Remember the All-Madden Team? John Madden used to pick a roster of guys who played the game “his way.” So basically it was an All-Pro team but you’d see a few Madden signature picks like Boomer Esiason getting on the team instead of Dan Marino, or Jerome Bettis ahead of Barry Sanders.
So I figured, if John Madden can do it, so can I. And I’m limiting myself to just a basic starting roster: One QB, One RB, Three WRs, a TE, a O-line, and a 4-3 defense. That’s it. And I’m picking the guys who have piqued my interest in 2012. In some cases, it will be the guy who had the best year, but sometimes not. So let’s find out who will make the hallowed All-Lazlo team for 2012.
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QUARTERBACK: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
One of the themes of this season has been guys coming back from injury to kick 17 different kinds of ass. Peyton Manning played zero games in 2011, and he’s the presumptive MVP in 2012. He hasn’t just played his usual Peyton Manning great brand of ball, he’s transformed the Broncos into a Super Bowl favorite. Who in the AFC looks better than Denver right now?
RUNNING BACK: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
If you asked Vikings’ fans their goals in the offseason, one of them probably would have been to see that Adrian Peterson’s career wasn’t over. Over? Peterson came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. He’s been the best running back in the game, coming off injury or not.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals.
Megatron is a no-brainer here, having broken Jerry Rice’s single season receiving record and in every other way being the best wide receiver in football. Keeping Reggie Wayne was probably the smartest thing the Colts did in the offseason, as he is almost single handedly helping Andrew Luck become the superstar quarterback he will one day be. I’m a big fan of the spectacular catch, and almost no one makes more of them than Green, who is also the only player on the Bengals offense that strikes any fear in the opposing defense.
TIGHT END: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Witten set the single season receptions record for tight ends this season, and also passed Michael Irvin to become the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions. Not bad for a guy who a lot of people thought might be done.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Duane Brown (T), Houston Texans: Andy Levitre (G), Buffalo Bills: Mike Pouncey (C), Miami Dolphins: Marshall Yanda (G), Baltimore Ravens: Matt Kalil (T), Minnesota Vikings.
Offensive line can be tough because there aren’t any stats, but these guys would make a hell of a unit. Everyone knows the o-line is the strength of the Texans’ team, and it’s anchored by Brown. Watch any Buffalo Bills’ highlights from this season and I guarantee they will involve Levitre opening a hole for CJ Spiller. Mike Pouncey is being hailed as the biggest Pro Bowl snub of 2013. The Ravens’ offense has had to step up with all the injuries on defense, and Yanda has done a great job opening things up for Ray Rice. Someone has to block for Adrian Peterson to go off every game: that someone is usually Matt Kalil.
DEFENSIVE LINE: J.J. Watt (DE), Houston Texans: Justin Smith (DT), San Francisco 49ers: Geno Atkins (DT), Cincinnati Bengals: Cameron Wake (DE), Miami Dolphins.
You’re likely looking at the Defensive Player of the Year in Watt, one of the most disruptive defensive players in football. The 49ers’ defense hasn’t been nearly as ferocious since Smith got hurt, and they need him back for the playoffs if they want to get anywhere. Geno Atkins is one of those players who has seemed to come out of nowhere, but in reality, the former fourth round pick has been getting better every year and now he’s the beast in the middle of the Bengals D. Wake started slow for the Dolphins, but he had a monster December and is right there.
LINEBACKERS: Von Miller (OLB), Denver Broncos: Lawrence Timmons (ILB), Pittsburgh Steelers: Aldon Smith (OLB), San Francisco 49ers.
If J.J.Watt isn’t the DPOY, then Von Miller probably is. He’s made the Broncos defense a force to be reckoned with. Lawrence Timmons isn’t the biggest name on the Steelers’ great defense, but he’s one of the biggest reasons it’s remained so tough. Smith is just a flat-out playmaker for the 49ers, who seem to have them all over the field every week.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Tim Jennings (CB), Chicago Bears: Richard Sherman (CB), Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans: Eric Weddle (S), San Diego Chargers: Jairus Byrd (S), Buffalo Bills.
Tim Jennings has been a tremendous playmaker for a Bears’ defense that thrives on turnovers. The Seattle defense has been a revelation this season, and Sherman is one of the best. Eric Weddle and Jairus Byrd have both been overlooked this year because the defenses they play on stink, but that’s not their fault.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Alex Henery (K), Philadelphia Eagles: Dave Zastudil (P), Arizona Cardinals: Jacoby Jones (KR/PR), Baltimore Ravens.
It’s my list so it’s my rules, and I say at least one Eagle has to make it every year. Besides, Henery broke the record he shared with David Akers for most consecutive makes this year. Just be glad the kicker was good, or I’d have had to include a category for long-snappers. Ever notice how the best punters are always older than dirt? Ray Guy, Sean Landetta, etc. Zastudil is now in this category. At 34, he’s the best. There’s always one guy who stands out among return specialists and this year’s it’s Jacoby Jones, who gets consistently big yardage and can break one for a touchdown.