He didn’t consult stats or advanced metrics. The MMQB’s film-study guru simply relied on his own eyes and expertise to compile this list—and he’s ready for your challenge flags
By the rules of football fandom, everyone will have a problem with this midseason All-Pro team. That’s just how these things go. But a few important notes before we dive in: this is based on film study, not stats. For certain players, some stats are acknowledged as a means for providing context. Advanced stats, however, are not acknowledged. I respect the niche for the new-age metrics, but I am of the belief that football, with 22 moving pieces, has too many variables to put too much weight on individual play-by-play grading.
Players were considered straight from the Pro Bowl ballot. (Though it’s a little flawed in structure, it’s still the best place to start.) One final disclaimer: there are 13 players on each team, because doing just 11 doesn’t make much sense given the increasing variety of schemes and rotational sub-packages. (I also made the decision to not focus on special teams, either, because I don’t devote much time to studying that aspect of the game.)
Tom Brady, Patriots
Has been every bit as good, if not better, than his league-leading 113 passer rating suggests.
Devonta Freeman, Falcons
Ability to reach the perimeter and catch passes has given dimension to Atlanta’s offense.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Has had more negative runs than you’d like, but let’s not overthink this: he’s the focal point of an offense for a 6-2 team and his 758 rushing yards lead the league.
Julio Jones, Falcons
Easiest call on the entire roster. Not only is he on pace for more than 140 catches and 1,800 yards, he’s also attracted more double-teams than any receiver in the league (by far).
DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
A difficult player to assess. By elite receiver standards, he doesn’t have great quickness, which can be a factor coming off the line of scrimmage or working in and out of breaks. So how is it that no one has been able to stop him?
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Is on pace for the fifth 1,400-yard receiving season of his career, despite regularly being the main focus of opponents’ coverages (particularly in the red zone). Just as important: he’s become an integral part of Arizona’s run-blocking as the movable ‘Z’ receiver in Bruce Arians’s scheme.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Has lined up in a multitude of spots this season, making New England’s offense the most difficult to defend in all of football.
Greg Olsen, Panthers
A strong case can certainly be made for the Bengals’ Tyler Eifert. But Olsen gets the nod because he’s playing alongside a much inferior receiving corps. The Panthers’ offense would not function without his ability to beat corners when split out wide and consistently win against safeties and linebackers down the seams.
Andrew Whitworth, Bengals
As technically sound as any blocker in the game. The best player on a Bengals O-line that has allowed Andy Dalton & Co. to run one of the smartest-schemed offenses in football.
Trent Williams, Washington
Has been much steadier employing his off-the-charts athleticism in Washington’s zone running game. Can also be trusted to spar with elite pass rushers on an island.
Richie Incognito, Bills
He is almost always the featured hog in Buffalo’s predominant pull-blocking concepts. Has also had a quiet season in pass protection (a good thing for an O-lineman).
Josh Sitton, Packers
Outstanding as a point-of-attack run-blocker, particularly over the first month of the season.
Ryan Kalil, Panthers
The veteran stalwart on a retooled, overachieving Panthers O-line. His ability to get out in space and play on the move is critical in the screen game, as well as in Carolina’s staple misdirection running concepts.
J.J. Watt, Texans
Offenses haven’t tripled-teamed him as much as people believe, but at least five times a game they come away wishing they had.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets
A true everydown force. Destructiveness as a pass rusher forced multiple turnovers early in the season. His dominant games featured more purely individual plays than close runner-up Fletcher Cox’s.
Aaron Donald, Rams
Initial get-off and second-step explosiveness make him the best all-around D-tackle in the NFL—and it’s not even close.
Kawann Short, Panthers
Has flourished against the run and pass playing a variety of positions along Carolina’s four-man front, none more effectively than three-technique.
Von Miller, Broncos
A movable chess piece in the league’s top defense. No edge player has better short-area explosiveness.
Sean Lee, Cowboys
His play recognition is the most important part of Dallas’s run D. Has also had a positive impact in blitzes.
Clay Matthews, Packers
Much more than a pure inside ’backer in Green Bay’s highly versatile, highly flexible amoeba scheme. But even going off only his snaps when he is a pure inside ‘backer, he’d still make this team.
Jamie Collins, Patriots
Classified as an OLB on the Pro Bowl ballot, but that’s inaccurate; biggest contributions come as a stacked ‘backer in nickel. His range, fluidity and burst are critical to the Patriots’ sound run defense, and they continue to be an increasingly bigger part of their modest blitz and stifling coverage concepts.
Josh Norman, Panthers
One example of where the film really matches up with a guy’s stats (including the advanced stats). Hard to imagine that just three years ago he may have been the most vulnerable starting corner in the league.
Desmond Trufant, Falcons
Has played the Richard Sherman role in Dan Quinn’s defense, locking down boundary receivers man-to-man. Has a tremendous understanding of angles in one-on-one matchups. There have been multiple games in which he hasn’t been meaningfully targeted.
Darrelle Revis, Jets
Not quite playing at the level that he did in New England late last year, but has still won far more than he’s lost. That’s noteworthy because few, if any, corners are asked to play as much Cover 0 man as he is in Todd Bowles’s scheme.
Charles Woodson, Raiders
There’s a federal law against writing a one-liner about Woodson without using the word “sage” or “wisdom.”
Harrison Smith, Vikings
Speed and versatility make him the key component of Minnesota’s coverage disguises and pressure packages.
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