AP All-America team expands to add receiver, defensive back

Michigan defensive back Vincent Gray (4) breaks up a pass intended for Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (Carlos Osorio, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

To more accurately reflect the evolution of college football's offenses and defenses, The Associated Press will increase the number of players honored on its All-America teams to include a third wide receiver and fifth defensive back.

The AP has named All-America team s since 1925 based on voting by a national media panel that covers college football. The 2021 teams will be announced Monday.

The change in structure this year is the first since 2006, when the generic categories of “linemen” on both sides of the ball and “defensive backs” were broken down by specific positions.

The addition of a third receiver and fifth defensive back aligns with more offenses putting three or four receivers on the field instead of the traditional two and defenses regularly having a fifth player in the secondary replacing a linebacker or lineman.

“The game’s changed, without question," Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “We're a pretty good example of it with the wideouts and all the different sets we play — multiple tight ends, multiple wideouts — and then the other side of it is trying to defend it. You’re seeing everybody finding ways to get more defensive backs on the field.”

Each of the top-10 teams in total offense this season start three receivers and seven of the top 10 teams in total defense start five defensive backs; two of the other three opened some games with five DBs.

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy called the AP's decision to expand its All-America team a smart move.

“It's an all-pass game now, all matchups,” said Nagy, an NFL scout for two decades. “The game is getting smaller. It's more speed-based.”

The AP has occasionally changed the structure of its All-America team to represent the state of the game.

“Throughout the history of the All-America team, the AP has made sure the team reflects the way the sport is played," AP interim Sports Editor Howie Rumberg said. “We felt the adjustments made on both sides of the ball this year best take into account the increasing emphasis on the passing game.”

From 1925 through 1963, only a one-platoon team was named — ends, tackles, guards, centers, quarterbacks, backs, fullbacks.

The AP began naming two-platoon teams in 1964. Each team included three running backs until 1979, an era when run-heavy offenses were the standard. Two running backs and two receivers were the norm starting in 1980.

Until 2006, guards and tackles on the offensive line and ends and tackles on the defensive line were lumped together as “linemen,” and cornerbacks and safeties were labeled “defensive backs.” Voters since then have been required to make their selections based on specific position.

Under the new structure, there will still be two cornerbacks and two safeties on each AP team. The fifth player selected to the secondary will be called a “defensive back,” giving voters flexibility to choose a third cornerback or safety or versatile player whose role is a combination of the two positions.


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