If we pride ourselves on anything at Pro Football Focus it’s that we have at least six eyes watching every single game. Not just watching in passing, but spending hours upon hours breaking down what happened and accumulating the stats that make PFF so unique.
It’s why we feel as qualified as anyone to put forth an All Pro team that does away with reputation, preconceived ideas of players and hype, to give you a group of guys who were the best on the field. With that in mind we’ve altered the usual format of the NFL so that we can fully appreciate players for what is being asked of them. Why should we cross compare 3-4 defensive ends with 4-3 defensive linemen? Why should we judge 4-3 OLBs the way we judge 3-4 OLBs? And given the nature of the modern NFL why wouldn’t we recognize slot receivers and nickelbacks?
Yes our squad is larger. Yes the PFF analysts (Neil Hornsby, Ben Stockwell, Sam Monson and I) almost came to blows as we discussed some of the selections (once again guys, apologies for the large amount of swearing but you warranted it). And yes by virtue of strong performances in Week 17, some guys made our All Pro team without making the Pro Bowl, but here it is.
The official 2011 PFF All Pro Team:
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Second Team: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
It came down to a choice between Rodgers and Brees, and in the end the Saints QB was left settling for a place on the second team. Why? Well sure he had the stats, but he also threw an awful lot more as he went chasing records, while Rodgers took better care of the ball in leading the Packers to the best record in the NFL. Rodgers led the PFF modified QB rating a clear 11.26 points from Brees, overcoming a high percentage of drops to post the best mark in the NFL.
Running Back: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Second Team: Lesean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
While we could all agree on Jones-Drew as an All Pro after carrying the Jaguars offensive, there was a lively debate for the second team selection. In the end it was deemed Fred Jackson had not played enough, and so McCoy, who received our highest rushing grade of the year, got the nod.
Fullback: Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens
Second Team: Jed Collins, New Orleans Saints
We had to turn away from Jim Kleinsasser after a late season change in use saw him play more snaps at tight end than fullback, a shame. Instead we’re left with Leach, who got the nod over the impressive Collins, on the back of making more critical blocks, and being a more vital cog in the Ravens system.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Second Team: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Never any doubt as to the top two, with only a few murmurs heard as to who should be on the top team. Naturally Gronkowski, who finished the year not just with better stats but also a far higher run blocking grade, got the nod. Suffice to say these two had years for the ages and raised the bar at the tight end spot with the matchup problems they present.
Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions & Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Slot Receiver: Wes Welker, New England Patriots
Second Team: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers & Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Second Team Slot : Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Our top two three ranked receivers fit in very nicely, with Welker used as the slot receiver. Johnson put up astronomical numbers with 1,685 yards and 16 touchdowns, as he became the unstoppable monster he had threatened to become in years gone by. Strange as it may be, Fitzgerald was perhaps even more impressive for turning lead into gold, making the most of some inconsistent (to put it generously) quarterback play. There isn’t a more complete receiver than Fitz. The second team saw the team agree on both Cruz and Smith, but we can’t help but wonder what would happen if we saw more of Percy Harvin.
Left Tackle: Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
Second Team: Duane Brown, Houston Texans
Peters had his best season as a pro, utterly dominating the competition in front of him. Sure he doesn’t protect Vick’s blindside, but he handled some excellent edge rushers with ease in giving up just 21 combined sacks, hits and hurries all year. Brown didn’t make our Pro Bowl team, but he earned second team honors because of some (very) late season brilliance and the more we thought about it, the more we realized how incredible it is for any left tackle to go an entire season without giving up a sack.
Left Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
Second Team: Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints
One of the biggest free agent bargains in recent memory, Mathis had a run blocking grade three times better than that of any other player at his position. About as impressive a guard as you’re likely to see, Mathis rarely makes mistakes and does the little things so well he’s a pleasure to watch. He had to be so good to beat out another fine year from Nicks.
Center: Chris Myers, Houston Texans
Second Team: Nick Mangold, New York Jets
A good end to the year saw Mangold almost overtake Myers for the first team spot. As it is Myers held on and had a collection of the best center displays of the year. Special mention to the much improved John Sullivan who, but for his struggles against Chicago, had a real shot of making it.
Right Guard: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
Second Team: Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers
One year after making the second team as a tackle, Yanda shows his versatility by putting in another excellent year at his natural position. Yanda is the kind of guard who can be left one on one with any defender and hold up, it’s very rare you can say that. There was plenty of debate that almost saw Brian Waters selected, but in the end we stuck in the corner of Sitton because he’s made a bigger impact in the Packers run game.
Right Tackle: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Second Team: Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers
There may not have been another position we spent nearly as long on as right tackle. Smith got the nod for the first team despite giving up eight sacks. We deemed this number was harsh on a player who gave up just one QB hit and 21 hurries. Just don’t let him go one on one with Jason Babin again as he tortured him. The second spot came down to Bulaga and Winston, and while neither man pulled away from the other, Winston just missed out because of his nine penalties.
4-3 Defensive Ends: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens & Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Second Team: Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles & Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
It was near impossible to leave Cole out of the first team given how well he played, but missing time meant we gave the nod to Allen in his incredible year and Suggs. The only real dilemma with Suggs was where to list him. After banging the ‘he’s a 4-3 DE drum’ he’s got a lot closer to the 3-4 OLB side of things to the point he plays like a true hybrid DE/ OLB. Still plays with his hand in the ground more but only just. JPP made it to the second team for his excellent finish and knack of making big plays to pull away from John Abraham.
4-3 Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals & Brodrick Bunkley, Denver Broncos
Second Team: Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders & Alan Branch, Seattle Seahawks
This selection just felt right for everyone and provided a moment of harmony for all analysts. Atkins, the most productive pass rushing defensive tackle, is partnered by Bunkley, the DT who has the highest percentage of stops in the run game relative to the amount of snaps he played. He may not have a huge rep but what Bunkley did to Nick Mangold may go down as one of the best individual displays of the season. Branch had the kind of year no one saw coming as he was a continual nuissant for the Seahawks, even outplaying Brandon Mebane. That meant the last spot came down to Seymour and Kevin Williams, and we managed to look past the penalties of Seymour to recognize the huge impact he made on the field.
4-3 Outside Linebackers: Von Miller, Denver Broncos & Daryl Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars
Second Team: Erin Henderson, Minnesota Vikings & Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons
The first team selections of Miller and Smith were unanimous, even if a late season slump may have made many forget just how good Miller was for the majority of the year. Henderson isn’t on the radar of many, especially as a two down linebacker, but his play was so good it’s hard not to imagine some clever team giving him more than the Vikings can and get him on the field for every snap. He’s joined by Weatherspoon on the second team after a year as good as his rookie one was disappointing.
4-3 Middle Linebacker: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Second Team: Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions
It was near impossible choosing between the two men above and the unfortunate Paul Posluszny. Lewis is getting some flak for failing to set the world alight since returning from injury, but what happened to giving people some time to work their way back? He was exceptional before that injury. Tulloch has filled in a lot of holes in a Detroit defense that often sees their defensive line way up field.
3-4 Defensive Ends: Justin Smith & Ray McDonald, San Francisco 49ers
Second Team: Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals & J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
There was never any doubt that Smith would make this team, and this won’t be the only accolade we throw his way this year. I don’t think I’m stepping on anyone’s toes to say Smith has been the best defensive player in the entire NFL this year. That’s put McDonald somewhat in the shadow, but the former situational player just edged out Campbell to a spot on the AP team on the back of his more balanced play. The last spot went the way of Watt who’s more disruptive nature got him in ahead of the bearded wonder, Brett Keisel.
3-4 Nose Tackle: Sione Pouha, New York Jets
Second Team: Jay Ratliff, Dallas Cowboys
When you look at some of the most dominant players in the NFL you rarely hear the name Sione Pouha. You should because ever since the Jet was made a starter after Kris Jenkins going down he’s become the most dominant nose tackle in the league with this year his best. Ratliff isn’t the run defender Pouha is, but does offer something else to the 2nd team with his ability to generate pressure. Outside of these two you’re hard pressed to find any nose tackles who have really impressed.
3-4 Outside Linebackers: Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins & DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
Second Team: Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers & Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
We gave some thought to Aldon Smith but given there is no ‘situational pass rusher’ role we had to pass. Instead we’re left with the quite excellent duo of Wake and Ware on the first team, with Wake earning our highest grade of any 3-4 OLB. It dumbfounded the entire team how little people have mentioned his name this year given the consistent pressure he’s been getting. Matthews makes the second team despite only getting six sacks. There is more to his role than sacks; dropping into coverage more than most OLBs and still recording an incredible amount of pressure.
3-4 Inside Linebacker: NaVorro Bowman & Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Second Team: Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs & Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
Four men who each had us championing their cause in one of the hardest positions to decide. The combo of Bowman and Willis, particularly their work in coverage, put them just in front of the excellent Johnson, and big play Cushing. As well stocked a position as there is in the league.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis, New York Jets & Johanthan Joseph, Houston Texans
Slot Cornerback: Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans
Second Team: Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens & Chris Gamble, Carolina Panthers
Second Team Slot CB: Carlos Rogers, San Francisco 49ers
Revis was a slam dunk pick, and after selecting the Jet we put ourselves in a position of needing another guy capable of matching up with any receiver one on one. Joseph, who has had a tremendous year, is that guy. The second team almost found room for the excellent Brent Grimes, but missing so much time ended up costing him his spot, while the slot cornerback roles picked themselves given Finnegans’ strong season and Rogers pedestrian second half to the year.
Free Safety: Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
Second Team: Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
So close between the first and second team players that tossing a coin was thrown about as a way of splitting them. In the end Weddle’s superior interception count worked in his favor, with the two comparable in almost every way. The development of Byrd has been phenomenal. Overrated rookie, to underrated star safety. He should be proud of his transformation.
Strong Safety: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Second Team: Adrian Wilson, Arizona Cardinals
The most worrying thing for all teams in the AFC? How well Polamalu is playing right now. As well as ever, and with the kind of intensity that makes you think he’s got one or two game changing plays in him. Wilson hasn’t received the credit for his play this year, with his performance too closely linked to his pass rushing statistics. He is a safety you know, and he’s become a more complete player the older he’s got.
Kicker: David Akers, San Francisco 49ers
Second Team: Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders
Maybe Janikowski could have made a run at the first team if not for injury, but Akers has had a remarkable year.
Punter: Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers
Second Team: Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders
It was hard to leave out Britton Colquitt, but the consistency of Lee and his impact on the 49ers team couldn’t be ignored. In similar fashion Lechler had some big games so Colquitt just misses out.
Kick Returner: Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
Second Team: Joe McKnight, New York Jets
McKnight’s poor second half of the year let Sproles move past him.
Punt Returner: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Second Team: Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
You can’t underscore the impact Peterson had as a punt returner and it’s quantified by his four touchdowns. Hester doesn’t have the luxury of getting as many punts kicked to him and you need to factor that in when breaking his play down – yet he still managed two touchdowns.
Special Teamer: Heath Farwell, Seattle Seahawks
Second Team: Corey Graham, Chicago Bears
Farwell led the league in special teams tackles, while Graham finished five behind (and does a great job as a gunner downing punts).