We all know bad players rarely fall through the cracks and end up in the NFL. Just about everyone does something well if they're playing at this level. Yet, there are some who stand out from the rest of the talented crowd, and Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America assembled that elite group in our 2009 All-NFL team. There are seven returning members from last year's squad, while three young players in just their second NFL season — Chris Johnson, Ryan Clady and DeSean Jackson — also made it. Let's size up this season's collection of stars:
QB Peyton Manning / Colts — There was some incredible quarterback play in 2009. As usual, Manning was just a step ahead of the rest. His numbers aren't the only reason he's collecting so many postseason awards — he didn't lead the league in passing yards or touchdowns. Observers realize he's consistently the best at what he does and also note that the Colts probably would have gone 16-0 had he been allowed to complete the final two games of the regular season. Manning won his record-setting third PFW/PFWA MVP award this season after throwing for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns and also had a career-high completion percentage of 68.8.
RB Chris Johnson / Titans — Johnson is coming off one of the greatest performances by a running back in league history. He became just the sixth back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and broke Marshall Faulk's record for yards from scrimmage, compiling 2,509. The second-year veteran scored 16 touchdowns and disproved any theory that he couldn't handle a heavy workload by rushing 358 times for 2,006 yards.
RB Adrian Peterson / Vikings — The Vikings found a quarterback to take some of the offensive burden off Peterson's shoulders, but defenses were still keying on the third-year back early in the season. Peterson set a career low in yards per carry, picking up 4.4 per rush, and he didn't take great care of the ball, losing six of his seven fumbles. He still was a force to be reckoned with, though. Peterson scored 18 touchdowns, which was tops in the league, and had 1,819 all-purpose yards.
WR Andre Johnson / Texans — Houston nearly advanced to the postseason in 2009 after posting a franchise-best 9-7 record, and Johnson played a huge role in that effort. The 28-year-old led the league in receiving yards with 1,569 and had monster games of 149, 135, 193 and 196 yards. Only three receivers had more catches than Johnson, who made 101 grabs.
WR Wes Welker / Patriots — Welker sat dejected in Week 17. He tore up his knee while trying to maneuver around defenders and was unable to play in the Patriots' playoff game, but Welker had a lot to be proud of in 2009. He averaged a league-best 8.79 catches per game while serving as QB Tom Brady's safety net. Welker didn't score many touchdowns (four), but he made 71 catches for first downs and kept many of the Patriots' drives alive.
TE Dallas Clark / Colts — Tight ends continue to take on larger roles in offenses throughout the league, and Clark is the class of a quality collection. He's become a dangerous receiver in the Colts' vaunted aerial attack and is someone defenses have to account for at all times. Clark had 100 catches in 2009, which is more than top wide receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss reeled in.
C Nick Mangold / Jets — Few players decimate the middle of a defensive front like Mangold, who was a key factor as the Jets' ground game rose to No. 1 in the league rankings. He benefits from playing next to an elite veteran guard like Alan Faneca and rarely makes a mistake.
OG Steve Hutchinson / Vikings — Hutchinson had a 40-year-old man to keep upright this year, and he delivered. He's always been a stout road-grader, but Hutchinson did a better job of pass blocking than he had in past years. Of course, he also cleared some wide lanes for RB Adrian Peterson. He evolved into a more complete player in 2009 and battled through a back injury early in the season.
OG Jahri Evans / Saints — He was bothered by a turf-toe injury early in the season, but Evans started every game once again, as he has done every year since he entered the league in 2006. Evans is a well-balanced guard. He opened up holes for the Saints' rushing game, which ranked sixth in the league, and kept QB Drew Brees out of harm's way. As Brees told PFW earlier this season: "(Evans) can flip a switch and he's as good as any lineman in the league, in my opinion."
OT Ryan Clady / Broncos — Clady has had a lot heaped on his plate in two NFL seasons. He's had to learn two different offenses and had to adjust from blocking for the mobile Jay Cutler to the less athletic Kyle Orton. He regressed a bit in Year Two from his nearly flawless rookie season, and let Chiefs DE Tamba Hali beat him on back-to-back plays in Week 13, but he still was a very solid blind-side protector for Orton much of the time.
OT Joe Thomas / Browns — It was another dreary season in Cleveland, but Thomas brightened up the Browns' offense. He took a big step forward as a run blocker in 2009 and managed to thrive while blocking for two different starting quarterbacks. Some close observers say Thomas is the best offensive tackle in the league.
DE Jared Allen / Vikings — Allen is the star of one of the league's more talented defensive lines. He's known mainly for his pass-rush prowess and commands two blockers frequently, but he's also decent against the run. He had his best games against the division-rival Packers and made 7½ of his 14½ sacks against Green Bay's shaky offensive line.
DE Dwight Freeney / Colts — The Colts' right defensive end was a consistent disrupter. He made at least one sack in 11 of the 14 games he played in and did it while dealing with injuries to his knee and abdomen for most of the season. Indianapolis' most glaring weakness was its banged-up secondary, but Freeney's ability to hurry quarterbacks gave the flawed defensive backfield a major boost.
DT Kevin Williams / Vikings — Williams didn't make as many big plays this year as he had in past seasons. He still tied for the league lead in sacks by a D-tackle (six) and also batted down seven passes at the line of scrimmage. He's one of the league's more consistent run defenders up front and was the lynchpin in Minnesota's run defense, which ranked second in the league.
DT Haloti Ngata / Ravens — No one had more to do with the Ravens' success in shutting down the run than Ngata. Offensive lines had little success in trying to move the Ravens' nose tackle, and Baltimore held teams to 94 rushing yards or fewer in 10 of its 16 games. The massive space-eater had 35 tackles.
OLB Elvis Dumervil / Broncos — Dumervil appears to have found the position that suits him best in his fourth NFL season. He moved from defensive end to outside linebacker when coordinator Mike Nolan brought his 3-4 defense to town and led the league in sacks with 17.
OLB DeMarcus Ware / Cowboys — This may have been Ware's most complete season, and he came up huge in one of the Cowboys' bigger games of the year. Against Drew Brees and the undefeated Saints, Dallas went to the Superdome in the midst of a heated playoff race, and Ware, who had been carted off the field with a neck injury one week earlier, made two sacks.
MLB Patrick Willis / 49ers — Willis led the league in tackles with 152 and also made four sacks, forced three fumbles and picked off three passes. He has the speed to make plays all over the field and wreaks havoc vs. the run and the pass. He had 10 or more tackles in half of the 49ers' games.
CB Charles Woodson / Packers — He probably would have traded all the gaudy numbers and postseason awards for a playoff win vs. the Cardinals. Woodson, though, put together a stunning collection of statistics in 2009. He made 74 tackles, two sacks, nine interceptions (tied for the league high) and also forced four fumbles. The 12th-year veteran scored three defensive touchdowns.
CB Darrelle Revis / Jets — Rules have changed to limit the contact a defensive player can make with a receiver, and some questioned whether we would ever see a legitimate shutdown cornerback again. Well, put the fears to rest. We've found one in Revis. He blanketed No. 1 receivers throughout the season, shutting down the likes of Randy Moss, Andre Johnson and Carolina's Steve Smith. Revis also made six interceptions.
S Darren Sharper / Saints — It was a renaissance season for Sharper, who, after being passed over by several teams as a free agent in the offseason, made nine interceptions for the NFC South champion Saints. He broke the league record for interception-return yardage with 376 and took three picks to the house.
S Adrian Wilson / Cardinals — Wilson is the glue that holds the Cardinals' defense together. He rotates all over the field as the Cardinals' staff tries to put him in position to make a big play, and he can do it all. Wilson made a career-high five interceptions and had 13 passes defended.
PK Nate Kaeding / Chargers — When the Chargers' offense stalled, they had a reliable leg waiting to cash in on three points. Kaeding led the league in scoring with 146 points and connected on 32-of-35 field-goal attempts.
P Shane Lechler / Raiders — Lechler continued his reign of punting supremacy, breaking his own record for net punting average with a mark of 43.9. He came within three-tenths of a yard of breaking Sammy Baugh's 1940 record for gross punting average (51.4).
PR DeSean Jackson / Eagles — Jackson performs double duty for Philadelphia, serving as an electrifying receiver and punt returner. He averaged a league-best 15.2 yards per punt return and took two back for scores.
KR Josh Cribbs / Browns — Move over, Devin Hester. Cribbs has become the league's best returner. He assaulted coverage units in 2009, returning three kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 103-yard dash.
ST Kassim Osgood / Chargers — He's not a big fan of the "special-teams standout" label, and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, twittered in the offseason that his client, who plays wide receiver, was willing to try playing safety. The Chargers let him stick to his strength, though, and Osgood made 13 special-teams tackles.
To see the other awards given out by Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America, get a copy of the Jan. 24 issue of PFW, now on sale at newsstands and bookstores or online at PFWstore.com.
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