at.’ The same is true for any young defensive player watching Geno practice or work in the weight room – which is pretty impressive. And it’s not just the rookies – it goes upwards too. There are plenty of old guys that look up to A.J. and Geno for the way that they work.”
“If other guys see the best working hard, putting in the extra time, and listening to the coaches, they’re going to want to do that,” said Atkins. “It becomes contagious and that’s how you create the best team out there on the field.”
“That’s the thing about this team – a lot of guys lead by example,” said Nelson. “You’re not going to hear us talking about ourselves. As long as we keep that ‘I’ out of the locker room, we’ll be just fine.”
That isn’t likely to be an issue with Green. In fact, the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver doesn’t even plan to watch Thursday’s episode to see where he’s ranked.
“I’ll probably just read about it on Twitter,” said Green.
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