Bryan’s 2016 All Pro Team

This is not the official GridFe All Pro team. It is the opinion of just one man, based on game play, overall impact, and statistical production. My positions and criteria were flexible; if I thought Von Miller deserved to make the first team over a traditional linebacker, I gave Miller the spot. If I thought Reshad Jones played well enough in six games to warrant a shout out on the third team, I did it. If I thought Luke Kuechly played better than Bobby Wagner, but not so much better as to offset only playing ten games, I made Wagner the top guy.

I almost always picked players I preferred in the passing attack or defending against the pass. Tackling is a nice quality in a defensive back, but I emphasize coverage or playmaking. For linebackers, I like those who can rush or cover well; tackling is important, but I don’t care about tackle volume.

Without further ado, here’s my 2016 All Pro team.1

PosFirst TeamTeamSecond TeamTeamHonorable MentionTeam
QBMatt RyanATLTom BradyNEAaron RodgersGNB
HBDavid JohnsonARILe'Veon BellPITEzekiel ElliottDAL
WRMike EvansTBOdell Beckham Jr.NYGJordy NelsonGNB
WRAntonio BrownPITT.Y. HiltonINDDoug BaldwinSEA
WRJulio JonesATLA.J. GreenCINJulian EdelmanNE
TETravis KelceKCGreg OlsenCARJimmy GrahamSEA
LTTrent WilliamsWASTyron SmithDALDavid BakhtiariGNB
LGMarshall YandaBALKelechi OsemeleOAKJosh SittonCHI
CTravis FrederickDALAlex MackATLRyan KalilCAR
RGZack MartinDALT.J. LangGNBBrandon BrooksPHI
RTMitchell SchwartzKCBryan BulagaGNBJack ConklinTEN
ERKhalil MackOAKJoey BosaSDMelvin IngramSD
ERJadeveon ClowneyHOUBrandon GrahamPHIVic BeasleyATL
ILAaron DonaldRAMGeno AtkinsCINFletcher CoxPHI
ILCalais CampbellARINdamukong SuhMIADamon HarrisonNYG
LBBobby WagnerSEALuke KuechlyCARJerrell FreemanCHI
LBVon MillerDENJamie CollinsCLENigel BradhamPHI
CBChris Harris Jr.DENMarcus PetersKCJimmy SmithBAL
CBJanoris JenkinsNYGAqib TalibDENRichard ShermanSEA
CBCasey HaywardSDPatrick PetersonARIDesmond TrufantATL
SDevin McCourtyNEEarl ThomasSEAEric BerryKC
SLandon CollinsNYGHarrison SmithMINReshad JonesMIA
KJustin TuckerBALMatt BryantTBDan BaileyDAL
PJohnny HekkerRAMPat McAfeeINDSam KochBAL
KRCordarrelle PattersonMINAlex EricksonCINBenny CunninghamRAM
PRTyreek HillKCMarcus SherelsMINJamison CrowderWAS
HCBill BelichickNEJack Del RioOAKAndy ReidKC
OCKyle ShanahanATLScott LinehanDALSean McVayWAS
DCWade PhillipsDENRomeo CrennelHOUSteve SpagnuoloNYG

All Pro Offense

Quarterback:

I don’t believe that Matt Ryan has, at any point in his career, been a superior quarterback to Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Even in his MVP season, I don’t think Ryan was intrinsically better than either future Hall of Famer. The Atlanta offense was incredibly helpful to Ryan, both in terms of scheme and teammates. However, his production was too historically great to ignore.

Rodgers suffered from uninspired playcalling and receivers who struggled to gain separation, and he basically carried the team on his back. Depending on your definition of “value,” he may have been the real MVP this year. Brady was incredible in all facets of the game, and he did it while improving his deep passing without his generational talent at tight end. The knock on Brady is that he missed a quarter of the season. Even though it was through no fault of his own, I can’t ignore those lost games. Besides, I’m sure Brady cares more about that fifth ring than the opinion of a writer he’s never heard of.

Running Back:

David Johnson was the Arizona offense. He started the season with 15 straight games over 100 yards from scrimmage, tying Barry Sanders for third all time.2 He did this without the offensive line help of other top producing backs. Le’Veon Bell was probably the best overall back in the league, but those four lost games hurt him just like they hurt Brady. It seems blasphemous to name Ezekiel Elliott to my third team, but I didn’t see much as a runner that separated him from Jordan Howard.

Wide Receiver:

Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are, to me, the best two receivers in the NFL. Jones was the best player on the league’s best offense, and Brown continued his streak of 1200+ yard seasons that will see him end up in Canton some day. However, Mike Evans was my top guy in 2016. He blew away the competition with 81 first downs and 90 successful receptions.3 Evans also led the NFL in Adjusted Catch Yards (ACY). He did this despite having little opportunity to pick up yards after the catch, with the erratic accuracy of Jameis Winston.

T.Y. Hilton led the league in receiving yards and was second in ACY. Jordy Nelson‘s improved health in the latter part of the season helped make Rodgers look like a much better quarterback, as he finally provided a receiver who could actually get open without being schemed open. A.J. Green was arguably the best receiver in the game last year, but missing six games knocks him down a notch. Odell Beckham Jr. was his usual spectacular self, while Doug Baldwin finally started getting the recognition he deserves for being a legitimate superstar.

Tight End:

Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL, and it isn’t particularly close. Unfortunately, he was severely limited in 2016. Gronk’s absence allowed Travis Kelce to take top honors. Although his penalties were befuddling, he was a monster after the catch and a decent enough blocker. Greg Olsen continued to be a model of consistency, becoming the first tight end in history to pick up three consecutive thousand yard seasons. Jimmy Graham didn’t produce quite like he did for Drew Brees, but his play was pretty remarkable when you account for the fact that he really isn’t a scheme fit for the Seattle offense.

Left Tackle:

Trent Williams only played in 12 games, but his closest competitor, Tyron Smith, played in just 13 games. It is probably fair to give more credit to David Bakhtiari, who actually played at a high level for the full season, but I found myself more impressed with the duo from the NFC East. Bakhtiari was probably the best pass protector in the league, but he wasn’t far enough ahead of Williams and Smith as a run blocker to usurp them.

Left Guard:

In a fair world, Marshal Yanda is a future Hall of Famer. He has played like one for years but, like Nick Mangold before him, toiled in relative obscurity because Pro Bowl and All Pro voters don’t know much about line play. Yanda has been the gold standard for his position for at least the last four years.

Kelechi Osemele was solid blocking for both passing and rushing plays and is a big reason the Raiders had one of the NFL’s top offensive lines last year and look to have a stellar line going forward. Josh Sitton went from blocking for magical Aaron Rodgers to blocking for the unholy triumvirate of Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, and Jay Cutler. While the success of his offense declined sharply from what he was used to, his play – especially his pass protection – did not.

Center:

With Mangold’s decline, Travis Frederick is now the cream of the center crop. He held opposing defenders to a goose egg in the sack column and proved to be a mauler as a run blocker. Alex Mack was arguably the most important addition to the Atlanta offense and was perfect for executing Kyle Shanahan’s system. He was a solid pass protector, but he really stood out in the rushing attack. Ryan Kalil would be a controversial pick if anyone cared about centers. Kalil only played half the season, but he was pretty clearly the second best in the league at his position for those eight games. Shooting stars always have a home on my All Pro team.

Right Guard:

I didn’t think Zack Martin lived up to his billing as a rookie, with fellow rookie Joel Bitonio looking a bit better (but in a smaller market on a losing team). However, Martin has since pulled ahead and shown that he is the future of the position. He’s a solid pass protector and a punishing run blocker. If Dallas can keep its core of Martin, Frederick, and Smith together, they have a chance to field one of the NFL’s most legendary offensive lines.

T.J. Lang was a superb pass blocker and a solid run blocker (if only he had a runner to take advantage of that). He was solid enough in just 13 games to make the second team. Playing for an offense that didn’t seem to have an identity, Brandon Brooks excelled. He was an especially strong pass protector, but he was pretty good at moving defenders off the ball as well. Both Lang and Brooks probably wouldn’t make the team ahead of Bitonio, Kyle Long, or Richie Incognito, but I wanted to adhere to actual line sides.

Right Tackle:

Mitchell Schwartz displayed the requisite toughness you expect from offensive linemen, playing well through injury for a good part of the season. Schwartz edges out Bulaga and Conklin because I think his quarterback and scheme make his job a little harder. Bryan Bulaga probably had the most success of any RT to play the full season. He was especially fantastic in pass protection. However, I mentally docked him for benefiting from Rodgers’s ability to set up linemen for success. Jack Conklin played incredibly well for a rookie and was a key contributor to the Titans’ exotic smashmouth attack. All three players benefited from Lane Johnson‘s 10-game suspension. In the six games he played, Johnson was easily the best at his position and likely would have been the first team All Pro at RT.

All Pro Defense

Edge Rusher:

Khalil Mack is a future Hall of Fame pass rusher already in the prime of his career. he’s also good against the run. He put pressure on opposing passers at a high rate, and he was a habitual play wrecker.  Jadeveon Clowney was an edge-setting marvel, blowing up run plays and flustering quarterbacks seemingly at will. I wasn’t sold on him coming out of college, but he is proving me wrong. I’m always happy to be proven wrong when it means the game gets another great player.

Joey Bosa technically played as a 3-4 defensive end, but his style was more reminiscent of the Bruce Smith/J.J. Watt brand than of the hold ground and let the linebackers make plays brand. Thus, I feel fine putting him with the edge rushers. Brandon Graham has been a seemingly underutilized pressure maven since entering the league. He wasn’t an elite run defender, like Michael Bennett, but he was quick off the ball and consistently in opposing backfields.

Melvin Ingram is a special, versatile player. Whether called upon to rush the passer, set the edge against the run, or even drop into coverage, he was among the best in the league at his job. Quite frankly, I don’t know how AFC West quarterbacks make it through the season with Mack, Miller, Justin Houston, Bosa, and Ingram besieging them. Vic Beasley led the league in sacks, so his place on the third team may be a surprise. I don’t care much about fancy sack numbers, given that other pressures are often as important as sacks themselves. Beasley didn’t pressure the quarterback at a high rate, but he was fortunate to convert a high percentage of his pressures into sacks.

Interior Linemen:

Aaron Donald is the second coming of Alan Page. He doesn’t have the prototypical size you’d expect from an elite DT, but his athletic ability allows him to routinely embarrass offensive linemen. With the possibility that J.J. Watt never reaches former heights, Donald may be the best player in the NFL at any position. The Cardinals weren’t a very good team last year, but their defense was among the best in the league. Calais Campbell was a big part of that, producing probably the best season of his underappreciated career.

Until Donald came along, Geno Atkins was the quickest defensive tackle in the game. His explosion at the snap is still a thing of beauty, and he uses it to befuddle opposing linemen. He’s among the best interior pass rushers in the game and is also a very good run stopper. Ndamukong Suh has rarely lived up to his reputation as a player, but he usually came pretty close. Always among the most terrifying defenders in the NFL, Suh excels in every aspect of line play.

In many seasons, Fletcher Cox‘s play would have earned him a first team nod. He was exceptional at everything the Eagles asked of him. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for fans of defense), we are in a golden age of hyperathletic giants seeking to create havoc for offenses. Aside from, perhaps, Jacksonville’s Roy Miller, Damon Harrison is the best run stuffer the sport has to offer. Harrison is a bit better than Miller against the pass, so he makes the All Pro team.

Linebacker:

Bobby Wagner was consistently good all season, despite rarely jumping off the screen. However, he was on the field enough to provide more value than any other linebacker. He was okay in coverage, great against the run, and good as a pass rusher. Von Miller is technically an edge rusher, and rushing the quarterback is what will get him a gold jacket and a bust in Canton some day.4 However, he is solid when asked to drop into coverage, and putting the best players on my All Pro first team meant bending the rules a little.

Luke Kuechly is the best traditional linebacker in the NFL, and he is a future HOFer if he remains healthy. He is good at every part of being a linebacker, and the only thing keeping him from the first team is the fact that he missed six games this year and Wagner didn’t. Jamie Collins made the news by being traded from a Super Bowl contender (and eventual winner) to an awful Browns team. While this left the impression that Collins was not a great player, the truth is that he performed at an elite level. He was arguably the best linebacker in the game in coverage, but he was also typically excellent at attacking the line of scrimmage.

Like Kuechly, Jerrell Freeman outplayed Wagner. Like Kuechly, Freeman also missed significant time. Teaming with Danny Trevathan to form a formidable linebacker duo, Freeman was good or great in all facets of the game. Importantly, he was among the league’s best in pass coverage, and he was also solid as a pass rusher. Nigel Bradham isn’t a household name and may never become one. However, he was excellent in pass coverage and decent enough against the run to make the All Pro third team.

Cornerback:

Chris Harris Jr. gets my vote for top cornerback in the NFL. He can lock down receivers with the best of them, but he is also arguably the finest slot corner in the league. If you’re the type who cares about tackling, he’s pretty good at that too. I have long thought Janoris Jenkins was an overrated player, making a name off of big plays while giving up even more big plays (a la DeAngelo Hall). However, 2016 proved to be the best season of his career and one of the best coverage performances of any CB this year. Casey Hayward was a phenomenal slot corner in Green Bay, and he proved capable of being a fantastic overall corner for the Chargers. He’s not much of a tackler, but he can do just about anything you ask of him in coverage.

As with Jenkins, I came into the season wary of Marcus Peters. He was an incredible playmaker as a rookie, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In 2016, he solidified his place as one of the few elite corners in football. Aqib Talib didn’t surrender a touchdown in coverage and was an above average run defender. I’d put him on my first team if I thought he was the best on his own team. Patrick Peterson didn’t shut down receivers with the effectiveness he has in the past, but much of that is because the rest of his secondary was in disarray, with no other starter able to play in all 16 games. Despite his surroundings, Peterson was arguably a better player in 2016 than in some of his more celebrated seasons.

Jimmy Smith may have made the second team had he not missed five games. An underrated corner, Smith has never sniffed a Pro Bowl or All pro team. He doesn’t pick up many interceptions, which means he doesn’t pick up much attention. However, he’s one of the best in the game. Richard Sherman slipped slightly from his lofty peak, but he is still among the game’s top defenders. he can struggle against shifty receivers, but he is a threat to intercept any deep pass. He’s also arguably the best tackling cornerback in the league. Desmond Trufant is an excellent all-around cornerback and, unlike many on the All Pro team, excelled in the secondary without a great front seven. Given the huge difference pressure can make on the passing game, Trufant’s accomplishments are noteworthy.

Safety:

Devin McCourty has managed the impressive feat of playing his entire career for the Patriots, at a high level, while generating relatively little fanfare. Despite consistently excellent play, he has made just two Pro Bowls and no AP All Pro first teams. He is a Swiss Army Knife type player, responsible for a wide range of assignments (including moving to CB when needed), and he performs all of his assignments better than just about anyone. Landon Collins was a popular selection for defensive player of the year. Roaming close to the line, Collins was able to consistently make big plays against both the pass and the run.

Earl Thomas had his standard excellent season, and his injury highlighted how valuable he is to the Seattle defense. His incredible recovery speed and instincts allow him to cover for a host of mishaps in the secondary, and the Legion of Boom looked more like the Legion of Whom. Harrison Smith has an incredible skillset that allows him to play single high like Thomas or move into the box like a Bernard Pollard type.  He’s also a serviceable blitzer when called upon.

Eric Berry almost singlehandedly lost Matt Ryan the MVP award. While the Atlanta game was obviously a highlight, it wasn’t much different from his spectacular play over the rest of the season. Don’t pretend you weren’t rooting for him. Reshad Jones was the best in the game when healthy.He defends the run like a strong safety and the pass like a free safety. You may think it’s silly, but he was good enough in his limited time to make the All Pro team.

All Pro Special Teams

Kicker:

Justin Tucker is the most obvious choice of any player on this team. Matt Bryant and Dan Bailey were also very good, but not nearly on Tucker’s level. I’m not going to write more than that about kickers.

Punter:

I normally don’t trust the raw stats of punters on teams with inept offenses. They are almost always artificially inflated. However, Johnny Hekker was the real deal, combining the distance you see from most bad-team punters with the accuracy they often lack. Erstwhile punter Pat McAfee was solid too, as was Sam Koch.

Kick Returner:

Cordarrelle Patterson was a bust as a receiver, but he is a weapon as a kick returner. He led the league in return average for the third time in his four year career, and he currently trails on Gale Sayers in average return length (with 43 more returns under his belt). Alex Erickson led the league in return yards but also had a solid average rate. Benny Cunningham did all he could to put the inept Rams offense in better position to score points.

Punt Returner:

Isn’t Dave Toub just so lucky to somehow have incredibly talented return men just fall into his lap? In all seriousness, Toub Effect or not, Tyreek Hill was clearly the best returner in the league. Marcus Sherels and Jamison Crowder also provided their teams with tremendous return value. This was especially important for Sherels, whose Vikings offenses needed all the help they could get.

All Pro Coaches

Head Coach:

Bill Belichick begins every season as my coach of the year, and he doesn’t lose the title until someone really earns it. Too often COTY awards are given to guys who exceed expectations by doing hardly more than taking advantage of reversion to the mean. Belichick deserves credit for setting high expectations and somehow living up to them every year. Also, his team went 3-1 without arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Jack Del Rio and Andy Reid led teams to 12 wins in tough AFC West. Del Rio was a steady hand who helped guide his young quarterback to success, while Reid managed to mask Alex Smith‘s many deficiencies and win without Jamaal Charles or Justin Houston for most of the season.

Offensive Coordinator:

Kyle Shanahan coordinated the league’s most productive offense and got great play out of a good quarterback. His decision to run shotgun pass plays while up big in the Super Bowl wasn’t enough to lose his spot. Scott Linehan developed a gameplan that protected his rookie quarterback and smartly leaned on his otherworldly offensive line. Sean McVay got good play out of a mediocre quarterback. That counts for something.

Defensive Coordinator:

Wade Phillips deserves credit for following a historic season with another great season. Sure, he had talented players, but he still had to get solid play out of them. He ended up coaching the best defense in the league. Romeo Crennel doesn’t seem to be a popular choice, especially after his sub par showing as a head coach. However, he deserves credit for fielding a very good (not great) defense, despite losing the NFL’s best defender for most of the season. The New York Giants had probably the second best defense in the league, but it’s hard to know how much of that was Steve Spagnuolo and how much was a beefed up line in free agency and the ascension of Landon Collins. I called it a wash and put him on the third team.

 

  1. I realize it’s way late for this, but I wanted to go back and watch more footage before finalizing things. I put out a preliminary all pro team on Twitter right after the season, but things have changed since then.
  2. Marcus Allen had a 17 game streak, and Lydell Mitchell had a 16 game streak. If you include the playoffs, Johnson’s 16 game streak trails only Allen’s 18 game streak.
  3. That’s 50% of yards needed to move the chains on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth downs.
  4. Seriously, the guy’s first step is so quick, I’d swear he had resilin in his joints.