This year’s midseason squad of All-Pros is dominated by the NFC — not surprising considering that conference’s general superiority this season. Nine of the 12 defenders on this list — we chose four linemen and four linebackers to cater to both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses — play for NFC teams, with the only AFC defenders being selected on the defensive line. The offense has six players apiece from the two conferences and 3-of-4 specialists are from the NFC. The head coach is Atlanta’s Mike Smith.
To reflect today’s emphasis on the passing game, PFW’s editors selected three receivers and didn’t select a fullback. Additionally, players chosen for the offensive line were selected based on their normal left or right side alignment. Meanwhile, defensive linemen, who move around frequently depending on the situation, were not. We also decided, for the first time, to honor a front-office executive — with the Broncos’ John Elway being the choice.
QB Aaron Rodgers / Packers — The reigning league MVP got off to a slow start, posting a sub-100.0 passer rating in his first three games after doing so only twice in 2011. Still, any critics were silenced when he eviscerated the Texans in Houston with 338 yards and six TDs. Despite missing his top option (Greg Jennings) for most of the season and being sacked 29 times through nine games, Rodgers remains the league’s best player.
RB Adrian Peterson / Vikings — It was a remarkable feat to return from December knee surgery for Week One, but Peterson is leading the league in rushing and has the highest per carry (5.7) and second-highest per game (106.3) averages of his career. Though the TDs are down, runs of 60-plus yards the last two weeks show he still can hit the home run, and he’s looked better each game.
RB Marshawn Lynch / Seahawks — Lynch’s “Beast Mode” style has set the tone for Pete Carroll’s physical Seahawks, who have held their own in a bruising NFC West. Always falling forward and rarely losing yards, Lynch is on pace to crack 1,500 rushing yards for the first time in his career, gaining a personal-best 97.9 yards per game.
WR A.J. Green / Bengals — This second-year receiver might be the best in the league right now. Green is the primary target of all opposing defenses, and yet he still is putting up tremendous production, as he is on pace for 102 catches, 1,470 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has the size, hands and route-running ability to do it all, and has scored at least one touchdown in seven consecutive games.
WR Reggie Wayne / Colts — Nobody expected the aging Wayne to return to Indy in free agency, and yet he’s having his best year as a Colt, gaining a career-high 104.4 yards per game while lining up all over the field rather than just on his usual left side. He has been targeted on a whopping 30.1 percent of Andrew Luck’s passes, and for a young team missing its head coach, the impact of Wayne’s leadership can’t be understated.
WR Percy Harvin / Vikings — Harvin has carried the team’s passing game despite a nagging hamstring injury and lingering contract issues. He has been running myriad short routes to average a huge 8.7 yards after the catch, tops among receivers. He always has been among the most explosive players in the league, but Harvin’s reliability in 2012 (62 catches on 85 targets) has set him apart.
TE Rob Gronkowski / Patriots — Gronkowski has been great despite a hip injury that has limited his snaps. He’s on pace for 14 touchdowns — he already has scored 34 in 40 career games — and don’t forget his value as a blocker. The Pats have reemphasized the run this season and they love to run behind the strong blocking of “Gronk.”
OLT Duane Brown / Texans — After receiving a six-year contract extension in the offseason, Brown has anchored an O-line that has given up 10 sacks in 2012. He has improved steadily since being drafted in 2008, and with new faces on the right side of the line, the Texans can trust Brown on the left — crucial for a club that relies so much on the run.
ORT Anthony Davis / 49ers — Our choice as the first half’s top right tackle, Davis was selected six picks before OLG Mike Iupati in the first round of the 2010 draft and is a key cog in what might be the best run-blocking line in football. Davis could stand to improve as a pass protector but plays with a mean streak and epitomizes the 49ers’ violent style.
OLG Mike Iupati / 49ers — Iupati has become a stud inside during his second and third seasons, leading a 49ers run game that has had little trouble moving the chains against anyone. He’s not exactly fiery in his demeanor, but lets his play do the talking, mauling defenders and finishing his blocks. Though the Niners’ line hasn’t been great in pass protection, there’s little to knock on Iupati’s play.
ORG Marshal Yanda / Ravens — The Ravens’ line has been shaky all season but Yanda has been a rock at right guard. The Ravens have been very strong running up the middle behind Yanda, and he has done his job in pass protection as well. After making his first Pro Bowl appearance last season, he should be in line for many more in the future.
C Mike Pouncey / Dolphins — Though his twin brother, Maurkice, earned All-Pro recognition from PFW in 2011, Mike has been the better performer this season in just his second year in the league. The Dolphins’ run game has been up and down, but Pouncey deserves credit for rookie QB Ryan Tannehill’s smooth transition to the NFL game. Meanwhile, Pouncey’s own growth has been steady since Day One.
DE J.J. Watt / Texans — What can we say about Watt? The league’s leader in sacks is creating pressure from the interior at an unbelievably high level and has created multiple interceptions on tipped balls while lining up in different gaps across the defensive line. While his motor is fantastic, make no mistake: Watt is a physical freak, with a ridiculous combination of size, strength and speed.
DE Julius Peppers / Bears — Peppers remains as steady as ever even as his snaps have been significantly cut back to keep him fresh later in the season. While the sack numbers are still there, Peppers is still an excellent run defender despite dealing with a foot injury that has limited his burst. He probably has been the Bears’ best player this season.
DT Geno Atkins / Bengals — Atkins is the best player on a defensive line that is one of the Bengals’ biggest strengths, a terror as an interior pass rusher. He’s very quick and incredibly skilled, creating all sorts of problems for heavy guards and centers. The numbers aren’t identical, but Atkins is every bit as good rushing from the inside as Watt.
DT Vince Wilfork / Patriots — The Patriots’ run “D” has been excellent and Wilfork is a huge reason why. He lines up in a number of different gaps as the Patriots use various fronts, and moves very well, making plays (like a huge hit on Bills WR Donald Jones in Week Four) you wouldn’t expect him to make. He has forced and recovered fumbles in key moments and is as reliable as they come.
OLB Lance Briggs / Bears — Briggs is playing even better than a year ago, scoring pick-sixes in consecutive games and flying around the field. Anyone who suggested playing next to Brian Urlacher has made Briggs an overrated player has been proven dead wrong this season, as Briggs has picked up the slack for the Bears’ aging defensive captain.
OLB Clay Matthews / Packers — After relatively quiet numbers last season, Matthews got off to a torrid start in 2012. He has nine sacks and looks as healthy and as quick as ever, making him a terror rushing from all over the formation. If not for Watt’s stellar play, Matthews probably would be the front-runner for league defensive MVP honors.
ILB Daryl Washington / Cardinals — This third-year player has an incredible eight sacks on the season, a number that’s unheard of for inside linebackers. He has been no slouch in coverage either, with incredible speed and range. The Cardinals’ decision to sign him to a relatively cheap six-year extension ($32.5 million) in September looks like a great move.
ILB Sean Lee / Cowboys — Lee might have been the team’s best player this year before suffering a season-ending toe injury in Week Seven. He moves very well in coverage and smartly sniffs out runs. Having made all of the team’s defensive calls, Lee will prove to be a tremendous loss for Dallas.
CB Richard Sherman / Seahawks — A very tall, very physical press corner, Sherman declared himself “Optimus Prime” in challenging Calvin “Megatron” Johnson in Week Eight, and effectively limited the Lions’ top threat to 3-46-0 receiving. Sherman occasionally can have penalty problems, but this converted wide receiver plays with a swagger and is very tough to beat.
CB Charles Tillman / Bears — Tillman’s knack for forcing fumbles is becoming legendary, as four more in Week Nine put him in the league lead with seven this season. He also shut down Calvin Johnson and had pick-sixes in consecutive weeks. What more could you want from this steady veteran?
S Earl Thomas / Seahawks — Another huge part of the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary, Thomas is a punishing hitter who also shows great range, rarely getting beaten over the top. He’s incredibly fast but also very strong for his size, and while his numbers haven’t been incredible, he has the tools to pile up interceptions in a hurry.
S Mark Barron / Buccaneers — Expected to be an immediate contributor to the run defense, Barron has pleasantly surprised his coaches in Tampa Bay by being very reliable against the pass as a rookie. The Bucs’ secondary is not particularly strong, but Barron has held them together while racking up seven passes defensed. Barron has the talent to be a perennial fixture on this team.
P Andy Lee / 49ers — A co-recipient of PFW’s 2011 Golden Toe award, Lee has continued to flip field position effectively despite dealing with a thumb issue this season. He kicks very well directionally, and has come through in pressure situations, as he did with a 66-yarder late in a Week Seven Thursday-night win over Seattle.
PK Blair Walsh / Vikings — Walsh has been better than the Vikings could have hoped for, making 19-of-20 field-goal attempts and forcing touchbacks on 74.5 percent of kickoffs. While he benefits from frequently kicking in domes, Walsh is reliable from distance, too — a perfect 5-of-5 from 50-plus yards.
KR Percy Harvin / Vikings — Harvin busted a return for a TD in Week Four and had another called back in Week Seven. Incredibly strong for his small stature, he hasn’t let the demands of double duty limit his effectiveness on offense. As the team’s most valuable player, Harvin’s potential absence with an ankle injury would be devastating for the Vikings.
PR Leodis McKelvin / Bills — Like Harvin, he has one return TD and had another nullified by penalty, the latter of which still went for 28 yards after the holding call was enforced. He rarely plays defense anymore, but has no fumbles on the season and six of his 13 returns have gone for 20 yards or longer.
Mike Smith / Falcons — Smith has worked with two new coordinators — the first time he has experienced a coordinator change as head coach — while leading the Falcons to the league’s best record. They have won convincingly, won tight games and won from behind, all of which reflects well on Smith.
John Elway / Broncos — Wooing Peyton Manning and scrapping Tim Tebow might have been enough to earn this spot, but a wealth of other key veteran additions (Tracy Porter, Brandon Stokley, Mike Adams) have made it a no-brainer. Even late signings of veterans Dan Koppen and Keith Brooking have been crucial, as both are now starters.