The Associated Press’ annual All-Pro team is arguably the most prestigious season-based individual award that a player can earn during their career short of the league’s MVP and Player of the Year awards. It has over time become a storied tradition, and even in player contracts, certain bonuses are often tied to the player earning such a distinction.
As much as the game of football itself is about tradition, however, the way that the game is played on the field has evolved over time. In the meantime, the AP All-Pro list has not done so, and many believe that it no longer fully reflects the current state of the game.
Among those who hold this belief are the AP itself, which has recently requested input from all AP voters on potential changes to how the All-Pro roster is formulated. But there are other potential changes that could be incorporated in the future as well, such as linking a player with a position for voting purposes, so that a player does not earn the designation at two positions in the same year, as Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack did a year ago.
As it currently stands, the All-Pro team (first-team) consists of 12 offensive players, 12 defensive players, and three specialists. On offense, one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one fullback, and a full offensive line are selected. On defense, two defensive ends, two defensive tackles, two inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties are selected. For special teams, one kicker, one punter, and one returner receive recognition.
It is unclear as of yet if the AP has any specific plans with regard to how they might change the roster, as they are currently in the information-gathering stage, it appears. If they intend to eliminate and replace, or simply expand the roster, remains to be seen.
One thing that I do not expect to see is a distinction between 4-3 defensive fronts and 3-4 defensive fronts, which is often one of the biggest criticisms of such awards. In this categorization, 3-4 defensive lineman and 4-3 outside linebackers often get short-changed.
But to have separate designations for each defensive front is to lower the talent pool from which the awards are earned, and the same could not be done for the offensive side of the ball. I don’t see such an imbalance being introduced into the process.
The obvious suggestion would be to add a third wide receiver and a third cornerback into the All-Pro team, whether via elimination or expansion. But even that could raise concerns over whether the distinction for the new position should be limited to slot receivers and slot cornerbacks, and how to define those roles.
Of course, no institution would be hurt more than the dinosaur of NFL positions, the fullback. In an age in which many teams do not even have a fullback on their roster anymore, it would seem logical to eliminate the position from the All-Pro team…yet it somehow feels wrong.