January 05, 2017

The Associated Press All Pro team has long been what NFL careers are measured by. That won't change on Friday when this year's squad is announced.

What has changed is some of the positions. The AP doesn't let me vote, but here are my picks.

FULLBACK: Don't even bother; the position has been eliminated on the AP team as it has on the field. Mamas really don't want their sons to grow up to be fullbacks these days.

TIGHT END: With Rob Gronkowski down, the field narrows. Yes, there are other deserving tight ends, but let's be a bit creative here. LeBron James has the physique and the championship pedigree. Certainly the hapless Browns could use a tight end with his skills.

WIDE RECEIVER: Lots of star candidates here, but let's give this to Oakland's Amari Cooper so he at least has a consolation prize for a postseason that figures to end quickly now that he's relying on a third-string quarterback.

SUSPENDED PLAYER: This was pretty much a two-man race between Tom Brady and Le'Veon Bell, both of whom started the season on the sidelines. The pick is Brady because he's more likely to be in Houston on Feb. 5 than Bell or any other player in the league.

KICKER: This is a position in play once again, now that extra points are no longer automatic. They pretty much are for Atlanta's Matt Bryant, though, who has tried more extra points (57) and made more (56) than anyone. He's also 34-37 in field goals, and not the guy opposing teams want to see on the field in the playoffs.

BEST TEAMMATES: After beating the Washington Redskins to close out the regular season, Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. and a few of his teammates flew to Miami to hang out with Justin Bieber and party on a boat. Their next flight will be to Green Bay, where they're more likely to keep their shirts on.

BEST TEAMMATE: This would go to Tony Romo, who not only endured being replaced by rookie Dak Prescott but made a classy speech about it.

MOST SURPRISED BACKUP QB: Connor Cook had never even dressed for a regular season game before Sunday, when he put on the pads as a backup to Matt McGloin, who was a backup himself until Derek Carr got injured. After McGloin got injured, Cook now may become the first quarterback ever to make his first start in a playoff game. ''I'm going to do what I've been doing all year,'' said Cook, who hopefully will remember to bring his uniform to the stadium.

BEST RETURN ON A RETURN GUY: Kansas City picked Tyreek Hill in the fifth round when no one else would, taking a chance on player who pleaded guilty to charges he punched his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach and choked her two years earlier. Hill just might be asked about that if the Chiefs make the Super Bowl.

LEFT TACKLE: The Browns are paying Joe Thomas nearly $10 million a year so he better be good. The Browns are so bad that it makes little difference and that could mean he's gone soon. Still, it was fun just watching the big guy's reaction to the only win this year. ''I kept telling myself I shouldn't be this happy,'' Thomas said.

RIGHT TACKLE: This is a new category for the AP awards, mostly because left tackles always seem to dominate. They still do.

BEST ON A KNEE: Colin Kaepernick made a lot of people unhappy when he decided to take a knee during the national anthem to protest social inequality. He didn't make San Francisco fans much happier when he was standing up on the field.

FLEX: This is the position that wins a lot of fantasy contests, and now it's an AP pick. Le'Veon Bell has made a lot of fantasy owners happy this year, and he could make Steelers fans even happier in the postseason.

DESIGNATED GOON: Vontaze Burfict never tires of inflicting damage on other players - and his own career. The Bengals linebacker, who began the season under suspension for his hit on Antonio Brown last year, was fined $75,000 in October for stomping on Patriots back LeGarrette Blount while he was down. To show his versatility, Burfict was fined $12,154 a few weeks later for flipping off the home crowd in a loss to the Bills.

LEAST MISSED: Johnny Football parted ways with the NFL, and no one seemed to care. The Cleveland Browns gave up on Johnny Manziel after just two years, and unless the Raiders move to Las Vegas his days in the NFL are likely over.

There are more, of course, but they'll have to wait until all the votes are in. Meanwhile, we await a postseason full of tantalizing possibilities.

Will Brady win a fifth Super Bowl and obliterate the comparisons to Joe Montana? Will the Cowboys win one for Jerry Jones, or could Romo return to win one for himself?

Just a reminder that the postseason honor that matters the most will be decided on the field Feb. 5 in Houston.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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