THE BEST OF THE BEST

Dr. Z's All-Pro team: the season's top achievers
January 11, 1988

San Francisco's Jerry Rice repeats as Player of the Year. But he was a less clear-cut choice this time, despite a record-shattering year in which he broke the NFL marks for TD catches in a season (22) and in consecutive games (13). Rice got stiff competition from Giants linebacker Carl Banks, who had one of the finest years any defensive player has ever had—and in a losing cause.

My other wideout, Al Toon, was about the only offensive weapon the Jets had. I favored him over St. Louis's J.T. Smith (lots of catches but not big yards) and Philadelphia's Mike Quick. Anthony Carter of Minnesota is a comer. The Vikings just have to figure out a way to get him more into their offense.

Quarterback came down to the 49ers' Joe Montana, Cleveland's Bernie Kosar and Denver's John Elway, in that order. How could they have left Kosar out of the Pro Bowl? No one is better at blitz control. He gets the ball off so quickly, and at such weird angles, and he always finds the hot receiver. Elway and Joe Namath are the best I've seen at bringing a team back in a hurry, but for overall consistency Montana gets the nod.

I'll take heat for leaving the Rams' Charles White and the Colts' Eric Dickerson out of my backfield. Yes, they had the numbers, but Herschel Walker, the league's combined rushing-and-receiving-yardage leader, saved the Cowboys' season from total oblivion, and no runner is as good as Seattle's Curt Warner at borrowing yards when the bank is closed. For instant action how about Miami rookie Troy Stradford? He reminds me of the late Joe Delaney of the Chiefs.

Minnesota tackle Gary Zimmerman is a smooth-as-silk pass protector. The selection of Pittsburgh tackle Tunch Ilkin will raise some eyebrows, but he hasn't been beaten for a sack in two years. Mark Bavaro of the Giants was an easy choice at tight end, even though he played on one leg and wasn't the ferocious blocker he was in '86.

Dennis Harrah, the Rams' six-time Pro Bowler, is the first to admit that Tom Newberry, the club's other guard, had a better year. Newberry is an explosive blocker who has played only two seasons. My other guard is Denver's Keith Bishop, an old-style teeth-gritter who excels at the trap block.

Miami center Dwight Stephenson played in nine of the 12 nonstrike games, and that's my cutoff point—75% of the action. If he had gotten hurt earlier, I would have made a new cutoff, because I wasn't going to leave him off this team. I know the rest of the world is switching to Indy's Ray Donaldson, but he's still not the player Stephenson is.

Philadelphia's Reggie White and Buffalo's Bruce Smith were clearly the two best defensive ends, but it broke my heart to leave off New England's vastly underrated Garin Veris and Cleveland veteran Carl Hairston, who came out of the past and had a magnificent year. Once again, noseguard Tim Krumrie didn't make the Pro Bowl. He does it all for the Bengals—and with very little around him. The 49ers' Michael Carter was impressive, but he just wasn't on the field for enough plays. Like Krumrie. Chicago tackle Steve McMichael held firm while things were crumbling.

Banks picked up the tempo from his great Super Bowl. Despite playing the tight-end side, he still got after the passer. Duane Bickett is the big reason the Colts' defense went from No. 25 in '86 to No. 6 this year. He barely beat out Chicago's Wilber Marshall, San Diego's Billy Ray Smith, New Orleans's Pat Swilling and the Giants' Lawrence Taylor.

It was tough to omit two old standbys, Chicago's Mike Singletary and Denver's Karl Mecklenburg, at inside linebacker, but the Seahawks' Fredd Young, a blitz specialist, and Bills' rookie Shane Conlan simply accomplished more. Keep an eye on the Saints' Vaughan Johnson. He's a sleeper.

Last year I picked Hanford Dixon at cornerback and passed over Cleveland's other fine corner, Frank Minnifield. This season I did the reverse, but it was a tough call. Albert Lewis of Kansas City has been great for years, but what's funny is that the Pro Bowl voters have finally recognized him during a disastrous season for the Chiefs. Another sleeper: New England's Ronnie Lippett.

I chose both Raider safeties, Vann McElroy and Stacey Toran. McElroy beat out Chicago's Dave Duerson, who's excellent but is more of a strong-safety type. Toran's closest competition was Minnesota's Joey Browner, a wild man who's all over the field, and Houston's Keith Bostic. Washington strong safety Alvin Walton also had a terrific year.

Dean Biasucci, the Colts' kicker, edged the Saints' longball phenom, Morten Andersen, on consistency, and Detroit punter Jim Arnold had the best net average (39.6 yards) since the league started keeping that meaningful stat. The Saints' Jim Mora was an obvious choice for Coach of the Year. Rookie of the Year goes to Buffalo's Cornelius Bennett, who didn't play enough games to qualify for my All-Pro team but will be a fixture on it for years to come.

PHOTOBILL SMITHSeattle's Warner rushed for 985 yards, though daylight was often mighty scarce. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERFor the second year in a row, Zimmerman's pass blocking earned him a spot on the team.

OFFENSE

WIDE RECEIVER
Jerry Rice, 49ERS

TACKLE
Gary Zimmerman, VIKINGS

GUARD
Tom Newberry, RAMS

CENTER
Dwight Stephenson, DOLPHINS

GUARD
Keith Bishop, BRONCOS

TACKLE
Tunch Ilkin, STEELERS

TIGHT END
Mark Bavaro, GIANTS

QUARTERBACK
Joe Montana, 49ERS

RUNNING BACK
Herschel Walker, COWBOYS

RUNNING BACK
Curt Warner, SEAHAWKS

WIDE RECEIVER
Al Toon, JETS

DEFENSE*

END
Reggie White, EAGLES

NOSEGUARD
Tim Krumrie, BENGALS

TACKLE
Steve McMichael, BEARS

END
Bruce Smith, BILLS

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Carl Banks, GIANTS

INSIDE LINEBACKER
Fredd Young, SEAHAWKS

INSIDE LINEBACKER
Shane Conlan, BILLS

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Duane Bickett, COLTS

CORNERBACK
Frank Minnifield, BROWNS

STRONG SAFETY
Stacey Toran, RAIDERS

FREE SAFETY
Vann McElroy, RAIDERS

CORNERBACK
Albert Lewis, CHIEFS

SPECIALISTS

KICKER
Dean Biasucci, COLTS

PUNTER
Jim Arnold, LIONS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jerry Rice, 49ERS

COACH OF THE YEAR
Jim Mora, SAINTS

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Cornelius Bennett, BILLS

* The defense is a 3-4, but I have included a 4-3 tackle. Hence, the 12 players.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)