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Continued: Craig: My NFL All-Pro ballot

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 10, 2013 - 11:48 AM

Having one of the 50 votes for the Associated Press' NFL All-Pro team and player-of-the-year awards comes with no monetary compensation. Just certain perks.

For instance, fans will go out of their way to help a voter. For starters, they suggest a lot of things that you can do to yourself. Secondly, if you don't know where your head is, they can tell you exactly where they think you've misplaced it.

So, without further delay, here was one man's ballot for the 2012 season:

All-Pro offense

Wide receivers: Calvin Johnson, Lions; Brandon Marshall, Bears. Johnson is the no-brainer. Marshall had 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 TDs, including league highs in third-down catches (39) and third-down touchdowns (five).

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys. Led NFL tight ends with 110 catches.

Offensive tackles: Joe Thomas, Browns; Ryan Clady, Broncos. Thomas is a cement wall lined with steel. Too bad there's so little of value for him to protect in Cleveland.

Guards: Mike Iupati, 49ers; Jahri Evans, Saints. The 49ers built their foundation the right way, using three No. 1 picks on their offensive line. Iupati is big, athletic and the league's best mauler at guard.

Center: John Sullivan, Vikings. We'll try to right a wrong that was made during the Pro Bowl voting. Sullivan is the leader, signal-caller and best player on an offensive line that had a 2,097-yard rusher but no Pro Bowl picks. Packers center Jeff Saturday, an older player with a more recognizable name, made the Pro Bowl during a year in which his poor play got him benched. The toughest postseason award for an offensive lineman to win is his first one. There was some momentum among the AP voters to grant Sullivan this first nod. He deserves it.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Broncos. Great seasons by Brady, Rodgers and Manning made it a toss-up. I went with Manning because starting over with a new team a year after sitting out the season was even more impressive.

Running backs: Adrian Peterson, Vikings; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks. Peterson obviously is a unanimous lock for an All-Pro first-team selection. That will give him five in six NFL seasons.

Fullback: Jerome Felton, Vikings. Ask Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis how good this guy is at the point of attack.

Placekicker: Blair Walsh, Vikings. Made 35 of 38 field goals, including an NFL-record 10 of 10 from 50 yards and beyond. Yes, the best kicker in the league, hands down, was the Vikings' rookie.

Kick returner: Leodis McKelvin, Bills. Averaged 18.7 yards and had two TDs on 23 punt returns.

All-Pro defense

Defensive ends: J.J. Watt, Texans; Charles Johnson, Panthers. Watt was the easy choice. Johnson had 12 1/2 sacks.

Defensive tackles: Geno Atkins, Bengals; Ndamukong Suh, Lions. Atkins had 12 1/2 sacks inside. Suh had eight.

Outside linebackers: Aldon Smith, 49ers; Von Miller, Broncos. Combined, they had 38 sacks.

Inside linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Panthers; Navorro Bowman, 49ers. Kuechly led the NFL in tackles. Bowman was second.

Cornerbacks: Tim Jennings, Bears; Charles Tillman, Bears. Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions. Tillman had three, returning all of them for TDs, and forced 10 fumbles.

Safeties: Stevie Brown, Giants; Devin McCourty, Patriots. Brown had eight picks, two forced fumbles. McCourty had five interceptions, two forced fumbles.

Punter: Andy Lee, 49ers. Had a league-high 43.2-yard net average with 53.7 percent (36 of 67) of his punts downed inside the 20.

Postseason awards

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Casey Hayward, Packers cornerback. The kid already is a good one. He could become a great one.

Offensive Rookie: Robert Griffin III, Redskins quarterback. So many tough choices. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson could have been chosen just as easily. But give me RGIII. For a rookie to finish third in passer rating (102.4) and 10th in rushing (815 yards, 6.8 average)? Wow.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans. When Adrian Peterson calls you a "beast" not once, but three times, you're a bonafide "beast."

Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Broncos. Again, Rodgers, Brady and Manning all were good choices. Manning had one of his best seasons statistically and finished the regular season with 11 consecutive victories. And, again, he did it in his first year with a new franchise. Heck, he might even be the NFL Unofficial Coach of the Year.

Comeback Player: Adrian Peterson, Vikings. Another toss-up. Give me Peterson or Manning, who sat out last season and had multiple neck surgeries. I went with Peterson because of what he did at a more physically demanding position.

Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians/Chuck Pagano, Colts. As outstanding as Leslie Frazier was in turning around the Vikings, I still had to split my vote and give it to the guys who turned a gutted, 2-14 Colts team into an 11-5 playoff qualifier. Despite Pagano's three-month absence to battle leukemia, Arians led the Colts to nine of their 11 victories and made the playoffs. And one of the wins with Pagano on the sideline came against Frazier and the Vikings.

Most Valuable Player: Adrian Peterson, Vikings. His knee injury wasn't a factor in my decision. This simply was the most amazing season I've ever seen. The Vikings needed to make the playoffs for me to pick him over Manning. The fact a running back carried a one-dimensional team from three victories to the playoffs in today's NFL made Peterson the right pick.

Mark Craig • mark.craig@startribune.com

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