After covering the NFL for eight years, you’d think that I’d no longer get upset about Pro Bowl voting. Well, you’d be wrong. So much about the Pro Bowl process doesn’t make sense, including the outdated positional designations and the tendency to throw in high-profile names at positions the public doesn’t care much about. As a response to this week’s Pro Bowl announcement (and as a way to celebrate the best players in the NFL this season), I put together a team using the (vastly superior) All-Pro format. Here’s the offensive list. Check back on Friday for the defensive one:
First Team: Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Does this choice really require an explanation? Jackson has owned this season. The presumptive MVP is the most exciting player on the most exciting team in the NFL, and he’s helped turn Baltimore’s offense into a doomsday machine.
Second Team: Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Wilson has been one of the league’s top quarterbacks for years, but this season has been his masterpiece. He’s fitting balls into windows that don’t even exist. There have been at least five throws this season that initially looked like throwaways but ultimately landed in one of his teammates’ hands for a touchdown. He’s been the best passer in football, on the second-most efficient passing team in the league. In virtually any other year, he’d be the MVP.
First Team: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
No back has been asked to do more for his team this season. McCaffrey’s had some clunker games recently as a runner, but his receiving production still makes him a factor every week. Over the past five games, McCaffrey has averaged 9.2 catches and 83.6 receiving yards. Plus, he’s currently on pace to finish the season with 2,424 yards from scrimmage. Here’s the list of players in NFL history who’ve finished with that number or more: Marshall Faulk (1999) and Chris Johnson (2009). That’s it. That’s the list. McCaffrey has benefited from the absurd amount of volume he sees within Carolina’s scheme, but for most of this season, he’s been the Panthers offense.
Second Team: Nick Chubb, Browns
Narrowing down this running back list was brutal. It’s been an excellent year at the position, and leaving guys like Josh Jacobs and Dalvin Cook out wasn’t easy. But Chubb has carried the Browns offense during stretches when they had nowhere else to turn. He’s averaged 4.7 yards after contact over Cleveland’s past four games. Over the same stretch, Cook has averaged 3.3 yards per carry—period. Chubb is one of the league’s most dynamic athletes, and even with the rest of the Browns offense sputtering, he’s been impossible to contain.
First Team: Michael Thomas, Saints
Defenses just haven’t been able to slow Thomas down this season, no matter what type of coverage they throw his way. With 133 receptions and 1,552 yards through 14 games, he’s on pace to have one of the most prolific receiving seasons in history. And those totals aren’t just about volume. Thomas leads the league in yards per route run (2.93) and catch rate (83.6 percent). This has been arguably the most efficient season of all time for a no. 1 target like Thomas. He’s the best receiver in football right now.
First Team: Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
Godwin needed a monster season to deliver on the outrageous hype that surrounded him this summer—and boy, did he deliver. The third-year receiver has 86 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns through 14 games, and he’ll likely finish the year with those numbers after aggravating a hamstring injury in last week’s win over the Lions. Godwin’s gaudy production has come in every way imaginable. He’s been a terrifying weapon in the red zone, despite being just 6-foot-1, and only five receivers have averaged more than his 6.7 yards after catch. This dude is going to have a stellar career in Tampa Bay.
Second Team: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
It’s pretty incredible that Hopkins is on pace for 113 catches, 1,305 yards, and eight touchdowns, and this has felt like a down year. Defenses consistently construct their game plans around stopping Nuk, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. He’s a true master of the position.
Second Team: Julio Jones, Falcons
You could essentially copy and paste the Hopkins section here and it would fit Julio’s season just fine. Jones is on pace for a ho-hum 95 catches, 1,326 yards, and seven scores. At age 30, he ranks fifth in the league at 2.4 yards per route run. He’s still a centaur playing wide receiver, even after nearly a decade in the league.
First Team: George Kittle, 49ers
The Niners’ star has been one of the best players in the NFL this season, full stop. Kittle is the centerpiece of San Francisco’s passing game; he leads qualified tight ends with 3.1 yards per route run and is currently on pace to finish with 85 receptions and 1,036 receiving yards—despite missing two games due to injury. Beyond his work as a receiver, though, Kittle is also the most dominant run-blocking tight end in the league. His ability to crush both defensive ends and linebackers on the edge plays a key role in the Niners’ perimeter running game. He’s been arguably the most indispensable nonquarterback in the NFL this season.
Second Team: Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Kelce is unlike any other receiving tight end in the league. He’s the focal point of a high-volume Chiefs passing game, with numbers that rival the NFL’s most prolific wide receivers. Kelce has 1,131 receiving yards on the season, and with a big game on Sunday against Chicago, he could easily trail only Thomas and Godwin in that category. Defenses have used a variety of players (including corners and safeties) and bracket coverages to try to slow down Kelce, but he’s managed to solve them all.
First Team: Aaron Jones, Packers
It’s been a rewarding fall for Aaron Jones believers. After being criminally underused last season in Green Bay, the third-year back has blossomed during his first season in head coach Matt LaFleur’s system. Jones has been the same slashing, devastating runner he was last year; he currently ranks third in Football Outsiders success rate and sixth in defense-adjusted yards above replacement—not to mention he’s scored 17 touchdowns. But now he’s also getting considerably more opportunities as a receiver. After catching 35 passes combined during his first two seasons, Jones has hauled in 45 passes for 425 yards. Those numbers haven’t been fattened by screens and checkdowns, either. He’s done plenty of damage working down the field. This is the version of Jones us truthers always knew existed.
Second Team: Stefon Diggs, Vikings
Including Diggs here might be a surprise for some, but he’s carried an outsized load for the league’s eighth-ranked passing attack by DVOA. Diggs has handled a league-leading 42.4 percent of his team’s air yards, and his deep-ball connection with Kirk Cousins has been the scariest in the NFL this year. No receiver has more receptions (14), yards (586), and touchdowns (five) on throws of 20-plus yards.
First Team: Ronnie Stanley, Ravens
Stanley has been the best pass protector in the NFL this season. In 13 games, Pro Football Focus has credited Stanley with six pressures surrendered. Six! Baltimore’s play-action-heavy passing game helps some in that area, but Stanley is dialed in right now, no matter what type of pass sets he’s taking. In his fourth season, he’s looked completely comfortable locking down the left side without any help.
Second Team: Laremy Tunsil, Texans
Houston bet big on Tunsil, trading a pair of first-round picks to the Dolphins on the eve of the season for him (and Kenny Stills). It has paid off in a huge way. Tunsil has stabilized the Texans offensive line and helped provide Deshaun Watson with the best pass protection of his career.
First Team: Quenton Nelson, Colts
It isn’t easy for offensive linemen to produce highlights, but Nelson seems to do it regularly. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Nelson was the MVP of the Colts’ 19-13 upset of the Chiefs in Week 5. With him opening monster holes off the left side, running back Marlon Mack racked up 132 yards rushing in a grind-it-out win. There’s a reason this guy is a favorite among line nerds everywhere.
Second Team: Joel Bitonio, Browns
Richie Incognito has been excellent for the Raiders this season, and Tampa Bay’s Ali Marpet remains one of the most underrated players in the NFL—but I’m going with Bitonio here. The Browns left guard has been great in pass protection over the second half of the season, despite Cleveland’s inconsistent play at left tackle. Trust is a key factor in quality pass protection, and it’s a challenge for a guard to play well when he’s constantly looking over his shoulder. But Bitonio has done just that.
First Team: Jason Kelce, Eagles
Even in his ninth season in the league, watching Kelce in the run game is still a blast. He’s the most athletic center in football: The way he explodes out of his stance allows him to cover ground and execute blocks in a way that other centers just can’t. He’s often asked to perform blocks that would typically require help from one of his guards. Kelce’s had better seasons, but his importance to the Eagles offense gets him my vote.
Second Team: Erik McCoy, Saints
Not many casual fans know who McCoy is yet, but the rookie has been a godsend for the Saints. After longtime center Max Unger’s sudden retirement in March, New Orleans was left scrambling for a replacement. Enter McCoy. The Saints traded a 2020 second-round pick to the Dolphins to move up 14 spots and take the Texas A&M product with the 48th pick in this year’s draft, and he’s been a starter from day one. My favorite aspects of McCoy’s game are his patience and his awareness. Opposing defenses learned early on that they couldn’t take advantage of him with twists and stunts because he’s rarely caught out of position. He’s been absurdly reliable for a rookie.
First Team: Marshal Yanda, Ravens
Yanda is the best guard of his generation, and he’s having a vintage season at 35 years old. Watching Yanda play is akin to watching an older dude play pickup basketball at the Y—only he’s been playing this way since his early 20s. He executes so many subtle nudges and leverage plays that ultimately mean the difference between a failed block and a huge run. No other interior lineman has a better understanding of the nuances associated with the position. Seeing him healthy and playing at this level for the league’s best team has been a true joy.
Credit to Collinsworth or his spotter for seeing this. Yanda hitting this reach and allowing the center to climb right away is ridiculous. 73 is a Hall of Fame talent. pic.twitter.com/7olDEIK7Qj— Robert Mays (@robertmays) November 4, 2019
Second Team: Zack Martin, Cowboys
Martin is the perfect right guard for the modern NFL. He’s a beast as a run blocker, but truly special as a pass blocker. The timing and efficiency of his punch always stand out. He’s the position’s platonic ideal.
First Team: Ryan Ramczyk, Saints
The third-year tackle has been nearly flawless for New Orleans. He hasn’t allowed a sack all season—or required much help pitching that shutout. The Saints routinely leave Ramczyk alone on an island against some of the league’s best pass rushers, and he couldn’t look more comfortable. His variety of sets and well-developed plans are a nightmare for any edge rusher to figure out.
Second Team: Mitchell Schwartz, Chiefs
Schwartz has been banged up this season and has dealt with some maddening inconsistencies at right guard, but he’s still one of the top pass blockers in the league. He’s never in a hurry, and that allows him to Jedi mind trick edge rushers into making the first move. Schwartz is a true master of his craft, and he’s once again playing at a high level.
First Team: Kyle Juszczyk, 49ers
He’s not just on this list because he’s the highest-paid, highest-profile fullback in the league: Juszczyk is a crucial part of the Niners offense. San Francisco uses a fullback on a league-leading 33 percent of its plays, and Juszczyk’s work as both a blocker and receiver out of those sets makes him the most valuable fullback in the league.
Second Team: Patrick Ricard, Ravens
Ricard plays fullback unlike any other player in the NFL. Because the Ravens run their two-back sets exclusively out of the pistol, Ricard lines up next to Lamar Jackson on most plays. From those diamond formations, he’s often required to release to the perimeter and make blocks in space rather than slam into the middle of the line. Ricard’s ability to operate in those scenarios have helped the Ravens gash teams all season.
** Fullback is no longer a designation on the All-Pro team, but if you think I would put a team together without them, then you don’t know me at all.
Raiders RB Josh Jacobs; Broncos WR Courtland Sutton; Eagles RG Brandon Brooks; Eagles RT Lane Johnson; Cowboys QB Dak Prescott; Vikings RB Dalvin Cook; Ravens TE Mark Andrews; Vikings QB Kirk Cousins; Cowboys WR Amari Cooper; Cowboys RT La’el Collins; Raiders LG Richie Incognito; Saints LT Terron Armstead