The Rams, the NFC's showpiece team, earned three spots on my
1999 All-Pro team, and the man who led them, Dick Vermeil, is my
coach of the year. Defensively, I've gone to a 3-4 to
accommodate the overload of fine inside linebackers.
QB: Kurt Warner, Rams. It came down to a close call between
Warner (below) and the Colts' Peyton Manning. Check out the
stats, though. Warner surpassed Manning in every major passing
category, and his 109.2 rating is the fifth highest in NFL
RB: Marshall Faulk, Rams. Again a Colt, Edgerrin James, was a
close second, but Faulk, showing his burst of old, gets the edge
based on total yards, 1,381 rushing and 1,048 receiving (versus
1,553 and 593, respectively, for James).
FB: Tony Richardson, Chiefs. Never misses a Kansas City snap,
even in long-yardage situations. An effective blocker who also
carried the running game for a while.
WR: Cris Carter, Vikings, and Marvin Harrison, Colts. Did you
happen to see Carter's game against the Giants on Dec. 26? He
caught five passes for 131 yards on a severely sprained ankle.
Harrison has been Manning's go-to receiver all year.
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs. His numbers (76 catches, 11
touchdowns) bury those of any other tight end. Kansas City was
one of the rare teams that featured the position.
T: Tony Boselli, Jaguars, and Willie Anderson, Bengals. Boselli,
quicker and more mobile, was going after people the way he did as
a rookie in 1995. Anderson started slowly but received
near-perfect grades from his position coach after midseason.
G: Larry Allen, Cowboys, and Tre Johnson, Redskins. Similar
styles--big boomers, able to wipe out an entire side of the
C: Kevin Mawae, Jets. Playing between a rookie and a converted
tackle, he did a terrific job taking charge of the middle.
E: Tony Brackens, Jaguars, and Jevon Kearse, Titans. Brackens,
who has always been a high-level pass rusher, rounded out his
game this year with effective play against the run. Kearse, the
fastest defensive lineman since Fred Dean, led the AFC with a
rookie-record 14 1/2 sacks and made offenses scrap their game
plans to adjust to him.
T: Trevor Pryce, Broncos. Quickness, relentless pressure and a
nonstop motor give him the edge over the Jaguars' Gary Walker.
ILB: Ray Lewis, Ravens, and Greg Biekert, Raiders. Lewis is a
guided missile, a tackling machine. Biekert always has been a
fine run plugger, but this year he was also effective in
coverage. If I could have picked three inside backers, the third
spot would have gone to the Dolphins' Zach Thomas.
OLB: Derrick Brooks, Buccaneers, and Dexter Coakley, Cowboys. A
passionate linebacker from Day One, Brooks has never been better
against the pass. Coakley shuts down receivers out of the
backfield. Against the run he makes plays all over the field.
CB: Sam Madison, Dolphins, and Shawn Springs, Seahawks. Madison
was the big-play cornerback of '99. Springs, often matched
against the enemy's top receiver, has raised his game in each of
his three seasons.
SS: John Lynch, Buccaneers. Always effective as a blitzer and a
run stuffer, he improved his coverage skills this season.
FS: Brian Dawkins, Eagles. The Pro Bowl pickers got it right
here. A big-play defender.
K: Mike Vanderjagt, Colts. Perfect on extra points and hasn't
missed a field goal attempt since Oct. 24. His 53-yarder that
beat the Dolphins at the gun was one of the biggest kicks of the
P: Darren Bennett, Chargers. Always had a big leg. This year he
developed the ability to put the opposing team in a hole near the
KR: Tony Horne, Rams. His 29.7-yard average was the second best
in 15 years. Returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
PR: Deion Sanders, Cowboys. Punters changed their style to keep
the ball away from him.
Coverage: Ratcliff Thomas, Colts. A linebacker who specialized in
breaking up the wedge.
MVP: Warner. Saved the Rams' season after Trent Green went down
with a knee injury.
Coach of the Year: Vermeil. With a tremendous assist from his
offensive coordinator, Mike Martz.
Rookie of the Year: James. Made Indy president Bill Polian, who
passed on Ricky Williams, look like a genius.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO