A look at my all-NFC West picks for the 2010 season, continuing with the defense:
Please read through my explanations before ripping some of these choices. I was tempted to leave a couple of these spots vacant.
Darnell Dockett would usually hold down a spot on the defensive line. The shoulder injury he played through affected him. I thought Chris Long, Justin Smith, James Hall and Chris Clemons had better seasons. With the division split between 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, I paid less attention to specific positions on the line. The San Francisco 49ers' Aubrayo Franklin lost out to players with strong sack numbers. Franklin played well after reporting late. Update: And let's not forget about Fred Robbins. He easily could have earned a spot at tackle.
Seattle's David Hawthorne was a consideration at linebacker. The 49ers' Takeo Spikes was the choice. He had three interceptions and nine passes defensed. Tackle totals aren't reliable, but unofficial stats showed each with more than 100.
All four free safeties earned consideration. I went with Seattle's Earl Thomas, who covered the most ground and usually tackled well against the run. Thomas picked off Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Sam Bradford in the end zone or near the goal line. He also finished strong. The Rams' Oshiomogho Atogwe made big second-half plays against Denver, San Diego and San Francisco. The Cardinals' Kerry Rhodes was the only player in the NFL with at least four picks and four fumble recoveries. He returned two fumbles for touchdowns. The 49ers' Dashon Goldson was steady, but made fewer impact plays.
Strong safety was a tough one. The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson admittedly struggled, but he played very well at times, notably against St. Louis. The Seahawks' Lawyer Milloy outperformed expectations. Was his best better than Wilson's down year? Wilson was the choice even though I'm fully aware of his shortcomings in coverage this season. His performance against the Rams in Week 1 was as dominant as any I could recall from an NFC West safety during the 2010 season.
Coming up with two cornerbacks wasn't easy. The Rams' Bradley Fletcher earned a spot with four interceptions. Seattle's Marcus Trufant returned to Pro Bowl form early in the season, but his play fell off significantly as the defense declined overall. The Rams' Ron Bartell was a consideration, but nothing stood out. The Cardinals' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a division-high 15 penalties for 117 yards this season.
The chart breaks down all-division choices from 2008 and 2009, plus this season. Still to come: special teams.