2012 PFF All-Pro Team
A full season of 256 games. Can they really have come and gone already?
They have and we’ve seen some truly tremendous performances. Our grading system has been stretched like never before as players have put in the kind of seasons that will live long in the memory.
It makes announcing the Pro Football Focus All-Pro Team a real delight.
This selection comes from watching every player, at every position, comparing them against their peers and then having a good old fashioned discussion among the analysts to determine who warranted inclusion.
So shall we get to it?
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (DEN)
We weren’t the only ones to wonder if Peyton Manning would be anything like the player he once was. Incredibly, he’s come back and looks better than ever. With more talent around him than than he has had in the past Manning has been exceptional. He leads our grading for quarterbacks by some distance.
Second Team: Aaron Rodgers (GB) – He just edges out Tom Brady due to his stronger finish to the year.
Running Back: Adrian Peterson (MIN)
There are 2,097 reasons why this was the easiest choice we had to make. With a reconstructed knee Peterson, who welcomed some improved run blocking, looked better than ever on his way to a season for the ages.
Second Team: C.J. Spiller (BUF) – In the end Spiller received the nod over Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris with the only negative being in how poorly he was used.
Fullback: Vonta Leach (BAL)
The gold standard by which lead blockers are judged, Leach is the consummate, punishing full back who really contributes to his teams running game.
Second Team: Marcel Reece (OAK) – There may have been better blockers, although Reece is good in that regard, but he was our choice primarily because of how much a weapon he is in all facets of play.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski (NE)
The only thing that was going to keep Gronkowski out was his injury, but the performance in Week 17 eliminated even that argument. The Patriot is, by some distance, the best tight end in the NFL. He blocks well, gets open all over the field, and spikes like few can. He led our tight end rankings for the second year and it’s hard to look past him going forward.
Second Team: Jason Witten (DAL) – There was talk of the pure receiving ability of Tony Gonzalez getting him in but Witten is a far better all round package.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson (DET)
His receiving record became somewhat anticlimactic because of the quantity of garbage time yardage. However, you have to respect the fact that Johnson overcame so much attention, a Madden curse, and an erratic quarterback to completely dominate the opposition. A tremendous all around talent.
Second Team: Brandon Marshall (CHI) – His best year as a Pro as Marshall put all the talk behind him and simply delivered.
Wide Receiver: Andre Johnson (HST)
It didn’t start off so well for Johnson, but as teams keyed in a little more on the Texans running game they went back to old faithful and boy did he deliver. He ended the year with the highest overall grade among wide receivers, becoming easily the most reliable player on the Texans offense.
Second Team: Vincent Jackson (TB) – Really delivered in his first year in Tampa Bay making all round him look better.
Third Receiver: Reggie Wayne (IND)
Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks? Wayne spent his entire career as an outside receiver, lining up in the slot 263 times between 2009 and 2011 and then 422 times this year. Working in new areas of the field saw him become a crucial safety valve for Andrew Luck, finishing second overall in our wide receiver rankings.
Second Team: A.J. Green (CIN) – We toyed with the idea of making this slot centric, but it would have been wrong to rob A.J. Green who got the nod over Roddy White.
Left Tackle: Duane Brown (HST)
Which way would we go? Would we go one of the four guys out there (Andrew Whitworth, Joe Thomas, Michael Roos and Ryan Clady) who are elite pass protectors but don’t get much movement in the run game? Ultimately no. We wanted linemen who prevent pressure and contribute to their teams rushing attack. Thus Brown was the obvious choice, doing a fine job in pass protection and being an impact player in the run game.
Second Team: Joe Staley (SF) – Once we decided we wanted all round tackles the best run blocker at his position in the league Staley had this place sown up.
Left Guard: Evan Mathis (PHI)
In the highlight driven world in which we live, many people seem to like like guards who pancake people on occasion, regardless of what they do on the other 1000+ plays. We like them doing whatever it takes to block guys consistently, play in play out. In that regard there isn’t a player in the league close to Mathis.
Second Team: Mike Iupati (SF) – If you are however looking for a mauling guard then we’ve got you covered with, the at times, downright vicious, Iupati.
Center: John Sullivan (MIN)
It was a crime that the leagues’ best center Sullivan wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl. He’s a big part of the success the teams rushing game has had and one of the few centers who can handle any type of guy lined up over him. What a player.
Second Team: Max Unger (SEA) – didn’t give up a sack this year and yet it was his run blocking that really stood out.
Right Guard: Marshal Yanda (BAL)
There aren’t many offensive linemen who year after year can be relied upon to deliver at an elite level particularly once they’ve been paid. Yanda is certainly one of them and once again he finished the year as our top ranked right guard.
Second Team: Alex Boone (SF) – A big part of the 49ers offensive improvement was Boone coming in at right guard with some fantastic run blocking.
Right Tackle: Andre Smith (CIN)
We’re not going to ignore the right tackles in the league and with that in mind Andre Smith simply had to get first team honors. The best RT in football in 2012, Smith cut out the lapses (minus that game against Brandon Graham) and was a real bully in the run game.
Second Team: Sebastian Vollmer (NE) – One of the more heated discussions came when Vollmer was selected over Anthony Davis. Both played exceptionally well with the work of Vollmer in pass protection getting him the selection.
In order to ensure the best players get a fair shake we’ve opted to create our own version of a 4-3 defense treating 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends as “Edge Rushers” and all defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends as the “Defensive Interior”.
Edge Defender: Cameron Wake (MIA)
What you want from an edge rusher is someone who can get pressure. In that respect why would you look any further than Cameron Wake? With 87 quarterback disruptions and some understated work in the run game, Wake was comfortably our top ranked 4-3 defensive end.
Second Team: Clay Matthews (GB) – With Matthews missing time you got to see how badly the Packers defense missed him and what he brings to when he’s on the field. He’s dominant on such a high percentage of downs we couldn’t look elsewhere.
Edge Defender: Von Miller (DEN)
See what we did here? Miller plays the 4-3 outside linebacker role but any player who rushes the passer on 75.9% of drop-backs (the next 4-3 OLB was 29%) is an edge rusher in our book. As hard to block as any player in the league, Miller ended the year with 86 quarterback disruptions and 15 tackles for loss (not including sacks). Truly a beast of a player.
Second Team: Aldon Smith (SF) – Smith got to the quarterback an awful lot but in productivity terms he wasn’t the best. For him to be on the first team we’d need to see more consistent pressure, or better work in the run game.
Defensive Interior: J.J. Watt (HST)
What can you say about the year Watt had? He led the league in tackles for a loss (22), had 76 quarterback disruptions, and had a defensive stop on 17.2% of all defensive plays he was in on. Oh, and he set a record for batted passes with 15. The stats don’t do justice to his dominance.
Second Team: Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ) – When you watch Wilkerson you see a guy who just keeps on shedding blocks to make plays, a really dominant run defender without sacrificing pass rush, he just edges out Calais Campbell.
Defensive Interior: Geno Atkins (CIN)
If you don’t know a lot about Geno Atkins then literally put on a tape of any Bengals game this year. You won’t be disappointed. Our top ranked defensive tackle, Atkins is relentless in wearing down and working over interior linemen. The new owner of the highest overall grade we’ve ever given to a defensive tackle.
Second Team: Gerald McCoy (TB) – It was close between McCoy and Kyle Williams but our second overall defensive tackle just won out on the basis of being slightly more consistent and playing 150 more snaps.
Outside Linebacker: Jerod Mayo (NE)
In the past we’ve shouted from the rooftops how overrated Mayo has been. However, he’s taken a big step forward this year with some strikingly consistent play that saw him finish the year our No. 2 ranked 4-3 outside linebacker.
Second Team: Kevin Burnett (MIA) – Burnett became the player Miami paid him to be with a year worthy of All Pro consideration.
Middle Linebacker: Patrick Willis (SF)
Willis is capable of playing any linebacker spot and playing it well. You don’t finish as our top ranked inside linebacker without having some serious skills, and Willis has used this year to reinforce his claim to being the greatest linebacker currently in the game.
Second Team: Bobby Wagner (SEA) – The Seahawks couldn’t keep him off the field for long (four games coming out in nickel) and he turned his every down role into the highest grade of all 4-3 middle linebackers.
Outside Linebacker: Derrick Johnson (KC)
A lot of time was spent on this pick with the decision being that in the end Johnson could quite easily revert to the outside linebacker role where he made his name for the Chiefs. A superb run defender, his ability to hunt down ball carriers is second to none.
Second Team: Daryl Washington (ARZ) – Much to the dismay of some, Washington edged out NaVorro Bowman with his greater playmaking ability(e.g. two more sacks than Jason Pierre-Paul) being the clincher.
Cornerback: Richard Sherman (SEA)
So just how exactly did Sherman not make the Pro Bowl? No mind because he’s an All Pro first teamer in our eyes. Led our cornerback rankings and displayed a feel for the ball like few others at his position. He ended the season with eight picks and a further 15 pass break ups.
Second Team: Antonio Cromartie (NYJ) – Cromartie came out of the shadow of Darrelle Revis and responded with his best season as a pro. He matched up with the opposition’s best and won more often than not.
Cornerback: Charles Tillman (CHI)
The man who just kept forcing fumbles probably doesn’t get his due for how talented a cover corner he is. If you don’t believe us look at how little damage Calvin Johnson did when the Bear was tracking him. Tillman rarely lets anything or anyone go over the top of him.
Second Team: Champ Bailey (DEN) – The more we thought about it the more the job Bailey does covering a team’s top receiver goes underappreciated. A tight selection with Tim Jennings and Chris Harris both earning consideration here.
Slot Cornerback: Casey Hayward (GB)
What a year from the rookie who was more than just a guy who picked off balls. Hayward finished the season with our second highest coverage grade among cornerbacks. He allowed just 44.6% of balls into his coverage to be completed and deflected another 12 passes. By the way he also didn’t give up a touchdown or a penalty all year.
Second Team: Antoine Winfield (MIN) – As good a run defending corner as you’ll ever find. Winfield proved himself pretty handy in coverage as well, not giving up any touchdowns and allowing just 9.6 yards per attempt at balls thrown into his coverage.
Free Safety: Jairus Byrd (BUF)
There isn’t a better deep safety in football than Byrd who picked up five interceptions and only allowed 16 catches all year into his coverage. Byrd has rare range and ability and it’s always on display.
Second Team: Devin McCourty (NE) – He was good at cornerback and then he was good at free safety. We had to find a space for him and this was the most logical position.
Strong Safety: Eric Weddle (SD)
Weddle is a truly complete safety, capable of lining up deep or coming into the box to affect plays. Shows rare instinct for the game, sniffing out plays before they start and breaking on balls that helped him to three picks.
Second Team: Reshad Jones (MIA) – Jones let himself down a little as he went on a missed tackle splurge in the second half of the year. However, his constant ability to keep on making plays meant his grades never suffered unduly.
Kicker: Blair Walsh (MIN)
Walsh incredibly nailed all 10 of his kicks from 50 or longer and displayed a tremendous leg on kickoffs as well.
Second Team: Phil Dawson (CLE) – In the past we’ve been guilty of leaning on stats with special teams positions and ignored the tremendous work Dawson has managed this year in often difficult conditions.
Punter: Thomas Morstead (NO)
The team spent a lot of time deciding this one before opting for the consistently excellent punting of Morstead.
Second Team: Dustin Colquitt (KC) – The Chief won a secret ballot over Andy Lee, Pat McAfee and Donnie Jones. Great year for punting overall.
Returner: Jacoby Jones (BAL)
We wanted guys who could return punts and kickoffs and make teams hurt for kicking it to him. Step forward Jacoby Jones, a true difference maker.
Second Team: Leodis McKelvin (BUF) – While he was just picked over Marcus Thigpen here, before missing time, McKelvin had a very real shot at first team honors .
Special Teamer: Ashlee Palmer (DET)
The team didn’t just wanted someone who just made tackles and little else. We were looking for usage across the various facets of special teams plays and someone who was extremely active. Palmer fitted both criteria.
Second Team: Johnson Bademosi (CLE) – He narrowly missed out to Palmer but he was a player who really impressed our team.