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Ekeler, James Reach Highest Rankings Yet on NFL's Top 100 List

Top 100

Austin Ekeler and Derwin, James, Jr. are moving on up the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2023 list.

The pair of Chargers teammates became the fifth and sixth members of the team to make this year's edition of the list and appear for the second straight year.

Ekeler's knack for the end zone helped slot him at No. 21 — his highest ranking yet.

"I respect his game a lot," 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. "I think that was the guy all week I remember playing the Chargers, that's the guy we were circling. I think leading into that game he had already had like 10 touchdowns or something crazy."

The Chargers running back followed up a 20-touchdown season in 2021 with 18 last year, the most among all players.

He also shined in all facets of the game and marked a career high in yards from scrimmage with 1,637.

"Ekeler's one of those slashing kind of backs," 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead said. "Even though they're not the biggest of guys, they're hard to tackle because of how quick they are in their slashing ability and when they see a hole, they hit it hard."

Ekeler's peers praised his ability to do it on the ground and through the air, especially after the Bolts running back set a franchise record with 107 receptions in 2022.

No matter how he gets the ball, Ekeler is always a threat to score.

"Scores touchdowns on the ground, scores touchdowns through the air and catching the ball," Chiefs linebacker Drue Tranquill said. "When you talk about being able to get five out in the pattern, Austin creates the ultimate mismatch for a linebacker.

"He's elite in the screen game when he gets going in the screen game," Tranquill added. "His ability to read those blocks and really create for the football team, he's always on."

Just like Ekeler, James was able to best his highest mark in this year's list.

Take a look back at the best photos of Austin Ekeler's 2022 campaign

The All-Pro safety made the list for the second straight season, and third overall, coming in at No. 30 as voted by his peers.

James does it all for the Chargers, whether it's on the field with his versatility or off of it with his leadership. The Bolts safety had one of the best years of his career in 2022, finishing with 115 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

When James is on the field, opposing offenses take notice as they know he can turn the game around in just one play.

"He's just a very physical player but really, his competitiveness every single play, you're going to get his best," 49ers tight end George Kittle said. "That's what makes him such a fantastic football player.

"This past season, our game plan was Derwin James and so we were like, 'Where is Derwin?,'" Kittle added. "Every single play we were identifying where Derwin was because you can see past games he would just blow up plays because they wouldn't account for him. If you don't account for him every single play, they're going to have 15 tackles and you're not going to have any explosive plays, you're going to get into third and longs and then that's when their defense wins."

Take a look at some of the best shots of Derwin James' 2023 offseason

James also sets the tone on the field, as his athleticism and physicality is something opposing players of the offense notice when they play him.

"Derwin James is one of my favorite safeties in the league, has always been since he's gotten here," Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith said. "You talk about a prototype safety, it's Derwin.

"You'll feel it. He's a really, really great safety," Smith said. "He'll pop you, if he gets a chance to hit you, he'll lay a big one on you."

James lined up just about everywhere on the field in 2022 as he continues to add more to his game, evident by a career-high in sacks last year.

And that's what sets James apart and makes him one of the best safeties in the NFL — versatility and playmaking ability.

"I really respect guys that can do multiple things at that position." Cardinals safety Budda Baker said.

Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., added. "I just see him make some plays where I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah he's got game'."

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