Bryan’s 2018 All Pro Team

I am not the sole proprietor of The GridFe, so I don’t want to call this the GridFe All Pro Team. The players and coaches I have selected are my own choices, and they are often at odds with the picks of my fellow contributors. This is my all pro team. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I base my selections on traditional and advanced stats, film study, and my own futile attempts at properly applying context to each player’s season.

Although I am a historian and love old school football, I believe in the pass above all else, and my picks reflect that. I also have a general disregard for rules, and I will blur the lines of positional designations if I think it means getting the best players on my team. Strap in.

PosFirst TeamTeamSecond TeamTeamHonorable MentionTeam
QBPatrick MahomesKCDrew BreesNORPhilip RiversLAC
RBSaquon BarkleyNYGAlvin KamaraNORChristian McCaffreyCAR
WRDeAndre HopkinsHOUTyreek HillKCRobert WoodsRAM
WRMichael ThomasNORKeenan AllenLACDavante AdamsGNB
WRJulio JonesATLAdam ThielenMINTyler LockettSEA
TEGeorge KittleSFTravis KelceKCZach ErtzPHI
LTDavid BakhtiariGNBAndrew WhitworthRAMDuane BrownSEA
LGJoel BitonioCLEJoe ThuneyNEQuenton NelsonIND
CRodney HudsonOAKJason KelcePHIJ.C. TretterCLE
RGKevin ZeitlerCINMarshal YandaBALShaq MasonNE
RTMitchell SchwartzKCRyan RamczykNORRob HavensteinRAM
ERJ.J. WattHOUVon MillerDENTrey FlowersNE
ERKhalil MackCHICameron JordanNORDee FordKC
ILAaron DonaldRAMAkiem HicksCHICalais CampbellJAX
ILFletcher CoxPHIChris JonesKCGeno AtkinsCIN
LBBobby WagnerSEADarius LeonardINDZach BrownWAS
LBLuke KuechlyCARLeighton Vander EschDALJaylon SmithDAL
CBStephon GilmoreNEByron JonesDALMarshon LattimoreNOR
CBPatrick PetersonARIKyle FullerCHITre'Davious WhiteBUF
CBDesmond KingLACKareem JacksonHOUCasey HaywardLAC
SEddie JacksonCHIDerwin JamesLACJohn JohnsonRAM
SJamal AdamsNYJKevin ByardTENMicah HydeBUF
KWil LutzNORJustin TuckerBALJason MyersNYJ
PTress WayWASJohnny HekkerRAMThomas MorsteadNOR
RAndre RobertsNYJDesmond KingLACAlex EricksonCIN
STAlbert McClellanBAL/NECory LittletonRAMTim PatrickDEN
HCSean McVayRAMMatt NagyCHIFrank ReichIND
ACVic FangioCHIDon MartindaleBALBrant BoyerNYJ

All Pro Offense

Quarterback:

Patrick Mahomes was chalk. He led all quarterbacks in rate stats like QBR, DVOA, and TAY/P (and any other meaningful metric you can find). He did so while carrying a heavy workload, resulting in a historic 50 touchdown that also saw him lap the field in DYAR, VAL, and points added. Mahomes also passed the eye test in a way few have matched, captivating viewers with inexplicable throws from impossible angles.

Drew Brees and Philip Rivers were their typical fantastic selves. Brees continued to push the boundaries of passing accuracy to new levels, but an apparent leg injury may have contributed to a noticeable decline in his play later in the year. Rivers has a brash style of play that matches his attitude. The way he fearlessly attacks defenses and refuses to shy away from the pass rush is reminiscent of Johnny Unitas and fellow Chargers legend Dan Fouts.

Running Back:

Running back was a difficult position to fill, because there is so much entanglement with offensive line and playcalling. Ultimately, I went with the backs I found stood out for their contributions as both runners and receivers.  Saquon Barkley didn’t play for a good team, and he was rarely put in position to be successful. However, he was a tackle breaking machine and manufactured big plays from out of nowhere.

Alvin Kamara was a dynamic dual threat who possesses a rare combination of balance and pad-level that allows him to bounce off defenders, as well as the receiving ability to present defensive coordinators with matchup nightmares. When needed, he was a capable pass protector too. Christian McCaffrey is essentially a wide receiver playing out of the backfield, and that’s a good thing. He isn’t the best pure runner in the league, but pure running isn’t nearly as important as versatility, which he has in spades.

Wide Receiver:

DeAndre Hopkins possess body control that would make a young Lynn Swann jealous, and his hands are as good as anyone’s in history. After a career spent receiving passes from a who’s who of who cares, he finally has a star QB to help elevate his play and increase public awareness of his amazing gifts. Michael Thomas seemed to catch everything that came his way, pulling in 85% on his targets. That’s a good number for a running back, and it’s unheard of for a wide receiver. Having the most accurate passer ever to throw a football helps, but Thomas more than held up his end of the deal. Julio Jones is the king of making the most of his opportunities, once again leading the league in yards per route run (in addition to leading the NFL in receiving yards for the second time and boasting his fifth straight season of 1400+ yards). 

Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, and Adam Thielen are the second team receivers. Hill’s speed is immediately obvious, as it jumps off the screen whenever the Chiefs play. However, he is getting better at the finer aspects of the position and even made several plays in the mold of a young Steve Smith. When he really figures out the position, he’s going to be terrifying. Allen is a special player with who you can tell has put in the work needed to understand and perfect the nuances of the position. He doesn’t have the athletic profile of many of the other top receivers, but his attention to detail has made him Rivers’s deadliest weapon. Halfway through the season, Thielen was the number one receiver on my board. He slowed down and suffered from uninspired QB play, but his full season is worthy of a second team nod. All three second team players were lights out from the slot.

Robert Woods is not a player I came into the season thinking I’d have on my all pro team. However, he’s been a great asset to Sean McVay’s offense, and his downfield blocking has been a boon to the heralded Rams rushing attack. Davante Adams just finished his third consecutive season with double digit touchdowns. Part of that is because he’s the primary target of a quarterback who has proven to be historically great at scoring, but his play (and especially his dedication to improvement) earned him the right to be Rodgers’s first option. Tyler Lockett is the hipster pick of the squad. Playing on  a run-first team in 2018, he didn’t have much opportunity to post big numbers. But he made his targets count, helping Russell Wilson post a perfect passer rating on targets in his direction.

Tight End:

George Kittle and Travis Kelce were almost too close to separate. They were both elite receivers who had the benefit of intelligent play designers. Kittle shined as a run blocker, while Kelce was better in pas pro. Ultimately, I looked at what Kittle was able to do with the ball in his hands, shedding and embarrassing hapless defenders to pick up huge chunks of extra yardage, and I went with the 49er.1

Zach Ertz takes the honorable mention. His 116 catches are a positional record, and his hands are so soft I’ve considered calling him Curley. He isn’t the big play threat the others are, but he is a reliable outlet in the style of Jason Witten.

Left Tackle:

David Bakhtiari probably isn’t the best overall tackle in the league, but he is the best in pass protection, and that’s what matters most to me. It can’t be easy keeping defenders off a quarterback who is always playing hero ball, but Bakhtiari has done it with aplomb for three years now. He is the offensive line version of Deion Sanders: he simply does not get beaten on pass plays, and that provides coaches the ability to be creative when drawing up game plans.

Andrew Whitworth was tremendous when clearing massive holes for Todd Gurley or when keeping pass rushers away from Jared Goff. At an age when many tackles are out of the league, Whitworth is as good as he has ever been. Similar can be said of Duane Brown, who has been a godsend to Russell Wilson. Besides keeping Wilson off the ground, Brown has helped improve the Seattle rushing attack to nearly five yards and a cloud of dust.

Left Guard:

Joel Bitonio was the best pass blocker at his position, and I don’t think it was that close. In a fair world, he’d be a perennial Pro Bowler and occasional all pro. In the real world, he’ll have to settle for my unwavering appreciation and a spot on my all pro team. Blocking for a veteran with a history of taking too many sacks, then transitioning to a rookie (while playing for one of the worst coaches in history, then transitioning to a rookie) can’t be easy, but Bitonio made it look so.

Joe Thuney excels at whatever Josh McDaniels assigns him. He keeps his legendary quarterback upright, he drives linemen off the ball, and he searches and destroys at the second level. Quenton Nelson was perhaps the most exciting guard of the season, at least for those of us who enjoy watching highlight reels of offensive linemen. While his splash plays were remarkable, I wasn’t quite as impressed with his every down performance, which is why I have him as only the third ranked player at his position.

Center:

Rodney Hudson has been, is, and probably will continue to be the best pass blocking center in the NFL. Across different schemes and in front of a long and ugly list of passers, Hudson has excelled at this duty. My biggest hope as a fan of his is to see him one day block for a quarterback worthy of his talents.

Jason Kelce is probably the most complete center in football. Superb in pass protection and a brutish mauler in the run game, there really isn’t anything he can’t do. Whether he’s using power and leverage to take on a nose tackle or using quickness and savvy to engage a safety, he usually wins the play. J.C. Tretter was the man in the middle of arguably the best pass blocking interior line in football. If Cleveland can keep them intact, the idea of Baker Mayfield in a clean jersey has to scare the rest of the AFC North.

Right Guard:

Kevin Zeitler is the third member of the Browns interior offensive line to receive recognition for his work in pass pro. He allowed very few pressures, despite playing nearly 700 passing snaps (by my count, he allowed pressure 1.6% of the time, compared with 2.2% for Yanda and 3.0% for Mason). His run blocking wasn’t on par with other elite guards, but it was good enough. 

Marshal Yanda has been at or near the top of the mountain for years, and he should be on people’s lists of future Hall of Famers. Unfortunately, playing for a team not known for offense often has negative effects on the legacies of offensive linemen. Yanda didn’t allow a sack all year, and his run blocking was typically excellent. Shaq Mason was in a league of his own as a run blocker, and highlights of him ragdolling defenders are a thing of beauty. While he was good in pass protection, I didn’t feel he was quite good enough to get the nod over the guys from Paul Brown teams.

Right Tackle:

Mitchell Schwartz not too long ago, the right tackle position was derided as the spot for the tackle who wasn’t good enough to protect the quarterback’s blind side. With the increased reliance on passing and the prevalence of incredibly athletic and talented pass rushers lining up in every technique imaginable, this is no longer the case (nor has it been for several years). Schwartz didn’t protect anyone’s blind side, but he did face dynamic edge rushers like Von Miller en route to helping his young quarterback earn consensus MVP honors.

Ryan Ramczyk has the enviable task of blocking for a smart passer with a quick release, but that doesn’t mean the young lineman hasn’t been good in his own right. He and fellow tackle Terron Armstead2 have given Brees security from edge pressure, as well as paved the way for the Saints two headed rushing attack. Rob Havenstein is an interesting case. He was clearly good at his job, but McVay’s design seems to have made his job easier than that of many of his peers. Havenstein held up in pass protection, but he benefited from significant use of play action. He cleared space for the run, but he rarely had to deal with the extra responsibilities of blocking against heavy boxes.3

All Pro Defense

Edge Rusher:

After so many back problems, I wasn’t sure if J.J. Watt would ever be a reliable defender again. He didn’t regain his place as the best player in football, but he definitely found his way back to elite status. He has done enough in his abbreviated career to have a solid shot at Canton already. Khalil Mack went to Chicago with a chip on his shoulder and produced arguably the most impressive campaign of his life. He was a big play maven and seemed to single-handedly turn the tide in games early in the season. Missed time and a historic season from another player kept him from taking home his second defensive player of the year award.

Von Miller was his usual excellent self. The defense around him isn’t what it once was, but he is as good as ever. His explosion off the line of scrimmage remains one of the most awe-inspiring events I’ve ever seen in football.4 Cameron Jordan has always been good, but he actually gets the attention he deserves when his team wins more games. Jordan is especially adept at generating pressure from anywhere on the line, and he was capable dropping into coverage in 30 fronts.

Like Jordan,Trey Flowers can line up anywhere and beat his man. He followed a stellar regular season with an even more remarkable postseason run. Dee Ford was great off the edge this year, and his ability to pressure quarterbacks was a great tool for a team often playing with the lead. Unfortunately, history will probably remember his season for one mental mistake rather than his constant disruptions of opposing passers.

Interior Linemen:

Aaron Donald is the best player in football, and this spot is his until someone takes it. He’s built like the Incredible Hulk, he’s quick as a cat, and he has an uncanny instinct for how linemen are going to try to block him. He’s one of the two best pass rushing tackles I’ve ever seen, and he’s already no worse than the sixth greatest player ever to occupy the position. Fletcher Cox isn’t quite on Donald’s level, but I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison to make. In a league without Donald, Cox has been the best defensive tackle in football for the last two years, and people discuss the possibility of him going to Canton some day.

Akiem Hicks was good enough against the run that I broke my rule and put him ahead of a few better pass rushers.5 Since arriving in Chicago, Hicks has continued to elevate his play every year. Chris Jones wasn’t tremendous against the run, but he provided a perfect interior complement to Ford and Justin Houston‘s outside pressure. Calais Campbell technically plays defensive end, but he sinks inside enough for me to put him with the interior players. He posted an impressive 10.5 sacks and was a holy terror when it came to stopping plays at the line of scrimmage. Geno Atkins makes the cut for his pass rushing abilities. He reminds me of Tommie Harris is Harris had stayed healthy and played for worse teams.

Linebacker:

Bobby Wagner vs Luke Kuechly is one of my favorite positional debates. Kuechly is the superior player when it comes to attacking the line of scrimmage and making stops, while Wagner is a surer tackler and is superior in both man and zone coverage. From a numbers standpoint, Kuechly appears to have the edge, but Wagner was a timely playmaker this season, producing plays with huge EPA swings.

If we’re lucky, we’ll be having the same debate over Darius Leonard and Leighton Vander Esch for years to come. After all, football is better when there are more great players. Leonard was less consistent, but he also made a ton of splash plays that helped change games, and he did so while lining up all over the field. LVE was more of a steady hand, with more every down consistency but fewer wow moments. His teammate Jaylon Smith joins division rival Zach Brown as an honorable mention. Smith really came on strong in the latter part of the season and was a huge asset when rushing the passer or dropping into coverage. Brown was equally adept against both the pass and run and maintained a high level of effort, which can be hard to do for players on lost cause squads.

Cornerback:

Stephon Gilmore was already my top pick after the regular season ended, but his play in the postseason cemented his place. He has been another in a long line of superb man coverage specialist who helped the Patriots win a title. He easily could have taken the Super Bowl MVP trophy, and no one could have convincingly argued against it. Patrick Peterson has earned his paycheck since day one, consistently standing out against the best receivers on opposing teams. No one else who played as many coverage snap allowed a lower adjusted yards per snap figure than Peterson’s 0.599. This year, he joined Jim Brown and Barry Sanders as the only players in NFL history to earn eight Pro Bowl selections before turning 29. Desmond King, on the other hand, wasn’t even an option on Pro Bowl ballots. That most teams only nominate two cornerbacks in a league where nickle is the new normal is a shame. King was phenomenal in the slot and deserved more press.

Byron Jones started the year off strong before slowing a little later in the season. I had him slotted in for the first team spot up until around week 15. Regardless, he was one of this season’s most pleasant surprises. Cornerback play is notoriously inconsistent, but I’m hoping this is just the beginning for the converted safety. Kyle Fuller was one of many standout performers on the Chicago defense. He led the league in interceptions and passes defended. With a healthy Bryce Callahan, Fuller formed the best cornerback duo in football this season. Kareem Jackson was able to play both safety and cornerback and proved especially useful in the slot. He didn’t allow a touchdown all year, and his tackling ability proved useful when defending the run from light personnel groupings.

Marshon Lattimore was good more often than not. It seemed like he was often attached at the hip to receivers, but he also seemed to lose concentration or lack the ball skills to defend good throws. Tre’Davious White allowed 0.731 adjusted yards per coverage snap, which ranks behind only Peterson (among players with 500+ snaps). He didn’t get much publicity because most of the focus was on Buffalo’s highly drafted arm punter, but White was fantastic. Casey Hayward has shown that he can be an elite cover man in the slot or on the outside. He is consistently among the best the position has to offer, no matter where he lines up.

Safety:

The first month of the year, this was Earl Thomas‘s place to lose. Injury robbed us of another prime season from one of the great range safeties ever to do it, but the season did give hope for the future of the position. Eddie Jackson was out of this world in coverage, while Jamal Adams was a rocket powered battering ram against the run. Throw in the versatile Derwin James, who barely missed making the first team, and we could be looking at the all stars of the next decade. Jackson showed great range and playmaking ability, coming up with huge plays when Chicago needed them. Adams and James both produced when tasked with rushing the quarterback, held up in coverage, and snuffed out plays at the line.

Kevin Byard led the league in interceptions last year, but this year he became a more well-rounded player and improved greatly as a run defender. John Johnson was excellent in coverage, which is saying something for a guy who also had the ability to play linebacker in sub packages. Micah Hyde is the odd man out here. He wasn’t all that versatile, and he didn’t make many big plays. He wasn’t good against the run, and he gave up quite a few touchdowns. However, looking at the plays that don’t show up on highlight reels, I saw a player who was often very good in coverage and just happened to catch a few unlucky breaks.6

All Pro Special Teams

Kicker:

Wil Lutz is my pick because he was excellent on field goals and extra points, and he was also very good when handling kickoffs. Justin Tucker and Jason Myers were also good in all facets of the game and did so in worse weather. The kicker spot was basically a three-sided coin flip.

Punter:

Tress Way had a punt blocked and another returned for a score, but his 41:0 inside 20 to touchback ratio was too good to ignore. Sure, lucky bounces can account for the difference between a coffin corner and a touchback, but I think that’s fine. I’m giving him credit for the lucky breaks.

Johnny Hekker and Thomas Morstead were pretty even. Both are good at kicking for power or kicking for placement, and both played for teams with great offenses that didn’t require their services often. Hekker gets the tiebreaker for doing the little things like making a field goal and an extra point and being a legitimate threat to run a fake on any given drive.

Returner:

Andre Roberts gets the nod because he handled both kickoffs and punts and did so at a high level. He scored a touchdown of each type, which isn’t common for people not named Hester. He led all qualifying players in punt return average and ranked second in kick return average. Granted, he called for several fair catches that bolstered his averages, but that’s often the smart choice these days. His biggest negative was fumbling in a close game against the Bills, setting up the touchdown that broke the game open. 

Desmond King and Alex Erickson weren’t the best kick or punt returners, but they both provided value by playing at an above average level in the two areas. When choosing between someone who’s really good at one (like Tremon Smith) and a guy who is pretty good at both, I’m usually going to take the more versatile player. 

Special Teamer:

Albert McClellan and Cory Littleton were neck and neck for me this year. McClellan was an all around contributor, making plays or maintaining his assignments on coverage units and blocking units. An increased role on defense meant a decreased role on special teams for Littleton, but he showed he was still able to contribute by blocking punts. Tim Patrick didn’t jump off the screen with big plays, a la Steve Tasker, but he was a steady and dependable coverage specialist on kickoffs and punts. Sometimes boring is good.7

All Pro Coaches

Head Coach:

Sean McVay was the popular choice for coach of the year in 2017, but he set people’s expectations a little too high and didn’t get any love from voters this year. However, I tend to favor coaches who set high expectations and then meet them. McVay hasn’t reach a Belichickian level of this, but he did meet his own standards in 2018. He wisely used play action passes more than any team in the league, he eschewed the tough guy tactic of slamming his players into stacked boxes, he effectively utilized motion, and he kept defenses guessing by almost religiously fielding 11 personnel. His aggressiveness and time out usage still need plenty of work, but he has nonetheless been fantastic.

Matt Nagy gets my second team spot for doing something similar to McVay: he focused on getting the most out of his quarterback while letting his experienced defensive coordinator handle the other side of the ball. His ability to make lemonade out of quarterback lemons is to be commended. Frank Reich is in the same boat. Andrew Luck was a question mark heading into the season, but the coach schemed around the limitations of his recovering quarterback, gradually opening up the playbook as Luck;s arm improved. 

Assistant Coach:

Vic Fangio took this award from major publications, and for good reason. The Bears fielded the best defense in the league, and players were regularly in position to make game-changing plays. 

Don Martindale coaxed an excellent performance out of the Ravens defense, who excelled despite playing a strong slate of opposing offenses. Brant Boyer may be an unconventional choice, but I think it is deserved. The Jets were excellent at every facet of special teams play, a delightful reminder of the glory days of Mike Westhoff.8

 

  1. Also, Nick Mullens is a far cry from Patrick Mahomes.
  2. Omitted because of so much missed time.
  3. Just missed the cut: Russell Wilson, Melvin Gordon, Chris Carson, Ezekiel Elliott, T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham Jr., Terron ArmsteadZack Martin, Brandon Brooks, Corey Linsley, Cody Whitehair
  4. If I were a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, I’d vote for him based solely on what he has already accomplished in his career.
  5. And, unlike Damon Harrison,  he actually played a significant number of snaps.
  6. Just missed the cut: Damon Harrison, Kenny Clark, DeMarcus Lawrence, Brandon Graham, Jerry Hughes, Joe Schobert, Chris Harris Jr., D.J. Swearinger
  7. Just missed the cut: Matt Bryant, Aldrick Rosas, Michael Palardy, Sam Koch, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jakeem GrantTyreek Hill, Tremon Smith, Sean Chandler
  8. Just missed the cut: Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Anthony Lynn, Freddie Kitchens, Todd Monken, Leslie Frazier, Dave Toub, Joe DeCamillis