There was a time not too long ago when the NFC West was a joke in the NFL. Now, the division is a powerhouse, with all four teams stacked with talented players. Though the preseason is still ongoing, it is already clear to me which players stand out among the four teams. With the 2014 regular season looming, the following is my All-NFC West team, if you will. I will take the best player at each position within the division, and no, not all players will be Seattle Seahawks.
But don’t think I wasn’t tempted to pick all Seahawks.
Without further ado, here is my All-NFC West team.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson is coming off a Super Bowl win, so it’s hard to take Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, or Colin Kaepernick over him. He doesn’t put up Drew Brees or Peyton Manning numbers, since the Seahawks prefer the running game, but Wilson is the most level-headed and consistent signal caller in the NFC West. In the 2013 regular season, Wilson completed 63 percent of his passes, threw for 3,357 yards and 26 touchdowns, with just nine interceptions. In the postseason, it was more of the same. He kept his completion percentage the same as well as his QB rating (101), and he didn’t throw any picks.
Wilson commands the huddle, but he’s also humble out on the field. He doesn’t try to do too much on his own or force a play, and he thus doesn’t make mistakes. He plays a clean and consistent game. That’s the main difference between Wilson and Kaepernick. Kaepernick forces throws and isn’t as cool and collected. Wilson is far and away my go-to signal caller in the NFC West.
Running back: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Come on, it’s Beast Mode. He bulldozes the opposition and is a workhorse for the Seahawks. He amassed over 1,200 yards last season, and the Hawks relied on him during the playoff games against the Saints and 49ers. He may have only a few more great years left, but he’s still superior over the other backs in the NFC West. I will say, though, that Zac Stacy could be claiming this spot in the coming years, or even rookie 49er Carlos Hyde.
Wide Receiver #1: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald, even as he enters his thirties, is a lock for a spot on this dream team. He has some of the best hands I’ve seen in my young life, and he is a future Hall of Famer. He holds franchsie records in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, total touchdowns, 100-yard receivign games, and consecutive games with a catch. To top it off, Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 career receiving yards. He’s a special receiver to say the least, and he is well deserving of a spot on the All-NFC West team.
Wide Receiver #2: Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers
Boldin is up there in age, too, but he’s extremely dependable, too. Last season was a great year for Boldin, as he caught 85 balls for over 1,100 yards. I like his height and leaping ability, and he’s a playmaker when it counts, especially if you’ve watched him in the playoffs the past few years. He comes up big, and I want him on my offense.
Wide Receiver #3: Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
This one was a close call for me. I already had two tall flankers, but I knew I wanted a short and speedy slot receiver in the ranks. The problem is that the NFC West has some good ones. I had it between Percy Harvin, Tavon Austin, and Doug Baldwin, and I eventually chose Baldwin.
Harvin is incredibly explosive, but if he was on my dream team I would worry about him getting injured every week. Austin is one of the fastest wideouts I’ve ever seen, but I haven’t seen enough of him yet. Baldwin, though, is durable and is able to get open often and haul in passes. Baldwin played in all 16 games last year and grabbed 50 balls for 778 yards. He was a go-to guy on third downs, and he came up huge in the NFC Championship Game. What’s not to love?
Tight End: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
This one is so simple. Davis is a hard-nosed tight end with great hands, and he doesn’t go down easy. Last season, his average yardage per catch was 16.3 yards. Tight ends who are a downfield threat are especially impressive to me, and tight end is probably the weakest position in the NFC West anyway. Davis is a lock.
Left Tackle: Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Staley is incredibly durable and has protected Kaepernick well with his quick feet. Jared Veldheer of the Cardinals is up there too, but this is his first year in the NFC West, so I’m not giving him the spot. Russell Okung of the Seahawks isn’t as durable as I would like, while Staley has been largely indestructible since his rookie year in 2007.
There’s a reason why Frank Gore has had solid years recently, and there’s a reaosn why Kaepernick has time to look downfield and throw (or take off running). Iupati and Boone are immovable, and no other guards dominate as much as they do.
Center: Max Unger, Seattle Seahawks
Unger has been the leader of Seattle’s offensive line since his arrival, and he and Russell Wilson have been working together quite nicely. He’s become an All-Pro center, and his stock just continues to rise.
Right Tackle: Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks
I’m not a fan of any of the right tackles right now in the NFC West, but given my close call at left tackle, I’d take Okung and slide him to the right. When he’s healthy, he’s a solid blocker who gets the job done. Pickings are just slim at right tackle in this division, so I’m taking the second best left tackle for this spot.
Note: I am choosing players to fit a base 4-3 scheme
Right Defensive End: Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
Quinn is a disruptive force and one of the bright young stars within the Rams franchise. He wreaked havoc against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football last season, and he finished 2013 with 19 sacks. I love this guy’s motor. Nothing can stop him from getting to the quarterback.
Left Defensive End: Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
Bennett had a spectacular 2013 campaign, grabbing 8.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles. Bennett can even attack successfully from the defensive tackle position, so I could throw him all over the line on my All-NFC West team and expect nice results.
Mebane doesn’t get enough credit for what he contributes to Seattle’s stunning defense. He stops linemen dead and opens avenues for his fellow linebackers to make plays on the ball. He may not have the best stats of a defensive tackle, but Mebane gets the job done, and I value that.
Dockett is a fantastic talent, and even at 33 years of age, he isn’t slowing down. He made 49 tackles last year and 4.5 sacks while starting every game for the Cards. He can certainly plug running holes, and Dockett can also rush the passer.
Right Outside Linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
While listed as an inside linebacker, Bowman is so talented that I wouldn’t worry about moving him to outside linebacker. He made an incredible 120 solo tackles last season, and is a formidable presence out there. I have no doubt he’ll come back from his ACL injury as good as ever, and he’ll be making crunching tackles and making big plays before long.
Middle Linebacker: Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Willis and Bowman are very similar, so there’s not much to say. Willis is a ballhawk and a punishing tackler. I want him in the middle of my defense, if for nothing other than instilling fear in the opposition.
Left Outside Linebacker: K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks
Wright isn’t a punishing tackler like the other two linebackers, but his coverage skills are sublime, and he holds the edge very well on running plays. He’s another underrated defensive player on the Seahawks, but he’s caught my eye ever since he became a starter. Aldon Smith of the 49ers comes in as a close second for me, but with Quinn and Bennett as my defensive ends, I don’t think I’m interested in a linebacker who is more of an end. I like outside linebackers who can cover, and Wright fits the bill.
Right Corner: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Sherman is the best corner in the NFL, and I would be completely comfortable putting him on an island with the most elite receivers. His intelligence on the field is off the charts. He knows where he and everyone else has to be on the field at any point. He’s tough, smart, and a playmaker who nabbed eight picks last year. Sherman is a no brainer for this team.
Left Corner: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Peterson is a great athlete and a great playmaker when he wants to be. However, ESPN has highlighted instances in which Peterson can be a lazy corner and doesn’t tighten up his game like Sherman does. He can afford to be lazy sometimes because he’s such a great athlete, but I wish he made more of an effort. Nevertheless, he’s the second best corner in the NFC West and thus deserves this spot.
Free Safety: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Thomas is one of my favorite players to watch. His speed and smarts make him a threat all over the field. He can stuff the run in a matter of seconds, and he can close on a receiver like it was nothing. He seems to know what the quarterback is going to do before it happens. On top of that, his energy is simply infectious. Thomas is one of those guys you love to watch because you know he’s going to put on a spectacle. No other safety comes close to him, except maybe this next guy.
Strong Safety: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
Chancellor is an intimidator. His hits on receivers are bone-crunching and incredible. Apparently his hip injury that required surgery this offseason has been bothering him for years, so just imagine the hits he’s going to produce when he doesn’t have to worry about that hip anymore. Receivers l00k out, Kam Chancellor is coming. It’s not just his hits, though. Chancellor can read quarterbacks like a book, and he’s got great hands. To sum, he’s an all-around stud.
Kicker: Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis Rams
Zuerlein just barely edges out 49er Phil Dawson and Steven Hauschka. Zuerlein connected on 26 of 28 field goals (93 percent), and 52 of his 78 kicks went for touchbacks. Dawson’s time seems to be up, and Hauschka has a weaker leg, so Zuerlein looks like he’ll be the top guy in the NFC West for years to come.
Punter: Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers
Lee has had a solid career in San Fran. His average punt last year was 48 yards, and he kicked a long of 62. With his net punt reaching just under 42 last year, I would be confident in Lee’s ability to not give opponents good field position. He’s my punter.
Punt Returner: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Peterson is a tremendous athlete, as I said, and his four punt return touchdowns in 2011 are proof enough for me to give him punt returns.
Kick Returner: Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks
Harvin has had six career kick return touchdowns, the most recent coming in the second half of the Super Bowl. All Harvin needs is a little crease and then he’s gone. I can count on Harvin to give my All-NFC West team good field position to start a half.
The Best Players in the NFL by Division