Nick Shook uses the prism of Next Gen Stats to assemble his personal 2020 All-Pro team. Below, he presents his offense.
Rodgers led almost every significant passing category in 2020, posting a sparkling 48:5 TD-to-INT ratio and the league's best passer rating at 121.5 -- just one point off his career-best 122.5, set in his MVP season of 2011. He also finished the regular season with a completion percentage over expectation of +4.4. Only Deshaun Watson (+4.8%) and Josh Allen (+4.6%) were better than Rodgers in the category, and it was the only key Next Gen Stats figure in which he trailed. Rodgers led all quarterbacks in total expected points added at 170.8 and in EPA per dropback at 0.31, singlehandedly helping his team's winning efforts more than any other passer in the entire NFL.
Rodgers also posted the league's best TD-to-INT ratio on deep passes at 12:0, and he threw the most touchdown passes on play-action passes (20) in the history of the Next Gen Stats era. That total exceeded by three the number that Rodgers had thrown in his previous four seasons combined, illustrating just how special 2020 was for the quarterback.
We don't need to dive any deeper. The Packers earned the top seed in the NFC, and Rodgers is likely to win the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award by the time we reach Tampa for Super Bowl LV. This was an easy call.
Henry joined an exclusive club during Tennessee's wild Week 17 win over Houston, clocking 250 rushing yards to become just the eighth player in NFL history to run for 2,000-plus yards in a single season. While his 2020 total of 2,027 rushing yards (fifth-most all time) is impressive, how he got there is even more astounding. Henry led the entire NFL in rushing yards over expectation (RYOE) at +412, bowling over defenders on such a consistent basis that he nearly doubled the RYOE totals of the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the category (J.K. Dobbins had 222 and Ronald Jones had 219). Only Cleveland's Nick Chubb, who led the NFL in RYOE per attempt (1.75) while becoming the other back this season to crack 300 RYOE (with +327), flirted with Henry's coattails. Henry claimed his second straight rushing title, leading the next-closest rusher (Dalvin Cook) by more than 400 yards, and he's certainly earned the nickname King Henry.
Diggs' first season in Buffalo was one for the record books -- or, at least, the Bills' record books. Diggs plowed past Eric Moulds to reset the franchise's single-season marks in receptions (127 to Moulds' 100, set in 2002) and receiving yards (1,535 to Moulds' 1,368, set in 1998). The only record he didn't break was receiving touchdowns (Diggs had eight, three behind Bill Brooks' 11 from 1995). But he did dominate one key Next Gen Stats metric: catch percentage over expectation. Diggs caught 11.7 percent more of his targets than expected, finishing with a catch rate of 76.5 percent. He helped Bills passers finish with a rating of 115.4 when targeting him, and he fought through press coverage on 24.1 percent of his routes run while gaining 2.7 yards per route overall.
Defenders who tried to blanket Diggs found themselves disappointed, with Diggs catching 73 passes for 933 yards and seven scores on 102 targets with 3 or fewer yards of separation; those are the highest receptions and yardage totals in such scenarios in the entire league. Diggs was elite in almost every facet this season, and the fact that the Bills finished 13-3 after trading for him this offseason proves just how valuable a true No. 1 receiver can be.
Adams was just as special as Diggs in 2020 when teaming up with Aaron Rodgers; he even landed on my list of top 10 MVP candidates last week, for good reason. Adams owned a catch rate over expectation of +9.9 percent and helped Rodgers post an incredible 136 passer rating when targeting him, which was far and away the best mark in the entire league when it comes to targeting one receiver. Adams' 18 touchdowns helped power that statistic, and he was also the most productive receiver on a per-route basis, gaining 3.1 yards per route run. Adams paired his typically elite route running with stellar outside performance, catching 13 of his touchdowns on targets outside the numbers and winning the perimeter.
Kamara defined the concept of dual threat when it came to running backs in 2020. Kamara gained 6.6 yards per rush on carries inside the tackles this season, the highest rate in the NFL. Of his 932 rushing yards, 101 came over expectation (12th-most in NFL), good for a per-attempt rate of 0.55. Only Derrick Henry (17) and Dalvin Cook (16) could match or surpass Kamara in rushing scores (16). As for the passing game, Kamara gained 2.3 receiving yards per route run, the second most among all qualified running backs, and his 756 receiving yards landed him in the top 45 of all pass catchers -- including receivers and tight ends -- in the entire league. His five receiving touchdowns also landed him in the top 45 (tied for 44th).
Kelce had a phenomenal receiving season, regardless of position. The tight end caught 105 passes for 1,416 yards, the second most of any pass catcher in the league, and he finished tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns with 11. His 2.7 yards gained per route run were the second most among tight ends (minimum 150 routes run), and he did most of his damage as part of Kansas City's creative offense, which often moved him around. Kelce caught 76 of his receptions, gained 1,080 yards and scored 10 touchdowns on targets aligned in the slot or wide this season, marks that are all the most among tight ends. No team uses its star tight end in a wider range of situations with such a level of success, and the Chiefs' approach produced a banner year for him.
Bakhtiari is back on this list for a second straight year after helping Green Bay post the second-lowest QB pressure rate in the entire league and allowing one of the lowest sack totals in the league at 21. Aaron Rodgers' time to throw was 2.72 seconds and his time to hurry was 3.19 seconds, meaning he had, on average, a cushion of nearly half a second between when he was getting the ball out and when he was feeling the heat; this helps explain his gaudy passing numbers. Green Bay is getting the job done in the running game, too, posting the league's sixth-best expected-yards-per-carry mark at 4.36; the Packers are one of just two teams in the top six to boast a positive yards-gained-over-expectation-per-attempt mark (0.68). Rodgers is on his way to an MVP thanks to the protection of his line, while running back Aaron Jones can thank the big fellas for helping him accumulate the fourth-most rushing yards (1,104) in the NFL, with Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, serving as the anchor of a solid group up front.
Like Bakhtiari, Armstead has served as the anchor tackle for an offensive line that helped create space for a star listed above (in this case, Kamara), but that's not all he did. New Orleans ranked seventh in QB pressure rate at 21.4 percent, allowing 29 sacks on the year and just 72 hurries -- tied for second fewest in the NFL. Much like Green Bay, New Orleans was skilled at creating a cushion between average time to throw (2.69 seconds) and time to hurry (3.21 seconds), affording both Drew Brees and Taysom Hill time to fire before feeling the heat. While Next Gen Stats metrics don't tell us all that much about an individual lineman's performance, Armstead has again been solid as part of one of the league's better offensive lines.
No lineman took a greater year-to-year leap than Teller, an afterthought acquisition in 2019 who became a key piece of Cleveland's offensive line in 2020. The Browns boast the third-lowest QB pressure rate (19.2%) and have surrendered just 26 sacks, helping Baker Mayfield take the next step in his progression as the franchise quarterback. Even with Cleveland's slower average time to throw (due to its reliance on play-action and rollouts), the Browns are still protecting longer than it takes for Mayfield to make a decision (3.04 time to throw versus 3.25 time to hurry). And in the running game, Teller shines, frequently succeeding in blocking matchups and often getting to the second level to do more than what is expected of him. That's helped Cleveland rack up 2,374 rushing yards as a team in 2020, the third most in the NFL, even while facing the highest number of defenders in the box on a per-play basis (tied with Tennessee at 7.1 per rush). And a cherry on top: Teller is Pro Football Focus' highest-graded guard of the 2020 season at 92.9, an elite mark. Teller and offensive line coach Bill Callahan deserve a ton of credit for this achievement, and for Cleveland's first trip to the postseason since 2002.
Nelson met the sky-high expectations for him almost as soon as he set foot on an NFL field, and he's continuing to play at a premier level. The most significant achievement of this group this year, though, is its protection of Philip Rivers, who spent years with the Chargers seemingly under constant duress. The veteran QB has enjoyed the benefit of clean pockets far more often in his first season in Indianapolis, attempting passes behind a line that is allowing a pressure rate of 21.1 percent, tied for fourth lowest in the NFL. He's been sacked just 21 times, tied for second-fewest in the league with Green Bay, too. Oh, and rookie running back Jonathan Taylor's second-half emergence has a lot to do with the big men up front, with Indianapolis blocking to an expectation of 4.07 yards per carry and achieving more than half of a yard per carry above that expectation. Consider that 2018 first-round pick well spent.
We've covered the Packers' ability to give Aaron Rodgers time to throw unhindered along with Green Bay's achievements on the ground -- rushing for 2,118 yards, the eighth-best mark in the league -- but Linsley lands here because he's been truly elite. We'll keep this one brief: Linsley, who missed three games with a knee injury, is the highest-graded center in all of football, per PFF, with his best performance coming in the ground game. It's no surprise, then, that Aaron Jones has had the season he's enjoyed, and that Green Bay's offense is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs. It helps a whole lot to have a premier player at the pivot.
WRITER'S CORRECTION: After discovering my own tabulation errors of the fine Next Gen Stats, I had to recant my original kicker selection of the Ravens' Justin Tucker. Below is the updated, final pick.
Like punter, this was also a very difficult call to make between Gano and Atlanta's Younghoe Koo. The Falcons kicker was perfect from 50-plus (8 for 8), averaged a distance from the middle of the goal posts of just 1.3 yards (tied for second in the NFL) and made 94.9 percent of his field goal attempts. Koo was, in fact, better than Gano in the first two statistics listed above. (Gano went 5 for 6 from 50-plus and averaged 1.4 yards from the middle of the uprights.) But the differentiating number that helps us decide between two close kickers is field goal percentage above or below expectation. Gano owned the highest field goal percentage above expectation at +22.1 percent among kickers with at least 25 attempts, besting Koo's +18.3 percent. Gano missed just one attempt -- a 57-yarder in Week 2 -- the entire season, which made his 50-plus attempts percentage lower than Koo's, but it's hard to argue with either of these candidates. Field goal percentage above expectation serves as our tiebreaker.
The NFL didn't feature a returner with multiple touchdowns this season, but Patterson lands here because of his lone score on a return and his sheer amount of return yards. Patterson was the only kick returner to break 1,000 yards this season (1,017), and his average return yardage of 29.1 trailed only Buffalo's Andre Roberts. Known for his speed and returning ability, Patterson proved to be a valuable part of Chicago's special teams, and the best in the NFL.