Analysis  

 

Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson head 2013 All-Pro projections

Alright, we're through two weeks of preseason -- what can we gauge?

Not much.

Cool. Good talk.

Predicting who will be worthy of first-team All-Pro honors at the end of the 2013 season isn't exactly an easy exercise when starters across the NFL are barely playing. Yet, there have been little morsels of info falling through the TV tray here and there. If you've been paying attention all offseason and know which crumbs to gather -- like when an offensive coordinator points out in February that a guy will be used on third downs a lot (hint ... he's listed below) -- then a team like this can click into place. February and March are the months in which coordinators review tape and tweak or replace schemes for the upcoming season. Thus, whatever you can glean at that time is solid data.

On the flip side, there are 20 to 30 players who must always be considered, even if they don't make it every year. But while some of the guys below were on the 2012 AP All-Pro First Team, more than 50 percent weren't.

Take a gander. But take heed: This isn't an attempt to predict who will officially be named to the AP's All-Pro Team after this season ends; rather, this is a collection of guys who I think will play well enough to merit the honor. Below the list is some explanation for the whys and hows, including further analysis on many of the bigger names left off my list.

Per the usual, your take is always under consideration ... @Harrison_NFL is the place.

OFFENSE
Quarterback
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Manning appears stronger. Receiver Eric Decker recently went on record saying Manning "looks like he's feeling a lot better," and that's huge. The four-time MVP sure looked good Saturday.

Running Back
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
When a running back -- especially one as determined as Peterson -- has a stated goal of rushing for 2,500 yards, it becomes tough to leave him off this list.

Fullback/H-Back
Marcel Reece, Oakland Raiders
Some poke fun at the Raiders. Let 'em. Reece had an outstanding 2012 as a blocker and pass catcher. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson says he'd like to use Reece on third down more.

Wide Receiver
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
This is an easy choice, as the game seems to have slowed down for Johnson. People forget that he was not dominant in his first few seasons. Look for 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013.

Wide Receiver
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
He was a beast over the last seven games of 2012, averaging more than 110 yards and scoring three more TDs than any other receiver. With the iffy running attack, look for huge production.

Tight End
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
It didn't seem like Graham had a very productive 2012 season, which was hampered by injury and lacked Sean Payton. Then you realize he still had 982 yards and nine touchdowns ... Good night.

Tackle
Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
While Thomas didn't have the greatest 2012, the Browns' new-look offense will benefit him. This season, the extra time he gives Brandon Weeden could actually translate to points.

Guard
Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
Mankins brings the nasty, which is precisely what the Patriots will need this year. Expect New England to run the football more, which will play into Mankins' game.

Center
John Sullivan, Minnesota Vikings
Watching him is like watching the cable guy be on time, set everything up right and be polite. A technician in the run game, he did his job beautifully during a 2K season. Love this guy.

Guard
Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
The former journeyman is starting to get some credit; Pro Football Focus had him rated as the top guard in football last season. The transformation of the Eagles' offense will depend on Mathis.

Tackle
Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
What a solid player. How he slips under the radar is anyone's guess. After much harping about whether Andre Smith would re-sign, it's worth mentioning one of the best on the other side.

Kicker
Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings
Walsh can hit from way out -- and he'll be playing in climate-controlled conditions for more than half the year. Walsh was 10-for-10 on field goals of 50-plus yards last season.

Returner
Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Peterson will have to share chances with Tyrann Mathieu. He didn't have a great year returning punts -- and he surely knows it. Thus, I see a motivated guy scoring twice on returns in 2013.

DEFENSE
Defensive End
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
The uptick in confidence is palpable. That said, his relentless motor remains the driving force of his game. In 2012, he had one of the best defensive seasons ever (20.5 sacks and 16 batted balls).

Defensive End
DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
Expect a healthier Ware to have a better 2013. Granted, he probably won't approach 20 sacks. But I would expect around 14, plus a solid season against the run.

Defensive Tackle
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Next to Watt, this is the best defensive lineman in pro football. To have 12.5 sacks from the interior is nothing short of incredible. He also has the work ethic and attitude to continue to excel in 2013.

Defensive Tackle
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
I see a breakout campaign for Nick Fairley -- which is a large part of why Suh's here, as Suh demands the kind of attention that makes it easier for other guys to make plays.

Outside Linebacker
Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
Some people thought he had a "down" 2012, possibly due to injuries and Aldon Smith's frenetic sack pace. But he still managed 13 sacks in 12 games. His greatness lies in getting pressures.

Outside Linebacker/Pass Rusher
Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins
Considering how many hybrid fronts the Dolphins are expected to play, we have Wake as a pass rusher. He had another sweet sack against Houston and looks as quick as ever.

Linebacker
NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
Bowman's elite status stems from the mundane: He plays every down and rarely gets to pass rush. But he's a great player against the run who wants to get even better in coverage. 

Linebacker
Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
Another All-Pro newbie, Lee is much like Bowman in that, when healthy, he doesn't come off the field -- though he's more versatile in coverage. If he can avoid injury, he'll be the NFL's premier MLB.

Cornerback
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
This dude had an incredible 2012, starting with eight picks and 24 pass breakups -- very good in this day and age. And Sherman doesn't seem to be in for a letdown. He's the best DB in football.

Cornerback
Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears
Playing corner is about shutting down receivers and creating turnovers, which Tillman does. If Shea McClellin comes on in the pass rush, Tillman should have a strong season.

Safety
Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
Consider this an acknowledgement of the future of the versatile Smith (104 tackles, three picks, two TDs in '12). Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly gushed when I asked about his former safety. 

Safety
Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
He's been known to watch film with Russell Wilson. He practices hard. He plays smart. And while he didn't have his best year in 2012, he's the quarterback of the NFL's best defense.

Punter
Thomas Morstead, New Orleans Saints
After a fantastic 2012 season, he could (or should) have been first-team All-Pro; this year, the Saints' boomer takes a back seat to no one. He's averaged 51.1 yards on eight preseason punts.

Let's get to some explanations here, starting with quarterback:

1. Believe it or not, Matthew Stafford received perhaps the strongest consideration among non-Peyton signal-callers, along with Drew Brees. While the latter has torn it up thus far in the preseason with the New Orleans Saints, my sense is that Stafford is going to have a phenomenal year throwing the football for the Detroit Lions.

Lions receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are healthy. Reggie Bush has caught the most passes at the running back position since he entered the league, and he now resides in Detroit. And consider that Stafford has nowhere to go but up -- given the Lions' awful finish last year, expectations are lower than they were for that Battleship movie.

2. You can't say the same for Adrian Peterson. He was a slam dunk. As I said above, this All-Pro team is comprised of guys I see having monster years; I wasn't necessarily trying to predict exactly who will be on the Associated Press' team. However, Peterson certainly fits both categories. Meanwhile, Marcel Reece's involvement in all phases of the game, particularly third-down offense, gave him the nod over the Baltimore Ravens' Vonta Leach.

3. Much like Peterson, Calvin Johnson was a no-brainer. Dez Bryant's selection over Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, however, came after much deliberation. Roddy White is just so much more reliable for Atlanta than Miles Austin is for Dallas, meaning Bryant will be leaned on more in the Cowboys' offense -- that's it. At tight end, Jason Witten is a big part of the Cowboys' attack, but Jimmy Graham should score more touchdowns, thus giving him the edge.

-- The offensive line featured five big-time players, but I easily could have found five others. The Baltimore Ravens' Marshal Yanda, the New Orleans Saints' Jahri Evans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Carl Nicks are three of the top guards in football. Duane Brown has been a rock-solid tackle for the Houston Texans; ditto Joe Staley for the San Francisco 49ers. And I feel Max Unger will be counted on by the Seattle Seahawks this season at center. Still, look for those in the group selected to have fantastic seasons. This is particularly true of Andrew Whitworth and Evan Mathis, who don't always receive a ton of credit but whose teams should be improved offensively (especially that Eagles running game).

4. Defensively speaking, seven of the 12 (one extra linebacker was picked, to accommodate the 3-4) players selected made the real team last year. It's just that there are several premier players for whom I could not see a dropoff coming. J.J. Watt and Geno Atkins are young and, if anything, improving. Scary thought.

-- When healthy, DeMarcus Ware is the best player on the field. The switch to defensive end might pose a transitional challenge, but who's consistently better than Ware? Minnesota Vikings veteran Jared Allen gave him some push, as did the Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers. But both guys are older. Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants isn't quite ready, unfortunately.

5. Ndamukong Suh is young -- and perhaps immature -- but all reports have him readying for a monster campaign. His stiffest competition came from the New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork, although I think Nick Fairley -- who is better than you think -- will ball out this year.

6. The linebacking crew -- Clay Matthews, NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Cameron Wake -- is pretty solid. We took liberties with Wake, as the Dolphins' hybrid front should have him with his hand in the dirt and standing up. Either way, he and Matthews are two of the best pass rushers in the game. Bowman and Patrick Willis are 1a and 1b in San Francisco, but Bowman gets the edge because he just never comes off the field. He also beat out Brian Cushing, who should be an integral piece for the Houston Texans this season. Lee edged out the Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly by the narrowest of margins. When healthy, Lee is excellent in his drops. It hurt to leave Bears veteran Lance Briggs off, but the Von Miller suspension made his omission much easier.

7. Lastly, some thoughts on the secondary. Darrelle Revis did not make the list. It's a wee bit hard to miss a year and resume being Captain America as if nothing ever happened, especially at a demanding position like corner. The Kansas City Chiefs' Brandon Flowers was strongly considered, but he needs new teammate Sean Smith to have a strong year. Like my decision to add Lee, picking Harrison Smith was a nod to an up-and-comer. Jairus Byrd would have been one of my safeties, but he has yet to get his butt to camp. (Still, he's fired up to be great, and has the skill set to match that desire.) Ultimately, tough choices abound in the back four.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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