2012 PFF All-AFC East Team
The format is simple. Finding 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 East, and links to the others as they are released:
Quarterback: Tom Brady (NE)
We get things started with a real easy selection. I mean, as much promise as Ryan Tannehill showed, Brady waltzed to this with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez as competition. For the year, Brady ranked third overall in our quarterback rankings, averaging a healthy 8 yards per attempt, and walking away with 26 more touchdowns than interceptions. Well done.
Running Back: C.J. Spiller (BUF)
It wasn’t his fault he received only 207 carries. However, he can take full responsibility for making the most of those carries, ending the year with a league leading 94.6 Elusive Rating after forcing 66 missed tackles from his 250 touches of the ball.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski (NE)
Injury meant we didn’t see quite as much of Gronkowski this year, but that didn’t stop him earning All-Pro honors from us while finishing the year our top ranked tight end. A weapon who chips in with some quality blocking.
Wide Receivers: Wes Welker (NE), Brian Hartline (MIA) and Stevie Johnson (BUF)
We wanted to put a fullback in here, but there really wasn’t one in this division that either played enough, or played well enough. That made life a lot easier for us, going with Hartline and Johnson, with Welker working from the slot. All three ranked in our Top 30 for receiving grades by wide outs, and each of them put in a 1,000 yard season.
Tackles: D’Brickashaw Ferguson (NYJ) and Sebastian Vollmer (NE)
Ferguson went 13 weeks without giving up a sack, and ended the year our sixth ranked left tackle to hold off a spirited challenge from sophomore Nate Solder. There was less competition for the right tackle spot, with our Second Team All-Pro Vollmer being an easy choice.
Guards: Andy Levitre (BUF) and Brandon Moore (NYJ)
There was a legitimate case for both Richie Incognito and Logan Mankins here. As good as Levitre was in pass protection (and he was very good), he really failed to consistently get much movement in the run game. In the end though, his competition just didn’t do enough to oust him. At right guard, Moore finished the season playing as well as any lineman, ending the year our third ranked right guard.
Center: Nick Mangold (NYJ)
How did Mike Pouncey not end up the starter? For the longest time he was on top of our center rankings, but a real rocky end to the year, combined with Mangold finding his best form, meant the Jet earned the nod.
Defensive Ends: Cameron Wake (MIA) and Chandler Jones (NE)
While Mario Williams was a disappointment in his first year with the Bills, he nearly got himself in on the back of some strong run work. He didn’t make it because you need your defensive ends to get pressure. In that regard there isn’t many better than Wake, who led the entire league with 87 quarterback disruptions. Jones sealed his selection in Week 17 after a mid-season, injury-assisted slump slowed him down.
Defensive Tackle: Kyle Williams (BUF) and Muhammed Wilkerson (NYJ)
A controversial decision here with Vince Wilfork missing out. While he was dominant at times, there weren’t many games Williams or Wilkerson didn’t have their way with interior linemen. The more complete player of the two is the Bill, whose relentless play results in plenty of pressure (45 quarterback disruptions, ranking third among all defensive tackles). Wilkerson plays as a defensive end for the Jets in their 3-4 alignment, but the way he can get off interior blocks is something to behold. He had 46 defensive stops in the run game, second among all defensive linemen.
Linebackers: Jerod Mayo (NE), Karlos Dansby (MIA) and Kevin Burnett (MIA)
If not for two outstanding years from the Dolphins’ duo it would have been very easy for this to be a clean sweep. As it is, Mayo, a First Team PFF All-Pro, is the only Patriot to make it after finishing the year behind only Von Miller in our 4-3 outside linebacker rankings. That was one spot higher than Burnett, who stepped up his play this year. In the middle, Dansby chiefly got the nod over Brandon Spikes for his every-down play.
Cornerbacks: Devin McCourty (NE) and Antonio Cromartie (NYJ)
The beauty of Devin McCourty is he excelled at two positions this year, and has now made various PFF teams as either a cornerback or safety. In this team he gets the nod at cornerback, though we don’t mean to undermine how well Alfonzo Dennard has played. Cromartie was an easy choice, putting in the best year of his career and really stepping up after Darrelle Revis went down hurt.
Safeties: Jairus Byrd (BUF) and Reshad Jones (MIA)
Byrd is going to be paid a lot of money, and very soon. There aren’t many ballhawking safeties like the Bill, who has the kind of range that should scare quarterbacks for years to come. He had our highest coverage grade of all safeties and was ranked second overall this year. That’s one spot above Jones, who missed too many tackles in the second half of the year, but became a real playmaker for Miami.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski (NE)
We’ve seen better years from Gostkowski, who edged out Dan Carpenter.
Punter: Brandon Fields (MIA)
Fields had a fine year to finish fifth in our punter rankings in what was a big year for big punts.
Returner: Leodis McKelvin (BUF)
It could very easily have been Marcus Thigpen, with the two men one and two in our returner rankings.
Special Teamer: Olivier Vernon (MIA)
Vernon made plays in all phases of special team play in 2012.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled