Every August, we watch football, hoping to catch a glimpse of the starters for a quarter -- two, if we're lucky. Then, somehow, we think we can predict who is going to ball out. Hahahahammmmph, uhhuh, uhhuh ... OK, pookie, we realize we're speculating -- think Judge Smails from "Caddyshack" -- and that 2015, the offseason and every report in between is feeding our Nostradamic All-Pro leanings.
Some different faces grace my list, but before we dive in, please bear two things in mind:
a) This isn't a fantasy team. I don't care if Wideout A has more yards than Wideout B -- that doesn't always mean he's better.
b) This is not an attempt here to predict who'll earn AP honors at season's end. If you are wondering what I am implying, please refer to "a."
This is the year for Eli. If ever he is going to prove himself as the "elite" QB his supporters claim he is, 2016 is the time. New York has a better defense, meaning Manning won't be compensating. He's been highly effective in Ben McAdoo's offense over the last two years. Victor Cruz is back in the fold (we think), Odell Beckham Jr. is a stud and rookie Sterling Shepard is garnering plenty of buzz entering this season. Tom Brady is out four games, Cam Newton could come back to Earth a bit, so ... Why not?
The Rams will need every bit of Gurley's production they can get. Some might say we are anointing the former Georgia star too early. Eric Dickerson led the NFL in rushing each of his first two seasons. Ditto Edgerrin James in 1999 and 2000. Gurley should get the opportunity to make his mark. Also of note: Adrian Peterson's entering Year 10. Le'Veon Bell is out three games. Give me Gurley.
Here's a nod to a fullback -- and to the stats mavens at Pro Football Focus, who sang songs about DiMarco's play last year. Remember Devonta Freeman's insane run during the first half of the year? You can give this guy a hearty pat on the back. The fullback position might be marginalized, but it is OK to recognize someone besides Mike Tolbert.
Quite frankly, the best player in the league. I'm already on record saying Antonio Brown will earn NFL MVP honors -- thus, the first-team All-Pro nod here is obligatory. For the record, no wide receiver has ever won the AP's MVP award. Not Steve Largent, not Jerry Rice, not Randy Moss. Brown can run every route on the tree -- and even return a punt for you.
DeAndre Hopkinsis the Texans' offense, Odell Beckham Jr. might be the more exciting player ... But who do you want in the red zone? We have come so far as a fantasy football nation that we need to step back. Bryant posted 16 touchdowns in a run-based offense in 2014, making scores out of nearly 50 percent of his targets inside the 20.
Maybe Martellus Bennett will take some of Rob Gronkowski's numbers this season. Maybe Jimmy Garoppolo will fall flat in the first four games. OK, but Gronk has been first-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons without playing the full slate of games. Bennett's presence could make Gronkowski more effective despite fewer targets.
Considered tabbing someone else at tackle, but the fact is, Thomas enjoyed one of his finest campaigns in 2015, and doesn't seem to be slowing down. Hue Jackson has a way of motivating the players under him. In fact, his left tackle in Cincinnati, Andrew Whitworth, was named first-team All-Pro last season. Thomas = Hall of Fame.
A newbie on this list at tackle, one of the hardest All-Pro positions to break into. Lewan's primary competition will be Andrew Whitworth and Tyron Smith. Both have been dealing with some nagging injuries, while Lewan should come into his own in Year 3. Tennessee is going to lead the NFL in rushing in 2016.
It is fun inserting fresh faces into the All-Pro team. Then guys like Joe Thomas and Yanda mess it up for everyone. Yanda is one of those few players who nobody overrates. He is quietly the most effective guard in the league -- or at least in that conversation -- every single season. Having Justin Forsett healthy should help the running numbers (and lanes) look better.
Sitton has been terrific for the Packers over the last few years. His teammate T.J. Lang deserves mention here, as well. When Green Bay's offensive front is healthy and together, it is one of the better units in football. Zack Martin and Kelechi Osemele merit consideration, but a lean-and-mean Eddie Lacy will augment Sitton's handiwork.
It's always difficult to say how a big contract will affect a guy's play. Frederick, for what it's worth, typically performs like a guy with a chip on his shoulder, displaying a nasty streak that coaches love. The Cowboys were harshly criticized for taking him in the first round in 2013. Well, how did that work out? Dallas owns the best O-line in football, with Frederick as the leader.
Everyone is expecting big things from Mack this season. The Raiders are on everybody's radar. But this nod comes more from the eye test -- specifically, during a game last December in Mile High. The most dominant performance I saw last season was Mack v. Broncos. He destroyed them, racking up five sacks and almost personally securing Oakland the win in Denver. Mack is already elite.
Some would consider Wilkerson more of an interior guy in the Jets' defense. He might have lower sack totals than some other defensive ends, but again, this isn't a fantasy All-Pro Team. The key with Wilkerson is that he is solid on both run and pass downs. Not to mention -- but we'll mention -- posting double-digit sacks as a 3-4 DE is quite impressive.
Aaron Donald might not be the biggest, but he's ridiculously quick off the ball with enough strength to get movement on blockers. Donald was phenomenal last season, with 11 sacks and 69 tackles. He also blew up countless plays. (Remember when he preserved the Rams' Week 1 win over Seattle by stuffing Beast Mode on fourth-and-1 in OT?)
Will the offseason megadeal get into Miller's head? Don't think so. Miller is a unique guy, no question, but he also has worked to become a better all-around pass rusher than he was a few years ago. At 27, he's squarely in his prime -- certainly hasn't lost a step, while the game has slowed down to the point of premium anticipation. And he's always going for the ball.
Barr was a Pro Bowler last season, but he failed to make the AP's All-Pro team. Part of the issue: In Mike Zimmer's defense, the OLB is not going to be a sack guy. And that is what so many people notice first. Yet, if you look at the whole picture with Barr, you'll see a complete player: seven passes defensed, three forced fumbles and strong against the run. He's one of the main reasons Minnesota cracked the top five in scoring D last year.
So much has been said about Kuechly over the last few years. Yet, perhaps the most impressive aspect of his skill set is how often he is able to get depth and make a play on the ball in the passing game. You don't have to sub for Kuechly -- ever. Last season, he picked off four balls in the regular season ... then had pick-sixes in two straight playoff games.
We saw Shazier's true potential last season. Year 3 is exciting -- not only for Shazier, but for the rest of a Steelers group that went from 18th to 11th in points allowed last season under Keith Butler. Shazier is an effective player against the run and pass, and he made the biggest play of Pittsburgh's 2015 postseason. He beats out Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman (so tough to leave out) for this spot.
Could easily see this pick being derided. Most people feel that Revis is on the downswing. That might be true. But as evidenced by his scuffle with Brandon Marshall in camp, the man is still very competitive. Revis didn't slip in 2015 as much as people thought -- the bar is just set so high for him. According to Pro Football Focus, Revis allowed a mere 40 catches on 86 throws -- with five picks!
Peterson edges out Jason Verrett, a young player I'm very high on. Peterson can do it all, from holding the fort when isolated outside in man coverage to "traveling" with the opponent's top receiver. Not to mention, when he picks off a pass, Peterson is always a threat to take it to the house. Most importantly, he has become a team leader. And that's why he's here.
Mathieu was my Defensive Player of the Year before getting hurt late in the 2015 season. He is the queen on Arizona's chessboard, a roving playmaker who can cover the slot, blitz off the edge or line up as a classic safety. Quite simply, the most impactful defensive player in the NFC.
Tough call here, with so many qualified players. Eric Berry and Malcolm Jenkins certainly posted quality seasons in 2015. Then, of course, the Seahawks boast the best pair of safeties in the league. Smith has range like Earl Thomas, in that he plugs holes when the Vikings blitz or incur risk. Smith also has range like Tyrann Mathieu, in terms of being able to do multiple things on the field.
Jon Gruden said during the preseason that Dan Bailey is the best kicker he's ever seen. The NFL record books support that notion: Bailey's currently the most accurate kicker in history at 90.6 percent. Given Dallas' strategy of running the football with a trio of backs, playing clock ball and outlasting opponents, having a solid kicker is a must.
McAfee's a great punter. He gets depth on his kickoffs. He's not afraid to take a dude out on a return. He probably loves kittens, too. McAfee averaged 47.7 yards per punt last season, and hasn't had one blocked in three years.
I anticipated greatness from Lockett in this space one year ago -- and he delivered. The former K-State star gets the nod because he's effective in returning kicks and punts. (Many guys are fantastic at one, hopeless at the other.) Lockett led the NFL with an astounding mark of 14.8 yards per touch last season.