Hardest Working Man  


Who went above and beyond the call of duty this season?

  • By Jim Reineking NFL.com
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These guys might not exactly be carrying a lunch pail to the stadium each week, but they did bring a blue-collar, working-man approach to the entire season. Take a look at all the nominees, then vote on your choice for the Hardest-Working Man for the 2011 season.

Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings lost 17-13 to the Bears on Sunday, finishing with the worst record in team history since a 3-13 campaign in 1984, but Allen's effort all season was a silver lining to the miserable season in Minnesota. Allen recorded 3.5 sacks in the season finale, finishing the season with 22 sacks to come just a half sack short of Michael Strahan's 2001 record of 22.5. Those 22 sacks meant a new team record for Allen, who is just the seventh player in NFL history with 20 or more sacks in a season.

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

When the Patriots took a 49-21 lead to all but secure a victory over the Bills and also lay claim to the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed, all the drama that was left was whether or not Gronkowski would set a new single-season record for receiving yards for a tight end. The Saints' Jimmy Graham had set the mark earlier in the day at 1,310 yards. But, Patriots coach Bill Belichick let Gronkowski set a new record moments later on a 22-yard reception with 1:30 left in the game, officially setting the record at 1,327 yards. Graham and Gronkowski eclipsed a record of 1,290 set by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers in 1980. Gronkowski's two scores in Week 17 helped add to the record he had already set earlier in the season for touchdown receptions by a tight end (17 ... an 18th touchdown was ruled a rushing touchdown since the throw from Tom Brady was a lateral).

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

The one they call "Megatron" capped an explosive season in one of the wildest offensive shootouts in NFL history. After finishing the regular season with an 11-catch, 244-yard and one touchdown effort against the Packers, Johnson wound up setting a new team record with his 16th touchdown reception of the season. Johnson's 1,681 final season total is a new career-high (by more than 300 yards) and led all receivers in 2011.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Even on a day when he didn't suit up or throw a pass, Rodgers made a profound impact for the Packers. With the Packers already set as the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed, Rodgers sat out the season finale, but did Matt Flynn a solid, getting in his ear and calling plays out of the no-huddle offense as the backup QB had a performance for the ages. Rodgers had already built up one of the most impressive stat lines for a quarterback in league history, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 45 touchdowns, just six interceptions for a new league-record passer rating of 122.5 (ahead of Peyton Manning's 121.2 in 2004). In the most important statistical category, Rodgers was a big part of the winningest regular season in Packers history, a 15-1 finish for one of the NFL's proudest franchises.

Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

Possibly lost in the hoopla surrounding the impressive record-breaking passing season of Drew Brees was the dynamic impact of Sproles, signed in the offseason as a free agent from the San Diego Chargers. Sproles' finale against the Panthers was indicative of his overall season performance, making plays as a runner, receiver and return specialist. With 111 all-purpose yards, Sproles set a new NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards (1,383 via returns, 710 receiving and 603 rushing). Sproles scored 10 touchdowns for a team that set a new record for most total yards in league history.



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