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My team of the year

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Neil Reynolds | 09:58 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

While the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are making the most of their weekend off in order to prepare for Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, 6 February, the best of the rest in terms of NFL players are in Hawaii for the annual Pro Bowl.

So rather than discussing the NFL's version of an all-star game, I'm going to name my team of the year: one player at quarterback, running back, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, and safety. If I have enough energy at the end, I will even throw in a head coach for my partial team.

Okay, here we go. Form an orderly queue at the bottom of this page to register your complaints. My first pick is bound to provoke a response or two.


Aaron Rodgers

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers

I thought long and hard about this premier position in the NFL. There is no doubt this is going to create some debate because Tom Brady is going to be the runaway winner for the NFL Most Valuable Player voted on by members of the Associated Press in the United States.

Brady was excellent throughout the regular season, setting a new mark for greatness by throwing 335 passes in a row without an interception. He ended the year having hit on 324 of 492 attempts for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. That is truly incredible.

But he was one and done in the play-offs and disappointed during the loss to the New York Jets, albeit on a badly-injured foot.

The Packers have been in must-win mode for about five weeks now and, but for a shaky second half in Chicago in the NFC Championship game, Rodgers has been playing out of this world.

He is at the very top of his game and boasts a strong arm, accuracy and intelligence to match Brady. But where Rodgers has the edge is in his ability to scramble away from pressure and pick up valuable yardage downfield.

Time and again in recent years, Rodgers has proven the Packers were right not to bring back Brett Favre after he decided against retiring in 2008. A week on Sunday, we get to see if he can match Favre's career Super Bowl wins total in just his third season as a starter. This guy is now firmly in the elite group of NFL quarterbacks and just edges Tom Terrific, particularly given the fact I had the luxury of picking these winners deep into the post-season.

Running Back: Arian Foster - Houston Texans

Honourable mentions go to Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, Atlanta's Michael Turner and Jacksonville pocket rocket Maurice Jones-Drew, but Foster gets the nod for winning the NFL rushing title in just his second season.

While the frustrating Texans were up and down, Foster was the model of consistency. He opened with a bang, rushing for 231 yards and three touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts in week one and ended with 180 on the ground against the Jaguars in Houston's final game of the season. He was also excellent in between.

Foster also showed he could catch passes out of the backfield, making him the complete package. With a promising mix of speed, vision and power, he can dominate for many years to come.

Offensive Line: Jake Long - Miami Dolphins

As Miami's season began to unravel down the stretch, Long remained an ever-present up front despite suffering knee and shoulder injuries that could have ended his campaign. Miami's quarterbacks may not be worth protecting, but Long does his job to perfection and has now started all 16 games for three seasons in a row.

Wide Receiver: Reggie Wayne - Indianapolis Colts

I could easily have gone for Atlanta's Roddy White, who led the NFL with 115 catches, or the emerging Brandon Lloyd of the Denver Broncos. I could even make a case for the always-dominant Andre Johnson, of the Houston Texans.

But the one who stands above all others is Reggie Wayne, of the Indianapolis Colts. No receiver was more important to his team or his quarterback this season.

Wayne was targeted 175 times and caught 111 passes - both AFC highs - and he has now caught more than 100 balls in three of the past four seasons. I marked him down for making just one catch in the play-offs but no other wideout dominated the post-season enough to overtake Wayne.

Tight End: Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys endured a rough 2010 campaign that cost head coach Wade Phillips his job, but Jason Witten was a consistent star performer in Dallas. Despite playing with a backup quarterback for much of the year, Witten consistently got open and caught 94 passes for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns.


Defensive Line: Julius Peppers - Chicago Bears

You would have expected Peppers to shine in 2010 given that he was being paid close to $1m per game. His impact on the Bears does not show on the stats sheet as he recorded just 54 tackles and eight sacks. But he was constantly double-teamed, allowing others on the Chicago defensive line to enjoy career years (that's you, Israel Idonije). Athletic, quick and strong, Peppers was virtually impossible to block this season.

Clay Matthews

Linebacker: Clay Matthews - Green Bay Packers

This is a tough one as inside and outside linebackers are very different beasts and their positions are very different. A defence cannot operate without a sure-tackling middle linebacker such as Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis, but it is only natural that your attention gets drawn to the playmaking pass-rushers who dominate from the outside.

Cameron Wake burst onto the scene as a pass-rushing force for Miami and James Harrison remains an intimidating enforcer for the Steelers, but Matthews gets my vote because he can do it all.

Matthews uses blazing speed to make plays all over the field. The son of the former Cleveland Browns linebacker bearing the same name recorded 60 tackles, 13.5 sacks and one interception returned for a touchdown against the Cowboys. Look for this explosive defender to have a big day against the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

Cornerback: Darrelle Revis - New York Jets

If you base these awards purely on statistics, Revis doesn't get a look-in because he did not record a single interception this season. Rather than a negative, that is a reflection on the level of dominance he holds over the rest of the NFL.

Quarterbacks are too scared to challenge Revis and he can shut down one half of the field for an entire game. Most of the best receivers in the NFL go missing on Revis Island. During a stretch in the middle of the season, Revis limited Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Terrell Owens to a combined nine catches for 74 yards.

Revis is not only the best cornerback in the NFL today, he is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest in league history. The Hall of Fame beckons.


Safety: Troy Polamalu - Pittsburgh Steelers

When healthy and on top of his game, Polamalu is one of the very best players in the NFL, regardless of position. Time and again he has made big plays for the Steelers and facing Pittsburgh's defence was a very different proposition whenever Polamalu was missing through injury in 2010.

Polamalu is a physical freak. He can play close to the line of scrimmage and hit with the power and force of a linebacker, but he can also race downfield and easily keep pace with some of the best receivers in the game.

If the Steelers win next weekend's Super Bowl, I would expect Polamalu to have stepped up and made several big plays along the way.

Head Coach: Raheem Morris - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In just his second season, Morris turned around one of the youngest teams in the league. His Buccaneers went from 3-13 in 2009 to a 10-6 mark that left them frustrated at missing the play-offs in 2010. Morris' Bucs became the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to start 10 rookies and post a winning record. The head coach and his team are well worth watching in 2011.

So that's my team of the year. Who makes yours?

The Green Bay Packers meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday 6 February. Watch the game live from 2245 GMT on BBC ONE and the BBC Sport website (UK only).Listen live on 5 live sports extra from 2220 GMT, and on 5 live from 2330. You can also follow the live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.


  • Comment number 1.

    These guys were left off the original list due to the page running a tad too long. But they kind of complete the list and special teams is a third of the game !

    Kicker – Billy Cundiff – Baltimore Ravens

    This was a career year for Cundiff as he kicked 26 of 29 field goals and set a new NFL record with 40 of his kickoffs sailing into the end zone for touchbacks.

    Punter – Shane Lechler – Oakland Raiders

    Award-winning seasons have become the norm for Lechler and enjoyed another strong campaign in 2010. It was a stellar display of punting as he averaged 47 yards per kick and dropped 27 punts deep inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, giving the Silver and Black a distinct field position advantage.

    Kick Returner – Devin Hester – Chicago Bears

    This really was a flip-up between Hester and DeSean Jackson, of the Philadelphia Eagles. Hester gets the nod for becoming the all-time leader in NFL kick return touchdowns in 2010 with 14. He is also a more versatile returner who is capable of running back kickoffs and punts.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good article.I would more or less have the same team and Mike Williams as rookie of the year.The guy has a big future ahead of him.

  • Comment number 3.

    So none of the Patriots make the squad even though, bar one match where they let the trash talk get to them, they were by far the best team in the league?

    Not knocking your squad, it is a worthy one, and I appreciate the Pats are a good example of the sum being greater than it's parts, but surely there Is more to them than Tom Brady!

  • Comment number 4.

    I pretty much agree with your picks, although I think Hillis deserved a mention in the running back category even though Foster deserved to win.

    Also think Jennings should have been mentioned at wide receiver - after a slow start he exploded towards the end of the season and has carried that form into the play-offs.

    Raheem Morris did a fantastic job this season with such a young team but I think Mike McCarthy deserves to be coach of the year for taking the Packers to the Super Bowl with 15 players on injured reserve and 91 games by starting players.

    Rookie of the year has to be Suh - that guy is a monster!

  • Comment number 5.

    No honourable mention to Shady McCoy who led the NFC in total yards from scrimmage? The guy is in his 2nd year and will be Philly's franchise running back - I was devastated when Westbrook left but it looks like Shady will be even better.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thought Giants Justin Tuck should have a mention

  • Comment number 7.

    Ermmm Neil, you might want to consider the fact that offense and defense have 11 players on the field at one time.
    If you want to do a team of the year, do an all star team, it seems incredibly unfair to attempt to lump tackles, guards, centres, defensive ends and defensive tackles in to defensive line and offensive line. You know as well as I that all those positions require different skill sets.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nice call on Raheem for head coach of the year Neil. Must have been the shock of you playing catch with Jerry Rice that made you go all gaga over the Bucs.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with most but Roddy White should be the wide receiver and I assume you've picked Aaron Rodgers to stimulate debate.

    Dealing with Roddy White first the question is what does he have to do? The guy had 115 catches on a run first team and 10 TDs. Reggie Wayne only had 6 TDs this season, basically one every three games.

    Roddy White is infinitely more important to Matt Ryan than Wayne is to Manning and I find it hard for anyone to see it otherwise. The only argument I can think of is that Atlanta has a better go-to-guy in Tony Gonzalez but in the final days of his career he is no better a receiver than Pierre Garcon. Manning threw the ball 100 times more and 100 yards more than Matt Ryan yet the two receivers have comparable numbers. The deciding point for me is touchdown, Manning threw 33 and Wayne caught 6 where as Ryan threw 28 and White caught 10.

    As for Rodgers, yes he's had a couple of good play-off games but does that make him league MVP, hell no. You say Brady's one and done but they played a good secondary, of Green Bay's opponents only Chicago can boast that and he didn't play that well in those games. In Green Bay's last five games his three stellar performances have been against the Giants, Eagles and Falcons. The Eagles have a questionable secondary and the less said about the other secondaries the better.

    Just as a point of reference Rodgers played the Jets earlier this season and completed 44% of his passes and had a passer rating of 59.7. Playing well in January against average defences doesn't make up for one of the all-time great seasons by a QB. Brady lead the league in TD passes with 36 and threw 4 interceptions, that's unbelieveable.

    Just a couple of other tid-bits; Rodgers didn't make the Pro Bowl squad and the All-Pro second team offense doesn't have a QB because Brady got every single vote!! Granted these are cast before the post-season but the MVP is for the entire season not just the post-season. If Big Ben throws for 400 yards and 5 TDs in the Superbowl carrying the Steelers to victory doesn't make him the league MVP.

    The MVP award is for the most valuable player, Green Bay are a great team with or without Rodgers as witnessed by their performance in New England, the same can't be said for the Patriots without Brady.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think thats a pretty good shout for a standard team of the year - although agree the offensive line needs a bit more detail, but as you say only x amount of space.

    QB - Rogers has been good because their TE was injured all season, grant was injured during the first and green bay only just discovered a run game in the play offs. He also got knocked out twice and has to play chicago vikes (allen and williams) and lions (suh and van de boosch) twice every season so does play against some awsome sack machines. However Brady has to get it purely on his stats or Vick due to his amazing come back. But Rogers isnt far off.

    WR - This can't be right? Roddy White has to be all the way esp as Falcons run the ball alot more.

    Anyway been a great season, just hope the steelers dont win

  • Comment number 11.

    Aaron Rodgers over Brady? Oh come on that's surely only put in there to get some comments going isn't it? Well I guess it's worked.

    Seriously, if you pick Rodgers over Brady I question whether you've actually even watched much of the NFL this year. Brady is as close to a one man team as there is in the NFL. He's not been perfect this year but he's been streets ahead of anyone else, Rodgers included. Yes Brady did ok against the Jets and they lost. As you said yourself, he was playing hurt. The biggest difference between Rodgers and Brady? The supporting cast. Brady has Wes Welker and a bunch of rookies or bits and pieces receivers. Rodgers has probably the best collection of 4 WRs in the league and a really good defense on the other side of the ball.

    Case in point, here's the stat lines from the Rodgers and Brady's last games:

    Rodgers: 17 or 30 passing for 244 yards 0TDs 2 interceptions
    Brady: 29 of 45 passing for 299 yards 2TDs 1 interception

    Patriots lose, Packers win. Pats didn't lose because fo Brady and the Packers didn't win because of Rodgers. And there's the difference and why Brady is light years ahead of Rodgers.

    Oh and I'm a Steelers fan and I hate the Patriots, but there is simply no denying Brady was the best QB in football this year.

  • Comment number 12.

    Was going to post a longer comment with reasons, but I don't think I need to. Picking anyone over Brady at QB is just ridiculous this season. One bad game in postseason does not a poor quarterback make; ask Peyton Manning.

  • Comment number 13.

    Just a shout out for Peyton Hillis who was a bright light in another mediocre Browns season.

  • Comment number 14.

    QB: Sanchez
    Receiver: Holmes
    Center: Mangold

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    my only consideration would be Detroit on O-Line....they were looking after back ups and still allowing time for wins.

    and def with the Hillis fans!

  • Comment number 17.

    Good picks Neil. I'd probably gone with Rodgers as he's in the SB, with honourable mentions to the every impressive Brady and the hypnotic left arm of Vick.
    Standout for me though has been the Pats rookie RB 'law firm' Benjarvus Green Ellis. The guy looks a great propsect and has looked an absolute beast when I've watched the NFL this year.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'd have given Dez Bryant at Dallas a mention for rookie of the year, he's been outstanding this year, injury aside. I agree about Suh though, a complete man mountain.

  • Comment number 19.

    Somebody that has impressed me is Aaron Hernandez, TE at the Patriots. I would expect him to make a big impact next year. Good article.

  • Comment number 20.

    this article is embarrassing. You have not picked a "team" ... you have just picked players at certain positions. Apart from P, K and KR, you have omitted FS, SS, G, C, DT etc. Change the title of the blog or pick a team. This is amateur at best.

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh stop whining Marcus, it's a blog about team of the year discussing several positions, not an in-depth analysis of every position on the field.

    Even though I'm a Pack fan, I do think Brady is MVP. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

  • Comment number 22.

    offensive line 1 guy?? has he ever seen a NFL game?? WR 1 guy?? wow this is so poor. Can't believe BBC will pay this joker to write this trash. Does he realize there are 22 players on field at any time and he should have picked at least 22.

  • Comment number 23.

    Sportszombie - I was not allowed to pick all 22 players due to space issues... so I had to come up with one person at each key area of the field.

    To everyone else... you saw through me... I was going to put Brady in at QB but just thought that was too boring and way too obvious. Just wanted to go through the process of making an argument for Rodgers, but I recognise Brady was excellent and he could start for me any day of the week.

    He will be a worthy winner of the MVP award but I just wanted to be a little bit different on this occasion.

  • Comment number 24.

    For those talking up the Kick Returners I would like to make a case for Brad Smith, I thought he did an amazing job for Jets. Smith is one of the reasons the Jets was one of the most efficent returning teams in the league.

    Revis is a good shout, anyone who can positively shut out a side gains my respect. He leaves the best QB's in the game scared and takes the best WR's off the field. All time best for my money.

  • Comment number 25.

    @packersftw - Im not whining. Im asking for some accurate journalism I apologise for my old-fashioned ways.

    I would also have been interested to have seen his overall TEAM picks. Just picking one OL, one DL etc is not very interesting imo.

  • Comment number 26.

    Are you seriously going to place Polamalu above Ed Reed?! The guy missed six games and still managed to lead the league in interceptions. Polamalu has, if anything, has appeared on several occasions to be slightly hampered with injury. You are right to say that at the top of his game he is one of the league's most dominant players, however this year has not seen his best, and he has been caught out a few times. Even so, he is nonetheless an elite safety and a fearsome player.
    Now, although Brady was one-and-done this season, this could hardly be deemed his fault. The Patriots executed poorly throughout that match as a team. The Crumpler drop in the endzone lost 4 points, the attempted fake punt lost a further 7 and a string of poor penalties led to hard to manage situations. The strategy of intermediate passing employed by the Patriots demands execution and they were poor. They still only lost by a score. Brady's performances throughout the season with a group of, for the most part, unknowns, were nothing short of exceptional. Whilst Rodgers has been very good, his receiving core is among the strongest in the NFL and has benefited from playing with a great defense who have regularly shut teams down. Their respective seasons aren't in the same league as each other. Brady is the clear victor as QB of the year...unfortunately for him the other will probably win the Superbowl.

  • Comment number 27.

    marcus and sportszombie - it amazes me how rude some people can be. Do you not realise how long this blog would be if it was a list of 22 players? Do you also not realise that most British people would have no interest in reading about who the best nose tackle in the league is? THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE.

    Neil, after reading all the comments do you wish you had picked Brady?!

  • Comment number 28.

    It has to be Brady doesn't it?

    Brady; vs Bears in poor weather; awesome

    Rodgers; vs Bears a couple of times, pretty average and v fortunate to beat us in final regular season game.

    Also agree on the White v Wayne comments.

    Anyways, looking forward to pre Super Bowl blog ;-)

  • Comment number 29.

    Revis is probably the best corner in the NFL (though Asomugha may have something to say about that) bit in terms of absolute performance this season from a CB, I'd say the best was McCourtey, who had an outstanding season - especially for a rookie. He will probably have far fewer stats next season as he is well on his way to being a shut-down corner like Revis and Asomugha.

  • Comment number 30.

    Nnamdi Asomugha!

  • Comment number 31.

    packersftw - A bit patronizing to the British fans i think. I'm an English nfl fan and prefer it when nfl blogs directed at a UK audience go into the detail of those unglamorous positions. Anyway i understand why Neil has not done that here.

    For RB i would have gone for Jamaal Charles - a higher average yards per carry than Foster.

  • Comment number 32.

    Forte's had a pretty good season ranked 4th in rushing yards and making some great play actions to open up the pocket


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