Quarterback: Peyton Manning – DEN
This could be the All-Decade or All-Century team, and Peyton Manning would still probably make an appearance. Manning recently broke Brett Favre’s all time touchdown record, but there’s more to the 17-year veteran than just longevity. He has the highest passer rating in the NFL, and he leads the league in yards per attempt and touchdowns.
Honorable Mentions: Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck
Running Back: DeMarco Murray – DAL
Amid the contract doubts and talk of being a flash in the pan, DeMarco Murray is having the best season in franchise history, and it could be one of the best in NFL history before he’s done. After starting the season by breaking Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s record for seven consecutive 100-yard games to start a season, Murray is on pace for 2,087 yards, well within reach of Eric Dickerson’s record-breaking 2,105 season. He’s also only seven games away from tying Barry Sanders’ record of 14 consecutive 100-yard games. Murray is an early MVP favorite.
Honorable Mentions: Arian Foster, Justin Forsett
Wide Receiver: Jordy Nelson – GB
Demaryius Thomas – DEN
Two pass catchers each from the Broncos or Packers could be in this spot, but I went with Jordy Nelson, whose route running and awareness of the ball and his body in space is making him one of the best receivers in the league. Nelson has never been to the Pro Bowl, but he’s caught the second most touchdowns in the league. With six touchdowns, he’s behind only teammate Randall Cobb, but with nearly twice the yardage. Demaryius Thomas gets the nod as well, due to his league best 109.6 yards per game, and his twelve receptions of 20 yards or more on his way to six touchdowns.
Honorable Mentions: Antonio Brown, Randall Cobb, Emmanuel Sanders, Julio Jones
Tight End: Antonio Gates – SD
After fans started calling for the aging tight end to be phased out last season, Antonio Gates is now having one of the best seasons for a tight end in NFL history. He is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions, beating out every wide receiver and tying with honorable mention Julius Thomas. He also has a ridiculous seven receptions for twenty yards or more, tied for the most among tight ends.
Honorable Mentions: Julius Thomas
Tackle: Joe Thomas – CLE
Rickey Wagner – BAL
Amid the usual instability at running back and wide receiver, Joe Thomas is once again Cleveland’s rock. He has allowed his quarterback to be sacked and hit just one time in 418 snaps, while Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner has allowed just one sack and no quarterback hits in 487 snaps while protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside.
Honorable Mentions: Trent Williams, Joe Barksdale
Guard: Josh Sitton – GB
Marshall Yanda – BAL
Josh Sitton has had a terrific season for Green Bay, showing his remarkable consistency in both the run and pass, while allowing no sacks in 419 snaps. Marshall Yanda is Pro Football Focus’ highest rated offensive lineman, due primarily to his outstanding run blocking grade, which nearly doubles the guard with the second-highest grade.
Honorable Mentions: Joel Bitonio, T.J. Lang
Center: Nick Mangold – NYJ
Nick Mangold is still sturdy in the center of the line in his ninth season, even with all the controversy surrounding who he’s snapping the ball to. He’s played more snaps than any center in the league, but has excelled in pass and run protection, paving the way for the numerous breakout runs of Chris Ivory.
Honorable Mention: Brian De La Puente
Defensive End (4-3): Cameron Wake – MIA
Willie Young – CHI
With his devastating edge moves, Cameron Wake continues to be a force on the defensive line. His five sacks are impressive, but it’s his 17 quarterback hurries that has contributed the most to the Miami defense. In Chicago, Willie Young’s signing was overshadowed by the arrival of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. But it’s Young who is making it happen for the Bears with his seven sacks.
Honorable Mentions: Ezekiel Ansah, Jerry Hughes, DeMarcus Ware
Outside Linebacker (4-3): Von Miller – DEN
DeAndre Levy – DET
After missing seven games last season, Von Miller is back in elite form in Denver. He has been absolutely dominant against the run and pass, and his average of 1.3 sacks per game puts him on pace to break the 20 sack milestone. Meanwhile in Detroit, DeAndre Levy leads the NFL’s surprising number one defensive unit. Levy’s 48 solo tackles puts him just three tackles behind the league leader, and more than doubles the second best tackler in Detroit.
Honorable Mentions: Philip Wheeler, Jelani Jenkins
Defensive End (3-4): J.J. Watt – HOU
Muhammad Wilkerson – NYJ
Nobody is surprised that J.J. Watt once again looks like the NFL’s most dominant defensive player. What is surprising, though, is that Watt is putting together one of the best cases for a defensive player to steal the MVP in recent history. His 22 quarterback hits and six passes deflected are impressive, but his three touchdowns could be the final push. Muhammad Wilkerson continues the reign of terror on New York’s defensive line, consistently threatening opposing quarterbacks, and stopping running backs in their tracks with the most solo stops at his position.
Honorable Mentions: Sheldon Richardson, Jason Hatcher
Outside Linebacker (3-4): Elvis Dumervil -BAL
Justin Houston – KC
The entire Baltimore linebacking corps looks like something out of the early 2000’s, and Elvis Dumervil has solidified his claim as the best pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker. He has the second most sacks in the league, trailing only his former teammate Miller. Justin Houston has been the complete package, matching Dumervil’s sack total, and adding in 20 quarterback hurries and just one missed tackle in 372 snaps.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Kerrigan, Khalil Mack
Defensive Tackle: Marcell Dareus – BUF
Marcell Dareus has proven to be one of the best middle threats at stopping the run, and his seven sacks nearly doubles the closest defensive tackle’s sack total. He has proven his new superstar status in 390 snaps, coming in just ahead of rookie sensation Aaron Donald.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Donald
Cornerback: Perrish Cox – SF
Vontae Davis – IND
Perrish Cox came out of nowhere this season, as the entire San Francisco defense seemed to succumb to injuries. He has revitalized his career and stepped into a starting role, excelling with three interceptions, which doubles his career interception total in his fifth year. Meanwhile in Indianapolis, Vontae Davis has developed into a shutdown corner. He has allowed no touchdowns, and opposing quarterbacks have just a 35.2 passer rating when throwing towards him.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Fuller, Brandon Flowers
Free Safety: Eric Weddle – SD
As reigning superstars Earl Thomas and Jairus Byrd show a bit of regression, Eric Weddle has stepped up as the best coverage safety in the game. His elite awareness translates into other aspects of his game, complementing his aggression as he frequently travels the width of the field to make plays near the line of scrimmage.
Honorable Mention: Harrison Smith, Malcolm Jenkins
Strong Safety: George Iloka – CIN
In his second season as the Bengals’ starting strong safety, George Iloka is flourishing under new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. His two interceptions are good for a share of the team lead, but most impressive is the fact that opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 19.3 when targeting Iloka.
Honorable Mention: Antoine Bethea
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski, NE
Stephen Gostowski’s most impressive stat? He is a perfect 9-for-9 when attempting field goals outside of 40 yards.
Punter: Pat McAfee, IND
Pat McAfee leads the league in average yards per punt, as well as average net punting yardage (which factors in returns).
PR: Darren Sproles, PHI
Darren Sproles is averaging 15.6 yards per punt return, looking far more effective on special teams in Philadelphia than in his last season with New Orleans.
KR: C.J. Spiller, BUF
Before his injury, C.J. Spiller was averaging 30.6 yards per kick return, and he is one of only two players with a kick return touchdown this season.