The Associated Press has announced its All-Pro team today and Jets kick returner Leon Washington has been voted a first-teamer while left guard Alan Faneca and nose tackle Kris Jenkins have earned second-team honors.
This latest recognition caps off a banner year for Washington. He'll play in his first Pro Bowl next month, lining up as the AFC's kick returner. The 5'8", 202-pounder finished the 2008 campaign ranked 10th in the NFL in kickoff return average (25.6) and 11th in punt return average (10.4).
A year after becoming one of only 12 players in NFL history to return three kickoffs for TDs in a season, Washington recorded his franchise-record fourth on a 92-yard kickoff return in the Jets' thrilling 34-31 overtime win over the Patriots on Nov. 13.
"I've been yearning for one all year long," he said at the time. "When you can make a big play on the road in an environment like that, you give your team a big boost."
In addition to his return prowess, Washington totaled 448 yards on the ground at a gaudy 5.9 yards per carry and pitched in with 48 receptions for 535 yards. He scored 10 touchdowns (six rushing, three receiving, one return).
"Whether I touch the ball one time or 100 times, I'm trying to take it to the house each time," he said this season. "It's my job to give this team a spark every time I touch the ball."
This season Washington set the single-season franchise record with 2,332 combined yards. The record was previously held by Bruce Harper, who had 2,157 combined yards in 1978.
"That guy just shoots out, he takes off," Harper told newyorkjets.com editor-in-chief Randy Lange of Washington. "People ask me sometimes if I was as good, and it's really hard for me to say. I didn't watch me. But I'm watching him. That guy can go. He is something."
After Washington scored on a 47-run against the Bills in the Jets' ninth and final win, QB Brett Favre paid the 26-year-old Washington the ultimate compliment.
"I don't know if there is a better MVP in the league this season," Favre said.
Well-liked by teammates and fans alike, Washington has proved to be one of the great fourth-round steals in recent draft memory. The Florida State product is the Jets' most explosive playmaker and yet his personality screams of humility. Now a bona fide star in the NFL, his workmanlike approach hasn't changed.
When he received his Pro Bowl invitation, Washington spoke in the plural.
"When we come out before games and huddle up, the guys are always saying 'Let's score a touchdown for Leon,' " he said. "The guys have talked all year long about how they want to get me to Hawaii. My hat's off to those people. We did it."
And now Washington, with a little help from his friends, has also found a spot on the prestigious All-Pro team.
Before joining the Green & White in March, Faneca was a six-time AP All-Pro choice with the Steelers. In his first season with the Jets, Faneca started all 16 games and now has made 112 consecutive starts overall. He was an important piece of a dramatically improved line as the Jets were the NFL's ninth-ranked scoring club (25.3 points per game) and ninth-ranked rushing offense (125.2 ypg).
Jenkins, a first-team AP All-Pro selection with the Panthers in 2002, became the anchor of the Jets' 3-4 defense. The 6'4", 360-pounder was a force in the middle and helped New York's AFC representative finish with the league's seventh-ranked rush defense.
"I totally understood that this was a grunt position and I just need to do what I have to do to be the best that I can to help the team out," he said.