The Audibles Preseason All-Pro team
The predictions just keep on coming, as Chris Burke and Doug Farrar assess which players will be noted as the NFL’s best with All-Pro nominations at the end of the 2013 season.
Doug Farrar: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
As long as he’s healthy, Rodgers is the NFL’s most dominant offensive force. No single player is better able to dissect defenses, given his combination of mobility, velocity and accuracy.
Chris Burke: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
I started with Aaron Rodgers here, but Brady got my MVP pick for SI’s preseason awards so I would be remiss to exclude him. Brady finds a way to make the talent around him better, and he’ll do it (again) this year with a depleted cast.
Consensus: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Farrar: Martin was impressive in his rookie year, but I think he’ll be even better in 2013. He gained almost 1,500 yards with both of his guards (Carl Nicks and Davis Joseph) out of the lineup for lengthy stretches, and he’s got everything it takes to be the center of an offense — much like Peterson has been in Minnesota. The only question about Peterson is whether he’ll be able to overcome the typical decline in production after a 2,000-yard season.
Burke: Peterson’s a gimme if he stays healthy. And the Bucs plan to use Martin even more than they did in 2012, when he racked up 368 touches (319 carries, 49 receptions). Should Tampa Bay stick to that scheme, Martin should soar over 2,000 total yards.
Farrar: Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens played contract chicken with Leach this offseason, but there’s no doubt about his value on the field. He’s an imposing lead blocker, especially in the red zone, and his re-signing allows Baltimore to use the more versatile Kyle Juszczyk as an H-back.
Burke: Greg Jones, Houston Texans
Jones was a steady, if underappreciated, member of the Jaguars’ offense from 2004 until he signed with Houston this offseason. He’ll get the job done there, too, playing under a brighter spotlight.
Consensus: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Farrar: The Saints’ receiving corps is in turmoil, which makes Graham all the more valuable to quarterback Drew Brees. Graham has rare talent, and even more importantly, the former Miami basketball player understands that he still has some growing to do as a football player. Now that coach Sean Payton is back from his suspension to “yell at me again, making sure that I am perfect on every play,” as Graham recently put it, expect him to be even better in 2013.
Burke: Graham was a Pro Bowler in 2011, but then suffered a bit of a statistical drop-off during New Orleans’ lost ’12 season. He could be the most dominant tight end in football this season, especially since he’s in line for a new contract next summer.
Consensus: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Farrar: Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Burke: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Farrar: There’s not much we can say about Megatron that hasn’t already been said. At his best, he’s impossible to cover, and if quarterback Matthew Stafford can be more consistent, who knows how ridiculous Johnson’s stats will be? Thomas has all the attributes common to the best NFL receivers, and he should get more isolated coverage on downfield routes with Wes Welker running slants over the middle.
Burke: Picking Megatron is like picking Peterson — if he stays on the field for 16 games, there is little evidence opposing defenses can stop him. Jones has been building toward superstardom throughout his first two seasons. He gets there in Year 3.
Farrar: Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos/Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks
Clady is the best pass-blocking tackle in the league, and he’s got a quarterback in Peyton Manning who knows how to make his linemen look even better. Okung has a rare combination of power and agility — he’s had medical issues, but when he’s fully healthy, he simply erases edge-rushers.
Burke: Duane Brown, Houston Texans/Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
Brown earned his first All-Pro nod last year, in his fifth NFL season. Vollmer’s on the same career arc — after four years of pretty steady development, the Patriots’ tackle is set to make the leap into the NFL’s elite.
Consensus: Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints
Farrar: Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
Burke: Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
Farrar: Yanda doesn’t get enough credit (even though he plays for a Super Bowl-winning team) but he’s the one who sets the tone for the Ravens’ offensive line. Evans has more upfield speed than any other guard in the NFL — he will frequently be seen blocking 15-20 yards upfield, with authority, on the Saints’ litany of complex passing plays.
Burke: Evans has made the last four All-Pro teams, and with the Saints set to improve offensively in 2012, there’s no reason to think that his streak will end in 2013. Mankins will join Vollmer as an All-Pro, as the Patriots’ elite offensive line gets its due.
Farrar: Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland Raiders
Wait — a Raiders lineman as an All-Pro? No, this is not a joke. Wisniewski has shown impressive strength, agility and consistency, especially considering that there’s so little talent around or behind him. If Oakland continues with Terrelle Pryor as their starting quarterback, Wisniewski will learn a new challenge — blocking the middle for a QB who will run himself into sacks.
Burke: Chris Myers, Houston Texans
Myers has been in the middle of the Texans’ impressive line for five seasons, but has not one All-Pro honor to show for it. That changes in 2013, as voters continue to warm to what Houston has cooking.
Consensus: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Farrar: Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers
Burke: Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins
Farrar: Johnson was boom-and-bust as a pass-rusher last year, but the addition of Star Lotulelei on the Panthers’ defensive line will free things up for him to force pressure more consistently. Watt is simply the NFL’s best defensive player — there’s nobody else more capable of creating havoc from so many different gaps and angles.
Burke: About as easy a position to pick as there is. Watt and Wake were the First Teamers here in 2012, and they are two of the most dominant defenders in all of football. Teams have not figured out how to stop either guy yet.
Consensus: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Farrar: Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
Burke: Nick Fairley, Detroit Lions
Farrar: Little-known fact — as a 3-4 defensive end in 2012, Hatcher had as many quarterback hits (11) and nearly as many hurries (20.5) as did Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Hatcher will force similar pressure as a tackle in new Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s fronts. No interior lineman splits more double teams and causes more anarchy between the guards than Atkins — he’s a rare force in power situations.
Burke: Atkins, with a loaded new contract, has developed into a complete wrecking ball on the defensive line. Fairley’s closing the gap, though, and he is primed to leapfrog teammate Ndamukong Suh in the defensive tackle pecking order.
Consensus: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Farrar: Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins
Burke: Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
Farrar: David is the most athletic example of the NFL’s new wave of smaller, faster linebackers, and he’s ready to become the leader of the Bucs’ upgraded defense. Kerrigan had a great season in 2012 without Brian Orakpo as a bookend — look for him to take his place among the elite at his position in 2013.
Burke: Rolling the dice a bit that David, off a stellar rookie year, continues to develop as an all-around linebacker. Matthews missed out on First Team honors last season, despite registering 13 sacks in just 12 games.
Consensus: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Farrar: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
Burke: Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Farrar: In an amazing preseason performance against the Ravens, Kuechly showed that he is already the league’s most versatile and effective linebacker. Nobody else sets the edge against the run or plays the pass as well (in the same package) as he does — but Wagner’s coming close.
Burke: Anyone who saw Kuechly in 2012 or this preseason knows that he’s the real deal, even if he is not yet finished developing. Smith is one of my All-Pro wild cards. He fits in with Baltimore’s imposing defense well and should be better in 2013 than Ray Lewis was in ’12.
Consensus: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Farrar: Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans
Burke: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Farrar: Sherman became an elite cornerback in trail coverage last year; he’s nearly impossible to beat on deep seam and sideline routes. He’s now refining his game in new ways. In 2012, Jackson was the best cornerback that nobody ever talked about — and it’s time for that to change.
Burke: Peterson has one All-Pro berth under his belt as a kick returner. He will add another as a lock-down CB this season. But Peterson may only be the second best cornerback in his division, with the confident Sherman patrolling Seattle’s secondary.
Consensus: Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers
Farrar: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Burke: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Farrar: Thomas has replaced Ed Reed as the NFL’s prototypical center-field safety — he covers so much ground, and he’s improving as a tackler in the box. Weddle isn’t in Thomas’ class as a pass-defender, but he crashes down on run plays with force and precision and reads routes very well.
Burke: Weddle is among the league’s most underrated players — that he wasn’t a Pro Bowler or First Team All-Pro in 2012 was a travesty. Polamalu may be in line for Comeback Player of the Year honors, if he has the impact I expect him to have in Pittsburgh.
Farrar: Bryan Anger, Jacksonville Jaguars
Burke: Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts
Farrar: The Jags have to wonder what might have been — they took Anger with the 70th overall pick in the 2012 draft with some guy named Russell Wilson still on the board. But hey — at least they have a punter who ranked sixth in the league in gross average (47.8) and forced 29 fair catches, second in the NFL behind the Cardinals’ Dave Zastudil. One thing’s for sure — Anger will have his share of punting opportunities in 2013.
Burke: The Colts’ franchise player, McAfee downed 26 punts inside the opposing 20 a year ago. He’s extremely good at his craft … and at age 26, he may only be getting better.
Farrar: Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings
Burke: Matt Prater, Denver Broncos
Farrar: Walsh wasn’t just great as a field-goal kicker — he also greatly affected the Vikings’ kickoff and opponent field-position numbers in a positive sense. He made 10-of-10 tries from 50 yards or more, and nailed 11-of-12 field goals in December, as Minnesota was charging to the playoffs. Not bad for a rookie.
Burke: Prater has a huge leg (aided by Denver’s thin air) and continues to be about as clutch as they come late in games — he is 28-of-29 on field goals in the fourth quarter or in overtime.
Farrar: Darius Reynaud, Tennessee Titans
Farrar: The Titans put Reynaud on the field after regular returner Marc Mariani suffered a shoulder injury, and Reynaud responded by ranking in the top 10 in kick-return average, by running one kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown and by finishing third in punt-return average. Tennessee signed Reynaud to a one-year, $1 million contract in the offseason, and knows that he’s the guy now.
Burke: Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
Burke: This is where you can bank on Patterson really making an impact as a rookie. He averaged 28 yards per kick return and 25.3 on punt returns last season at Tennessee, and he might help Minnesota fans forget Percy Harvin.