With week 8 now in the books we are officially half way through the NFL season. Below I have listed who I believe should be 1st Team All-Pros for their performance through the first half of the season (this is therefore not a prediction). If you agree or disagree, tweet @TheInsideZoneUK with your thoughts.
QB: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Yes he missed the first four games of the season and therefore Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers or Andrew Luck might be more deserving of this spot, however, I believe Brady warrants this selection. Since returning from his suspension the Patriots have gone 4-0 and are averaging 34 points a game (20.25 in the four games without Brady). Brady’s level of play is reminiscent of the 2007 season as the team rallied to overcome the fall out the ‘spy gate’ scandal. Since returning from his ‘deflate gate’ suspension Brady’s numbers are astronomical and put him as a 1st Team All-Pro: 4-0, 1,319 yards, 12TDs, 0INTs, 73.1%, 133.9 QBR. Remember the guys 39 years old and shows no sign of slowing down.
Matt Ryan was a very close second.
HB: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliot leads the league in rushing and he has played one game less than the rest of the top-5. Through seven games the rookie RB has 799 yards, 5TDs off 159 attempts. Elliot is averaging 114.1 rushing yards per game (DeMarco Murray who is second is averaging 94.5). Elliot also has 15 catches off 18 targets for 150 yards giving him a mind boggling 949 yards from scrimmage in just SEVEN games for a ROOKIE! Elliot is also ranked 5th by ProFootballFocus (PFF) in pass protection. The Rookie is a complete three-down back who is a physical and punishing runner who has proven that he can be a bell cow for many years to come.
TE: Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
Bennett has been dominant through the first half of the season and leads all Tight Ends with 4TDs. He is 7th among TEs with 31 receptions, 2nd among TEs with 30+ targets with 77.5% catch completion, 7th with 402 yards. Bennett gets the nod here over his teammate Gronkowski and the Panthers Greg Olsen as he was instrumental in helping the Patriots go 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at QB and has continued his high level of play. Bennett has been a complete Tight End who has excelled in run blocking and as a pass catcher.
Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen were both close.
WR: A. J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
A. J. Green has been dominant the first half of the 2016 season and has dominated his match-ups against some of the leagues best: Darrelle Revis, Josh Norman, Chris Harris Jr. and Malcolm Butler. Green is 1st in receiving yards (896), 1st in receptions (59), 1st in yards per game (112.0), joint 4th in TDs (3) and has been the best receiver in the NFL throughout the first eight weeks. Some might try to discredit Greens achievement arguing he’s the Leagues most targeted WR (88), HOWEVER, in the top 22 players targeted so far this season only 2 players have a higher catch completion percentage than A. J. Green’s (67.0%).
WR: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Jones who was drafted 2 places behind Green in the 2011 NFL Draft has also put up incredible numbers in first half of 2016. Jones is 2nd in yards (859), 10th in receptions (43), 2nd in yards per game (107.4), joint 3rd in TDs (4) and 1st in yards per reception for Receivers with over 40 targets (20.0). Like A. J. Green, Julio Jones is a true number 1 receiver and both receivers have 0 fumbles through the first eight games.
WR: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans was taken 3 picks behind Sammy Watkins and 5 in front of Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, however, he has not received anywhere near the level of attention or praise that the other two young receivers have received. Evans has built upon his impressive rookie and sophomore seasons and now leads the league with 6TDs. Evans is 8th in receiving yards (595), 8th in receptions (44), 7th in yards per game. It is Evans’ league leading 6 TDs and the red zone threat alongside his big play ability and impressive level of play through the first half of 2016 that has earned him his spot as the no.3 Receiver on the All-Pro First Team.
Michael Crabtree and T. Y. Hilton were close to this third receiver spot.
LT: Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
Trent Williams anchors a Redskins line that has allowed the joint 2nd least amount of sacks (11), however, the other 4 teams with 11 sacks allowed have only played 7 games compared to Washington’s 8. Williams is a big lineman who is able to beat up opponents in the trenches and has helped Washington’s run game rank 11th despite an uninspiring back field. Williams has rare athleticism which he uses to protect Kirk Cousins’ blindside in pass protection and enables the Redskins to pull him in run plays as he can shoot into the second level with speed that few Linemen can boast. Williams has impressed in 2016 so far and is one of the best Left Tackles in football at the minute.
Tyron Smith and Taylor Lewan would compete for the 2nd Team All-Pro spot.
LG: Justin Pugh, New York Giants
Justin Pugh has excelled in both pass protection and run blocking in the first half of 2016. Although playing on an average Offensive Line, Pugh has been a standout so far this year for the Giants and has been impressive at Left Guard this season. Although he is not in my top-3 Guards for the first half of 2016, he has been the best Left Guard in football and a reliable and steady presence in pass protection.
C: Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
Travis Frederick calls out the pick-ups and adjusts the protection and blocking assignments for the most dominant Offensive line in football. Frederick is excellent in both pass protection and run blocking and is one of the few centres who is able to pull and display the athleticism needed to block down field.
Max Unger of the New Orleans Saints was a near miss.
RG: Zach Martin, Dallas Cowboys
Zach Martin in the best guard in football. Whether it’s going toe to toe with powerful interior defensive lineman in pass protection, mowing over D-linemen or Linebackers in the run game either at the line of scrimmage or moving out in space; Zach Martin is hands down the best Guard in football right now.
RT: Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans
Rookie Jack Conklin was taken 8th overall, yet he has had tremendous success in a short period of time. Conklin is part of an O-Line that is currently 3rd in he NFL in rushing yards per game and Conklin has been a physical force in the run game through 8 weeks. Conklin has however excelled most in pass protection and it is in this respect that he has earned rookie All-Pro honours at RT at the mid-way point in 2016.
DI: Aaron Donald, L. A. Rams
A young force in the League and looking likely to become the most dominant interior defensive linemen of his generation. Aaron Donald is a run stuffer, however, it his dominance in rushing the passer that leads to him regularly seeing double and even triple teams. While 3.0 sacks and 1.0 forced fumble does not appear like much, Donald’s presence inside alters opposing teams game plans and he has overtaken Ndamukong Suh, Geno Atkins and Gerald McCoy as the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the League.
DI: Mike Daniels, Green Bay Packers
A brute inside who is of an old school model, Daniels lives for fighting and going blow for blow with opponents. Like Donald, Daniels stats do not pop off the screen but he is a force on the inside and a large reason why the Green Bay Packers Defense has allowed the least amount of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns half way through the season. Daniels has been a force against the run and also disruptive in the pass game as he is able to bull rush guards and blow up plays in the backfield.
DI: Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins
It was difficult to choose between Suh and Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals, however, Suh has been more consistent at the halfway point. Suh has been more productive than Campbell in generating a pass rush and has also single-handedly taken over games at the half-way point this season in terms of shutting down opposing teams run games (yes the Dolphins have given up large chunks of rushing yards but these have been on the outside when teams avoid running at Suh). Suh is playing at a level reminiscing to his days in Detroit and has been a force inside at the half-way point in the 2016 season.
Suh just edges this over Calais Campbell
Edge: Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
This was a difficult selection as I was torn between Jones or Brandon Graham of the Eagles. Jones has 5.0 sacks so far to go along with 2.0 forced fumbles and is a force on the edge who single handedly generates a pass rush nearly every play for a Cardinals Defense that has largely underperformed so far this season.
Brandon Graham was a very close second
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly’s name should feature here nearly every single season. He is the Quarterback of the Panthers Defense as he changes plays and lines guys up while trying to decipher what the opponent is doing. Kuechly has 52 tackles in 7 games to go with 2.0 sacks and 4 passes defended. Kuechly is the Inside Linebacker teams consistently try to look for in the Draft and is the best player at his position.
ILB: Zach Brown, Buffalo Bills
Brown has been a menace in the first half of the season. He has the speed and athleticism which disrupts both run and passing plays and has been a tackling machine this season. His signature performance was the shut-out of the Patriots in Foxborough where Brown had 17 tackles, 1.0 sack and 2.0 forced fumbles. Brown leads the NFL with 59 tackles and has also notched 2.0 forced fumbles and 3.0 sacks on the year.
Bobby Wagner was a near miss here.
Edge: Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Joey Bosa of the San Diego Chargers was close which is a sheer testament to just how productive he has been in a short period of time. However, Von Miller has continued his elite level of play from last year’s play offs and is still the most dominant edge rusher in the NFL. Miller combines speed with power and is almost impossible to defend in a one-on-one match up when he’s coming off the edge. Miller is second in the NFL with 8.5 sacks and also added 1 forced fumble and 2 passes defended through eight games.
Joey Bosa and Lorenzo Alexander were challenging for this spot.
CB: Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs
Marcus Peters continues to be impressive week-in week-out. After leading the League last season as a rookie with 8 interceptions and finishing 2nd with 26 passes defended, Peters has continued his elite level of play in 2016. Peters currently leads the League with 5 interceptions and is 2nd with 11 passes defended. Peters is a tall and physical corner who relishes press coverage and has proved he is able to go toe-to-toe with some of the NFL’s most physical wideouts.
SS: Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins / Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens (coin flip)
Reshad Jones will obviously not be here at the end of the season as his season is done due to injury. Yet through eight weeks Jones has been the best Strong Safety in the League. Safeties in the NFL are either effective in the box against the run or in coverage against TEs and RBs. Jones built on an impressive 2015 and through the first seven games was a force against the run as he acted like a Linebacker down in the box and was also sticky in coverage when picking up TEs and RBs in he slot. I expect Eric Weddle to earn this honour come the end of the season.
Landon Collins and Eric Weddle were coin flips for this spot.
FS: Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
Smith has impressed massively for a Vikings Defense that looked near dominant through the first five weeks. Despite taking two consecutive losses, Smith has performed well all season. Smith is excellent against both the run and in coverage and is looking to cement his name alongside Earl Thomas as the League’s best Free Safety.
CB: Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos
Aqib Talib has been the best corner in the NFL this season. He has allowed a passer rating of just 37.0 when targeted and has not given up a touchdown all season. He is a shutdown corner who excels in either man or zone coverage. Talib is also an incredibly strong corner who is able to fight off blockers and not allow run plays to develop when running to his side. Talib is having another exceptional year at the corner position and has 3 interceptions which includes a pick six in Denvers first eight games.
K: Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
Vinatieri continues to defy age and has made all 18 of his field goals and all 20 extra-point attempts. Vinatieri has made 6 Field Goals 40-49 yards and 5 of 50+ yards. At 43 years old you have to question just when Vinatieri will begin to slow down, if ever!
Justin Tucker has also been perfect on the season and was an extremely close second.
P: Marquette King, Oakland Raiders
King ranks 5th in average yards per punt (49.0) only 1.3 yards behind 1st. What separates King is his 19 punts within the opponents 20 (9 more than 1st).
KR: Josh Huff, Philadelphia Eagles
Huff has a kick off return for a touchdown (one of only two players) and has averaged 36.0 yards per return off 7 returns.
PR: Marcus Sherels, Minnesota Vikings
2 punt returns for a touchdown. Special Teams is a game changer and Sherels posses game changing talent.
This has been my 1st Team All-Pro at the halfway point in the 2016 season. Be sure to tweet @TheInsideZoneUK or leave a comment below with who you believe should be a 1st Team All-Pro through 8 weeks.