All-Pros: Brilliant newcomers and seasoned stars
NEW YORK (AP) — Brilliant newcomers and seasoned stars. A winning blend for any team, including The Associated Press 2011 NFL All-Pro Team.
From Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson to Cardinals rookie kick returner Patrick Peterson, youth is well represented. So is veteran savvy with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson and 49ers placekicker David Akers.
Fifteen players made the team for the first time in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL.
"It means a lot to me," said the Eagles' LeSean McCoy, selected Friday at running back along with Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew — both first-timers. "You think about all of the great players and running backs in this league and for me to be mentioned with them is an honor. It also means a lot to my teammates, guys that have pushed me all season long, coaches who helped me work on the little things and had faith in me to reach this accomplishment. And, of course, those guys up front did a great job all year. Those guys are beasts, man, it's easy to get big runs when your line is opening up huge holes for you every time you touch the ball."
It's difficult dealing with those guys as they run free with the ball, but safety Eric Weddle of San Diego did so well enough to be recognized as an All-Pro.
"I think it's overall consistent play," Weddle said. "I made a lot of plays on the ball, whether it's picking off a pass or covering my guy and knocking down a pass. I've tried not to give up big plays. It's just being sound in all phases and being an overall good football player."
Good — make that great — is represented throughout the All-Pro squad.
Johnson and Allen were the leading vote-getters, each just one vote shy of being a unanimous pick.
"That's sweet," said Johnson, who hauled in 96 catches for a 17.5-yard average and scoring 16 touchdowns. "That's one of the best honors you can have other than being a Super Bowl champion. To be an All-Pro is a tremendous honor."
Allen had 22 sacks, one-half short of Michael Strahan's league mark, to make his fourth All-Pro Team.
"This game, as much as it is a team sport, it's still very individual based," Allen said. "The best I can help my team win is to be the best individual defensive end I can be. You've got to have a selfish attitude to an extent, with the way you prepare yourself to help your team win games. But at the same time, if you don't have a successful team season, it (stinks). It makes that grind we all go through together that much tougher."
Nothing grinding about the year Rodgers has had. He easily beat Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints at quarterback, 47½ votes to 2½. Rodgers led Green Bay to a league-best 15-1 record this season, after taking the Packers to the Super Bowl title last February.
"I am a competitor," Rodgers said. "I care desperately about winning and doing everything I can to contribute. But personally, speaking for my own self, you learn exactly what you need to do to be able to balance the pressure from the outside with the pressure from within, that you put on yourself to be successful. Last year's run is really going to help all of us and our preparation through the week."
Peterson was the only rookie who made the squad. He tied an NFL mark when he ran back four punts for touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in overtime to beat the Rams.
"It's special to be the only rookie on the list and a nice way to end my first NFL season," said Peterson, a cornerback.
Another cornerback, Darrelle Revis of the Jets, was behind Johnson and Allen with 48 selections. Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs got 47.
One oddity: Both first-team guards, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, were from the Saints. That hasn't happened since 1953, with Detroit's Lou Creekmur and Dick Stanfel.
"That's a great honor and that's a long time since it happened," Nicks said. "I think this shows it's recognized that we are strong and physical and not just big guys. We are athletic enough to pass protect 45 to 50 times a game and keep Drew clean."
In the All-Pro backfield joining Rodgers, whose quarterback rating of 122.5 broke Peyton Manning's single-season mark, were Jones-Drew, McCoy and fullback Vonta Leach of Baltimore, who made it in 2010 with Houston. Jones-Drew was the league's rushing leader with 1,606 yards.
"It is a 'we' thing, not a 'me' thing," Jones-Drew said, praising his teammates on offense and his coaches. "The guys who don't get the glory and keep blocking all day, and the coaches who don't get enough credit, it's for them."
McCoy scored 20 touchdowns, 17 rushing, and was the brightest spot in a down year for the hyped Eagles. Yet ...
"There are so many things I can do better," he said. "I look at the numbers and see so many plays I left on the field, so many yards. I can perfect my game a lot more."
Record-setter Rob Gronkowski was the tight end. The Patriot set the single-season mark at his position with 1,327 yards receiving. Teammate Wes Welker (league-high 122 catches) was the other receiver.
Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey was the center, with Philadelphia's Jason Peters and Cleveland's Joe Thomas at tackle.
Joining Allen at defensive end was Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants.
"It's a great thing, a great accomplishment, and hopefully I can get it in the years that come again," said Pierre-Paul, who had 16½ sacks in his second pro season. "It's a great run. All due respect, people are respecting me now as a great pass rusher and I am getting chips and stuff. That's the kind of stuff I like, me being one of the main guys on my team that can make a play when people are counting on me."
The defensive tackles were Haloti Ngata of the Ravens and Justin Smith of the 49ers — who also placed third at DE; the 49ers used him at both spots.
I just go out and play where I'm playing," Smith said. "I let that all that other peripheral stuff just be that, peripheral."
The linebackers were Suggs and DeMarcus Ware of Dallas on the outside, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers and Derrick Johnson of the Chiefs on the inside. Bowman and Johnson tied with 16 votes, half of Willis' total.
Revis and Woodson were the cornerbacks, with Troy Polamalu of the Steelers and Weddle at safety.
Both kickers were 49ers: placekicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee. The 49ers led the way with five All-Pros.
"What it says is, a rising tide lifts all ships," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "So, we're happy for them."
Repeaters from 2010 were Polamalu, Revis, Willis, Ngata, Evans, Thomas and Leach.
In addition to Johnson, Rodgers, Jones-Drew, McCoy and Peterson, other first-timers were Gronkowski, Nicks, Peters, Pouncey, Pierre-Paul, Smith, Suggs, Bowman, Johnson and Weddle.
There were 16 players from the NFC and 12 from the AFC.
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, Larry Lage in Detroit, Janie McCauley in San Francisco, Mark Long in Jacksonville, and Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this story.