Bold Predictions for NFL All-Pro Team in 2012
Julio Jones is going to take NFL defenses by storm in 2012 for the Atlanta Falcons, and he's going to finish the season on the All-Pro first team. He's not the only player who will surprisingly leap up into the upper echelon of NFL royalty either.
One of the reasons I love football is that it's incredibly difficult for elite players to maintain their top-dog status. These upcoming players will be recognized as the league's best at their positions once the 2012 season comes to a close, dispatching some of the NFL's best in the process.
Earl Thomas: Safety, Seattle Seahawks
As a longtime fan of the San Francisco 49ers, it pains me to say that the Seattle Seahawks have one of the best and brightest young stars in the league. Earl Thomas is going to unseat Troy Polamalu this season and join Eric Weddle on the All-Pro first team.
Thomas is just starting to scratch the surface of what he's capable of doing on the field. He is an excellent defender in both the running game and the passing game. His speed is remarkable to watch, and he's always around the ball.
The biggest problem Thomas had last year in his second season with the Seahawks was that he missed 12 tackles. He's getting better at staying disciplined in his approach, though, and as he matures, his technique will continue to improve.
It surely helps Thomas that he plays in one of the NFL's best overall defenses. The secondary is loaded, which allows more flexibility in game-planning.
I expect to see him become a dominant all-around player in 2012, and he's going to put up some gaudy numbers.
Geno Atkins: Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals
I can't overstate how good Geno Atkins already is, nor can I overstate how good he's going to become in the future. What really gets me is that the Bengals landed this young man in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
He's strong, has a high motor, uses excellent leverage and can take on double-teams with the best of them.
One of Atkins' specialties is that he's a dominant pass-rusher from the tackle position. Last year, in his first season as a starter, he logged 7.5 sacks and forced two fumbles.
I expect those numbers to go up this year, and Atkins is set to supplant one of my favorite players in the league on the All-Pro first team, Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.
Sean Lee: Middle Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
Sean Lee opened a lot of eyes last year in his sophomore campaign for the Dallas Cowboys. If not for the emergence of NaVorro Bowman, Lee would certainly have made the All-Pro team in 2011.
This year, I expect Lee to only improve upon his performance of a year ago.
One of Lee's best qualities as a linebacker is his prowess in the passing game. He is athletic and fast, but his instincts are what really stand out to me when watching him play. He has a real nose for the ball, and if the Cowboys' pass-rushers hold up their end of the bargain, Lee will keep piling up the interceptions.
Lee is going to take Derrick Johnson's spot on the 2012 All-Pro first team, and he'll join the San Francisco duo of Bowman and Patrick Willis—the best inside linebackers in the NFL.
Doug Martin: Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin is a rookie, but he's going to be Greg Schiano's bell-cow running back in 2012. He's going to run the ball, and then he's going to run the ball some more.
Watching tape of Martin this past spring, I was awestruck by his ability to get into the end zone. He is not unlike a young LaDainian Tomlinson in this regard, and he's going to score a lot of points this season.
He isn't a truly elusive back, but he has this wiggle that, when combined with his size and power, causes defenders to bounce off him like a drip of water on a boulder. He's also an adept pass-catcher out of the backfield, and he's a true three-down running back.
Martin is going to take Maurice Jones-Drew's spot on the All-Pro first team in 2012. He'll be a special player for the Bucs for years to come.
Julio Jones: Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
I was highly skeptical of Thomas Dimitroff's decision to trade the farm last year in the NFL draft to move up for Julio Jones.
Now, I'm not so sure.
Jones looks like he is ready to step up to Calvin Johnson-type productivity this season for the Atlanta Falcons. He has the look of a true No. 1 receiver, and I expect him to take over for Roddy White in 2012 as Matt Ryan's favorite target.
He'll join Johnson and supplant Wes Welker on this year's All-Pro first team.
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