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2019 Midseason All-Pro Team: Patriots, Saints, 49ers aplenty

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At this moment, which players are the best of the best at each position? Now that every team has played at least half of its regular-season games, Chris Wesseling provides his 2019 Midseason All-Pro Team:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Wilson leads all quarterbacks in traditionally important categories such as TD:INT ratio (22-to-1), passer rating (118.2) and fourth-quarterback comebacks (4), but the story of his career-best season is dimes. It's been one jaw-dropping keyhole throw after another. Wilson has completed 68.2 percent of his passes versus an expected completion rate of 60.9, for a +7.3 percentage above expectation, per Next Gen Stats. That's the highest rate in the league, of course. Wilson jumped to the head of the MVP class with a seemingly impossible touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett in a nationally televised Thursday night thriller versus the Rams in Week 5. While the nation's eyes moved on in the following weeks, he's continued to unfurl one incredible throw after another. Other elite quarterbacks boast superlative ball placement, but nobody sports the almost mythical alchemy of timing, trajectory and touch like Wilson has exhibited since his personal showcase performance versus L.A.

RUNNING BACK: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

It's been amazing to witness McCaffrey's metamorphosis from souped-up slot receiver as a rookie to all-around physical marvel in his third season. Find a running back statistic that doesn't have McCaffrey's name in flashing neon lights. No other player is within shouting distance of his 42.5 mark in percentage of team's scrimmage yards. He ranks first in touches per game (25.9), rushing yards per game (110.1), rushing touchdowns (10), scrimmage yards (155.5) and scrimmage touchdowns (13). Carrying the Panthers attack with Cam Newton sidelined, McCaffrey has more in common with all-time greats than contemporaries. He's on pace to flirt with Chris Johnson's single-season record for yards from scrimmage (2,509), while also threatening LaDainian Tomlinson's 2006 feat of the most prolific fantasy football season of all time. McCaffrey and inner-circle Hall of Famer Jim Brown are the only players ever with at least 150 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in six of the season's first eight games. While it's rare in modern times for a running back to shove aside quarterbacks atop the MVP voting, McCaffrey's rare air most closely resembles that of previous MVP winners such as 2000 Marshall Faulk, 2005 Shaun Alexander and that magical 2006 season from Tomlinson.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Keeping the offense afloat during the absences of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and Pro Bowl tailback Alvin Kamara, Thomas has amassed the second-most receptions ever (73) through eight games of the season while also leading the league in receiving yards (875). It's rare to see a wideout simply bully defensive backs to the extent that Thomas does week in and week out. Whereas Thomas wins with physicality, Evans is a stretch forward in cleats, using his 6-foot-5 frame and uncanny body control to outleap outclassed defenders at the catch point. The first player in five years to record at least 180 receiving yards in back-to-back games, Evans has actually reached that mark three times this season. He has two months to tie Antonio Brown for the most 180-yard receiving games (4) in one season.

Side note: At a time when slot receivers are paid more than running backs and occupy a prominent role in most offenses, they are long past due for All-Pro recognition. Cooper Kupp of the Rams deserves his own slot spot alongside outside receivers.

FLEX: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

As much as I'd like to reward the Chargers' Austin Ekeler as the premier receiving threat out of the backfield, Cook's all-around excellence can't be overlooked. The league leader in carries (177) and rushing yards (894), Cook needs just 31 rushes and 76 yards to pass his totals from his first two NFL seasons combined. He's the fastest running back from the handoff to the line of scrimmage (11.04 mph, per Next Gen Stats), while also stressing the edges of defenses with game-breaking ability on outside runs. Only McCaffrey has a higher percentage of his team's scrimmage yards (Cook: 34.3), which is why Vikings teammates continue to tout Cook as their most valuable player.

TIGHT END: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

Darren Waller and Travis Kelce are deserving of praise in their own right. Waller, in fact, is one of the feel-good stories of the 2019 season. Don't let fantasy football cloud your judgement, though. Turn to the 49ers on NFL Game Pass and you will see a tight end who is often the most outstanding player on a field that contains Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Arik Armstead and superstars on the opposing sideline. The drop-proof Kittle isn't just the most dangerous run-after-catch threat at his position, he's also the most punishing blocker. A superlative athlete and a complete player, Kittle is exactly what an All-Pro looks like. If not for a handful of big plays nullified by penalty (some questionable), he'd be sitting atop the fantasy charts, as well.

TACKLES: Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs

I couldn't choose between Ramczyk and Schwartz at right tackle, so I took the easy way out in a year where Baltimore's Ronnie Stanley may be the closest there is to a standout left tackle. A masterful technician, Schwartz has kept Chiefs quarterbacks clean through injuries to the left side of the line. I'd give the slight edge to Ramczyk for stonewalling a series of stud pass rushers, including former Defensive Players of the Year J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack.

GUARDS: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts; Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles

Keying the Ravens' top-ranked ground attack, seven-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda has enjoyed a fine season in his own right -- no small accomplishment for a 35-year-old in his 13th NFL season. Although Colts second-year tone-setter Nelson has struggled at times versus powerful pocket pushers in the passing game (SEE: Week 9 vs. Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward), I want the league's dominant run-blocker on my team. No guard matches Nelson in that regard. Rivaling the Rams' Cooper Kupp for Comeback Player of the Year recognition, Brooks may be the most impressive offensive lineman, period, this season.

CENTER: Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders

The shot-caller on the league's most improved blocking unit, Hudson might be the premier pass-protection center of the past half-decade. Along with Jon Gruden's strategic scheming and play-calling, he has enabled quarterback Derek Carr to enjoy the most successful first half of his career (105.1 passer rating) while helping new offensive focal point Josh Jacobs emerge as the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

DEFENSE

EDGE RUSHERS: Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

As tempting as it might be to roll with an all-Bosa or all-Watt tandem in this category, Jordan has been borderline unblockable in key situations. He ranks at or near the league lead in sacks (8), QB knockdowns (13) and tackles for loss (5) while also creating 10 sacks with his pressure, per ESPN's Bill Barnwell. He remains the headliner of a defense that carried the load in Drew Brees' absence, winning all five games versus stiff competition. A 49ers defensive line that was littered with first-round disappointments has been transformed into the most punishing unit in the league, with a rookie leading the way. Bosa has wrecked opposing offenses to such an extent that many are wondering whether a rookie has ever captured Defensive Player of the Year honors. The answer is yes. Lawrence Taylor emerged on the scene in 1981 with a debut so dominant that he was not only honored as the league's best defender but also inspired the sack as an official statistic in 1982.

Side note: This is an especially crowded class with many deserving names such as Joey Bosa, Shaq Barrett, J.J. and T.J. Watt, the Vikings duo of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, the Packers duo of Za'Darius and Preston Smith (no relation) and the Browns duo of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon. It won't surprise me if a couple of those names land atop this list by season's end.

INTERIOR LINEMEN: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams; Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

With all due respect to Grady Jarrett of the Falcons, this was an easy choice. As the defending two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donald's numbers are down slightly due to randomness and double-teams. That said, he still leads the league in tackles for loss against the run with seven. A Los Angeles defense that ranked a middling 18th in Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics at the end of Donald's 2018 career year has climbed all the way to fourth this season. As Barnwell pointed out, the Rams have allowed an 82.5 passer rating and a 42.2 QBR with Donald on the field this season compared to a 130.5 passer rating and an 81.2 QBR when he's on the sideline. Shifting between tackle and end, Campbell has terrorized opposing QBs with 11 hits this season. He's teamed with rookie Josh Allen and cat-quick edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to revitalize the Sacksonville front line in Duval.

LINEBACKERS: Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings; Jamie Collins, New England Patriots; Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

I was tempted to include breakout star Alexander Johnson for transforming a Broncos defense that has skyrocketed from 28th to third in Football Outsiders' metrics since he entered the starting lineup in early October. But he wasted away on the bench for nearly 40 percent of Denver's games, while the other players on this list have been standouts throughout. Kuechly has been his typically brilliant self, teaming with breakout sidekick Shaq Thompson as the league's best linebacker tandem. While the Vikings' secondary has slipped, Kendricks is the beating heart of a front seven that has returned to heights of 2017. A playmaking machine, Kendricks has been a menace behind the line of scrimmage as a run-stuffer and blitzer while polishing up his pass-coverage skills. Perhaps the most versatile defensive star in football this year, Collins is the only player to earn a Pro Football Focus grade of 90-plus in four games. He has stuffed the box score to the tune of six sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles to go with eight QB hits and seven tackles for loss.

CORNERBACKS: Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots; Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers

The second spot is a tossup between Sherman and Bills corner Tre'Davious White, though the former ranks higher in the eyes of Pro Football Focus as well as Pro Football Journal. A superstar and team leader for the league's only undefeated outfit, Sherman is stiff-arming all of the second-guessers who laughed at the contract he negotiated for himself in San Francisco. Gilmore is the key to a shutdown Patriots secondary that boasted a lopsided 2:19 TD-to-INT ratio at the season's midpoint, an eight-game stretch of aerial defiance the likes of which we are never likely to see again.

SAFETIES: Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos; Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Titans fans can't be blamed for arguing that Kevin Byard belongs on this list, but I am rewarding McCourty as the main ballhawk in a historically great secondary. McCourty's five interceptions lead the league, jump-starting a pass defense that entered the second half of the season with a 40.6 passer rating -- on pace for the best mark since the 1977 Falcons held opposing QBs to a 37.4 rating. Simmons is an athletic freak finally putting it all together in his first season under defensive mastermind Vic Fangio. Overshadowed by Joe Flacco's Waterloo in Week 7, Simmons had one of the most spectacular performances of any safety this season versus the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. Strong against the run, Simmons also owns Pro Football Focus' best cover grade at the position this year.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers

Momma knows best. Wasting away as a box safety in Miami, Fitzpatrick has been a revelation as the deep center fielder in Pittsburgh. A Steelers secondary bleeding big plays to the tune of a 141.4 rating on deep passes in the first two games has righted the ship, allowing a minuscule 10.8 rating on passes of 20 or more yards since Fitzpatrick arrived on the scene to police the back end. It's time for skeptics to cease the hand-wringing over the possibility of Pittsburgh surrendering a lottery pick to Miami in next year's draft. The 4-4 Steelers won't plummet to the depths of the Bengals, Jets, Dolphins, Redskins or Falcons. And Fitzpatrick has proven worthy of a top-10 selection with a cheap contract and five forced turnovers in black and gold.

SPECIAL TEAMS

KICKER: Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

Among active head coaches, Baltimore's John Harbaugh and New England's Bill Belichick have the strongest claims as special teams experts. Leading up to last week's showdown with the Ravens, Belichick joined Harbaugh in acknowledging that Tucker is the "best kicker in the history of the league." Although the gold standard did miss an extra-point attempt in that Baltimore victory, he's a perfect 17 for 17 on field goals this season. Several other kickers are giving him a run for his money this year, including Jacksonville's Josh Lambo and Pittsburgh's Chris Boswell, who is authoring a fine bounce-back campaign after a miserable 2018.

PUNTER: Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans

Like the rest of John "Bones" Fassel's typically exceptional special teams unit, perennial All-Pro Johnny Hekker has been just a bit off this season for the Rams. In steps Kern, who is outmuscling standout rookies Jake Bailey (Patriots) and "The Scottish Hammer" Jamie Gillan (Browns) for the vacancy atop the punter power rankings. Among the leaders in average (47.1) and net yards (42.8), Kern easily paces the pack with 26 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

RETURNER: Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago Bears

A punt to undrafted Saints rookie Deonte Harris is one of the most breathtaking plays in football, but I have to tip my cap to the most dynamic return specialist of the era. Recent rule changes have rendered kickoffs nearly a non-factor, yet Patterson has seven touchdowns on kickoff returns since entering the league in 2013. No other player has more than two over that span. Bigger, stronger and faster than the competition, Patterson has averaged 30.4 yards per return with the Vikings, 30.1 with the Bears, 28.8 with the Patriots and 28.3 with the Raiders. As researcher and theorist Adam Harstad is fond of pointing out, he's likely the greatest era-adjusted kickoff returner in NFL history:

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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