Doug Baker’s 2009 NFL All Pro Team: Offense

Now at the end of the season is time to name the definitive NFL All Pro Teams.

In the end of season all pro list, I only name starters and then who else was considered. I don’t pick backups. There’s only one ultimate prize for each position.


2009 ALL PRO TEAM OFFENSE

QB: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

Drew Brees of New Orleans and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers were the only two quarters also considered.

Peyton pulls it out because his team is no 14-0 and he’s pulled out some amazing performances against Miami and Jacksonville.

Rivers started off a little slower, at least his team did.

Brees is very close and is playing extremely well, but Peyton edges him out.


RB: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson my end up being the sixth player in NFL history to break the 2,000 yard rushing mark. He has clearly supplanted Adrian Peterson as the best back in the game this year. Peterson dropped off the All Pro team, more because of Johnson’s performance than his own, although he has been slowed somewhat recently and fumbles too often.

Johnson’s speed, ability run inside and outside, make huge catches, and ability to score from anywhere on the field make him the most dangerous back in the league by a wide margin.

He is also the primary reason, not Vince Young, that the Titans had a chance to keep their playoff hopes alive until their loss against San Diego.


FB: Leonard Weaver, Philadelphia Eagles

Leonard Weaver had really come on as a solid blocker, running, and pass catcher this season. It seem his load on offense has increased since Brian Westbrook has been out.

Le’Ron McClain of the Baltimore Ravens also has a lot of ability but the Ravens seem to have mostly forgotten him as an offensive weapon the later part of the season.

WR: Andre Johnson, Houston Texans

WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Receivers are always tricky to evaluate and Johnson didn’t even make my midseason team simply because others had better statistics at the time. Currently he is the leading receiver yardage wise with 1,433 yards and has had two back to back monster games.

Larry Fitzgerald is simply amazing on the field, even when he’s double teamed.

Vincent Jackson of San Diego, Brandon Marshall of Denver, Reggie Wayne of Indianapolis, and the slot machine, Wes Welker were also under consideration. They are all great receivers.

Roddy White of Atlanta, Marques Colston of New Orleans dropped off from midseason. White was slowed with the injury to Atlanta quarterback Mat Ryan, an Colston because the Saints have so many weapons.


TE: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts

Dallas Clark is putting up crazy numbers as a pass catching tight end and has been the go to receiver for Peyton Manning in several games, including the incredible offensive performance against the Miami Dolphins.

Antonio Gates of San Diego has come on as a key offensive weapon for San Diego the second half of the season.

Tony Gonzalez continues to defy father time and is having another outstanding season for Atlanta.

Finally, I’ve been impressed, as always, with Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.

Vernon Davis of San Francisco and Brent Celek of the Philadelphia Eagles have also had very solid years.


C: Jake Grove, Miami Dolphins            

Even with Ronnie Brown out, the Dolphins running game continued to roll, and young quarterback Chad Henne had time to develop and not get killed by opposing defenders, because of Miami’s offensive line. Grove, in the games I’ve witnessed, as played the position extremely well.

This is a really tough call at center with great play by Matt Birk in Baltimore coming closest to supplanting Grove as the starting center. Nick Manigold of the New York Jets, Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans, and Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts are also in the mix.

G: Leonard Davis, Dallas Cowboys

G: Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints

The guard position is also a tough one with Leonard Davis of Dallas taking over the top spot. He has had a great season, especially the second half. He stands out even when you are not watching the offensive line play. He has been an anchor on an often struggling offensive line.

Carl Nicks of New Orleans keeps his spot on the All Pro squad. He often has to make up for a sometimes struggling, but improving left tackle, Jermon Bushrod.

If there were going to be a third guard on this squad it would be Kris Dielman of San Diego who has played extremely well this year, and seems to have really stepped it up in the Charger’s 9-0 run.

I hate to see Steve Hutchinson of Minnesota get booted off the team. He has had a great year as well and it was a very tough call.

Chris Snee has been a bit more inconsistent the second half of the year but remains on of the best guards in the league.

Alan Faneca, who made the midseason team, has played poorly the last few times I’ve witnessed Jets games.


T: Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos

T: Bryant McKinnie, Minnesota Vikings

I’ve seen more bad play than good at the tackle spot but Ryan Clady of Denver stands out, as does Bryant McKinney of Minnesota.

Honorable mentions go to Joe Thomas of Cleveland, rookie Michael Oher, a very promising rookie tackle for Baltimore, and Levi Brown of the Cardinals

Willie Colon of the Steelers got booted off the team.

Dishonorable mention goes to Flozell Adams of the Dallas Cowboys who can only block by holding, tripping, fighting, and dirty play.


K: Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots

No kicker really stands out to me so I am sticking with Gostkowski who has been consistent and plays in worse weather than some other kickers.

Nate Keading of San Diego would be the other pick.

Kick Returner: Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns

Since Percy Harvin as been out a few weeks and Joshua Cribbs is the only offense that Cleveland has, and has had some great games returning kicks, I’m going with the veteran at this position.

Percy Harvin of Minnesota and DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia also deserve mentions.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

Tough call with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers having great years at quarterback but Johnson has been such a standout at his position and maybe hit the 2,000 yard mark rushing.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE: Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings

With Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets now playing like the rookie he is, I have to go with wide receiver Percy Harvin as offensive rookie of the year, despite missing a few weeks because of migraines. He has been a very dynamic kick returner for the Vikings and is a speedy and mostly reliable receiver. He has great upside and should be a stellar performer for years to come barring injury.

Titans running back Chris Johnson Guns for 2,000 Yards

2009 NFL Season: Week 11

OBSERVATIONS

The theme of this week was clearly upsets, with the biggest being the Oakland Raiders knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just missed upsets were Washington versus Dallas (go figure, Washington is a lousy offensive team) and the Ravens versus the Colts, as the Ravens just shot themselves in the foot, three times.

Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans has taken over Adrian Peterson’s spot as my top running back in the league and gets serious consideration for league MVP. Without his unbelievable running talent, the Titans are still winless.

Matthew Stafford coming into the game after separating his shoulder and throwing the winning touchdown pass was one of the gutsiest things I have seen in a long time. Wow.

If I were doing an NFL Power Ranking my top team very well may be the Minnesota Vikings, even though the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts are undefeated. The Vikings have a much better defense than either of those two teams and an almost equally potent offense.

Denver continues to fold.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over New York Jets, 31-14

This was an extremely important win for the Patriots given we lost last week to the Colts and face the undefeated New Orleans Saints next Monday night. And it certainly helps our chances for a second seed in the playoffs with the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers both losing this week.

Clearly the Patriots are a better team now than they were when they faced the Jets the second week of the season. The first half featured more running and short screens to slow down the blitz, and the offensive line played much better than the last time these teams met.

The Jets, frankly, don’t seem as good as they were earlier in the season. Mark Sanchez is a now playing like the rookie he is, looking confused and befuddled at times. Don’t get that comment wrong, however. I think he will be a solid NFL quarterback with experience. Even Joe Flacco (Ravens) and Matt Ryan (Falcons) who set somewhat of a standard last year for rookie quarterbacks are struggling a bit in their second season. But the Patriots are on the rise and the Jets are falling off the map.

The Patriots dominated this game from start to finish. Other than a blocked punt that netted the Jets an easy touchdown, the Patriots had the Jets’ number all day long. The offense seemed to go into a bombs away mode in the second half and got away from running the ball and the short passing game, which resulted in having a tougher time with the blitz and our offense didn’t do much in second half. But neither did the Jets.

Patriots’ cornerback Leigh Bodden came away with three interceptions, one which he returned for the first touchdown of the game. But Wes Welker had a monster game with 15 catches for 192 yards.

The Patriots better stick with the run and short passing game longer next week against the New Orleans Saints if they hope to win.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR

Miami Dolphins over Carolina Panthers, 24-17

Even without Ronnie Brown running the Wildcat offense I thought the Dolphins could beat the inconsistent Panthers with their solid running game. While they didn’t run the Wildcat nearly as often, they did hand the ball off to Rickey Williams who stepped up with 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns, which included a nifty 46 yard scoring run to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Both of these teams played decent games but Carolina is a team that befuddles me. They have great running backs, a top flight receiver in Steve Smith, and a rather solid defense, mostly. But they are a mediocre to poor team at best. Oh yeah, they also have Jake Delhomme at quarterback, so never mind. It all makes sense now.

For Miami they are going to be in a real struggle to make the playoffs. It’s late in the season so maybe Ricky Williams can handle the extra workload, but he does not run the Wildcat a well as Ronnie Brown and they have a very pedestrian, non-threatening passing game. Most teams should just stack up against the run and they should be able to mostly hold the Dolphins down. But you have to give Miami credit for playing hard and making their offense work this week. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

MVP: Rickey Williams, RB

Indianapolis Colts over Baltimore Ravens, 17-15

What is wrong with the Baltimore Ravens? They have a very good football team but just cannot close the show. They had three excellent opportunities to win this game, but blew all three of them. Really, the Ravens should be sick about this loss. They could have easily won this game.

They did get rid of their lousy kicker who kept missing easy field goals. Their new kicker Billy Cundiff made some of the field goals he hit a bit heart stopping, but missed one wildly. But his miss appeared to be the fault of the snapper or holder because the ball was clearly held at an odd angle. Missed field goal, lose by two points. Bang!

In the fourth quarter the Ravens had the ball first and goal from the one yard line and could not score a touchdown and had to settle for a field goal. Fourth and one from the one, with an excellent offensive line and three outstanding running backs, against a defense that does not play that well against the run, and you can’t get the touchdown???? Another blown chance to get some points and win the game. BANG BANG!

And then Flacco, again in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens were near field goal range and could have won the game, throws a stupid interception. BANG BANG BANG!

Finally, with 28 seconds left and a Colts punt, the wickedly talented Ed Reed idiotically tries to lateral the ball near midfield and fumbles. Game over. Even with no time outs and 28 seconds left, the offense had a slight chance to get a few plays off and possibly kick a game winning field goal.

The Colts are a good team, obviously, at 10-0, but they escaped once again by the skin of their teeth and the Ravens let another winnable game pass them by. The Ravens are still in the playoff hunt at 5-5 but they should be better.

A final note, where did Tom Santi the tight end for the Colts come from? The second year player from Virginia saw his first action and the poor fellow made the biggest plays in the first half but took a beating for it. Even though he fumbled once, he was jacked up by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at the same time!! Welcome to the NFL [expletives deleted]! I’ll give him a pass on that one and give him my MVP award.

MVP: Tom Santi, TE

Philadelphia Eagles over Chicago Bears, 24-20

The Eagles had a nicely balanced attack against the Bears, with rookie LeSean McCoy picking up 99 rushing yards, and DeSean Jackson racking up 107 yards receiving, including a 48 yard touchdown. What is up with all these XxSeans? With Dallas and the Giants joining the Eagles in mediocrity, the Eagles are in good position to once again steal the NFC East crown.

Meanwhile Jay Cutler looks just flat out awful. I really don’t like Cutler after all the bad mouthing he did in Denver and his generally sulky attitude. But frankly, I am starting to feel a little sorry for him. His mechanics are just atrocious. He constantly throws off his back foot and really is just arming the ball down the field without stepping into his throws. As a result he is very inaccurate, especially on the deep passes. Plus, he is skittish in the pocket and makes poor decisions. Right now he is a poor, not average, but poor quarterback. And his body language doesn’t look good at all.

The Bears better get Jay Cutler straightened out or they are in for not only a long season but possibly a long period of losing football.

MVP: DeSean Jackson, WR

Tennessee Titans over Houston Texans, 20-17

The Tennessee Titans do not look like the same football team that laid down against the New England Patriots. They have won four straight on the legs of Chris Johnson and with Vince Young leading them at quarterback.

In addition to Chris Johnson running the ball extremely well, I love what the coaching staff is doing with Vince Young. They are calling plays and letting him play to his strength. It has already been much discussed that Young is not a great pocket passer. In this game they rolled him out often and let him make plays with both his arm and his legs. They really are playing to his strengths. While I still don’t think Young will ever be a great NFL quarterback, with a solid running game and the receivers finally stepping up and making plays, Young can be very effective the way the Titans are running their offense. And that extra dimension of Young making big plays running makes the Titans offense that much more dangerous. With four straight wins, this team has new life.

On the flip side, and I know I’ve said this a hundred times about every team that is talented but not playing up to the level of their talent, I don’t know what to make the of the Houston Texans. Solid quarterback, decent running backs, great reciever, a lot of talent on defense, but they just can’t seem to a get everything together to string together some wins.

Finally, I know Chris Johson is the MVP of this team and he ran a league high 151 yards against the Texans. But I am giving my MVP award to Rob Bironas. He hit a 50 yard field goal and a game winning 53 yard field goal, while Texan kicker Kris Brown missed his chance. I have seen too many games where the kicker has missed makeable field goals that cost their team the game. Bironas came through with two very tough, long kicks to win the game.

MVP: Rob Bironas, K

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

Defensive Player: Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots

Offensive Lineman: Jared Gaither, T, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams: Rob Bironas, K, Tennessee Titans

Rookie of the Week: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

The 2008 NFL Rookie Running Back Class

Some have suggested that the 2008 rookie running back class may be the best in NFL history. Whether this is true or not only time will tell but rookie running backs certainly made a phenomenal impact on the NFL in 2008. Following is a recap of 10 rookie running backs that were highly touted at the beginning of the season, how they fared, and their prospects for the future (barring injury).

 

joh127799Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (East Carolina)

Chris Johnson had a phenomenal season for the Tennessee Titans rushing for 1,228 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 43 receptions for 260 yards and a touchdown. At the NFL combine he was timed at 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the fastest electronically recorded 40 yard dash ever. He was also selected to the AFC Pro Bowl.

Johnson is one of the fastest players in the NFL, if not the fastest, but he also has power and the ability to run over tacklers. One of the most impressive aspects of Johnson’s game, and many of the other rookie running backs in the league, is his vision. He sees the hole and gets to it quickly. This is rare in a rookie running back.

Chris Johnson will be a special player in this league for years to come. Just watch him run. He has a unique combination of speed, power, and shiftiness that makes him not only an elite rookie running back, but an elite running back period. He has had some phenomenal runs this season, none more special that the beautiful run he had against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs for a touchdown.

Chris Johnson is my rookie running back of the year.

 

for645404Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (Tulane)

Impressive! Matt Forte is another young running back that I think will be an elite running in this league for a long time. This year he rushed for 1,238 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also caught 63 passes for 477 yards for 4 touchdowns.

With Forte there are many things to be impressed with because of his versatility. He is probably the best blocker of the rookie class and is usually able to pick up and pick off blitzes. And while is not as shifty as Johnson, he too has speed, power, and sees the running lanes well. Forte is a most impressive short yardage back, which also is somewhat rare in a rookie. Even in games where his statistics don’t look great, he contributes by catching passes, blocking, and in the short yardage game.

For me two games this year stand out – both in which Forte’s stat line belies his impact on the game. In Week 4 in a 24-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Forte could get no traction running the ball against the tough defense. But he contributed with very important catches to keep the chains moving and was quite good at blocking against the Eagles blitzes.

The second was an overtime Bears win against the Green Bay Packers 20-17 on Monday Night Football. Despite a toe injury and not much of a running attack in the first three quarters, the Bears rode the legs of Forte in the fourth quarter to pull out the win. While he was not ripping off big chunks of yards, he steadily wore down the Green Bay Packers defense to allow the Bears to come back and eek out a win. This game showed me that Forte had guts, leadership, and the ability to put a team on his back.

Forte is another back who should be an elite player in the NFL for years to come.

 

sla557176Steve Slaton, Houston Texans (West Virginia)

Steve Slaton is yet another fast, elusive rookie running back who actually ended up leading all rookies in rushing yardage with 1,282 yards on 268 carries with 9 touchdowns. He also had 50 catches for 377 yards and a touchdown.

I have not seen Steve Slaton play as much in the pros as I have some of the other rookie running backs. But I did see him frequently in college and once live against the University of Maryland. Slaton, because of injuries to the other Texans’ running backs, ended up starting and carrying a fairly heavy load. In college he ended up being a bit injury prone and late this season he was reported to be banged up, sore, and a bit weary. But he certainly continued to play well down the stretch. Slaton is extremely dangerous in the open field and I would expect the Texans to use him even more as a receiver if they have a fuller contingent of quality running backs in the future.

The game that was impressive to me this year, even though the phenomenal Andre Johnson stole the show, was Slaton’s 182 total yards in a 30-17 win over Jacksonville in Week 13. Even though he was banged up he put on a phenomenal offensive performance that showed off his skills and elusiveness in the open field.

Other than durability, Slaton is not as good at blocking and short yardage situations as Johnson and Forte. But my biggest question about Slaton’s future is his durability. He held up better than I thought he would as an every down back in the NFL. But I think Slaton, long term, would be well served if the Texans’ can get a back to carry some of the load.

 

mcf084974Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (Arkansas)

It’s a little unfair to try to evaluate Darren McFadden’s rookie season. He was the fourth overall draft choice but his season was marred by a toe injury and turmoil in the coaching ranks. He wound up with 499 years rushing and 4 touchdowns on 113 attempts. Despite being hampered by his toe injury and not getting the ball that often, his 4.4 yards per carry average is solid. He tacked on 29 catches for 285 yards. The few games I saw of the Raiders this year McFadden did not look very impressive, but neither did any other player. He did have an outstanding 164 yards rushing on 21 carries in a 23-8 Week 2 win against a weak Kansas City defense.

McFadden clearly has great potential with his size, speed, and college pedigree. I think McFadden will be fine, but whether he will be elite or not we’ll have to wait and see.

 

ste770966Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (Oregon)

Jonathan Stewart is absolutely the real deal. He split time with the outstanding DeAngelo Williams, who carried most of the load at running back for the Panthers this year. But when Stewart had his chances he made the most of them. He rushed for 836 yards and 10 touchdowns on 184 attempts but only had 8 receptions for 47 yards.

He had his best game of the season in a 38-23 win against Tampa Bay when he rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. He fared less well in games where he didn’t get as many chances to run the ball, but he and Williams made a dynamic duo, especially toward the end of the season when they gashed teams consistently on the ground. Together they rushed for 299 yards against the vaunted Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.

Stewart, like his fellow rookie running backs, has the size, speed, and ability to hit the hole fast and rip off big plays. I see nothing but a bright future ahead for Stewart.

 

smi461535Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions (Central Florida)

For playing on such a sorry, no account team, Kevin Smith wound up with a solid rookie season. He rushed for 976 yard and 8 touchdowns on 238 attempts for a respectable 4.1 yard per carry average. This stacks up quite well with the other successful rookie running backs this year. He also had 39 catches for 286 yards and two touchdowns.

Thankfully I only saw Detroit play once this year and Smith had a miserable day against the tough Titans defense so I can’t give a full evaluation of Smith. But he clearly has great skills to put up numbers comparable to other rookie running backs on a team that lost all 16 of its games.

From all accounts I’ve read Smith should be the cornerstone at the running back position as the Lions try to work their way out of their mess. His performance on a bad team speaks volumes about his potential.

 

ric154451Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (Rutgers)

Ray Rice is a solid running back. He does not have the speed or skills of a Chris Johnson, the elusiveness of a Steve Slaton, or the combination of both of a Matt Forte. But he is a smart runner who can see the holes and he is a decent pass blocker for a rookie but he needs to improve in this area. He ended the season with 454 yards on 107 carries and 33 catches for 273 yards. He was mostly used as a third down back for much of the season. His best game came on a 154 yard performance on 21 carries in a win against Cleveland, 37-27, in Week 9. In Week 14 against the Washington Redskins Rice suffered a shin injury and didn’t carry or catch the ball in another game, including the postseason.

While I do not see Rice as a dominate, elite back in the NFL, I do see him as a solid starting running back that can improve and do everything well. He appears to have a good foundation for developing an all around, versatile game at running back. He admitted to having hit a rookie wall last year around the time of his injury, and sophomore seasons are sometimes even tougher for running backs. But I have a good feeling that Rice, whether a consistent starter or not, will be a contributor to the Ravens offense for the foreseeable future.

jon313929Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys (Arkansas)

Felix Jones is the OTHER running back from Arkansas and before suffering a season ending knee injury in Week 6 was having a phenomenal year on kickoff returns. He also made the most of his chances in the backfield. When he touched the ball he was scooting for yards. He ended up with 266 yards on 30 carries for an outstanding 8.9 yard per carry average. And on kickoff returns he had 434 yards on 16 returns, including a beautiful 98 yard touchdown return in a wild Dallas win against the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-37. He also had a superlative 60 yard touchdown run in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, and a 33 yard touchdown run in Week 5 against the Bengals. In fact, he won the NFL Rookie of the Week Award 3 out of the first 5 weeks of the season.

Before his knee injury Felix Jones proved to be a big play running back. It is impossible to tell how he would fare as a full time starter but he definitely has big time breakaway speed and the ability to break off big plays on the ground and in the kicking game. I hope he can fully recover from his knee injury and return to show us what he can do.

 

men3937021Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers (Illinois)

I smell a bust. Mendenhall’s pro career had a very inauspicious start. He had a terrible preseason and couldn’t hold on to the ball. The Steelers tried to use him as a short yardage back in the preseason but he was terrible at that too. I saw three of the Steelers preseason games and I was thoroughly unimpressed.

After Mendenhall was drafted by the Steelers in the 1st round of the 2008 draft many thought he would see a lot of carries this season to take some of the load off of Willie Parker, but instead he rode the bench barely seeing the field. When Parker was injured and Mendenhall got his chance to start in Week 4, he didn’t look good and then ended up with a broken shoulder and out for the season.

Even though it is based on very little activity, my prediction is Mendenhall is not going to make it as a solid starter in this league.

 

hig784208Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals (Richmond)

I really like what I see in Tim Hightower. He started seven games and in his first start against the St. Louis Rams he rushed for 109 yards, admittedly against a bad defense. He wound up taking the staring job from Edgerrin James for seven games but then James was reinserted into the starting lineup, most likely for pass protection purposes.

Hightower sees the holes well and hits them fast and is much better at getting to the edge of the defense than James, who seems to have lost of step. But he is surprisingly good for a rookie in short yardage situations. While he has some work to do on pass blocking, as most rookies do, he is the back of the future for the Arizona Cardinals. I think he will be a solid, if not spectacular running back. But I think he has a great deal of potential and could even work his way to elite status, although that might be hard to do on a passing team like the Cardinals.

Hightower ended the season with 399 yards and 10 touchdowns on 143 carries. While his 2.8 yard per average carry might appear to be anemic, keep in mind that many of Hightower’s runs were in short yardage situations given the Cardinals are a pass first team. He also had 34 catches for 237 yards.

Statistics and Fact Checking: NFL.COM