I had no idea how the Associated Press voting worked until this last offseason, when I was doing some research on Hall of Fame profiles. I would have assumed, since the Associated Press names both a first and second team all-pro team, that the selectors actually name a first and second team player at each position on their ballots. I assumed wrong.
What really happens is that 50 AP voters select a player at each starting position (1 QB, 2 WR, 2 OT, for example). The highest vote getter is named first team all pro; the second highest is named second team all pro. At a position with multiple starters, such as tackle the two highest vote getters are first team, the next two are second team. The problem with this, particularly at positions with a single starter, is that the second team selection may not represent the actual consensus on the second best player. The possibility for one voter, or a small handful of voters, to decide a position is present, and it permits questionable selections.
If you are going to hand out an award for second team all-pro selections and list it on a player’s bio, then you need to have the voters actually vote for a second team selection. Perhaps an example will better illustrate how this allows for abuses or, even if nothing pernicious is intended, permits one voter to determine a selection.
In 2000, Tony Gonzalez finished the season with 1,203 receiving yards, which was at the time the fourth highest total by a tight end in NFL history, and the first season with over 1,200 yards since Todd Christensen in 1983. He deservedly won the first team all-pro selection from the Associated Press. However, it was not unanimous, despite the fact that Gonzalez lapped the tight end field and almost doubled everyone else in yards and touchdowns. The voting went Gonzalez 48 votes, Chad Lewis 1 vote, and Frank Wychek 1 vote. As a result, both Lewis and Wychek are listed as second team all pros for that season. The second best tight end was probably Shannon Sharpe, but no one (correctly) voted for him ahead of Gonzalez. Two other writers, though, did cast virtually indefensible votes for Lewis and Wychek, and as a result, got their guys on the award list.
I could probably go through the archives of the voting history and find other similarly questionable results. At this point, I think the second team all-pro selections have zero merit since I can’t trust that they represent the consensus of the electorate. You may not care, but in a sport where we don’t necessarily have in depth statistics to distinguish players at different positions, awards from people who cover the game are often used later on in evaluating a player’s Hall of Fame profile. A second team all-pro selection should be something noteworthy, as it still means the player was seen as among the top 10% or better at his position in a given year. As of now, though, a second team selection is meaningless because I have no confidence it represents the second best player at a position.
So, since the Associated Press voters like to tell other people how to constantly improve and change, I think they could do a little soul searching as the group that prides itself on covering the game and selecting the Hall of Fame members. If you are going to select a second team all-pro, and use that in part to evaluate players, you need to actually vote for a second team. It’s not that hard to implement.
I bet Shannon Sharpe, waiting for a call to the Hall, agrees with me.
[photo via Getty]