The format is simple. Select 11 guys to start on offense and defense with four more on special teams to field as strong a starting unit as possible for a division.
Here’s the NFC West, and links to the others:
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (SEA)
Was there ever any doubt? On the evidence of his debut season in the NFL Wilson is already among the best quarterbacks in the league, finishing sixth overall in our QB rankings. What a year for him and Seahawks fans.
Running Back: Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
We saw plenty of ‘Beast Mode’ this year, with Lynch breaking 58 tackles on his 315 rushes. That was enough to earn him our fourth-highest rushing grade, even if the fumbles are something of a concern.
Fullback: Bruce Miller (SF)
With all due respect to Michael Robinson, Miller is the best lead blocker in this division.
Tight End: Zach Miller (SEA)
Tough on Vernon Davis to miss out here this season. He had an excellent first half of the year, but couldn’t keep his high level of blocking up, while his role in the passing game decreased. Instead, Miller made the most of what balls went his way and made himself a significant part of the Seahawks’ running game.
Wide Receivers: Michael Crabtree (SF) and Sidney Rice (SEA)
It’s fair to say that Danny Amendola would have made this team with more playing time, while Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t given a fair shot to make the team with some truly horrible quarterback play holding him back. Instead, this was the year where Seattle got a return on their investment in Rice, while Crabtree finally looked like the player he was drafted to be.
Tackles: Joe Staley (SF) and Anthony Davis (SF)
Staley put in the best year of his career and had to, otherwise the superior pass blocking of Russell Okung would have kept him out. Instead, his out of this world excellence in the run game made him a second team All Pro tackle for us. He’s joined by his teammate Davis who delivered in his third season for the 49ers.
Guards: Mike Iupati (SF) and Alex Boone (SF)
No doubt here, with both 49ers guards featuring in the top at their respective positions in our rankings. They are at times liable to give up pressure, and Iupati’s 10 penalties are too many, but you won’t find a better pair of run blocking guards.
Center: Max Unger (SEA)
Someone had to break up the 49ers offensive line monopoly and Unger was that man. That’s no real fault of Jonathan Goodwin, who had himself a good year, but Unger was in a league of his own, earning Second Team All Pro honors from us.
Defensive Line: Calais Campbell (ARZ), Brandon Mebane (SEA) and Justin Smith (SF)
We’ve opted for a 3-4 front here and the man in the middle is Mebane, who spends most of his day lined up across from the center. He’s a nuisance in the run game even if he didn’t keep up his hot start to the year. Outside him, it was something of a down year for Justin Smith by his high standards but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a force in the run game. Much like Calais Campbell, who actually graded higher than Smith did this season.
Outside Linebackers: Chris Clemons (SEA) and Aldon Smith (SF)
Clemons was at times something of a liability in the run game. He more than made up for that by consistently generating pressure, ending the year with our fourth-highest pass rushing grade of all 4-3 defensive ends. The Seahawks’ scheme sees him lined up at outside linebacker more than enough. Smith got more hype than warranted for his sacks, but that’s not to say that he was a slouch in any regard. Coped exceptionally well with the every-down role he was asked to fill.
Inside Linebackers: Patrick Willis (SF) and Bobby Wagner (SEA)
It’s almost not fair having to pick two from four. Daryl Washington and NaVorro Bowman both had big years, but in the end we went with Willis and Wagner. Why? Well, Willis is a better all-around player than any linebacker, making plays in coverage that most simply aspire to. Wagner’s superior tackling helped get him the nod over Washington, for whom 18 missed tackles were too many.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman (SEA) and Patrick Peterson (ARZ)
Tarell Brown might feel hard done by not to make this team, but you can’t ignore Sherman or Peterson. Sherman was our top ranked cornerback on the year, and decided with Darrelle Revis out he was going to make his (convincing) case to be the best cornerback in football. Outdone by this, Peterson did however take a big leap forward. He was one of the few cornerbacks in the league who could man up with any receiver and not be made to pay for it.
Safeties: Quintin Mikell (SL) and Kerry Rhodes (ARZ)
Mikell delivered on his big deal (a year too late for some), attacking ballcarriers and really excelling as a blitzing back. Rhodes did things a little differently, but with four picks and six pass break ups had his best year in Arizona.
Kicker: Greg Zuerlein (SL)
Missed eight kicks, but then six of those were from over 50. Fine rookie year.
Punter: Andy Lee (SF)
A true weapon in the punting game.
Returner: Leon Washington (SEA)
Washington remains one of the best punt returners in the league.
Special Teamer: Heath Farwell (SEA)
Consistently productive on special teams in 2012.
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