Here’s our All Pro selections this season:
Quarterback – Tom Brady, New England Patriots
I get the argument for Peyton Manning because he had such a great season, and even for Aaron Rodgers because of how he is that offense, but Brady was simply unstoppable down the stretch. This offense is the best of the best in the NFL.
Running back – Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
There’s no argument here that could be made for anyone else. He came 9 yards short of the all time record and had perhaps the greatest single running season ever despite missing that record. Coming of an ACL tear this is simply the Year of Adrian.
Full back – Vonta Leach, Baltimore
The full back is so under-valued and used in the NFL that there’s not a lot of options here. Watching Leach blow up linebackers, and sometimes defensive linemen is a joy to watch for any old school fan and is part of the reason the Ravens still manage to run a bit behind old man Matt Birk.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson, Detroit // A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Despite the AP, this should have been unanimous. Calvin dragged the Lions to every win they got and makes that team a constant threat. Often without help from a run game, defense, quarterback, or additional passing threats. He makes Ryan Broyles, Nate Burleson, and Titus Young look good. Green, meanwhile, makes Dalton look good. These two receivers are easily the best jump ball receivers (with Larry Fitzgerald) and know how to get open in clutch time.
Tight End: Jason Witten, Dallas
He set a record for receptions, played through life threatening injuries, and generally makes Tony Romo look competent. Witten has been finding holes and seams in defenses for years now and deserves recognition for how much he does for this offense and team. Witten is the cog here, not Murray, Bryant or Austin.
Flex: Andre Johnson, Houston
The Offensive Flex is our way of recognizing that the NFL is evolving. We’re reserving it for the best player of a RB, TE, or WR variety beyond the traditional formation. Andre Johnson is basically the only thing keeping Houston from being the Vikings. Sure they can run the ball, but if you cannot keep a defense honest it can only take you so far (as far as Adrian takes them essential, or Foster in this situation). Johnson makes sure 8 man boxes aren’t a constant.
Offensive Tackles: Joe Thomas, Cleveland // Ryan Clady, Denver
These two have been on this list for a long time. Thomas is everything Jake Long has not been – consistent, dominant and reliable. Clady, meanwhile, kept a very busted up Peyton from re-injuring himself or furthering any nerve damage. He also led a very solid rushing attack, which goes for Thomas as well.
Offensive Guard: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore // Jahri Evans, New Orleans
Evans is a more traditional guard, dominating defensive tackles and getting to the second level. Their run game is what it is because of Evans. Yanda is simply the most important lineman for the Ravens. He keeps the line in tact, is scheme versatile, and dominate in both run and pass. These two are the best in the business, with Mike Iupati and Logan Mankins right behind them.
Center: Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh basically has one reliable player on that offensive line currently (with Adams, DeCastro up and coming). Very much like Yanda, Pouncey does a lot of things for this line that are invaluable. Nod goes to him ahead of Unger because Pouncey is working with a fluctuating line and less talent.
Defensive End: J.J. Watt, Houston // Justin Smith, San Francisco
Watt is the defensive player of the year because he is dominant against both run and pass. Imagine counting knockdowns with sacks as basically the ball does not advance the line of scrimmage and Watt has 20.5 Sacks and 16 PD. That is at minimum 37 pass plays that resulted in 0 or less yards. It doesn’t factor in his disruption on the run (Rotoworld gives him 56 defeats in the run game), nor how much free runs he allows other players. Justin Smith is like Haloti Ngata, a hybrid DT/DE who we’ll put here for his versatility and what he does with the freedom Aldon Smith gives him, and freedom he gives Aldon Smith. The two of them make that defense very tough to defend.
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
Nose Tackle: Vince Wilfork, New England
With the rise of the 3-4, we’ll be specifically highlighting the nose tackle, which is also valuable in the 4-3 but less critical. Wilfork was explosive this season, completely destroying many vaunted rushing attacks by himself. Anyone looking to be a nose tackle needs only look at how he plays. Atkins dominated out of a 4-3, providing solid pass rush up the middle and shutting down the run impressively. He makes both their ends look a lot better than they perhaps actually are.
Outside Linebacker: Von Miller, Denver // Aldon Smith, San Francisco
These two guys are going to be going at it for years to come. They are both elite pass rushers from different schemes. Miller’s bend on the outside is impossible. I thought Ware’s was preposterous, and Miller can get even lower. Smith is a bonafide beast as a stand up linebacker. He’s solid in coverage, but really shines pushing tackles around left and right. Both these guys provide a ton of one-on-one match-ups for the rest of their players.
Inside Linebacker: Patrick Willis, San Francisco
With Ray Lewis retiring this year, Willis has already aptly taken his spot as best linebacker in the NFL. The man is ferocious against the run and one of the few elite pass covering linebackers. Doesn’t hurt to be behind such an elite defensive line and have such help as Smith and Bowman standing up with him.
Flex: Cameron Wake, Miami
The defensive flex position is for the best front seven player, recognizing that diverse schemes mean different positions are on the field for different teams. Cameron Wake is a premiere pass rusher, stuck in a declining defense. He didn’t beat out Smith or Miller, but provides that defense a threat against opposing quarterbacks.
Cornerback: Charles Tillman, Chicago // Jonathan Joseph, Houston
Charles Tillman took the best receiver in the NFL, having one of his best seasons ever, and shut him down twice. If that doesn’t prove you are elite, nothing does. Meanwhile Joseph took a very weak pass defense and has made it a ton better. Throw out the Patriot game where everyone got burned (even though he was not awful there either) and you have a solid corner. I will say Joe Haden would have taken the second spot were he healthy.
Safety: Eric Weddle, San Diego // Earl Thomas, Seattle
Weddle has been long overdue, hidden behind Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But with Polamalu being hurt most of the year and Reed having a remarkably mediocre year without any pass rush in front of him. Weddle is great in coverage, securing the back-end reliable. When Earl Thomas came out, I predicted Eric Berry would take the mantel of best Ball Hawk from Ed Reed, and Thomas would turn into more of a Polamalu style player. Instead Thomas has become a terror in the back. His ability to close on deep balls and his elite hands have ruined several quarterbacks afternoons.
Kicker: Kai Forbath, Washington
He didn’t start as their kicker, but was perfect once he did. As a rookie that’s impressive. He ended up 17 of 18 with more than half of his kicks coming 40+ yards. Honorable mentions to Blair Walsh in Minnesota for similar start, and Justin Tucker because of several game winning kicks.
Punter: Mike Scrifers, San Diego
Scifers was again elite, finishing 4th in total yards, 3rd in average, and 7th in kicks inside the 20. Andy Lee was a close second.
Return man: Jacoby Jones, Baltimore
For winning at least 2 games by himself and for a ridiculous number of return yards and scores. JJ was the best the NFL has seen since Hester’s impossible season.