Last week the Associated Press announced their annual All-Pro team, and after a long season it’s time we do the same.
What makes our a little different is what we have to work with. At Pro Football Focus we have four people watching every game. Two collecting player participation data, one running through analysis with broadcast footage and another using the fantastic All-22 footage provided by Game Rewind to run the rule over that. Contentious plays go to our arbitration process and all told we’ve spent roughly 30 hours on each game.
The upshot is we’ve spent more time watching and analyzing NFL players than anyone else, and why we feel this is the most authoritative set of All-Pro selections available anywhere.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (DEN)
Was there ever any doubt? Manning was our top-ranked quarterback and a consensus pick by our five judges. His numbers may actually be slightly flattering, but there’s no denying his +43.3 grade was significantly better than Rivers’ +26.5.
Second Team: Philip Rivers (SD)
Running Back: LeSean McCoy (PHI)
Not just the league rushing champion, but the champion of our grades by some distance. McCoy does benefit from an excellent offensive line that puts him in good situations, but he still makes plenty happen once he gets past the line of scrimmage. We said last year that Charles wasn’t quite back to his 2010 best, but you can forget about that now with some tremendous work with ball in hand.
Second Team: Jamaal Charles (KC)
Fullback: Anthony Sherman (KC)
We believe a fullback should be a lead blocker, not just a bigger back. Hence why Sherman, the best lead blocker in the league this year, gets the nod. Tolbert wasn’t endorsed by all our voters for this reason, but the logic is he does enough lead blocking and well enough that when put with his other skills he’s better than the rest on offer.
Second Team: Mike Tolbert (CAR)
Tight End: Jimmy Graham (NO)
It wasn’t exactly the year of the tight end this year. Graham, who is a glorified receiver in how he blocks, was a monster catching the ball with a huge 16 touchdowns and 1,215 yards. Normally we might look for a more rounded guy, but there just wasn’t one. Davis is a worthy second-teamer, though both men can be counting their lucky stars that the excellent Rob Gronkowski spent most of the season injured.
Second Team: Vernon Davis (SF)
Wide Receivers: Brandon Marshall (CHI) and Antonio Brown (PIT)
It wasn’t easy leaving out players like Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green (to name three), but we’re happy with what we’re left with. It’s rare that a receivers blocking plays much part in our decision making, but when you can complement 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns with a +17.0 run blocking grade (the next highest was +6.2) you get a true every-down wide receiver weapon in Marshall. Brown would finish the year our top-ranked pure receiving wide-out, but might consider him lucky that a player like Calvin Johnson missed so much time over the season.
Second Team: Calvin Johnson (DET) and Andre Johnson (HOU)
*Slot Receiver: Jordy Nelson (GB)
Given how the league has changed we’ve added a twelfth person to represent that. This year that means a spot for a receiver who spends plenty of time from the slot. Nelson operated everywhere for the Packers with 52.1% of his routes run from the slot. He was tremendous given some of the quarterbacks he was left to work with.
Second Team: Anquan Boldin (SF)
Left Tackle: Joe Thomas (CLE)
Some of the team are a bit tired of the less than stellar run blocking from Thomas, but he remains the King of Left Tackles in pass protection, especially impressive given how his quarterbacks like to hold the ball. Williams edged out Jordan Gross, a slow starting Jason Peters, Tyron Smith, Joe Staley and the two-positioned Andrew Whitworth at the deepest spot of talent on offense.
Second Team: Trent Williams (WAS)
Left Guard: Evan Mathis (PHI)
Three years in Philadelphia, three years in our All-Pro team. Mathis isn’t the best in pass protection but his work in the run game can’t be matched for the sheer relentlessness with which he gets and maintains position.
Second Team: Josh Sitton (GB)
Center: Jason Kelce (PHI)
It’s impressive that even with a horrible performance against the Giants (the lowest grade of any center this year) Kelce would still finish our top-ranked center. The work of the Eagles' interior was instrumental in their running back putting up such big numbers.
Second Team: Alex Mack (CLE)
Right Guard: Louis Vasquez (DEN)
One of the free agent signings of the summer, Vasquez has taken his game to another level in Denver with his usual solid pass protection, but also some real standout work in the run game. Kudos as well to Larry Warford for making the team as a rookie. That’s easier said than done.
Second Team: Larry Warford (DET)
Right Tackle: Phil Loadholt (MIN)
It wasn’t a great year for right tackles, especially with Sebastian Vollmer going down. That left us with a selection that was essentially two from three. With the team agreed that what Loadholt brings in the run game should get him the first team nod, it was left between Strief and Demar Dotson, with Strief edging the votes for his sheer consistency.
Second Team: Zach Strief (NO)
Turn to Page 2 for the defense and special teams.
Defensive Interior: J.J. Watt (HOU) and Gerald McCoy (TB)
So the Texans lost a lot more games this year. You can’t blame that on Watt who surpassed his 2012 grade with an even better year that had less sacks, but more hits and hurries with more impact plays against the run. It was special, and so was the year of McCoy to top our defensive tackle rankings. His work against the run is a bit more style than substance at times, but he’s just too good for most guards rushing the passer. These two were consensus picks along with Suh on the second team, with Calais Campbell missing out by the odd vote in five due to the play of Casey.
Second Team: Jurrell Casey (TEN) and Ndamukong Suh (DET)
Nose Tackle: Marcell Dareus (BUF)
The spot which featured the most discussion. Semantics played a part with two-down players Brandon Mebane and Damon Harrison having fine years. But ultimately we wanted guys who played on every down and in every package and that meant Dareus got the nod and Poe was put on the second team.
Second Team: Dontari Poe (KC)
Edge Rusher: Robert Quinn (SL) and Robert Mathis (IND)
Quinn set a record with his +77.2 grade that was truly breathtaking. Many a tackle wasn’t just made to look bad, but made to look like they didn’t belong in the league with the speed and regularity of how often he beat them on his way to 91 quarterback disruptions. Mathis couldn’t match that kind of production but his habit of making big plays with less help on his defense was extremely impressive. On the second team, Houston, who led our 3-4 outside linebacker rankings despite missing time, was always in with Hardy just earning the nod over Cameron Wake.
Second Team: Justin Houston (KC) and Greg Hardy (CAR)
Linebackers: Lavonte David (TB) and Patrick Willis (SF)
A tricky spot to decide. David was always in with his feverish playmaking really a joy to behold. His numbers really don’t do him justice with him earning positive grades in coverage, against the run and rushing the passer. That was the easy one but deciding the rest saw Willis, Bowman and Davis joined in the discussion with Vontaze Burfict, Luke Kuechly, Karlos Dansby, Derrick Johnson and Stephen Tulloch. Ultimately, Willis' work in every phase of the game got him the start, while the playmaking of Bowman got him on the second team. Of the rest, the consistently excellent work of Davis in coverage was what just got him onto the team.
Second Team: NaVorro Bowman (SF) and Thomas Davis (CAR)
Cornerbacks: Brent Grimes (MIA) and Darrelle Revis (TB)
We had some discussions here, though not when it came to Grimes. The man who would give up no touchdowns and pick up 18 combined pass break-ups and interception was the value free agent signing this year. Finding the other starter was much harder with it being left to the deciding vote of an unnamed analyst that saw Revis get the nod over Sherman. The Seahawk is joined on the second team by Patrick Peterson who edged Keenan Lewis.
Second Team: Richard Sherman (SEA) and Patrick Peterson (ARZ)
Free Safety: Devin McCourty (NE)
McCourty wound up with our highest grade of the year, with his work in coverage the real standout element of his game. He was a unanimous selection over Thomas who we love when things go well, but can’t ignore when he misses a tackle or takes a bad angle with his all active style. Others getting serious consideration included Eric Weddle and Will Hill.
Second Team: Earl Thomas (SEA)
Strong Safety: Eric Berry (KC)
A new type of safety, Berry would often spend his time in the box to make him a fourth linebacker for the Chiefs in their dime package, while just as able to cover a tight end or back in man coverage or play the deep safety role. A truly complete player. On the second team the work of Whitner in coverage (a weakness heading into the year) got him the nod over T.J. Ward.
Second Team: Donte Whitner (SF)
*Slot Cornerback: Tyrann Mathieu (ARZ)
If we’re going to have a slot receiver then we need a slot corner. In a heated discussion, the complete play of Mathieu — who played base downs as a safety and moved to the slot in the Cardinals' nickel and dime packages — won out despite him missing time toward the end of the season. Harris makes the second team in large part due to his overall game, an area where Brandon Boykin missed out. Being so close to the action, we liked our slot cornerback to have a bigger impact on more areas than just coverage.
Second Team: Chris Harris (DEN)
Kicker: Nick Folk (NYJ)
Folk won the Jets more games than many expected them to win all year with his last minute heroics, going a healthy 33-of-36 on the year.
Second Team: Justin Tucker (BAL)
Punter: Johnny Hekker (SL)
That his opponents had 79 return yards all year owed an awful lot to the excellent hangtime of Hekker. Edges out Morstead and Shane Lechler in a competitive field.
Second Team: Thomas Morstead (NO)
Kick Returner: Cordarelle Patterson (MIN)
Was there ever any doubt here? Patterson was the biggest special teams weapon all year and the only way he wouldn’t make our All Pro team is if we opted for an all round returner (like Brandon Tate) who fields punts and kickoffs.
Second Team: Quintin Demps (KC)
Punt Returner: Golden Tate (SEA)
Tate didn’t have a touchdown but he did demonstrate an ability to make players miss and create yards that didn’t seem possible.
Second Team: Dexter McCluster (KC)
Special Teamer: Justin Bethel (ARZ)
Bethel was superb and played in a way that made this the easiest of selections. They don’t make special teamers like him.
Second Team: Jeremy Lane (SEA)