Winners and Losers from the 2021 NFL All-Pro Team
It happens every year. But given fan and player voting, there will always be aspects of the Pro Bowl that are based as much on reputation and popularity as performance.
That's why some consider inclusion on the All-Pro team to be an even more prestigious honor. It's a much smaller group selected by a panel of 50 sportswriters, and if that panel names a player a first-team All-Pro, that player is usually coming off one whopper of a season.
However, with only so many voters and so many slots to fill, there will always be players who some see as deserving who get left out. Sure enough, with the release of the 2021 All-Pro team Friday, it didn't take long for social media to light up with both complaints about players who were "snubbed" and congratulations for those who made the cut.
This column aims to do a little of both, by presenting the biggest winners and losers of this year's All-Pro team.
Winner: Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
That Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp was named a first-team All-Pro is hardly a surprise. But given that the 28-year-old isn't going to be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player (a quarterback will win that honor because a quarterback almost always does) and probably won't win Offensive Player of the Year, Kupp's unanimous All-Pro selection is still a good opportunity to reflect on just how remarkable his 2021 season was.
Kupp led the league in targets (191), receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16). He was the first player since Steve Smith in 2005 to lead the league in catches, receiving yards and receiving scores—the "triple crown" of receiving. It marked just the fourth time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that a player accomplished that feat.
Kupp's 1,947 receiving yards were the second-most in a season in NFL history, trailing only Calvin Johnson's 1,964 in 2012. His 145 catches were also the second-most in league history, trailing only Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints in 2019.
Other than that though, he was just OK.
By October, it was clear that Matthew Stafford was going to throw Kupp's way early and often every week. And as Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters this week, there was very little that opponents could do about it.
"Nobody's slowed him down," Kingsbury said. "He's got his numbers every week, regardless of coverages or player or whatever people have been trying to do to stop him. And so that's a credit to him. He has such a great feel for the game, great understanding of their system, great understanding of how to create space and separation. I just can't say enough good things about him."
Loser: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here's something you don't see every day—Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. labeled a loser.
However, if the All-Pro voting is a preview of the vote for NFL MVP, then Brady is going to miss out on winning for a fourth time in favor Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers taking home the honor for the second consecutive season.
A compelling case can be made for both future Hall of Famers. At the age of 44, Brady paced the NFL in both passing yards (5,316—a career high) and touchdown passes (43). Rodgers threw for significantly fewer yards, but he had a better completion percentage and passer rating while posting a ridiculous 37-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
While speaking to reporters earlier this week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians made it clear that in his (admittedly biased) opinion, Brady is the clear choice as the league's MVP.
"I think if he doesn't get it, it's a travesty," Arians said. "Most completions ever, 5,000 yards, touchdowns, the whole nine yards. To me, it's not even a close race."
However, it appears that the voters for the Associated Press disagree, as the All-Pro vote wasn't especially close—Rodgers received 34 votes, while Brady was a distant second with 16.
Poor guy just never gets any accolades.
Winner: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Much like Cooper Kupp, it's hardly a surprise that Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor was named an All-Pro—the second-year pro from Wisconsin had a phenomenal season and emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate.
But Taylor wasn't just named an All-Pro running back—he's the All-Pro running back. Of the 50 votes cast at the position, Taylor received every one of them.
Taylor deserves the unanimous nod. Sure, there are plenty of excellent running backs in the NFL who were productive in 2021, whether it's physical between-the-tackles pounders like Cleveland's Nick Chubb or versatile threats like Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers.
But Taylor was on another level this season. His 1,811 yards on the ground this season were 552 more than Chubb, who came in second. Taylor led the league in yards per game (106.5), tied Chubb for the lead in yards per carry (5.5) among backs with over 200 carries, led the league in rushing touchdowns (18) and chipped in another 360 yards and two scores as a receiver.
Taylor broke Edgerrin James' franchise record for rushing yards (easily) and became just the third back in league history (joining LaDainian Tomlinson and Lydell Mitchell) to top 100 scrimmage yards with at least one rushing touchdown in eight straight games.
Whether it's picking up yardage on the ground, working as a receiver or even pass blocking, there isn't a facet of the game in which Taylor didn't function at an elite level in 2021.
And while players like Chubb and Derrick Henry may have something to say about it in 2022, this year Taylor was the unquestioned king of the backfield.
Loser: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
When you have a pair of wide receivers (Kupp and Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers) who are unanimous selections, it stands to reason that there will be players who are left off. There are only so many votes to go around, after all.
Still, it was a bit jarring that two of last year's first-team All-Pro selections (Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills and Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs) not only didn't make it back in 2021, but also didn't receive a single vote.
Of the two, Hill is the most surprising. Even in a season the six-time Pro Bowler has dealt with nagging injuries, Hill shattered his career high in targets with 159 and receptions with 111 while topping 1,200 receiving yards for the third time in four seasons and hauling in nine touchdown passes.
Those 111 receptions were third in the league, trailing only Adams and Kupp. Hill's 1,239 receiving yards were seventh in the league. And Hill's catch percentage of 69.8 was his highest since 2017.
In at least some respects, Hill may have been done in by his own past—the 27-year-old's 11.2 yards per catch was his lowest total since his rookie year and a full 3.5 yards less than a season ago.
But it's still more than a little surprising that not one voter listed Hill among the three best wideouts in the league in 2021.
Winner: Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Now there are four—and the latest to make the cut has evoked comparisons to Taylor, who is widely regarded as the best outside linebacker ever.
To say that Micah Parsons of the Dallas Cowboys is a lock to win Defensive Rookie of Year is an understatement. Drafted as an off-ball linebacker, Parsons was pressed into action as an edge-rusher by injuries along the Dallas front seven.
All Parsons did was become a wrecking ball from the moment he stepped on the field—84 total tackles, 13 sacks, 30 QB hits and 20 tackles for loss.
As Anthony Treash wrote for PFF, the advanced stats posted by Parsons are just as impressive.
"The Penn State product seamlessly transitioned from the edge to off-ball linebacker countless times this season and has been dangerous at either role. The 12th overall pick recorded a 93.0 pass-rush grade, 22.4% pressure rate and a 24.8% pass-rush win rate this season — all of which are among the five best in the NFL, regardless of position. In coverage, he allowed 0.69 yards per snap and earned a 69.4 coverage grade, both of which rank 11th or higher among linebackers."
With Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt (a unanimous All-Pro) tying Michael Strahan's single-season sack record, winning Defensive Player of the Year probably isn't going to happen for Parsons—yet.
But he's the only rookie on the 2021 All-Pro first team and the No. 1 vote-getter at linebacker, tallying 46 votes—two more than Leonard.
Loser: Trey Hendrickson, EDGE, Cincinnati Bengals
As was already mentioned, T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers received All-Pro nods from all 50 AP voters.
With Cleveland's Myles Garrett snagging another 29 votes, there were only 21 votes remaining for all the league's other edge-rushers. Just like at wide receiver, it was inevitable that someone was going to be left out.
Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers didn't even make the top four despite a 15.5-sack season. But at least he got some love (five votes).
When Nick Shook of NFL.com named his All-Pro team earlier this week, Trey Hendrickson of the Cincinnati Bengals earned one of the "edge" slots. And the case for Hendrickson's inclusion certainly has merit, as Shook wrote:
"The free-agent acquisition has proven Cincinnati's investment-wise, ranking second in the league in quarterback pressures with 79 and producing the NFL's best QB pressure percentage at 19.4 percent. He's caused five turnovers via pressure, tying him with four others for the most in the NFL, and he's added 28 stops (tackle on a play that results in negative EPA for offense) and 14 sacks to his resume. He might be lacking in total tackles (34), but Hendrickson has been incredibly effective when it comes to rushing the passer and has helped transform the Bengals from AFC North cellar dwellers to division champions."
Hendrickson was one of the biggest impact signings of 2021. A big reason the Bengals are in the postseason. And the 27-year-old finished the year fifth in the NFL In sacks.
But Hendrickson was shut out of All-Pro voting.
Winner: J.C. Jackson, CB, New England Patriots
New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson wasn't first among cornerbacks in All-Pro voting—that honor went to Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys, who paced the league in interceptions this season. He wasn't second, either—Jalen Ramsey of the Rams (long considered one of the game's best corners) checked in behind Diggs.
But Diggs was a second-round pick in 2020. Ramsey was drafted fifth overall in 2016. They were expected to make an impact in the pros.
Jackson, who placed third in All-Pro votes with 25 votes, wasn't drafted at all in 2018.
And the argument can be made that he was every bit as good as Ramsey and Diggs in 2021—maybe even better.
This can't really be called Jackson's "breakout" season. That came last year when the 26-year-old posted a passer rating against of just 66.5 and ranked second in the NFL with nine interceptions. And in 2021, Jackson backed those numbers up and then some—he was once again the NFL's runner-up in picks while allowing just 49.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed with a passer rating against of 46.8.
Jackson's completion percentage against and passer rating against were better than those of both Diggs and Ramsey, and it's good to see him being recognized as one of the game's best corners, even if it was only a second-team nod.
He'll probably feel that much better when he hits free agency in the spring.
Someone is fixing to get paid.
Loser: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, PIttsburgh Steelers
For most of his professional career, Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been known as a ball-hawking deep safety. His penchant for making big plays earned him first-team All-Pro honors in 2019 and 2020.
But while Fitzpatrick's big-play totals were down a bit in 2021, the 25-year-old accomplished a career first this season. Not only were Fitzpatrick's 124 total tackles easily the highest of his career and his first season with over 100 stops, but the former Alabama star also led the team and all defensive backs in the NFL in that category.
Fitzpatrick's change in role was out of necessity—the linebacker play in front of him this season in Pittsburgh has been highly un-Steelerlike. But he told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he's more than willing to get dirty if that's what the team needs to be successful.
"It's my first time doing it (topping 100 tackles)," Fitzpatrick said. "If that's what I'm asked to do, that's what I have to do. My body is feeling it, for sure. But that's my job. That's what I have to do."
Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and edge-rusher T.J. Watt were deserving of their All-Pro inclusion, and this isn't to say that Fitzpatrick necessarily should have been voted in ahead of Tennessee's Kevin Byard and Buffalo's Jordan Poyer, two safeties who had outstanding seasons.
But the Steelers wouldn't be in the postseason without Fitzpatrick's play on the back end, and just one All-Pro vote total was a surprisingly low number.
Winner: De'Vondre Campbell, LB, Green Bay Packers
A list of All-Pro winners and losers would be woefully incomplete without the inclusion of Green Bay Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. While Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams were expected to be on the All-Pro team before the season even began, Campbell's own mother probably didn't think he'd be on the team last summer.
It's not that Campbell wasn't a capable linebacker—he racked up 129 tackles in his last year with the Falcons in 2019 and followed that up with 99 stops the following season in Arizona, starting 31 of 32 games over that stretch.
But when free agency started in 2021, the interest level in Campbell was less than robust. There was no parade of suitors. It was June 9 before he finally landed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Packers.
That signing turned out to be arguably the biggest steal in all of free agency.
Campbell's first season in Titletown was the best of his career—he topped 100 solos for the first time and tallied the seventh-most tackles (146) in the entire NFL. And as Zach Kruse wrote for Packers Wire, those numbers only scratch the surface of Campbell's impact for the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
"Campbell has just four missed tackles and a 3.4 missed-tackle percentage, the second-best among linebackers," he wrote. "His 44 stops, or a tackle constituting a failure for the defense, is tied for seventh. He's allowed only 5.4 yards per target in coverage. And he's only committed one penalty. By Sports Info Solutions' 'Total Points Saved' metric, Campbell ranks third among all linebackers."
Despite those achievements, Campbell was one of this year's most glaring Pro Bowl snubs. The Associated Press rectified that omission, however—only Micah Parsons and Darius Leonard received more votes than Campbell's 18.