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All-Pro team should change to reflect the changing NFL

John Kuhn

Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn (30) warms up before an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Mike Roemer

It’s time for changes on the All-Pro team.

The Associated Press has released its annual All-Pro team, and although other organizations release their own All-Pro teams, the AP version is generally recognized as the “official” All-Pro team for the NFL. Unfortunately, that All-Pro team is flawed.

We’ve already noted the odd fact that the AP will not yet release the names of the 50 voters who put the All-Pro team together, and that some of the votes were highly questionable. But there’s a more fundamental flaw than that.

All-Pro teams have been put together for decades, and they haven’t changed to reflect the changes in the NFL. So when All-Pro voters fill out their ballots, they’re asked to name two wide receivers, two running backs, one tight end and one fullback. That’s ridiculous. In the 1940s, you would have seen two running backs and a fullback on the field together. Now, three wide receivers is the norm, and a fullback is a rarity. And yet All-Pro teams still select players like we’re in the 1940s.

That’s why Green Bay’s John Kuhn is a first-team All-Pro, even though he played in only 18 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps this year. But Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson who had the third-most votes at wide receiver, is relegated to second-team All-Pro even though he played in 91 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps this year. No one seriously believes that Kuhn is a better player for the Packers than Nelson is, but Kuhn gets first-team All-Pro status and Nelson doesn’t because the AP clings to the outdated system of having a fullback and two wide receivers on the All-Pro team.

A simple look at the Packers’ offense shows how silly it is to have one fullback, one tight end and two wide receivers on the All-Pro team. The Packers had three wide receivers -- Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams -- who played more than 70 percent of their offensive snaps. The Packers had a tight end in Andrew Quarless who played 60 percent of their offensive snaps, and another in Richard Rodgers who played 45 percent of their offensive snaps. And then there was Kuhn, who played 18 percent of their offensive snaps.

It would make more sense for AP to replace the fullback spot on the All-Pro team with a third wide receiver or a second tight end, or at least give that option to voters.

Boomer Esiason was attempting to exercise that option with his own All-Pro vote. The official All-Pro voting lists Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch as receiving one vote at fullback, and when I questioned why anyone would vote for Lynch at fullback instead of the position he actually plays -- running back -- I was told that Esiason cast that vote. After I questioned Esiason’s decision, he contacted me on Twitter to explain that he chose to vote for three running backs -- Lynch, DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell -- and no fullback because he believes all three of those running backs are worthy of being All-Pros, while no fullback is worthy since fullback is basically a part-time position. Esiason said he wrote on his ballot that he was choosing Lynch in lieu of choosing a fullback, although the official vote totals still list Esiason’s vote as being for Lynch at fullback.

Although I personally don’t think there should be three running backs on an All-Pro team (I’d much prefer three wide receivers, which better reflects how NFL offenses line up), Esiason’s vote actually makes more sense than the AP’s insistence on having a fullback on the first-team All-Pro squad, even though it’s been many, many years since NFL teams used fullbacks regularly.

On defense, it would also make sense to add a fifth defensive back to the All-Pro team while removing a defensive lineman or linebacker. As currently constituted, the first-team All-Pro team includes two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, two inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties. But in today’s NFL, teams frequently have five or more defensive backs on the field, while they almost never have both four defensive linemen and four linebackers. Limiting the number of defensive backs on the All-Pro team to four shows a lack of understanding of the simple fact that NFL schemes have evolved.

Now it’s time for the All-Pro teams to evolve. The game has changed, and the All-Pro teams should change with it.