Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus NFL All-Pro Team

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 3, 2017

Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus NFL All-Pro Team

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    With all due respect to the Pro Bowl and the All-Star Games in baseball, basketball and hockey, they are essentially popularity contests.

    It isn't an insult. In all of those instances, fans play a large part in selecting the teams. Those fans naturally vote for their favorite players.

    That's not a bad thing per se, but it also isn't always an accurate reflection of the best of the best in a given sport in a particular year.

    The NFL All-Pro team is different.

    Each year, football writers gather to cast their votes for the AP's All-Pro team. The players they select are the cream of the NFL crop in a given season.

    A trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl (or in this year's case, Orlando, Floridayawn) is nice, but an All-Pro selection is a true honor.

    Granted, the Bleacher Report All-Pro team hasn't been around as long as the Associated Press version. It doesn't quite have the cachet. And it's unlikely that any players have contract clauses that will net them bonuses for their inclusion here.

    But the intrepid scribes who picked this year's squad study the game as much as anyone in the business. And just as they know the sport, they know who played it best in 2016.

    And so, as we await the word from on high as to whom the AP has honored this season, here's a look at the 2016 Bleacher Report Expert Consensus NFL All-Pro Team.

All-Pro Changes

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    In order to reflect the face of today's NFL, the AP made a number of changes to this year's All-Pro team.

    For starters, there's only one running back slot. The AP changed the second slot, perhaps in a nod to fantasy football's impact on the game, to a "flex." That flex player can be a running back, a fullback, a wide receiver or a tight end.

    Here, we diverged a bit from the AP. Rather than kill both the second RB slot and the fullback spot, we only nixed the former in favor of the aforementioned "flex."

    It's bad enough the fullback position is slowly disappearing altogether. We aren't going to kick these guys while they're down.

    Also, rather than just breaking down the offensive line selections as center, guard and tackle, the 2016 iteration of the All-Pro team is separated by position. Left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, right tackle—right down the line.

    There are changes on defense as well. From the AP's announcement:

    On defense, the AP is adding a defensive back (DB) designation for the secondary. This is to recognize the importance of the slot cornerback in today's defenses. The DB can be a safety or a cornerback; the idea is to reward defensive backs who cover slot receivers.

    We also are changing the listing of positions on the front seven to two edge rushers (basically 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers), two interior defensive linemen (basically 3-4 DEs, nose tackles and 4-3 defensive tackles), and three linebackers.

    Finally, in addition to the kicker, punter and kick returner positions that already existed, the Associated Press has added a punt returner and a special teams (non-returner) spot.

    Other than that, though, everything's the same.

    It must have been a slow day at the office.

Quarterback

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    First Team: Tom Brady, New England Patriots (5 votes)

    Second Team: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (4 votes)

    There wasn't a harder call on this year's All-Pro team than the decision regarding the leader of the offense.

    There are several quarterbacks who have had phenomenal seasons in 2016 and only two spots on the squad.

    Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards. It marked the fifth time Brees has hit the 5,000-yard mark in his career. All the other signal-callers in NFL history have had four such seasons—combined.

    Brees didn't get a single vote.

    Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers paced the NFL with 40 touchdown passes, finished fourth in both passer rating (104.2) and yardage (4,428) and led the surging Pack to an NFC North title.

    He got three votes.

    A year ago, people were questioning whether the Atlanta Falcons should consider moving on from Matt Ryan.

    After Ryan passed for 4,944 yards (second in the league) and posted an NFL-high 117.1 passer rating, the only question surrounding the 31-year-old is whether he will be named NFL MVP.

    Ryan was runner-up.

    Thanks to Tom Brady's four-game suspension to open the season, his numbers aren't as gaudy as most of his counterparts in 2016.

    At least most of them aren't. One, however, is the gaudiest such stat ever posted by an NFL quarterback.

    In 2016, Brady threw 28 touchdown passes against only two interceptions. That 14-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in NFL history.

    Oh, and Brady went 11-1 as New England's starter this year.

    The Golden Boy told Phil Perry of CSNNE.com that while individual accolades are nice, he's all about winning:

    It's impossible to choose someone that's most valuable to a team. There's a lot of great players in the NFL. It's very flattering to be mentioned as one of those players. But I've always been about winning, and our team winning. That's always been most important to me, and that will always be most important to me.

    Of course, he was just talking about trivialities like winning NFL MVP.

    Being named a Bleacher Report All-Pro?

    That's the real deal.

           

    Others receiving votes: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (3 votes)

Running Back

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    First Team: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (9 votes)

    Second Team: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (2 votes)

                

    In recent years, NFL teams have moved away from spending high draft picks on the running back position. The belief has been there is too much value at the position in later rounds to justify blowing a first-rounder on one of the elite prospects at the position.

    After the year Ezekiel Elliott just had for the Dallas Cowboys, those same teams may be reconsidering that philosophy.

    Elliott was the engine that propelled the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC in 2016 (13-3). The fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 yards on the ground, averaged over five yards per carry and 108 yards per game and found the end zone 15 times.

    Elliott's season was the third-best by a rookie RB in NFL history, and had he not sat out Week 17, the former Ohio State star might have made a run at Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record (1,808 yards).

    To his credit, Elliott told the Dallas Morning News that he's much more concerned with winning games than personal achievements.

    "I really don't focus on it," Elliott said. "You guys say meaningful games. Everything is meaningfuleven though it may not matter if we win or lose itbut it matters in the total grand scheme of things."

    Elliott was much more than the NFL's best rookie in 2016 or the league's best tailback.

    He was a huge part of the Cowboys' resurgence and a legitimate MVP candidate—albeit one with no chance of winning in a year when so many quarterbacks had huge seasons.

    Others receiving votes: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (1 vote)

Fullback/H-Back

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    First Team: Kyle Juszczyk, Baltimore Ravens (9 votes)

    Second Team: Patrick DiMarco, Atlanta Falcons (2 votes)

             

    Fullbacks are the NFL's equivalent of the dodo bird. With more and more teams utilizing spread offenses that feature three- and four-receiver sets, many NFL clubs no longer even have a fullback on their roster.

    Cheer up, traditionalists. The fullback is still a big part of some teams, and among them, Kyle Juszczyk of the Baltimore Ravens was our experts' clear choice as the first-team All-Pro.

    Juszczyk may not have done much damage as a runner in 2016 (he carried the ball five times), but the fourth-year pro from Harvard helped the Ravens in other ways. He reeled in 37 passes from quarterback Joe Flacco over the course of the season, and no player at the position received a higher grade from Pro Football Focus in 2016.

    Head coach John Harbaugh told Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun that Juszczyk is a valued member of the Baltimore offense.

    He's been extremely valuable. He plays the fullback position, but he also is a very multiple type of player. You can give him the ball, he's great in pass protection, he can line up outside and run routes as an outside receiver. And not to minimize, but he's one of our best special teams players. He's just a core special teams player. He's excellent at that. So I think his value is very high.

    We'll see soon enough if that opinion is genuine or just coachspeak.

    Juszczyk is set to hit free agency in March.

    Others receiving votes: James Develin, New England Patriots (1 vote)

Tight End

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    First Team: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (10 votes)

    Second Team: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (2 votes)

    In recent years, the competition for the All-Pro slots at tight end wasn't much of one. When Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots was healthy, he was a certain bet to make the squadusually as a first-teamer.

    However, we may have witnessed a changing of the guard this season and not just because Gronkowski once again struggled to stay on the field.

    In 2016, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs put up numbers Gronkowski would have been hard-pressed to match even if he were healthy all year. Only twice in seven seasons has Gronkowski bettered Kelce's 1,125 receiving yards. He's only topped Kelce's 85 catches once.

    And Gronkowski has never had 100 receiving yards in four straight games. Kelce accomplished that feat from Week 11 to Week 14 this season.

    Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith talked about how Kelce improved in 2016, per Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star.

    "As he's gotten older and played more, he banks all of that stuff," Smith said. "We move him around and do different things with him. He's a guy that has so many tools for a tight end. We do a ton with him, and he's capable of it. He's handled it mentally and physically."

    Carolina's Greg Olsen was once again as steady as they come and logged a third straight 1,000-yard season. But with all due respect, the veteran doesn't come close to possessing Kelce's athleticism or his ability to hurt defenses vertically.

    Kelce was the best tight end in football in 2016. And as this vote shows, it wasn't close.

Wide Receiver

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    First Team: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (10 votes); Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (9 votes)

    Second Team: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants (2 votes); Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2 votes)

    I have no doubt this position will drive much of the activity in the article's comments section. Many of those comments will be along the lines of "I can't believe you left so-and-so off the team."

    It's a numbers game. The NFL is overflowing with talent at the wide receiver position, but there are only four spots on the All-Pro team. So you wind up with a situation where the NFL leaders in receptions (Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals—107) and yardage (T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts—1,448) don't get a single vote. The league's touchdown king in 2016 (Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers—14) got only one.

    And I don't have a problem with any of it.

    Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the gold standard at football's most loaded position. The seventh-year veteran has logged at least 100 receptions and 1,200 yards in each of the past four seasons. He's found the end zone at least 10 times in three straight.

    And while Brown didn't lead the NFL in any of those categories in 2016, he finished in the top five in all three.

    Were it not for an injury that cost him two games, Atlanta's Julio Jones would have led the NFL in receiving yards for a second straight year. Jones also averaged 17 yards per catch in 2016. Among receivers with 50 or more grabs, only DeSean Jackson of the Washington Redskins picked up more yardage per reception.

    Odell Beckham of the Giants finished the best three-year stretch to open a career in NFL history with a career-best 101 catches, over 1,300 yards and 10 scores. Tampa Bay's Mike Evans set or tied career bests nearly across the board and quadrupled his scoring relative to last season.

    I could keep going. We could go four teams deep on this All-Pro team, and there will still be pass-catchers worthy of recognition who are left out.

    That's what happens when a staggering 23 wideouts hit 1,000 yards.

    By weight of comparison, the NFL had 12 1,000-yard rushers in 2016.

    Maybe we should use that flex spot for another wideout.

              

    Others receiving votes: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (1 vote)

Flex

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    First Team: David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (10 votes)

    Second Team: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (2 votes)

    Then again, maybe not.

    The Arizona Cardinals didn't have the success expected of them in 2016, but that wasn't tailback David Johnson's fault.

    Johnson had easily the best season by a running back in Cardinals history. Not only did the second-year pro gain 1,239 yards on the ground, but he added another 879 yards on 80 receptions.

    That's over 2,100 total yards for the math-averse.

    Johnson also became the first player in the history of the National Football League to gain over 100 total yards in 15 straight games to open a season. Had he not suffered a knee injury in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, Johnson may have gotten the clean sweep.

    Oh, and Johnson also scored a staggering 20 total touchdowns, also tops in the NFL.

    Chris Wesseling of NFL.com wrote Johnson had a season worthy of serious consideration for Offensive Player of the Year honors:

    What makes Johnson so unique? He combines Adrian Peterson's power and explosive cutting ability with Odell Beckham's breakaway speed and [Le'Veon] Bell's receiving ability. I understand the sentiment that Johnson should be rewarded despite his team's disappointing 6-8-1 record. That's exactly why we have the Offensive Player of the Year award and the All-Pro team.

    That knee injury was a rotten way to end a fantastic season, but, per Wesseling, Johnson escaped with a sprained MCL and will not need surgery.

    It looks like injury won't have better luck bringing down Johnson than tacklers did in 2016.

Left Tackle

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    First Team: David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers (5 votes)

    Second Team: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys (3 votes)

    Left tackles—the players charged with protecting the blind sides of their clubs' biggest financial investments—are the cornerstones of most NFL offensive lines.

    And given that, it's not surprising Bleacher Report's pick for first-team All-Pro was the Green Bay Packers' David Bakhtiari, the best at pass protection in 2016.

    According to Pro Football Focus, the fourth-year pro was the only offensive tackle in the league to get a grade over 25 in that category, and he was one of only two tackles to receive one over 20.

    Bakhtiari did allow four sacks, but he only surrendered 16 hurries on the season. Among tackles who played over 1,000 snaps, only Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles and Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals allowed fewer.

    In other words, Bakhtiari more than lived up to the four-year, $51.67 million contract extension he signed in September.

    And with Tyron Smith of the Dallas Cowboys backing him up, our All-Pro quarterbacks would have plenty of time to pick opposing defenses apart.

    Others receiving votes: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns (2 votes); Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans (1 vote); Trent Williams, Washington Redskins (1 vote)

Left Guard

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    First Team: Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders (11 votes)

    Second Team: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote)

    The Dallas Cowboys are widely credited with having the NFL's best offensive line. That may be true, but another group is close.

    The addition of guard Kelechi Osemele was a big part of why the Oakland Raiders are back in the playoffs after a dry spell that lasted well over a decade.

    When it comes to free-agent acquisitions in 2016, Oakland's signing of Osemele may have had the biggest impact. The fifth-year pro was the highest-graded left guard who played 1,000 or more snaps in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. And with Osemele in the fold, Oakland's line ranked in PFF's top five in both run and pass blocking.

    The 27-year-old's impact on the Oakland line was evident last month when he missed a game against the Kansas City Chiefs with a kidney stone. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr spent much of that contest running for his life, and the combination of Osemele's absence and Carr's injured finger led to an ugly 17-of-41 passing performance.

    Our second-team All-Pro has long been one of the league's best guards. Not only was Marshal Yanda of the Ravens PFF's top-ranked guard overall in 2016, but he nearly split his time evenly between the right and left sides, giving this mythical team the ultimate "swing" guard.

    In fact, had Yanda not missed three games and spent so much time on the right side (remember, the new All-Pro rules elect players by specific position), Yanda's and Osemele's team statuses might be reversed.

Center

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    First Team: Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys (10 votes)

    Second Team: Alex Mack, Atlanta Falcons (2 votes)

    When the Dallas Cowboys selected Travis Frederick in the 2013 NFL draft at No. 31 overall, the pick was almost universally blasted as a reach. Here's what Erik Frenz wrote about it for Bleacher Report at the time:

    NFL Network's Mike Mayock's instant reaction: "I had a third-round grade on this guy."

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's instant reaction: "I hate this pick."

    So, if you thought the Cowboys reached for Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, you're not alone.

    He could play guard or center, but the problem is, the Cowboys have already invested eight-figure contracts in both their guards recently and they already have a center in Phil Costa.

    If Frederick has a tenured career as one of the top centers in the league, he'll be worth the pick. For now, though, it's fair to wonder how much further he could have fallen if the Cowboys had waited.

    That second-to-last sentence is what has happened. In four NFL seasons, Frederick hasn't ranked lower than sixth at the position, per Pro Football Focus. In each of the past three seasons, Frederick has ranked inside the top three.

    Yes, in 2016, Atlanta's Alex Mack received a slightly higher grade from PFF (32.6 to Frederick's 31.1), and there's no denying Mack has been a huge acquisition for the playoff-bound Falcons.

    But Frederick has started all 64 regular-season games of his career and didn't allow a sack in 2016. He's the best in the NFL at what he does.

    That pick wasn't so laughable after all.

Right Guard

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    First Team: Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (9 votes)

    Second Team: T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers (2 votes)

    Starting to notice a theme here?

    It isn't that difficult to see why the Dallas Cowboys won 13 games in 2016 or why Zeke Elliott led the NFL in rushing.

    In fact, it's kind of hard to miss.

    Zack Martin's inclusion on Bleacher Report's All-Pro team makes three Dallas linemen on the squad, including two first-teamers.

    The picks aren't difficult to justify either. Martin is PFF's highest-ranked right guard (excluding Marshal Yanda's combined LG/RG grade). Over 1,058 snaps, he allowed only two sacks, and no guard in the NFL was a better run-blocker.

    Fellow B/R All-Pro Travis Frederick told Rob Phillips of the Cowboys' official website that the NFL's most feared offensive line as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    "Our group is just thatit's a group," Frederick said. "It's not individual. I think there's an argument to [be] made that a couple other guys could have at least gotten some looks, if not been selected in our group. When you have that, I think it's a great feeling to know that our work together has been noticed."

    That may be true, but whether anyone wants to admit it, the individual honors don't suck.

    Others receiving votes: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote)

Right Tackle

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    First Team: Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans (6 votes)

    Second Team: Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers (4 votes)

    The Tennessee Titans were one of the NFL's most improved teams in 2016. And if the motor that drove the Titans was their "exotic smashmouth" ground game, the engine behind that running game was a mauling offensive line.

    The newest addition to that line didn't just hold his own. Rookie Jack Conklin shone. In fact, no right tackle in the NFL received a higher grade in 2016 than Conklin at Pro Football Focus. Combined with left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Titans had the highest-graded battery at the position.

    Titans offensive line coach Russ Grimm (who has forgotten more about playing in the trenches than most folks know) spoke highly of Conklin while talking to Ty Schalter for the Lansing State Journal.

    "Jack's having a great year," Grimm said. "... Jack's a sharp guy. He studies, he sees things quickly on the film and he picks it up quickly on the field."

    Conklin isn't the pass protector second-teamer Bryan Bulaga of the Green Bay Packers is, but our B/R tailbacks should have no problem chewing up yardage on the ground with Conklin leading the way.

                  

    Others receiving votes: Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints (1 vote); Ryan Schraeder, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote)

Edge-Rusher

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    First Team: Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders (12 votes); Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos (11 votes)

    Second Team: Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins (1 vote)

    We have our first unanimous All-Pro selection. We would have had two had I not voted for Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who is the lone second-teamer since only three players received votes.

    Wake's a 34-year-old defensive end coming off an Achilles tear who logged 8.5 sacks from Week 9 on this season. The man deserved some run.

    That vote cost Von Miller a unanimous spot. It's no indictment of his ability. All the Super Bowl 50 MVP did after signing a deal that made him the NFL's highest-paid defender was lead the AFC with 13.5 sacks.

    Miller revealed to Mile High Sports that despite his personal success, the team's failure to make the playoffs made 2016 a disappointing year:

    It’s frustrating, especially as a competitor, especially with all of the high hopes, all the standards that we have as an organization from the leadership on down – from the front office to the cooks we have a championship mentality. And to sit back and observe all the championship stuff on TV, it hits you in the stomach [to] know that these are the guys we’re supposed to be playing and we’re not there right now.

    Still, as good as Miller was in 2016, he isn't the Defensive Player of the Year.

    In my opinion, that honor belongs to Oakland's Khalil Mack.

    It isn't just that Mack is an accomplished pass-rusher with 26 sacks over the past two seasons or that his 32 stops in 2016 speaks to his stoutness against the run. Or the career-high five forced fumbles. Or the fact he's PFF's highest-graded edge-rusher.

    As Kevin Clark of The Ringer wrote, it's all those things and more.

    The 25-year-old defender has left a trail of embarrassed offensive linemen, quarterbacks, and offensive coordinators in his wake as he’s helped to spark the  Raiders’ renaissance. He ranks in the top five in the NFL in sacks (11), forced fumbles (five), and fumble recoveries (three). This month, he tied the franchise record by delivering a sack in his eighth straight game. Last season, he became the first player in NFL history to earn All-Pro honors at two positions (defensive end and outside linebacker). The no. 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft became a star the moment he entered the league, but this season he’s forced more turnovers than ever, been a more consistent force from game to game (one-third of his sacks last season came in one contest), and been so disruptive that his eventual standing as a Raiders defensive stalwart seems all but assured.

    J.J. Watt's status as the king of defense isn't unquestioned anymore.

Interior Linemen

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    First Team: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (10 votes); Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins (8 votes)

    Second Team: Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles (2 votes); Leonard Williams, New York Jets (2 votes)

    As good as Khalil Mack is, he wasn't Pro Football Focus' top-graded defensive player in 2016. He wasn't in 2015 either. Neither was J.J. Watt.

    That honor belonged to Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

    A quick glance at the raw stats might not bear that out. Donald's 47 tackles and eight sacks in 2016 were both career lows. But his raw stats don't tell half of the story.

    For the second straight season, Donald led all interior linemen in quarterback hits by a staggering margin. He also paced the position in hurries (54) despite little help from teammates and constant double-teams.

    Donald told Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com those double-teams and a lost season in La-La Land sucked most of the fun out of 2016.

    "It's been tough," Donald said. "It's definitely been tough this year. I had high expectations for this year, thinking we were going to do some big things, and a lot of things just didn't go the way we expected."

    Donald may be glad to see the season end, but his All-Pro batterymate will play on. And the Miami Dolphins wouldn't be in the playoffs were it not for Ndamukong Suh's 72-tackle, five-sack effort in 2016.

    Suh told Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post that his long-term goal is to be remembered as one of the Dolphins' all-time greats on the defensive side of the ball.

    "I plan to play at that elite level as Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor did," he said. "But I have to focus at the task at hand, and that's going out each and every week and being a dominant force for our defense and help us win."

    If he can string a few more seasons like this together or lead the Dolphins deep into the playoffs, the mercurial big man might get his wish.

    Others receiving votes: Damon Harrison, New York Giants (1 vote); Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans (1 vote)

Linebacker

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    First Team: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks (11 votes); Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys (11 votes); Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers (6 votes)

    Second Team: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 votes); Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots (2 votes); Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (2 votes)

    OK, before we discuss the leading vote-getters, let's get the controversy out of the way. There's no doubt some folks will think Luke Kuechly of the Panthers should not be a first-team All-Pro after missing six games in 2016.

    That is, until they look at the grades at Pro Football Focus and see Kuechly is the No. 1 player at the position by a wide margin. Or consider that the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year averaged over 10 combined tackles and seven solos a game this season.

    Simply put, Kuechly is the best inside linebacker in the National Football League.

    That is not intended as a slight toward Seattle's Bobby Wagner. It's difficult to spurn a player who leads the NFL with an eye-popping 167 tackles. Granted, the vagaries of defensive scorekeeping in the NFL (and the fact only about half of his tackles are solos) skew that number a bit, but there's no denying Wagner's had a fantastic season.

    In case you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, the manner in which the NFL's stat crews record tackles varies from stadium to stadium. Zach Brown of the Buffalo Bills led the AFC in tackles in part because the scorekeepers in Buffalo award one if you look at the ball-carrier funny (in this writer's opinion, at least).

    It's a similar deal in Seattle—only there, it's assists if you sneeze on a receiver but few solo stops. Of Wagner's 82 assists in 2016, 57 were recorded at home.

    There isn't a more subjective statistic in the NFL.

    The most valuable player of our first-team trio (at least to his team) is Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys. Lee's 145 tackles tied for fourth in the NFL. But he's the best player on that side of the ball in Big D, and his staying healthy this season has been a huge part of the Cowboys' run to an NFC East title.

    As Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote, Dallas defensive end Tyrone Crawford was stunned when Lee was left off the NFC Pro Bowl roster:

    You don’t even want to get me going. That’s what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to get me going right now. I don’t even want to get on that, man. You know, talked to Sean about it and just got a strike of humbleness from him.

    So I’m not going to go on my anger on it and my thoughts about it because I’ll get rude and then I’ll get in trouble.

    Crawford has a point, and at Bleacher Report, in addition to talking football, we're all about righting injustices.

    We're like the Avengers minus the spandex and the big green dude.

    Although, you shouldn't make analyst Doug Farrar angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

    Others receiving votes: Zachary Orr, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote)

Cornerback

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    First Team: Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos (7 votes); Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs (7 votes)

    Second Team: Casey Hayward, San Diego Chargers (5 votes); Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (5 votes)

    In today's pass-wacky NFL, the ability to stop said passes has become more important than ever. That has added greatly to the value of two positions—edge-rushers who harass quarterbacks and shutdown corners who cover the league's many talented receivers.

    And when it comes to shutting down receivers in 2016, not many players in the league have been as effective as Aqib Talib of the Denver Broncos.

    Talib may not win any personality contests, and he's no friend to jewelry. But the 30-year-old ranked fourth at the position this season at Pro Football Focus. Of cornerbacks who played 800 or more snaps, no player in the NFL allowed fewer yards. And when throwing at Talib, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 49.5.

    That's known as "Pulling a Brock Osweiler."

    Another cornerback from the AFC West flanks Talib on our first team. Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs wasn't as good in coverage as Talib, ranking 14th at the position in that regard. But after leading the National Football League with eight interceptions as a rookie, Peters backed that up with six more this year.

    As BJ Kissel of the Chiefs' website reported, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was impressed by Peters after the two teams met earlier this season.

    "He's playing as well as anybody in the league right now in the secondary," Brees said. "He's a very dangerous player and has exceptional skills, exceptional ball skills, great instincts, especially for a young player."

    Passing sub-packages have become the de facto base defense for many NFL teams nowadays, so it's important for our imaginary team to have good depth in the secondary.

    Done and done. San Diego's Casey Hayward led the NFL in interceptions this season and was arguably the best value signing of free agency in 2016. Janoris Jenkins of the New York Giants didn't come nearly as cheaply, but he's been a cornerstone for the defensive turnaround that led to a playoff spot for Big Blue.

    Go ahead. Throw on this group. I dare you.

    Better leave the necklace at home too.

Safety

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    First Team: Landon Collins, New York Giants (10 votes); Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs (9 votes)

    Second Team: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers (2 votes); Tony Jefferson, Arizona Cardinals (2 votes)

    Since the Associated Press starting giving out the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1971, five safeties have won. The last was Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010.

    There's a young safety in the running in 2016. Landon Collins of the New York Giants probably won't win, but that doesn't mean the second-year pro isn't deserving.

    Collins has been the MVP of the Giants defense in 2016. He leads the team with 125 tackles, and his 100 solo stops trails only Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander. Collins has also generated plenty of big plays, notching five interceptions and four sacks.

    Steven Ruiz of USA Today thinks Collins is much more than a DPOY candidate. He beat the drum recently for the safety's case for the NFL MVP.

    Collins should, at the very least, be included in the MVP discussion. Throw him some votes, sports writers. That’s all I ask. And if (Matt) Ryan tails off and (Tom) Brady is punished by voters for missing those first four games, maybe, Collins can win the thing, as he’s done for the Giants so many times this season.

    Eric Berry of the Chiefs joins Collins at the back end of the first-team defense. In and of themselves, Berry's numbers in 2016 are good but hardly jaw-dropping—77 combined tackles and four interceptions, including two he took back for scores.

    However, not only does Berry rank seventh overall among safeties this year at Pro Football Focus and fourth in pass coverage, but when you consider that two years ago Berry was being treated for cancer...

    There's toughness...and then there's Eric Berry.

    Others receiving votes: Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens (1 vote)

Defensive Back

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    First Team: Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos (11 votes)

    Second Team: Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants (1 vote)

    Now you can stop complaining.

    Don't lie. You know when you didn't see Chris Harris of the Denver Broncos listed with the cornerbacks a couple of slides back, you were ready to storm off to the comments section and let me have it.

    Words hurt, you know.

    Not that the argument wouldn't have had merit. As good as Aqib Talib was for the Broncos in 2016, by some measures, Harris was even better. The sixth-year veteran trailed only Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overall grades among corners at PFF, and Harris' grade in pass coverage of 20.8 led the league.

    Like Talib, Harris allowed fewer than 400 receiving yards in 2016. Like Talib, Harris had a completion percentage against under 54 percent. And while Talib's passer rating against was second in the NFL, Harris' mark of 68.5 was a more-than-respectable 14th.

    As Aric DiLalla of the team's website wrote, in the opinion of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Harris is every bit as good a player as his more heralded teammate.

    "He's a shutdown corner," Phillips said. "You can put him on anybody and he's going to keep them from making plays. ... He's a great competitor, he's a smart player—he's all the things you want."

    Harris also has quite a bit of experience playing the slot—that gets him the nod as our "extra" defensive back in this revamped All-Pro voting.

Special Teams

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    Jason Hanna/Getty Images

    KICKER

    First Team: Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens (12 votes)

    Of all kickers with 20 or more field-goal attempts, Tucker's 97.4 percent success rate led the NFL. Only one of Tucker's 39 attempts failed to go through the uprights, and the 27-year-old was a perfect 10-of-10 from 50 or more yards out—tying an NFL record.

           

    PUNTER

    First Team: Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams (12 votes)

    Hekker finished the season second among all punters at Pro Football Focus and led the NFL in both total punting yards (4,675) and net average per kick (46). He also led the league in punts downed inside the 20 by a margin of 14.

    KICK RETURNER

    First Team: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (8 votes)

    Second Team: Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks (3 votes)

    It's unlikely Patterson will live up to his first-round draft status as a wide receiver. But his 104-yard kick return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in November was the fifth time in his career he has returned a kickoff 100-plus yards for a score. Touchbacks are for wimps.

    Others receiving votes: Alex Erickson, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (1 vote)

    PUNT RETURNER

    First Team: Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs (12 votes)

    In the time it took me to write this blurb, Hill probably returned another punt for six points. His 95-yard score against the San Diego Chargers in Week 17 was the second of his rookie season; Hill also has a kick return TD and nine more touchdowns as a runner and/or receiver. Is 12 touchdowns a lot for a fifth-round pick? It sounds like a lot.

    SPECIALIST

    First Team: James Develin, FB, New England Patriots (6 votes)

    Second Team: Eric Weems, WR, Atlanta Falcons (5 votes)

    Players like Develin are the reason why the Patriots have been so good for so long. In addition to trailing only Kyle Juszczyk of the Ravens among fullbacks at Pro Football Focus, Develin plays on special teams like his hair is on fire.

    Others receiving votes: Nate Ebner, S, New England Patriots (1 vote)

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