Tuesday, October 30, 2018

2018 PFJ Mid-Season All-Pro Team

By John Turney

If you asked me which two receivers I'd pick for my team it'd be Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Jr. since we think they are the best (and most fun to watch) wideouts in the game. But, All-Pro teams are for those who are having the best seasons, all things considered, or half-season in this case not who has the most talent or who was the best over a 2-3 year period. So, at times the best may be left out.

At the end of the season Jones and Beckham will pad their TD reception totals and go to the front of the line, but as of now, we are going with those who have the yards and touchdowns and  the 'eye test' and those are DeAndre Hopkins and Adam Thielen on the First-team and Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill on the Second-team. Hill started out on fire, but teams have taken him away some lately.
Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz were fairly easy. Rob Gronkowski has been nicked by injuries enough to miss out on consideration, but by season's end, who knows, maybe he'll join Jones and Beckham on the year-end team. George Kittle is also an honorable mention.

Terron Armstead of the Saints and Ryan Ramczak also of the Saints are the top two tackles (left and right) and the Falcons Jake Matthews and Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon follow them. Seems like everyone talks about Andrew Whitworth but the speed rushers give him trouble and though he's only given up two sacks, he's had several other big pressures allowed and if memory serves a sack or two not credited to him by other penalties. He's still good, but his teammate Havenstein is having the better year and is an honorable mention.

Matthews is the only one of the four First- and Second-teamers to allow a sack or be called for holding (he's allowed 1 sack and flagged once for a hold, although Armstead has one false start call against him) but that was no reason to leave him off. He's been excellent this year. Tyron Smith is looking good, too.

Andrus Peat is our top guard so far. Kyle Long won't make it back to the Pro Bowl, he's likely out for the rest of season or at least an extended amount of time.  So, he will miss out on post-season honors but in the first half, he's been impressive to us. More of a grinder than the others, and he's been beat o couple of time, but he had some real push, something the Bears line lacks without him

The Second-team guards are Rodger Saffold and solid standby Zach Martin. Martin, like Long is nicked and we almost went with Larry Warford but thought maybe three Saints on the line might make us look biased. Saffold is as good as any guard in the league on the move—screens, wide receiver screens and so on. Warford and Martin would be better driving players off the line of scrimmage.

 David Andrews of the Patriots puts on a clinic week after week and the Jaguars Brandon Linder has size and strength but is a hair less of a technician than Andrews—both are great.

Pat Mahomes is an easy pick. Drew Brees edges Jared Goff  for the Second-team. After the showdown next Sunday, maybe we will choose differently, but now Brees is #2 and Goff #3.
We are picking two running backs and not a flex player, though so far, for all intents and purposes the "flex" position has been a second running back. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott and the top two followed by Kareem Hunt and James Conner.

Kyle Juszczyk is our fullback and his backup is James Develin in a dying position. Calvin Ridley of the Falcons and Golden Tate of the Lions are our third receivers (non-starters). Ridley has 6 touchdowns and Tate totals over 500 yards receiving so far.

Our third down back specialist is James White of the Pats who is putting up amazing numbers in his role. He's back by Tarik Cohen of the Bears.  Chris Thompson would get more consideration but he keeps getting hurt. Was on track for this spot last year but missed six games and has missed time this year, too.

Our defensive line is composed of Cameron Jordan as a 4-3 end, JJ Watt as a 3-4 end, Aaron Donald as a rush tackle and D.J. Reader as a nose tackle. Jordan rushes the passer, plays the run, moves around and even will stand up as a backer when the Saints show a 3-4 scheme. He has 5 sacks and just 2.5 run stuffs but he's part of the best run-stopping team in the league by a wide margin and he beats out Lawrence, by a hair not on stats, but the ole' eye test. Reader is one of the big, big men who specialize in run stuffing but Reader (2 sacks) can even get some push in the middle, of course it helps when Watt and Clowney are outside putting pressure on.

Watt is Watt. Back to form and in contention for Defensive Player of the Year with 8 sacks, 5 stuffs, 4 forced fumbles and a pair of batted passes. Donald is the front-runner now for the DPOY, at mid-season he's on pace for 20 sacks which would smash the record for a defensive tackle.

Their Second-team backups are DeMarcus Lawrence of Dallas as 40 end, Akiem Hicks of the Bears (edges Michael Brockers) as a 30 end, Geno Atkins of the Bengals (edges Fletcher Cox) and Snacks Harrison who just got traded to the Lions. Harrison has 5.5 run stuffs this season so far and is always solid versus the run. Lawrence in addition to his 5.5 sacks has 8.0 run stuffs, showing he's not the only rush end who can make run stops in the backfield. Chandler Jones also has been good (6.5 sacks, 3 FF) in a bad situation in Arizona and Danielle Hunter is playing great in Viking land, give them honorable mentions as well.

Our 3-4 OLBer, rush backer or whatever you want to call it is Von Miller on the First-team and Khalil Mack on the Second-team. Mack has been nicked of late and Miller is on a roll. Preseason we picked Mack to be the Defensive Player of the Year. Unless he has a monster second half he won't even be close. T.J. Watt is the honorable mention here.

Luke Kuechly and the Ravens C.J. Mosley are the 4-3 MLB and 3-4 ILB respectively. Followed by Bobby Wagner and the Packers inside backer Blake Martinez.  We've seen Martinez miss some players, make a few errors, but in this era who doesn't? Defenders play with one arm tied behind their backs and Martinez does make quite a lot of big plays, so we put him on the Second-team. Kuechly and Wagner are both machines. Jaylon Smith is coming on, finally healthy (and finding the ball!), but not enough to supplant the big two 'Mikes'.
Lavonte David is our outside linebacker. Since he entered the NFL in 2012 he's made 85.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage other than sacks, by far the most in the NFL in that span. He has a knack for getting into the backfield and stopping runners for losses. Some players just have instinct and David has it. He has 8.5 stuffs this season. 

Kiko Alonso edges Demario Davis for the backup spot. Alonso has made lots of plays in pass defense this year. He has two picks, 4 passes defensed to go with 76 tackles and three forced fumbles. He's not a perfect player in terms of run stopping, but in this era, playing coverage is more important. Davis is playing well, too and if he keeps it up he's Pro Bowl bound. Darius Leonard, the Colts rookie OLBer is an honorable mention he has 88 tackles (5 are stuffs), 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles and is a top contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

It's been a hard year so far for corners. There isn't a handful that sticks out like last year. So, we are going with Morris Claiborne of the Jets and Patrick Peterson of Arizona. Peterson is rumored to be on the trade block and he'd be a great addition to any contender. 

Denzel Ward and  Richard Sherman are our Second-teamers. Ward, a rookie, is making an impact like Marshon Lattimore and TreDavious White but is doing it in Cleveland, so it's harder to notice. Sherman is another one who's nicked but has not been tested too often this year and when he is, he's passed the test. Bryan Jones is an honorable mention, we just want to see him more in man coverage. 

Budda Baker is a beast. He has 72 tackles (8.5 are stuffs) 2 sacks, 2 fumbles recovered—one a scoop and score, and one pass deflection as an in-the-box strong safety. John Johnson III of the Rams is the best defender on that team not named Donald. He plays linebacker in the Rams alternate base defense (when ILBer Cory Littleton plays OLBer) had 3 interceptions (good for a guy who spends a lot of time in the box) and 5 other pass defenses. He does take a poor angle from time to time and misses a tackle but we always have to keep in mind the offensive guys get paid, too.

We are going with D.J. Swearinger as the First-team pick. He's been a terrific playmaker this year and is a fine student of the game. Harrison Smith has come on lately and earned Second-team spot. We were down on the Viking defense early as Smith and others were making errors. Now, Smith is making plays. He has 3 picks and 3 sacks and has forced a fumble and the Viking defense is coming on as a result. It will be interesting who has the best second half Swearinger or Smith to take the year-end crown. Adrian Amos is the lone honorable mention, he was our top free safety for the first few weeks, but Swearinger and Smith came on strong.
Graham Gano and Josh Lambo are our First- and Second-team kickers. We love Justin Tucker, but he will have to have a better second half of the season to top these two. Jason Myers of the Jets is also having a good year. It does bother is that Gano has missed a couple of PATs but his 63-yarder made the difference. We may be shorting Lambo, though, who is perfecto on the season, FG and PATs.

Dustin Colquitt is the top punter and leads the NFL in 'Net Punting Yards Over Average" which is the NFL's punting stat that measures punters to the league average. The usual leader in that stat Johnny Hekker hasn't had a great season (for him). His net average is 39.9 (matching the career low of his, set as a rookie) and has had a punt deflected. Still, he's a weapon. He's always a fair bet to convert a 4th down on a fake and his punts are finding the turf inside the 10-yard line more often lately. He also filled in for Greg Zuerlein as a kicker when GZ was down with an injury.

For the Second-team we chose Michael Dickson who has a 42.5-yard net average, is 5th on the "NPYOA" stat and like Hekker can convert a first down when needed but unlike Hekker he can do it from his own end zone. And can dropkick on kickoffs. So there is that.

Jakeem Grant or Miami and Cordarrelle Patterson of the Patriots are our best and second-best in kickoff returns. Grant is averaging 32.3 yards per kick and has a touchdown and is leading the NFL in kick return yardage. Patterson is averaging the same but only has 12 returns of this writing, edge to Grant right now.

Tyreek Hill is the top punt returner but needs some more returns if he's going to lead the NFL but his explosiveness makes him tops. Andre Roberts is our Second-team pick and our honorable mention is  Jakeem Grant who is a double threat in kick and punt returns. 

Cory Littleton has blocked two punts and deflected a third. One has to go back to Nolan Cromwell in 1987 to find a better season (3 blocked punts) and that one was marred by the scab games. In the last two seasons Littleton has 4 blocked punts one deflection and one super near-miss. He knows how to defeat the punt protection, that's for sure. Joseph Jones is second in the NFL in special teams tackles and has a punt block to his credit as well. He has a great shot at being in the Pro Bowl as a special teams player if he keeps this kind of production up.

MVP—Pat Mahomes, then Gurley as runner-up
OPOY—Todd Gurley, Adam Thielen as runner-up
DPOY—Aaron Donald, then JJ Watt as runner-up

We will revisit this after Week 17. Until then, tell us where we screwed up in the comments section.

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