If you haven’t already checked out our AFC squad I’d recommend you go here to ensure you have all my caveats and get-outs logged before sending me dozens of emails about Justin Smith not being at DT, etc.
Anyway, now suitably protected by small print, let’s move on to the NFC squad.
NFC Offense (starter’s name first)
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers (GB), Eli Manning (NYG) and Matt Ryan (ATL)
After back-to-back games against the Texans and Rams that were every bit as good as any two games you’re likely to see, who else would you expect to see leading this unit. As well as Manning is playing, it almost seems as if he really doesn’t want to show too much until the game is on the line. Maybe he just likes the challenge and having a decent offensive line in front of him for a change is taking away the thrill.
Halfbacks: Adrian Peterson (MIN), Marshawn Lynch (SEA) and Frank Gore (SF)
It almost felt disrespectful to not have Peterson as our NFC Starter last year because of his injury and subsequent missed games — 2.9 yards after contact, 23 tackles avoided and all is right again with the world. That said, Lynch is doing his level-best to make things difficult. His identical average yards post contact and 27 missed tackles means only Peterson’s superior skills as a receiver are separating the pair.
Wide Receivers: Percy Harvin (MIN), Roddy White (ATL), Vincent Jackson (TB) and Brandon Marshall (CHI)
The ‘Most Explosive Player in FootballTM ’ is as dangerous a player as there is in football when he gets his hands on the ball. He’s avoided 20 tackles — the next best WR has nine. The hardest fought battle across both squads was for the fourth WR berth. In the end it went to Marshall, although I’d have zero issues with anyone slipping the name of Victor Cruz (NYG) on their ballot in his place.
Fullback: Henry Hynoski (NYG)
Kevin Gilbride does like a fullback, and as Hynoski has shown he’s worthy of the job he’s been rewarded with extra snaps. He’s now averaging 41% of all plays and doing a fine job with them as a traditional lead blocker.
Tight Ends: Vernon Davis (SF) and Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
Of all the tight ends in the league, Davis probably has the most all-around talent and that makes it all the more annoying when he fails to make use of it. This year he’s doing everything at a high level, including not giving away a single penalty. Almost as frustrating as watching Davis for the last few years is listening to another commentator tell us what a great blocker Gonzalez is — “no” I scream at the TV, “he used to be”. Now he’s a fabulous receiver that got his selection in this group because colleague Khaled Elsayed persuaded me his skills in the passing game outweighed his negatives. He is right, but I still like Greg Olsen (Car) who’s made a decent fist of his blocking in 2012.
Tackles: Trent Williams (WAS), Todd Herremans (PHI) and Joe Staley (SF)
Balance was the key to Williams over Staley at left tackle. Of the tackle position, only Joe Thomas (back in 2009) has graded as well as a run blocker as Staley — he may even set a new PFF standard that will be hard for anyone else to beat. When it came down to it, for the time being at least, William’s superior pass protection numbers got him our job. It will be interesting to see how this one progresses.
Guards: Mike Iupati (SF), Alex Boone (SF) and Evan Mathis (PHI)
Our all-49er guard combination is the most dominant pairing since Carl Nicks and Jahari Evans drove the Saints to Super Bowl glory in 2009. Among guards, their run blocking ranks second and third, with only Marshal Yanda grading higher. Not one trick ponies, they’ve both put in solid pass pro numbers too. That’s something they’ve got in common with backup Mathis, who’s just struggling a little with penalties this year — his four being the same number as he gave up in the whole of 2011.
Centers: John Sullivan (MIN) and Jonathan Goodwin (SF)
After shocking all the PFF analysts with his breakout season in 2011 after years of mediocrity, Sullivan is going out of his way to prove it was no fluke. Although he struggled with his protection a little against the Cardinals last week, his run blocking has been improving week on week. After a mixed season for the Saints in 2010, Goodwin also took time to find his feet in San Francisco. Now, along with the rest of the line, he’s showing just how good he really is.
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