Only five players repeated as first-team All-Pro picks on this voter’s ballot for the Associated Press NFL All-Pro team.
One constant is at quarterback, where Denver’s Peyton Manning was the obvious pick. It was the seventh first-team All-Pro selection of Manning’s 15-year career, an amazing feat. The other repeaters on this ballot were receivers A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson, defensive end J.J. Watt and cornerback Richard Sherman.
Why so few repeaters? Injuries were a factor. To one degree or another, ailments hindered the seasons of top players like Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis, Geno Atkins, Von Miller and Mike Iupati.
These votes were submitted after consultation with numerous pro scouts around the NFL. The AP released the results of its poll of 50 voters on Friday. We offer this detailed review to show what the pro scouts, the men who do the most accurate assessments, are thinking.
We also include our second-team picks. The AP announces a second team despite the fact voters only pick the required number of players at each position (one quarterback, two receivers, etc.) So the actual second team that gets announced doesn’t mean much. It’s simply a reflection of a smattering of “other votes.” It’s something to keep in mind.
QB: Peyton Manning, Denver.
It’s a slam dunk. Manning’s 55 TDs and 5,477 passing yards set NFL records. However, it’s a joke that the league ruled that Manning’s final pass last Sunday, a 7-yarder to Eric Decker, was a forward pass. Anybody can see the throw went backward, and Drew Brees’ mark of 5,476 yards should stand. No. 2 is San Diego’s Philip Rivers, followed by Brees.
RB: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia. Jammal Charles, Kansas City.
Easy choices. McCoy’s 2,146 yards from scrimmage led the NFL. Charles was second with 1,980 yards and led the league with 19 TDs. Chicago’s Matt Forte and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch are second team. McCoy led the league in touches, at 22.8 a game. Nine players got 300 or more touches, or 18.75 a game.
WR: A.J. Green, Cincinnati. Calvin Johnson, Detroit.
Cleveland’s Josh Gordon led the league in receiving yards (1,646), and Washington’s Pierre Garcon led in catches (113). But Green and Johnson were close and both had more touchdowns. They are the two most elite talents in the league at wideout, most scouts agreed. Second-team goes to Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas.
TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans.
He led the NFL in receiving TDs with 16. Second best at tight end was Dallas’ Jason Witten.
T: Jason Peters, Philadelphia. Joe Staley, San Francisco.
Peters and guard Evan Mathis formed the best left side in the league. Both Peters and Staley are more than finesse left tackles; they’re strong in the run game, too. They edged out Cleveland’s Joe Thomas in a close call. Dallas’ Tyron Smith, who plays with finesse but also has a nasty streak, was fourth. The top right tackle was New Orleans’ Zach Strief. Unlike some voters, I usually vote for two left tackles because I think the All-Pro distinction should go to the two best guys at the position, regardless of right or left side.
G: Logan Mankins, New England. Louis Vasquez, Denver.
This was one of the toughest positions to pick because opinions of scouts varied so much. Denver has two outstanding guards in Vasquez and Zane Beadles. Some scouts liked Beadles better because he has more talent than his teammate. But Vasquez was better in pass protection and more consistent. Green Bay’s Josh Sitton and New Orleans’ Ben Grubbs were the next two, followed by Baltimore’s Marshall Yanda, an ugly-bodied guy who’s a tough, solid player. Sitton is a great technician who might get enough votes to be first-team, but most pro scouts tend to favor the more powerful, elite athletes. Mankins is so valuable to the Pats’ young line, and New England finished ninth in rushing. Mankins moved to left tackle for the key rout of Baltimore in Week 16.
C: Ryan Kalil, Carolina.
There was no obvious pick. The Jets’ Nick Mangold was down a bit. Kalil is a great technician. He got the nod over Cleveland’s Alex Mack and Detroit’s Dominic Raiola.
FB: Mike Tolbert, Carolina.
He plays the most of any fullback, almost 60 percent of the snaps. He led all fullbacks with 361 yards in addition to blocking well.
PK: Stephen Gostkowski, New England.
It was an amazing year for kickers. Eleven of them averaged 90 percent or better on field goals. Gostkowski and Baltimore’s Justin Tucker both tied for the most field goals and both went 38 for 41 (.927). Gostkowski was 5 of 6 from 50-plus yards. Tucker was 6 of 7. Only 32 percent of Gostkowski’s kickoffs were returned. Tucker had 46 percent returned.
Kick Returner: Cordarelle Patterson, Minnesota.
The rookie from Tennessee had the second most kickoff returns (43), the best average (32.4) and the most touchdowns (2). Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster was the league’s best punt returner.
DE: Robert Quinn, St. Louis. J.J. Watt, Houston.
Quinn was the top 4-3 defensive end in the NFL and was second in the league with 19 sacks. Aside from Quinn, no defensive player got more raves than Watt, even though Houston went 2-14. He gets more praise than any player for his consistency every game and his effort every down. The Texans’ defense was seventh in yards allowed. Watt had 10.5 sacks. Voting for the front seven on the All-Pro team is a little weird because there’s no distinction between 3-4 and 4-3 defenders. Watt is a 3-4 end but he’s an edge rusher in enough situations, in my eyes, to justify putting him at end. My second-team choices go to Carolina’s Greg Hardy, who had 15 sacks, and Arizona’s Calais Campbell, a 3-4 end who was equally good vs. the run and pass.
DT: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay. Muhammad Wilkerson, N.Y. Jets.
McCoy was the top 3-technique defensive tackle in the league, lining up across from the outside shoulder of the guard and wreaking havoc in the backfield. Next to Watt, Wilkerson was the best 3-4 end in the league. He’s dominant against the run and the pass. He was great against Buffalo. Why pick him at DT? Because the Jets have two other edge rushers (Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace), and Wilkerson plays an inside position enough of the time to justify it. And he deserved it a fraction more than the next best 4-3 defensive tackle, Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata was banged up a bit this year. Kansas City’s Dontari Poe is a massive force but was up and down a bit too much to break into the top two. Scouts love Buffalo’s Kyle Williams. But four AFC scouts I talked to all said they viewed Marcell Dareus as more valuable than Williams. Because of Dareus’ end-of-season disciplinary benchings, I’ll go with Suh and Kyle Williams as my second-teamers.
OLB: Robert Mathis, Indianapolis. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay.
Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks. The Colts’ defense isn’t that good (it ranked 20th) and over-relies on Mathis’ pressure. David gets the vote as the top coverage linebacker in the league. Yes, he cost Tampa the opener with a bad penalty vs. the Jets. But he was hell on wheels all year. He led all LBs with 15 passes defensed. Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict and Carolina’s Thomas Davis were the next two outside linebackers. Burfict led the league in tackles.
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Carolina. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco.
Kuechly was the leader of the Panthers’ No. 2 ranked defense. He was fourth in tackles. Bowman has played in the partial shadow of his great teammate, Patrick Willis, the last two seasons. But he ranked fifth in tackles, had five sacks, four forced fumbles and 11 passes defensed. Second team goes to Arizona’s Karlos Dansby and Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson. I still shake my head that Miami let Dansby go in favor of Dannell Ellerbee, who isn’t nearly as good, and they gave Ellerbe a $35 million contract. Dansby played on a one-year, $2.25 million deal. Buffalo’s Kiko Alonso got this vote for defensive rookie of the year, over New York Jets’ defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. It could be a close vote between those two. Alonso played every defensive snap for the Bills, 1,145, the most of any defensive player in the league. Richardson played 80 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps.
CB: Richard Sherman, Seattle. Patrick Peterson, Arizona.
Sherman is the lock-down corner for the defense that ranked No. 1 overall and No. 1 against the pass. He led the league with eight interceptions. Peterson is what one scout called “a freak of nature,” a reference to his speed and athleticism. There was no consensus among scouts on the No. 2 cornerback.
Second team goes to Miami’s Brent Grimes and Tampa’s Darrelle Revis. Coming back from injury, Revis started slow so I couldn’t put him on the first team. New England’s Aqib Talib would be a third-teamer with Cleveland’s Joe Haden. The Pats structure their defense around Talib’s cover skills but he missed too much time to be first team. Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner was near the top according to some statistical analyses, but I couldn’t get one scout to pick him in the top four.
S: Earl Thomas, Seattle. Eric Berry, Kansas City.
Thomas was second among all safeties with five interceptions. Berry is the prototypical big, rangy cover safety for the Chiefs. Second team goes to New England’s versatile Devin McCourty and Cleveland’s big-hitting T.J. Ward.
Punter: Johnny Hekker, St. Louis.
He broke Andy Lee’s record for net punting by averaging 44.3 yards. For a second straight year, 15 punters cracked the 40-yard net barrier, which up until 2007 never had been broken. Houston’s Shane Lechler led the league again in gross yardage (48.9), but once again he allowed a ridiculous amount of return yards (554). Hekker allowed only 79 return yards. Second team goes to Seattle’s Jon Ryan, who averaged a net 40.2 and allowed only 82 return yards.