The 2009 Associated Press All-Pro team was announced today. Here’s what was on the ballot I submitted:
Defensive ends: Minnesota’s Jared Allen and New Orleans’ Will Smith
I had to look hard at Allen, because he disappeared for stretches and 7.5 of his 14.5 sacks came in two games against Green Bay when the Packers’ line was struggling. But those were two big wins for the Vikings and he had a very good all-around season, so he made it. I know Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney is a great pass rusher, but he doesn’t play the run. So my spot went to Smith, whose 49 tackles (twice as many as Freeney’s 24) went well with his 13 sacks (Freeney had 13.5). I also had players like Washington’s Andre Carter and Philadelphia’s Trent Cole well ahead of Freeney. Like catches are overrated for receivers, I don’t know how a half-sack more for Freeney outshines Smith’s all-around effort.
Defensive tackles: Dallas’ Jay Ratliff and Arizona’s Darnell Dockett
Ratliff was an easy choice, a real difference maker in the middle. Dockett was a tough call only because of his position. He’s basically a 3-4 end, but is listed by the Cardinals as a tackle, made the Pro Bowl as a tackle, and longtime voter Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post moves 3-4 ends inside when he votes. So Dockett, a playmaker at whatever position he plays, got the vote.
Outside linebackers: Denver’s Elvis Dumervil and Houston’s Brian Cushing
Dumervil had 17 sacks, and his 11 on third down were the most in the NFL since at least 1991. They weren’t just meaningless sacks, and that makes up for a low tackle total. DeMarcus Ware got the other spot. He is a great player, but again, his 11 sacks shouldn’t have been a bigger factor than the unreal individual season Cushing had. As I explained when discussing why I voted him defensive rookie of the year, Cushing probably should have gotten consideration for NFL defensive player of the year. He was robbed here.
Inside linebackers: San Francisco’s Patrick Willis and Carolina’s Jon Beason
Willis might be the best defensive player in football and will win defensive player of the year someday. He led the NFL in tackles. Beason was tied for second in tackles and had a great all-around season. Baltimore’s Ray Lewis got the spot on the team, but Beason had more tackles, more solo tackles, the same amount of sacks, more passes defensed and more interceptions.
Cornerbacks: New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis and Green Bay’s Charles Woodson
Although these two were the top defensive player of the year candidates for good reason, I have to point out that Denver’s Champ Bailey had an underrated season and I almost put him on the ballot ahead of Woodson. Bailey didn’t allow a touchdown all season despite shadowing the opponent’s best receiver. But, Woodson’s versatility and big plays earned him the nod.
Safeties: New Orleans’ Darren Sharper and Houston’s Bernard Pollard
Sharper tied for first in the NFL with nine interceptions and was an easy pick at free safety. Like Miles Austin on offense, I thought Pollard’s numbers were fantastic when considering he didn’t start the first four games of the season. In fact, he was a free agent the first few weeks of the season after being cut by Kansas City. He had 102 tackles, made big plays (1.5 sacks, four interceptions, two touchdowns) and helped the Texans defense improve. According to a story in Houston Chronicle before the regular-season finale, the Texans allowed about 140 fewer overall yards, 120 fewer rushing yards and more than 10 fewer points per game after Pollard was put in the lineup at strong safety. Then he had a touchdown and a key interception to set up the game-winning score in the finale against the Patriots.
Punter: Oakland’s Shane Lechler
Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt had a great season too, and is a fantastic directional punter. But Lechler had a gross average that was almost six yards higher and a net average three yards higher, and each of those marks led the NFL.