We’re at the halfway mark of the 2013 season, so The MMQB is pressing pause to take a look back at the storylines, teams and players that made an impact or headlines in the first half of the season. After nine weeks of studying tape, Greg A. Bedard unveils his midseason All-Pro team and awards winners.
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos. Believe it or not, I debated a while about this pick, with it coming down to Manning and Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers close behind. It’s extremely difficult to ignore Rivers’ 72.2 completion percentage, and his lesser supporting cast. But Manning’s 29 touchdowns against Rivers’ 17 won out—for now.
RB: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs. McCoy leads the league with 777 rushing yards, and he’s fumbled just once. It won’t be long before critics knock McCoy as a “system back,” but Shady is just tremendous, especially in space. The only question is if he can last the season as the workhorse.
As for the second pick, Frank Gore, once the 49ers remembered he’s the man in their offense, has taken off and is having a great season, with seven rushes of 20 or more yards (compared to one for Charles). Still, you can make a convincing argument that there may not be a more valuable non-quarterback than Charles. He has accounted for 39 percent of the Chiefs’ yards, and half the offensive touchdowns, and is running with tremendous vision.
FB: Anthony Sherman, Chiefs. Bruce Miller is once again doing good work for the 49ers, but the young Sherman has been a little more consistent in the blocking department. Sherman’s trade from the Cardinals in May (for cornerback Javier Arenas) was a huge boost for the fullback.
TE: Jimmy Graham, Saints. He won’t be mistaken for pre-surgery Rob Gronkowski with his mediocre blocking skills, but Graham’s the most dynamic weapon of the group at this point. His 15.2 yards per catch average and 10 touchdowns are well above the followers, like Jordan Cameron, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions; A.J. Green, Bengals. Oh boy, this one was a doozy. You could make a convincing case for any number of guys, including Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson. In the end, the tiebreaker was the most talent. The last three off were Brown, who leads the league with 61 receptions, Bryant (first among outside receivers with eight touchdowns) and Nelson, who has been terrific all around virtually the entire season. Brown was knocked out because he’s been a little aided by the Steelers trailing so much. Nelson’s 43 catches just aren’t enough. And Bryant’s been held under 50 yards three times.
OT: Joe Staley, 49ers (L); Doug Free, Cowboys (R). What made this choice so difficult was the fact that there are no longer any dominant left tackles in the game. There are plenty of good ones, like Nate Solder, Andrew Whitworth, Joe Thomas and Jordan Gross. But there are none that make you say, “That guy is Canton bound.” Solder probably has the highest ceiling—he might indeed win this in his second season at left tackle before the year is over—but Staley gets the nod for now because he’s had the higher degree of difficulty: Packers, Seahawks, Colts, Rams, Texans and Cardinals. You can make an argument he didn’t allow a sack in any of those games. And Staley is the toughest and most rugged of the bunch. On the right side, Free has done such terrific work that you could call him the league’s most improved player. He’s been a standout, especially on the ground.
OG: Evan Mathis, Eagles (L); Louis Vasquez, Broncos (R). Mathis is simply the best guard in the game, and it’s not even really close. Just a phenomenal athlete and top-notch technician. Vasquez was one of the most underrated free-agent signings of the offseason, coming over from the rival Chargers and instantly stabilizing a line that has endured injury woes at left tackle and center. The Broncos have the league’s best pass-blocking line (Manning surely helps), and needs to be represented.
C: Chris Myers, Texans. Houston hasn’t gotten the results it’s used to out of the zone blocking scheme or in the standings, but that’s been more about the quarterback play than anything. Myers has been a rock-solid standout in every game except against the Chiefs and nose tackle Dontari Poe, but nobody’s been able to block them or him with regularity.
Go to Page 2 to check out my midseason All-Pro defense
DE: Robert Quinn, Rams; Robert Mathis, Colts. These are the positions the AP has used for years, but I’m going to fill it a little bit differently. Quinn is second in The MMQB pressure rate for edge rushers, and he’s one of the only true ends on the list. He doesn’t get the benefit of scheme like some of the others who play outside linebacker in the 3-4 do. Mathis is technically an outside linebacker in the 3-4, but he plays mostly like an end. Mathis, despite now leading the league with 11.5 sacks, is not in our top 10 edge rushers. The point of our statistics is to capture a total look at quarterback pressure, and Mathis hasn’t added up in hurries and hits. However, Mathis is basically a one-man pass rush for the Colts, so he earns the other spot.
DT: J.J. Watt, Texans; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys. Watt was voted an All-Pro at end last year, but I don’t know how people vote him there. Could he play as a 4-3 end instead of a 3-4 end and dominate at the same level? I think we’d say yes. But he does most of his work from between the tackle and guard and further inside. To me, that’s a tackle—an awesome one at that. He’s just unstoppable.
Hatcher was a 3-4 end before this season, and now he’s a 4-3 DT. He hasn’t received much publicity, but he’s having an incredible season with seven sacks, three drawn holds, 24 hurries and seven quarterback hits. A week ago Hatcher was closing in on Watt in our interior rusher pressure rate. Watt’s widened the lead back up, so we’ll have to see how it unfolds. Muhammad Wilkerson is definitely in the conversation too.
OLB: Justin Houston, Chiefs; Lavonte David, Buccaneers. Doing a little mixing and matching here with OLBs of the 3-4 (Houston) and 4-3 (David), but both deserve a spot. Houston is the best stand-up outside linebacker in the game and leads our pressure points among all rushers in total points (33.13) and rate (12.5). Sure, Houston has benefited from a strong supporting cast, but production is production. David doesn’t get much attention with what’s going on with the winless Buccaneers, but the lack of success isn’t his fault. He’s been flying all over the field as a playmaker against the run and pass (five sacks and five passes defensed lead 4-3 outside linebackers).
ILB: Sean Lee, Cowboys; Derrick Johnson, Chiefs. Another position that is having a bit of an off year because there are several good candidates, but not many who shine above the rest. It’s kind of a beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder situation. Can’t go wrong with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis of the 49ers. Rookie Kiko Alonso has surprised in Buffalo. The Cardinals’ Darryl Washington has been the best player since returning from his suspension, and could win the award by the end of the season—he’s been that good. Luke Kuechly, Jerrell Freeman, Brad Jones and Karlos Dansby have played well for the most part. Lee and Johnson win out for now because the NFL is a passing league, and they are the two best cover linebackers to this point in addition to their very strong play against the run.
CB: Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Alterraun Verner, Titans. When it comes to cornerbacks, what I prefer to see is a true No. 1 cornerback who plays mostly man coverage and then go from there. The problem is, there aren’t a whole lot of viable candidates because Darrelle Revis hasn’t played much man, and Aqib Talib has missed too much time with his hip injury (for now). Both could be heard from down the stretch. The Bengals’ Leon Hall was headed for a spot before his injury, and Vontae Davis (Colts) and Joe Haden (Browns) are both right there. Sherman seems to be the one man corner who has played above the rest with consistency. He’s tied for the league lead with four interceptions. So is Verner, who holds the league lead with 17 passes defensed.
S: Earl Thomas, Seahawks (FS); Eric Berry, Chiefs (SS). These spots don’t necessarily call for a free and strong safety, but if you have two spots, why wouldn’t you do that? Thomas is, without question, the best free safety in the game. Devin McCourty may challenge him in time, but no one possesses Thomas’ closing speed, and that makes up any sloppy play that may leak out of the Seahawks. The Chargers’ Eric Weddle doesn’t get a whole lot of acclaim, but he’s a terrific player who is probably the biggest reason why San Diego has survived so many injuries on defense. He covers up a lot of mistakes. At strong safety, I haven’t historically been the biggest fan of Berry’s play, as he can be a liability in space, but new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is putting him in great positions to be successful.
K: Matt Prater, Broncos. This looks like it will be a head-to-head battle until the end between Prater and Stephen Gostkowski. Both are among the league’s best at kickoffs, which gives them the edge on Nick Folk.. Prater has yet to miss on 12 attempts, with nine over 40. Gostkowski has missed once and is 9 of 10 in the same situation. Like I said, it’s virtually a deadheat. Time for a kick off.
P: Johnny Hekker, Rams. Tough three-way battle between Hekker, Shane Lechler and Thomas Morstead. Hekker is the choice because he leads the league in net average thanks to his 2.4 yards per return average, which is second only to Jon Ryan of the Seahawks (1.4).
KR: Trindon Holliday, Broncos. He’s the best dual returner in the game, and for now that gives him an edge on Vikings kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson and his two touchdowns.
Go to Page 3 to check out my midseason award winners
MVP: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs. This probably won’t be a popular pick, but if the season ended today with the Chiefs the top seed, the argument is there to be made that the one player they couldn’t do without is Charles. He’s nearly 40 percent of the offense and half the touchdowns, and he has no viable backup. Charles plays a central figure in both the run and the pass. He’s operating in an offense in which the quarterback’s best assets are his feet and that he won’t throw into coverage. The Chiefs don’t have any other weapons that threaten defensive coordinators. If Charles goes down, the feeling here is the Chiefs are going with him. There are plenty of worthy candidates for the MVP should the Chiefs falter: Manning, Rivers, Andrew Luck and Rodgers.
OPOY: Peyton Manning, Broncos. He’s on pace for a league record 58 touchdown passes. ‘Nuff said.
DPOY: J.J. Watt, Texans. It’s his world. Everyone else is fighting for second.
OROY: Giovani Bernard, Bengals. You’d like to see him carry the rock a little bit more, but he’s been so well-rounded in all phases of the game, and provided such a needed weapon for the Bengals, that we’ll overlook it for now. But look out, Keenan Allen (Chargers) and Zac Stacy (Rams) are coming on strong.
DROY: Sheldon Richardson, Jets. You might find rookies with flashier numbers, like linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive back Tyrann Matheau, but Richardson and fellow lineman Star Lotulelei have been the most impressive to date. Richardson has settled down from his torrid early-season pace, but he has the edge at the moment.
Comeback: Darrelle Revis, Buccaneers. That’s all I’ve got. I don’t even know why they give out this award. What’s next, everybody gets a trophy at the end of the year? I mean, these guys have millions of dollars worth of reasons to “comeback” and play football.
COY: Andy Reid, Chiefs. For Rex Ryan to get a team with a rookie quarterback, no offensive weapons, no outside linebackers and no Darrelle Revis to 5-4 and in the playoffs if they started today is one of the greatest coaching jobs in recent league history. But even though Andy Reid has way more talent on his roster, he did inherit the worst team in the league according to records, and has them at 9-0. He’s the choice—until the Chiefs lose.
OCOY: Mike McCarthy/Tom Clements, Packers. Despite not having both offensive tackles (Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod), a valuable back in DuJuan Harris and losing receivers Randall Cobb (IR), Jordy Nelson and James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley for long stretches, the Packers are still humming along on offense. They rank first in yards per play, have jumped up to fifth in rushing yards per play, fourth on third downs and third in points per game. Take a bow, gentleman (and you too, Aaron Rodgers).
DCOY: Ray Horton, Browns; Bob Sutton, Chiefs (tie). Both first-year coordinators inherited talented rosters and have been saddled by offenses that aren’t exactly breaking records for ingenuity or execution. They’ve both been impressive in their own ways, and it’s too early to make a definitive call.