Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson finished with the second most rushing yards and the eighth most scrimmage yards in NFL history. That was despite rehabilitating from major knee surgery all offseason. And despite the fact Minnesota’s passing game was 31st in the NFL. And despite the fact his offensive line is decent but far from great.
The NFL’s most valuable player in 2012? You get the picture.
Here were this voter’s picks for the NFL All-Pro team, based on conversations with several pro scouts around the league:
• QB: Peyton Manning, Denver. Manning gets the nod over Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Brady was phenomenal. Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating despite getting sacked a league-high 51 times. But Manning did it with a new team, coming off a season-long injury. He had his most TD passes (37) in seven years and his best completion percentage ever (68.6).
• WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit. A.J. Green, Cincinnati. Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964. Johnson had 40 catches of 20 or more yards. Nobody else had 30. Green was a close call over Houston’s Andre Johnson, Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne. He’s more complete than Marshall and was a tad more spectacular in a less-efficient offense than Johnson.
• TE: Jason Witten, Dallas. New England’s Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the league. But Gronk played only 11 games this year, making 55 catches with 11 touchdowns. Witten had 110 catches, a single-season record for a tight end. Honorable mention to Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, with 93 catches at age 36.
• T: Trent Williams, Washington. Duane Brown, Houston. I vote for the two best tackles, as opposed to picking a left tackle and a right tackle. The Redskins had the best running game in the league, and Williams was one reason. He stepped up his game in his third season. Both Williams and the Texans’ Brown are excellent in both pass and run blocking. Niners left tackle Joe Staley was a road-grader on the run. He was outstanding. Denver’s Ryan Clady is an elite pass-blocker but has an occasional lapse. Cleveland’s Joe Thomas remains elite. Cincinnati’s Andre Smith has matured in his fourth year after a shaky start to his career. He was the top right tackle.
• G: Mike Iupati, San Francisco. Marshall Yanda, Baltimore. Iupati was a monster against the Bills and was one of the most improved linemen in the league in his third year. Yanda gets this vote for the second straight year. New Orleans’ Ben Grubbs, the Bills’ Andy Levitre and the Eagles’ Evan Mathis got consideration.
• C: Nick Mangold, Jets. The AFC East is strong at center, with Mangold leading the way. Miami’s Mike Pouncey and Buffalo’s Eric Wood are quality centers. New England’s first-year starter, Ryan Wendell, played well too, although it’s easier playing center for Brady. Minnesota’s John Sullivan and Houston’s Chris Myers were close.
• RB: Peterson, Minnesota. Alfred Morris, Washington. Morris finished second to Peterson in rushing with 1,613 yards and had the second most touchdowns (13) among backs. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and Tampa’s Doug Martin easily could have been the choice to join Peterson in the backfield.
• FB: Vonta Leach, Baltimore.
• PK: Blair Walsh, Minnesota. The rookie from Georgia had an amazing year. He was 10 for 10 on field goals of 50-plus yards, an NFL single-season record for field goals from 50 yards. He was 35 of 38 overall. He was third in the league in touchback percentage (61.6). Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski was the second choice.
• KR: Jacoby Jones, Baltimore. He had three kick-return TDs and led the league on kickoff returns. Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin, the punt-return leader, was second choice.
• DE: J.J. Watt, Houston. Cameron Wake, Miami. Watt led the league with 20.5 sacks. Wake was second among defensive ends with 15. The Giants’ Jason-Pierre Paul, Atlanta’s John Abraham and Seattle’s Chris Clemons got votes.
• DT: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati. Vince Wilfork, New England. Atkins’ 12.5 sacks were the most by a defensive tackle since Tampa’s Warren Sapp had 16.5 in 2000. Atkins was the best player on the Bengals’ sixth-ranked defense. Wilfork remains the anchor of the Pats’ defense, which ranked ninth against the run. Wilfork played a lot better this year than last year. Tampa’s Gerald McCoy and Chicago’s Henry Melton were very good.
• OLB: Von Miller, Denver. Aldon Smith, San Francisco. Obvious choices. Smith had 19.5 sacks, Miller 18.5. Smith has 33.5 sacks in two years, Miller has 30. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews had another good year. As for elite run-stoppers and coverage linebackers, New England’s Jerod Mayo and San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks stood out.
• ILB: Patrick Willis, San Francisco. Bobby Wagner, Seattle. Willis is a four-time first-team All-Pro. He does it all, and he’s the best inside ‘backer at covering quality tight ends downfield. Wagner was a second-round steal from Utah State. In college he made more tackles than anybody in the Western Athletic Conference since 1999. He ran a blazing, 4.47-second time in the 40-yard dash before the draft. He was a tackling machine for Seattle. Carolina rookie Luke Kuechly, Miami’s Karlos Dansby and the Niners’ Navorro Bowman excelled.
• CB: Richard Sherman, Seattle. Charles Tillman, Chicago. The top corners are big. Sherman is 6-3, Tillman 6-1. Sherman was a fifth-round pick from Stanford who was all-rookie in 2011. He had eight interceptions. Tillman, in his 10th year, was the shutdown corner for the Bears and had three INTs. Even though teammate Tim Jennings led the league with nine INTs, Tillman was better.
• S: LaRon Landry, Jets. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo. Landry stayed healthy for a change and held the Jets’ secondary together. Byrd has great range and is a sure tackler in the open field. These two picks favored coverage over hitting. Arizona’s Kerry Rhodes, Seattle’s Kam Chancellor and Miami’s Rashad Jones are good hitters but aren’t asked to cover as much.
• P: Andy Lee, San Francisco. Lee led the league in net average (43.2) for a second straight year and was third in punts inside the 20. But he also yielded only a modest 249 return yards on his punts. He wasn’t outkicking his coverage. Chicago’s Kevin Podlesh allowed a league-low 84 return yards. Denver’s Britton Colquitt and Cincinnati’s Kevin Huber deserved honorable mention.
• Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Indianapolis.
• Rookies of the year: Washington QB Robert Griffin III on offense and Seattle’s Wagner on defense.