Quarterback: Holy Johnny Unitas Batman! 4,557 yards, 49 TDs, 10 Picks, 67.6 Completion Percentage and a 121.1 QB rating. Who else could you choose but Manning?
Halfback: Kevin Jones? Yes, Detroits Kevin Jones is my All-Pro Halfback. First of all, lets make this clear this is not a homer pick. If I was a homer Id have picked Shaun Rogers too (more on that later). I originally had Edgerrin James selected. However, when I took a look the stats more closely I saw that Jones had nearly 100 less carries than James (241 to 344) and over one hundred less than Curtis Martin (371), Shaun Alexander (353) and Cory Dillon (345). Despite the lack of touches, Jones still had more runs of 20 yards or longer (11) than anyone except Alexander (15) and the Giants Tiki Barber (11). He was also the NFLs leading rusher the final half of the season (113.3 yard-per-game average in final 8 games).
As a rookie, Kevin Jones was an All-Pro. Its too bad it took the Lions coaching staff a half-a-season before they started using him like one. Maybe they can start throwing him the ball 5-to-7 times a game next season and really make him a star. . . . I wont hold my breath.
Fullback: The Jets Jerald Sowell is a solid blocker who led NFL fullbacks in catches with 45. I know that San Diegos Lorenzo Neal, the Chiefs Tony Richardson, and the Packers William Henderson are sexier picks, but I want an all purpose fullback on my team.
Wide Receiver: I forced myself to pick just two guys. Phillys Owens was a given, and for most of the season I thought Green Bays Javon Walker was too. In the end though, I just couldnt leave out the Panthers Muhsin Muhammad, who was a one man wrecking crew for Carolina despite the absence of his 2003 WR bookend, Steve Smith.
Tight End: Again this was a tough decision; coming down between my pick, Antonio Gates, and the Chiefs perennial All-Pro Tony Gonzalez. I took Gates because he was instrumental to the emergence of Drew Brees, and to the Chargers resurgence.
Offensive Tackle: Walter Jones was awesome all season, he was a no-brainer. The other OT was much tougher. Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf both slumped a bit this year. I gave a lot of consideration to the Bengals Willie Anderson and the Packs Chad Clifton. Ultimately though, I had to go with Pittsburghs Marvel Smith, who was as influential to the Steelers revamped rushing attack as anyone on the team.
Offensive Guard: Two well regarded veterans, the Steelers Alan Faneca and the Chiefs Will Shields get my vote. They are two of the best lineman of their era and are both in the prime of their careers.
Offensive Center: I really wanted to choose the Colts Jeff Saturday, who I think is the unsung hero of the high-flying Indy offense. The Jets Kevin Mawae though is just too versatile, tough, and consistent to pick against.
Defensive End: This was a great year for this position. In the end I had to go with the Panthers Julius Peppers and the Dolphins Jason Taylor. Both guys are run-stuffing, pocket collapsing studs who are the cornerstones of their teams respective defenses.
Indys Dwight Freeney and the Steelers underrated Aaron Smith would have been worthy selections, but I felt Peppers and Taylors overall numbers were just too good to ignore.
Defensive Tackle: This was another position with plenty of worthy candidates. I expect to get a lot of heat from Lion fans on not picking Shaun Rogers (68 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes defended). While Big Baby was certainly worthy of getting his first invitation to Hawaii, I felt that his numbers just didnt add up to All-Pro status when compared to either of my picks; the Vikings Kevin Williams (70 tackles, 12 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, 1 TD, 8 passes defended), or Atlantas Rod Coleman (40 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 1 interception TD, 6 passes defended).
Middle Linebacker: James Farrior was an absolute force for the Steelers (94 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 TD, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, 12 passes defended). He was far and away the best MLB in the league this season. I dont care what the Ray Lewis slappys have to say.
Outside Linebacker: This was also easy for me. The Titans Keith Bullock (152 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 13 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 TD) and San Diegos Donnie Edwards (150 tackles, 1 sack, 5 interceptions, 1 TD, 13 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles) were both outstanding. They are complete playmakers who never have to come off the field.
Cornerback: This position was down this season, largely due to the rules changes regarding pass defense, as well as to injuries to some of the leagues best CBs (New Englands Ty Law, Buffalos Troy Vincent, Detroits Dre Bly, Chicagos Charles Tillman). Nevertheless, Dunta Robinson had a superb rookie season with the Texans (6 interceptions, 19 passes defended, 87 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles). Credit Houston Head Coach Dom Capers for maximizing the talents of his 2004 1st round selection (10th overall); Robinson should be getting a lot more attention from voters in years to come.
My other corner, Buffalos Nate Clements, proved once again to be one of the NFLs most overlooked defensive backs in 2004 (6 picks, 1 TD, 13 passes defended, 5 forced fumbles and 1 recovery). The Bills 2001 1st round pick from Ohio State filled the #1 CB shoes of the departed Antoine Winfield (FA-Vikings) without a hitch.
Strong Safety: Ed Reed is a monster hitter and playmaker; and has supplanted Ray Lewis as the kingpin of the Baltimore Raven defense.
Free Safety: The Eagles Brian Dawkins will continue to get my vote at this position for the foreseeable future; unless his Keystone State counterpart, Troy Polamalu, continues his rise in the Steel City.
Special Teams Breakdown:
Kicker: New Englands Adam Vinatieri has the best clutch leg in the game today. He went 31-for-33 on field goals this season (93.9 %), which was tops in the league for Kickers who played in all 16 games.
Punter: When it comes to Punters, its hang-time, and not punting average, that separates the men from the boys. I had the Raiders Shane Lechler penciled in for most of the season. Then as San Diego piled up the wins, I began to hear about this guy named Mike Scifres. He is what coaches call a boomer. Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated, whom I talk with about once a month, is a hang-time nut who uses a stop watch when charting games to measure punters hang time. Dr. Z says that Scifres wins the hang-time contest hands down. Scifres also had the lowest percentage of punts returned this season (33.7), which is also a telling number.
Returner: Who else but the Mightiest Mite in all the NFL, Detroits Eddie Drummond. His two TD performance against the Jaguars this season has to go down as one of the greatest clutch performances in Lion history.
Coverage Man: Ike Reese is the Eagles utility man as a special teams stud and backup linebacker for Andy Reids crew. He is the ultimate team guy, who does what ever is asked of him.
Offensive MVP: Sure Peyton Manning was everyones choice, except for me and the Detroit News Lion beatwriter Mike OHara, who voted in the AP balloting for Atlantas Michael Vick. The reason I voted for Brees is because the Chargers would have been in the AFC basement without him, while I think that the talented Colts would still be a playoff team with a John Kitna or Trent Dilfer type under Center. Im not saying that Brees is better than Manning, just that without him San Diego would have been toast.
Defensive MVP: The aforementioned Farrior was the best player on the NFLs most devastating defense.
Comeback Player of the Year: Curtis Martin is a true warrior and the most underrated running back of his generation. Martin led the NFL in rushing (1,697 yards) at age 30. It was his 10th straight 1,000 yard season, which ties him with Barry Sanders for the most consecutive 1,000 yard seasons at the start of a career. Honorable mention goes to the Steelers Jerome Bettis who played like he was ten years younger this season.
Some of you may be wondering why I didnt pick Drew Brees for this award? Well, to be NFL Comeback Player of the Year you once had to be good, didnt you? As we all know, Brees was giving Ryan Leaf a run for his money before this season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ben Rothlisberger has yet to lose a game as an NFL QB. Do I have to even say how amazing that is for a rookie playing the toughest position in pro sports? All of this talk about him having help is justified to a degree. Just remember though that back in 1983, Dan Marino was drafted by the Dolphins after they had gone to the Super Bowl the year before with David Woodley under center. I think Marino proved his worth over the long haul. Big Ben will too.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: I always have to laugh when the "experts" predict a college star is too small to take it to the next level. Jonathan Vilma is a football player, plain and simple. Sam Mills, Al Wilson, and a guy named Chris Spielman were all Linebackers thought to be too small once too.
Coach of the Year: Bill Cower has went though a renaissance over the last year, going back to his roots by reestablishing the Steelers running game and bringing back Blitzburg Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau. It just didnt look right seeing the Black and Gold slinging the ball all over the field the last few seasons. Fire up the Bus! The Steel City has home field advantage.
Executive of the Year: Phillys Andy Reid has proven that he is one of the few capable of handing the dual chores of Head Coach and General Manager. Bringing in the controversial Terrell Owens and the high priced Jevon Kearse proved to be masterful moves. I thought the Eagles would miss CBs Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, as well as RB Duce Staley. Reid proved everyone wrong with Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, and Brian Westbrook more than picking up the slack.
QB: Peyton Manning Colts
HB: Kevin Jones Lions
FB: Jerald Sowell Jets
WR: Terrell Owens Eagles
WR: Muhsin Muhammad Panthers
TE: Antonio Gates Chargers
OT: Marvel Smith Steelers
OT: Walter Jones Seahawks
OG: Alan Faneca Steelers
OG: Will Shields Chiefs
OC: Kevin Mawae Jets
DE: Julius Peppers Panthers
DT: Rod Coleman Falcons
DT: Kevin Williams Vikings
DE: Jason Taylor Dolphins
OLB: Donnie Edwards Chargers
ILB: James Farrior Steelers
OLB: Keith Bullock Titans
CB: Dunta Robinson Texans
CB Nate Clemons Bills
SS: Ed Reed Ravens
FS: Brian Dawkins Eagles
K: Adam Vinatieri Patriots
P: Mike Scifres Raiders
PR: Eddie Drummond Lions
KR: Terrence McGee Bills
Offensive MVP: Drew Brees Chargers
Defensive MVP: James Farrior Steelers
Comeback Player of the Year: Curtis Martin Jets
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ben Rothlisberger Steelers
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Vilma Jets
Coach of the Year: Bill Cower Steelers
Executive of the Year: Andy Reid Eagles