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Tom Brady, J.J. Watt headline 2014 All-Pro Team projections

Somewhere in the neighborhood of five months from now, The Associated Press will pick the top players of the 2014 season. We've decided to do it now.

Our Preseason All-Pro Team follows the AP's selection process, besides the fact that we have just one running back and one fullback, as opposed to two running backs and a fullback, like the official first team. Why? Because the feeling here is that this All-Pro unit should closely mirror a real team -- and what offense would field three RBs? Plus, it's more challenging to pick one guy. Now, allow for a little contradiction on defense, as we aimed to cover both the 3-4 and the 4-3. Thus, you'll find more than three linebackers.

Curious about the toughest omissions? Jurrell Casey and Von Miller. And some serious thought went into Philip Rivers. Feel free to share your thoughts on the team: @HarrisonNFL is the place.


Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady might seem like an odd choice. Or, perhaps, it's odd that I think Brady is an odd choice. Given Peyton Manning's productivity, it's hard to go against him, yet the Broncos' schedule, which includes the defenses of the NFC West, is very tough. Brady's line in 2014: 30 TD, 8 INT.

Running Back
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Calling an encore performance from Shady, who rushed for a league-best 1,607 yards and scored 11 total TDs in 2013, this season. With DeSean Jackson having left Philly, the holes might not open as easily as they have in the past. That said, McCoy probably will be asked to carry the rock two to three times more per game. Expect Chip Kelly to really lean on No. 25.

Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
The 2013 All-Pro fullback provides a repeat effort for a team that, quite frankly, needs him to do just that. Tolbert gave Carolina's running and passing games a lift last season. The highly versatile veteran is also a solid blocker.

Wide Receiver
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Call this low-hanging fruit, but what do you expect? With newcomer Golden Tate and first-round draft pick Eric Ebron in the fold, this might be the year Johnson finally gets some support in the passing game. Scary thought. Megatron will average over 100 yards per game in 2014.

Wide Receiver
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Last season, the Cowboys finished fifth in points scored ... yet went 8-8. What's wrong with this picture? The defense, which only got worse this offseason. Fully anticipate Dallas being in a lot of track meets, which should give rise to a 1,500-yard and 14-touchdown season for Dez.

Tight End
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Is he a tight end or a wide receiver? We still don't really care. What is worth noting is Graham's ability to make hay on vertical routes and passing plays up the seam, where his height and playmaking ability make it tough for a linebacker or safety to out-position him.

Offensive Tackle
Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
At first glance, this seems like an easy-peasy choice, but Trent Williams and Joe Staley were given long looks. What put Thomas over the top was the fact that, believe it or not, Cleveland led the NFL in pass attempts in 2013 with 681 -- and the venerable left tackle allowed two sacks. Unreal.

Offensive Tackle
Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
One sack allowed for a team that slings it as much as the Cowboys is pretty impressive for a tackle, which is why Smith just received a fat paycheck. The 23-year-old is only getting better, and he'll have to be at his best, considering the health concerns of the QB he is protecting.

Offensive Guard
Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
The best guard and, perhaps, the best offensive lineman in football -- that's how many league observers view Mathis. The veteran played an integral part in LeSean McCoy's rushing title last season while only allowing two quarterback sacks, to boot.

Offensive Guard
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
The 2013 season was not Yanda's finest, but in 2012, he was one of the best in the business. Yanda and his Ravens linemates have heard about the team's rushing woes all offseason, so expect this group to be well-motivated this fall. Call it a bounceback year for Yanda.

Dominic Raiola, Detroit Lions
Yes, it is OK to have one sentimental choice, although Dominic Raiola is as good a choice as any for All-Pro honors. Playing the second-most downs among NFC centers last season (behind only Will Montgomery), Raiola didn't allow a single sack. The Lions leader enters his 14th season in Honolulu Blue.


Defensive End
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Yes, Watt is the best defensive player in pro football, making his inclusion on this list somewhat of an obligatory nod. Showing an irrepressible motor and uncanny ability to disrupt (31 sacks in the past two seasons) despite often playing on a three-man line, Watt is an absolute force of nature on the gridiron.

Defensive End
Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
Another no-brainer at the defensive end position. Quinn finished a hair short of 20 sacks in 2013 while racking up 72 combined hurries and quarterback hits -- and all that from a player who just turned 24 a few months ago. This guy should be an All-Pro mainstay for years to come.

Defensive Tackle
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Difficult choice here. Since the AP doesn't specifically designate nose tackles, Dontari Poe might have trouble piling up the stats to attract first-team votes. So we're going with Atkins, who had six sacks in nine games last year and was one of the best players in the NFL in 2012.

Defensive Tackle
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another potential repeat first-teamer, McCoy is sure to benefit from the arrival of new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, whose discipline always has been the defensive side of the ball. McCoy's toughest competition will be the Lions' Ndamukong Suh, but at this point, the Buc is steadier.

Outside Linebacker
Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs' defense clearly struggled when Justin Houston missed time last season: Kansas City went 9-2 with him and 2-3 without him. The 25-year-old Chiefs pass rusher, who recorded 11 sacks in those 11 games, still has plenty of room for growth.

Outside Linebacker
Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When you talk about the best young players in the NFL, Lavonte David's name should pop up early and often. Last year, despite being just 23, David compiled 145 tackles, seven sacks and five picks. He was all over the field -- and he should get better playing for Lovie Smith.

Inside Linebacker
Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Surely there is room on this team for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. In last year's All-Pro projections, I slotted NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee in the ILB spots. Both of them finished the year on the sidelines, while Kuechly emerged as a bona fide star.

Inside Linebacker
Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Willis has been a consistent force since entering the league in 2007, earning first-team All-Pro honors in five of his seven seasons. With Bowman and Lee hurt and Daryl Washington suspended, nod No. 6 seems quite likely for this San Francisco standout.

Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Sherman provided one of the best seasons of any cornerback in the modern era last fall. Despite not being tested often, the lanky Stanford product picked off an NFL-high eight passes while allowing just 29 completions and one touchdown. He's the best cornerback in the league.

Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots
Funny how people often point out that Sherman and Patrick Peterson are the two best CBs in football, conveniently forgetting Revis was coming off a major injury last year, playing in a new system on a new team. He will be able to lock down in 2014 while being part of a solid locker room.

Jairus Byrd, New Orleans Saints
Amazing that a player like Jairus Byrd can join a contender with a top-five defense and the move generates so few headlines. The playmaking safety has forced 33 turnovers in 73 career games. Yeah, I think coordinator Rob Ryan will make use of this guy.

Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Will it be worth it to Pete Carroll to let Thomas return punts this season? Because he's been an invaluable member of a Seahawks defense that terrorized the league last season. Thomas allowed three touchdowns -- while securing five picks -- in 2013.


Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle should be right back in the thick of Super Bowl contention in 2014, and this guy will be a big part of that effort. Hauschka faces tougher conditions than a lot of kickers -- and yet, he missed just two kicks in 2013. The Seahawks will be in more tight ballgames this season, so Hauschka's play looms large as a factor.

Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
Hekker put together a rock-solid campaign in 2013, averaging 46.3 yards per punt with an incredible 44.2 net average. Hekker's boots make it easy for the Rams' special teams to cover, as evidenced by opponents' paltry 2.6-yard return average. Kicking in a dome doesn't hurt.

Dri Archer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Prognosticating who will be the All-Pro kick returner is difficult, especially considering a rookie earned the nod last year. My colleague Marc Sesslerinsists Archer is the best choice here, given his explosive ability (see: 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, or how he turned this screen pass into a 46-yard gain against the Giants in the Steelers' preseason opener).

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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