The envelope, please ...
Posted: Thu December 25, 1997
No questions this week. Instead, I thought I'd share my Associated Press All-Pro ballot with you.
WRHerman Moore, Detroit; Tim Brown, Oakland. Moore has turned into one of the guttiest players in football and he's been the game's most productive receiver over the past two years. Brown shines through all the Oakland muck.
TEMark Chmura, Green Bay. There are better receivers and there might be a couple of better blockers. But no one combines the two jobs better than Chmura.
TPaul Gruber, Tampa Bay; Tony Boselli, Jacksonville. Gruber has always been an underrated drive-blocker, and Boselli is the state-of-the-art versatile left tackle. I wish there was a spot here for Jonathan Ogden, the Baltimore kid.
GLarry Allen, Dallas; Dave Szott, Kansas City. Allen, the game's best lineman right now, will make the jump to left tackle for the Cowboys full-time next year. Szott is quicker than most guards and an absolute road-grader.
CDermontti Dawson, Pittsburgh. It's a shame for Denver's Tom Nalen that Dawson is going to be playing for the next five years. Nalen is a perfect technician, but no one is in Dawson's league now.
QBBrett Favre, Green Bay. He has four or five idiotic throws this seasonsometimes he thinks he's Superman and can do the impossiblebut no one else has the arm and the smarts and guile. This pick is easy.
RBBarry Sanders, Detroit; Terrell Davis, Denver. Don't know why, but AP wanted two. To me, Sanders is No. 1 by several miles. Quick Sanders anecdote: Last week, before the Jets-Lions game, center Kevin Glover and backup QB Frank Reich stayed after practice just to watch Sanders work out. That's right: They wanted to watch Barry run his sprints. Barry Sanders has fans on his own team who just like to watch him run! After a while, Glover turned to Reich and said: "Barry's a man on a mission, isn't he?"
FBMike Alstott, Tampa Bay. Fox analyst Matt Millen tells me I should vote for the Giants' Charles Way here, and I'm tempted. But I keep picturing that touchdown against Minnesota in Week 3, the one where Alstott ran over about 23 Vikings.
DEChuck Smith, Atlanta; Bruce Smith, Buffalo. Sometimes you see a player once and say: Wow. Where has this guy come from? When I saw Chuck Smith early this year, I knew this was one of the greatest two-way ends in the 14 years I've been covering the league. Bruce Smith, playing hurt all year, was his dominant self.
DTDana Stubblefield, San Francisco; Jon Randle, Minnesota. How about a stout middle of the defense that combined for 30.5 sacks?
OLBBill Romanowski, Denver; Jessie Armstead, New York Giants. With apologies to Derrick Brooks of Tampa Bay, these two played the best of the outside guys I saw this year. Romanowski ought to be vilified for the spitting thing, but don't forget what a versatile hammer he is on the outside. Just watch Armstead for two or three games. Then you know why the Giants won 10 games. He's a swarm of bees.
MLBEarl Holmes, Pittsburgh. He's a classic hammer and roadblock, a 248-pound product of Linebacker U. They grow 'em consistent in Pittsburgh.
CBDeion Sanders, Dallas; Jason Sehorn, New York Giants. It's fashionable to think of reasons why Deion shouldn't make it, and missing much of the last month was the best one I could think of. But there's no one in football who walls off a quarter of the field the way Sanders does. Sehorn beats out a lot of great cornersDarrell Green, Cris Dishman (who had a great, great year), Eric Davis, Donnie Abraham, Aeneas Williams and Dale Carterbut I saw him play six quarters against Michael Irvin this year, and no one has ever played better. Sehorn's combination of physical and cover skills is unmatched.
SSCarnell Lake, Pittsburgh. If the Cowboys' Darren Woodson had been healthy the second half of the season, he would have been hard to beat. But the selfless Lake commuted between strong safety and corner when it fit the team's needs, and no strong safety is as quick and fierce.
FSDarryl Williams, Seattle. With 13 picks in 32 games as a Seahawk, Williams has emerged as the game's best centerfielder. He's a ball magnet. In last Sunday night's meaningless game against San Francisco, Williams must have been around the ball on 80 percent of the 49ers' pass plays.
KickerJohn Hall, New York Jets. Weirdest pick on the board, I know. He missed 13 field goals. But he also set an NFL record for touchbacks (since the kickoff point was moved to the 30-yard line in 1994) with 29, and he was the most important element in an obscure but important special-teams achievement: The Jets led the NFL in drive-start differential.
PunterDarren Bennett, San Diego. Still the best leg in the game.
Punt ReturnerLeon Johnson, New York Jets. "The quickest way to get better in the NFL is with special teams," Bill Parcells says. This middle-round draft pick helped the Jets do just that.
Kick ReturnerByron Hanspard, Atlanta. Not the shiftiest or the speediest, but he just knows where the holes are. And he took two to the house.
Special Teams Player (not a category on the AP ballot, but I'll give you one anyway)Corwin Brown, New York Jets. Steve Tasker's successor as the best in the game.
Coach of the YearBill Parcells, New York Jets. A record number of coaches deserve this: Jim Fassel, Marty Schottenheimer (who integrated 12 new starters into an aging team), Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Steve Mariucci, Mike Holmgren. But only one coach got his team eight more wins than it had in 1996, and only one coach instantly made the rest of the league respect his team, and only one coach blew away the black cloud over his franchise. Parcells is the guy.
MVPCarnell Lake, Pittsburgh. This is not a boutique pick. In his corner-to-safety shuttle, Lake saved the Steelers' defensive season. Pittsburgh won with defense, a running game and a QB changeup, but mostly the Steelers won with defense. Lake is the leader of this pack, which has lost 13 starters or strong contributors in the five previous years of free agency.
Executive of the YearTom Donahoe, Pittsburgh. What a job he did filling holes.
Offensive Rookie of the YearWarrick Dunn, RB, Tampa Bay. He's the only guy to invite comparisons to Barry since ... well, since Barry came into the league in 1989.
Defensive Rookie of the YearDerrick Rodgers, LB, Miami. Watch the Dolphins' wild-card game this weekend and see if Rodgers isn't in on the tackleor the first guy to the pileat least 30 times. Uncanny.
Offensive Player of the YearBarry Sanders, Detroit. Next.
Defensive Player of the YearDana Stubblefield, San Francisco. From one sack in 1996 to 15 this year, he had the best turnaround season of any defensive player in recent years.
A PERSONAL AWARD
Admirable Player of the YearDarrell Green, CB, Washington. He might be doing more than any athlete in sports today for inner-city kids, spreading educational seeds through the poorest pockets of Washington. He is a 37-year-old legitimate Pro Bowl corner. He just inspired Cris Dishman to his greatest season in the NFL. He wants to play until he's 40"and not just as a Nolan Ryan," he tells me, meaning he doesn't want to be out there as some museum piece, but as a real player. "And you know what's important to me?" he says. "Going out to practice every day, enjoying what I'm doing, not looking too far ahead, and realizing how lucky I am. I'm blessed to be doing what I love for such a long time." Play, Darrell, play.
I'll be answering questions again next week in the first postseason edition of the Mailbag. Playoff teams, games, plays, players, predictionsany playoff topic is fair game.
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