From NFC Mess to NFC Best, the West is home to the most competitive division in all of football. The division houses two heavyweight hitters in the shape of Seattle and San Francisco, as well as an Arizona team that was unlucky to miss the playoffs, and a Rams outfit that gave more than a few teams a tricky time. Making a team of the year from these four was always going to see some quality players left out.
As it is, the defense is, as you’d expect, filled with 49ers and Seahawks but there’s ample representation across the team for both the Rams and Cardinals so let’s see who made our All-NFC West team.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (SEA)
He started, and finished, slowly but Wilson built on his rookie year to make the throws that were needed of him. His 3,357 yards won’t wow you but the Seahawks’ offense is built on the end result and not the journey to get there, while his ability to make plays with his legs adds a whole different dimension to an offense that can struggle at the point of attack.
Running Back: Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
75 defenders were left grasping at air or face first on the turf as Lynch led the league in broken tackles. There’s a reason they call him Beast Mode. Extremely impressive output with the Seahawks’ line a complete mess at the start of the year.
Running Back: Andre Ellington (ARZ)
Ellington is a special weapon and that’s how this team fit him in. He averaged a league high 5.5 yards per carry as he turned nearly every touch into a productive player for the Cardinals. Capable of lining up all over the formation he added an element of unpredictability that has been sorely missing from recent Arizona offenses.
Tight End: Vernon Davis (SF)
Davis is one of those rare tight ends who is not only a mismatch as a receiver, but a competent in-line blocker. He earned a positive grade in every area of his game and with 13 touchdowns showed just what kind of threat he is catching the ball.
Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin (SF) and Michael Floyd (ARZ)
Boldin might not be the best at getting open, but he’s so good in close quarters that it often doesn’t matter. As physical a wide receiver as there is. Floyd edges out his teammate Larry Fitzgerald, showing off a habit of spectacular grabs and plenty of good work after the catch.
Tackles: Joe Staley (SF) and Anthony Davis (SF)
We went with two 49ers here, with Staley a lock once Jake Long went down and Davis edging out the surprisingly reliable play of tge Rans’ Joe Barksdale. They weren’t as good as their 2012 selves, but still good enough that Staley would finish sixth overall among all left tackles and Davis 12th among right tackles.
Guards: Mike Iupati (SF) and Rodger Saffold (SL)
We expected more from this division. Which is to say we expected more from the 49ers’ duo after their mauling displays of 2012. It just didn’t happen this year but Iupati still did enough when you consider his competition included a rotation policy of ineptitude in Seattle, an inconsistent Daryn Colledge, and perennial disappointment Chris Williams. On the right side, Saffold didn’t spend a lot of time at guard but his play was leagues ahead of the rest.
Center: Jonathan Goodwin (SF)
After his breakout year Max Unger came back down to earth as the Seahawks tried a variety of combinations next to him. That left the door wide open for Goodwin to take this award.
Defensive Tackles: Calais Campbell (ARZ) and Brandon Mebane (SEA)
He was a little slow to start the year but once the engine got revved up Campbell displayed some of that top level talent to finish second overall in our 3-4 defensive end rankings. It’s been fun to watch this pass rushing phenomenon become a complete player. Next to him, Mebane may just be a two-down player but the Seahawks have managed him so well that it seems he’s making a play every snap he’s on the field. One of the trickiest players in the league to deal with.
Defensive Ends: Robert Quinn (SL) and Michael Bennett (SEA)
Quinn set a new record for 4-3 defensive ends with his +77.2 grade that was built on destroying bad tackles, and making good ones look very average. His special talent really shone through. On the other side, the versatile Michael Bennett was the steal of free agency and it’s hard to imagine him not getting what he deserves this year.
Linebackers: Karlos Dansby (ARZ), NaVorro Bowman (SF) and Patrick Willis (SF)
Quite the talent to choose from him. Dansby had a point to prove after being let go by Miami and boy did he prove it with a huge year, particularly in coverage with an excellent four picks and 10 pass breakups. Joining him is the 49ers’ duo where Willis continues to be the most complete linebacker in the game and Bowman really brought the blitz in a way you just don’t expect from linebackers. That Daryl Washington or no one from Seattle made this unit shows just how stacked the division is at this position.
Cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson (ARZ) and Richard Sherman (SEA)
Peterson and Sherman were our All-Pro second-team duo and there’s no reason they wouldn’t make this list. The Cardinals’ Peterson is one of the few corners in the league to have success tracking a team’s top receiver, while Sherman is a quarterback’s nightmare, with the lowest QB rating in the league throwing into his coverage.
Safeties: Earl Thomas (SEA) and Donte Whitner (SF)
Few safeties have the kind of range that Thomas has and while he can at times see that get him out of position, his playmaking allows the Seahawks to do all sorts of things with their coverage unit. As for Whitner, he’s a player who really turned it around in 2013. A coverage weak spot in 2012 who gave up far too many touchdowns, that’s not the case now as his best work was done in coverage.
Kicker: Steven Haschuka (SEA)
Just two misses all year and some excellent kickoff work.
Punter: Johnny Hekker (SL)
Finished second in our punter rankings with some booming kicks.
Returner: Golden Tate (SEA)
A real weapon on punt returns where he had the highest grade of any player.
Special Teamer: Justin Bethel (ARZ)
There isn’t another special teamer in the league like Bethel. Our top ranked of any player.
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