One man's All-Pro team: A couple surprises, lots of Patriots
Randy Moss (New England): He resurrected his career by regaining his love for the game and dedicating himself again after two dismal seasons in Oakland. Patriots coach Bill Belichick surrounded him with leaders and counted on his pride and competitiveness in the environment New England creates in its locker room, and the gamble paid off. An incredible return for a fourth-round investment.
Wes Welker (New England): You see this guy in the locker room and might mistake him for one of the ball boys or an equipment man. But he defines the slot receiver position. He's a tough, fearless pass-catcher who isn't daunted by having to run through linebackers and safeties, and he always adds yards after the catch. He has great quickness over short-range areas, superb hands and led the NFL in receptions.
Logan Mankins (New England): He looks like a mountain man, as do many of the New England blockers, and is a true throwback-type player. A rugged in-line blocker in the running game and improving pass-protector, he occasionally gets out in front on the many quick screens the Patriots throw to their slot receivers. He will maul defenders inside and can get to the second level and take on linebackers.
Tom Brady (New England): Fifty touchdown passes and the league's top QB rating. Enough said, right? But beyond the numbers, Brady is the consummate leader, the calm point guard who distributes the ball evenly to his arsenal of weapons, and his assists far outnumber his turnovers. Belichick surrounded him with a lot more toys this season, and Brady turned every stadium into his play room.
Nose tackle (3-4)
Vince Wilfork (New England): His ability to take on multiple blockers and anchor against the run is a key to the Patriots' 3-4 front. More athletic than people think, Wilfork, who is gaining ground as a technician, can occasionally penetrate into the backfield instead of just holding his ground. And from time to time, he'll even provide a little bit of an inside pass rush, although he's not often on the field for third downs.
Mike Vrabel (New England): The offseason acquisition of Adalius Thomas allowed Vrabel to move back outside where he is more effective, and he responded with a Pro Bowl year. Vrabel played the run tough, as usual, but he also had a career-best 12 ½ sacks. He is the hybrid-type edge defender whom Belichick defenses traditionally have featured, but he is a heck of a player with great instincts. And, for good measure, he is a solid part-time tight end in red zone situations.
Asante Samuel (New England): He proved to a lot of skeptics, including this columnist, that he is more than just a system cornerback who benefited from the New England scheme and the players around him. Samuel is fast approaching shut-down corner status. Quarterbacks now avoid him because he jumps routes with great explosion moving forward and can turn poor throws into touchdowns.