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Sunday NFL Thoughts: There needs to be one big change to the All Pro voting process

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The NFL tried to address the problem of players fitting multiple All Pro categories, but they opened up a whole other set of issues.

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1. The NFL decided to change how All Pro teams were constructed in 2016 with a few pretty notable differences. Voters would now pick offensive linemen by their position, so left tackles and right tackles were no longer grouped together (opening the door for New England Patriots RT Marcus Cannon to make the team). The defensive front changed from a pair of defensive tackles, defensive ends, outside linebackers, and inside linebackers (8 players) to a pair of defensive interior players and edge defenders and three off-the-ball linebackers (7 players).

On offense, the Associated Press eliminated one of the two running back spots on the All Pro team and the fullback position (that is incorrectly considered to be in decline, but makes sense to be eliminated. More in a bit.) to create a “Flex” position “to recognize the frequency of three receiver sets or the use of two tight ends.” On defense, they added an additional spot for a fifth defensive back to reflect the wide use of the nickel defense.

This meant that instead of 12 First Team All Pro players on both offense and defense, there will be an imbalanced 11 on offense and 12 on defense. We don’t make the rules here, but we can definitely improve them.

2. Shouldn’t there be a balanced number of First Team All Pro players on offense and defense? If the fifth defensive back was add to reflect the increase in the nickel, shouldn’t they change the defensive front to just six players? Or perhaps they should add back an extra player on offense either at running back or with a second flex position?

I think having a balanced number of players on both sides of the All Pro team makes logical sense, especially if the increase on defense is a reflection of a changing offense.

I’m still on board eliminating the fullback position from the All Pro team. Only one fullback in the entire NFL played more than a third of their team’s offensive snaps (then-Ravens, now-49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk) and that’s not enough of a snap count to warrant a place on the All Pro team.

3. The Associated Press also needs to reconsider how they tally the votes. The fifth defensive back role was meant to “reward defensive backs who cover slot receivers” and they did an fine job with Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. and Giants CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie coming in first and second place- but those two collected a combined 20 of a total 50 votes.

Patriots CB Malcolm Butler earned five votes in the defensive back position and he played a mere 82 snaps in the slot (mostly against Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry). It was Logan Ryan that spent most of the Patriots time in the slot.

And then there were votes that went to the likes of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Richard Sherman, and other non-slot defensive backs. It is incredibly clear that the fifth defensive back role was not for slot defenders, but instead a way for voters to rank their fifth-best defensive back.

So unless the voters actually take the time to evaluate slot defenders (apparently 60% of voters won’t), this extra All Pro slot will serve as the “fifth-best defensive back” role- which is fine. Players like Harris and Rodgers-Cromartie and Ryan cover both inside and outside and categorizing them as a “cornerback” or “defensive back” only serves to split up their respective votes.

The AP just needs to adjust how they count votes accordingly.

4. The AP should simply ask voters to rank their top two cornerbacks, top two safeties, and then their next-highest ranked defensive back and then group all of the votes together. In other words, a vote for the defensive back role could be just as valuable as a vote for the respective cornerback or safety spot. The top two cornerbacks and the top two safeties would be named First Team All Pro and then the next-most votes for a defensive back would be the final member of the first team.

In 2016, this would have meant that Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters would see their vote tallies increase to 28 and 25 from 27 and 23, respectively. Landon Collins and Eric Berry would remain the choices at safety. There would be no changes to the selections at their respective positions.

But then Janoris Jenkins- who received 16 votes at cornerback and 2 at defensive back- would slip past Chris Harris Jr.- who received 4 at cornerback and 14 at defensive back, earning the final First Team slot.

Harris would join Butler- 8 votes for cornerback and 5 for defensive back- as the Second Team cornerbacks, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Devin McCourty remaining the Second Team safeties. Casey Hayward would be the Second Team defensive back (8 votes for cornerback, 3 for defensive back).

This secondary doesn’t have slot defensive back, but 60% of voters didn’t vote for an All Pro team with the slot in mind. Maybe they’ll improve down the road, but the current system just seems like a bad way of splitting votes in two categories, like how J.J. Watt (defensive tackle, defensive end) and Khalil Mack (defensive end, outside linebacker) were named All Pros at two different positions in recent years.

The AP found a way to eliminate that confusion by consolidating four defensive front positions (DT, DE, OLB, ILB) into three (DT, EDGE, LB), but they created another head-scratcher at defensive back.

5. Another reason to eliminate the “favor slot defenders” distinction? Harris spent just 365 snaps covering the pass in the slot (1,097 total snaps in 2016, 605 snaps in coverage), via Pro Football Focus. Rodgers-Cromartie spent just 214 snaps covering the pass from the slot (734 total snaps in 2016, 482 snaps in coverage).

James Develin played 350 offensive snaps in 2016.

If the AP is willing to get rid of the fullback position, then perhaps having a specific “slot defender” position on the All Pro team, for which voters aren’t really taking slot snaps into account, doesn’t make much sense, either. They should just go with the best fifth defensive back.

6. The voting for the flex position is a little different than for the fifth defensive back, but the same general rule change should apply and after picking the running back, tight end, and two wide receivers, the skill player with the next-most votes should earn the flex title.

David Johnson won the First Team All Pro flex distinction and the Second Team All Pro running back nod, creating another J.J. Watt/Khalil Mack duplication. By following the same process laid out for the defensive backs, we can clear up any doubles on offense.

By adding the flex votes to the standard running back, tight end, and wide receiver voting, we can eliminate the double-votes (Johnson, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and Travis Kelce all received voted for their respective positions and for the flex position).

Elliott would still be First Team All Pro running back with 47 votes and David Johnson would remain the flex choice with 27 vote (3 for running back, 24 for flex). There would only be two differences.

First, Johnson would no longer be the Second Team All Pro running back on the basis of his three votes. It would open up the door for Le’Veon Bell and his 18 votes that he received as a flex player to become the Second Team All Pro running back.

Second, with Bell no longer the Second Team All Pro flex player, the slot opens up for Green Bay Packers WR Jordy Nelson as the next-highest remaining skill player to make the All Pro team.

These changes to vote tallying allow more players to earn distinction and address the positional problems that led to the Associated Press changing the All Pro defensive roster make-up in the first place.