In this Dec. 22, 2019, file photo, Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey runs during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in Indianapolis. (Photo: AP)
Christian McCaffrey’s versatility and superb statistics helped him to a rare double: The Carolina Panthers running back has made The Associated Press NFL All-Pro Team at two positions.
McCaffrey rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns while catching a phenomenal 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four TDs. He became the third player in NFL history to finish with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season, joining Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig, who is on the senior ballot for the hall this year.
That so impressed the 50 members of a nationwide media panel who regularly cover the NFL for McCaffrey to be voted the first-team running back and the top flex player. The flex position was created in 2016 to reward players who epitomize the way offense is now played in pro football. Not one fits that description better than McCaffrey, whose terrific season came for a 5-11 team.
“It means a lot,” says McCaffrey, a third-year pro. “It is a big honor and that is something that you don’t work hard for it, but when it comes you are really grateful and appreciative.”
McCaffrey’s achievement was complemented by the unanimous selections of New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas and New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore. It’s the second straight season both made the squad, Thomas doing it with an NFL-record 149 catches, Gilmore anchoring the league’s top-ranked defense.
Ravens sensation Lamar Jackson, who in his second season led Baltimore to a league-best 14-2 mark, was chosen as quarterback. Jackson and McCaffrey were among 14 first-time All-Pros.
Rams safety Eric Weddle, a former Raven, witnessed the jukes and jaunts of Jackson firsthand in a 45-6 Ravens romp.
“When you get on the field and you get to the speed of what they run, it’s tough,” says Weddle, a former All-Pro. “I mean, some of the plays I didn’t know who had the ball because they run it so efficiently. (Jackson) is one of a kind; he’s pretty special.”
This special class includes several multiple All-Pros: Rams DT Aaron Donald and Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner, each for a fifth time; Cowboys right guard Zack Martin and Ravens kicker Justin Tucker for a fourth time.
Bears kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson made his third All-Pro roster, as did Eagles center Jason Kelce and Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
All-Pros for the second time included Thomas, Gilmore, Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones, Steelers DT Cam Heyward, Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater, Colts left guard Quenton Nelson, and Ravens defensive back Marcus Peters, who shared that spot with the teammate Marlon Humphrey and the Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu (second appearance).
Thomas, Gilmore, Nelson, Hopkins, Kelce, Martin, Donald, Wagner and Tucker repeated from 2018.
The other newcomers were Humphrey; 49ers tight end George Kittle; Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley; Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk; Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt; Saints linebacker Demario Davis; Vikings LB Eric Kendricks; Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White; safeties Jamal Adams of the Jets and Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Steelers; Titans punter Brett Kern; and Saints punt returner Deonte Harris, the only rookie on the team.
“When you got here and people start talking about All-Pro and that’s the best of the best, you’re like ‘Pro Bowl is cool, but I need to get the best of the best,’” says Wagner, who led the NFL in tackles this season. “As you get older you kind of understand how hard these things are to get. And so you don’t take any of them for granted and are very grateful for your health, grateful for your teammates. As you get older you reflect and you appreciate things differently that you might not have had when you were young.”
Ramczyk once played Division III college ball. Now look at him.
“It’s just pretty crazy that I was at a little D-3 school and I’m like, ‘If I’m going to play this game, I’m going to play to be the best I possibly can be,’” he says, adding the All-Pro designation is “pretty awesome. It’s pretty cool.”
Not surprisingly, Baltimore led the All-Pro Team with five selections, while New Orleans had four and Pittsburgh each had three. There were 16 AFC players and 13 from the NFC.