Alright, we're through two weeks of preseason -- what can we gauge?
Cool. Good talk.
Predicting who will be worthy of first-team All-Pro honors at the end of the 2013 season isn't exactly an easy exercise when starters across the NFL are barely playing. Yet, there have been little morsels of info falling through the TV tray here and there. If you've been paying attention all offseason and know which crumbs to gather -- like when an offensive coordinator points out in February that a guy will be used on third downs a lot (hint ... he's listed below) -- then a team like this can click into place. February and March are the months in which coordinators review tape and tweak or replace schemes for the upcoming season. Thus, whatever you can glean at that time is solid data.
On the flip side, there are 20 to 30 players who must always be considered, even if they don't make it every year. But while some of the guys below were on the 2012 AP All-Pro First Team, more than 50 percent weren't.
Take a gander. But take heed: This isn't an attempt to predict who will officially be named to the AP's All-Pro Team after this season ends; rather, this is a collection of guys who I think will play well enough to merit the honor. Below the list is some explanation for the whys and hows, including further analysis on many of the bigger names left off my list.
Let's get to some explanations here, starting with quarterback:
- Believe it or not, Matthew Stafford received perhaps the strongest consideration among non-Peyton signal-callers, along with Drew Brees. While the latter has torn it up thus far in the preseason with the New Orleans Saints, my sense is that Stafford is going to have a phenomenal year throwing the football for the Detroit Lions.
Lions receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are healthy. Reggie Bush has caught the most passes at the running back position since he entered the league, and he now resides in Detroit. And consider that Stafford has nowhere to go but up -- given the Lions' awful finish last year, expectations are lower than they were for that Battleship movie.
- You can't say the same for Adrian Peterson. He was a slam dunk. As I said above, this All-Pro team is comprised of guys I see having monster years; I wasn't necessarily trying to predict exactly who will be on the Associated Press' team. However, Peterson certainly fits both categories. Meanwhile, Marcel Reece's involvement in all phases of the game, particularly third-down offense, gave him the nod over the Baltimore Ravens' Vonta Leach.
- Much like Peterson, Calvin Johnson was a no-brainer. Dez Bryant's selection over Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, however, came after much deliberation. Roddy White is just so much more reliable for Atlanta than Miles Austin is for Dallas, meaning Bryant will be leaned on more in the Cowboys' offense -- that's it. At tight end, Jason Witten is a big part of the Cowboys' attack, but Jimmy Graham should score more touchdowns, thus giving him the edge.
-- The offensive line featured five big-time players, but I easily could have found five others. The Baltimore Ravens' Marshal Yanda, the New Orleans Saints' Jahri Evans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Carl Nicks are three of the top guards in football. Duane Brown has been a rock-solid tackle for the Houston Texans; ditto Joe Staley for the San Francisco 49ers. And I feel Max Unger will be counted on by the Seattle Seahawks this season at center. Still, look for those in the group selected to have fantastic seasons. This is particularly true of Andrew Whitworth and Evan Mathis, who don't always receive a ton of credit but whose teams should be improved offensively (especially that Eagles running game).
- Defensively speaking, seven of the 12 (one extra linebacker was picked, to accommodate the 3-4) players selected made the real team last year. It's just that there are several premier players for whom I could not see a dropoff coming. J.J. Watt and Geno Atkins are young and, if anything, improving. Scary thought.
-- When healthy, DeMarcus Ware is the best player on the field. The switch to defensive end might pose a transitional challenge, but who's *consistently *better than Ware? Minnesota Vikings veteran Jared Allen gave him some push, as did the Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers. But both guys are older. Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants isn't quite ready, unfortunately.
- Ndamukong Suh is young -- and perhaps immature -- but all reports have him readying for a monster campaign. His stiffest competition came from the New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork, although I think Nick Fairley -- who is better than you think -- will ball out this year.
- The linebacking crew -- Clay Matthews, NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Cameron Wake -- is pretty solid. We took liberties with Wake, as the Dolphins' hybrid front should have him with his hand in the dirt and standing up. Either way, he and Matthews are two of the best pass rushers in the game. Bowman and Patrick Willis are 1a and 1b in San Francisco, but Bowman gets the edge because he just never comes off the field. He also beat out Brian Cushing, who should be an integral piece for the Houston Texans this season. Lee edged out the Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly by the narrowest of margins. When healthy, Lee is excellent in his drops. It hurt to leave Bears veteran Lance Briggs off, but the Von Miller suspension made his omission much easier.
- Lastly, some thoughts on the secondary. Darrelle Revis did not make the list. It's a wee bit hard to miss a year and resume being Captain America as if nothing ever happened, especially at a demanding position like corner. The Kansas City Chiefs' Brandon Flowers was strongly considered, but he needs new teammate Sean Smith to have a strong year. Like my decision to add Lee, picking Harrison Smith was a nod to an up-and-comer. Jairus Byrd would have been one of my safeties, but he has yet to get his butt to camp. (Still, he's fired up to be great, and has the skill set to match that desire.) Ultimately, tough choices abound in the back four.