Sooner or later the All-Pro pickers will get around to lining up their defense in a 3-4. So far no one has done it, but it would seem to be logical, because 17 of the 28 NFL teams now use the three-lineman, four-linebacker formation. After much soul-searching we decided to stick with the 4-3 because in passing situations four linemen replace the three of the 3-4, and practically everything is a passing situation these days.
Offensively the big problem this year was how do you sort out two running backs from that great mass of talent? In what is supposed to be the era of the pass, an unprecedented 15 rushers have gone over 1,000 yards. How come? The answer is that more individual runners are being showcased. One guy carries the ball 20 times, the second back is a blocker. He'll get a rushing attempt every now and then just to keep him interested, but the theory is that because a team runs the ball only 32 times a game, the best runner might as well carry most of the load. Last year seven runners had 250 or more carries. This year the number has almost doubled. Next year it'll be higher still.
We selected Billy Sims and Tony Dorsett because of their game-breaking ability, also their pass-catching skill, short or long. I can hear New Orleans Coach Bum Phillips now: "It's just a damn crime, leaving George Rogers off an All-Pro team." O.K., guilty as charged. The Saints' rookie led the league in rushing with 1,674 yards but he lacks the pass-receiving dimension. The Eagles' Wilbert Montgomery would be our fourth man, except I'm always watching him with one hand over my eyes, the way he throws that little body of his around. He's the Larry Brown of 1981; he plays too tough for his body. The Redskins' little halfback was all through by the time he was 28. Our All-Pro runners of 1980, Walter Payton and Earl Campbell, are both struggling with offenses that can't take the heat off them.
Ken Anderson is our quarterback, and just about everyone else's. He had the lowest interception rate in the NFL, operating in an offense that likes to throw the ball downfield. Little Alfred Jenkins, pro football's skinniest wide receiver, was chalk. He's the master of the circus catch on the deep sideline route. The second pick was a bit tougher—James Lofton over the Broncos' Steve Watson. Lofton had more catches, Watson more touchdowns. I broke it down, game by game, and rated them against each other. Lofton won, 9-6, going into the last weekend, and he finished much stronger down the stretch. His teammate John Jefferson is still the receiver every quarterback would like to throw to, but he just didn't have the numbers, thanks to his early sitout. San Francisco's Dwight Clark is the NFL's most underrated wide receiver.
Our tight end, Kellen Winslow, isn't really a tight end. He's a slotback in Don Coryell's complicated scheme. But with all those catches you've got to put him somewhere, and at least he looks like a tight end.
The Jets' Marvin Powell is n�mero uno at tackle. Our second choice, Henry Lawrence, might raise some eyebrows, but the Raiders do most of their damage on the right side now, and he's the reason. The Bengals' Anthony Munoz is a very, very close third.
The Patriots' coaches had this to say about John Hannah's performance at left guard: Going into the 14th game of the season, he had participated in more than 800 plays and, according to their grading system, failed to perform his assignment fewer than 20 times. It was the best year Hannah has ever had. Our other guard, Doug Wilkerson, leads a line that has given up only 18 sacks, although the Chargers threw the most passes in NFL history. Runner-up is the 49ers' Randy Cross.
I was all set to pick the Jets' Joe Fields at center but then I took another, closer, look at Mike Webster and I saw him manhandling people, just flipping them around like a ranch hand bucking barley bags. Joe will have to wait another year.
Defensive End Joe Klecko is our Player of the Year. Plays the run, plays the pass, plays hurt. The defensive line is what turned the Jets around this year. ( Klecko's mate on the other flank, Mark Gastineau, is a pure sacker who's still learning to play the run.) Too Tall Jones is an All-NFL repeater from last year. His work at forcing and jamming things doesn't show up on the tackle-and-assist sheets.
Doug English is the finest defensive tackle we've seen all year. Randy White is flashier, but less consistent. The runner-up, Bob Baumhower of the Dolphins, is the best of the 3-4 noseguards.