The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and the NFC East-winning
Eagles each place three men on my All-Pro team. It doesn't seem
as if the Bears have had an All-Pro since Walter Payton, but now
they, too, have three of them.
Quarterback: Kurt Warner, Rams. He gets the call over the
Raiders' Rich Gannon. The gunslinger mentality edges the careful
approach of the West Coast offense.
Running back: Marshall Faulk, Rams. If the league ever enacts a
rule that backs can't catch passes, he'll be out of business. Can
kill you from the flank, the slot, anywhere.
Fullback: Cory Schlesinger, Lions. Either running or blocking,
he's going to knock someone over.
Wide receivers: David Boston, Cardinals, and Keyshawn Johnson,
Bucs. Boston makes DBs pay with his 238 pounds. Keyshawn had only
one touchdown, but so what? He's the most reliable third-down guy
in the business.
Tight end: Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs. No one at the position in his
Tackles: Walter Jones, Seahawks, and Luke Petitgout, Giants.
Jones is the sleeker and niftier of the two. Petitgout, who
really lifted his game this year, mans the strong side. He was
the key guy in New York's power sweep right.
Guards: Alan Faneca, Steelers, and Edwin Mulitalo, Ravens.
Faneca clears the way for Jerome Bettis. Mulitalo blasts holes
for, well, whomever the Ravens line up in the backfield that day.
Center: Damien Woody, Patriots. He's the veteran who holds
together a line that ranks as one of the league's best.
Ends: Michael Strahan, Giants, and John Abraham, Jets. Strahan,
the king of the sackers, is serious against the run, too. Abraham
is not yet at Strahan's level, but he's a rising talent and a
Nosetackle: Gary Walker, Jaguars. He's at his best when
situations get perilous.
Outside linebackers: Jamir Miller, Browns, and LaVar Arrington,
Redskins. Miller has been a relentless rusher. Arrington was
feeling his way in the early going, but he developed into a
dynamic pursuer and ball hawk.
Inside linebackers: Ray Lewis, Ravens, and Brian Urlacher, Bears.
We're pretending we're the Steelers and lining up in a 3-4 so we
won't have to leave out either of these super talents.
Cornerbacks: R.W. McQuarters, Bears, and Troy Vincent, Eagles.
McQuarters is a ferocious lock-on corner. Vincent has thriven
behind the blitz packages, playing in a steady diet of man
Strong safety: Darren Sharper, Packers. The program lists him as
a free safety, but he really plays the strong side. Can cover the
slot man and the blitz.
Free safety: Brian Dawkins, Eagles. Here's the king of the
blitzing DBs. Philly's big-play guy, a game-turner.
Kicker: David Akers, Eagles. A rare special teams repeater. He
missed only five field goals all year and was 2 for 3 from 50
Punter: Todd Sauerbrun, Panthers. Net punting records haven't
been kept through the years, but I'd bet that his 38.9-yard
average is close to the best ever.
Returner: Jermaine Lewis, Ravens. He's one of the few who handles
both punts and kicks, which makes him doubly dangerous.
Cover: Mike Green, Bears. First caught the coaching staff's
attention running downfield on kicks. Now he's a valuable
Player of the Year: Strahan. He gets the call over flashier
competition because no other player so clearly dominated his
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots. He started with a
bunch of ragtags, then led them to a division championship. Ran a
smooth, well-organized staff that got the most out of everybody.
Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year: Anthony Thomas, RB,
Bears, and Richard Seymour, DT, Patriots. Both provided a shot
of adrenaline to teams picked to finish near the bottom but
instead are playoff-bound.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Strahan created havoc with a league-record 22 1/2 sacks.