As teams were preparing to report for training camp this summer, Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves played the prophet. Waxing philosophically about an offseason filled with tragedy and tumult, Graves suggested the NFL would once again revive itself with irresistible storylines.
"That's the beauty of this game," Graves said. "You can go through so much negativity, but the healing process only takes a few weeks, and everyone is excited again. It's always that way. Some teams will surprise people. Some young guys will come out of nowhere. Once the games start, everyone will be (celebrating) the players and teams and coaches that make the NFL what it is."
One look at the midseason All-Yahoo! team reveals an abundance of those storylines, from the race toward the record books by Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson, to the newfound stardom of Braylon Edwards and Wes Welker, to troubled veterans Albert Haynesworth and Jared Allen having the best seasons of their careers.
While this year's midseason team is predictably talented, keep these criteria in mind when looking over the list:
• The team includes the best talent at each general position. In other words, the list features our picks for the league's two best tackles. Not the best left tackle and best right tackle.
• The team features a 4-3 defense, but some players such as 3-4 nose tackles qualify as defensive tackles.
• To reflect the NFL's trend toward more spread sets and pass attempts, the offense carries three wide receivers and one running back rather than two of each.
With those facts in mind, here is the midseason All-Yahoo! Team.
Quarterback: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Is there any doubt? With 33 touchdowns, four interceptions, a 73.2 completion percentage and a 131.8 quarterback rating, Brady is well on his way to the greatest quarterback season in history. Like the difference between the Patriots and the rest of the NFL, Brady is light years ahead of other quarterbacks this season.
Honorable mention: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger has finally found his total comfort zone as a passer in coordinator Bruce Arians' offense, and he's calling the line protections, too.
Running back: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
He already owns the NFL's single-game rushing mark with 296 yards against San Diego. And with 1,036 yards through eight games, he's on pace to shatter Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing mark of 1,808 yards. What's most amazing: He's averaging an eyelash under 20 carries per game.
Wide receiver: Randy Moss, New England Patriots; Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns; T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati Bengals
Moss' numbers speak for themselves. He's making a run at two of Jerry Rice's coveted single-season records: most touchdown receptions (22) and most receiving yards (1,848). Edwards has cut down on his drops and become one of the best playmaking wideouts in the league. With 10 touchdown catches, Houshmandzadeh has become a terror in the red zone, and taken the reins from Chad Johnson as Cincinnati's go-to guy.
Honorable mention: Wes Welker, New England Patriots
On pace for 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns, Welker is the perfect complement to Moss from the slot. And his versatility in the return game makes him invaluable to the Patriots.
Tight end: Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
The AFC has a plethora of super talented tight ends, but Gates' combination of strength, speed and smarts makes him the most difficult to cover. And he can block, to boot. He'll be Philip Rivers' most dependable No. 1 passing option for years to come.
Honorable mention: Kellen Winslow, Cleveland Browns
Winslow's NFL-leading 657 receiving yards, 15.6 per reception average, and wide receiver-esque athleticism give him the nod over Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, and Tony Gonzalez.
Tackles: Walter Jones, Seattle Seahawks; Matt Light, New England Patriots
With apologies to Jonathan Ogden, Jones has been the best left tackle in the NFL for three years. Despite Shaun Alexander's diminishing skill level, Jones remains the best – and most balanced – at his position. Light is the kind of nimble-footed tackle that makes or breaks a West Coast offense.
Honorable mention: Bryant McKinnie, Minnesota Vikings
McKinnie is finally living up to the hype he had coming out of the University of Miami. He's got the same devastating physical abilities of Jones, although he's not as technically proficient.
Guards: Steve Hutchinson, Minnesota Vikings; Shawn Andrews, Philadelphia Eagles
After a one-year period of adjustment with a new team, Hutchinson has returned to his perch as the best guard in the NFL. It's not a coincidence that Shaun Alexander hasn't been the same since he left Seattle, or that Adrian Peterson is flourishing behind Hutchinson. Andrews is the best run-blocking guard in the NFL under 25.
Honorable mention: Eric Steinbach, Cleveland Browns
The loss of Steinbach is one of the reasons Cincinnati's line is falling apart. He's well-rounded, and when the Browns need to get tough rushing yards in the red zone, they are running behind Steinbach.
Center: Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis Colts
Saturday is arguably the smartest center in the league, rarely making mistakes as he helps sort out all Peyton Manning's adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He's been Manning's most consistent offensive lineman for eight years and carries a nasty demeanor most centers lack.
Defensive tackles: Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans; Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals
Haynesworth is playing out of his mind in his contract year. His troubles have been well-documented, but with five sacks and 30 tackles, he has anchored an overachieving Tennessee defense. Dockett is one of the NFL's league leaders in sacks this season with eight, and has been a consistent force of chaos for opposing offensive lines.
Honorable mention: Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
At 23 years old, the massive 340 pound Ngata is already one of the best run-stuffing nose tackles in the NFL. He's an indispensable interior force that frees up players like Ray Lewis and Bart Scott.
Defensive ends: Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers; Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs
Kampman is on pace for 18 sacks and might be the most underrated defensive player in the NFC. He's the pressure player who makes life easier for Al Harris and Charles Woodson. Allen is having the best season of his career in a contract year, with 8½ sacks and 30 tackles in only six games. He's the best player on an up-and-coming Kansas City defense.
Honorable mention: Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse are making the big bucks, but Cole has been Philadelphia's best defensive end by far. He's on pace for 18 sacks and is athletic enough to stand up against the run, too.
Linebackers: Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots; Julian Peterson, Seattle Seahawks; Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vrabel (8½ sacks, 47 tackles, 5 forced fumbles) and Peterson (7 sacks, 47 tackles, 4 forced fumbles) are ideal disruptive forces at outside linebacker. Vrabel has taken over for Bruschi as the playmaking cog for the Patriots, while Peterson is looking like his Pro Bowl self again. Ruud is a prototypical tackling machine at middle linebacker. He gets overlooked for not being overly athletic, but he's consistent and fills holes with the best of them.
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel, New England Patriots; Kelvin Hayden, Indianapolis Colts
Samuel has developed into one of the best cover corners in the NFL, and the Patriots are going to pay him like it this offseason. Hayden has added a physical presence to the Colts secondary, and isn't shy about helping in run support.
Honorable mention: Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
Taylor still drops interceptions from time to time. However, he's motivated again and is nearing the level that made him one of the NFL's best young corners during Pittsburgh's Super Bowl run.
Safeties: Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts; Sean Taylor, Washington Redskins
Pound for pound, Sanders was the best defensive player in the league over the first half. When healthy, he is as important to that defense as Dwight Freeney. Sean Taylor takes a few too many chances for the kill shot, but he is sufficient in coverage and many players say there isn't a more feared free safety in the league.
Honorable mention: Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Reed is tied with Taylor for the NFL lead with five interceptions. The Ravens' struggles aside, Reed remains one of the best defensive players in football.
Kicker: Kris Brown, Houston Texans
Tennessee's Rob Bironas had the monster game of the season, but Brown has been consistent all season long. He's 18-of-20 on field goal attempts this season, and one of those misses was blocked. Most impressive, he's converted all three of his attempts from beyond 50 yards.
Punter: Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders
Lechler is averaging a ridiculous 50.3 gross yards per punt, and a league-leading 43.9 net. He has repeatedly bailed out an incompetent offense and given Oakland's defense manageable field position.
Kick returner: Leon Washington, New York Jets
It takes someone special to wrestle this spot from Chicago's Devin Hester, and Washington has been exactly that, returning three kicks for touchdowns in only 25 attempts. His 33.5 yard per return average leads the NFL.
Punt returner: Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
Hester is easily the most feared returner in the league, and he's managed an absurd 19.6 yards on his 20 returns. Eight of his 20 returns have gone for 20 yards or more, including a pair of touchdowns.
- New England Patriots
- Adrian Peterson
- Braylon Edwards
- Wes Welker