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Bleacher Report's Preseason All-Pro Team

Ty SchalterContributor IJanuary 5, 2017

Bleacher Report's Preseason All-Pro Team

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    There are a lot of sports awards, but being named to an NFL All-Pro squad is something special.

    There's no trophy, no presentation and no red-carpet affair, but receiving the honor puts a player at the very top of his profession. Only one or two out of dozens or hundreds that play each position are chosen for the annual Associated Press All-Pro squad.

    If a player makes the AP All-Pro first team three times, he's got better-than-even odds to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    According to Pro Football Reference, only 81 eligible players with at least three first-team All-Pro nominations aren't in the Hall of Fame. The other 134 players with three or more first-team All-Pro nods are already enshrined in Canton.

    At Bleacher Report, we polled our NFL Lead Writers to nominate a preseason first-team All-Pro squad. This isn't an award for preseason performance, but our projection for this season's best players at each position.

    As with the AP's list, we'll be naming two defensive tackles, two defensive ends, two outside linebackers and an inside linebacker—but that doesn't mean we're putting together an actual 4-3 starting lineup or only choosing from defensive players who line up in a 4-3. All defensive players are being voted on based on the official position they play.

    Before we get to Bleacher Report's projected roster of the NFL's best players, here are our esteemed voters:

    Matt Bowen—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Mike Freeman—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Ty Schalter—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Michael Schottey—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Matt Miller—National Lead NFL Draft Writer (Twitter)

    Erik Frenz—AFC East Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Andrea Hangst—AFC North Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Chris Hansen—AFC West Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Brad Gagnon—NFC East Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Zach Kruse—NFC North Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Knox Bardeen—NFC South Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Tyson Langland—NFC West Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

Quarterback

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    The Voters' Selection: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)—five votes

    After winning the Super Bowl in his third season as a starter and earning a first team All-Pro nod in 2011, Aaron Rodgers (like his team) was lost in 2012's postseason and offseason furor.

    After Rodgers and the Packers were eliminated by Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, it seems as if both player and team were forgotten.

    The hype around the young quarterbacks taking over the NFL overshadowed Rodgers' incredible 2012 performance. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. That works out to 7.8 yards per attempt, a 7.1 percent touchdown rate, a tiny 1.4 percent interception rate and an NFL passer efficiency rating of 108.0.

    Five of our voters think Rodgers will reclaim his crown as the NFL's best passer in 2013. Drew Brees and Matt Ryan were his top challengers with two votes each. Surprisingly, none of the hotshot rookies and sophomores that took the league by storm earned a vote.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)—two votes

    Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)—two votes

    Tom Brady (New England Patriots)one vote

    Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)—one vote

    Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)—one vote

Running Backs

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    The Voters' Selections:

    Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) nine votes; Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs) four votes

    No surprises here.

    After an MVP-winning season where he came back from an ACL injury to rush for a near-single-season record 2,097 yards, Adrian Peterson was our panel's top vote-getter at running back. Peterson already has three first-team All-Pro nods on his resume in just six seasons.

    The second All-Pro spot was hotly contested, but with four votes, Jamaal Charles makes a fitting No. 2 to Peterson. Charles, after all, also came back from a 2011 ACL injury with a strong 2012 performance.

    After a breakout All-Pro season in just his third NFL year, Charles seemed poised to take over as one of the league's best running backs. He came back from his injury and racked up even more yards in 2012 (1,509) than he did in 2010 (1,467), and his career seems back on a dominant track.

    The rest of the pack was split between four of the NFL's perennial best backs. Intriguingly, rookie Giovani Bernard earned a vote too.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)—three votes

    Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens)—three votes

    C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills)—three votes

    Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks)—one vote

    Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals)—one vote

Fullback

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    The Voters' Selection: Vonta Leach (Baltimore Ravens)—six votes

    It says a lot about the state of the fullback position in the NFL that Vonta Leach, a first-team All-Pro for each of the last three years, couldn't get a sniff on the free-agent market. Presumed to be yet another cap casualty of the Baltimore Ravens, Leach was released rather than accept a pay cut, per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.

    Now, Leach is back at a discount, opening holes for the league's best power-running combo.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Marcel Reece (Oakland Raiders)—three votes

    Craig Stevens (Tennessee Titans)—one vote

    Bruce Miller (San Francisco 49ers)—one vote

    John Kuhn (Green Bay Packers)—one vote

     

Tight End

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    The Voters' Selection: Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)—eight votes

    In one of the biggest landslide wins of this poll, Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints is Bleacher Report's preseason All-Pro tight end. The 6'7", 260-pound flying mismatch put up eye-popping numbers in his breakout 2011 season. His production took a dip in 2012, apparently because of a wrist injury that went unreported until Graham told Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune last December.

    Now, Graham is fully healthy and reunited with head coach Sean Payton, who helped engineer his breakout. 

    Every vote that didn't go to Graham went to two-time first team All-Pro Jason Witten.

     

    Other Receiving Votes

    Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys)—four votes

Wide Receivers

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    The Voters' Selections: 

    Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)—11 votes; A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals)—four votes

    Again, there was no doubt who deserved the top spot: Calvin Johnson, who broke the NFL's single-season receiving record with 1,964 yards last season. The 6'5", 239-pound Johnson has earned two consecutive first-team All-Pro nominations.

    There was contention for the second receiver slot, with the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green edging out a pack of four others. Green has 2,407 yards, 18 touchdowns and two Pro Bowl nominations in his first two seasons in the NFL.

    Breaking through to the All-Pro first team would be quite an accomplishment, but it's no surprise to anyone who's seen the electrifying youngster play.

     

    Others Receiving Votes 

    Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys)—three votes

    Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos)—two votes

    Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons)—two votes

    Brandon Marshall (Chicago Bears)—two votes

Offensive Tackles

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    The Voters' Selections

    Duane Brown (Houston Texans)—nine votes; Ryan Clady (Denver Broncos)—six votes

    All-Pro nominations are the highest individual honor offensive linemen typically receive. The positional and MVP awards go to the flashier players on the edges, and Pro Bowl nods are traditionally a by-reputation affair.

    In a solid first-spot win, Duane Brown of the Houston Texans earned nine votes, as his dominant two-way play during Houston's playoff run last season turned our experts' heads. Brown was Pro Football Focus' second-highest rated tackle in 2012 (subscription required). Clady, re-signed to a five-year extension after being designated the Broncos' franchise player, will return to protecting Peyton Manning's blind side.

    Lots of worthy veterans received at least one vote, including the Cincinnati Bengals' Andre Smith—the only right tackle on the list.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns)—four votes

    Andre Smith (Cincinnati Bengals)—one vote

    Nate Solder (New England Patriots)—one vote

    Joe Staley (San Francisco 49ers)—one vote

Interior Offensive Line

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    The Voters' Selections

    Marshal Yanda (Baltimore Ravens OG)—nine votes

    Mike Iupati (San Francisco 49ers OG)—eight votes

    Mike Pouncey (Miami Dolphins C)—10 votes 

    You didn't hear Marshal Yanda's name very often during the Baltimore Ravens' run to a Super Bowl win, but the 6'4", 307-pound right guard was just as important as the names you heard over and over. Yanda blew open holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and protected Joe Flacco with equal aplomb last season. No wonder he earned votes from nine of our 12 experts.

    In the second guard spot, one vote shy of Yanda, is bruising San Francisco 49ers left guard Mike Iupati. A run-blocker by trade but not a liability in the passing game, Iupati helped keep the 49ers' power-run game on schedule.

    At center, it was a big victory for the Miami Dolphins' Mike Pouncey. With 10 votes, the under-recognized third-year pro edged out John Sullivan, Pro Football Focus' top-graded center (subscription required). Pouncey also got the nod over his brother, one-time All-Pro Maurkice.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns C)—four votes

    Evan Mathis (Philadelphia Eagles OG)—three votes

    John Sullivan (Minnesota Vikings C)—three votes

    Jon Asamoah (Kansas City Chiefs OG)—two votes

    Max Unger (Seattle Seahawks OG)—two votes

    Jahri Evans (New Orleans Saints OG)one vote

    Ryan Kalil (Carolina Panthers C)—one vote

    Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati Bengals OG)—one vote

    Jeremy Zuttah (Tampa Bay Buccaneers OG)—one vote

Defensive Tackles

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    The Voters' Selections

    Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals)12 votes; Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions)eight votes 

    The defensive tackle position sure has changed. What was once the exclusive domain of "big ugly" run-stuffers has now become a premium pass-rushing position. Both of our preseason first-team All-Pros fit that mold.

    Geno Atkins racked up 12.5 sacks last season in his first All-Pro campaign. The explosive Atkins might not weigh 300 pounds, but his giant first step and array of moves make him an unstoppable force. Every single one of our experts voted for him. 

    Nearly all the other votes went to Detroit Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh. The mercurial interior rusher has struggled with his emotions and performance in his three-year career, but there's little arguing with talent that's produced 22 career sacks.

    Interestingly, the only other players to receive votes were Suh's linemate, Nick Fairley, and the tackle drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers right after Suh went to the Lions, Gerald McCoy.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Nick Fairley (Detroit Lions)—three votes

    Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)—one vote

Defensive Ends

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    The Voters' Selections:

    J.J. Watt (Houston Texans)—12 votes; DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys)—six votes

    There was no suspense or drama here. The man who redefined what a 3-4 defensive end could be, J.J. Watt, is our second consensus selection. In just his second season, Watt racked up an astonishing 20.5 sacks and rivaled many top defensive backs with 16 passes defensed. He was the runaway Defensive Player of the Year last season and a big winner here.

    Half of the remaining votes went to Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who's looked rejuvenated by the switch to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins)—five votes

    Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati Bengals)—one vote

Outside Linebacker

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    The Voters' Selections:

    Clay Matthews (Green Bay Packers)—nine votes; Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers)—eight votes

    In another position affected by the return of the blitzing 3-4 defense, both of our voters selected outstanding 3-4 pass-rushers to patrol the outside. The Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews has made the Pro Bowl all four of his seasons in the NFL and been an All-Pro once.

    On the heels of his third double-digit sack season, nine of our voters named him a top outside linebacker.

    Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers has stepped out of the shadows in the front seven, but his 19.5 sacks would stand out on any defense in any year. Smith's incredible production made him a first-team All-Pro in 2012 in just his second season.

    Many others received votes, but Kansas City Chief Justin Houston was the only one to receive more than one, with three.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Justin Houston (Kansas City Chiefs)—three votes

    Jarvis Jones (Pittsburgh Steelers)—one vote

    Terrell Suggs (Baltimore Ravens)—one vote

    Ryan Kerrigan (Washington Redskins)—one vote

    Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins)—one vote 

Inside Linebacker

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    The Voters' Selections:

    Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers)—nine votes; Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers)seven votes 

    The role of the inside linebacker has changed dramatically. No longer just the domain of between-the-tackles "thumpers," middle linebackers have to be able to cover the middle of the field and, depending on the scheme, rush the passer as well.

    Luke Kuechly defied some experts when he stepped into the middle linebacker role last season and put up fantastic tackle numbers. Still, his preseason playmaking shows he's ready to build on it this season, and our experts gave him nine votes.

    Patrick Willis' spot in the All-Pro team is written in ink on everyone's ballot; he's been a first-teamer five of his six seasons. Willis' teammate, NaVorro Bowman, was bumped out by Kuechly.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco 49ers)—five votes

    Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys)—two votes

    Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks)—one vote

Cornerback

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    The Voters' Selections:

    Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)11 votes; Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)five votes 

    Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis have developed quite the rivalry over the past year. Sherman's outstanding play with the Seattle Seahawks has earned him recognition normally reserved for the wide receiver-stranding man they call Revis Island.

    It's even caused Revis to tell Sherman to "earn it," per ESPN.com.

    Our voters think Sherman will, with 11 of our experts voting him in. Revis, recovering from an ACL injury and playing outside of New York for the first time, is still our voters' second selection, with five votes.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Charles Tillman (Chicago Bears)three votes

    Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals)three votes

    Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns)one vote

    Casey Hayward (Green Bay Packers)one vote

Safety

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    The Voters' Selections:

    Earl Thomas (Seattle Seahawks)eight votes, Eric Weddle (San Diego Chargers)seven votes 

    The old distinction between "strong safety" and "free safety" is gone. Safeties in the modern NFL have to be able to tackle, cover and make plays no matter what side of the field they line up on, and both of our experts' picks fit that description.

    Earl Thomas is coming off a first-team All-Pro season in Seattle, and no wonder. The third-year player boosted his career interception total to 10 while providing his typical pop in the run game.

    Eric Weddle has been criminally underappreciated by the national NFL audience, but not by our experts. Despite backstopping a mostly anonymous San Diego Chargers defense, Weddle earned seven votes, just one less than Thomas.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills)two votes

    Reshad Jones (Miami Dolphins)four votes

    Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers)two votes

    Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs)one vote

Specialists

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    The Voters' Selections:

    Brandon Fields (Miami Dolphins P)—six votes

    Blair Walsh (Minnesota Vikings K)—five votes

    Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals KR)—five votes

    Jacoby Jones (Baltimore Ravens PR)—eight votes 

    Brandon Fields led the NFL in gross punting average last season, and six of our experts think the six-year veteran is ready to break out and earn his first All-Pro nod. Second-year kicker Blair Walsh stunned the NFL as a rookie, banging through 35 of 38 three-pointers and making the All-Pro roster. Five voters picked him to avoid a sophomore slump.

    In the return game, two young veteran aces get nods: Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals got five votes as a kick returner, and punt returner Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens earned eight votes.

    Jones' stunning performances in the 2012 postseason doubtlessly earned him the landslide win.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers KR)—four votes

    Jacoby Jones (Baltimore Ravens KR)—three votes

    Shane Lechler (Houston Texans P)—three votes

    Andy Lee (San Francisco 49ers P)—three votes

    Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens K)—three votes

    Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland Raiders K)—three votes

    Robbie Gould (Chicago Bears K)—one vote

    Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings PR)—one vote

    Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals PR)—one vote

    Devin Hester (Chicago Bears PR)—one vote

    Darius Reynaud (Tennessee Titans PR)—one vote

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