2014 PFF All-NFC West Team
Seattle won out again, but this time had to overcome the challenge of Arizona not San Francisco to take the division crown. With the Cardinals on an upswing, the 49ers faltering, St. Louis showing signs of life and the Seahawks soon facing roster decisions, things could continue to change in the West, but many of the past standout players were that again in 2014. A balanced group, this All-Division team features at least five players from each NFC West squad.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson (SEA)
Wilson takes this spot for the third year running and this time largely on his legs, his +9.0 grade as a runner topping all QBs. With an average depth of target of 8.2 yards (30th) and just 46% of his passing yards coming before the catch (36th), he looked much more the ‘game manager’ this season.
Running Back: Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
Earning the top run grade for the year (+19.6) and forcing a ridiculous 101 missed tackles, there wasn’t any doubt Lynch would be named here. A Second Team PFF All-Pro, a case can be made that he’s the best in the game right now.
Fullback: Bruce Miller (SF)
Though it’s a position that doesn’t feature deep competition in the West, Miller’s blocking and receiving would have him challenging for the spot in any division this year.
Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin (SF), Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ), Doug Baldwin (SEA)
Not a stellar year for NFC West receivers, but the Boldin-Fitz-Baldwin trio is a bunch anyone would be happy to trot out. While Boldin and Baldwin bolstered their receiving grades with solid jobs done as run blockers, Fitzgerald posted his second straight season with over 100 targets and just one drop. Worth noting that all three ran more routes from the slot than out wide as their respective teams worked to match them up.
Tight End: Jared Cook (STL)
With the NFC West lacking a worthy pass-catching tight end performance in 2014, Cook’s year as a run blocker is good enough to bump him to the top of the list.
Tackles: Joe Staley (LT, SF), Jared Veldheer (LT, ARZ)
Staley finds himself ranked among the Top 5 tackles in the league for the third straight year with this season looking more like his 2012, his run blocking highlighting his success. We’ll usually push for a left-right pairing but with the cupboard so bare on the West’s right side, Veldheer’s first season as Cardinal made too much sense in filling the void, so we go with two LTs in the Top 10 league-wide, a fine solution.
Guards: Mike Iupati (LG, SF), Alex Boone (RG, SF)
The San Francisco left-right of Iupati and Boone get the call. Boone managed to finish in the green as both a pass blocker and as a run blocker while Iupati, on the other hand, posted another example of his customary one-sided play — run-blocking dominance and lacking pass pro. That strong showing as a run blocker, though, (second-highest run blocking grade among guards) was impressive enough on its own.
Center: Max Unger (SEA)
Another strong run blocker for the NFC West interior, Unger’s +14.0 in that department was fourth in the league at the position, despite the limited playing time. The division held a pair of 1000-snap centers in Lyle Sendlein and Scott Wells, but 2014 wasn’t a banner year for either.
Edge defenders: Michael Bennett (SEA), Robert Quinn (STL)
With 24 run stops, 72 total pressures and an overall grade of +26.4, Bennett was the class of this group. Quinn didn’t enjoy a repeat of his monster 2013, but without a challenger from the 3-4 OLBs in the West, he found himself in a close fight with Seahawk Cliff Avril for the second edge spot. Similar seasons for the two, but Quinn gets it with a higher pass rush grade.
Defensive Interior – Ends: Aaron Donald (STL), Calais Campbell (ARZ)
PFF’s Defensive Rookie of the Year joins another staple of the All-NFC West Team as Donald’s dominant debut looked a lot like the balanced product Campbell put out. Equally strong versus the run and the pass, these two would hold position in just about any division this season.
Defensive Interior – Nose: Dan Williams (ARZ)
Williams gives this D-line another run-stuffer. His 9.1 Run Stop Percentage was seventh among NT/DTs and his +11.7 run defense grade was way out in front of what any other middle men from the West posted.
Linebackers: Bobby Wagner (SEA), Chris Borland (SF)
With NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis on the shelf, there was room for some new blood here. Wagner has been here before and earned it this time with an impressive season across the board, grading green in every facet. Borland, starting three fewer games and logging nearly 200 fewer snaps, not only kept pace with Wagner, but edged him for the top run defense grade among all inside linebackers. Seattle’s K.J. Wright was the division’s top outside linebacker with an outstanding season of his own, but the Wagner-Borland combo was too good to pass up.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman (SEA), Chris Culliver (SF), E.J. Gaines (STL)
Sherman was a lock to find his way onto this team; Top 5 in coverage grade as well as passer rating against. Quietly, Culliver wasn’t far off, giving up just 37 catches to Sherman’s 31 (on eight more targets) and ending in the sub-500-yards allowed club as well. The rookie Gaines earns the third spot on some strong work done in the slot and his division-leading 10 PDs.
Safeties: Earl Thomas (SEA), Antoine Bethea (SF)
Thomas claims his position on the NFC West team for the fourth time in five years, while Bethea, new to the division takes over for the man he replaced in San Francisco, Donte Whitner. The key piece in the back end of Seattle’s D, Thomas was charged with just 51 yards into his coverage all year (0.26 yards per cover snap), and though he edged Bethea overall, the new 49er’s coverage grade ended up narrowly ahead, partly due to the seven balls he intercepted or knocked away.
Kicker: Chandler Catanzaro (ARZ)
Outdone by SF’s Phil Dawson in the 50+ field goal department, but the rookie was a standout on kickoffs and hit on 12 of 14 FGs from over 40.
Punter: Johnny Hekker (STL)
Hekker got the call for our All-Pro team and gets it again in a division that fields some of the league’s best.
Returner: Bruce Ellington (SF)
Ellington’s overall return grade matched that of Seattle’s Bryan Walters but takes the spot thanks to his double-duty performance, returning both kickoffs and punts.
Special Teamer: Justin Bethel (ARZ)
His 15 tackles on special teams were one off the league lead.
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