We’ve cruised past the halfway point of the NFL’s regular season, and the playoffs are in sight. A lot can change between now and then, but it’s a natural jumping-off point to assess how players have performed through the first nine weeks.
So, let’s take a look who has been the best of the best in 2017 with our midseason All-Pro team.
With 23 passing touchdowns and just five interceptions, Wentz has emerged as one of the best players in football regardless of position. The Eagles quarterback has outstanding in-pocket mobility to extend plays and out-of-pocket mobility to hurt a defense with his legs. He has made enormous strides as a thrower and rectified some of the mechanics concerns from 2016, leading the Eagles to an NFL-best 8-1 record. He narrowly edges out Tom Brady for the top spot here, with Alex Smith also in the mix.
Probably the hardest position to choose from is running back, as easy cases can be made for a handful of players. Ultimately Gurley, who ranks second in yards from scrimmage with 1,024 this season, takes the recognition. Beyond his rushing contributions, which includes a league-leading seven touchdowns, he has been dynamic in the passing game with 29 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He creates yards after first contact and could play in any situation Los Angeles would need him to.
It speaks to Hunt and Gurley’s brilliance that Le’Veon Bell could be excluded from this list. Hunt leads the NFL in 20-plus yard carries (eight), yards from scrimmage (1,131) and has made Kansas City’s offense decidedly more difficult to defend. He’s a useful player in the passing game with 32 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns. He also wears defenses down, rushing for 334 yards in the fourth quarter — 99 more than any other player this season.
Brown has been the best player at a position that’s saturated with talent. There’s not a blip of weakness in his game, as he leads the NFL with 835 receiving yards and 57 catches. He’s arguably as consistent a player as the game has.
It was marvelous to see the harmony immediately formed between Hopkins and Deshaun Watson, who helped galvanize the entire franchise. During the six games that Watson started, Hopkins — who has the best body control to make contested catches in tight spaces of any receiver in the game — averaged 91.8 yards and a touchdown per game. He’s on pace for 184 targets. Minnesota’s Adam Thielen came into consideration for this spot too.
The tight end position is a dual role that includes impacting the passing game as a target while holding the fort as a blocker. Kelce can contribute in both areas, starring as a pass-catcher. He leads all NFL tight ends with 51 catches and 629 receiving yards, and his five touchdowns trail only Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz‘s six among tight ends. Kelce has five games this season with at least seven catches.
Many Rams are getting deserved credit for their performance this season, including Gurley, head coach Sean McVay and vastly improved quarterback Jared Goff. But let’s not overlook the steadying force of Whitworth. He has helped keep Goff upright and pave lanes in the running game as L.A. has allowed just 10 sacks, tied for second fewest in the NFL, and rushed for 131.9 yards per game, fifth-best in the NFL.
While the Giants’ offensive line is a steady target for criticism, Pugh is far from the issue. He’s versatile enough to move to other spots in a pinch, but his best play has come as an interior force at left guard. With an expiring contract, expect the former first-round pick to cash in this offseason.
There’s a lot to be encouraged about with the Saints right now. Defensively, they’ve had an incredible turnaround. The offensive backfield is magnificent, but the reliability, communication and leadership of Unger in the middle of the line cannot be overlooked. He has played every snap this season.
There isn’t a hole in Martin’s game. He can dominate at the point of attack with strength, he’s athletic and coordinated enough to play in space, and he’s a rugged tone-setter. He isn’t just the best guard in football, he might be the best offensive lineman, period.
When the Eagles lost All-Pro tackle Jason Peters, who would’ve been an excellent choice for this piece at left tackle, to ACL and MCL tears in the Week 7 win over Washington, some wondered if the team would move Johnson from the right side to the left. Philly opted not to, in part because that would team new starters at two positions, but I’d presume part of it is just how good Johnson is at anchoring the right side. With the litany of talented pass-rushers in the NFL, a pair of good tackles is essential. The long, athletic Johnson is a rock.
It’s hard to overstate just how dominant of a force Lawrence has been this season, as he’s second in the NFL with 10.5 sacks, including at least one in seven of eight games played. He has catalyzed the Dallas front seven with a combination of length and explosive power. At the age of 25 and in the final year of his contract, Lawrence could cash in with a new deal this offseason.
Perhaps an overlooked standout relative to other pass-rushers around the league, Griffen has been as consistent of a player as there is in the league this year on defense. He has at least one sack in all eight of Minnesota’s games this season for a total of 10.0. He’s forceful at the point of attack and a relentless rusher.
Arguably the biggest free-agency splash in the 2017 offseason has proven to be the best so far. Campbell has helped turn the franchise fortunes around in Jacksonville with his rare blend of reach, power, technique and pursuit that has translated to 34 tackles and an NFL-best 11.0 sacks.
It was hard to envision anything other than immediate success for Donald under new coordinator Wade Phillips, as the routinely dominant defensive player was bound to be used resourcefully. And Donald has delivered. Look past his 4.0 sacks and 19 tackles as he’s a play-wrecking force with an unparalleled first step and ability to use his leverage.
The best pass-rusher in football is on pace for yet another double-digit-sack season — he should breeze right past the 10.0 sack mark since he’s already at 8.0. And he’s doing it in his typical fashion: He anticipates snap counts better than any defender and is the most explosive edge player in the league.
The ultimate quarterback for any defense, Kuechly is once again piling up tackles with 65 through nine games. His instincts and anticipatory skills are elite, he can hang with almost any tight end in coverage, and his communication skills on the field provide invaluable leadership. He’s always in the right spot and ensures his teammates are as well.
Jones is on some kind of roll in 2017. He has a sack in all but one game this season for 9.0 total. He can bend the edge with unique length and closes on quarterbacks in an instant. He has carried a heavy pass-rushing load this year after Markus Golden suffered an ACL tear. Jones has most certainly met the challenge.
The most important statistic as it pertains to Peterson is that he doesn’t have a single interception this season. But before you call for backward logic, hear me out: Quarterbacks don’t dare throw his way. He’s the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL.
Much like Peterson, Rhodes has eliminated opposing top wide receivers. He has unique length for the position and excellent speed. He’s physical and tough, a requirement to play cornerback for Mike Zimmer. The “Rhodes Closed” mantra he lives by is an accurate one.
Smith does it all for the Vikings secondary, as he has terrific on-ball production in the passing game this season with three interceptions and six passes defensed, while also flexing versatility. He has 1.5 sacks and 43 tackles as the quarterback of a secondary that has helped lead Minnesota to the top of the NFC North.
No safety has the ability to impact a play more than Thomas, whose instincts and anticipation are rare. He’s a willing and powerful tackler plus an incredible center fielder in the back end of this defense. He has two interceptions and a forced fumble this season. He’s the standard-setter at safety in the NFL.
Not to be overlooked in the Rams’ early season surge is the terrific special-teams play. Zuerlein leads the NFL with a field goal percentage of 96.0 percent. He’s also 12-for-12 on kicks longer than 40 yards, and he hasn’t missed an extra point yet.
The clear-cut best player at the position is having yet another exemplary season. More than 55 percent of his punts have been downed inside the 20 with just one touchback. He’s also incredible at directional punts. The Rams’ coverage groups have been great as well. No team has surrendered fewer punt-return yards than the Rams’ 41.
The rookie has the kind of athletic ability that catches your eyes every time he has the football in his hands. He has a pair of punt-return touchdowns already this season, the most in the NFL. His punt-return average of 19.4 yards is 5.6 yards better than the next qualified returner. The fifth-rounder has also handled seven kickoff returns.