FOXBORO -- The Patriots landed a pile of players on the Pro Football Focus All-Pro teams and the honorees align well with a team that went 14-2 with a balanced offense and a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL.
One honoree that bears particular notice though is right tackle Marcus Cannon. The much-maligned Cannon whose disappointing performance in the AFC Championship Game last season was chewed on throughout the offseason, was named second-team PFF All-Pro behind Titans rookie Jack Conklin.
According to PFF’s graders, Cannon’s run-blocking numbers were off the charts in 2016 and -- given the numbers put up by the Patriots offense and the eye-test -- those graders were dead-on. His run-blocking at the point of attack and at the second level being as good as anybody in the league. He can overpower head-up against power guys, he can stalk linebackers, safeties and corners. Meanwhile, he’s neutralized pretty much every game-wrecking pass-rusher who’s lined up across from him including Von Miller during that frigid game in Denver.
Whatever satisfaction or redemption Cannon felt after that game, he kept bottled inside. And on Thursday, when I asked him his reaction to postseason recognition (he also received votes for Comeback Player of the Year handed out by MMQB), he declined to get into how he felt while the season was still going on.
The only validation Cannon seems to ever need is that of his coaches and teammates. And they’ve routinely given it to him. A week before that AFCCG loss at Denver, Cannon was dominant in the win against the Chiefs and was celebrated for it. Throughout the early part of the year, Bill Belichick raved when asked about Cannon. And in November, the team gave him a five-year, $32.5M extension with $14.5M guaranteed.
“Marcus showed a lot of mental toughness from the day he got here with the cancer treatments and all that, honestly,” said Belichick, referring to the battle with lymphoma Cannon was waging when he was drafted in 2011. “It’s hard for a rookie to come into the National Football League and just make the adjustment, period. Marcus came in with all that a rookie normally had and his personal situation, the treatments and checkups and so forth. I thought he handled that with great maturity. He’s shown a lot of mental toughness and I’d say everything else is probably not in the same category as that. He shows up to work every day. He’s totally team oriented. Does what he’s asked to do. He never blinks. He just tries to do whatever he can to help the team. He’s got a lot of respect in that locker room.”
Before the season, his locker room was the only place he was getting due respect. Cannon took a pounding from fans and media after the Denver game (ESPN’s Bill Barnwell called Cannon “nobody’s idea of a 16-game starter” in September) and through the offseason.
To me, his problem was never about talent, smarts or effort. It was about confidence and consistency, as I wrote in August.
That Cannon’s never fired back or attempted to explain or justify himself was something I thought of this week when the Celtics Jae Crowder threw a Twitter tantrum because Celtics fans cheered for Gordon Hayward of the Jazz when Hayward was introduced at the TD Garden Tuesday night.
Not even a personalized attack on the ever-celebrated Crowder and he was stomping his feet. Imagine if he had to walk 10 steps in Cannon’s shoes.
As for the other Patriots honored, maybe I’m burying the lead here but Tom Brady was the first-team quarterback honoree for PFF ahead of Matt Ryan. James Develin was second-team fullback behind Baltimore’s Kyle Juszczyk. Defensively, Malcolm Butler was a first-team corner along with Aqib Talib, Dont'a Hightower was a second-team linebacker honoree and Devin McCourty was a second-team All-Pro PFF safety.