Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The NFL's Suite Stars

Loaded fronts couldn't stop this Suite Star from making history in 2012.

By Joe Parello and Jeremy Conlin

With the Pro Bowl now in our rear view mirror, we at Suite Sports would like to humbly offer our opinion on who the best players in the NFL were this season.

So, here are our Suite Stars, along with award winners for 2012, as we get closer to Super Bowl XLVII.


1. Peyton Manning, Denver
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

You know it’s a great year for QB’s when Tom Brady is on the outside looking in after a fantastic season. You’ll hear a bunch more about Manning when we get to the awards section, but what the former Colt did in his first year in Denver, coming off neck surgery, is nothing short of amazing. Aaron Rodgers gets a little lost in most people’s minds because he was out of this world in 2011, but the Packer signal caller followed up his MVP performance with another phenomenal year.

Running Back

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
2. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle
3. Alfred Morris, Washington

Peterson may have had the best season ever by a running back when you consider that he was facing eight and nine man fronts all year. That will happen when Christian Ponder is your quarterback. Lynch lived up to his nickname of “Beast Mode” and has developed into one of the most punishing backs in all of football. Alfred Morris, the pride of the Florida Atlantic Owls (hoo, hoo, hoo!) came out of nowhere and proved to be the perfect compliment to RG3 in Washington’s zone read/Pistol offense.


1. Delanie Walker, San Francisco

You could make a great case for somebody like Vonta Leach or Jerome Felton here when you consider Leach’s impact on the Baltimore ground game and Felton’s performance blocking for Peterson. But, Walker gets our nod for being the most complete fullback in football. The versatile Walker was every bit as dangerous as a blocker as he was catching the ball out of the backfield, and often lined up at tight end or split out wide.

Wide Receiver

1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit
2. Andre Johnson, Houston
3. A.J. Green, Cincinnati
4. Brandon Marshall, Chicago

Megatron outdid his unbelievable 2011 with a record shattering 2012. Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season, and very nearly became the first 2,000 yard receiver in the history of the NFL. Andre Johnson didn’t put up the touchdowns we’re used to seeing from him, but with nearly 1,600 yards, he proved he is in elite company when healthy. The sky (or Andy Dalton) is the limit for A.J. Green, while Marshall was the lone bright spot on an otherwise dreary Bears offense.

Tight End

1. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta
2. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh

With Gronk missing time due to injury and Jimmy Graham coming back down to Earth, it came down to these two and Dallas’ Jason Witten. Gonzalez and Miller didn’t put up quite the numbers that Witten did yardage-wise, but both were better blockers, and both were relied upon to be “glue guys” for young and talented receiving corps.

"Space Player"

1. Randall Cobb, Green Bay
2. Lance Moore, New Orleans

Cobb was used a variety of ways by the Packers, but they always tried to get the speedy former Wildcat into space and let him work. Same could be said for Lance Moore, who is often overlooked in this category due to the presence of fellow “space player” Darren Sproles in New Orleans. But, it was Moore who elevated his game this year for his first 1,000 yard season.

Offensive Tackle

1. Duane Brown, Houston
2. Russell Okung, Seattle
3. Ryan Clady, Denver

The Texans’ line as a whole took a minor step back this year, but Brown retained his spot as the best left tackle in football. Okung stepped into dominant territory in Seattle and Clady continues to impress in Denver, showing his versatility after excelling in a ground based attack in 2011 and transitioning to protecting Peyton Manning’s blind side in 2012.

Offensive Guard

1. Mike Iupati, San Francisco
2. Wade Smith, Kansas City
3. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore

Iupati may now be the best downhill run blocker in the NFL, and all three of these road graters get the nod over the more well known Jahri Evans. While Evans is the best pass blocking guard in the game, Smith was nearly an offensive line by himself as a rare bright spot in KC, and Yanda became Ray Rice’s favorite guy to follow on the Baltimore line.


1. Max Unger, Seattle
2. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh

Athleticism is becoming more and more important at center, and both of these guys have it in abundance. Pouncey is the more physical of the two, but Unger was fantastic pulling both on run plays, and to set up bootleg passes for the height-challenged Russell Wilson.

Interior Lineman (4-3 DT/3-4 Any Lineman)

1. J.J. Watt, Houston
2. Justin Smith, San Francisco
3. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
4. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay

The game is changing, and traditional 3-technique defensive tackles are becoming rarer. Watt actually plays end in Houston’s 3-4 scheme, but he wrecks the inside of a line like few others. He also earned the nickname J.J. “Swatt” for his innate ability to knock quick passes out of the air. The entire 49er defense starts with the old veteran Smith, and the savvy vet excelled as both an end and tackle this year.

Atkins took the league by storm and emerged as its best interior pass rusher this season. Finally, McCoy laughed off those that called him a bust after his rookie season and became the most impactful "true" defensive tackle in the league.

Defensive End/OLB

1. Von Miller, Denver
2. Aldon Smith, San Francisco
3. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas
4. Cameron Wake, Miami

Miller and Smith came into the league together and are the game’s next two great pass rushers. Miller gets the slight nod ahead because he is a more complete player, but if Smith is a one-trick pony, he does that one trick very, very well. Ware is a sure-fire Hall of Fame selection at this point, and Cameron Wake is certainly making his case as one of the top pass rushers of this generation, though he is often forgotten about due to playing on some bad Dolphin teams.

Inside Linebacker

1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco
2. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco
3. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City
4. Daryl Washington, Arizona

Along with Aldon Smith, Willis and Bowman anchor the league’s best linebacking corps out in the Bay Area. Johnson is one of those guys that just seems to know where the ball is going before the play even begins, and Daryl Washington may be the league’s most athletic linebacker in pass coverage.


1. Richard Sherman, Seattle
2. Charles Tillman, Chicago
3. Champ Bailey, Denver
4. Patrick Peterson, Arizona

The fact that Richard Sherman didn’t make the Pro Bowl this season is pretty silly, but the writers got it right by putting him on their All Pro team. While Sherman just locked people down, Tillman did what Bears corners have done for the past decade; force turnovers. His three interceptions don’t jump off the page, but his 10 FORCED FUMBLES sure do. Bailey is still playing at an elite level, even at the age of 34, and Peterson has the physical tools do be the best in the league very soon.


1. Earl Thomas, Seattle
2. Dashon Goldson, San Francisco
3. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo

Thomas and Goldson make the cut because they were playmaking members of elite secondaries and defenses. Byrd? Not so much. But, Byrd has quietly become one of the biggest ball hawks in the league. Eric Weddle and Eric Barry both made great cases here as well, while the aging Ed Reed is also still playing at a high level.


1. Blair Walsh, Minnesota

In the year of the rookie quarterback, it is actually a kicker that is the only rookie on our list. Walsh had one of the biggest years in NFL history, converting on 35-38 field goals.


1. Andy Lee, San Francisco

He kicks the ball really far.

Kick/Punt Returner

1. Jacoby Jones, Baltimore

Jones made a huge impact joining the Ravens from Houston, and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball in the kicking game. His 108-yard kick return in week 6 tied a league record.


Coach of the Year

Pete Carroll, Seattle

Before the season, we knew the Seahawks would probably have a pretty good defense and running game, but there was uncertainty about quarterback Matt Flynn... Well, coach Caroll instead decided to start unheralded rookie Russell Wilson, and helped shape a defense that needed to break in rookies Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin.

Carroll pushed all the right buttons, and had the Seahawks playing at a historic level to end the year, peaking with a blowout of NFC champion San Francisco in week 16.

Comeback Player of the Year

Peyton Manning, Denver

Manning just edges Peterson for this award, mostly because we didn’t really know a whole lot about his injury. Sure Peterson had an ACL, but we’ve seen guys come back from that. Manning? He had a neck something or another... That’s scary.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Robert Griffin III, Washington

There were plenty of great rookie QB’s this season, as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson both joined RG3 in the playoffs. But, RG3 was the most impactful of the three, slicing up defenses with his arm and legs in Washington’s new zone read offense.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Casey Heyward, Green Bay

The little-known 5th round pick out of Vanderbilt didn’t start until midseason for the Pack, but his six picks made him the most impactful defensive rookie this year. Heyward is never going to be an elite cover guy, but his skills in zone coverage and knack for finding the ball make him an ideal fit for Green Bay's defense.

Offensive Player of the Year

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota

The most physically dominant offensive force in the league was Peterson. Even when you schemed to take him away, you were lucky to even slow the 2,000 yard back.

Defensive Player of the Year

J.J. Watt, Houston

Whether he was knocking down passes or quarterbacks, Watt seemed to be all over the field for the Texans. The former Wisconsin Badger eased the pain of losing Mario Williams in Houston, and was the most complete defender in all of football.


Peyton Manning, Denver

Manning gets this simply because a great quarterback is more “valuable” than a great running back or receiver. Still, make no mistake about it, Manning took an 8 win team and made it a 13 win team, that’s pretty valuable. Of course, you could also make the argument that the Broncos got just as deep into the playoffs last year when Tim Tebow was starting....

Best Player

Calvin Johnson

It’s a shame the Lions were so bad, because it really took away from the greatness that was Megatron’s 2012 season. As little as loaded fronts affected Peterson, you could argue that double coverage did even less to slow Johnson, who had, perhaps, the best receiving season in league history.