Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Updated: November 15, 6:17 PM ET
Two Vikings among defensive stalwarts
By Len Pasquarelli
Below is my defensive midseason All-Pro team, including special teams. For my offensive selections, click here.
ESPN.com's midseason All-Pro squad was compiled after discussions with about a dozen general managers, personnel directors and pro scouts, and some consultation with the folks at Scouts Inc.
Julius Peppers, LE, Carolina Panthers
Reasoning: If this is the final year in Carolina for the team's franchise player, Peppers is going out with a bang, and has been particularly dominant the past few weeks. He has seven sacks, but more importantly, he's playing the run as well as ever. He's making plays (three forced fumbles, three passes defensed) in all facets.
Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings
Reasoning: He has played some end in the past, and it shows in his quickness. He is the perfect complement to run-stuffing NT Pat Williams, and plays the run well himself. He leads interior linemen in sacks, with five.
Jonathan Babineaux, DT, Atlanta Falcons
Reasoning: Even before Sunday's monster performance against Washington (10 tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), Babineaux was having the best season of his career. Always quick against the run, Babineaux has gradually gotten better versus the pass (four sacks in 2009) and is better than advertised.
Jared Allen, RE, Minnesota Vikings
Reasoning: He has a big motor, plays every snap like it's going to be his last, and really gets up for the high-profile matchups. He has the entire repertoire of pass-rush moves, and leads the league with 10.5 sacks.
Brian Cushing, SLB, Houston Texans
Reasoning: He's the lone rookie on the All-Pro team, and Cushing's outstanding all-around performance has earned him a spot. Unofficially, he has registered 78 tackles, and also has 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. He's hardly been overwhelmed.
Patrick Willis, MLB, San Francisco 49ers
Reasoning: He plays inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and would be just as much at home playing the middle in a 4-3. More than just a tackling machine (77 tackles), Willis also stays on the field on third down, as indicated by his numbers (2.5 sacks, two interceptions, five passes defensed).
David Harris, ILB, New York Jets
Reasoning: Another three-down linebacker who excels in all areas, Harris is surprisingly good in passing situations. He has 3.5 sacks, an interception and two passes defensed.
James Harrison, WLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Reasoning: He's not particularly big, but Harrison plays with great leverage and is almost impossible to keep out of the backfield when he's cranked up. He has eight sacks and four forced fumbles, and his sack-strip move has become his signature.
Asante Samuel, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
Reasoning: Samuel is very intuitive, drives well on the ball thrown in front of him and has great hands and a big-play mentality. He has 25 interceptions since the start of the 2006 season, including five this season, and has made two Pro Bowl teams.
Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Reasoning: In his third season, Hall has matured greatly, and is playing up to his enormous potential. He can support the run, but obviously plays the pass well. He has four interceptions, all in his past four games.
Darren Sharper, FS, New Orleans Saints
Reasoning: The prototypical ballhawk on the field and a consummate professional off it, the 13-year veteran has added stability and playmaking ability to New Orleans' secondary. No safety has recorded double-digit interceptions in the NFL since Mark Carrier in 1990, but with seven picks, Sharper's got a shot.
Brandon Meriweather, SS, New England Patriots
Reasoning: The best strong safety on this planet is clearly Troy Polamalu, but the Pittsburgh star missed four games because of knee injury. Meriwether is stout against the run (43 tackles), and has played surprisingly well against the pass.
Ryan Longwell, PK, Minnesota Vikings
Reasoning: Kicking for a prolific offense, Longwell has made all but one of his 14 field goal attempts. His only miss was from beyond 50 yards, when the kick was blocked. He's made 6 of 7 tries from 40 yards or more. With only two touchbacks, he needs to improve his kickoff length, but the Vikings can live with that.
Shane Lechler, P, Oakland Raiders
Reasoning: It's a sad commentary when a punter is one of the team's premier players, but that's the case here. The strong-legged Lechler has permitted the fourth-most return yards in the league, but leads the NFL in both gross (52.3 yards) and net (44.9 yards) average, and has 14 punts inside the 20-yard line (just four touchbacks).
Josh Cribbs, KR, Cleveland Browns
Reasoning: Clearly the most explosive and exciting player on the Cleveland roster, Cribbs pulls double duty, returning both kickoffs and punts. He averages 27.7 yards on kickoffs and 16.4 yards on punts, and has returned one of each for a score.
For my offensive selections, click here.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.