No reason to waste anytime for this so let’s get right into the Defensive side of the ball.
1st team: Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams ; Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts
I put 3-4 OLB and 4-3 DE in this spot and combined it. Later when I do OLB it’ll be just for LBs that play off the line of scrimmage.
What is there to say about these two? Both ended the season with 19 sacks(well 19.5 for Mathis). I don’t measure a defensive players abilities by sacks alone but when a number sticks out, it sticks out. What really separates these two is just not their ability with the pass rush, and I can’t believe I am going to say this about Mathis, is that they were had success against the run. With that said I have to say this, Quinn was in a category of his own. Running at him was a detriment to teams(Football Outsiders ranks runs at Quinn as the 4th toughest directly and 8th to his contain side). Mathis on the other hand was good at runs towards him(11th) but the contain spot ranked last in the league. But when it comes to the two best edge rushers of the year, Quinn and Mathis stood above the rest.
2nd team: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs ; Justin Tuck, New York Giants
Man oh man this was another tough spot. Cameron Wake just barely gets edged out by Tuck and a guy like Houston just missed too much time for me to put him in. The other player that barely misses the cut is Michael Johnson from the Bengals who just put together a season that shows sacks are not the end all with 40 QB disruptions and the top DE vs the run.
Onto Tuck and Hali. Hali put together yet another very strong season. He has, seemingly quietly, accumulated 73.5 career sacks with 55 over the past 5 seasons. Hali’s biggest struggle game was against the best Left Tackle in the game in Tyron Smith. But he had a 2.5 sack game against a very good LT in Duane Brown and another 2 sack game against Trent Williams. Hali was quite impressive and showed prowess against the run as well, though not as strong as his counterpart Houston. Hali’s consistency despite an injury was very impressive. At 30 I don’t know how much he has left in the tank but he continues to put up stellar seasons.
Tuck on the other hand may come as a surprise. Watching a number of Giants games this year Tuck popped out more this year than he has in recent memory. Tuck has seemingly always been a player who’s sack numbers don’t really show the whole story with him. And even with his 11 sacks this season, they don’t again. He was constantly in the backfield with 44 QB pressures in 15 games. But what made Tuck shine is his ability in the run game. He continues to attack the backfield on run plays and ended the season with 15 tackles for a loss. With his strong run ability and pass rush I had decided he edged out Wake, who was a pure pass rusher this season. Also I think Tuck had the least amount of help from interior players than any of the top guys on my list which factored in some.
1st Team: JJ Watt, Houston Texans ; Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What more is there to say about JJ Watt? Personally I think he is the best football player in the league, yes, better than even the elite QB’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take Rodgers in a heartbeat over Watt but the difference from #1 QB to #2 and JJ Watt to #2 DT to me is gigantic. Watt has, at times this year, received triple teams. An offensive gameplan that thinks its better to play 8 vs 10 should tell you something. The genius behind this move was Jeff Fisher but my point still stands. Watt’s sack numbers and QB disruptions were not what they were last year. Last year was the greatest season by an interior player in the history of football this season just happened to be an elite season. Watt ended the season with 22 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks and took on approximately 1,700 blockers. Oh and he lead all linemen with 65 tackles ad 67 stops(the next closes was Lamar Houston of the Raiders with 54).
Now when it came to pure pass rusher from the inside Gerald McCoy was the man. Schiano can do two things, he is the best special teams coordinator I have seen and he teaches players to attack gaps. McCoy has seemingly went from potential bust to stud football player in the Schiano years and the coach deserves some credit for that. McCoy’s burst through a gap is maybe the best in the league. He ends the season with 50 tackles and 9 sacks with 15 TFLs. McCoy’s biggest problem is the 13 penalties against him this year and that is something that will have to be corrected going forward.
2nd Team: Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans ; Kyle Williams Buffalo Bills
Casey was also a presence in the pass game, much like McCoy. Ending the season with 10.5 sacks and 54 tackles. Casey was a solid around player for the Titans and in year 3 seems to be hitting his stride as one of the elite interior players in the NFL. He will have to continue to improve against the run as he struggled with physical guards and centers throughout the season but an interior pass rusher is about as deadly a thing as there is in the NFL.
Kyle Williams and the Bills defensive line got little fanfare this season despite being the best front 3/5 unit in the league. They take a page out of the Texans book and play a 5-2 scheme by rolling up 2 OLBs with their 3 down linemen. Kyle Williams was arguably the second best interior run stopper in the NFL behind Watt. He also had a very successful season attacking the QBs with 10.5 sacks. He ended the season with 68 tackles. A grizzled veteran at this point that has really begun to shine later in his career making the pro bowl the past two seasons.
1st team: Luke Kuechly Carolina Panthers
A missle on the field that takes full advantage of this strong defensive line. I think of this as a credit to the front 4 for Carolina just as much as it is for Kuechly. Yes he does benefit maybe more than anyone from the players in front of him but he still produces at an incredible level and its no reason to discredit what he can do. 131 tackles and quite strong in coverage only allowing 8.4 y/r. Kuechly is the gold standard for linebackers in the NFL right now.
2nd Team: Patrick Willis San Francisco 49ers
When it comes to all around linebackers Willis had been the gold standard. When throwing on the tape for 49er games Willis still continues to shine. He uses his hands as good as any linebacker in football and continues to be a devastating tackler. When it comes to coverage he isn’t the most sound LB but he can still hold his own which is where Kuechly gets the edge and pushes Willis to second team. As sure tacklers in the NFL go Willis maybe the surest as he only had 7 missed tackles on the season.
1st Team: Vontaze Burfict Cincinnati Bengals
2nd Team: Lavonte David Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Both of these players were tackling machines accumulating over 100 each. As OLBs they held their own in coverage. Burfict was not used to blitz as often as David as David saw 17 QB hurries on the season to Burficts 9. This was about as close as any of the positions graded out but I love Burfict’s technique and ability to shed blockers. I think he has a larger impact on the game and has more flashes of greatness in his play reading ability is how I edged him over David.
1st Team: TJ Ward Cleveland Browns
A disappointing year for the Browns who had some defensive woes on a unit that should have been ready to take that step into the elite category. It didn’t happen and some of the blame can be put in the secondary. But TJ Ward’s play was not a disappointment. He shined more than any other safety I watched. Ward graded out as the best pass defender in the NFL from the safety spot. Yes he plays the centerfield spot in Ray Horton’s defense but is asked to take on the corner, post corner, deep in and fade routes in man to man spots. Ward also flashed some physicality leading all safeties in tackles.
2nd Team: Eric Weddle San Diego Chargers
If you watched my livestream of Weddle’s performance on the Chargers you’ll already know why I am in awe of his ability. He gets matched up against elite TE’s and #1 WRs in the slot. Weddle is how the Chargers matchup their defense by playing him everywhere. He lines up at MLB, OLB, S, CB, even DE and upback on punt team. His game against the Colts when he is in coverage Luck looks off of the receiver Weddle is covering each time. By far the most fun safety to watch in the NFL.
I saved the best for last
1st team: Darrelle Revis Tampa Bay Buccaneers ; Alterraun Verner Tennessee Titans
This 1st team was easy for me. The two players that just blew up on tape more than any other corner. Revis did not have that burst he had while with the Jets and was used in space much more this season than any season past. But with all that Revis still saw the least amount of targets from starting corners and held his WRs to a 54% catch rate. How much more is there to say about Revis? You know he can tackle, he can cover, and he puts fear into the opponents pass offense.
Verner may be the smartest DB I have watched. His ability to read a play pre-snap and adjust in play is extremely rare. He has a bit of gamble in him and that led to a couple of larger gains against him but he did end the season with 5 picks with those gambles and undercuts. And he is able to do that because he is physical and can read plays as they are happening. Verner does a better job running the WR route trees than the WRs he covers. A joy to watch. Catch rate against him was 49.4.
2nd Team: Patrick Peterson Arizona Cardinals ; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Denver Broncos
It seems like PP21 is one of the few CBs that does swap sides in the NFL. He is the most athletic guy and the reason he is put on second team is because of that athleticism. He relies on it too much and gets beat on some pass routes. But he shut down Calvin Johnson(yes I know Calvin had 100 yards but 70 of them came on a busted coverage by the safety, Peterson only allowed a couple of slant and stop route receptions for little gain). I believe as he ages his gambling will go down or be more effective.
DRC barely edges out a couple of guys. Jason McCourty and Brent Grimes were very close. DRC’s numbers are just far too good though. Now he did miss a couple of games and typically I give the edge to the guys with health but DRC held his targets to a 44% catch rate. DRC’s issue, much like Peterson’s, is that he got beat deep. That is the difference between the 1st team guys and everyone else is how much more effective against the deep ball Verner and Revis were(Revis’ big play given up also comes off of a busted coverage against Kenny Stills). DRC was put into a big spot, asked to take over Champ’s spot and playing both LCB and RCB throughout the season. After a slow start after the Dallas game DRC became a true shutdown corner and began to shine.
I know, I mentioned 6 CB’s before I mention Sherman. I don’t even know if Sherman would be my 7th CB. I don’t like his playstyle and I think scheme helps him out tremendously. I put Sherman in the Ronde Barber category. Now Sherman isn’t at Ronde’s level but he plays a zone corner and is asked to play man only occasionally. I have to knock down a DB who is allowed to pass off WR’s because its just not asking as much out of them. Is Sherman a great corner? Yes. Is he one of my top 6 guys? No, strictly zone corners don’t excite me as much as man to man guys. I don’\t know of anyone that is taking Ronde over Rod Woodson or Champ Bailey.
1st team: Johnny Hekker St. Louis Rams
2nd Team: Brandon Fields Miami Dolphins
They are the top 2 in Net yards average.
1st Team: Cordarrelle Patterson Minnesota Vikings
That’s it, don’t know any other returners to put here.
MVP: Peyton Manning Denver Broncos
1st seed, historic season. Think this one is easy.
Offensive Player of the Year: Josh Gordon Cleveland Browns
I find it boring just to hand OPOY to a QB as MVP seemingly is already that award. With that said Rivers probably would be my QB choice. Gordon put up 18.9 y/r and 1646 yards. This one seems like a no-brainer to me as well. Lesean McCoy would have been my other non-QB option.
Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt
I already called him the most valuable non-QB in the league, this should be no surprise. Robert Quinn is my runner-up here.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: DJ Fluker San Diego Chargers
Do I show offensive bias to linemen? Yes of course. But when it comes to who I feel played the best football this year at one of the hardest positions in the game, Fluker shined at the LT position as a rookie. Larry Warford was my runner up and Keenan Allen/Gio Bernard behind.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Star Lotulelei Carolina Panthers
StarLo was my #1 player on my value board for the draft and he did not disappoint. Kawaan Short, his DT mate, was close here but StarLo’s dominance in the run game is something to awe at. His pass rush will come and you could be looking at a premier interior player for years. Kiko Alonso also on my short list.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jason Peters Philadelphia Eagles
Another no brainer for me. A top player at one of the most important positions on the field. He has come back strong and was key in the eagles dominate rushing performance as well as keeping Foles upright.
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid Kansas City Chiefs
I’ve gone back and forth on this one. Chiefs weren’t as bad as their 2-14 record showed last season. I don’t know exactly how to quantify his impact, especially with the Eagles going from 4-12 to division winners. But I’ve always had a very high opinion of Reid and I do think that he can draw up some of the most tremendous plays that fit his offense perfectly. Yes he kicks too much but he does understand that throwing the ball, even with Alex Smith, is a good thing. Chip Kelly, Rex Ryan and Mike McCoy all deserve mention as well.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time this week to put together a preview of this weeks playoff games but I should be able to do that next week. I’ll just have to give my picks here:
Kansas City (pick) @ Indianapolis
New Orleans (+3) @ Philadelphia
Cincinnati (-7) vs San Diego
Green Bay (+3) vs San Francisco
You’ll do great betting the opposite of that. Enjoy the games.