QB: Peyton Manning, IND
This was a groundbreaking year for quarterbacks with 9 of them finishing in the Top 50 all-time for single-season passing yardage and 6 quarterbacks finishing in the Top 50 all-time for single-season quarterback rating. With that in mind, it was still this era’s best that arguably performed at the highest level despite not posting the flashiest overall numbers, or even matching his career bests. This season was arguably Manning’s most impressive. Though he had his usual targets in Wayne and Clark, he made great progress in developing Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie by dropping beautiful passes into tighter windows than ever. His offensive line was pedestrian, but overcame their inadequacies with successful pre-snap reads and a quick release. Manning led the team to an undefeated mark before being pulled away from the feat in the 15th game of the regular season. He did all of this while the Colts’ rushing attack finished dead last in the league.
RB: Chris Johnson, TEN
Chris Johnson became the 6th back in NFL history to go over the 2000 yard mark, which alone is enough to garner attention as an All-Pro. Johnson also accomplished his feat by going over 100 yards in his last 11 games and tying an NFL record for consecutive 125+ yard games (6). His electric speed remarkable acceleration allowed him to break off 3 85+ yard runs in the season, which is a mark no other running back has equaled in a career. Johnson broke off 22 runs for 20 or more yards, nearly doubling his next closest colleague. With touchdowns of 66 and 69 yards on receptions, Johnson also proved his versatility in the passing game. Though he wasn’t able to beat Eric Dickerson on the ground, he quietly surpassed Marshall Faulk to set the NFL record for Most Yards from Scrimmage, amassing 2,509 yards. An interesting point of note is that Johnson tended to tail off on his later carries: he averaged 3.7 on carries 21+ compared to a 6.0 average on his first 20, which is quite the opposite for most backs.
RB: Steven Jackson, STL
It’s not often you see a player as big and tough to bring down as Jackson finish with over 1400 yards and only 4 touchdowns. It’s proof of how inept the Rams offense truly was outside of Steven Jackson. They had a full year of lousy quarterbacking – finished next to last in the league in yards per attempt – which was given even less chance to succeed with young, unstable units on the offensive line and at wide receiver. After a 1400 yard season, in which he played through injuries to start all but one game, Jackson secured himself a spot as one of the elite backs in the league, something many weren’t sold on prior to the year. If the Rams can find more balance next season, they should be able to keep Jackson fresher (he averaged 26 touches per game this year) and give him more goal line opportunities to punch in more touchdowns.
FB: Le’Ron McClain, BAL
With Ray Rice and Willis McGahee finishing with nearly 1900 yards on the season, McClain’s touches diminished, but his impact on the Ravens running game increased. His versatility and distinction as a runner allowed him to reach his second consecutive Pro Bowl, but as a blocker, there were few better this year. Both McGahee and Rice saw their yards per carry increase by nearly a full yard with McClain in front of them. McClain was also an effective short yardage back, converting on 20 of 24 opportunities on a distance to go of 2 or less yards. He also continued his trend of rarely losing yardage, with only a single stuff on his season’s 46 carries.
WR: Andre Johnson, HOU
For his physical prowess and on-field dominance, Andre Johnson was an easy selection this year and proved once again why he's the best receiver in football. He was targeted a league-high 171 times by Matt Schaub, which shows the confidence his quarterback has in him to make plays on the football even when draped in coverage. He finished the year with 101 catches, 1569 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Unlike many receivers, Johnson did his damage all over the field, stretching from sideline-to-sideline and endzone-to-endzone, making it difficult for defenses to gameplan for him. Johnson also has the ability to create after the catch, averaging 5.3 YAC per reception. He’s accomplished nearly every individual regular season feat possible and now just needs his team to continue improving to have the opportunity to make a splash in the postseason, like Larry Fitzgerald last year.
WR: Wes Welker, NE
Is Welker the 2nd best receiver in the league? No, not even the best on his team. Is he a product of the “system” and working out of the slot? Maybe. One could also argue that his numbers have seen a predictable increase since coming to New England, based on becoming a more focal point on offense. Remember that in his last season in Miami, he caught 67 balls while starting only 2 games. There are few receivers who can do what he does at the level of consistency he accomplishes it. Welker led the league in receptions by a good margin and had a very good shot of breaking Marvin Harrison’s NFL record for the season mark had he played the 2 early games he missed and duration of the last one where he suffered injuries to his ACL and MCL. Welker led the league in receptions per target, which demonstrates the separation he was able to gain and his concentration in not dropping too many passes. He finished 2nd only to Hakeem Nicks in percent of total yards gained after the catch with 53.5%. Welker had a remarkable season no matter how you spin it.
TE: Dallas Clark, IND
Though Clark doesn’t offer much as a blocker, he’s the premiere receiving tight end in the NFL and this season was statistically the best of his career. He fell just a couple receptions short of Tony Gonzalez’s season record and perhaps more impressive was the fact he caught 75.8% of balls thrown in his direction. Clark also finished the year near the top (of tight ends) in yards, touchdowns, 1st down receptions, and YAC. While other tight ends may be more complete than Clark, it’s hard to ignore the impressive marks he’s reached in a number of categories this year, especially with the proliferation of the spread TE in the NFL today. This year’s honors could have just as easily gone to the 2nd teamer as well.
LT: Joe Thomas, CLE
Marred by inconsistency at running back and inadequate quarterback play, Thomas’s season may not have been as visually attractive as some of his previous ones, but his play was every bit as good and impact still obvious. As a pass blocker, Thomas may not have had his best season as a pro, but as an all-rounded player, this may just have been his best season, though harder to pick out. He struggled a little earlier in the season, but ended strong allowing few pressures and fewer sacks. While watching Jerome Harrison burst onto the scene, it was rather easy to pick out one player on the offensive line that was having a direct impact on his ability to hit turn the corner. Thomas was able to seal the edge and create a shorter distance to the corner using quick feet and positioning, or attack the second level and make a key block neutralizing a linebacker. Statistically speaking, both Jamal Lewis and Harrison shared their best moments running to the left sideline, where they averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
LG: Carl Nicks, NO
Though the 2009 season featured few offensive guards that played a cut above the rest, there were a number of lesser-known guards that stepped up. Carl Nicks paired with Jahri Evans gave the Saints the top offensive guard combo in the league. With all due respect to Drew Brees and what he forced the defense to do, it was the interior offensive line play that gave the Saints the balance and consistency on offense. Not only was he one of the better pass protecting guards – it shouldn’t come as a surprise, after all he played left tackle at Nebraska – but he also continued to display dominance in the run game. He helped pave way for an underrated running attack that finished 6th in the league, while featuring undrafted Pierre Thomas and castoff Mike Bell, who both saw much of their success plowing through the middle. The Saints were stuffed only 4 times all season while running up the middle.
C: Nick Mangold, NYJ
Paving the way for the league’s best rushing attack, Mangold was arguably the top player on the best offensive line in the league. He continued to improve his protection calls at the line to make it easier for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Due largely to his elite ability in this area, Mangold helped the Jets finished 3rd in the league in hits allowed with just 52, one more than Green Bay’s league-leading 51 sacks allowed. He continued to improve as a run blocker to anchor a line that found much success in smashing the ball down the opponents’ throat, especially in the 2nd half of the season. After back-to-back top-notch seasons, Nick Mangold will most likely be the center you hear with perennial Pro Bowls and numerous All-Pro mentions attached to his name.
RG: Jahri Evans, NO
Has there been a better guard over the last two years than Jahri Evans? It’s rare that two teammates at the same position can share All-Pro accolades, but I think the interior offensive line up front for the New Orleans Saints deserves such honors. What they’ve done with a pair of low-investment backs and transformed them into a very good running football team is nothing short of remarkable. As previously mentioned, the Saints finished 6th in the league in rushing, which played a big part in their ability to average a league-leading 31.9 points per game. The Saints offensive line was ranked 2nd in runs up the middle, according to Football Outsiders. Evans is not only a dominant run-blocking guard, but has improved each year in pass protection, putting up elite production, keeping Drew Brees clean from an interior pass rush.
RT: David Stewart, TEN
Stewart is a model for consistency and well-roundedness, but also the prototype at right tackle because of his strength in run-blocking. While Michael Roos on the left side has garnered some attention as one of the league’s best left tackles, it is behind David Stewart and the right side of the line that the Titans love running the football. Chris Johnson averaged a whole yard more per carry running over right tackle and wide right (6.0) than he did running over left tackle and wide left (5.0) this year. In pass protection, Stewart was stellar, allowing only a handful of hits over the course of the season as the Titans allowed 44 on the year, just one more than the league-best posted by the Colts. Given Manning’s quick release and pocket presence to aid the Colts’ offensive line, it would be a safe argument to say that Stewart manned the right side on the league’s best pass-protecting line this season.
DE: Dwight Freeney, IND
We all know most of the shortcomings of Dwight Freeney against the run, but there’s no denying he’s the best pure pass rusher in the game today. The numbers from this season reflect that. Freeney recorded at least one sack in 11 of 14 games played this season, while providing a constant pressure, which features the most unbeatable rush move in the game today. Though he didn’t make as many overall impact plays as other ends, Freeney led all starting defensive ends in recording a sack on 3.4% of his plays, which surpasses all other ends by nearly a whole percent. Unofficially, he also recorded either a sack, hit, or pressure on 16.9% of his pass-rushing plays, or 1 out of 6 pass rushes, an astronomical number. Due largely to the pass rush of the defensive line, Indianapolis was able to finish the year top 10 – judged on a number of metrics – in pass defense, which is remarkable considering the secondary missed Bob Sanders and Marlin Jackson for the entire year, while starting a pair of rookies at cornerback. It’s tough to give this nod to a one-dimensional end who recorded a pedestrian 13.5 sacks (comparatively in today’s game), but considering the unrelenting pressure coming from his side and the relative impact it had on the Colts’ pass defense, it’s not a difficult decision.
DE: Jared Allen, MIN
While Jared Allen may not receive all the attention of other elite defensive ends through double teams, thanks to Kevin and Pat Williams inside, his productivity is year in and year out up there with the best. This year was no different. Allen led all defensive ends in impact plays (Sacks, STF, PD, INT, FF, FR, TD) with 34.5 total instances this season, or on 3.7% of his plays, a percentage that fell 2nd only to Justin Tuck among ends with 500+ snaps. Even though he’s been accused of accumulating most of his sack total in three games, he is similar to most other pass rushers in that regard. However, Allen is also one of the better players versus the run, where he makes an impact week in and week out. Though he doesn’t have to deal with enough double teams to be considered a Defensive MVP candidate this year, Allen does enough to still be recognized as the league’s premier all-around end, a title he’s claimed for a number of years now. It’s worth mentioning that Ray Edwards, the Vikings’ starting left defensive end, posted some remarkable numbers himself, but I feel much of that success can be attributed to Jared Allen and the interior line play of Kevin and Pat Williams.
DT: Jay Ratliff, DAL
Ratliff is the large object you will often see emerge in the backfield and engulf his victims while watching Cowboys games. He plays nose tackle in the Cowboys 3-4 scheme, but has started to garner attention not because of his size, but impressive athleticism for a 300+ pounder. He’ll be the guy you’ll typically see knifing between double teams to disrupt and end plays behind the line of scrimmage. He finished the year 2nd among interior linemen with 19 total impact plays. Even with his 6 sacks and a number of other pressures, Ratliff doesn’t sacrifice much in the run game to make the big plays. He doesn’t hold the typical 34 NT role of standing up blockers, but instead wreaks havoc in the backfield, disrupting running lanes. While the Cowboys don’t have an elite group of inside linebackers, though Brooking and James are underrated, like other top run-defending units, the team finished 4th and 9th in rushing defense and defensive yards per carry, respectively, this season.
DT: Kevin Williams, MIN
Williams is much like Ratliff, but plays his role in the 4-3 and has been doing it for the greater part of this decade. While his tackles halved from a season ago (60 to 30), the rest of his production has stayed the same. The run defense has remained elite, especially up the middle where offenses struggled to move the ball. He’s retained much of his pass-rush repertoire from when he played some defensive end early in his career, which has helped him pick up 6 sacks and unofficially 11 more quarterback hits, a sum that leads all interior linemen. His remarkable pass-rushing totals over the last several years combined with the Vikings renowned success in the run defense over the last few prove that not only is Kevin Williams one of the best defensive tackles in the league today, but of the decade. There’s also something extra to love about interior linemen that play around 90% of their team’s total defensive snaps.
OLB: DeMarcus Ware, DAL
Despite a season where Ware was plagued by injuries, he still managed to record 11 sacks and remain a constant nuisance for quarterbacks. In fact, he unofficially led the league in quarterback pressures, which is rather remarkable when you factor in the cast he played in for much of the second half of the season. Ware is as complete a 3-4 outside linebacker as any in the NFL, though he isn’t asked to do a whole lot in coverage. He’s still an elite pass rusher with remarkable timing and anticipation, yet also excels against the run. In fact, Dallas was strongest in their run defense when opposing teams ran over the left tackle, where Ware often presides. It would be easy to award this spot to one of the players playing on the opposite side with more official production, but Ware is easily the team’s best player and one that must be accounted for on every snap by an offense that wishes to execute its game plan.
OLB: Brian Cushing, HOU
Just like 3-4 defensive ends are often unrecognized for their play, so too are 4-3 outside linebackers who don’t have the opportunities to rack up as many impact plays. Well, in his rookie season, Brian Cushing managed to defy just that. He tied for the lead (Clay Matthews) among all linebackers in impact plays with 29. Cushing filled the stat sheet with 134 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 stuffs, 10 pass deflections, 4 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Watching him play, Cushing was equally impressive and impactful. He made crucial stops at crucial points of the game (including 2 game-clinching interceptions). While leading a mild turnaround for the Texans’ defense, Cushing rightfully ran away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and claimed a spot among the league’s elite in just his first season as a pro.
ILB: Patrick Willis, SF
This is one of few self-explanatory selections this year. With his improvement each and every year, Patrick Willis has become the best linebacker in the league and the only thing left for him to learn from head coach Mike Singletary are the motivating pep talks. Once he prepares his sound bites, he’ll be ready to take over as a face of the NFL for Ray Lewis. There’s nothing the 6’1, 240 pound linebacker is incapable of doing. He entered the league as a tackling machine and has since fine-tuned his abilities to transform into a well-rounded, inexorable force. With the most impact plays from the inside linebacker position, Willis has finally developed into a player capable of stuffing the run, adequately dropping back into coverage, and making big plays to change the tide of the game. The biggest improvement in his game from last year was the increased sideline-to-sideline range. He made 54 tackles on plays labeled as “Wide left” or “Wide right,” or on 35.5% of his total tackles. In that area, he led all inside linebackers by a large margin, and significantly exceeded his numbers from the last two years where he recorded 24 and 42 tackles, or 17% and 24% of his totals, last year and his rookie year respectively.
ILB: Jon Beason, CAR
Beason is as good and complete as any 4-3 middle linebacker in the game today. He flows to the ball and just simply makes plays. He was consistent throughout the season, but really turned it up a notch down the stretch. You could make an argument against Beason due to the below average run defense of the Panthers, but the team had early injuries to linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive tackles Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Louis Leonard, and Tank Tyler. Still, Beason made 142 stops, 10 stuffs, and a total of 26 impact plays falling just one short of league leader Patrick Willis. He displayed tremendous sideline-to-sideline range with 47 tackles near the sidelines (33%) and was a tremendous asset in coverage.
CB: Charles Woodson, GB
This year’s AP defensive player of the year may have just gotten recognition this season, but has been just as good since coming to Green Bay. He feeds off his film study and football IQ to understand what quarterbacks and receivers are doing and uses his athleticism and instincts to make plays on the ball. Woodson is as good an all-around cornerback as you’ll see in the NFL. In coverage, he adapted well to a zone-heavy defense, transitioning from heavy press man in years past. Though he allowed between 3-5 touchdowns on the year, an increase over years past, he was still very solid in coverage, matching up on number one receivers, slot guys, and tight ends. He’s a sound tackler and elite in run support, as witnessed by opposing teams’ difficulties to get around end as well as his 9 stuffs on the season. He’s an able blitzer and used in the role on an average of around 2-3 times per game in Capers’ blitz-heavy scheme – includes 2 sacks and a number of other pressures and hits on the quarterback. Most of all, he was a gifted playmaker in the secondary, responsible for 13 turnovers in the secondary, including a league-high 9 interceptions. Woodson’s versatility and ability to play cornerback, nickel back, strong safety, and linebacker this season – all very effectively – gives him merit to be a top 2 cornerback in the league.
CB: Darrelle Revis, NYJ
The only other player besides Charles Woodson that could have laid claim to this year’s defensive player of the year was Darrelle Revis, whose coverage this season was scintillating. He broke an NFL record for passes defensed (31) and picked off 6 passes, but that’s only the surface of what he was able to accomplish. Though he was targeted 102 times on the season, between 2-3 times more than Nnamdi Asomugha, Revis allowed a sub-50% completion rate, while locking in on premier receivers between 90-95% of the time. His ability to remove top weapons from the game, while quarterbacks still attempted to foolishly target him, allowed the Jets to feature the best pass defense in the league, by far. The Jets allowed a league-low 29.4 yards per game against the #1 receiver (16.6 ypg less than the next team). The only team to approach that mark have been the Packers in the latter half of the decade, reaching the 30s several times with a combination of Woodson and Al Harris. The Jets defense finished the year first in completion percentage, yards per game, yards per attempt, touchdowns allowed, and quarterback rating. While being endlessly praised for his coverage, his tackling ability and willingness in run support goes widely unnoticed. Still, my favorite and most terrifyingly impressive number is: 24…not just his jersey number, but his age.
S: Nick Collins, GB
Without the elite play of Ed Reed, Bob Sanders out for the year, a late season injury to OJ Atogwe, and Troy Polamalu only able to take 25% of his team’s snaps, the safety play just wasn’t all that great this season. Had Polamalu suited up for an entire year, playing at the level he was at, he not only would have claimed this spot, but also made a run at Defensive Player of the Year. Nick Collins didn’t leave quite the same impact, but still played at a very high level. After a breakout season last year where he recorded 7 interceptions, he continued his improvement this season. He started slowly this season, but picked up steam and finished strong. He used his elite recovery speed to prevent the big play. As the year wore on, he found a groove managing to accumulate 5 interceptions, 9 pass deflections, and a sack in a 6-game span. Collins is one of the league’s better two-way safeties because of his capacity to deliver blows and finish off plays with sure tackles, but also play assignment-sound coverage. He is the ideal free safety.
S: Brian Dawkins, DEN
There are many factors you can attribute to the Broncos defensive turnaround. At the top of that list, people are quick to throw Mike Nolan and Andre Goodman, both of whom would be great answers, and it’s easy to underestimate the impact of a great strong safety, something Dawkins has been for the stronger part of his career. Even at 36, Dawkins posted one of his best seasons ever, while obliterating his previous season-best in tackles with 116. His presence inside the box, which included 7 stuffs, a forced fumble, and 3 recoveries, helped Denver improve their run defense by nearly half a yard per carry from last season. The Broncos’ pass defense also improved from bottom 3 in the NFL last year to top 10 this year. It’s also worth noting that the Eagles went through a number of players in an attempt to replace Dawkins in the secondary and found themselves with a large mess.
K: Sebastian Janikowski, OAK
Many have fallen in love with Janikowski’s leg, including Oakland’s own GM Al Davis, but this year, it was that combined with his accuracy that actually made him the league’s top kicker. He connected on 89.7% of his kicks and missed only one from inside 50, a 45 yarder against Kansas City. He also connected on a league-leading 6 from outside of 50. On kickoffs, Janikowski tied for 5th in touchback percentage (29.3%).
P: Shane Lechler, OAK
Lechler booted the ball 96 times on the year with a 51.1 average (3.5 yards better than next best) and a 43.9 net average (2.2 yards better than next best). While his punts were the league’s most often returned (34.4% of the time), his angling and hang time afforded his coverage units the time and ability to make plays after short returns.
KR: Joshua Cribbs, CLE
With 4 touchdowns and averages of 27.5 yards per kick return and 11.9 per punt return, Cribbs was the most explosive returner in the league this year. 9.6% of his returns went from more than 40 yards, which made teams weary of kicking to him. His returns and threat of explosive plays netted the Browns great field position following kicks.
Continue to All-Pro 2nd Team -->