EDITOR'S NOTE: This file originally included a "flex" position filled by Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler. However, with The Associated Press discontinuing the inclusion of that position in favor of a third wide receiver spot on its All-Pro Team, Ekeler has been removed and the Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase was added to match the AP format.
Nick Shook uses the eye test and Next Gen Stats to assemble his personal 2021 All-Pro Team. Below, he presents his offense.
Rodgers has sprinted to the front of the MVP race with a strong finish to the 2021 regular season that included Green Bay locking up the NFC's top seed with a win over Minnesota. He owns a 37:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and despite throwing for roughly 1,200 fewer yards than Tom Brady, he again owns the league's best passer rating, standing at 111.9. If he wins MVP, it will be the fourth season in his career in which he posted a season with a 110-plus passer rating and took home the league's top individual honor. Rodgers ranks second in the NFL in pass expected points added and he's third in completion percentage over expected. This might one day be Joe Burrow's throne, but this season, it belongs to Rodgers.
Taylor is the easy choice for this spot. The second-year runner leads the NFL in rushing yards by more than 500, and he owns a three-touchdown advantage among all other qualified running backs. Taylor has racked up the most rushing yards over expected in the metric's history (dating back to 2016) with +481 in 2021, he's tied for second in the league in first downs gained over expected with +16, and he owns the top speed reached by any ball-carrier in the NFL this season, hitting 22.13 miles per hour on a 67-yard touchdown run against the Patriots in Week 15. He's explosive, consistent and the clear winner of this honor.
Kupp took home the receiving triple crown -- leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns -- so we shouldn't need much more explanation for this selection, right? Ah, why not?! Kupp is eighth in catch rate over expected among receivers (minimum 80 targets), third in catch rate (76.3 percent) and first in total expected points added by a wide margin, owning a 34.3-point lead over the next-closest receiver (Justin Jefferson). He's played a huge part in the Rams finishing 12-5 and claiming the NFC West title. Without Kupp, it's fair to wonder if the Rams would be in this position. Those breakfast meetings with Matthew Stafford have certainly paid off.
Despite Kupp's significant achievements this season, Adams has a strong case for the title of NFL's best receiver. His pairing with Aaron Rodgers has been incredibly productive, landing him third in receiving yards with 1,553, and his 11 receiving touchdowns rank fifth among all pass-catchers. The Next Gen numbers bolster his case, too: Adams ranks third in total EPA at 72.2, sixth in catch rate over expected (+7.8%), and ninth in overall catch rate (72.8%). There's no quarterback-receiver pairing in the NFL more lethal than Rodgers and Adams, so it's no surprise to see the Packers sitting atop the NFC with the conference's top seed heading into the postseason.
This was a toss-up between Chase and Deebo Samuel, but ultimately, Chase's record-setting season powered by his ability to shred defenses deep landed him here. He elevated the Bengals' passing attack in every way and against almost any defender. According to NGS and PFF, Chase led the NFL in 2021 outside the numbers with 923 receiving yards and 11 receiving TDs, vs. single coverage with 872 yards and vs. press coverage with 1,015 yards. And most notable for any downfield weapon, he set an NGS era record (which began in 2016) for most receiving yards on go routes in a single season with 542 -- just sneaking past Mike Evans' 531 yards set in 2018. Chase was able to climb to the top of many downfield metrics even with a midseason slump, proving just how good a receiver the Bengals have.
Kelce is one of two tight ends to land among the top 15 in receiving yards this season, posting 1,125 yards despite having some ball-security issues earlier in 2021. He serves a big flex option for Patrick Mahomes, working in open space underneath to make plays. He's especially dangerous in the red zone and even walked-off a win for the Chiefs in Week 15 as part of Kansas City's eight-game winning streak that launched them from the struggle bus to the top of the AFC West. Kelce has been a stud for a long time, posting six straight 1,000-plus-yard seasons, and the 32-year-old continues to be the standard at his position.
Williams has been fantastic in 2021, earning a pristine 98.2 overall offensive grade from Pro Football Focus as the NFL's best tackle by a fairly significant margin. He's allowed only one sack all season, and at 33 years old, he's playing the best football of his career. Even as the 49ers have weathered changes under center due to injury, Williams has remained consistent, taking the field in all but two games as a reliable blocker more than capable of protecting the blindside of whomever is taking the snaps. His selection should be unanimous if voters for the All-Pro team are paying attention.
Smith has missed some time due to injury this season, appearing in 11 of Dallas' 17 total games, but when he's been out there, he's again been a fantastic tackle. Smith ranks second in PFF's offensive grades for tackles behind only Williams, allowing just two sacks on 738 offensive snaps played. He's been even better in the run game -- and he's been very good in both -- continuing his all-around excellence as the franchise left tackle the Cowboys hoped he'd become when they spent the ninth overall pick on him in the 2011 NFL Draft. A decade later, he's still elite.
Bitonio deserves this nod not only for being a stellar guard, but also for kicking out to tackle when the Browns were in need. The veteran did so late in the regular season, playing well enough to help Cleveland keep the game against the NFC-leading Packers competitive on Christmas Day. He owns PFF's second-highest offensive grade among all guards at 93.6 (behind only Zack Martin) and is the leader of an offensive line that has helped Nick Chubb to the second-most rushing yards (1,259) despite missing three games due to injury. Cleveland was wise to lock Bitonio up to a three-year, $48 million extension through 2025.
There are more than a few guards ahead of Nelson in PFF's rankings, but I'm giving him the edge because he's the best offensive lineman in a five-man group responsible for propelling Jonathan Taylor to a league-leading rushing season. Nelson has earned Pro Bowl honors in each of his first four NFL seasons and he received All-Pro nods in his first three, with 2021's team yet to be announced. With Taylor's performance on the books, it's more than fair to expect Nelson to end up earning his fourth selection when the time comes. He's earned the honor here as part of an offensive line clearing the way for the league's top rusher despite landing near the middle of the pack in expected rushing yards per attempt.
Humphrey has been fantastic in his first NFL season, and those who watch offensive line play closely will quickly choose him for this honor. Despite seeing Clyde Edwards-Helaire depart with two separate injuries this season, the Chiefs have still been able to produce consistently on the ground, landing smack dab in the middle of the league in rushing yards per game even while being forced to rely on three separate runners (Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore) to shoulder the load. Center is a difficult position to pick up and play in the NFL, as it includes responsibilities for communicating pass protection and also snapping before immediately taking on massive interior linemen, but Humphrey has handled the job with relative ease. His future is incredibly bright.
Tucker could have earned this spot simply by hitting the record-setting, game-winning 66-yard field goal in a last-second win over Detroit. He did much more than just that, of course, converting 35 of 37 field-goal attempts and all 32 of his extra-point attempts this season. Tucker also converted +11.2 percent of field goals over expected, averaging just 1.3 yards from the middle of the uprights this season. He was perfect from 50-plus yards this season, making all six of his attempts. And that 66-yarder is impossible to ignore. He'll own a place in Canton one day because of seasons like this.
Nwangwu doesn't even qualify for the kick return rankings because of a lack of total return attempts this season, but he's certainly made the most of his opportunities. The Iowa State running back, who made his way to Minnesota via a fourth-round pick, has been destructive in the return game, taking two kicks back for touchdowns this season to lead the league in the category. He's averaging 33.2 yards per return attempt despite only fielding 18 kicks on the year. Perhaps Minnesota will make him its permanent returner; after all, he's been rather productive when sent out to field kicks.