The Associated Press announced its All Pro teams yesterday. Something silly happened. Khalil Mack of the Raiders was named first team All Pro at both outside linebacker and defensive end. This shows the need for the Associated Press to reform its voting procedures when it comes to position designation. The current system uses an outdated model.
How did Mack get to be named first team All Pro at two different positions? Sometimes he rushes the quarterback while standing up. On these plays, he is technically an "outside linebacker." Sometimes he rushes the quarterback with his hand in the dirt. On these plays, he is technically a "defensive end." The writers were left to their own devices to decide whether he was a defensive end or an outside linebacker when they turned in their ballots. Was he really playing two different positions? No, his job is to get around the edge and sack the quarterback. The AP's methods are simply outdated when it comes to the versatility and complexity of today's game. Traditional positional designations are a thing of the past.
In addition to this, a lot of the players who nominally play the same position have wildly different roles. Muhammad Wilkerson finished behind Mack in defensive end voting. He is a very different player, though. Wlkerson is more of an interior guy. When he does line up at defensive end, it is frequently on a three man line where his job might be taking on multiple blockers. He also slides inside sometimes. As a result, Wilkerson also got a vote at defensive tackle.
Pro Football Focus released its All Pro teams earlier in the week. You might disagree with the players PFF chose, but the way they designate positions makes much more sense for the modern game. On the defensive line, they group players who primarily play the 3 technique or the 5 technique together, guys like Wilkerson. Guys who play the 3 technique are technically defensive tackles. Guys who play the 5 technique are technically defensive ends. They do a lot of the same things, though. The only difference is where they line up because of the system their team runs. Then there is a separate category for edge rushers, guys like Mack. Some of these guys line up with their hand in the dirt. They are technically defensive ends. Some line up standing up. They are technically outside linebackers. Some do both. In any event, the job is the same. They should be in the same group.
PFF also breaks slot corners and slot receivers apart from outside guys. Yes, slot guys and outside guys are technically all "wide receivers" and "cornerbacks," but there is a large degree of difference in the positions. The slot and outside are almost two different positions.
At the end of the day, there was no real harm in what happened with Mack. He was great this season. What would have happened if half of the writers listed him as a defensive end, half listed him as an outside linebacker, and the split in votes left him with enough at neither position to make the first team? Mack not being a first team All Pro after the season he had? That would have been a travesty.