Tom Brady (NE), Peyton Manning (DEN), Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
Brady and Manning are obvious choices and will probably finish 1-2 in MVP voting, in some order. Roethlisberger beats out Schaub for the underwhelming 3rd spot, even though he missed 3 games. Roethlisberger carried a team that has had so many injuries this year in a way that Schaub never has this year.
Other options: Matt Schaub
Robert Griffin (WAS), Aaron Rodgers (GB), Matt Ryan (ATL)
Griffin would probably be my 3rd choice for MVP. He is tied for the NFL lead in quarterback rating and that doesn’t even take into account what he does on the ground. He’s taken a team that didn’t have a ton of talent to begin with that has lost a lot of key players to injury and put them on the brink of a playoff spot. Rodgers is a no brainer. Ryan was an early MVP candidate, who has gone back to his normal levels of production over the past few weeks, but he still gets the nod over Drew Brees.
Other options: Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees
AFC Running Backs
CJ Spiller (BUF), Ray Rice (BAL), Stevan Ridley (NE)
Spiller is having a year similar to Jamaal Charles’ in 2010. He’s averaging a ridiculous 6.6 YPC, which would be an NFL record if he had enough carries to qualify, but he isn’t even his team’s lead back. Still, 6.6 YPC and 1298 yards from scrimmage on a mere 178 touches in nothing to sneeze at. Rice is having another great all-purpose year and got an offensive coordinator fired for not using him more. Stevan Ridley beats out Chris Johnson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Jamaal Charles.
Other options: Jamaal Charles
NFC Running Backs
Adrian Peterson (MIN), Marshawn Lynch (SEA), Doug Martin (TB)
No surprises here. Peterson, Lynch, and Martin are 1-2-4 in rushing yards this season. Martin beats out Morris, who is 3rd, because Morris’ rushing yards are more the product of the Redskins’ read option offense and Robert Griffin.
Other options: Alfred Morris, Frank Gore, Ahmad Bradshaw
AFC Wide Receivers
Reggie Wayne (IND), Andre Johnson (HOU), AJ Green (CIN), Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
Again, no surprises here. These are the top-4 in receiving yards in the AFC.
Other options: Wes Welker
NFC Wide Receivers
Calvin Johnson (DET), Vincent Jackson (TB), Brandon Marshall (CHI), Roddy White (ATL)
Once again, no surprises here. These are the top-4 in receiving yards in the NFC.
Other options: Percy Harvin
AFC Tight Ends
Rob Gronkowski (NE), Heath Miller (PIT)
Gronkowski leads all AFC tight ends in receiving yards despite missing 3 games with injury and that doesn’t even take into account that he’s probably the best blocking tight end in the NFL. Heath Miller is an equally well rounded player.
Other options: Marcedes Lewis
NFC Tight Ends
Jason Witten (DAL), Martellus Bennett (NYG)
Witten leads all NFL tight ends in receiving yards. Bennett beats out Tony Gonzalez for his all around play. Gonzalez has been a terrible run blocker this year.
Other options: Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis
Vonta Leach (BAL)
Leach gets the nod over Marcel Reece. Reece did a great job moving to running back for a stretch in place of an injured Darren McFadden, but in terms of true, pure fullbacks, there’s still no one better in the NFL than Leach.
Other options: Marcel Reece
Bruce Miller (SF)
ProFootballFocus’ top rated NFC fullback, Bruce Miller is a huge part of the reason why the 49ers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards.
Other options: Henry Hynoski
AFC Offensive Tackles
Duane Brown (HOU), Ryan Clady (DEN), Joe Thomas (CLE)
Duane Brown is ProFootballFocus’ top rated offensive tackle and has only allowed 2 sacks this season, which is actually a lot for him. He didn’t allow a single sack all last year. Clady has had a major bounce back year for the Broncos this year, after a down year last year, though I suppose a switch from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning under center obviously helps. Thomas gets the nod over Andre Brown because Thomas plays on the more important blindside.
Other options: Andre Smith, D’Brickashaw Ferguson
NFC Offensive Tackles
Joe Staley (SF), Trent Williams (WAS), William Beatty (NYG)
Staley has actually allowed 7 sacks this year, but that’s more his quarterbacks’ fault. He’s allowed just 1 hit and 12 hurries and is ProFootballFocus’ top rated run blocking offensive tackle by a wide margin on one of the league’s best run offenses. Williams and Beatty wouldn’t deserve this if they were in the AFC, a much stronger offensive tackle conference, but they are ProFootballFocus’ 2nd and 4th rated offensive tackles from the NFC, allowing 3 and 2 sacks respectively. Beatty beats out Gosder Cherilus because, like Andre Smith, he’s a right tackle.
Other options: Gosder Cherilus, Russell Okung
Marshal Yanda (BAL), Kevin Zeitler (CIN), Andy Levitre (BUF)
Yanda hasn’t surrendered a sack all season and is ProFootballFocus’ 2nd ranked guard, excelling in both pass protection and run blocking. Rookie Zeitler is a huge part of the reason why the pedestrian BenJarvus Green-Ellis has appeared to be a Pro-Bowl caliber running back this year. Andy Levitre grades out as the NFL’s top rated pass blocking interior lineman on ProFootballFocus, allowing 2 sacks, 3 hits, and 6 hurries.
Other options: Clint Boling
Evan Mathis (PHI), Jahri Evans (NO), Josh Sitton (GB)
The Eagles’ offensive line has been terrible, but don’t blame Mathis, who has allowed just 1 sack and is ProFootballFocus’ top rated guard for the 2nd straight year by a wide margin. Evans is a perennial Pro Bowler and deserves it again this year. Sitton is on his way to becoming a perennial guy like Evans.
Other options: Mike Iupati, Alex Boone
Mike Pouncey (MIA), Chris Myers (HOU)
The lesser known of the two Pouncey twins, Mike is playing on a level that his brother Maurkice has never played on. He’s surrendered just 3 total pressures all year and is a strong run blocker. Myers was ProFootballFocus’ top rated center in 2011 and is their 5th rated center this year, 2nd rated from the AFC.
Other options: Nick Mangold, Ryan Wendell
John Sullivan (MIN), Brian La Puente (NO)
La Puente went from marginal to Pro Bowl caliber this year. Sullivan did that last year and hasn’t looked back.
Other options: Will Montgomery
AFC Defensive Ends
JJ Watt (HOU), Cameron Wake (MIA), Derrick Morgan (TEN)
Ugh. Why did the Pro Bowl ballot move Muhammad Wilkerson from end to tackle. That left us without a clear 3rd end from the AFC. Watt and Wake are no brainers, ranking 1st on ProFootballFocus in 3-4 and 4-3 end respectively. Morgan is a surprise pick because he only has 5 sacks, but he’s ProFootballFocus’ 2nd ranked defensive end from the AFC as he ranks 4th in the NFL in pass rush efficiency.
Other options: Corey Liuget, Mario Williams
NFC Defensive Ends
Jason Pierre Paul (NYG), Brandon Graham (PHI), Calais Campbell (ARZ)
JPP and Campbell are obvious selections. Graham is a surprise like Morgan, but he leads the league in pass rush efficiency by a wide margin among players with 175 or more pass rush snaps and he has been a monster since becoming a starter 3 weeks ago with 5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and 11 quarterback hurries in 3 games. On the year, he has 7 sacks, 6 hits, and 27 hurries on 177 pass rush snaps, good for a pass rush efficiency of 19.0. Wake is closest at 13.7. Graham actually is ProFootballFocus’ top rated NFC 4-3 end and ranks 2nd behind only Cameron Wake in the NFL at his position.
Other options: John Abraham, Charles Johnson, Chris Clemons
AFC Defensive Tackles
Geno Atkins (CIN), Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ), Kyle Williams (BUF)
Geno Atkins is the league’s best defensive tackle with 12 sacks, 13 hits, and 44 hurries, all while grading out as ProFootballFocus’ top rated defensive tackle against the run. Among defensive players, only JJ Watt and Von Miller have better overall ratings. Wilkerson isn’t the pass rusher Atkins is, but the 3-4 end is ProFootballFocus’ top rated run defensive lineman not named Watt and has 4 sacks, 7 hits, and 18 hurries to boot. Williams was a Pro Bowl caliber player in 2010 and now back from injury he is again, with 5 sacks, 10 hits, and 25 hurries, while playing the run well as well. Only Atkins has a higher rating among defensive tackles.
Other options: Jurrell Casey
NFC Defensive Tackles
Gerald McCoy (TB), Justin Smith (SF), Nick Fairley (DET)
Gerald McCoy has finally showed what he can do when healthy, as ProFootballFocus’ 3rd rated defensive tackle, with 5 sacks, 8 hits, and 31 hurries while leading the NFL’s best run defense. Smith is technically a 3-4 end, but is on the ballot as a tackle. He’s not having the pass rushing year he had in 2011, but only Watt and Wilkerson grade out as better run players. Fairley is a write in, but only Atkins has a better pass rush efficiency rating. He was nuts as a rotational player early in the year and has been equally nuts in 5 starts with 4 sacks, 4 hits, and 15 hurries. I know you can’t write in players, but he deserves it. On the actual ballot, I voted his teammate Ndamukong Suh, who has played almost equally well.
Other options: Ndamukong Suh, Henry Melton, Jason Hatcher
AFC Outside Linebackers
Von Miller (DEN), Justin Houston (KC), Nick Barnett (MIA)
Along Watt has a higher rating among defensive players on ProFootballFocus than Miller, who is a defensive end just in sub packages and has 16 sacks, 13 hits, and 45 hurries, which is good for a pass rush efficiency surpassed only by Brandon Graham. He’s also ProFootballFocus’ highest rated run stopping linebacker and even does well in coverage when asked. Houston is ProFootballFocus’ highest rated AFC 3-4 outside linebacker with 10 sacks, 6 hits, and 23 hurries. Nick Barnett is ProFootballFocus’ 3rd rated 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL and gets the nod because Jerod Mayo is listed as a middle linebacker for some reason.
Other options: Phillip Wheeler, Paul Kruger
NFC Outside Linebackers
Anthony Spencer (DAL), Aldon Smith (SF), Ahmad Brooks (SF)
Spencer is not a household name, but he’s perennially one of the best run stopping 3-4 outside linebackers in the league and this year he is the best and has also chipped in with a career high 9 sacks, to go with 1 hit and 20 hurries. Only Von Miller is a higher rated run stopping linebacker and he’s ProFootballFocus’ highest rated 3-4 outside linebacker. Smith is overrated based purely on sack numbers because he doesn’t play the run well or cover well and his 10 hits and 29 hurries allow him to barely be the league’s leader in pass rush efficiency over Justin Houston, but 20 sacks is nothing to sneeze at. He could set the single season record for sacks. Teammate Ahmad Brooks has also played very well with 6 sacks, 8 hits, and 27 hurries, while grading out 3rd at his position against the run. He gets the nod over Clay Matthews, once a Pro Bowl lock before getting hurt, and DeMarcus Ware, a more one dimensional player who leads the position with 8 penalties.
Other options: Clay Matthews, DeMarcus Ware
AFC Middle Linebackers
Derrick Johnson (KC), Jerod Mayo (NE)
Derrick Johnson is ProFootballFocus top rated middle linebacker not named Patrick Willis. Jerod Mayo is an outside linebacker listed here for whatever reason, but he deserves the nod either way, beating out teammate Brandon Spikes, a true middle linebacker, for this nod.
Other options: Brandon Spikes
NFC Middle Linebackers
Patrick Willis (SF), Bobby Wagner (SEA)
Willis is the obvious choice. 2nd round rookie Wagner ranks 3rd on ProFootballFocus out of middle linebackers and beats out a loaded NFC middle linebacker group including Daryl Washington, NaVorro Bowman, DeMeco Ryans, and even the injured Sean Lee.
Other options: Daryl Washington, NaVorro Bowman
Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Alterraun Verner (TEN), Sheldon Brown (CLE)
The AFC is clearly the weaker cornerback conference. Cromartie has allowed 4 touchdowns, committed 6 penalties, and struggles against the run, but his 43.8% completion percentage allowed is the league’s best and he has 3 picks and 11 deflections. Verner and Brown are weird choices, but Verner is the only AFC cornerback who hasn’t surrendered a touchdown this year and he’s one of the league’s best run stopping cornerbacks. Brown is submitting an excellent season at age 33 on a very underrated Cleveland defense, allowing 40 catches for 462 yards and a touchdown on 76 attempts, intercepting 3, deflecting 9, committing 7 penalties, and playing well against the run.
Other options: Brandon Flowers, Chris Harris, Champ Bailey
Casey Hayward (GB), Charles Tillman (CHI), Antoine Winfield (MIN)
The much tougher cornerback conference, the NFC possesses ProFootballFocus’ top 4 rated cornerbacks, including 3 from the NFC North. Hayward is a mere 2nd round rookie, but he’s playing insane, allowing 43.9% completion, no touchdowns, while getting his hands on 15 balls, intercepting 5 of them. Opposing quarterbacks have a 30.1 QB rating when throwing on him and he’s missed just one tackle all year and has yet to be penalized. He’s not on the Pro Bowl ballot for some reason, so I voted for Richard Sherman instead, even though he’ll probably end up being suspended and ineligible. Tillman and Winfield are more obvious choices as they rank tied for 3rd and 2nd respectively on ProFootballFocus among cornerbacks.
Other options: Richard Sherman, Tim Jennings
AFC Free Safety
Eric Weddle (SD)
Once again, Weddle is ProFootballFocus’ top rated safety, narrowly beating out Jairus Byrd and the emerging Reshad Jones.
Other options: Jairus Byrd, Reshad Jones
NFC Free Safety
Kerry Rhodes (ARZ)
After Weedle, Jones, and Byrd, the resurgent Kerry Rhodes is ProFootballFocus’ 4th rated safety and top rated NFC safety.
Other options: Ronde Barber
AFC Strong Safety
TJ Ward (CLE)
I don’t know why I can’t just pick two free safeties, but TJ Ward is ProFootballFocus top rated strong safety and 5th rated safety overall.
Other options: George Wilson
NFC Strong Safety
Quintin Mikell (STL)
The AFC is the stronger safety conference and free safety is the stronger safety position, but Quintin Mikell has emerged over the past few weeks to become ProFootballFocus’ 6th rated safety and a worthy Pro-Bowler nonetheless.
Other options: William Moore
AFC: Justin Tucker (BAL), NFC: Blair Walsh (MIN)
These two rookies have been the league’s best.
AFC: Brandon Fields (MIA), NFC: Thomas Morestead (NO)
Fields and Morestead are the only two punters in the NFL to have an average of 50+ yards per punt.
AFC: Leodis McKelvin (BUF), NFC: David Wilson (NYG)
McKelvin is averaging a league leading 18.0 yards per punt return and also averages 28.3 yards per kickoff return, why he’s ProFootballFocus’ top rated return man. Wilson is 2nd and tops in the NFC, averaging 27.5 yards per kickoff.
AFC: Darrell Stuckey (SD), NFC: Colt Anderson (PHI)
Do you really want me to talk about special teamers?
San Francisco 6
New England 4
NY Giants 4
Green Bay 3
New Orleans 3
Tampa Bay 3
NY Jets 2
Kansas City 2
San Diego 2
St. Louis 1