SI.com's 2008 All-Pro Team: Youth movement dominates annual list
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
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.
The Associated Press announces its official all-pro teams on Friday, Jan. 9