To Peyton Manning’s long list of honors, add another one.
The Hall of Fame-bound quarterback from Newman High, now with the Denver Broncos, has been named the NFL’s top player for 2014 by a vote of his peers.
Results were announced Wednesday in a two-hour special on the NFL Network that culminated a five-week countdown of the league’s top 100 players.
“How can you have anyone else?” said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. “He had the best regular-season performance by anyone his history.
“It’s his offense. He knows it; he runs it; it’s his play-calling. It was virtuoso performance week in and week out.”
It’s the first time in the four-year history of the balloting by the league’s veteran players that Manning has finished in the top spot. He was second in 2011, when he was still with Indianapolis, and in 2013 despite coming off neck surgery which cost him the entire 2012 season and prompted his move from the Colts to the Broncos.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was No. 6 and tight end Jimmy Graham was No. 10, making New Orleans the only team with two players in the top 10. (Click here for a photo gallery breaking down the top 10.)
Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson was the runner-up to Manning. New England quarterback Tom Brady was third and Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, last year’s top finisher, was fourth, with Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy fifth.
Following Brees in at No. 6 were Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, running back Jamaal Charles of Kansas City, wide receiver A.J. Green of Cincinnati and Graham.
It was Graham’s first time in the Top 10 after missing the Top 100 entirely in 2013. He was 14th in 2012. He is the first tight end to make the Top 10.
Brees was 11th last year after finishing second in 2012 and ninth in 2011.
Manning’s selection to the top spot is not surprising.
He is coming off an MVP performance in 2013, his fifth, in his 16th season in the league.
Manning, whose passing academy in Thibodaux he conducts annually with brother Eli and father Archie begins Thursday, threw for an NFL-record 55 touchdowns, 16 more than Brees’ runner-up 39, and broke Brees’ record for passing yards in a season with 5,477. Brees was the only other quarterback to top 5,000 with 5,162.
The Broncos were 13-3 in the regular season and advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII where the Seahawks put the only blot on Manning and Denver’s year in a 43-8 stunner.
Brees, Graham and the Saints bounced back from a losing season in 2012 by going 11-5 in 2013 and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs where they were eliminated by eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle.
Brees, 5,162 passing yards gave him four seasons with at least 5,000, making him the only quarterback to achieve that mark. He goes into the season with 51,081 career yards, No. 5 on the all-time list.
“Drew Brees has become such an icon that anything an opponent does against him becomes a career highlight,” said New Orleans-born actor Wendell Pierce, who narrated the countdown. “And he commands the Saints’ offense like a puppet master.”
Added fellow New Orleanian Tyrann Mathieu, who had an interception in the Arizona Cardinals’ game against the Saints last season, “You know what the Saints are going to do. But the trick is, ‘Can you stop them?’
“He always puts the ball on the money. His accuracy is pin-point.”
Graham, whose status for this season is still undecided after an arbitrator’s ruling that he must be considered a tight end for franchise status reasons, had 16 touchdown receptions in 2013, tops among all tight ends, along with 86 total catches for 1,215 yards, which earned him his first All-Pro selection in his four years in the league.
Pierce acknowledged Graham’s unique status by calling him, “a player of rare versatility.”
That includes his basketball skills, a holdover from Graham’s original sport at Miami.
“He comes up, dunks the ball and hangs on the rim,” said Saints teammate Cameron Jordan, the only other Saints player voted to the Top 100 (No. 99). “You’ve got to stop the game.
“If you get him the ball, he can’t be stopped.”
Peyton also topped a separate fan balloting division in which Brady was second. Neither Brees nor Graham made the Top 10.