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Dr. Z's All- Pros (cont.)

Posted: Thursday January 10, 2008 9:45AM; Updated: Thursday January 10, 2008 2:36PM
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OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (Lance Briggs, DeMarcus Ware) Generally I try to have one cover guy and one rusher. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way. This year it did. My top cover man was Briggs, who held up well in a defense that got overrun at times. Then, in order, came Sims of Detroit, Crowell of Buffalo and Hawk of Green Bay. My favorite hybrid type -- sometimes rush, sometimes drop, was Harrison of Pittsburgh, followed by Dansby of Arizona and the Patriots' Vrabel, who, in typical Belichick fashion, was an edge rusher in some games and a player who merely took a zone drop in others. Hard to figure out, except that I saw him wearing down a bit during the year. I think the Colts' Freddy Keaiho, who was hurt for part of the season, is a sound, and also explosive player who will be a star of the future. Oops, forgot one. Leroy Hill of the Seahawks is very good and often overlooked by flashier people around him.

There are a million rush specialists. Some, such as Suggs of Baltimore, I call DEs because they have practically no coverage responsibility. Last year I thought Merriman was the most devastating. This year I felt it was Ware, who is also effective popping up in an underneath zone and disrupting things. Shaun Philips, I felt, was better than Merriman, his Chargers running mate, Peterson of the Seahawks was very scary when he got on a roll.

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INSIDE LINEBACKERS (Patrick Willis, Jonathan Beason) Two rookies, Willis and Beason, ran away with it. They were both dynamic and quick-striking -- and amazingly sound in their coverage. There really wasn't much separating them in ability, except that Willis was a bit more explosive. Morrison of Oakland was my early leader, but he tailed a bit as the season wore on, and struggled against the Jaguars, as all the Raiders did. I really like the heroic effort all year by Indy's Brackett, and despite all of Brian Urlacher's reported back troubles, I thought he hung in pretty well.

Without getting into a huge grade thing, this is the order in which I had them, after Beason and Willis, and this position represented what I felt was the highest quality of any of them -- Urlacher; Ruud, Tampa Bay; Morrison; Farrior, Pittsburgh; Brackett; Barnett, Green Bay; Henderson, Minnesota; Witherspoon, St. Louis.

CORNERBACKS (Terence Newman, Will Allen) Next to OT, this was the toughest position on the board in which to find an All-Pro because the league seems dedicated to legislating them out of existence. There are no, repeat no, shutdown corners anymore, but there are a lot of Cover Two guys. Every announcer who ever covers a Denver game, however, will assign that role to Champ Bailey. It's not true. He gets his share of man coverage, but he'll give up the underneath stuff, and if he isn't paying attention he'll get beat deep as well.

Ron Jaworski, in doing the Denver-San Diego game on ESPN, came up with some Bailey statistics that brought me out of my chair, because they're the kind I keep. Thirty seven completions out of 63 attempts, Jaws said, 58 percent (actually closer to 59), only three touchdowns. "A shutdown cornerback." Huh? Not on my chart. That's little better than mediocre.

My system is pretty complicated -- make that very complicated -- because of all the variables involved. I didn't pick Bailey because, although capable of a great game on occasion, he simply gave up more than other players did. I looked hard at Asante Samuel, and I found a flashy player who gambles on occasion, when he thinks the odds are with him, but also likes to play deep and try to snatch up the quick out when people don't expect it.

Newman of Dallas became a starter on my team when he emerged from the pack, allowing a higher percentage of completions than I'd like but the lowest average of yards per attempt (4.0). I tracked my All-Pro from last year, Nnamdi Asomugha, and I noticed teams staying away from him, which is a plus, but I didn't see as much activity from him as he showed last season.

I thought Nate Clements, who cost the Niners a fortune, was a major disappointment. I liked the year that Washington's Shawn Springs had, until he suffered a major collapse against the Seahawks. Tillman of Chicago, Woodson of Green Bay, Winfield of Minnesota (when he was healthy), Trufant of Seattle, Mathis of Jacksonville ... all were fairly effective on my charts.

I really liked the aggressive way in which Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan came on, after they stopped weeping about the loss of PacMan and gave him a chance, and ... let's see, who's left? Oh yes, San Diego's Antonio Cromartie. A swooper, a ball hawk ... he was my other All-Pro cornerback until ... until ... OK, I can't avoid it any longer, and I need a new paragraph for this one.

They have already called the psycho ward and reserved a place for me because Will Allen of the Dolphins is my other All-Pro corner. When I went to bed with Newman and Cromartie as my pair, I didn't feel good about it, in fact I felt miserable, kind of like Benedict Arnold did after he had let the side down. At 4 a.m. I was sitting at the kitchen table, giving the charts one last look. Sometimes I start phoning people, even at that hour, to crystallize my thinking, but I didn't want to hear a single other opinion about Allen because I knew it would be, "Waddya nuts?"

I had him as the best player on the field when the Giants beat Miami in drizzly London. In fact, it was the best game I'd seen for any cornerback this season. I had another good one for him in the downpour at Pittsburgh. I had a couple more good ones and one bummer -- against the Jets the second time, when they dragged him across the field and completed a long one on him. He graded out higher than anyone except Newman.

He was still a guy no one ever had picked for anything and, since he'll be 30 next season, probably never will. But dammit, he had been terrific on my modest little chart; did I have the courage of my own convictions or was I going to live and die the copout, the wimp, that all my high school teachers predicted I'd become? "No!" I hollered, jumping to my feet and waking , with a start, Little Jake, the tabby, who was sleeping on the table. "I will do what is right!" Thus, Will Allen is my All-Pro corner, and if you want my game-by-game charts, I will supply them, along with sobriety test results.

And just in case you're wondering why Cromartie's name appears in Sports Illustrated, please bear in mind that it was done by somebody else. My man is Allen and that's all I'm going to say about it.

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