Position Rankings: Quarter-season All-Pro team


Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.

So far, we have covered Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates, defensive front sevens, satellites backs and wide receivers.

Four games into the season, it's the perfect opportunity to unveil the quarter-season edition of Around The NFL's All-Pro team.

While these selections are based on all data available, I have relied primarily on NFL Game Pass and my own notes. Offensive linemen are noticeably absent, as I don't have the time or the expertise to judge their play with the attention they deserve.

On to the list:


Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

How many active players can claim they have advanced the evolution of their craft? During last week's broadcast, FOX analyst Troy Aikman conceded that Rodgers is essentially playing chess while other quarterbacks have played checkers. "He's as hot a quarterback right now as I can ever recall seeing," Aikman added. "The ball placement and his vision of the field is unsurpassed."

The video to right displays Rodgers' ridiculous arm talent (sheer velocity, release, touch and ball placement), which no other quarterback can match. Beyond throwing ability, Rodgers ranks second in each of ESPN's running and scrambling metrics. Beyond the uncanny knack for extending plays and rushing for key first downs, Rodgers offers coach-like pre- and post-snap recognition that has enabled him to force defensive penalties through hard counts (offsides) and quick snaps (12 men on the field). Enjoy Rodgers at his peak because there is a Michael Jordan-like unshakeable confidence allowing him to envision possibilities and interrogate limits that other quarterbacks don't even think to explore.

Tom Brady has been brilliant. Carson Palmer is playing as well as he has since his career year of 2005. Cam Newton is carrying the undefeated Panthers. Andy Dalton is silencing skeptics. That said, I wouldn't embarrass any of those Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks by comparing them to Rodgers.

Noteworthy: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton

Running back: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman have strong cases if we discount the first two weeks, but those games comprise half of the season to date. Peterson gets the nod as the NFL's rushing leader, rounding into explosive 2012 MVP form.

Noteworthy: Devonta Freeman, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, Jamaal Charles, Chris Ivory

Satellite back: Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

The ATNFL team features a satellite back because the best offensive coaches utilize a spread-offense specialist in a pass-heavy era with uptempo attacks and game-deciding two-minute drills. Lewis has been the most elusive back in the league, consistently forcing the first tackler to miss via the run as well as the pass. He's on pace for 950 receiving yards, which would double the career-high of Shane Vereen -- the back he replaced in New England.

Noteworthy: Lance Dunbar, Danny Woodhead

Fullback: Patrick DiMarco, Atlanta Falcons

DiMarco has been the Rob Gronkowski of lead-blockers this season. No other fullback is in his class. Kyle Shanahan is using more two-back sets than any other play-caller, and the Falcons are averaging over 6.0 per carry with DiMarco flattening linebackers and paving the way for Freeman's league-leading seven rushing touchdowns.

Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

The NFL's most valuable non-quarterback, Gronkowski has rewritten the early-career expectations for tight ends -- just as Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson did for quarterbacks and running backs, respectively, in the 1980s.

"He's one of our best run blockers, too, period, at any position," coach Bill Belichick raved last month. "I'd say for me, him and (Mark) Bavaro, they're the two best that I've ever had on a consistent basis for all the different things they have to do."

Noteworthy: Tyler Eifert, Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce

Wide receivers: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Slot receiver: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

We outlined the dominance of Jones and Brown on last week's list of the top 10 wide receivers. On pace for 120 receptions, 1,728 yards and 20 touchdowns, Fitzgerald is off to the best start of his Hall of Fame career. The last time he enjoyed a four-game stretch this dominant was during his epic 2009 playoff run.

Noteworthy: Steve Smith, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, James Jones, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins

Placekicker: Brandon McManus, Denver Broncos

All of the hand-wringing over missed kicks has only served to magnify the difference between the haves and the have-nots at the position. Grantland's Bill Barnwell raised an interesting question, wondering if the longer extra point will serve to increase the salaries of the game's best kickers, such as Gostkowski and Tucker.

McManus gets the nod because he has nailed all six kicks over 40 yards while consistently drilling kickoffs out of the back of end zone.

Noteworthy: Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker

Kick returner: Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

We wondered last week if Lockett would start getting the Devin Hester treatment after returning a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in his first three NFL games. The Lions employed that strategy on kickoffs Monday night, squibbing one kick and pooching another in a game of keep-away.

Noteworthy: Travis Benjamin, Jarvis Landry


Ends: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans and Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals

Watt is the most dominant defensive force since Lawrence Taylor in the mid-1980s. The Cardinals' front seven remains one of the league's most effective despite losing Pro Bowl talents such as Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington over the past two years. Campbell has been the linchpin, highlighted by a Week 4 performance deemed as dominating as you could ask for a defensive lineman.

Noteworthy: Muhammad Wilkerson, Michael Bennett, Jurrell Casey, Jason Hatcher, Stephon Tuitt

Tackles: Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams and Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

I haven't seen a more impressive defensive play than the clown suit that Donald fashioned for Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger and guard Shawn Lauvao with this Tasmanian Devil-style spin move followed by lightning-quick closing speed to sack Kirk Cousins. Donald is the most consistently disruptive force on the game's most talent-laden defensive front. Atkins' return to 2012 All-Pro form has keyed the Bengals' turnaround on defense after they finished with fewer sacks as a team (20) last season than Watt (20.5) had on his own.

Noteworthy: Brandon Williams, Jaye Howard, Bennie Logan, Kawann Short

Edge rushers: DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, Denver Broncos

Ware and Miller don't meet at the quarterback every play; it just seems that way. Asking right tackles to keep up with Miller's explosive get-off simply isn't fair. Reborn in Wade Phillips' blitz-happy 3-4 scheme, Ware refuses to act his age (33), playing instead like a 26-year-old sack master.

Justin Houston deserves special mention for his relentless harassment of opposing quarterbacks. It's certainly not his fault that the Chiefs are coming off their worst defensive stretch since 1987.

Noteworthy: Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee, Khalil Mack, Cliff Avril, Ziggy Ansah

Linebackers: Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys and Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers

It's a testament to Lee's excellence that a litany of injuries haven't sapped his top-notch closing speed in the run game as well as in coverage. While Rodgers pulled off a handful of jaw-dropping throws in Week 1, it was Matthews' defensive brilliance that pushed the Packers past the Bears in a tighter-than-expected Week 1 contest. He saved a touchdown by hog-tying Matt Forte from behind, then negated another score by drawing a holding penalty on Jermon Bushrod. To cap off a scintillating performance, Matthews thwarted the Bears' comeback attempt by darting in front of Martellus Bennett for a red-zone interception.

"I always felt like he would be a Pro Bowl outside linebacker or Pro Bowl inside linebacker," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week, after another fine performance versus the 49ers in Week 4.

Noteworthy: Jamie Collins, Anthony Barr, Alec Ogletree, Brandon Marshall, David Harris

Cornerbacks: Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers and Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

Slot corner: Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks chose Norman as his quarter-mark Defensive Player of the Year -- for good reason. Norman has drawn deserved praise for his league-leading four interceptions and two pick-sixes, but those are only a fraction of the big plays he's made through four weeks. No other cornerback has a stingier opposing passer rating than Norman's 23.1, per Pro Football Focus.

We judge the game, not the name. While Peterson had a nightmare 2014 season, he has shut down the opponent's top receiver this year, allowing just 85 yards -- total.

One of the no-brainer choices on this list, Mathieu is football's most versatile and disruptive defensive back, generating game-changing plays via exceptional instincts, ball skills and blitz timing.

Noteworthy: Darrelle Revis, Desmond Trufant, Stephon Gilmore, Aqib Talib, Adam Jones, Ronald Darby

Safeties: Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings and T.J. Ward, Denver Broncos

Smith's excellence is the lone factor standing in the way of a dual-Denver safety tandem. A demon against the run in Week 3, Ward was the star of the game as a blitzer in Week 4, recording a pair of Teddy Bridgewater takedowns, including the game-sealing strip sack. Free safety Darian Stewart has been just as impressive as a centerfielder, showing a similar knack for game-altering plays.

Noteworthy: Darian Stewart, Devin McCourty, Reshad Jones, Dwight Lowery, Mike Mitchell

Punter: Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams

We are in a golden age of punting. Hecker and Pat McAfee are the maestros.

Noteworthy: Pat McAfee, Matt Bosher