Chris Simms' NFL All-Midseason Team
The NFL is wild. We think we know who the best players in the game are, but this is a year-to-year league, and things change quickly. A lot of people might think that because a guy is the best at his position one year, he's going to be the best the next. This isn't the case.
Injuries play a factor—and I'm not just talking about those to stars like Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt. Sometimes a player suffers an injury in the offseason and doesn't come into the season fully prepared. Some guys fight through nagging injuries even if they don't miss playing time.
Other factors impact who the best players are too. Coaching changes can affect how players are used, as can game situations. Oakland Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack, for example, was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. He hasn't been as effective this season, though, because the Raiders haven't held leads as often and therefore he hasn't spent as much time chasing quarterbacks.
So who are the best players after eight weeks of the 2017 season? Well, if I had to put together my ideal offense and defense at the season's midpoint, these would be my choices. I didn't pick players based solely on stats but on what I've seen week in and week out on the game tape.
This is my 2017 NFL All-Midseason Team.
OT: Taylor Lewan, Titans
I'm starting my All-Midseason Team with an anchor left tackle. That's precisely what Taylor Lewan of the Tennessee Titans is.
Lewan has great passion for the sport and great respect for the sport. That was evident when he ran onto the field to check on the Cleveland Browns' Joe Thomas when he was injured a couple of weeks ago. Yet Lewan is tough as hell and as old-school as it gets at left tackle.
Not only is Lewan one of the top pass-blockers in the league, but he's also one of the best run-blockers in the NFL. He's capable of collapsing the defensive line and can also get out on the edge on toss sweeps and screens to take out linebackers and defensive ends in space. That's what makes him a little different than the other left tackles in the NFL.
OG: Brandon Brooks, Eagles
One thing I can guarantee when I turn on the film every week is that Philadelphia Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks is going to play well. His worst plays are stalemates, and he's never going to be overpowered. At 6'5" and 335 pounds, Brooks is a mountain of a player.
He rarely gets beat in pass protection. He can anchor in there and stand up to the most powerful linemen in the game. He's also a big part of Philadelphia's success in the running game. He can pull, he can mash big people in the middle, and he can neutralize interior pass-rushers.
If I were still playing quarterback, I'd want Brooks in front of me.
C: Alex Mack, Falcons
Alex Mack of the Atlanta Falcons might not be as good as he was a couple of years ago, but he's still the best all-around center in the game. The thing that makes him stand out is his combination of stoutness and power plus remarkable athleticism. He also has tremendous get-off after he snaps the ball.
Mack is phenomenal when it comes to getting upfield or into space and pushing back defenders. Unlike other athletic centers, though, he has great size (6'4", 311 pounds). He's never going to struggle with a bigger nose tackle or defensive tackle in front of him. That's why he's so rare.
There's simply no mismatch for Mack. That's why the Falcons paid him so much money last offseason and why he made my All-Midseason Team.
OG: Zack Martin, Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin may be having a bit of a down season, but that doesn't make it a bad season. Martin has been so dominant since coming into the league that one of his worst years is still better than everyone else's.
It all starts with pass protection in the NFL, and Martin is one of the best pass-blocking guards in the game. His run-blocking is also second to none. He can pull, he can push up the middle, and he can get out on the edge. He can do it all.
Martin is the biggest reason why the Dallas offensive line has been so dominant the last couple of years.
OT: Trent Williams, Redskins
Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams has been a bit banged up in recent weeks, but his game tape has been too great to ignore. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer-type talent. You almost have to issue a breaking-news update when he gets beat in pass protection.
Williams blocks the best pass-rushers every single week. That's extremely important because Washington loves to pass and doesn't have the most mobile quarterback.
The amazing thing is that the Redskins don't ever have to worry about giving Williams help. It doesn't matter if he's facing Von Miller, Williams doesn't need a running back chip or a tight end double-team to win against anyone.
QB: Carson Wentz, Eagles
My quarterback has to be Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller Carson Wentz. He's the hottest thrower in the game—yes, even hotter than Tom Brady or Alex Smith.
Wentz is quarterbacking the best team in the game, and the Eagles are the best team because of Wentz. It's not like Philadelphia is getting guys open with a special offensive scheme. It's not like Wentz has elite guys catching his passes. Wentz is a playmaker, plain and simple.
When I watch film every week, Philadelphia's big plays are a result of Wentz's ability. He can buy time in the pocket, break tackles, continue looking downfield and hit a receiver who finally gets open for a big gain. He can also pick up yards with his legs and power throws downfield while in the grasp of a defender.
A lot of people might not realize how big Wentz is (6'5", 237 lbs). When I first met him, it was his size that made me say "holy crap."
TE: Travis Kelce, Chiefs
How can I not go with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce? He's the best pass-catching tight end in the game. He might not be as good of a run-blocker as Rob Gronkowski, but he's still a good run-blocker. He might get beat on certain matchups from time to time, but Kelce is still a well-rounded tight end.
Kelce is also a weapon opposing defenses have to worry about and scheme for. He changes what opposing defenses do on a weekly basis. Kelce can play on the line, in the slot, out wide and even at running back. That should tell you all you need to know about his athleticism.
The Chiefs have one of the NFL's most explosive offenses in large part because of Kelce and his versatility.
WR: Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
Another reason the Chiefs offense is so good is the presence of wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Now that Beckham is out for the year, Hill is the most explosive wideout in the NFL. I'm not even concerned with his statistics because he alters defensive game plans that significantly.
Hill is the type of guy who causes opposing teams to single him out on game film each and every week. It's the same on the field. Defenses have to find No. 10 before the snap on every play. He's the fastest player on the Chiefs offense, and so much of what Kansas City does is built around him.
Not only is Hill the team's deep threat, he's a runner, a returner and the Chiefs' top decoy. He's a big reason why other guys are able to get open. Defenders panic when the Chiefs fake a screen pass, speed sweep or slant to Hill.
Is Hill the most refined route-runner in the league? Certainly not, but when the ball gets into his hands, you believe he can go for six every single time.
WR: Antonio Brown, Steelers
Is Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown the most physically gifted player in the NFL? No. He doesn't have the deep speed of a Beckham or a Hill. He doesn't have the size of an A.J. Green or a Julio Jones either. Brown is, however, an amazing football player, a tremendous route-runner and a dependable pass-catcher.
Oh, and I've never seen a small guy (5'10", 181 lbs) go up and snatch 50-50 balls the way Brown does. It's a weekly thing, and it's incredible.
Brown does a little bit of everything better than most, and it's made him one of the most consistent and most dangerous receivers in the game.
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins is having the best year of his career. Hopkins isn't the type of receiver who's going to stretch the field and drive a spear into the heart of the defense. He simply isn't fast enough to do that. He can, however, cut your heart out piece by piece by consistently making tough catches.
No one catches contested passes like Hopkins does. He is fearless, he is physical, and he's going to come down with the ball far more often than not. His body control and hand strength are on another level. There's a reason why Deshaun Watson doesn't hesitate to throw him the ball when he's covered.
Hopkins has become Watson's go-to target, and he's the ultimate red-zone threat. He's as dangerous as any player inside the 10-yard line because of his strength, length and physicality.
RB: Leonard Fournette
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is the best running back in the game. We're watching a Bo Jackson-type talent, even if the numbers don't always show it.
What you have to remember is that no one is concerned with the Jacksonville passing attack. Every time Fournette runs the ball, he's facing eight or nine men in the box. Opposing defenses are only worried about stopping Fournette, and he has not been stopped.
I've never seen linebackers bounce off a running back like they do Fournette. They just seem to fall off him, and if Fournette uses the stiff arm, they fly. Let's also not forget this is a 228-pound guy who has the two fastest plays in the NFL this season—per NFL's Next Gen Stats. A lot of people view Hill as the fastest player in the NFL, but Fournette has hit a higher top speed twice.
How do you stop a 228-pound back who runs 22 mph? You don't.
DE: Calais Campbell, Jaguars
I just can't get over the play of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell. He's been asked to play every position on the defensive line since arriving in Jacksonville. He's primarily played end, though, after playing mostly on the inside with the Arizona Cardinals.
Campbell has yet to disappoint for the Jaguars.
I've seen him do things this year I didn't know he was capable of athletically, and I say that knowing he's an elite athlete. He's been able to rush off the edge and show the type of bend and spin moves he hasn't previously pulled from his arsenal.
Campbell has shown tremendous leadership on Jacksonville's big physical front, and his play has been through the roof. He should be in the conversation for defensive MVP. (And yes, I know that isn't an award, but "valuable" is the point here.)
DT: Fletcher Cox, Eagles
Defensive tackles generally don't get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year because of their relative lack of statistics. However, Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is the most dominant defender in the league at this point.
Few players in the NFL can block Cox man-to-man. There's no stat for ruining a play for the opposing offense, but if there were, Cox would be leading the league. He's the king of ruining run-play designs and pushing linemen into the face of opposing quarterbacks. While the latter skill doesn't always result in sacks, it does lead to a lot of errant throws, tipped balls and interceptions.
Cox is simply amazing. There's no one more dominant on a snap-to-snap basis, and he'd be my pick for defensive MVP.
DT: Akiem Hicks, Bears
A lot of people might think Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald should be in the middle next to Cox. However, I love the size and versatility of Chicago Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.
As is the case with Cox, I'm always seeing Hicks ruining offensive game plans when I turn on the game film. It isn't only his ability to win with athleticism when he's asked to shoot a gap; it's his power and his stoutness. His ability to take on double-teams and overpower one-on-one blockers is amazing.
Hicks is the best player in the Bears' front seven, and he's a big reason why Chicago is a formidable opponent and has one of the best defenses in football.
DE: Joey Bosa, Chargers
Picking the other defensive end was tough. It ended up coming down to two Los Angeles Chargers ends—Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Both are tremendous pass-rushers, but Bosa is a bit better against the run, so he's the pick.
Bosa is a force of nature. His pass-rush skills are eye-opening. He can beat you around the edge with speed, and he can out-muscle even the best of offensive tackles. He has a great variety of moves and has great hands.
Bosa is also a capable defender in space, capable of chasing and wrapping up ball-carriers like a linebacker. His size-speed combination is rare, and he's definitely one of the best defensive players in the game. I don't think you can watch a Chargers game and possibly think otherwise.
LB: Ryan Shazier, Steelers
Ryan Shazier is the fastest linebacker in football. Nobody flies around the field sideline to sideline like he does. There's no one who flies to the gaps and beats running backs there better than he does.
Shazier is also quarterbacking a Steelers defense that does a lot of complicated things.
Does Shazier miss a tackle every now and then because he's so aggressive? Sure. However, he also makes a lot of tackles after other guys miss because things are complicated up front. Shazier cleans up the trash and allows Pittsburgh to do so much up front in the first place.
I want versatility and creativity with my defensive line, and Shazier is the perfect guy in the middle to allow for it.
LB: Telvin Smith, Jaguars
This is the modern-day NFL, and I like speed and range at the linebacker position, so I'm going with Jaguars standout Telvin Smith. You can almost call him Shazier Jr. because he's virtually the same player, perhaps just a notch below in the speed department.
Smith has tremendous pressure on him because Jacksonville only has a variety of defensive looks. He is responsible for playing sideline to sideline and must fly to the gaps just like Shazier. That isn't always easy when opposing teams have a good idea of what to expect.
Teams try to attack the Jaguars defense with deep crosses and other plays down the middle. Smith takes that away because he's capable of running down the field and covering like a safety. His ability to make plays on all three levels of the defense is a huge reason why the Jags defense is one of the best in the game.
LB: Eric Kendricks, Vikings
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks is extremely explosive and athletic. He might be just a hair slower than Shazier and Smith, but his ability to accelerate and explode is right there.
Where Kendricks has an edge over Shazier and Smith is that he's more of a thumper. At 235 pounds, his ability to square up and take on guards and fullbacks is phenomenal. He also has the athleticism to give the Vikings freedom on their defense. Minnesota often plays with just two linebackers—Kendricks and Anthony Barr—and they're responsible for all the underneath pass coverage.
Kendricks, Smith and Shazier are big reasons why the Vikings, Jaguars and Steelers are all in the top four in scoring defense in the NFL this season.
CB: Xavier Rhodes, Vikings
I'm going with the cornerbacks I believe are the two best in football right now. The first is Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings standout is just about as shutdown as there is in today's game.
The first thing that stands out about Rhodes is his size. He's 6'1" and close to 220 pounds, yet he has the speed to run down the field with faster receivers. Despite his length and size, Rhodes is also excellent at changing direction on a dime.
Rhodes ratchets the Minnesota defense up a notch because he's capable of matching up with every type of receiver there is in the NFL. He can play man-to-man with anyone, and the Vikings don't have to worry about providing help.
CB: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
The other cornerback has to be Jalen Ramsey. The Jaguars star is the most physically impressive pass defender in the game right now. Based off the game film, he's the best corner in football.
Like Rhodes, Ramsey has the size and strength needed to disrupt receivers off the line of scrimmage and ruin play designs. He can take away a quarterback's first read before the play even starts. His speed is also top-notch.
And like Rhodes, Ramsey's ability to start and stop is incredible for a guy his size (6'1", 208 lbs). If you want to know why the Jacksonville defense is special, it's because Ramsey can take away a No. 1 receiver every week and make life easier on the rest of the unit.
S: Devin McCourty
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty is one of the NFL's most underrated defensive players. He's been one of the league's top free safeties for the last five or six years, yet he rarely gets any credit because Bill Belichick and the Patriots don't drone on about their players.
McCourty is one of those guys you don't truly appreciate until you turn on the film. He's a safety who can do anything you ask of him. When you watch him, you realize he's not only a top-tier tackler—whether in space or down near the line, when he has to shed blocks to make tackles—but he also has cornerback man-to-man coverage skills.
The Patriots, of course, drafted McCourty to play cornerback.
McCourty is tremendous as a center fielder. He has the range of a top cover man, and he's great at getting a feel for what the quarterback wants to do. He holds New England's secondary together, and he's certainly one of the best in the game.
S: Micah Hyde, Bills
Safety Micah Hyde was a massive acquisition for the Buffalo Bills in the offseason. A lot like McCourty, Hyde is extremely versatile. Not only is he great in the middle of the field, but he also can come down in the box to make tackles and play man coverage like a corner.
If you're wondering why Buffalo's defense is one of the best in football, it's because Hyde is able to do so much on the back end. The Bills primarily play zone, and Hyde has a natural feel for where to go from play to play.
Hyde understands how the Buffalo secondary is being attacked, and if a ball touches his hands, he's going to make the catch. It's no fluke that he already has eight passes defended and five interceptions. That's the type of playmaking ability I want in my secondary.