17 weeks of football, 17 weeks of excellence. We’ve witnessed some truly amazing performances from players at various positions, and now we’re at the time of the year when we can truly celebrate them. What better way to kickoff the playoffs than with the 2015 PFF All-Pro Team, dedicated to honoring the best seasons we’ve graded this year?
Let's begin the with this season's offensive standouts.
Quarterback: Carson Palmer, Cardinals
Second team: Tom Brady, Patriots
What a year for Palmer, who not only came back from what many presumed to be a career-defining injury, but did so by playing better than he ever has. What made Palmer so impressive was his ability to destroy defenses deep, with an impressive 34 deep completions (10 of which went for touchdowns). On our second team, Brady just edges out Cam Newton, doing a remarkable job, considering the issues the Patriots' offense had with injuries.
Honorable mentions: Cam Newton (CAR) and Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
Running back: Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Second team: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
While Adrian Peterson had more yards, we liked the work of Martin a little more, with the Buccaneer forcing more missed tackles (57) on fewer carries, fumbling less, and being better in the passing game. It was for these reasons that Peterson missed out to Stewart, as well, with the Panthers' running back a tad more consistent.
Honorable mentions: DeAngelo Williams (PIT) and Adrian Peterson (MIN)
Fullback: Patrick DiMarco, Falcons
It should tell you how much better DiMarco was than the rest of the competition that he rendered the need for a second team fullback redundant. He was far and away our top-graded player in a year that did nothing to say the position is back in fashion.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Second team: Delanie Walker, Titans
Another year, another PFF All-Pro selection for Gronkowski, who not only has that game-changing ability catching balls, but is a fine run blocker, as well. Credit to Walker, though, who performed admirably in a struggling Titans' offense. It’s not easy to catch 94 balls and score positive marks with your blocking, but the excellent former 49er did.
Honorable mention: Tyler Eifert (CIN)
Wide receiver (outside): Antonio Brown, Steelers
Second team: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
What a year for Brown, who picked up the highest grade we’ve ever awarded to a receiver with his work in the pass game, doing so despite a midseason lull when he was catching passes from Landry Jones. It will go down as one of those seasons that we at PFF were privileged to watch. Spare a thought for a guy like Hopkins, who was pretty special himself, but must settle for life on the second team.
Honorable mentions: Calvin Johnson (DET) and Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)
Wide receiver (outside): Julio Jones, Falcons
Second team: A.J. Green, Bengals
What a year from Jones, who cemented his status as the most physically-imposing wide receiver in the league. Even when the Falcons' season went off the rails, he kept producing, despite defenses paying him extra attention. Would we like him to cut out the drops and fumbles? Sure. But with his ability to get separation and make things happen after the catch, you learn to deal with imperfections.
Wide receiver (slot): Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Second team: Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
Reinvented as a slot threat, Fitzgerald rolled back the years to show how productive—and dangerous—of a receiver he still is. He had to be that good to keep Baldwin off the first team, given how the Seahawk finished the year.
Honorable mention: Jarvis Landry (MIA)
Left tackle: Joe Thomas, Browns
Second team: Tyron Smith, Cowboys
Our top two tackles by some distance, the big difference between the pair was that Thomas provided a little more consistency in pass protection, and ultimately that is the biggest part of being a franchise left tackle. Two tremendous years.
Honorable mentions: Terron Armstead (NO) and Andrew Whitworth (CIN)
Left guard: Richie Incognito, Bills
Second team: Josh Sitton, Packers
A year away from the game proved ideal (in anything but ideal circumstances), as Incognito came back and played better than we’d ever seen from him before. (Maybe Anthony Davis made a wise decision in taking some time off?)
Honorable mentions: Evan Mathis (DEN) and Andrew Norwell (CAR)
Center: Travis Frederick, Cowboys
Second team: Joe Berger, Vikings
How about that year from Berger? Expected to be a backup, the Viking only just loses out on the first team nod because his pass protection was weaker than that of the excellent all-rounder Frederick.
Honorable mentions: Weston Richburg (NYG) and Ryan Kalil (CAR)
Right guard: Marshal Yanda, Ravens
Second team: Zack Martin, Cowboys
There isn’t a season that goes by where we don’t get excited about Yanda. He may not get a lot of publicity, but he continues to be one of the very best linemen PFF has ever graded.
Honorable mentions: T.J. Lang (GB) and Trai Turner (CAR)
Right tackle: Ryan Schraeder, Falcons
Second team: Mitchell Schwartz, Browns
We don’t discriminate against right tackles at PFF. While it’s true the left tackle group graded out much better, it shouldn’t lessen the achievements of these two men. Schraeder, outside of a tough outing against J.J. Watt, had the kind of year where, through his own solid play, you rarely noticed him. Schwartz allowed more pressure, but did his chances of landing a decent contract no harm.
Honorable mention: Marcus Gilbert (PIT)
Each year, PFF puts forward a hybrid defense that features two edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers), three players on the “interior” of the defensive line (3-4 defensive ends or defensive tackles), and two linebackers (all inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers).
Defensive end (3-5 tech): Aaron Donald, Rams
Second team: Geno Atkins, Bengals
What a year from Aaron Donald. He fell just short of PFF's single-season grading record, but the simple fact that he got so close should tell you how well he played. His out-of-this-world first step has seen linemen whiffing like it’s going out of fashion, and it’s that explosiveness that saw him score the highest marks of any interior defender—both rushing the passer and against the run. When you can put a rejuvenated Geno Atkins as a second teamer, you know you’ve done something very right.
Honorable mentions: Fletcher Cox (PHI), Kawann Short (CAR), and Mike Daniels (GB)
Defensive end (3-5 tech): J.J. Watt, Texans
Second team: Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins
Even a broken hand couldn’t completely slow Watt down, though there’s no doubt that the injury (and the extra attention he received) had an impact on his performance. Even then, he still made it to 89 quarterback disruptions, and was his usual penetrative self against the run. His best year? No. But one of the best years you’ll likely ever see from a man at his position? Yes. Such is the standard of the Texan.
Nose tackle: Linval Joseph, Vikings
Second team: Damon Harrison, Jets
It’s a shame that Joseph got banged up, because he was on a real tear, manning that one-tech spot with a ferocity that sent fear into many centers' hearts. It’s not easy to be as disruptive against the run as he was, while also causing the quarterback problems. He’s elevated his game in 2015, and he had to with the more prototypical nose tackle and one-man wrecking ball, Damon Harrison, proving to be such a force against the run.
Honorable mention: Brandon Williams (BAL)
Edge rusher: Khalil Mack, Raiders
Second team: Von Miller, Broncos
Our knock on Mack last season (his rookie year) was that he wasn’t productive enough rushing the passer. This year, he turned that on it’s head, and did so while remaining a force against the run. Now a truly complete player, he has the ability to take over on any down, and was so good that he pushed usual All-Pro Miller to a mere second team spot.
Honorable mentions: Michael Bennett (SEA), Justin Houston (KC), and Tamba Hali (KC)
Edge rusher: Olivier Vernon, Dolphins
Second team: Cameron Jordan, Saints
Where did that year come from? Vernon has largely been something of an afterthought to the excellent Cameron Wake, but when Wake went down, boy, did Vernon step up. His second half of the year was the kind of pace that would have seen him in Defensive Player of the Year consideration if he had kept it up, as he mauled tackles with a relentlessness they won’t forget in a hurry.
Inside linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Panthers
Second team: Derrick Johnson, Chiefs
So he didn’t finish the season as strongly as he started it, but it’s still as good a year as we’ve ever seen from an inside linebacker (and we were privileged enough to watch every snap of Patrick Willis’ career). Kuechly has now set the benchmark at his position.
Honorable mentions: Jerrell Freeman (IND), Jamie Collins (NE), and Sean Lee (DAL)
Inside linebacker: Anthony Barr, Vikings
Second team: K.J. Wright, Seahawks
Whatever the Vikings ask of Barr, his incredible athleticism shines through. He can blitz like the best of them, cover with incredible closing speed, and run thump like a man possessed. In two years, he has already established himself as a prototypical, do-it-all linebacker, and 2015 was the stage he used to show it.
Cornerback (outside): Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
Second team: Josh Norman, Panthers
It isn’t easy tracking the top receivers in this league. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be, but clearly Peterson didn’t get that memo, because he’s had no difficulty doing so. His consistent, shutdown play is something we don’t often witness.
Honorable mentions: Darius Slay (DET) and Jason Verrett (SD)
Cornerback (outside): Richard Sherman, Seahawks
Second team: Johnathan Joseph, Texans
Asked to do things a little differently this year, the brash Sherman proved more than up to the challenge, with his job on Antonio Brown one of the highlights of the year by any cornerback. The Seahawk finished the year playing as well as anyone—just in time for the playoffs.
Cornerback (slot): Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals
Second team: Chris Harris, Jr., Broncos
It’s a real shame that Mathieu had his season cut short, but he still put enough on tape that his inclusion as our slot corner was never really in doubt. He does it all from the spot, and his ability to contribute is every phase of the game is something to behold.
Honorable mention: Captain Munnerlyn (MIN)
Strong safety: Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles
Second team: Eric Berry, Chiefs
Berry is the true feel-good story, and in any other year would rightfully have earned first team honors. But this isn’t just any other year—this is the year where Jenkins took his game to a whole new level, with an ability to influence the game in the box like few safeties can.
Honorable mention: Reshad Jones (MIA)
Free safety: Harrison Smith, Vikings
Second team: Earl Thomas, Seahawks
Smith may have missed some time, but even so, he still earned the highest mark of any safety on the year. He was that good. A safety who can make plays wherever you line him up, he’s someone quarterbacks needs to account for on every snap (even if free safety doesn’t really account for his versatility).
Honorable mention: Charles Woodson (OAK)
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Second team: Dan Bailey, Cowboys
The Patriot is strong on kickoffs, but this appointment comes chiefly because Gostkowski was our top-ranked field goal kicker on the year.
Honorable mention: Steven Hauschka (SEA)
Punter: Pat McAfee, Colts
Second team: Brett Kern, Titans
The excellent McAfee was a regular fixture on our Team of the Week, so it’s no surprise he should hold off divisional-rival Kern for the first team honor.
Honorable mention: Sam Koch (BAL)
Kick returner: Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
Second team: Benny Cunningham, Rams
A couple of touchdowns and numerous big returns. Patterson might not be the receiver Minnesota had hoped for, but he is something else as a returner.
Punt returner: Jarvis Landry, Dolphins
Second team: Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Spare a thought for Lockett, here. He was the best all-round returner, but even he couldn’t compete with the excellence of Landry on returns.
Special teamer: Michael Thomas, Dolphins
Second team: Justin Bethel, Cardinals
It almost feels like heresy to say that Bethel isn’t first team, but that’s how good the Dolphins' Thomas has been.
Honorable mention: D.J. Alexander (KC)