Sunday, January 1, 2017

PFJ's 2016 All-Pro Team

HONORS
By John Turney

This season has no J.J. Watt, Luke Keuchly or Earl Thomas on the All-Pro team due to injuries, but there were several breakout seasons as well. However, it is not a season where many of the First-team picks were obvious. Offensive line play seemed to often be subpar. Few defensive linemen put up monster numbers like Watt who may have spoiled fans for a while with his ability to make plays that showed up in the scoresheets.

 Here is our All-Pro team:

Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham are our picks at wide receiver. Brown sat out the season finale but ended with 106 catches for 1284 yards (12.1 avg.) and 12 TD. Beckham ended with 101 catches and 1,367  yards and 10 scores and tons of style points.

The Second-team choices are Julio Jones and Mike Evans. Jones had 83 catches for over 1400 yards (over 17 yards per catch) and 6 TDs. Evans had 96 receptions for 1,321 (13.8 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. Honorable mentions go to Jordy Nelson and Doug Baldwin.

For the third WR (non-starter) we chose Cole Beasley, Dal and Willie Snead, NO with Adam Thielen an honorable mention. Our spot isn't a starting receiver who plays slot in third and long, it's a bench player who comes in games in those situations or plays when they start in those packages.

We also chose a non-starter at running back, a third down specialist. Our top slot goes to James White, NE with Darren Sproles backing him up on the Second-team. White caught 60 passes out of the backfield and five went for touchdowns. Sproles caught fewer (52 and 2 TDs), but also was an able runner on draws in the third down package on offense.

Tight end came down to the final week, in two seasons that mirrored each other in many ways but we went with Travis Kelce of Kansas City over Greg Olsen of the Panthers. The final deciding factor for us was Kelce's better performance in yards after the catch and he had one more touchdown catch. Really, they could be 1A and 1B.

Kyle Juszczyk of the Ravens was the top blocking back with the Chiefs Anthony Sherman our Second-team pick. Patrick DiMarco is the honorable mention for this specialist slot. This position was added to the AP All-Pro team in the mid-1990s and will no longer exist, being replaced by an extra slot in which AP voters can pick a receiver, a fullback or tight end. We predict there will not be lots of votes for the "Moose" back, the player the position was, for all intents and purposes, was created by the AP on their All-pro team.

We picked two First-team running backs, though many selectors pick one runner and one blocker, but AP and others, but in the NFL for time immemorial two runners have been selected. And we follow that tradition and pick Ezekiel Elliott and Le'Veon Bell. Both are easy picks and need no explanation.

David Johnson and DeMarco Murray are the Second-team picks. Both ran well and were major factors in the passing games of their teams.

LeGarrette Blount, of the Patriots (18 rushing TDS), LeSean McCoy of the Bills, Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins and Jordan Howard of the Bears all worthy of honorable mention.

Our First-team quarterback is Matt Ryan and we chose both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as the Second-teamers. Ryan, after theWeek 17 performance will likely win the AP and PFWA MVP awards but Brady and rosdgers will garner votes. We also pick Dak Prescott as our lone honorable mention.

Our First-team offensive line is composed of tackles Andrew Whitworth, Cin, and Tyron Smith, Dal. The guards are Kelechi Osemele of the Raiders and the Jets James Carpenter. The pivot is Brandon Linder of the Jaguars.

The Second-team O-line is Jack Conklin, Ten, and Zach Strief, NO, at tackle. The guards are Zack Martin, Dal, and Kevin Zeitler, Cin, with Travis Frederick, Dal the Second-team center.

Few rookie tackles make an impact in the NFL. Anthony Munoz, 1980, Jordan Gross, 2003, Joe Thomas, 2007, to name the only few. Add Jack Conklin to that list, he was a Pro Bowl alternate but really had a better year than Pro Bowl teammate Taylor Lewan.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif of the Chiefs, Matt Paradis of Denver, Joe Thomas, Cle, Trent Williams, Was, Marshal Yanda, Bal, Maurkice Pouncey, Pit, are honorable mentions at their positions.

Justin Tucker, the Ravens kicker is the number one kicker and the Second-teamer is Ryan Succop, Ten. Tucker's only miss was blocked, though there was a dropped snap by his holder late in the season. But he was 24 for 24 from 40 yards out and was seventh in touchback percentage and none of his kickoffs were penalized. An all around spectacular season when you include his late-game clutch kicks.

The Rams Johnny Hekker had arguably the best punting season in the history of the NFL, breaking his own net punting record by 1.8 yards (46.0) and smashing the inside-the-20 record by 5 (51) and had just a single touchback. When Hekker broke the previous record in 2013, he bested it by just two-tenths of a yard. So, this record really did smash a record, even though 1.8 yards does not seem like a lot, in this category, based on a study of this, it is.

Additionally, Hekker had none returned for a score and none blocked and oh-by-the-way has an 114.2 career passer rating on 12 attempts. The NFL average for a net punt is just over 40 yards. So, on his 98 punts, he netted nearly 600 extra yards than the average NFL punter (and that net average for this seasons is on pace for the best-ever). Hekker now owns three of the top six net punting seasons in NFL history. Also of note is that Hekker had four punts that traveled over 70 yards.

Sam Martin the Lions punter gets the Second-team nod. His net average ended up 44.2, which actually would have tied Hekker's previous NFL record and as it stands is tied for the Second-best all-time (since 1976 when the stat became official). Incidentally, Hekker ranks first all-time in net punting with a 43.3 average and Martin is second at 41.6.

Cordarrelle Patterson is the top kickoff returner and Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs is the Second-teamer. Patterson led the NFL (among qualifiers) with a 32.7 average and had a touchdown. Hill, some could quibble with since he didn't have enough kickoffs to qualify for the league leadership. However, in the days of the touchback getting you to the 25-yard line, the risk/reward ratio changed and there were many more touchbacks under the new rule. The issue is none of the other players, other than Patterson, who scored on a kick return qualified. So, we chose Hill. Jordan Todman is an honorable mention, though he only returned 16 kicks but he averaged 29.9 a return and had a 99-yard touchdown.

Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs is an easy choice as the punt returner and the Second-teamers are Andre Roberts of Detroit and Marcus Sherels of the Vikings who we tied for the backup slot. Hill had 39 returns for 592 yards for a league-leading 15.2 average and two touchdowns. Roberts and Sherels were just too close to separate, both had 2 punt returns for scores and fine averages.

Chase Reynolds, LA, is the core special teamer backed up by Justin Bethel, Ari. Reynolds blocked a punt and has been a leader on the Rams coverage units for several years and was a big help to Hekker. The same is true of Justin Bethel. Nate Ebner of New England is our honorable mention special teams player.

Landon Collins, NYG is the strong safety followed by Eric Berry of the Chiefs. There are a few strong honorable mentions:  Tony Jefferson, Arizona Cardinals, Eric Weddle, Bal and the Eagles Malcolm Jenkins. Jefferson was in the backfield all season, making plays for losses and Weddle and Jenkins were leaders on their respective teams and were noticable all year in games.

Collins had 125 tackles, 5 picks (one a pick six), 4 sacks and was part of one of the top secondaries in the NFL (a defensive passer rating of 75.8) The top free safety is Harrison Smith, Min and the Second-team pick is Darian Stewart of the Broncos. The Packers Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the lone FS honorable mention.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, NYG is the top nickel back, though he had to start a few games, but most of his starts were in nickel. In that role he picked of six passes and had a sack and was always around the ball, it seemed.

Daniel Sorensen, KC, is a hybrid, a nickel linebacker and a dime safety and he made lots of plays all season. He finished with 63 tackles, 3 INTs (one for a score), forced two fumbles and recovered three (one was on special teams).

Our honorable mention as nickel backs are Lamarcus Joyner, who had 66 tackles and a sack. He had a problem with a couple of holding penalties early in the season, but was good on coverage the rest of season. The other honorable mention is Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Bills who had 35 tackles, 2 picks (one for a TD).

Again, we tied Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Both are rush backers, or hybrid players who play linebacker when they are in a 3-4 and DE when they are in 4-man lines. The Broncos list Miller as a linebacker and the Raiders list Mack as a defensive end, but both are no different that players of the 1980s like Andre Tippett and Rickey Jackson and Kevin Greene. Vic Beasley of the Falcons is the Second-team rushbacker.

Miller finished with 78 tackles (3.5 stuffs) and 13.5 sacks but was seemingly always a factor in games. He dropped into coverage and did well in the games we saw.  Mack answered with 73 tackles (9.0 stuffs) and 11.0 sacks and a pick 6. He also forced five fumbles and recovered three. Like Miller, he was usually a factor, especially late in games. He did, though, have a bit of a slow start.

Beasley had 39 tackles (3.5 stuffs), 15.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and a scoop and score on a fumble recovery.  

Our outside linebackers are Lavonte David, TB, and Sean Lee, Dal. They were narrow picks over Telvin Smith, Jax, and K.J. Wright, Sea.

These base linebackers who all play in nickel and dime had stellar seasons. David, had 87 (10.5 stuffs), 5 sacks, a pick six, and four forced fumbles. Lee had 13.5 stuffs among his 145 credited tackles.

Smith ended season with 14.0 stuffs among his 114 tackles, 2 picks, a sack and 8 passes deflected for a good Jaguar defense. Wright had 126 tackles (10.0 stuffs) and 4 sacks on the always good 'Hawk defense.

In the middle is Bobby Wagner though his assisted tackle totals may be a bit dubious. Zack Brown, of the Bills is our Second-team pick. He was the "Will" in the Bills 3-4 scheme, an inside backer in our terminology.

Wagner was credited with 167 tackles (and an unusually high assist total of 82) plus 4.5 sacks and an interception. He had 7.5 stuffs and amazingly of his 167 credited tackles, 26 went for a loss or for no gain. Zach Brown had 148 tackles 9.5 run/pass stuffs, 4 sacks, 4 PD and 2 forced fumbles.

The Vikings Danielle Hunter is the third and long rusher (a non-starter specialist position) and is backed bu Markus Golden or the Cardinals. Kerry Hyder, Det (8 sacks) is our honorable mention. He was on our mod-season All-Pro team, but he had only one sack since mid-season. Hunter ended the season with 12.5 sacks and Golden also had 12.5 sacks, both lead their teams.

The defensive tackles are the Rams Aaron Donald (three technique), and  Damon Harrison of the Giants (nose). The Second-teamers are Geno Atkins, Cin (3-tech) and Brandon Williams of the Ravens (nose).

Donald had 8 sacks 47 tackles (11 were stuffs for losses) and according to Pro Football Focus, led NFL interior linemen in hits/hurries. Atkins had 32 tackles (5 stuffs) and 9 sacks. Gerald McCoy of the Bucs is an honorable mention.

"Snacks" Harrison was credited with 86 tackles (4.5 were stuffs) and 2.5 sacks and was a major key in Giants allowing just 88.6 rushing yards a game. Linval Joseph was out pick for mid-season All-Pro nose, but the Vikings defense took a nose dive in recent weeks. Not sure we can blame any one player, but when you are a load in the middle, it looks bad when teams are running up the middle.

The Ravens, as usual, were excellent against the run and Williams is a big reason. However, we will still give Joseph an honorable mention based on his work for the first 3/4 of the season and trust that it was a team effort in the Viking defense issues late in the year. 

Jadeveon Clowney and Cameron Jordan are our defensive ends. One more of a 30 end (3-4) the other (Jordan) a 40 (4-3) stack-and-shed end.

Cameron Jordan finished with 58 tackles (11.0 stuffs), 7.5 sacks and was consistent in pressuring the quarterback all season. He and Clowney (52 tackles, 12 stuffs, 6 sacks) do have relatively lower sack totals for All-Pros, they were both all-around ends who moved around and pressured the quarterback often. They were throwbacks to players like Howie Long and Dan Hampton who were dominant by drawing double-teams and being a factor in the run and the pass. Clowney sat out the final game but still ended with 52 tackles and 12 stuffs to go with his 6 sacks.

Leonard Williams cut from the same cloth as our First-teamers. He had 68 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 8 stuffs and a pair of forced fumbles for the Jets and he is one of our Second-team defensive ends (30 defense) along with Cliff Avril, Sea (40 defense).

The Jets use multiple fronts, and both these players spend time inside but with the Jets scheme Williams, Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson would move around and were often the inside rushers. The Jets list Williams as an end so again we play the nomenclature game, but to us, Williams is a 3-4 end who rushes from both inside and outside on pass downs,

Avril had 39 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. He was a narrow choice over Olivier Vernon of the Giants. Vernon, though is an honorable mention. He had a slew of hurries and 64 tackles (8.0 stuffs) and 8.5 sacks. Avril and Vernon are "open" ends, usually found away from the tight end or strong side. Calais Campbell is another of our honorable mentions as a 30 end, who rushed as a tackle in nickel.

Cornerback was the toughest position to narrow down. It seems like there are seven legitimate All-Pros. We finally chose Aqib Talib and Malcolm Butler as the top pair. And on the Second-team we picked Chris Harris Jr., and Casey Hayward of the Chargers who led the NFL in picks and had one of the lowest passer ratings against him.

The Broncos secondary was clearly the best in the NFL leading the NFL is pass defense in terms of yards (185.8) and in defensive passer rating (69.7) and they take 3 slots of eight on our team.

Three extremely strong honorable mentions are Marcus Peters of the Chiefs and Jenoris Jenkins are the honorables. Lots of good cornerbacks. Peters was a narrow miss, but he gambled a bit too much, but he'd be fifth and Jenkins sixth among starters in our view.

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