Barnwell’s 50-man All-Pro roster: The NFL’s real best players, and which positions are up for debate
With one week (and one exciting Week 17 game) left in the 2022 NFL season, let’s reveal my All-Pro team. Things can change after Monday night’s Bengals-Bills game or if something dramatic happens in Week 18, but it would take something truly spectacular to get someone who isn’t on this list into a first-team role. The margins between great players aren’t very large, but most of the close battles are between players who made it to second-team spots and those who narrowly missed the list. Many of the first-team All-Pro picks were relatively easy selections.
Since it’s my All-Pro team, I can and will change the rules a bit. The NFL typically operates out of the nickel sub package (five defensive backs) these days, so I’ll nominate two linebackers and run out three cornerbacks. Likewise, I’ll include three wide receivers and one running back on offense. I’m going to nominate one player who actually plays each spot on the offensive line as opposed to two left tackles or two right guards.
Unlike the Pro Bowl, which handed out nods to (excellent) players who missed half of the season such as Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt, I’m focusing on players who have been present for the entire season. It’s hard to be valuable when you’re injured for meaningful stretches. It’s one thing to miss a game or two, but as you miss more, you need to truly be dominant to justify inclusion. When two players were essentially tied, I typically leaned toward the one who was active more often.
I’ll start on offense with the most important position in the game. I don’t think you’ll be surprised with my pick, but is he set in stone as we approach one of the biggest games of the season?
Jump to a position:
Offense: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL
Defense: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S
Special teams: K | P | RET
Second team: Joe Burrow, Bengals
Mahomes leads the league in Total QBR (78.6) and first-down rate (42.3%). The only quarterback averaging more yards per dropback and with a better passer rating is Tua Tagovailoa, who has missed 3½ games with injuries. The Chiefs place more on Mahomes’ shoulders than any other team does with its quarterback or passing attack, and nobody else is within a day’s work of Mahomes’ 5,048 passing yards.
Naturally, he would also be my pick for MVP, but I don’t think it’s a done deal. Mahomes has been good over the past few weeks, but I would argue he hasn’t had that sort of seal-the-envelope performance we see from MVP winners in December. He was excellent in a win over the Texans, going 36 of 41 for 336 yards, but beating Houston isn’t going to wow voters.
Jalen Hurts (Eagles) is out of the discussion after missing the past two games with an injury, but the quarterbacks suiting up Monday night could still figure in. Josh Allen (Bills) has been inconsistent, but we know what he is capable of producing in a big moment, and his Buffalo team is currently the top seed in the AFC. Burrow got off to a slow start this season, but he has been getting better as the season goes along.
Mahomes should be the favorite, but Allen or Burrow could sway voters with a transcendent performance in prime time against top competition.
Second team: Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Chubb’s stretch as the league’s best pure runner continues for another season. He leads all backs in rushing yards over expectation (366) and first downs over expectation (12). No other back is over 300 RYOE or 12 FDOE. No other back with 200 carries is averaging more than one rush yard over expectation this season, including Henry and Saquon Barkley (Giants).
Jacobs’ season has been a surprise to many, including his employers: Remember that the Raiders declined his fifth-year option and played him during the Hall of Fame Game with players who weren’t likely to play meaningful roles in 2022. The 2019 first-round pick has responded with a career year, including a league-high 1,591 rushing yards and 203 RYOE. Jacobs has succeeded despite playing behind an ever-changing offensive line and amid an inconsistent passing attack. He’s likely to earn the franchise tag this offseason.
Second team: Davante Adams, Raiders; Stefon Diggs, Bills; CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
Despite a quiet game against the Packers on Sunday, Jefferson’s combination of volume and efficiency has made him the league’s most productive wideout. He leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,771) and receiving yards over expectation (423), with the latter mark putting him nearly 150 yards ahead of any other wideout. He ranks fifth in yards per route run and single-handedly brought the Vikings back from the dead in their fateful comeback win over the Bills.
Just about everybody expected Hill to decline after moving from Mahomes and the Chiefs to Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins, but he has had a career year instead. Hill had a quiet game in Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, but his 3.4 yards per route run have him a half-yard ahead of any other receiver. He has been productive without Tagovailoa, but he might have topped 2,000 receiving yards if Tagovailoa had been able to stay on the field all season.
There’s a drop-off between those two and the rest of the pack. I chose Brown because he’s been more consistent than Adams and more dominant at his best than either Diggs or Lamb. Even having seen that Jefferson catch against the Bills, I’m not sure there’s any wide receiver I’d want catching the ball in a one-on-one situation more than Brown, whose numbers would be more impressive if the Eagles hadn’t spent so many fourth quarters running out the clock. Brown ranks third in receiving yards through the first three quarters of the game, but 25th in the fourth.
Second team: George Kittle, 49ers
Kelce might be the easiest selection on this list. His 1,300 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns place the future Hall of Famer in a different stratosphere from other tight ends. His nine best games of the season generated 69 catches for 939 yards and six touchdowns; you could make a case that a half-season from him would be enough to make him the most productive tight end in football.
If anything, there’s a tougher debate for the second-team spot, where I narrowly have Kittle over T.J. Hockenson (Vikings). Hockenson has seen his receiving production spike since being traded from the Lions to Minnesota at midseason, and Kittle missed the first two games of the season with an injury. Kittle has been a touchdown machine over the past two months despite playing with third-string quarterback Brock Purdy, though, and he’s a truly elite blocker at the position.
Second team: Laremy Tunsil, Texans
In a year in which Trent Williams (49ers) missed time with injuries, the left tackle competition was as wide open as it has been in years. Many of the best options were stuck toiling on bad teams or alongside inconsistent options elsewhere on the offensive line, limiting their exposure. While we typically think of left tackles as pass-blockers first, Jake Matthews (Falcons) deserves credit for what he has done in a uniquely run-heavy offense with limited quarterback play.
I saw a three-way race between Jedrick Wills (Browns), Tunsil and Thomas, who has become a building block protecting Daniel Jones for the Giants. Wills has become the most ferocious run-blocker of the three, but Thomas has been a prototypical left tackle for a team that desperately needed a reliable tackle. He also has committed just one penalty to Tunsil’s 10 and Wills’ nine while allowing a mere two sacks.
Second team: Penei Sewell, Lions
While Johnson sat on Sunday and is expected to miss Week 18 after suffering an abdominal ailment, he was simply playing at a level above anybody else in the league before going down injured. Johnson was dominating on the ground and hasn’t allowed a sack for the second consecutive campaign. Eagles quarterbacks have a decade-long track record of playing significantly worse without Johnson in the lineup, and the offense collapsed for the first time all season without Johnson in Sunday’s loss to the Saints.
Sewell has become a bulldozer on the right side of the line for the Lions, and his game-sealing catch against the Vikings in December only adds to his mystique.
Second team: Joe Thuney, Chiefs
It has been a weird season at left guard. Quenton Nelson (Colts), the preseason favorite in the middle of a Hall of Fame career, had his worst season since entering the league in 2018. Elgton Jenkins (Packers), who has been the closest thing to Nelson in the NFC, was coming back from a torn ACL and has been stuck playing multiple positions this season. Thuney, who had missed a total of 62 offensive snaps across the first seven seasons of his career, sat out a pair of games this season and left Sunday’s win over the Broncos with an ankle injury.
I keep coming back to the old, reliable option in Bitonio, who hasn’t missed a snap all season and continues to remain ruthlessly efficient as a pass- and run-blocker. Fellow Cleveland guard Wyatt Teller can be more spectacular, but Bitonio got just that much better after Bill Callahan arrived in 2020 and hasn’t slipped. By virtue of staying on the field, he narrowly gets the nod ahead of his rival in the AFC.
Second team: Mike Onwenu, Patriots
Martin continues to dominate in all facets of the game and appears to have made it past the injury concerns we saw from him in 2020 without any lingering issues. He has allowed just a half-sack this season and kept the offense afloat while Dak Prescott was sidelined by a finger injury.
Onwenu kept this battle close and deserves credit for emerging as a difference-maker after struggling to stay on the field a year ago. Locked into one spot after bouncing around the line over his first two years as a pro, he is one of the few Patriots players on offense who won’t want to burn their 2022 tape after the season.
Second team: Creed Humphrey, Chiefs
There’s just nobody in the league like Kelce, whose physical traits as a puller continue to make the veteran lineman an essential part of Philadelphia’s rushing attack. The 35-year-old has missed just 28 offensive snaps all season, with those coming when games have been out of hand. About the only issue you can take is that he has committed seven penalties, up from one a year ago. He’s still the best center in football.
Humphrey and Erik McCoy (Saints) are competing to take that mantle after Kelce retires, with Humphrey getting the nod as the second-team center because McCoy missed nearly five games with a calf issue.
Second team: Maxx Crosby, Raiders; Haason Reddick, Eagles
One of the first names on this entire list is Bosa, who missed more than a game and a half in October with a groin injury and still ranks head and shoulders above the competition in virtually every pass-rushing category. He leads all defenders with 17.5 sacks and 47 knockdowns. The five quarterback hits Bosa recorded in Sunday’s win over the Raiders pushed him 14 ahead of Crosby, the second-place player.
Judon has turned into one of the best free agent signings in recent memory for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, with the former Ravens standout excelling on the edge since joining New England. Few players have Judon’s nimbleness getting inside rushers one-on-one and burst to create pressures off of twists and TE games. In addition to his 15.5 sacks and 27 knockdowns, the threat Judon’s created has helped generate sack opportunities for Josh Uche, who is tied for the league lead with 11.5 sacks since returning to the lineup in Week 8.
There are a dozen more players who could qualify here. Reddick continues to be devastatingly productive as a pure pass-rusher around the edge and is tied for the league lead with five forced fumbles. Crosby’s 63 initial pressures are second to Bosa, which is particularly impressive when you consider how he’s been playing alongside an otherwise indifferent defense for most of the season. His 20 tackles for loss lead the NFL.
Second team: Aaron Donald, Rams; Jeffery Simmons, Titans
The stories about Jones taking plays off or washing out against the run have mostly faded; what’s left is a player who consistently pushes the pocket and blows up plays from the interior. His 21% pass rush win rate is the best for any player with more than 15 pass rushes per game from the interior, and nobody else is particularly close. Jones has even looked better when the Chiefs have lined him up on the edge this season after struggling there a year ago.
While the improvements in the secondary have stolen most of the headlines, Williams’ elevation from very good interior player to superstar has been a key factor in the Jets’ defensive turnaround this season. Williams’ 12 sacks nearly match his combined 13 between 2020 and 2021, and his 28 knockdowns are more than we saw him total over that two-year span (26). Williams missed two games in December but was responsible for their points against the Jaguars in Week 16, as a forced fumble set up Zach Wilson for what might be his last scoring drive as a Jets quarterback.
Donald has missed most of the second half in a lost season for the Rams but is going to be in this discussion every year he’s active. Jones’ pass rush win rate blows away the league’s interior linemen, but Donald was on a different level from even the Chiefs star, as he was winning 25% of the time before suffering his high ankle sprain. Likewise, Simmons was playing at a shoo-in level for the first half of the season, but he has been slowed by an ankle issue during Tennessee’s second-half collapse.
Second team: Fred Warner, 49ers; C.J. Mosley, Jets
Parsons lets us sneak a third pass-rusher on the roster by officially lining up at linebacker, although he’s becoming more of an edge rusher as his career continues. Parsons dropped into coverage on 46.5% of his pass snaps a year ago, but this season he’s dropped into coverage only a little more than 15% of the time. The Cowboys aren’t fools — Parsons’ 70 initial pressures are the most in the NFL, and his 30% pass rush win rate on the edge also leads the league.
Milano is much more of a traditional linebacker, but his range and coverage abilities have helped keep the Bills afloat as they dealt with injuries throughout the secondary. Buffalo’s defense has fallen apart when Milano has been on the sideline: The Bills have allowed a 37.3 QBR with Milano on the field, but across 62 dropbacks, opposing passers have posted a 61.1 QBR without Milano.
Warner is the premier coverage linebacker in football and erases the middle of the field — although Sunday wasn’t his best game, as a face mask penalty extended one Raiders drive, while a pass interference penalty set up the game-tying Vegas touchdown at the end of regulation. Mosley has had a resurgent season in the middle for the Jets, four years after they signed him away from the Ravens.
Second team: Tyson Campbell, Jaguars; Jaycee Horn, Panthers; Pat Surtain II, Broncos
Gardner has been a revelation as a rookie for the Jets; the only cornerback who has made plays on passes more often as the nearest defender in coverage is the Sean Murphy-Bunting (Bucs), who has played only a handful of snaps. Gardner almost always stays on his side of the field and doesn’t follow opposing wide receivers, but it has been hazardous for opposing quarterbacks to throw in his direction, as the Jets have the third-best QBR in football against throws outside the numbers to the right side of the field.
Bradberry has formed one of the league’s best duos alongside fellow veteran Darius Slay, but he has seen more targets and won more often than his teammate. Opposing quarterbacks throwing in Bradberry’s direction have posted minus-32.5 EPA per NFL Next Gen Stats, the best mark for any corner. Bradberry has allowed a league-best 9.4 receptions below expectation and only 4.3 yards per attempt. Not bad for a guy who nobody in the league wanted to trade for as a salary dump this spring.
Alexander, returning to form after missing virtually all of the 2021 season, narrowly beats out Surtain for the third and final spot, in part because he has gotten better as the year has gone along while the Broncos standout has faded. Alexander was getting help, but he was one of the key point men in helping to shut down Justin Jefferson in Sunday’s blowout win over the Vikings, with the Packers standout traveling more often than he does most weeks.
Campbell has quietly taken a leap for the surging Jaguars, while Horn’s absence was felt dearly Sunday in a loss that ended Carolina’s chances of winning the NFC South. With their 2021 first-rounder sidelined by a wrist injury, the Panthers were forced to turn to late-round pick Keith Taylor Jr., who allowed the first of three long touchdown passes to Mike Evans. CJ Henderson, starting for fellow injured corner Donte Jackson, allowed the other two.
Second team: Jordan Poyer, Bills; Justin Simmons, Broncos
There have been weeks when it felt like the Steelers’ best chance of scoring involved Fitzpatrick creating a takeaway. I’m not sure many non-quarterbacks have played a more direct role in a victory than Fitzpatrick did in Week 1, when he came up with a pick-six and blocked what would have been a game-sealing extra point by the Bengals at the end of regulation. This has been his best year since his first season with the Steelers in 2019.
Hufanga announced himself on the national stage with a series of big plays during the first half of the season. In addition to four interceptions and five tackles for loss, he has broken up nine passes, which ranks fifth in the league at the position. Hufanga and Charvarius Ward have transformed the 49ers’ secondary, turning an injury-hit unit from a year ago into an upper-echelon defensive backfield.
Simmons has been as good as Fitzpatrick on a snap-by-snap basis this season and has six interceptions in 11 games, but he missed five games to quad and knee injuries. Likewise, Poyer would push ahead of Hufanga if he hadn’t missed four games and parts of a fifth with injuries.
Second team: Justin Tucker, Ravens
With Tucker struggling through a rare rough stretch during December, Myers took hold of the top spot at kicker. Myers’ 93.8% conversion rate on field goals is third best in the league, and he has been the second-most productive kicker in football per Football Outsiders’ data, helped by going 6-for-6 on 50-plus yard attempts. Myers also has been excellent on kickoffs, where the Seahawks have generated the second-most field position of any team.
Second team: Tommy Townsend, Chiefs
It’s a return to the All-Pro team for Cole, who ranks second by Puntalytics’ model on a punt-by-punt basis after finishing first a year ago. Cole is just behind Townsend, but the Raiders have punted more often than their divisional counterparts.
Honorable mentions go to Tress Way (Commanders), who leads the Football Outsiders charts, and Ryan Stonehouse (Titans), whose booming leg ranks third on a per-punt basis across a whopping 87 attempts this season.
Second team: Keisean Nixon, Packers
Jones has made big plays on both offense and defense, but he has become an essential part of the roster as a return man, ranking well above average on both kickoff and punt returns. Jones has one of the league’s three punt return touchdowns this season, as his score against the Jets with five seconds to go swung a crucial divisional game New England’s way. Nixon’s kickoff return for a score helped spark Green Bay’s rout of Minnesota on Sunday.