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2015 All-Pro team: Analysis of the first-team roster

The Associated Press on Friday dropped their 2015 All-Pro Team.

Headlined by Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who made history by being named to two positions, the AP's list serves as a who's who of the pro gridiron.

Let's take a look at who made the cut.

Offense


Quarterback: Cam Newton

Before we get going, take a look at this year's list. The high-flying Panthers dominate on both sides of the ball, the reflection of a nearly-perfect season that begins with Newton. The fifth-year passer was in a race with New England's Tom Brady and Arizona's Carson Palmer, but his strong close to the season sealed the deal without much debate. Who can forget Cam casually guiding Carolina down the field for a game-winning field goal against the Giants in Week 15? This was an offense written off by most when wideout Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the year, but Newton refused to think that way, putting the attack on his shoulders -- and his arm, and his feet -- en route to the NFC's No. 1 seed. Cam is fully deserving of the blue ribbon.

Running backs: Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin

No issues here. Peterson returned to his perch as the game's most punishing runner, while Martin -- written off for dead last offseason -- surprised us with a wire-to-wire rampage. Jameis Winston will get all the credit if the Bucs name play-caller Dirk Koetter their next head coach, but don't forget about Martin. He paired with Charles Sims to form the NFL's top backfield and anchored Tampa's offense with 1,402 yards on the ground. The last word goes to Peterson, though, who has the chance to bookend his marvelous 1,485-yard romp with a playoff stunner over the Seahawks on Sunday.

Fullback: Mike Tolbert

Are we still voting fullbacks to the All-Pro team? This fading position is losing its grip, but Tolbert remains an asset to the Panthers. With more than double the ground yardage of any other player at his position, Tolbert did enough through the air to fend off all comers. If anyone was overlooked, it was Baltimore's Kyle Juszczyk and Oakland's Marcel Reece, although the latter was just slapped with a four-game suspension.

Tight end: Rob Gronkowski

The tight end position is in its golden age, and the crown jewel is Gronk, the whirlwind force of nature who Brady relies on to make New England's passing game go. Gronkowski led all players at his position with 1,176 yards through the air and showed grit in returning from a late-season knee injury. He's the model any team would look for at tight end, with the strength and power to blow away defenders. This season also saw Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, Gary Barnidge and Zach Ertz play at vote-worthy levels.

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones

The voters got it right again, picking a pair of receivers who came within a hair of Marvin Harrison's single-season reception mark. Jones produced a whopping nine games of 100-plus yards for an up-and-down Falcons offense while Brown was equally dangerous with Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup. With receivers playing such massive roles in today's NFL, we'd argue that three or four be named, showering attention on Houston's DeAndre Hopkins and a pair of New Yorkers: Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall.

Tackles: Joe Thomas, Andrew Whitworth

Thomas deserves to join a winner after playing every snap of his glorious nine-year career. For his troubles, the Cleveland bookend has never tasted the postseason, unlike Whitworth, who was an outstanding quarterback-protector for the Bengals all season long.

Guards: David DeCastro, Marshal Yanda

The AFC North continues its dominance upfront with Pittsburgh's DeCastro and Baltimore's Yanda filling out both spots at guard. A former first-round pick, DeCastro was part of a Steelers offensive line that didn't allow a sack in three games this season while helping Big Ben pass for 328.2 yards per tilt, the third-most in NFL history. Yanda's play was under the radar on a bad Ravens team, but he netted the top grade at his position, per Pro Football Focus, while allowing just one sack all year.

Castrol EDGE Clutch Performers:

Center: Ryan Kalil

One of six first-team All-Pro selections out of Carolina, Kalil brings quickness to the pivot position and served as the glue to an overachieving line that kept Newton safe all season. Playing through a series of injuries, the Pro Bowl center also operated as a mauling force for one of the league's top rushing attacks.

Placekicker: Stephen Gostkowski

Gostkowski's been money in the bank for a team that doesn't allow mistakes. The Patriots trust him to kick from all over the field and he was a perfect 52 of 52 on PATs. (Hey, that means something this year!)

Kick returner: Tyler Lockett

What a fun player to watch. Lockett single-handedly fried Arizona with punt returns of 66, 42 and 31 yards in Week 17, setting Seattle up for a crushing of the Cardinals. Filling the void left by Percy Harvin, Lockett was an electric return man from the minute he hit the field and looms as one of the postseason's biggest X-factors. Darren Sproles deserved votes, too, but Lockett's achievements as a rookie suggest a special future in the NFL.

Defense


Ends: Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt

Oakland's Mack becomes the first player in NFL history to make the team at two positions. He talked all offseason about wanting to improve as a pass-rusher and delivered in full with an outrageous 15 takedowns, second only to Watt. Houston's defensive terror, meanwhile, lit up opponents with 17.5 takedowns. No player can equal Watt in terms of single-handedly blowing up a game plan. Right tackles see him in their nightmares, as they should: Watt is the greatest pass-rusher to hit the scene since Lawrence Taylor.

Tackles: Geno Atkins, Aaron Donald

If anyone can unseat Watt as Defensive Player of the Year, it's Donald, the St. Louis tackle who somehow topped his marvelous rookie campaign. Impossible for just one man to cover, we watched Donald blow up double teams all year. Atkins wasn't himself last season while recovering from a knee injury, but the Bengals lineman sizzled this season as the engine behind Cincy's second-ranked scoring defense.

Linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, Khalil Mack, Von Miller

More love for Carolina as Kuechly and Davis both make the list after stellar seasons for the Panthers. Bowman, though, is the best story here after returning from a devastating knee injury suffered in the 2013 playoffs. The 49ers linebacker gave us hints of what was to come in the preseason and never let up as the bright spot for an otherwise lost San Francisco team. What more can we say about Mack? The question is where he'll ultimately be compared with Miller, who piled up 11 sacks for a Broncos defense that took over games and wrecked quarterbacks in 2015. He's a special player who pops on tape and does the uncoachable from week to week. This won't be his last All-Pro nod.

Cornerbacks: Josh Norman, Patrick Peterson

Norman is a no-brainer after looking like the NFL's best cornerback for most of the season. He struggled against Beckham and Julio Jones, but the Panthers don't have any doubts about their shutdown cover man. Chris Harris deserves votes, but let's not take anything away from Peterson, Arizona's consistently sticky cornerback who starred again for Arizona's fascinating defense.

Safeties: Eric Berry, Tyrann Mathieu

There is no better story in the NFL this season than Berry, who battled back from Hodgkin's lymphoma to put together a brilliant season in Kansas City's secondary. For all the ugly narratives the league produces, fans can feel good about what Berry achieved in 2015. As for Mathieu, the Associated Press might want to consider its own position for the Arizona wonder. Along with snaps at safety, Mathieu played corner and outside linebacker and lined up in ways that nobody else can. Lost for the season to a knee injury, we won't have the pleasure of watching him in the playoffs, but Mathieu will be back.

Punter: Johnny Hekker

We've saved the best for last. OK, not true, but Hekker was as good as advertised all season for the Rams -- save for his run-and-hide act against the Seahawks.

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