With two months down and two more to go, here are the obvious (J.J. Watt, Peyton Manning) and surprise (Golden Tate, Jerry Hughes) stars of the first half
We’re at the halfway mark of the 2014 season, so The MMQB is pressing pause to take a look back at the storylines, teams and players that made an impact or headlines in the first half of the season. After eight weeks of studying tape, Andy Benoit unveils his midseason All-Pro team.
Peyton Manning, Broncos
Cris Collinsworth said it best to Peter King: the 38-year-old Manning is still ascending.
Second Team: Philip Rivers, Chargers
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
O-line not the only improvement in Dallas. Murray has found more wiggle, leading to better lateral agility.
Second Team: Arian Foster, Texans
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
It’s rare to see such explosive run-after-catch acumen from a big man. Route running is pristine, too.
Antonio Brown, Steelers
No wideout is more valuable to his offense.
Golden Tate, Lions
Sharp change-of-direction ability has made him devastating inside. Has elevated his game in the absence of Calvin Johnson, too.
Second Team: Jordy Nelson, Packers; Dez Bryant, Cowboys; T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Antonio Gates, Chargers
Consistently finds the end zone, often making contested catches. Defenses still reluctant to leave him single-covered.
Second Team: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Tyron Smith, Cowboys
Unmatched athleticism, and now has polished technique and football IQ.
Joe Thomas, Browns
Has brought much-desired physicality to Cleveland’s zone running scheme.
Second Team: Jason Peters, Eagles; Joe Staley, 49ers
Marshal Yanda, Ravens
Quick feet and surprising strength have made him dominant on the ground and reliable in pass pro.
Mike Iupati, 49ers
There’s a reason the Niners like to run left so much.
Second Team: Ronald Leary, Cowboys; Weston Richburg, Giants
Travis Frederick, Cowboys
Sensational as a reach-and-seal blocker on zones, also uses mobility well as a pull-blocker.
Second Team: Rodney Hudson, Chiefs
J.J. Watt, Texans
No explanation needed.
Jerry Hughes, Bills
Has given Bills what Colts once hoped he’d give them: consistent speed off the edge.
Second Team: Ziggy Ansah, Lions; DeMarcus Ware, Broncos
Jurrell Casey, Titans
Might call him a defensive end in Ray Horton’s 3-4, but most of his damage comes from inside. And it’s a lot of damage.
Ndamukong Suh, Lions
There isn’t a more consistent run disruptor in football.
Second Team: Marcell Dareus, Bills; Corey Liuget, Chargers
Von Miller, Broncos
Back to his usual form.
DeAndre Levy, Lions
Far and away the NFL’s best 4-3 linebacker this year.
Second Team: Connor Barwin, Eagles; Justin Houston, Chiefs
Larry Foote, Cardinals
Proficiency as an A-gap blitzer is the lynchpin to Arizona’s pressure-based scheme.
Luke Kuechly, Panthers
Has become a better blitzer this season. Not that he wasn’t excellent before.
Second Team: C.J. Mosley, Ravens; Curtis Lofton, Saints
Aqib Talib, Broncos
Has been everything the man-to-man-centric Broncos have needed. Great feel for driving on routes, even out of man coverage.
Jimmy Smith, Ravens
Steady success shadowing opposing No. 1 receivers.
Vontae Davis, Colts
Has also shadowed many No. 1 receivers, often with no safety help.
Second Team: Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Keenan Lewis, Saints; Darrelle Revis, Patriots
Troy Polamalu, Steelers
Excellent in run support and takes away route combinations that teams show him twice.
Earl Thomas, Seahawks
Rangiest safety in the game. Has operated both in box and at his usual centerfield spot.
Second Team: Harrison Smith, Vikings; T.J. Ward, Broncos
Dan Bailey, Cowboys
Has missed one field goal, a 53-yarder at the end of regulation in a game where he came back to kick the game-winner in OT (Houston). His average field goal distance: 43.5 yards.
Second Team: Chandler Catanzaro, Cardinals
Pat McAfee, Colts
Leads league in net average by almost a full yard. Good with ball placement and doubles as kickoff specialist.
Second Team: Jon Ryan, Seahawks
Devin Hester, Falcons
Second in punt return average, granted three full yards behind Sproles. But factor in the advantage Atlanta gains from punters’ exaggerated efforts to avoid him.
Second Team: Darren Sproles, Eagles
Matthew Slater, Patriots
Highly regarded veteran tied for league lead in special teams tackles.
Second Team: Kavell Conner, Chargers
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