The Audibles' All-Pro Team
Everyone wants to put together their own All-Pro teams around this time of year, and we're no different. Hopefully some of the names will be a bit different, though -- we've taken a look through our tape notes and stat sheets and assembled a team who we believe to be the best at every position, star status notwithstanding. (Unless otherwise indicated, all metrics come from our friends at Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus.)
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
This is the most obvious of our picks, but it bears mentioning just how amazing Manning was this season. He had a 114.9 passer rating at home, and a 115.3 passer rating on the road. He ranked fourth in the NFL in touchdown passes (12) on throws 20 or more yards downfield. He completed 69 percent of his passes when under pressure. He completed 69.1 percent of his passes with play-action, and 68 percent without. When the 44 drops by his receivers were factored out, along with other weird passing plays, he completed 77.2 percent of his passes. And beyond all the numbers, it's possible that we still don't give Manning enough credit for making the players around him better. He's the NFL's Most Valuable Player, the NFL's best player at the most important position and he's doing this at age 37, a couple years after common perception had him never playing again. It may take some distance from this season to see just how rare it really is.
Alternates: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers/Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Running Backs: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles/Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
McCoy didn't just lead the NFL in rushing yards (1,607) and total yards from scrimmage (2,146) -- he also paced the league in runs of 15 yards or more (26) and pure highlight plays. Charles became the latest version of the perfect Andy Reid runner by adding 693 receiving yards on 70 catches to his 1,287 rushing yards.
Alternates: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys/Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Receivers: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions/Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears/Wes Welker, Denver Broncos
Megatron was his usual self, and he got in the end zone more often this year -- he upped his touchdown total from five in 2012 to 12 in '13. He was not part of the problem in Detroit this season. Marshall wasn't just one of the league's most valuable receivers; he also helped Alshon Jeffery become a great secondary weapon and continued his progression from willful, undisciplined young player to productive veteran who has become a willing voice for those afflicted with borderline personality disorder. He doesn't get enough credit for his maturity, on and off the field. As for Welker, he continued his role as the NFL's most valuable slot receiver in the game, with 89 targets and seven touchdowns in that role.
Alternates: Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns/Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers/Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints
Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints/Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Graham has become the best overall and most productive tight end in the NFL, but it's Davis' season that bears mentioning. With several of San Francisco's targets out of the picture with injuries, Davis was dominant as a pass-catcher -- not only in the short game, but also in deep passing, where he caught six touchdowns on 23 targets and 11 receptions on passes thrown 20 yards in the air or more.
Alternates: Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos/Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Offensive Tackles: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys/Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Smith is still learning the advanced points of the pro game and he'll get beaten once in a while, but it didn't happen too often in 2013 -- he allowed one sack and three quarterback hits on 629 passing snaps. Thomas allowed just two sacks in a league-leading 751 passing snaps despite a quarterback situation that could be charitably described as "unacceptable."
Alternates: Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers/Michael Roos, Tennessee Titans
Offensive Guards: Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers/Larry Warford, Detroit Lions
Sitton didn't miss a single snap all season and allowed just one sack at left guard. This was made all the more impressive by Matt Flynn's egregious lack of pocket awareness when filling in for Aaron Rodgers. In addition, Sitton maintained his well-deserved reputation as one of the league's best power blockers. Warford, a third-round rookie from Kentucky, played every snap at right guard for the Lions, allowing no sacks and becoming an integral part of Detroit's vastly improved offensive line.
Alternates: Louis Vasquez, Denver Broncos/Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints
Center: Dominic Raiola, Detroit Lions
Raiola was one of the NFL's most improved players in 2013, and one key to that development was the Lions' acquisition of running back Reggie Bush. The veteran center showed an impressive ability to hold at the point of attack and charge upfield for Bush's screen receptions.
Alternate: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers
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Defensive Tackles: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals/Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks
McCoy was an absolute diamond throughout the Buccaneers' dismal season -- he amassed 54 total pressures and was very strong against the run. No three-tech tackle was more disruptive than Atkins in 2013; one can only wonder what effect he would have had with a full season. Mebane doesn't show up in the stat sheets as often, but if you were to poll players on the most effective pure nose tackles, he'd certainly be at the top of the list. Mebane can push a pocket from anywhere and has the root strength to destroy chunks of any offensive line.
Alternates: Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans/Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
4-3 Defensive Ends: Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams/Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers
Quinn led all NFL defenders with 91 total pressures and was an unholy terror from the right side of the Rams defense all season. Hardy was the splashiest pass-rusher on a Carolina frontline that remains underrated, and he's heading into the playoffs on a serious hot streak -- eight sacks and 27 total pressures in his last three games.
Alternates: Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks/Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots
3-4 Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans/Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
Watt didn't get the same love from the national media that he did in 2012 because the Texans had a horrid season overall, but he may have been just as good in 2013, even without the same sack totals. The ultra-confident Richardson insists that he's the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the point is tough to argue -- we've put him in as an end, but he's just as effective when he's moving double teams inside.
Alternates: Kyle Williams, Buffalo Bills /Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
4-3 Outside Linebackers: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers/DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
David was the best combination of pass pressure and run-stopping at his position, while Levy re-invented himself as a tremendous pass defender -- for a while near the end of the season, he looked like he might be the first linebacker ever to lead the NFL in interceptions.
Alternates: Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals/Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers
3-4 Outside Linebackers: Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts/Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
Mathis is the sackmaster here, finishing the regular season with a career-high and league-leading 19.5 sacks. But when it comes to versatility, it's tough to top Cole. He added 31 run stops to his 51 total pressures.
Alternates: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs/Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
Inside Linebackers: NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers/Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Bowman has been an underrated star since he came into the NFL in 2010, but he played at a different level in 2013. Jim Harbaugh is correct when he says that Bowman deserves recognition when the Defensive Player of the Year award is discussed. However, if any linebacker grabs that award, it should probably be Kuechly. No player at his position best exhibits the many traits needed to excel.
Alternates: Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals/Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks/Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans/Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia Eagles
Since we added a slot receiver to our All-Pro team, let's get a great nickel corner to cover him. Few are better than Boykin, who sent the Eagles to the playoffs with his late-game pick of Kyle Orton last Sunday and amassed six total picks alternating between the slot and outside. Verner was a lockdown guy all season, and Sherman may be the best pass defender since Darrelle Revis was in his prime. The next quarterback to actually get a deep sideline pass over on him will be the first in quite a while.
Alternates: Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins/Chris Harris, Denver Broncos/Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
Safeties: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks/Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
Weddle's outstanding play was a rare highlight on a San Diego defense that needs a lot of help. Thomas has a rare combination of demon speed, coverage awareness and controlled aggression. At his best, he's an evil combination of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. Alternates: Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins/Antrel Rolle, New York Giants