Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 PFJ All-Pro Team

By John Turney
Picking All-Pro teams is fun, but it is also nerve-wracking because one never thinks he's seen enough of the All-22 or talked/texted enough coaches or scouts to be completely fair. There are always mitigating factors and there are always razor-thin margins between players. Aaron Donald is one player where there is a gap between the best and second-best, but that's the exception, not the rule.

Thus, even hours or days or years after the one makes his picks you have some remorse, wondering if you blew it and picked the wrong guy, especially if you have comments enabled on your blog or if you post them on Twitter.

So, all we can say is we've done due diligence and talked to some extremely informed people and mixed that with what we say on film. That said, here is our team:

None of the receivers had major issues with drops this year so that eliminated one factor we look at but we ended up picking Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins as the wide receivers. Jones totaled 113 catches for 1,677 yards for a 14.8 average and 8 touchdowns. Hopkins was our number one all season and he totaled 1,572 yards and 11 scores.

Antonio Brown led the NFL in touchdown scores and we have a bias for TDs over catches and even yards in many cases. He's one of our second-teamers. Tyreek Hill is the other Second-teamer, totaling  1,479 yards and 12 scores and is a factor in the run game with jet sweeps and other gadget plays.

Davante Adams and Adam Thielen are honorable mentions. Adams was solid all year but Thielen kind of tailed off late in the year after a monster start.
Travis Kelce is our tight end and Greg Kittle back him up and Zach Ertz is the honorable mention. Kelce set the tight end receiving yardage record on the season's final Sunday and Kittle broke it later in the day. Ertz has the best hands but seemed more and more like a short outlet that deep threat.

The highest graded tackle in our view, Terron Armstead missed too much time to be All-Pro in our view. So we went with Duane Brown of Seattle and Ryan Ramczyk of New Orleans as First-team selections and the Second-teamers are Kelvin Beachum of the Jets and the Patriots Marcus Cannon.

Joe Thuney and Zack Martin (his best year) are the guards, followed by the Browns guard Joel Bitonio and Brandon Brooks of the Eagles. Thuney's man rarely got to the ball and was excellent in pass protection all season. Martin is always good but was special this year. Quenton Nelson was the number three left guard in the NFL and in the AFC. He has John Hannah-like skills, which means he can dominate most of the time but will 'whiff' at times and make some errors (six holding calls). Next year, he should be the top, but he needs to eliminate the mistakes.  Cody Whitehair of the Bears is the top center this year and following him is Graham Glasgow of the Lions.
Pat Mahomes is an easy choice at quarterback and we are choosing Drew Brees as the Second-team signal caller. The Second-team All-Conference picks were harder and Andrew Luck edged Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson took the Second-team All-NFC slot.

From the beginning of time All-Pro teams have been made up of two running backs, even the Associated Press, when they chose a fullback, still had two running backs. We are not going to break that tradition, though we can call one of them a "flex" if you wish. The AP added that spot recently and all the picks have been running backs and we suspect it will occur again.
Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott get the first two slots and Alvin Kamara and fantastic rookie Saquon Barkley get the next two. Gurley sat out the final two games and still led the NFL in total touchdowns by three and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive season. He even left one touchdown on the table to going down rather than scoring to run out the clock in one instance. He is a fine pass blocker and an excellent receiver. Elliott led the NFL in rushing and caught 77 passes and Kamara totaled 18 touchdowns and Barkley had 15. 

Football platoons are no longer eleven guys, they are 13- or 14-man platoons, it's been an age of specialization for a long time and we choose to honor those players.

Kyle Juszczyk of the 49ers is the fullback and he's backed by James Develin of the Patriots. Juszczyk had an unfortunate fumble in the season finale in Los Angeles, but hey, no one's perfect. He was fine lead blocker and receiver.

Our "big butt" or in-line tight end (not the guys running up and down the field) are Jordan Thomas of the Texans and Darren Fells of the Browns. They are key players in blocking and can also catch a pass when needed. Thomas (who does have a big rear end) is around 280 and Fells is 6-7 277.

Our third wide receiver is by definition a non-starter except if teams open a game in 3-wide. Calvin Ridley is First-team and Golden Tate who played for the Lions and Eagles is the Second-teamer. Ridley caught 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns  playing in all 16 games and starting five

Our third-down is also a non-starter but is a key player in passing games for teams and the best this year is the Patriots James White followed by Tarik Cohen of the Bears. White caught 87 passes for seven touchdowns and ran for five scores as well. 

In keeping with specialists, here are the defensive role players. The rushers are Chris Long and are Sam Hubbard of the Bengals. Both Long and Hubbard are designated or "wave" rushers, coming in on likely passing downs and recorded 6.5 and 6.0 sacks respectively in no starts. Dallas's Randy Gregory was productive enough but had too many dumb penalties. 

The fifth defensive back is Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Dolphins and the Second-teamer is Desmond King of the Chargers. Fitzpatrick was terrific as was King.

Here are the starters on defense:

The starting secondary is composed of cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Shaquill Griffin, along with Derwin James of the Chargers and Justin Simmons of the Broncos at safety. Lattimore just seemed glued to receivers and forced four fumbles. Last year Griffin looked like Richard Sherman. This year he played like him on the left side of the Seahawk defense. Simmons had great range and smarts. James, a rookie, did a little bit of everything.
Our Second-team secondary has corners Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots and Byron Jones of Dallas and John Johnson III and Eddie Jackson at safety. Johnson played some linebacker in the Rams alternate base 3-4 when they deployed Cory Littleton at OLBer rather than his usual ILB spot. Jackson was chosen because he made so many game-changing plays. Gilmore was solid all year. There were lots of players in contention for the Second-team but have to be regulated to honorable mention:  Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman (allowed only 1 TD); pickoff artists Kyle Fuller and Xavien Howard head that list.

Luke Kuechly takes the top middle linebacker spot and is backed by Bobby Wagner on the Second-team. Really, we could have tied them but thought with a rare performance by Keuchly he deserved the top spot. In all, Kuechly made 130 tackles with 22.0 of them going for losses, not counting his 2.0 sacks. Wagner had a terrific year, too. He finished with 126 tackles (4.5 were stuffs), a sack, 11 passes defensed, an interception that he returned 98 yards for a touchdown and two forced fumbles.

We always choose a rushbacker and a weakside or strongside outside backer who has coverage responsibilities. The edge linebacker is Khalil Mack on the First-team and the Second-team pick is Von Miller. Mack missed some time but made lots of big, big plays, seemingly at the exact right time to turn a game around or seal a win for the Bears.

The off-the-ball backer is rookie Darius Leonard of the Colts and the Bucs Lavonte David. Leonard was a big-play guy who did miss a few too many tackles, but he had 8 stuffs, 7 sacks, forced four fumbles, two picks, eight passes defensed, and made 163 tackles. Leighton Vander Esch played well enough to be an honorable mention with his 140 tackles, seven passes defensed, and two picks. 

Another strong honorable mention is Matt Milano who missed a few games but was seemingly always making plays both in the backfield and in coverage. He made 78 tackles, 11.5 (a high number) coming in the backfield and he picked off three passes and fell on three fumbles. 

Our nose tackle, call it the defensive interior shade if you will is Snacks Harrison, NYG-Det and a player who sure benefitted from a new scheme and/or coach. Margus Hunt of the Colts.
Harrison played 17 games after being traded from the Giants to the Lions and ended the season with 81 combined tackles 23 (28.4%) of which were either for a loss or no gain (8.5 were run stuffs) and was his usually immovable self in the Big Apple and the Motor City.

Hunt was a bust in Cincinnati as a 3-4 defensive end. He began 2018 as a starting left defense end in base, but quickly moved inside and he played the vast majority of his snaps inside the guards in a shade position in a 4-3 where he was able to use his height and long arms to keep blockers and bay and also got a good rush, especially coming of stunts with the defensive end or three-technique.

Our rush tackles were easy with Aaron Donald first and Fletcher Cox, though DeForest Buckner is a very strong honorable mention. The league is loaded with good three-techniques right now.

Donald buried the single-season defensive tackle sack record of 18 previously held by Keith Millard and Alan Page (officially and unofficially). He also was double-teamed more than anyone in the NFL and had the most QB hits/hurries by more than one source. He also had nine stuffs (actually 10, one was a mismarked) and was simply the slipperiest defensive tackle we've ever seen and his 2018 season is arguably the best-ever by any defensive tackle, ever Cox ended with a career-high 10.5 sacks and 34 QB Hits and is as technically solid a defensive tackle as there is. 
Our base 3-4 end is JJ Watt, who plays edge in nickel. The Second-teamer is Akiem Hicks of the Bears. Another strong honorable mention is  Chris Jones and his 15.5 sacks. Hicks is just more of a force in the run game and part of a far better defense. Jones had few tackles for loss, apart from his sacks. Watt had 16 sacks and tied for the NFL lead with seven forced fumbles. He is a strong contender for NFL Comeback Player
The hardest position to separate for the second year in a row is the 4-3 defensive end or edge rusher, or whatever you want to call it. Cameron Jordan ended up first on our list and was followed by Calais Campbell and DeMarcus Lawrence, both of whom were very, very close and is a super-strong honorable mention and  Danielle Hunter is an honorable mention as well.

Cameron Jordan as stellar all year. He simply had fewer big plays than the others but he was fun to watch, as always. He played left end in base and in nickel but when the Saints would show a 3-4 look, he'd play one of the outside linebacker spots and when he dropped from his edge position on a zone blitz, he'd get to his area, and actually play it well, checking the first threat, then the next. He wasn't just 'there' if you will. The difference maker is that he seemed to get the most consistent pressure all year, in addition to his all-around skills of chasing down running plays across the field.
Lawrence ended the season with 63 tackles and 10.5 were for losses not including his 10.5 sacks. He also had another 5 tackles for no gains and forced two fumbles. Adding his plays for losses and no gains he had 26.0—fourth in the NFL. On the old 'eye test' he seemed like he was always in the mix in the pass rush and as attested to his 15.5 tackles for losses or no gain, he was a force in the run game as well. Lawrence likely had the second-most hurries among defensive ends, though final numbers from the stat websites are not out but when it comes to subjective stats like that it's more art than science when comparing. Needless to say, Jordan and Lawrence were excellent pass rushers.

Calais Campbell had another terrific year, even though the Jaguars didn't. He came on towards the end of the season and had 72 tackles, 13.0 stuffs and another 8.5 tackles for no gain and when matched with his 10.5 sacks it was a total of 32.0 plays for no gain or a loss—only Aaron Donald (33.5) and JJ Watt (33.0) had more. Campbell is not a pure edge player, he plays end in the base and in nickel reduces to an interior rusher, most often over a guard but sometimes over the center.

In the end, we made both Lawrence and Campbell Second-team selections. It was simply too close to call.

Hunter faded late in the season but finished with 71 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss or no gain and a pair of forced fumbles. he had 11.5 sacks after nine games and just three the remaining seven games. He he played the second half of he season like he did the first half he would have been the choice, but the slump cost him. We also like Frank Clark a lot, he is elite and is an all-around player, but there are just so many slots on All-Pro/All-Conference teams and Clark gets left out. Myles Garrett is All-AFC and may have been higher if he hadn't had so many penalties.

For the special teams here are our picks:

Jason Myers is the top 2018 kicker, though Justin Tucker is already an all-time great. Myers did miss three PATs but was the best field goal kicker by our metrics and was in the top four in kickoff performance. Tucker was above average in kickoffs and was excellent in kicking, but he just didn't quite have the year Myers did.

Aldrick Rosas was considered, he did well on placements but kicked a couple too many out of bounds on kickoffs so he wasn't far enough ahead on accuracy to mitigate the so-so kickoffs.
The best punter is Johnny Hekker, but he didn't have the best season going into the final weekend. That honor went to Michael Dickson of the Seahawks.  Thomas Morstead, Cameron Johnston, and Hekker were neck-and-neck in net average—all competing with being second in net average.

Then on the final weekend, Dickson had a punt blocked and it knocked him back to fourth in NFL in net punting average. Morestead and Hekker were one and two with 43.2 and 43.0 net average respectively. So, we were left looking at those two.

Hekker gets the selection because he is not only a great punter for distance and net but also in pinning returners inside the 20 and is a real threat on fakes, either running or passing. And he filled in for an injured kicker and didn't miss a kick when tasked with those duties. Also, for good or bad, Morestead had the advantage of playing half his games indoors, though Hekker's Los Angeles weather was good all year. So, Hekker takes the First-team All-Pro honor due to those above reasons and in his excellence in metrics like his inside-the-20 percentage and the low percentage of returns and others measures of punting. Overall, when all things are considered he was the best.

We stuck with Dickson as the Second-teamer since he really did have a great year, but in razor thing races we look at everything and Dickson had plenty of intangibles of his own. Morestead is an honorable mention as is Tress Way who had 41 punts inside the 20 and zero, ZERO touchbacks. His only 'super negative' was having a punt returned for a touchdown on him. Yes, one block and one return, in a league full of excellent punters can knock you from All-Pro in our view. 

Andre Roberts of the Jets secured both the punt return and kick returner All-Pro spots. For kickoff returns, he's backed by Cordarrelle Patterson of the Patriots and Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs. Jakeem Grant is an honorable mention at both kick- and punt returner. The only negative with Roberts is he had a high number of fair catches, which is understandable these days, as good as punters are, but back in the day, it was considered a badge of honor to have few fair catches when you were a punt returner.

For core special teams we are going with Taysom Hill followed by Joseph Jones. Punt blocker Cory Littleton gets a spot on the Second-team on the All-NFC team. Littleton, as a starting inside linebacker, didn't play kick and punt coverage this year is why we are not going with him on the All-Pro teams but he did block two punts and deflected another.

Hill was a presence on all the Saint special teams and had a blocked kick of his own and Jones had 12 special teams tackles and a blocked kick as well. Again, back in the day, you could find several players with maybe 20-25 special teams tackles. But with punters booming footballs so high and kickoff resulting in touchbacks so often, it's not easy to get lots of tackles on coverages.

Here are the All-NFC and All-AFC selections:

Most Valuable Player—Pat Mahomes, Chiefs
Offensive Player of the Year —Pat Mahomes, Chiefs
Defensive Player of the Year— Aaron Donald, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year—Saquon Barkley, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year—Darius Leonard, Colts
Comeback Player of the Year—Andrew Luck, Colts
Most Improved Player of the Year—George Kittle, 49ers
Special Teams Player of the Year— Andre Roberts, Jets
Coach of the Year—Matt Nagy, Bears
Assistant Coach of the Year—Vic Fangio, Bears DC
Executive—Chris Ballard,  Colts

Position Awards:
Offensive Lineman of the Year—Zack Martin, Dallas
Defensive Lineman of the Year—Aaron Donald, Los Angeles
Linebacker of the Year—Luke Kuechly, Carolina
Defensive Back of the Year—Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans
Running Back of the Year—Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Receiver of the Year—DeAndre Hopkins, Houston
Returner of the Year—Andre Roberts, NY Jets
Special Teams Player of the Year—Taysom Hill, New Orleans
Kicker/Punter of the Year—Jason Myers, New York Jets

Agree or disagree? Let us have it in the comments section below.


  1. You guys didn't like Jason Kelce's year? PFF has him ranked very highly.
    What did you see in Marcus Cannon to rank him highly at right tackle?

    1. Kelce had a fine year, and was considered. Cannon pass protection was excellent and didn't make mental errors.

      As far as is what one highyl respected film watcher who is on TV a lot, said,"Pro Football Focus is a fraud". And that mirrors what another scout said to us recently.

      I like PFF when they are counting things, hits, hurries, etc, but their grades are something I steer away from. Not that they are 100% wrong and others are 100% right, but the sentiment is they cannot do, with their staff, what they purport to do.

      But, I think they have some good things, too

  2. I kind of appreciate the nuance of PFF's grading although it did used to annoy me. I like that you guys at PFJ watch the film and talk to scouts as well. Nice to have a mix.

    What were the skillsets of the centers Whitehair and Glasgow?
    What do you think about Mitch Swartz the RT of the Chiefs?
    What was the feeling about Rodney Hudson's year? Best pass pro center in football or did he benefit from quick release scheme?