Sign of the times: The Vikings' machine, with a chance to break
the NFL scoring record, dominates the offense of my annual
All-Pro team. Quarterback Randall Cunningham (below), enjoying a
career season, and terrifying rookie wideout Randy Moss make it,
along with the left side of the line. Defensively the wealth is
spread. Only one club has more than one representative--the
Ravens, with two--which underscores the fact that there was no
dominating defense this year.
Wideouts: Moss and Antonio Freeman, Packers. With a
rookie-record 16 touchdowns, Moss is the most electrifying
newcomer since Don Hutson. Freeman kept Green Bay going when its
offense was decimated by injuries.
Tight end: Frank Wycheck, Oilers. This sturdy warrior, who lines
up all over--tight end, H-back, spread receiver--gives defenses
nightmares. Plus he blocks.
December 28, 1998
Tackles: Jonathan Ogden, Ravens, and Todd Steussie, Vikings.
Ogden is the powerhouse drive blocker; Steussie is the impeccable
pass protector who guards Cunningham's blind side.
Guards: Randall McDaniel, Vikings, and Kevin Gogan, 49ers.
McDaniel, at 34, has never been better technically. Gogan powers
the league's top-ranked running attack.
Center: Jeff Christy, Vikings. He's the pick, in a close call
over the Steelers' Dermontti Dawson and the Jets' Kevin Mawae,
because of his consistency and explosion coming off the ball.
Quarterback: Cunningham. No contest. No longer the scrambler,
precise on his reads, devastatingly accurate on his bombs to
Running backs: Terrell Davis, Broncos, and Marshall Faulk, Colts.
Despite his size (5'11", 210), Davis is a terrific power back.
Faulk, now a serious downfield threat, has a career-high 2,125
Fullback: Bob Christian, Falcons. Jamal Anderson's personal
escort for 14 games. Unfortunately he's out for the year with a
Ends: Michael Strahan, Giants, and Michael McCrary, Ravens.
Strahan plays the strong side and is relentless. On consistency
McCrary, a sack specialist, wins over the Seahawks' Michael
Tackles: Bryant Young, 49ers, and Darrell Russell, Raiders.
Young, neglected in Pro Bowl balloting after he broke his leg in
the 12th game, is the most technically proficient player at his
position. Russell, a mighty pocket collapser, is a narrow winner
over the Saints' cat-quick La'Roi Glover.
Middle linebacker: Ray Lewis, Ravens. The Incredible Tackling
Machine wins by a whisker over the Steelers' Levon Kirkland, the
Lions' Stephen Boyd and the Dolphins' Zach Thomas.
Outside linebackers: Chad Brown, Seahawks, and Derrick Brooks,
Buccaneers. Once a pass-rushing specialist, Brown has become a
complete player. I awarded him the highest grades of anyone.
Brooks, my weakside backer, is strong at the point of attack and
gifted in coverage.
Cornerbacks: Ty Law, Patriots, and Sam Madison, Dolphins. They
routinely cover the most dangerous receiver. Law is the NFL's
interception leader, with nine. Madison is tied for second, with
eight. Where's Deion Sanders? With only nine full games, he
hasn't played enough to qualify.
Strong safety: Rodney Harrison, Chargers. Teamed with Junior Seau
to lead the league's top-ranked defense. A great run stopper, and
he's better now in coverage.
Free safety: Mark Carrier, Lions. Every time I saw him, he was
knocking down a pass.
Nickelback: Ray Mickens, Jets. A new position on my team, but
Mickens has been so good in the nickel, which we're seeing more
of than ever, that he deserves recognition.
Kicker: Gary Anderson, Vikings. 32 field goals and 58 extra
points without a miss. Need I say more?
Punter: Matt Turk, Redskins. Again he's the king of hang time,
especially when Washington's backed up, which happened all too
often this year.
Player of the Year: Faulk. No one meant as much to his team.
Rookie of the Year: Moss. In a landslide.
Coach of the Year: Can you decide from among the Broncos' Mike
Shanahan, the Falcons' Dan Reeves and the Vikings' Dennis Green?
Neither can I. Even if I could, I'd hold off until after the
Super Bowl, which is the way it should be with this award.