The 2009 Associated Press All-Pro team was announced today. Here’s what was on the ballot I submitted:
Quarterback: New Orleans’ Drew Brees
I explained Brees over Peyton Manning when I talked about my MVP vote. Basically, Brees was statistically just a little better on similarly successful teams.
Running backs: Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Baltimore’s Ray Rice
Johnson was an obvious pick and rightfully got all 50 votes. The second spot was tough. I chose Rice over Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (who got the spot), in that order. Rice had about 50 fewer rushing yards than Jones-Drew or Peterson, but averaged 0.9 more per carry than Peterson and 0.8 more than Jones-Drew. Rice had only seven rushing touchdowns to Peterson’s 18 and Jones-Drew’s 15, but that’s mostly because Willis McGahee vultured 12 touchdowns for the Ravens this season. Rice ultimately edged the other two because he was by far the best receiving back in the league this year, with 78 catches for 702 yards.
Fullback: Miami’s Lousaka Polite
Polite was a great lead blocker, as was Tennessee’s Ahmard Hall. What set Polite apart was he was nearly automatic when Miami gave him the ball in short-yardage situations. According to Phinsider blog, he was 17 of 18 on third or fourth and 2 or shorter this year.
Tight end: Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark
I considered breakout star Vernon Davis too, but it was a two-man race between Clark and San Diego’s Antonio Gates. The numbers were pretty close (Clark had more catches and touchdowns, Gates had more yards and yards per catch) but I went with Clark because he was a major factor in three close wins, against Miami, Denver and Jacksonville.
Wide receiver: Houston’s Andre Johnson and Dallas’ Miles Austin
Johnson was an easy pick, he was clearly the best receiver in the NFL. I don’t know how anyone didn’t vote for him – he had 101 catches and more than 200 more yards than anyone else. Like running back, the second spot was tough. There were great candidates, like San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, New England’s Wes Welker, Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne, Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson and New England’s Randy Moss. But I chose Austin, because he put up the third-most yards in the NFL and more 20-yard catches than any of my other candidates (21) – and he didn’t start the first four weeks. He had five catches for 81 yards through four weeks, and averaged 103.3 yards in the final 12. Nobody in the NFL averaged more than 100. As for Welker, who got the spot, no receivers among the top 44 in yards this season had fewer than his eight 20-yard catches, and he had only four touchdowns. I obviously picked Austin and thought someone like Jackson, a big-play machine, would have been a better pick as well. I find it odd that catches have become the only stat that seemingly matters for receivers, when yards and big plays are much more valuable.
Offensive tackles: Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and Tennessee’s David Stewart
I wasn’t going to pick two left tackles (or two left guards or two free safeties, etc.) for my team. Right tackle was pretty easy – Stewart had a great year pass blocking and he blocked for a 2,000-yard rusher. The play at left tackle this season wasn’t great, but Thomas edged out Denver’s Ryan Clady, who gave up plenty of sacks in the second half (he had allowed 6.5 going into the season finale), struggled against Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and was part of an offensive line that struggled to run the ball down the stretch.
Offensive guards: Minnesota’s Steve Hutchinson and New York Giants’ Chris Snee
Guards aren’t easy to pick, but both of these guards are great against the run and didn’t allow many sacks (Hutchinson gave up 3.5 in the first 15 games, and Snee allowed four).
Center: Dallas’ Andre Gurode
The Cowboys like to run up the middle, right behind the big Gurode. Gurode is also solid in pass protection. He edged out other worthy candidates like Tennessee’s Kevin Mawae and the Jets’ Nick Mangold.
Kicker: Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski
San Diego’s Nate Kaeding got the spot, and he had a great year. But people like to point out he hit 32-of-35 attempts, but rarely mention 19 of those came from 29 yards or less. When you realize Janikowski, playing for a team with a much worse offense, had three such opportunities, his 26-of-29 season (including a 61-yarder) looks much more impressive. He was also much better on kickoffs. Of his 58 kickoffs, 17 were touchbacks. Kaeding had nine on 97 attempts.
Returner: Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs
Cribbs was one of the easiest picks on the team after his amazing season, although I hated leaving Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson – a big-play receiver and a great punt returner – completely off my team.