2014 All-Pro predictions: Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Graham lead the way
Ahead of the 2014 regular season, SI's preview continues with an early forecast of this year's All-Pro team. Many of these players received relatively limited playing time and exposure in August, with their jobs secure and their talent unquestioned. By January, they'll recapture the league's full attention, as many reel in postseason accolades and a select few lead their teams deep into the playoffs. My All-Pro predictions:
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Running backs: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs; LeSean McCoy, Eagles
Fullback: Marcel Reece, Raiders
Wide receivers: Calvin Johnson, Lions; Jordy Nelson, Packers
Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Saints
Guards: Jahri Evans, Saints; Larry Warford, Lions
Offensive tackles: Joe Staley, 49ers; Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots
Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles
Defensive ends: Robert Quinn, Rams; J.J. Watt, Texans
Defensive tackles: Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers; Sheldon Richardson, Jets
Outside linebackers: Vontaze Burfict, Bengals; Von Miller, Broncos
Inside linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Panthers; Patrick Willis, 49ers
Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis, Patriots; Richard Sherman, Seahawks
Safeties: Jairus Byrd, Saints; T.J. Ward, Broncos
Hardest position to pick: Outside linebacker. Just loads and loads of talent at this position, including two or three more guys from Miller's own division (Tamba Hali and Justin Houston in Kansas City, and potentially Khalil Mack in Oakland, if he lives up to the hype as a rookie). Lavonte David was an All-Pro here last year, too, but he got the boot on this list in favor of Burfict -- a tricky case in his own right, since he plays the WILL position but was a second-team All-Pro inside linebacker last season.
But even after being handed a lucrative contract extension by the Bengals, Burfict was flying around this preseason. For as terrific as he performed in 2013, the former undrafted free agent might only be scratching the surface. As with David, Burfict is a three-down guy who can pursue the ball sideline to sideline. He turns the corner from nice story to superstar in 2014.
Biggest snub: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals. Peterson deservedly made the All-Pro team last year, as he solidified himself as one of the NFL's premier corners. So how can he get the boot now with all signs pointing toward an even brighter future? Mainly because of the competition. Sherman's reputation precedes him; Revis was outstanding at times last season and the Patriots believe he is back to pre-ACL injury form in 2014. If that's true, there might not be a better cornerback in all of football.
Neither of these guys may have to wait very long, with the biggest hurdle in Jordan's path to All-Pro status being that Watt currently has one defensive end spot on lockdown. Jordan landed a Pro Bowl nod last season, thanks to 12.5 sacks during a breakout year in Rob Ryan's defense. With even more talent around him in 2014, Jordan could top that number and push for the non-Watt All-Pro spot at defensive end right away. He's certainly talented enough to be in the conversation among the top five or 10 NFL defensive ends, be it in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
Shazier has looked every bit the part thus far in Pittsburgh's defense, though he will have some underwhelming moments -- he first and foremost must continue working on shedding blockers. His speed and instincts are perfect fits for Dick LeBeau's unique defense, one that will need Shazier to excel early due to issues up front.