Middle Linebacker—None makes as many big plays as the Giants' Harry Carson does. It was hard not to go with the Patriots' Steve Nelson, but Carson is a little more active. Jack Lambert has tougher pass-coverage responsibilities than any of them, but he gets a lot of help against the run. An emotional choice would have been the Browns' Dick Ambrose.
Cornerbacks—Denver's Louie Wright was automatic. Oakland's Lester Hayes gets it at the other spot over the Patriots' three-time All-Pro Mike Haynes. When in doubt, go with the guy who's never made anything, especially if he plays the tight coverage as tough as Hayes does. Washington's Lemar Parrish is great on the deep stuff, only so-so against the run.
Strong Safety—Houston's free agent from the Canadian League, Vernon Perry. He's made the difference in the Oilers' defense. Gets single coverage against all tight ends.
Free Safety—None of them is as active or as effective as the Browns' Thorn Dar-den. Houston's Mike Reinfeldt will get many votes because of his 12 pass interceptions, but his responsibilities aren't nearly as demanding as Darden's.
Kicker—Houston's Toni Fritsch. We narrowed it down to four—Fritsch, Seattle's Efren Herrera, San Francisco's Ray Wersching and Philadelphia's Tony Franklin—checked out field positions, percentages and distance ( Franklin is the top long-range threat) and then settled on Fritsch on the basis of number of games won with his foot (four).
Punter—The Chiefs' Bob Grupp, a rookie, over the Giants' Dave Jennings by a nose. Grupp led in average, also in the statistic that counts—net yardage, which subtracts returns and touchbacks.
Rookie of the Year—Ottis Anderson of the Cardinals.
Coach of the Year—Jack Pardee of the Redskins. He tore down a team, patched it back together and kept it in contention for 16 weeks.