Plenty of familiar names head our midseason All-Pro team, including a certain quarterback who wears No. 18.
Quarterback Peyton Manning, Broncos
Forget Comeback Player of the Year. Let's talk MVP. Getting better by the week, Manning has strung together five straight games of 290-plus yards and three touchdown passes, and his NFL-best 69.5 completion rate would be a career high. If Manning has arm-strength limitations at age 36 after four neck surgeries, they aren't affecting his on-field play. He's a top-three quarterback in passing yards, yards per pass attempt, touchdowns, and 20-plus-yard completions. Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger also warranted consideration for midseason All-Pro QB.
Running Back Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Ferocious power. Space-creating jukes. Ankle-rattling cuts. Freak of nature Peterson tore his ACL and MCL with damage to both meniscuses late last December. Not even a full year removed from a supposed career-threatening injury, Peterson is the best runner in football again. He leads the NFL in rushing yards and 20-plus-yard runs, and only underutilized C.J. Spiller out in Buffalo has averaged more yards per attempt among tailbacks. Hitting his stride mid-year, Peterson has 767 yards and four TDs on his last 115 carries (6.67 YPC). He's shredded the top-11 run defenses of Tampa and Seattle in consecutive games. Peterson is also on pace for a career-high 47 catches.
Running Back Arian Foster, Texans
The league leader in offensive touches — and a fantasy footballer's dream — Foster is on pace for 384 rushing attempts, 1,694 all-purpose yards, and 22 touchdowns, at times literally carrying the Texans' offense on his back. Although Foster's yards-per-carry average (4.01) is down behind an offensive line mixing and matching on the right side, Foster remains the most valuable offensive player for the AFC's premier team. No NFL player finds pay dirt with more regularity. Another plowhorse back having a terrific season, Marshawn Lynch was strongly considered over Foster.
Fullback Henry Hynoski, Giants
Hynoski has touched the ball only nine times on offense, but he's emerged as a difference-making lead blocker for a Giants ground attack that ranks in fourth in rushing scores, eighth in yards-per-carry average, and sixth in 20-plus-yard runs. Giants G.M. Jerry Reese has struck gold the past few years with undrafted free agents. Hynoski, linebackers Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger, and wide receiver Victor Cruz have all been unearthed by Reese off the post-draft scrap heap.
Receiver Reggie Wayne, Colts
For over a decade, Wayne served as strictly an "X" receiver in vanilla Colts offenses, running down the left sideline bookended by Marvin Harrison and Pierre Garcon. Used much differently by new playcaller Bruce Arians, Wayne's career has been rejuvenated at age 34. A "move" receiver now, Wayne roams all across the formation and plays heavy snaps in the slot. More difficult to double team, Wayne leads the league in receiving yards and first-down catches, and ranks second in receptions and 20-plus-yard grabs. He's rookie sensation Andrew Luck's go-to guy.
Receiver Percy Harvin, Vikings
Harvin quietly bypassed Wes Welker as the NFL's best slot receiver down last year's stretch. He's finally getting credit this season. Generating MVP buzz, Harvin has racked up 112 catches, 1,496 offensive yards, and 11 all-purpose touchdowns over his last 16 games. He leads the league in receptions this year, doing the heavy lifting in Minnesota's otherwise anemic pass offense. Harvin is the game's most versatile receiver, and no one is tougher to tackle. If the All-Pro team had a three-wideout set, Harvin would man the slot with A.J. Green at flanker and Wayne at split end.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Gronk emerged as the league's most physically dominant receiving tight end last season. This year, his game has reached new heights as a punishing run blocker. New England ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts, and Gronkowski is wiping defensive ends and linebackers clean out of plays. Still not too shabby a pass catcher, he's third among tight ends in receptions, and first in yards and touchdowns. There aren't many positions in the NFL where you can say there is a clear-cut best player. But Gronkowski holds that distinction for tight ends. No one else is close.
Tackle Joe Staley, 49ers
Taking his game to another level in his sixth pro season, 6-foot-5, 315-pound Staley has kept Alex Smith's blindside clean enough for San Francisco's signal caller to pace toward career highs in completion rate (69.4), touchdown passes (24), quarterback rating (102.1), and yards per pass attempt (7.94). Staley butters his bread in the running game, though. When he gets his hands on a defensive lineman, it's over. Staley is the most overpowering backside run blocker in the game.
Tackle Joe Thomas, Browns
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has experienced ups and downs, but his blindside blocking has been a constant. Supremely athletic and durable — Thomas hasn't so much as missed a practice since entering the league six seasons ago — the Browns' left tackle has allowed one sack this year while rarely receiving "help" blocks from backs and tight ends. It's no secret Thomas has been the NFL's top pass protector several years running. He's headed to a sixth straight Pro Bowl.
Guard Mike Iupati, 49ers
The 6-foot-5, 331-pound Iupati has feet like a left tackle, and he engulfs defensive linemen with 35-inch vines for arms, and nearly 11-inch paws for hands. A massive athlete, he routinely dominates as both a pass and run blocker. Iupati hasn't surrendered a sack in pass protection yet this year, and San Francisco ranks first in the league in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry.
Guard Chris Snee, Giants
The Giants are the only team left to have allowed single-digit sacks on the season. Stalwart right guard Snee is the rock and leader of the unit, having missed one start over the past eight years. Perhaps most impressively, Snee is dominating nose tackles despite playing with a partially torn labrum in his hip. He's keeping Eli Manning clean and clearing gaping holes for Ahmad Bradshaw.
Center Mike Pouncey, Dolphins
Pouncey is a special young center, having surpassed Jake Long as Miami's top offensive lineman as a second-year pro while consistently halting backfield penetration. The Dolphins have a top-13 rushing offense, and their 20th-ranked passing attack is on the rise with rookie Ryan Tannehill at the controls. Pouncey has proven an ideal fit for rookie coach Joe Philbin's zone-running scheme.
Defensive End J.J. Watt, Texans
No defensive player has won NFL MVP since Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. If anyone is capable of bucking that trend in 2012, it's NFL sacks leader Watt. "Five-technique" ends in 3-4 defenses aren't supposed to cause constant backfield havoc like Watt does. Kryptonite for enemy passing attacks, Watt is on pace for 21 sacks, 34 tackles for loss, and 20 pass breakups.
Defensive End Cameron Wake, Dolphins
One of the league's most disruptive 3-4 outside 'backers the past two years, Wake transitioned to 4-3 defensive end this season and hasn't missed a beat. Wake sees action primarily at left end in rookie coordinator Kevin Coyle's scheme and has an even greater in-game impact than his 8.5 sacks suggest. Wake is a quarterback hurry waiting to happen and stuffs the run on early downs.
Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins, Bengals
NBC Sports' Midseason All-Pro team elected to use a 3-4 defense with undersized Atkins as its lone interior lineman. Although he's generously listed at 6-foot-1, 300, Atkins has mastered the art of the double-team split with a ferociously fast first step and quick-twitch up-field pass-rush ability. Not a liability against the run, Atkins routinely knifes through offensive lines for tackles for loss and leads his position in sacks (7) through eight games. Atkins is the league's best defensive tackle.
Linebacker Clay Matthews, Packers
Mathews has switched from strong- to weak-side rusher in Green Bay's 3-4 defense this year, and his production has taken off. Finishing last season with just 6.0 sacks, Matthews already has nine in 2012 as the captain of a Packers defense that leads the NFL in that category. When Matthews isn't pounding signal callers into the turf, he's drawing double teams to make things easier on his teammates. He can rush with speed and power, and controls the edge in early-down run defense.
Linebacker Von Miller, Broncos
Ripping through and past offensive linemen like a rolling ball of butcher knives, Miller has built on his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign with a truly dominant first half of his second season. A "joker" and movable chess piece in John Fox's 4-3 defense, Miller plays both end positions and strong-side linebacker, and can rush from the interior in a pinch. Only J.J. Watt has more sacks this year, and no outside rusher bends the edge or explodes off the snap as furiously as Miller.
Linebacker Daryl Washington, Cardinals
A backfield penetrator from the second level, Washington is the lynchpin of Arizona's interior defense as a fire-zone blitzer and steady presence against the run. With eight sacks through nine games, Washington will become the first NFL inside linebacker to record double-digit quarterback takedowns since 2001 (Charlie Clemons, Saints). Washington also ranks in the top five in tackles, and leads the league in solo stops. He has eye-catching speed and plays sideline to sideline.
Linebacker Patrick Willis, 49ers
Willis earned five Pro Bowl trips and four First-Team All-Pro honors in his first five NFL seasons. Barring something unforeseen, he'll pad those accolades in 2012. A clock-cleaning hitter who's relentless in pursuit, Willis is on pace for 130 tackles and four turnovers forced. He also excels in pass coverage, where Willis has batted down six opposing quarterbacks' throws. The Niners rank top five in total defense, pass defense, and run defense, and Willis is their defensive centerpiece.
Cornerback Charles Tillman, Bears
"Peanut" is 31 years old, but he's got plenty of juice left in his tank. He shut down Calvin Johnson (three catches, 34 yards) in Week 7, and for the most part offenses simply opt against testing Tillman's side of the field. A ball-stripping takeaway specialist, Tillman has forced an otherworldly seven fumbles and intercepted two passes, returning both to the house. The Bears lead the league with a plus-16 turnover ratio, and Tillman keys the back end of the NFL's best defense.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Jets
Many observers expected the Jets' defense to collapse after Darrelle Revis' Week 3 ACL tear. Not quite. Rex Ryan's team doesn't win much, but it can still eliminate its opponent's top receiver. Playing the most smothering coverage of an up-and-down career, Cromartie is the primary reason New York has held opposing No. 1 wideouts out of the end zone in all of its games since Revis' injury. Despite losing their best pass defender, the Jets are still playing top-six pass defense.
Safety Reshad Jones, Dolphins
Jones' box-score numbers don't jump off the page (two interceptions, 43 tackles, seven pass breakups, one forced fumble), but he is a rangy back-half cover man who consistently shows up in run support, knifing into backfields from his strong safety spot. 24 years old and in his second season as a starter, Jones is enjoying a breakout year and his best football is still ahead of him.
Safety Jairus Byrd, Bills
On pace for career highs in tackles (84), pass breakups (12), and forced fumbles (six), Byrd is a ball-hawking safety with multi-dimensional impact. Byrd can cover center field, match up one-on-one with tight ends, and hold his own against the run. An increasingly complete safety brimming with playmaking ability, Byrd has been the lone bright spot on an underachieving Bills defense.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein, Rams
Call him Legatron. Call him Young G-Z. Call him what you want. Zuerlein has accounted for 61 of the Rams' 137 points (44.5 percent), connecting on 17-of-20 field goals and all 10 of his extra point tries. He's 12-of-14 on field goals from 40-plus yards. Zuerlein isn't running-away dominant in any particular kicker statistic, but ranks high in all of them and has been the most valuable kicker in the league to his team. And he's a sixth-round rookie out of Missouri Western State.
Punter Thomas Morstead, Saints
Morstead entered Week 9 as the league's leader in net punting, and second in gross-yardage average. The Saints aren't a frequent punting team, but Morstead consistently gives them advantageous field position when they do. He also serves as New Orleans' kickoff specialist.
Kickoff Returner Josh Cribbs, Browns
Cribbs is 29 years old and in his eighth NFL season, but he still brings back kicks with the best of them. Cribbs is fourth in the league in kickoff return average with a long of 74, and third in punt return average as well. A four-phase "teams" demon, he's also made five special teams tackles.
Punt Returner Leodis McKelvin, Bills
Former first-round pick McKelvin has flopped as an NFL cornerback, but he's emerged this year as arguably the most explosive return specialist in the game. One of just six players to have returned a punt for a touchdown at the season's halfway point, McKelvin leads the league in punt return average and ranks third in average kickoff return.
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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