The format is simple. Find 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 AFC South, and links to the others:
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (IND)
A pick we went back and forth on. In the end Matt Schaub has been disappointing in the second half of the season, and while you get more mistakes from Luck you also get someone capable of bringing your team back from the dead.
Running Back: Arian Foster (HOU)
It wasn’t the best year we’ve seen from Foster, who you feel was worked a little too hard early on. Also his work in the passing game was more often than not a bit disappointing. Still, he seemed refreshed in Week 17 and his 15 touchdowns show a real knack for the end zone.
Fullback: Greg Jones (JAX)
Jones is a real lead blocker, and that’s enough to earn him this selection even though James Casey is a weapon with the ball in hand.
Tight End: Dwayne Allen (IND)
If you want a pure receiver you take Owen Daniels and don’t look back. He’s unmatched in this category however he’s a poor blocker. Colts TE Dwayne Allen already looks like an every down tight end capable of doing it all. That pushed Marcedes Lewis into a reserve role despite a quietly decent year.
Wide Receivers: Andre Johnson (HOU) and Reggie Wayne (IND)
To think people wrote off Reggie Wayne. Shame on them. Reinventing himself as a player who could line up anywhere, he responded by becoming the safety blanket Andrew Luck needed. Johnson, who finished the year with our highest grade of all wide receivers, started off slow but then struck down any concerns over age and injury, leading the league in Yards Per Route Run.
Tackles: Duane Brown (HOU) and David Stewart (TEN)
There was some fine tackle play in the division, which means Eugene Monroe and Michael Roos both get overlooked at the left tackle spot. That’s because Brown was so good, holding up (and then some) in pass protection, while excelling in the run game. The right side wasn’t quite as deep in talent, but David Stewart had his usual year of not giving much up in pass pro, while getting little shove in the run game before injury ended his season.
Guards: Wade Smith (HOU) and Uche Nwaneri (JAX)
Let’s be honest. The guard play in this division didn’t ‘wow’ you. Unless it was in a bad way (I’m looking at the Colts duo). Smith has his struggles at times, but does make his share of big blocks, while Nwaneri can really impose himself in the run game, even if he does allow more pressure than you’d like.
Center: Chris Myers (HOU)
It was hard to see Myers not getting this nod at the start of the year, and so it proved despite a spirited challenge from Fernando Velasco. Myers is exceptional at working to the second level.
Edge Defenders: Derrick Morgan (TEN) and Antonio Smith (HOU)
Morgan was the easy choice. Unbeknownst to many, he used 2012 to show why he was selected in the first round, displaying an ability to harass quarterbacks that led to the third-highest Pass Rushing Productivity score of all 4-3 defensive ends. Smith is the kind of talent far more suited to an end role than that of a tackle, constantly one of the most productive pass rushers at his position. Is it cheating to put him in this spot? Perhaps, but considering the other options it was something of an easy choice.
Defensive Tackle: J.J. Watt (HOU) and Jurrel Casey (TEN)
Watt can line up anywhere and for this team that means defensive tackle (though you could very easily turn this unit into a hybrid front). He was our Defensive Player of the Year and if you question that then you really should watch him some time. Joining him, the sophomore Casey has emerged as one of the best run players in the league. Not just a block eater, he gets off them to make plays and finished second in our defensive tackle run defense rankings.
Linebackers: Zach Brown (TEN), Jerrell Freeman (IND) and Akeem Ayers (TEN)
Does this trio scare you? Brown made some plays in coverage, even if he missed more tackles than you’d like. In Indianapolis, Freeman made himself an every-down player and, while at times he had some problems when blockers got hands on him, his first year was a success. We’ve got Ayers here on the one condition that he never drops into coverage. Hopefully the Titans start to realize he has something to offer with his hand in the ground in their nickel package.
Cornerbacks: Kareem Jackson (HOU) and Jason McCourty (TEN)
We’ve seen better from a healthier Johnathan Joseph, which meant some new faces on this team. Jackson may never wash the stink off him after that horrible rookie year, but he finished 2012 with the 11th-highest coverage grade of all cornerbacks. For a while McCourty looked likely to miss out with Alterraun Verner playing so well. However, Verner’s fade down the stretch, and a sixth-overall rank in our cornerback grades for his teammate, ensured McCourty made it.
Safeties: Glover Quin (HOU) and Dwight Lowery (JAX)
Quin gets the nod at strong safety, with his ability to operate in a number of roles vital to the Texans’ defense. Lowery is the guy with more range who has been an excellent pick up for the Jags.
Kicker: Josh Scobee (JAX)
One of these kickers who you can always count on.
Punter: Pat McAfee (IND)
Finished the year our second-ranked punter overall, and did so in significantly less punts than the impressive Donnie Jones.
Returner: Keyshawn Martin (HOU)
Martin has given the Texans good field position all year, though better decision making from Darius Reynauld may have earned him a spot.
Special Teamer: Alan Ball (HOU)
Registered 12 special teams tackles, and recorded positive grades on both coverage units.
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