There are some interesting accomplishments to consider as you sort through the NFL's All-Midseason Team. For instance, is the incredible comeback of Peyton Manning more deserving than the impeccable play of Matt Ryan in the battle for the quarterback spot? Likewise, do you take Adrian Peterson and his extraordinary comeback over Marshawn Lynch's season-long performance in beast mode? Or what about Duane Brown vs. Joe Thomas at left tackle?
Those questions were taken into heavy consideration as the All-Midseason team was decided:
QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – There will certainly be plenty of sentimental support for Peyton Manning, which will only grow by the end of the season given the light schedule Denver is facing over the second half. However, Ryan has taken a huge step this season by becoming the centerpiece of the Falcons' attack and a huge reason why Atlanta is off to an 8-0 start. Ryan isn't as gifted as Aaron Rodgers, but he's playing as efficiently as any passer in the league as he puts together an MVP campaign.
RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Colleague Mike Sando of ESPN suggested Sunday that an investigation of Peterson needs to be done after the show he put on in Seattle, which any fan of the game should watch just to see the display of cuts Peterson put on. Sando is of the belief that Peterson's ACL surgery never actually happened and that it was all some cover-up. In short, Peterson looks exactly the same as he did before his injury at the end of last season. His recovery has been freakish. If not for Manning, Peterson would be the runaway winner of the comeback of the year award. In a good year for running backs (Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin deserve a lot of mention), Peterson stands above all.
[Midseason Awards: Matt Ryan over Peyton Manning for MVP]
LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns – There are a number of very good left tackles around the league this year. Duane Brown is justifying the contract extension Houston gave him in training camp. Brendan Albert has been very good despite playing for an awful Kansas City team. Ryan Clady is playing great in Denver and Trent Williams has turned his life and his career around in Washington. However, down in and down out, Thomas is the best in the league with his combination of great reach, athleticism and run-blocking ability. There had been some murmurs that Cleveland might be willing to trade Thomas. Don't buy that for a second.
G Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints – A case could be made for former Saint Carl Nicks at one of the two guard spots. Sadly, Nicks is now out for the season. As for Evans, he's a standout athlete and perhaps the best interior pass blocker in the league (New England fans will make an argument for Logan Mankins, but I'll take Evans).
C Mike Pouncey, Miami Dolphins– The twin of Pittsburgh's Maurkice has outplayed his brother and fellow centers Ryan Kalil of Carolina and Nick Mangold of the Jets at a time when the position has become very deep with high-quality players. He has done that, in part, because he has been healthy. Kalil is probably a better all-around player, Maurkice is a little more explosive and Mangold is roughly the same guy, but Miami's Pouncey has taken his game to the next plateau and taken advantage of the slight decline by the others.
G Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens – Some people will be shocked that Mankins didn't make this team, but injuries have cost him too much time. Into that void, Yanda has played the best football of his career, coming into his own as both a run- and pass-blocker for an improved Ravens offense. Yanda is great at the point of attack and it's just too bad that he and tackle Michael Oher don't play side-by-side anymore. The combination blocks would be just stunning.
RT Anthony Davis, San Francisco 49ers – No team in the league has a tougher offensive line than the 49ers. That line is the most efficient run-blocking unit in the league and Davis is an important reason why. His physical style is the embodiment of exactly what coach Jim Harbaugh wants for his team so that it can set the tone in games. Davis isn't necessarily the best offensive lineman on his own team, but he is a wonderful right tackle.
TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots – In one of the best eras ever for tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez are on a long list of great ones), Gronk sets the standard. While some people would fairly point out that he's behind the pace he set a year ago, let's keep in mind that last year was so special. Bottom line, Gronkowski has scored seven touchdowns in eight games. He continues to score even though every team in the league knows he's the No. 1 target. He's also very good in the running game.
WR Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts –Lots of people questioned Wayne's decision to return to the Colts this offseason after Manning left. In the end, it has been part of a great story for Wayne and the Colts. Wayne is incredibly close to new coach Chuck Pagano, one reason the team has bought into Pagano's philosophy, even after Pagano was forced to take a leave of absence to battle cancer. Wayne has been the go-to receiver for rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the result is that Wayne is on pace for a career-best season as he closes in on his 34th birthday.
WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals – Two weeks ago, Chicago wide receiver and seventh-year Brandon Marshall talked admiringly about how he watches the way Green runs routes. Considering that Green is only in his second season, that's amazing. Green is one of the great technicians in the game and has the speed and body control to match. Some people might put Roddy White or Julio Jones, both of Atlanta, ahead of Green. It's a great discussion, but Green is just a little better overall.
WR Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Over the previous four years, analysts disregarded Jackson's numbers as a deep threat (he averaged 18 yards a catch in three of those four seasons) because too many people thought he was a creation of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Well, after leaving the Chargers for the Buccaneers and a five-year, $55.5 million contract, Jackson has proven that he's not just one of the best deep threats in the NFL; he's clearly the best deep threat in the league. Jackson is averaging a career-high 22.9 yards per catch. Jackson has been so good that he's making fellow Mike Williams a serious threat (17.4 yards per catch) and helped open the way for Doug Martin to dominate.
PK Blair Walsh, Minnesota – Some people might dismiss Walsh, a rookie, as a creation of kicking in a dome. If you say that, you obviously haven't seen Walsh actually play. Like St. Louis rookie Greg Zuerlein, Walsh has amazing range. Walsh is perfect from 50 yards or longer (five for five) and is 19 of 20 overall on field goals. Beyond that, he has the league's second-best touchback percentage at 74.5.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants – On the list of freakishly athletic football players, Pierre-Paul is probably the top guy on the list. While he hasn't provided the same numbers as in his breakout 2011 season (6 ½ sacks in nine games this season vs. 16 ½ last year), he still forces foes to account for him and comes up with big plays in big games. He had two sacks in a win at San Francisco and a critical interception that he returned for a touchdown in a narrow win over Dallas. If the Giants can get their secondary straightened out, look for Pierre-Paul to be overwhelming.
DT J.J. Watt, Houston Texans–Technically, Watt is listed as a defensive end, but that's in a 3-4 system and Watt does most of his best work from between the tackles. Watt is right there with Pierre-Paul among the athletes who simply are just too good to contain. He has NBA-type leaping ability, great explosiveness and a high motor. That's why he leads the league with 10 ½ sacks and has 10 deflected passes.
DT Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks – On a very active, explosive defense, Mebane stirs the drinks. Mebane has surpassed Vince Wilfork as the toughest defensive tackle in the league to move. The 6-foot-1, 311-pound Mebane simply creates havoc inside with his low-to-the-ground ability to play with great leverage and power. Mebane has pretty good pass-rush skills (three sacks) for an inside player, but his real strength is being able to clear the way for his teammates.
DE Justin Smith, San Francisco – This is a really tough call over Miami's Cameron Wake, who has been excellent all season as well and being a big reason why the Dolphins are in the playoff hunt. However, Smith is the motor of San Francisco's defense. Yes, players such as Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are probably a little better at their positions, but Smith is your prototype lunch-pail guy. While he doesn't have a single sack this season, he's on pace to surpass last year's tackles total and he has opened the way for teammates to get more of the glory stats. Couple that with his ability to play both inside and outside and you have a truly special player.
OLB Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers –Last season, the Packers toyed with moving Matthews around more in hopes of taking advantage on of his quickness and creating better matchups. This year, they have gotten back to letting him play more on the defense's right-hand side and the result has been nine sacks, which would put him on pace for a career-high. Of course, there's now a concern as to how much time he'll miss after suffering a hamstring injury in Sunday's win over the Cardinals.
ILB Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals – Niners fans are probably going to scream over the fact that Bowman and Willis have been excluded, but Washington is simply ridiculous. After establishing himself as an explosive player last season from the inside (five sacks), Washington has taken off this season. He has eight sacks among his 75 tackles and is the definition of active. He's not as imposing as Willis, but he's probably just as productive. The idea of an inside linebacker getting double-digit sacks is pretty rare.
OLB Von Miller, Denver Broncos – The reason why Miller gets the nod over the supremely talented DeMarcus Ware is that Miller makes plays that win games. In a tight game against Cincinnati on Sunday, Miller came up with three sacks and helped turn the game back in Denver's favor in the second half. For the season, Miller has nine sacks and is really good coming off either the right or the left side. With John Fox designing schemes around his talent, there's no limit to what Miller might eventually do.
CB Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears – There's plenty of doubt regarding Jennings, who has gone from a bust in Indianapolis with only seven interceptions in his first six years to the guy who has six picks in eight games this season. It's hard to trust that what Jennings is doing is going to hold up. But the Bears trust him enough that they often put him in one-on-one coverage against an opposing team's best receiver. That's a supreme show of confidence by Bears coach Lovie Smith, who doesn't dole that out to people who don't deserve it.
CB Charles Tillman, Chicago – Seriously, the Bears have cornered the market this season at the cornerback position. At least so far. If not for Jennings' six picks, people would be talking more about Tillman's ridiculous season, which includes two interceptions (both returned for scores) and seven forced fumbles. Both Tillman and Jennings are benefitting from the fact that Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is out, but that's the way it goes.
SS Charles Woodson, Green Bay – Woodson is going to be out for awhile with a broken collarbone and there is a strong temptation to put someone like San Francisco's Donte Whitner, Seattle's Kam Chancellor or even Tampa Bay rookie Mark Barron up there. However, Woodson has made the seamless transition from corner to safety and has even filled in at linebacker. At 36, he shows little sign of letting up as his career winds down. Whether it's play in coverage, tackle or even blitz occasionally, there are few players who do it at Woodson's level.
FS Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons – In just eight games, DeCoud has already tied his career-high with four interceptions and is on his way to a career-high in tackles. While the Falcons' defense still isn't a vicious, shutdown unit, it plays a very consistent and smart brand of football. DeCoud is a big reason because of his consistency and ability to communicate. You rarely see Atlanta get its coverage out of position because he is so bright.
P Brandon Fields, Miami – While New Orleans' Thomas Morstead is also having a fine season and leads the league in net average (Morstead has a 45.0 net average compared to Fields' 43.6), Fields is doing it outdoors and is under much more duress most of the time. Morstead generally has the convenience of kicking from better field position compared to Fields. Still, Fields has put 15 punts inside the 20, compared to 11 for Morstead.
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