had another fine year, further establishing himself as the reigning quarterback
of this era. But for those of you who say that no player, quarterback or
otherwise, meant as much to his team as Drew Brees did to the Saints, I won't
argue. In fact, he is my Most Valuable Player, even though I couldn't put him
in the QB spot over Manning. It's the first time in 28 years of picking SI's
All-Pro team that I've split the vote that way.
Chargers--Super Bowl front-runners--dominate the lineup with four choices. The
easiest was the league's premier runner, LaDainian Tomlinson, who put the
alltime touchdown record out of sight with 31. Teammate Antonio Gates is a
repeater at tight end. The Broncos paid him the highest tribute by putting
shutdown corner Champ Bailey on him in man coverage.
as smoothly efficient as ever, is one of the wideout selections. The other
involved an agonizing choice among half a dozen candidates. But I gave the nod
to the Jets' Laveranues Coles because no one else has his awareness of exactly
where the first-down sticks are. If you're looking for the Bengals' Chad
Johnson, whose numbers jumped off the chart, sorry, I take a dim view of
Brown, the Saints' left tackle, is this year's offensive line star, displacing
an old standby, Walter Jones of the Seahawks. I let my charts do the work for
me, and Brown, a big reason for Brees's success, simply had higher grades. The
other tackle, the Ravens' Jonathan Ogden, is again his old drive-blocking self.
San Diego right guard Mike Goff was my sleeper lineman last year, and I guess
he's still a sleeper because the Pro Bowl voters refuse to honor his work in
providing the muscle up front for Tomlinson. On the other side, tough-as-nails
Logan Mankins of the Patriots edges others with fancier credentials. I keep
looking for ways to avoid picking Denver center Tom Nalen because he despises
writers and makes sure his fellow linemen keep away from them. But his game
just refuses to come down from the high level he set so many years ago. Atlanta
knows how to run the ball, and in fullback Justin Griffith the Falcons have a
mobile and versatile athlete.
I had three
finalists at defensive end. The Dolphins' Jason Taylor is the great
game-changer. The Chiefs' Jared Allen is the intimidator, a relentless,
punishing competitor who never stops coming. That was my pair, but how about
the Panthers' Julius Peppers? When he's fresh, he's the best in the game, but
the Panthers have worn him out. The Vikings' Pat Williams is a repeat defensive
tackle from last year. There's no interior lineman in the game who has had the
year Baltimore's Trevor Pryce has. "Best defensive player in football,"
says Ravens coordinator Rex Ryan, and I can't disagree.
Once again the
Dolphins' Zach Thomas is the middle linebacker pick by an eyelash, this time
over Brian Urlacher of the Bears. Thomas got my vote thanks to his amazing
ability to get to the ball in a hurry. San Diego's Shawne Merriman is the rush
linebacker who attacks the edge with fury and doesn't worry too much about
coverage. Chicago's Lance Briggs is the all-around backer who has the finely
tuned game of many standouts from the past.
I'd never picked
Bailey at a corner--other people just graded higher. However, going around the
league and realizing how much respect he commands, I can't leave him off this
year. But the young guy who is really exciting is the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha,
a great ball hawk and a cover man who in his fourth year already has offenses
geared to avoid him. The Browns' Sean Jones was an easy strong safety pick.
Under my complicated system, he had the best grades of any defensive back. The
Eagles' Brian Dawkins has had a fine year at free safety but the Jets' Kerry
Rhodes was even more active, if that's possible.
Sorry, but I
can't pick a kicker who hasn't tried one longer than 49 yards. Thus Baltimore's
Matt Stover is my choice over Chicago's Robbie Gould. Brian Moorman of the
Bills is my repeat punter.
Hester, with his record six TDs, is everybody's choice as a returner, and
Philadelphia's Quintin Mikell, who not only busts wedges but is also a terrific
blocker on kickoffs, is my all-around special teamer. The Saints' Sean Payton
has done a magnificent job handling his rushing tandem, Reggie Bush and Deuce
McAllister. He's a narrow choice over the Jets' boy wonder, Eric Mangini, as my
Coach of the Year. My heart said that Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill would
be a terrific choice for Rookie of the Year, but my head said that quarterback
Vince Young deserved the honor for taking the Titans into playoff
The Best of
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