Now that the season is in the books, lots of people are going to be posting their “All-Pro Teams.” Usually these teams are basically the most statistically productive players at each position, regardless of actual talent, intangibles, or success due to scheme. Especially on defense, the mash up of players from differing schemes (i.e. a bunch of 3-4 linebackers with 4-3 defensive ends because they all have tons of sacks) would truly not work that well on the actual field. These teams also irritate me because they never list depth. Who comes in when ESPN’s golden boy gets tired? Who was the next best? So, instead, I’m going to offer something else. A full, 53 man roster, designed to work within a certain scheme and one that takes into account things besides just the obvious stats like yardage and touchdowns. This is the kind of team I think the United States would send to, say, an American football World Cup. I’m going to work with that as my guide – create the team that would best represent the United States and the NFL to the world, both on and off the field, coaches and all. As I’m a Steelers fan (like most of you, I hope) it might be a little Pittsburgh-centric, but I doubt many of you will argue. This list is compiled based partly on reputation, partly on this season’s performance, and partly on my own impressions from watching games and reading analysis all season long – including things I’ve read here on BTSC. I’m ignoring injuries (let’s assume everyone’s healthy for this fictional World Cup). Let me know what you think. Players in bold are the starters, players in italics are the ones who will probably be inactive on a normal game day. Check the team after the jump.
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh. Look, Bill Belichick isn’t a very classy guy on the field – those handshake denials are just rude, and he’s not a good Ambassador for the US, especially when you consider Spygate. Tomlin has done a great job coaching this year – taking a team to 12-4 and a bye while balancing the scandal with Ben and a host of devastating injuries. He’s got the attitude I want representing the country, and the football resume to back up this choice.
Coordinator: Norv Turner, San Diego. Turner is a bad head coach but a spectacular coordinator. I almost threw in Josh McDaniels because of his resume with Kyle Orton and the 2007 Patriots, but Turner’s offense is more to my liking. Phillip Rivers is incredible, and what he did this year despite having no one at receiver or running back they still put up yards and points in bunches. His style involves a strong run game with a lot of intermediate and deep passes, not just the dink and dunk stuff from the West Coast offense. He uses some play action to get deep and also hits the tight end – all things I love, and fits the players on this team well.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay; Phillip Rivers, San Diego; Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay. Unusual choices, I know. I refuse to put Brady on my team (I’m biased, I’m a Steelers fan and went to Michigan State. He’s a little snot.) and I’m concerned about Manning’s struggles this year. Michael Vick and Ben (who I wanted for his mobility and fourth quarter brilliance) aren’t the representatives we want right now, and Brees threw a TON of picks. Rodgers is mobile, has a strong arm, and is gutsy, in addition to having the league’s third highest-rated passer rating, and he’s second in average yards, a big statistic. He also did it with a crap offensive line and no run game at all. He’s classy as can be as well. Rivers backs him up, because the year he had was spectacular and he knows the offensive, but the inability to win the hard games concerns me. Freeman had a ridiculous year considering the number of fourth quarter comebacks with 10 rookie starts, including both his receivers, his running back, and two guards on the line.
Running back: Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh; Jamaal Charles, Kansas City; Michael Turner, Atlanta; Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville. No Peterson – he gets stood up a lot and the fumbling is still a concern. Foster had a good year, but I’m not totally sold on him yet (even though he got me a fantasy championship). Mendenhall had a great year, but the big thing I’m sold on (besides his versatility, because he can block and catch) was the yards after contact. Despite a suspect and injured offensive line, he put up lots of yards and I believe he led the league in yards AFTER getting hit. He just doesn’t go down. Charles is amazing and a speedy guy who does better sharing carries, as he does here. That 6.4 YPC is absurd. Turner is our power-back and a leader, and Jones-Drew can do it all, though he won’t be dressing much short of an injury.
Fullback: Lawrence Vickers, Cleveland Browns. This guy is a beast of a blocker, and that’s all he’s going to do. He helped make Peyton Hillis a star, and I want a strong blocker to lead for Mendenhall and protect Ben. Norv Turner had fun with Lorenzo Neal and Tomlinson; Vickers fills the Neal role here.
Wide Receiver: Andre Johnson, Houston; Calvin Johnson, Detroit; Greg Jennings, Green Bay (slot receiver); Roddy White, Atlanta; Josh Cribbs, Cleveland. Cribbs is our returner so he gets a roster spot – I picked him over Hester because Cribbs is a better tackler on special teams (by a lot) and is also a versatile player on offense (and the emergency QB). The Johnsons are the two most physically ridiculous receivers in the league today. Andre is always dominant, and Megatron (trust me, I’m from Detroit) has done amazing things, especially when you consider the lack of talent of the Lions on offense and the problems with injuries at quarterback. Rodgers gets the quick and talented route runner he’s familiar with in the slot. White is the first guy off the bench – he’s had an amazing year and gives us another prototype guy with all the skills. All these guys are solid character guys (Finnegan deserved what he got from Andre Johnson this year) and they can simply outplay basically anyone.
Tight End: Vernon Davis, San Francisco; Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit; Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville. Davis is the most talented TE in the league, and he’s a good blocker in addition to his receiving skills. He got his character issues in order and is now a leader on a bad team, and he would thrive in a Norv Turner offense. Antonio Gates simply can’t stay healthy, and Gonzalez doesn’t have the same athleticism he used to. Pettigrew is a great blocker and has solid hands – 71 receptions despite the Lions’ problems at quarterback. He’s a great safety valve. Lewis is just the best blocking TE in the league, and that’s basically all the third TE is ever asked to do – but he can do a little catching if we need him to.
Offensive Line: Joe Thomas, Cleveland; Ben Grubbs, Baltimore; Alex Mack, Cleveland; Harvey Dahl, Atlanta; Jake Long, Miami; Michael Oher, Baltimore; Eric Steinbach, Cleveland; Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh; Brian Waters, Kansas City. Thomas is the best combination of pass and run blocking the league has at LT, in addition to being a great leader. Grubbs is a quietly great player at guard and Alex Mack is developing as expected and helped pave the way for Peyton Hillis as a part of that awesome Browns trio of Thomas, Mack, and Steinbach (who makes the list as a backup LG). Dahl is the meanest guard in the game, which you want at RG and he’ll maul people for us. Long would be an even better RT than he would a LT because of his run blocking skills. Oher is the swing tackle because he can play both positions. Pouncey is already a top center in the league and backs up Mack and the guards because he’s so versatile, and Waters is the leader on the line of Kansas City and their amazing run game, but his age means he doesn’t dress much.
Coordinator: Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh. We’re running a 3-4. Any questions?
Defensive Line: Haloti Ngata, Baltimore; Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh; Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh; Ndamukong Suh, Detroit; Vince Wilfork, New England; Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City; Ahtyba Rubin, Cleveland. This defensive line is unstoppable and versatile. Ngata and Smith are possibly the two best 3-4 linemen ever, and when Smith is healthy he is still near the top of his game. Hampton has had a great year and anchors the center of this defense. No one is running here. Wilfork can play all 3 positions, and Glenn Dorsey finally got his game together in the 3-4 and is becoming a star. Detroit actually uses only 3 down linemen a lot and Suh gets moved to left end and I saw no dropoff in his spectacular – he’s already a top five lineman in this league and provides some serious attitude to the line, in addition to some interior pass rush when LeBeau goes to two down linemen. Rubin is a solid NT, but he won’t dress much.
Outside Linebackers: James Harrison, Pittsburgh; Clay Matthews, Green Bay; DeMarcus Ware, Dallas; Tamba Hali, Kansas City. Harrison is the best OLB in the league – a dominant pass rusher AND run stopper, not to mention a special teams ace. Matthews slowed down to the end of the season, but that was because of some nagging injuries. He’s a great player at the LOLB in a 3-4. Ware spells Harrison at rush linebacker, and Hali is a little-known player with double digit sacks and some forced fumbles. He’s a force. Let’s turn these guys loose and watch quarterbacks fall.
Inside Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh; David Harris, New York; Patrick Willis, San Francisco; James Farrior, Pittsburgh. Timmons plays the Will linebacker and brings all his athleticism and talent to the table. Harris is the thumper inside and runs the defense, except when the seemingly ageless James Farrior spells him and brings his outstanding leadership and instincts to the table. Willis is still one of the best linebackers in the league; he just plays on a bad team and is asked to do far too much.
Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis, New York; Nmandi Asomugha, Oakland; Asante Samuel, Philadelphia; Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh; Charles Woodson, Green Bay; Brandon Flowers, Kansas City. Amazing position group – it might be the best on the team. Revis and Asomugha shut down whoever the cover, game over. Samuel gets a lot of picks and has had a great year. Taylor is a solid tackler who LeBeau loves and is often underrated because of his stone hands. Woodson is a veteran, a leader, a representative, and is incredibly versatile – he can play corner, safety, and can serve as a returner and a special teams ace as well as being the best blitzing corner in the league not named Antoine Winfield. Flowers is a little known player, but he’s very talented and is quite physical, but he’s not going to play a lot.
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Ed Reed, Baltimore; LaRon Landry, Washington; Chris Harris, Chicago. What luck! We have the two best safeties in NFL history playing next to each other. Basically, LeBeau’s game plan for these two guys is to… let them do whatever they want. Landry was having a great year on a bad defense (which got significantly worse after he got injured) and is an athletic freak. Chris Harris quietly been playing great for a resurgent Bears defense, he deserves this spot.
Coordinator: Bobby April, Philadelphia. There’s a reason the Eagles snatched this guy up almost immediately. He’s an incredible coordinator – the one thing you can always say about the Bills is that their special teams is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a heck of a coach, and the Eagles special teams was predictably awesome under his leadership. He’s in.
Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Baltimore. Great accuracy and can also put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs. Enough said.
Punter: Mat McBriar, Dallas. He leads the league both in punt average and net punt average, and is also a fairly accurate guy to go with that leg. Still, I doubt we’re going to need him very much.
Longsnapper: Jon Condo, Oakland. Condo has been snapping for Janikowski and Lechler, and they’ve both done pretty well. Let’s send him out there.
Kick Returners: Cribbs, Woodson
Punt Returner: Cribbs
Captains: Rodgers, Farrior, Woodson, Waters