The first player in NFL history to be named an All-Pro at two positions in one season did not receive a vote for Defensive Player of the Year honors, which went to J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. But Khalil Mack earned our NFL Player of the Year honors, headlining the 2015 All-ASN NFL Team — the best players by position this season from ASN-affiliated schools.
From the top:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
DL/LB Khalil Mack | Oakland Raiders | Buffalo
The first player in NFL history to be selected All-Pro at two positions for a single season, Mack set an NFL record with five sacks in a single game and ended the season ranked No. 2 in sacks with 15. He forced two fumbles, made 77 tackles and his versatility and athleticism are critical to the Raiders return to relevance.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
RB Thomas Rawls | Seattle Seahawks | Central Michigan
The only thing Rawls might want to change about his rookie season was breaking his ankle in December. To that point, he had already amassed 830 yards on 147 carries and scored four touchdowns. He was selected to the Professional Football Writers’ Association’s All-Rookie team.
QB Ben Roethlisberger | Pittsburgh Steelers | Miami (Ohio)
Despite missing four games in the first half of the season, Big Ben finished No. 14 among quarterbacks in terms of passing yards with 3,938 and 21 touchdowns. More impressive, though, was guiding the Steelers to the playoffs and playing injured in the fourth quarter of the wild-card victory against Cincinnati and in the divisional playoff loss to Denver.
RB Rashad Jennings | New York Giants | Liberty
Originally a seventh-round draft pick, Jennings signed with the Giants in 2014 and this season became a relevant part of their offense. His 863 yards on 195 carries ranked him No. 14 among running backs in terms of rushing yards for the regular season. Jennings scored three touchdowns.
RB Charcandrick West | Kansas City Chiefs | Abilene Christian
In only his second pro season, West was presented with opportunity and he grabbed it. After replacing the injured Jamaal Charles in Week 6, West had 160 carries for 634 yards in 10 games. He scored the first touchdown of his career in Week 7 against Pittsburgh and had five total for the season (four rushing, one receiving).
WR Antonio Brown | Pittsburgh Steelers | Central Michigan
An All-Pro selection for the fourth time, Brown finished the season as the league’s No. 2 receiver with 136 catches for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. The driving force behind the Steelers’ offense, Brown took a big hit in the wild-card round of the playoffs, resulting in a concussion that kept him out of the divisional round. Brown set NFL records as the first receiver to catch 16 or more passes in consecutive games. He also caught 175-plus yards in four games, also an NFL record.
WR Julian Edelman | New England Patriots | Kent State
Edelman missed seven games with a broken bone in his foot, but returned to the Patriots in the divisional playoff, during which he caught 10 passes for 100 yards and helped send the Patriots to the AFC Championship for the fifth consecutive season. Edelman scored seven touchdowns in nine regular-season games and caught 61 passes for 692 yards.
TE Antonio Gates | San Diego Chargers | Kent State
Despite being suspended for the first four games of the season, Gates broke the career 100-touchdown mark on Oct. 12, 2015. He finished the season with 56 receptions for 630 yards and five touchdowns.
OL Josh Kline | New England Patriots | Kent State
Kline, an offensive guard, was part of a line that blocked well enough for New England to finish the regular season No. 5 in passing yards (286.7 per game) and kept quarterback Tom Brady from getting roughed up, allowing less than 2.5 sacks per game.
OL Eric Fisher | Kansas City Chiefs | Central Michigan
An offensive tackle in only his third pro season, Fisher’s line ranked No. 6 in the league through the regular season in rushing yards, with 2,044 and was tied for first in rushing touchdowns with 19. Kansas City’s line also ranked in the Top 10 in terms of fewest quarterback hits allowed for the season.
OL Kory Lichtensteiger | Washington Redskins | Bowling Green
Lichtenstieger helped anchor an offensive line that gave quarterback Kirk Cousins plenty of time to work. Washington’s O-line ranked No. 7 in the regular season in sacks allowed, with only 27, and No. 13 in quarterback hits with 81.
OL Joe Reitz | Indianapolis Colts | Western Michigan
Reitz started his career as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and seven years later has grown into a leader on the Colts’ O-line. And offensive tackle, Reitz is lean and quick.
OL Doug Free | Dallas Cowboys | Northern Illinois
Dallas finished the regular season ranked No. 9 in rushing yards, in large part due to its offensive line. The Cowboys running back amassed 1,890 yards on the ground behind Free, an offensive tackle, and his linemates.
DL Tom Johnson | Minnesota Vikings | Southern Mississippi
Johnson followed up a career-best season of 6.5 sacks (2014) with 5.5 sacks in 2015. The veteran tackle helped the Steelers to the post season and anchored a D-line that was ranked No. 3 in the regular season in terms of passing yards allowed (287.7 per game). He also had 36 tackles.
DL Jason Jones | Detroit Lions | Eastern Michigan
Two years removed from a knee injury, Jones continues to perform, forcing a fumble and nearly matching his career high in sacks (5 in 2014, 2008) with 4.5 for the regular season. He was also credited with 31 tackles.
DL Justin Ellis | Oakland Raiders | Louisiana Tech
It’s hard to shine on a defense that includes Khalil Mack, but Ellis, just a second-year defensive tackle, did his part with 22 tackles on a Raiders defense that was ranked No. 9 in total yards allowed per game with 333.5.
DL Sean Lissemore | San Diego Chargers | William & Mary
In his second season as a nose tackle, Lissemore was on his way to another stellar season before suffering a shoulder injury. He played in only 11 games, but still managed 16 tackles on a defensive line that ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game with 20.
LB Paul Worrilow | Atlanta Falcons | Delaware
Four seasons ago, the Falcons gave undrafted free agent Worrilow a shot. This season, he played in all but one game. Worrilow is an interception threat – he picked off two passes and batted down four more while amassing 95 fumbles. He also forced a fumble.
LB Jamie Collins | New England Patriots | Southern Mississippi
After a season in which he led the NFL in forced fumbles with five, the third-year middle linebacker earned his first Pro Bowl invite and was selected second-team All-Pro. Collins also batted down seven passes, had 5.5 sacks, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble.
DB Josh Norman | Carolina Panthers | Coastal Carolina
Brash and outspoken, Norman backed up his words with a breakout season that made him an All-Pro for the first time in his four-year career. Norman made multiple big plays, intercepting four passes and forcing three fumbles for a Carolina defense that ranked No. 6 overall through the regular season. In Super Bowl 50, he had two passes defensed and helped lead a secondary that gave up only 104 yards passing in a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos.
DB Corey Graham | Buffalo Bills | New Hampshire
Ranked No. 2 among defensive backs in tackles (127) for the regular season, Graham was a key cog in the Bills’ defense. The highlight of his season was an interception that he returned 44 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Jacksonville in Week 7. Graham, a free safety, had two interceptions and batted down six passes for the season.
DB Johnathan Cyprien | Jacksonville Jaguars | Florida International
Though Cyprien missed two games near the start of the season, he did a little bit of everything for the Jaguars – including 108 tackles (No. 7 among defensive backs), three broken up passes, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
DB Barry Church | Dallas Cowboys | Toledo
A strong safety who originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent, Church finished the regular season No. 3 among NFL defensive backs in terms of tackles (117) – but may well have finished a little higher had he not left the final game of the season with a broken arm. Church forced a fumble against Buffalo in the last game of the season.
DB Antwon Blake | Pittsburgh Steelers | UTEP
In Week 5, Blake scored the first and only touchdown of his career when he snagged a pick-six on a throw by Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers and returned it 70 yards for a score. For the season, Blake had two interceptions, broke up 11 passes and forced a fumble. He also had 76 tackles.
ALL-ASN SPECIAL TEAMS
K Chris Boswell | Pittsburgh Steelers | Rice
And undrafted free agent on the Texans practice squad in 2014, Boswell made his pro debut on Oct. 12. The second-year kicker was critical to the Steelers’ post-season success, kicking four field goals in wet, windy weather in the wild-card round, including the game-winner. He finished the post season with a franchise-record seven field goals.
P Brett Kern | Tennessee Titans | Toledo
Kern is a first time All-Pro selection after having a banner season during which he ranked No. 4 among all punters in terms of total yards with 4,175 on 88 punts for a 47.4 average.
KR Benny Cunningham | St. Louis Rams | Middle Tennessee
A third-year pro, Cunningham finished the season ranked No. 5 in return yards with 714 on 25 attempts for a 28.6 yards per return average (good enough for 10th in the NFL).
PR Bobby Rainey | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Western Kentucky
After four seasons, Rainey may have found his spot – he finished the regular season ranked No. 9 among all punt returners, with 29 returns for 288 yards. He averaged 9.9 yards per return and had four returns of 20-plus yards.
Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.