- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The easiest defensive position to select was end. For the second straight year the Bills' Bruce Smith and the Eagles' Reggie White made my team, and once again they had no real challengers. I've always liked the Pats' Garin Veris, but he missed much of the season with a knee injury.
Cincinnati noseguard Tim Krumrie, who plays a sliding, pursuit game, has produced tackle and assist numbers that are off the board. The 49ers' Michael Carter is powerful in the middle, but he doesn't make as many plays as Krumrie does. An intriguing character was Jerry Ball of Detroit, who's constantly being told to get his weight down (he's officially listed at 283 pounds) but always seems to make big plays.
The Bears' Dan Hampton is the choice as the 4-3 defensive tackle over the Vikes' Keith Millard, who's active but not quite as solid. Here's Cross on Hampton: "He's a man. When he gets held, he doesn't moan and whine like some guys do. He keeps his mouth shut and just drills you next time."
Tim Harris of the Packers is the most underrated player in the NFL. He's also the best outside linebacker. He's got a nasty streak on the field, though, which has made him some enemies. That's probably why he didn't make the Pro Bowl. If I were picking a coverage-type player for the other outside linebacker, I would go with the Browns' Clay Matthews. But that would mean leaving the Giants' Lawrence Taylor off the team. I can't do that. He was involved in too many game-turning plays.
Vaughan Johnson of the Saints is the league's most fundamentally sound inside linebacker. The Bears' Mike Singletary excels as a middle linebacker in the 4-3, but he has those great tackles, Hampton and Steve McMichael, to take some of the heat off. Critics of the Patriots' Johnny Rembert, my second inside linebacker, say he is a "side to side" player who's not that stiff at the point of attack. That's the style New England's coaches want him to play, and Rembert has more one-on-one pass-coverage responsibility than any other inside linebacker.
People say that Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin has lost some speed and is relying on smarts. He looked as good as ever to me. Maybe he's getting a better break on the ball. He isn't troubled by the mistakes that flashier and more highly publicized cornerbacks make. I had a hatful of candidates for the other cornerback spot—Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon of Cleveland, Rod Woodson of Pittsburgh, Albert Lewis and Kevin Ross of Kansas City, Ronnie Lippett of New England, Mark Lee of Green Bay, Eric Thomas of Cincinnati—but Minnifield got the nod because of his consistency and courage. He played hurt a lot this season.
Minnesota's Joey Browner was always a freewheeling banger at strong safety. Now he has improved as a pass defender. Keep an eye on Phoenix's Tim McDonald. No strong safety plays the force better than he does.
Finally, at free safety, Buffalo's Mark Kelso has terrific range. He comes out of nowhere to make plays. The 49ers' Ronnie Lott is the biggest hitter at the position, and he's superb in nickel situations, when he plays close to the line. It wasn't an easy choice. Few of them were.