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Posted: Wednesday January 7, 2009 11:25AM; Updated: Wednesday January 7, 2009 2:40PM
Peter King Peter King >
INSIDE THE NFL

SI.com's 2008 All-Pro Team: Youth movement dominates annual list

Story Highlights

Fourteen of 23 players on offense and defense are 27 or younger

Young linebackers join veteran Ray Lewis to make up imposing unit

Picks for best coordinator, assistant coach, general manager and more

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andre-johnson.jpg
Houston's Andre Johnson led the NFL in receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,575).
AP

The NFL has become the country's irreplaceable sport, and I maintain it's because the league always has a crop of new stars at the ready. LaDainian Tomlinson hits 29 and -- boom -- here come Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, both 23, to provide thrills at running back. Walter Jones of Seattle turns 35 this month, and there's a new all-world left tackle to take his best-in-the-game mantel: Tennessee's Michael Roos. The ever-whiny Terrell Owens is 35; so it's time for another great wideout in Texas, Houston's Andre Johnson, to assume his All-Pro slot.

The theme of my 2008 All-Pro team is youth. Fourteen of the 23 selections on offense and defense are 27 or younger; my depth chart at quarterback had rookie Matt Ryan third, behind Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, after his amazing debut season. And the youth extended to special teams: Stephen Gostkowski, who's been more accurate with more touchbacks in his three pro seasons than the legend he replaced, Adam Vinatieri, is the kicker.

In September, I stood with then Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, watching his team practice. The Denver offense was hot, and I said to Shanahan I'd heard a lot of good things about his second-year right tackle, Ryan Harris. "Nobody knows who he is yet,'' said Shanahan, "and I kind of like it that way. But he's the best [right tackle] I've had here -- quick, and you can't move him.''

Harris, who edged the Titans' 26-year-old David Stewart for a spot on my team, leads a slew of stellar young NFL offensive linemen. Six teams started rookies at left tackle in '08, and Roos got the nod over rookie Ryan Clady of the Broncos. At right guard the Giants' Chris Snee was a close second to Atlanta's Harvey Dahl, 27.

But the place with the most young talent might be linebacker, particularly on the inside. I saw New England rookie Jerod Mayo dominate the veteran line of the Jets in a tour de force 18-tackle performance in Week 11. San Francisco 'backer Patrick Willis was consistently good for a second straight year. Tampa Bay will build its young defense around 25-year-old MLB Barrett Ruud. Vet Ray Lewis was the best of the best, though, even at age 33. He can still run, and he's such a powerful hitter that he broke Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder on a simple hard tackle in Week 4. My pick alongside Lewis: precocious second-year man Stewart Bradley of Philadelphia, the ideal sideline-to-sideline rover for defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's unpredictable scheme. Bradley is 25 and relatively unknown, and his club can't prosper without him -- a perfect fit on my 2008 team.

(Share your thoughts on King's All-Pro team, as well as Don Banks' All-Disappointment team.)

OFFENSE

Pos. Player Team Note
WR Andre Johnson HOU So physically imposing at 6-foot-3 ... and not a diva.
WR Wes Welker NE 112 catches last year, 111 this year. Different QBs.
LT Michael Roos TEN Kept immobile Kerry Collins' blindside clean all year.
LG Steve Hutchinson MIN Seattle still hurts over defection of best guard in NFL.
C Shaun O'Hara NYG NFL champs' best investment ($1.85 million '08 pay).
RG Harvey Dahl ATL From NFL Europe to mean-streak Falcons leader.
RT Ryan Harris DEN Wow: 2.5 sacks allowed in 684 Jay Cutler pass-drops.
TE Dallas Clark IND Much-needed Manning security blanket up the seam.
QB Drew Brees NO 5,069-yard season single-handedly kept Saints alive.
RB Adrian Peterson MIN Best speed-power combination since Walter Payton.
FB Madison Hedgecock NYG Not sure, but I think he's got an anvil in his pads.

DEFENSE

Pos. Player Team Note
DE John Abraham ATL Most feared speed-rusher in NFL plays both sides.
DT Albert Haynesworth TEN Destined to be game's first $10-million-year DT.
DT Fred Robbins NYG Combines stunning quickness with run-stuffing.
DE/LB Terrell Suggs BAL Premier cover man and rusher on scary Ravens D.
OLB DeMarcus Ware DAL The 20 sacks are no fluke. He'll have 20 again.
MLB Stewart Bradley PHI Rangy brain center of NFL's No. 3 defense.
ILB Ray Lewis BAL Brains like me thought he was in decline. He's not.
OLB James Harrison PIT Most disruptive front-seven player of 2008.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha OAK Passed Champ Bailey as game's best CB this year.
CB Cortland Finnegan TEN Plays chippy ... the Hines Ward of NFL defenders.
FS Ed Reed BAL This ball magnet had eight picks in NFL's last 6 weeks.
SS Troy Polamalu PIT Steelers' defensive QB is a missile with soft hands.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Pos. Name Team Note
K Stephen Gostkowski NE More accurate, with longer kickoffs, than Vinatieri.
P Shane Lechler OAK 41.2-yard net average ... with 2 per game inside the 20.
KR Joshua Cribbs CLE Throw out the stats. Now more dangerous than Devin Hester.
PR Johnnie Lee Higgins OAK No contest: 93-, 89-, 80-yard punt-return TDs in '08.
ATH Montell Owens JAX Explosive hitter, shifty runner. Scored on 41-yard fake punt.

AWARDS

Award Name Team Note
MVP Peyton Manning IND Two July knee surgeries made his great year heroic.
Off. Player Adrian Peterson MIN Derrick Brooks: "Toughest to tackle since Barry Sanders."
Def. Player DeMarcus Ware DAL Edges James Harrison, but both dominated games like no other.
Off. Rookie Matt Ryan ATL Mindful of P. Manning, and adapted quicker to pro game.
Def. Rookie Jerod Mayo NE Had 45 more tackles than anyone on the Patriots.
Comeback Joey Porter MIA Left for dead in '07 at age 30. In '08: 17.5 sacks.
Coach Mike Smith ATL Bobby Petrino dehumanized the team. Smith gave it life.
Coordinator Dick LeBeau PIT Had his finest year at 71. He must make the Hall of Fame.
Asst. Coach Jim Washburn TEN DL coach got four first-year linemen ready to dominate.
GM Thomas Dimitroff ATL Picking Ryan was easy. Building a playoff team wasn't.

The Associated Press announces its official all-pro teams on Friday, Jan. 9

 
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