Tomorrow night when the Ravens and Falcons kick off it will mark the official start of the second half of the NFL's 2010-11 season.
As every team has played at least eight games thus far it is only fair that we now recognize those who have played at an elite level and are deserving of the coveted accolades that the Associated Press will hand out this January and who deserves them so far.
As with the actual Associated Press team there will be differing opinions than that of other analysts but what I pride myself in is backing up my assertions with more than just naming a guy. So as we proceed here is a list of the players that I feel are deserving of being recognized for All-Pro honors as well as the titles of Offensive Player of The Year, Defensive Player of The Year, Offensive Rookie of The Year and more...
Perhaps it is time that we simply rename the AP’s Most Valuable Player Award the “Peyton Manning Most Valuable Player Award” because Manning is fast on his way to winning this award for a fifth time.
While it may be a shock to some it almost comes as no surprise at this point that Manning is capable of doing what he has with a makeshift cast. Sure his skill position players may not be fifth and sixth stringers but aside from Reggie Wayne none of them are considered elite around the league.
Although talented in their own rights Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie would not be the household names that they have become while becoming Manning’s third and fourth receivers last season. Due to injuries they have both been forced into the number two option this year and Manning has yet to miss a beat.
Peyton has thrown a ridiculous 16 touchdowns to a mere four interceptions. If not for a slightly unimpressive 7.1 yards per attempt his quarterback rating would skyrocket.
With a middle of the pack defense, a completely diminished ground game due to injuries and only one other elite player on the entire offense somehow Manning’s Colts find themselves as a contender in the AFC… again.
Runners Up: Tom Brady & Philip Rivers
While Peyton Mannign may be playing the best football out of any quarterback Philip Rivers is not far behind him. In fact – and I know this sounds weird – if Rivers had as much talent as Manning currently has at the receiver positions perhaps his numbers would be greater as would the Chargers’ record.
Rivers has worked without what many considered his best wide receiver for two years running in Vincent Jackson. His left tackle Marcus McNeil held out like Jackson for a few weeks due to money. The Chargers’ first round pick Ryan Matthews has missed several games at halfback. The guys replacing Jackson have all suffered from various injuries leaving Rivers with Patrick Crayton and SeyiAjirotutu as his starting receivers for the past two and a half games.
Despite all of the turnover at the offensive skill positions Rivers has shown that he is a pure passer in every sense of the word. Somehow Rivers has managed to throw for350 more yards than the next guy as well as has thrown for the most touchdowns albeit with one more game than most others.
Philip Rivers sheer will and masterful passing is the only reason that the Chargers have remained in all of their games and won the three that they have. If the Chargers were an actual contender at this point one could argue him for MVP.
Runner Up: Roddy White
I know that it seems very weird to say but Lawrence Timmons has been the best player on the league’s best defense.
That’s right. With James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton and LaMarr Woodley all on the same team it is Lawrence Timmons that has been playing the best football of any Steelers’ defender.
Timmons has steadily been in the Defensive Player of The Year award all season. He has consistenly been in the top five in the race in my opinion.
Once just a role player who came in on passing downs due to elite coverage and nice pass rushing abilities Timmons has developed into the most complete linebacker in the league thus far this season.
Timmons isn’t just another tackler like Jerod Mayo. A ridiculous 48 of Timmons’ 77(62 percent) tackles have come within four yards of the line of scrimmage. Of the remaining 29 tackles 20 of them have been against the pass. That means that Timmons has made all of nine tackles against ball carriers beyond four yards on non-passing plays.
When you factor in Timmons’ pass rushing abilities as well as his outstanding coverage and the fact that LaRon Landry had a less than envious Week Eight then Timmons takes this award at the halfway point.
Runners Up: Clay Matthews III & Haloti Ngata
I’ve never liked Brandon Lloyd. He has had immense talent that always flashed itself for circus catches but he was a headcase that could never put it all together for 60 minutes let alone for 16 games.
I don’t know what it is that Josh McDaniels is doing but he has gotten Lloyd to buy into the system. Lloyd has managed to not only lead the league in receiving yards but manages to be one of the few receivers in the NFL with over 15 yards per reception.
Any other year these things would not seem that impressive but the fact of the matter is that I would doubt that Brandon Lloyd would have figured to put up career numbers over a mere eight games.
What makes this fact even more remarkable is the fact that Lloyd was out of football just one year ago.
If Lloyd continues at this level of production I see no reason as to why he should not run away with this reward.
Runner Up: Mike Williams
I will just state that I think taking a quarterback in the top ten overall is a stretch. I feel this way because a quarterback is either going to be a huge success or an immense bust.
Despite every analysts feelings that Bradford would assuredly be the former I thought that he would be the latter in St. Louis due to a lack of receiving options. I am glad that I was wrong.
Bradford has already proven himself to be a great passer and – more importantly – an even better leader in only eight games into his career.
Sure his quarterback rating might not jump off the page but it is the things that Bradford is doing that do not show up on paper that make him the runaway favorite for this award.
The St. Louis Rams had won a grand total of six games over the past three seasons and Bradford has them steadily ready to equal or surpass that total in just his first season.
I do not like to attribute a team’s win/loss record solely on a quarterback – especially when the Rams defense is playing great – but Bradford has kept the offense good enough to stay in games despite a revolving door at wide receiver.
Bradford has lost Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton which has resulted in him utilizing a wide receiving corps consisting of people that even die-hard fans do not know.
So far Sam Bradford is truly looking the part of first overall pick.
Runner Up: Jahvid Best
As much as Sam Bradford has looked the part of the first overall pick NdamakongSuh has looked every bit the part of the second overall pick.
When you draft a player that high overall you expect for them to make an immediate impact on the field through both individual plays as well as raising the play of others around them. Suh has done just that at an absolutely ridiculous level.
At the halfway point for the Lions Suh had recorded6.5 sacks, two run stuffs, a pass defensed, an interception, a fumble recovery and a touchdown that almost hilariously resulted in Suh being stripped of the ball.
Those numbers are career numbers that some defensive tackles dream about and Suh has accomplished it in a mere eight games. Even more impressive is how he has raised the play of the guys around him.
Cliff Avril and Kyle VandenBosch have rarely seen a double team or a halfback chip this season because teams are allowing tackles to help their interior linemen block Suh. It is clear as day that Suh has greatly affected KVB and Avril as the former looks competent and the latter is on his way to having a career year.
Suh just needs to make a few improvements in the run game and he is fast on his way to becoming not only the best rookie defensive player but one of the best defensive players in the league period.
Runner Up: Earl Thomas
If you are still wondering why then look no further than the explanation for the MVP.
Runner Up: Phillip Rivers
I know what you are probably thinking… “Where is Arian Foster?”
It is true that Arian Foster leads the league in rushing yards, total yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns. However, when looking at Foster’s overall body of work it is nowhere near as consistent as what Peterson has done.
Peterson has ran for over 80 yards in every game he has played this season with the exception of the Week Six contest against the Dallas Cowboys.
In addition to this with the exception of the Cowboys game Peterson has eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage in every contest.
Peterson has only dropped below 4.5 yards per carry twice and in one of those occasions still produced 92 yards rushing.
Finally, Peterson has reached the end zone in every game except for two.
Overall statlines do not show consistency and nobody has been more consistent than Peterson.
Runner Up: Maurice Jones-Drew
At the end of Week Eight this spot was due to Ahmad Bradshaw who had been extremely consistent until that point. Unfortunately for Bradshaw he had his second worst game of the season and McFadden continued his consistent dominance of the league so they flip-flopped.
Some people overlook McFadden because there are two major arguments against his season.
The first argument is that he has missed two games already and the run game kept ticking.
The second argument is that McFadden doesn’t have many touchdowns and has only scored in two games.
While both of these are true the reality of the matter is that McFadden has still played better than many of his counterparts.
McFadden still sits prettily at third in the league in rushing while having played the least amount of games for top 10 rushers this season. Additionally McFadden has only had one game with less than 89 yards rushing. McFadden also has yet to have a game with less than 100 yards from scrimmage.
McFadden has been the model for consistency and that is why he has been the league’s second best back this season through Week Nine.
Runner Up: Ahmad Bradshaw
While there are some arguments for some players over others at positions on this list Brandon Lloyd is arguably the most entrenched player on this list. Even after taking his bye week Lloyd remained comfortably ahead of the next closest receiver in terms of yards.
Perhaps what is most impressive about Lloyd’s production is that he is the only receiver with major numbers to average a very high amount of yards per reception. Most other guys in the top 20 for overall receptions or yards are averaging less than 15 yards per reception while Lloyd is averaging an asinine 20-plus yards per reception.
Sure you can attribute some of Brandon Lloyd’s production to head coach Josh McDaniels’ pass heavy system but the reality of the matter is he is playing out of his mind. He has made circus catches like he is accustomed to but he has made the routine catches expected of a number one receiver which he used to struggle with.
Runner Up: Calvin Johnson
Opposite of Lloyd is Atlanta’s Roddy White who has been playing out of his mind.
White has played so well that he is a very legitimate candidate for just the third receiving Triple Crown in the past twenty years although he does have to pick up his touchdown numbers.
The consistency with which White has played is absolutely unparalleled. With the exception of last week’s game in which he left and then returned with a leg injury White’s worst game this season has been five receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.
As it stands White is currently averaging 99.5 yards receiving per game. If you don’t understand how astounding a stat this is from the wide receiver position than maybe you shouldn’t be watching football.
Runner Up: Hakeem Nicks
Previously I remarked how well that Philip Rivers has been doing without any true help but that does not ring 100 percent true. This is because Antonio Gates has played in every game except for the Chargers Week 9 contest against the Texans.
What is truly remarkable about this is the fact that Gates is a mere five touchdown receptions away from breaking the regular season record that he currently shares with Vernon Davis. The record to which I am alluding is the one for most touchdowns by a tight end during the regular season.
In addition to this Antonio Gates was a top five receiver in terms of overall yards produce entering Week Nine and still remained in the top 10 despite not playing last week.
Antonio Gates could put his drive into half-speed for the remainder of the season and will still probably remain as the All-Pro tight end at the end of the season.
Runner Up: Jason Witten
For a second consecutive year Branden Albert continues to get overlooked by everyone except for Chiefs fans and myself. While in 2009 Albert had trouble with his pass blocking he was the second best run blocking tackle in the league. Well Albert continues the latter trend this season and has improved upon his pass blocking this season.
In the passing game this season Branden Albert has been a top 10 guy across the board. Albert has only allowed two sacks on the season as per Stats, LLC. In addition to this he’s only been flagged for holding twice and false started once.
Those numbers aren’t head and shoulders above the other top three tackles on the season. Where Albert makes the difference is in his run blocking.
Jammal Charles and Thomas Jones have ran for a combined 313 yards rushing and two touchdowns running left off-tackle. Only one other team has run for 300-plus yards running left off-tackle.
Branden Albert may not make the official All-Pro team at years end due to name but if he keeps it up he will make mine.
Runner Up: Jake Long
While Jake Long has completely dominated guys and “erased their souls” as one of my friends have put it he hasn’t far outplayed Andrew Whitworth in terms of end product.
Whitworth isn’t blowing guys off of the ball like Long. Nor is he taking 3-4 defensive ends and just tossing them into the backfield like Long did against Steelers defensive end Nick Eason. However, Witworth is keeping his quarterback upright and run blocking out of his mind.
Andrew Whitworth has only allowed one-and-a-half sacks on the season thus far. Additionally he’s only been flagged twice on the season for false starting and holding. What set him apart is that he’s been doing the best run blocking of all left tackles.
Running left off-tackle the Bengals have run for 343 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown. What makes this impressive is the fact that the Cedric Benson is more of a powerback who runs it between the tackles if anything but he’s found his success running outside.
Runner Up: DeMetrius Bell
For the second time in his career Payton Hillis has become a league darling. Unlike the first time, however, Hillis cannot be labeled a “product of a system” the way he once was during the 2008 season prior to going down with injury. Like any halfback Hillis owes a considerable bit of his success to his offensive line.
One of the guys that Hillis seems to like to run behind is Floyd Womack (with a little bit of help from Alex Mack). While Hillis can run to the outside it is not hard to forget that he is a big guy and does have to get it done inside. Hillis does just that when running guard trap right and does it effectively. When running guard trap right Womack’s block is the most important one and he’s been doing it greatly.
Runner Up: Harvey Dahl
Everybody hopped on the Jahri Evans bandwagon last off-seaosn but not me. I knew that Chris Snee has been incredibly consistent. While Evans has regressed Snee continues to play at an elite level despite the fact that Ahmad Bradshaw is now lining up in the backfield.
Giants’ center Shaun O’Hara has missed four games this season and yet the run game hasn’t missed a beat. Chris Snee is the reason as they just continue to ask him to drive his man off the ball and he does it with ease.
If you doubt how good Snee is and has been this season then the only thing I have to tell you is to watch the Giants’ run game in the redzone. They’re going to run right guard trap and run you over as Snee moves you out of the way.
Runner Up: Brandon Moore
I find it funny that the first time I saw John Sullivan play – in the Season opening game – I was like “who the hell is John Sullivan.” It wasn’t that I didn’t know who Sullivan was but that in the previous season he was simply “there” if anything. Well he has been anything but simply “there” this season.
Plain and simple no other rushing attack in the league is having as much success up the middle as the Minnesota Vikings are having. This is even in a year in which runs marked “Up the Middle” are at a premium for scorekeepers who used to mark them otherwise.
Adrian Peterson is averaging over six yards per carry when powering it up the middle. Honestly, the only real issue that has happened during the season for the Vikings running it up the middle this season was in Week Eight when they failed to punch it in on fourth and goal against the Patriots. Sullivan is a huge part of that.
There’s a reason that Peterson had his worst game of the season when Sullivan missed the game.
Runner Up: Nick Mangold
Once again Trent Cole continues to be overlooked by less complete and inferior players. This season Cole continues to be overlooked because other guys have the pretty statistics (sacks) and people want to ignore a well-rounded player like Cole.
However, the irony in people harping on sacks is that Cole has notched seven sacks so far this season which is tied for second amongst defensive ends. The reality of the matter is that Cole should have eight sacks – tied for first – but he was screwed over by common sense being overruled by the “letter of the rule”. Cole strip-sacked Peyton Manning for what should have been a game-sealer but Cole’s hand nicked Manning’s helmet negating the play.
Cole is one of only two defensive ends to rush the passer at an elite level, set the edge against the run with perfection and occasionally drop into coverage effectively. Cole has seven sacks, six run stuffs, one forced fumble and two passes defensed so far into the season.
Cole clearly been the best 4-3 defensive end in the league given he has had virtually no help along the defensive line due to injury and lack of production.
Runner Up: Jason Babin
What Osi Umenyiora has done in the first half of the season is unheard of.
No seriously… Umenyiora’s first eight games of the season are without precedent. Umenyiora’s eight forced fumbles is already one of the better official seasons in NFL history in terms of total number forced and it’s only been eight games.
Admittedly this is due to the fact that the NFl didn’t start tracking this statistic until 1998 but the official record is 9 by Jason Taylor during his 2006 Defensive Player of The Year campaign. Umenyiora can probably shatter this record.
Umenyiora’s eight sacks is officially the most by a 4-3 defensive end this season. Sure Jason Babin has been much better-rounded this season but no 4-3 defensive end has taken over games the way Osi Umenyiora has this season. When he has been ticking he has been downright destructive and he’s been ticking for just the right amount of games.
Runner Up: Justin Tuck
Haloti Ngata is like the Trent Cole of interior linemen on the defensive side of the ball. He continues to play at an All-Pro level year in and year out and people just continue to overlook him even when he has the pretty stats.
This year seems to be no different as when you look around the average halfway point list is noticeably missing Haloti Ngata in favor of rookie Ndamukong Suh on a lot of people’s midseason lists. However, it does seem as if Ngata has made a lot of the lists of AP voters so he probably will make it on the real team by season’s end.
Haloti Ngata – not Ray Lewis or Ed Reed – is the most important piece in the Baltimore Ravens’ defense right now and is playing like it.
With 44 total tackles, five sacks, five stuffs and a pass defensedNgata is putting up 4-3 defensive end totals. However, Ngata is putting up these numbers while taking his snaps as a 3-4 nose tackle and 3-4 defensive end. A 3-4 defensive end is not supposed to be the kind of playmaker that leads his defense in both sacks and stuffs.
Ngata is one of the top five defensive players in the league this season and could very well win the Defensive Player of The Year award if the Ravens finish first in total defense.
Runner Up: Ndamukong Suh
Two off-seasons ago when Albert Haynesworth was allowed to walk in free agency Titans fans murmured that the front seven would be no worse off. The primary reason they felt this way was because Jones was waiting in the wings. Needless to say Jones did not live up to those expectations in 2009.
Well I believe it is fair to say that Titans fans have gotten the last laugh because Jason Jones is playing as well as Albert Haynesworth did in both of his contract years.
Jones bare eye statistics are pretty but you have to delve further into his numbers to see how impressive he’s been. Jones may only have two sacks this far into the season but he also is tied with HalotiNgata for the lead amongst all interior defensive linemen with five run stuffs.
What his stat sheet does not show you is how the Titans currently have the best pass rush in the league due to Jones. The Titans are managing a devastating pass rush from Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Derrick Morgan. The first two guys are journeymen who have had career years eight games into the season thanks to Jones.
Runner Up: Casey Hampton
If Lawrence Timmons isn’t the Defensive Player of the Year then Clay Matthews III certainly is. He is – far and away – the best player on the league’s second best defense this season. Moreover a lot of his impact cannot be measured in numbers which is rare to say for a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Clay Matthews has not been asked to be as well rounded as he was as a rookie. He’s been more of a DeMarcus Ware type this season. What I mean by this is that Matthews III hasn’t dropped into coverage often and hasn’t been an edge setter but he hasn’t had to be.
Matthews’ burst to the line of scrimmage has been invaluable and has been the only pass rush threat that the Packers have had. Without him the Packers defense would have fallen apart this season. His pass rushing has been so effective that it allows him to makes plays in the backfield by stuffing the run and even getting an interception.
The term “motor” is blasphemously overused by analysts, coaches and fans but Clay Matthews most certainly has a “motor”. The reason Matthews leads the league in sacks is because he hasn’t given up on a single play this season chasing quarterbacks to the opposite side of the field.
While he’s not beating linemen the way that I would prefer that doesn’t mean he isn’t doing his job and thus he’s worthy of the number one outside linebacker spot before anyone else.
Runner Up: James Andersen
Since he emerged onto the scene in 2007 as the starter in Pittsburgh James Harrison has been the league’s most complete 3-4 outside linebacker.
With his placement here on my midseason list he just continues to prove how versatile he is in all aspects of the game.
Everybody loves to look at 3-4 outside linebackers for their sack totals but the truly elite ones do more than just rush the passer. Don’t get me wrong as Harrison can surely rush the passer as evidenced by his seven sacks but he’s probably the second most keyed on 3-4 outside linebacker after DeMarcus Ware. Harrison has only come free on two of his seven sacks.
While Harrison doesn’t have as impressive a sack total as Tamba Hali or Cameron Wake but he has easily outplayed them in the other aspects of the game.
Harrison has set the edge at an elite level and has totaled 32 tackles against the run and four run stuffs on the season. By comparisons sake Hali has notched 13 and Wake has notched 18.
Harrison also continually drops into coverage and while his interception was a badly called gift from the refs his fourth and five pass breakup was the difference between a win and a loss for the 6-2 Steelers.
Runner Up: Cameron Wake
If you had told an intelligent and unbiased Steelers fan four months ago that Lawrence Timmons would be in this position they probably would have laughed at you.
In the past Timmons has flashed his amazing athleticism and made a play here and there. He had some amazing games in the past but never put together several consecutive games to have a great season. Well that has changed for the first eight games.
Timmons continues to be a playmaker with three sacks, two interceptions, six run stuffs, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. As previously mentioned he also has a ridiculous 62 percent of his tackles within four yards of the line of scrimmage.
That is how you play the middle/inside linebacker position.
Runner Up: James Laurinitis
Every year people continue to proclaim that it is Ray Lewis’ “final year” and that he will finally begin to decline. I believe that it is fair to say that the only way that Ray Lewis is ever going to decline is if he is carted off of the field or just simply cannot step on the field anymore.
Ray Lewis has the following statline; 53 solo tackles, 15 assists, two sacks, three run stuffs, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three passes defensed and an interception.
Lewis’ statline in and of itself is incredibly impressive over an eight game span but it is the time in which he has notched the big plays that are so impressive. The timing of these plays place him higher than guys who may have better statlines because Lewis has two plays that have ended games for the Ravens’ opposition.
Lewis had a game-sealing interception against Steelers’ quarterback Charlie Batch to prevent the Steelers from kicking a game-tying field goal. A few weeks later he came to the pile and stripped a Buffalo Bills’ receiver in overtime to set up the game winner for his offense.
Lewis has done it all this year and just continues to shine.
Runner Up: Kevin Burnett
Michael Griffin makes this list for the second time in the past three seasons for me as he has resumed his high level of play from the 2007 season.
When you are playing on a team with a great cornerback in Cortland Finnegan and a very good rookie in Alterraun Verner it is easy to be picked on at the safety position. Even more so when a former All-Pro caliber guy in Chris Hope is back there with you as well.
Despite all the talent for the Titans defense in the secondary Griffin has probably been the best member of what is arguably the league’s best secondary thus far into the season.
While Griffin has been the beneficiary of two “gimme” interceptions he still has two picks on some very excellent plays. These four interceptions netted Griffin the AFC’s Defensive Player of The Month award for the month of October.
In addition to being a playmaker against the pass Griffin has 26 tackles against the run including 6 which prevented incredibly long runs that could have possibly resulted in touchdowns.
Griffin has easily been the best free safety so far this year.
Runner Up: Oshiomogho Atogwe
If you have been paying attention to the safety position over the past four years you will realize that the 2006 class featured a lot of safety talent. The first safety taken in that draft was LaRon Landry who had insane measurables. Unfortunately he seemingly could not put those measurables into production.
Well Landry has been a late bloomer and is currently making up for his less than stellar play for the first three years of his career.
With the exception of a bad game against the Detriot Lions LaRon Landry has been playing out of his mind. In fact, prior to that game he was running away with the Defensive Player of The Year award in my mind.
Landry may not have had the statistics to show how large his impact has been but all you had to do was watch a sliver of game tape to see how great he was playing. Five minutes of game film would show you Landry selling out his body with reckless abandon often resulting in injury just to make a play.
Landry’s devotion and play on the field comes across in the fact that he leads all safeties in tackles and they’re not paper tackles; they are quality ones.
It is without question that LaRon Landry is the best safety in the NFL this season.
Runner Up: Troy Polamalu
I guess that it is time that people realize that it is Nnamdi Asomugha that is and always has been the league’s best cornerback.
Asomugha was essentially set up to fail this season. When given the same task that Revis was tasked with last season in primarily trailing the oppositions number one wide receiver it could have been easy for Asomugha to not succeed. However, Asomugha has shown us that regardless of the burden placed on him he will succeed.
Nnamdi’s worst game of the season has been allowing a grand total of three catches for about 50 yards against the San Diego Chargers’ passing attack lead by Philip Rivers. I can tell you that there are a lot of cornerbacks that would love to have that kind of game against Rivers’ and company.
Did I mention he hasn’t been beaten for a touchdown this season?
Runner Up: Brandon Flowers
A couple of seasons ago Corey Webster emerged to have a top 10 season in terms of cornerback play.
Whether you gauged Webster via the eyeball test or through his metrics during his 2008 campaign it was clear he had an elite season. Webster drew the opposition’s top assignment often and succeeded.
Well Webster is re-experiencing that success as with the return of the Giants’ pass rush has come the return of Corey Webster as a near elite cornerback.
Not only has Webster displayed blanket coverage this season but he has also been a bit of a playmaker notching seven passes defensed and two interceptions. What is most impressive is that the majority of it has been in close contention rather than on errant throws.
Runner Up: Tramon Williams