It’s campaign time! These Pro Bowlers deserve your votes

| October 29, 2010

It’s far too early to be talking about the Pro Bowl, but, in its infinite wisdom, the NFL has started collecting votes while many players still have 10 games to play.

Is the Pro Bowl mostly a pointless exercise? Yes. But ten years from now, when players areba nominated for the Hall of Fame, the number of Pro Bowls will be a key differentiator — and that is important.

And so, as guardians of the game, the brave men who eschew normal lives to track every player on every play in every game, feel we have to do something — namely, give our cheat sheet of most deserving players.

Anyone can tell you Peyton Manning should go, but how about Josh Sitton, Matt Roth, Zach Miller or Fred Robbins Here’s our list of offensive and defensive players, which you should feel free to print out, stick down your sock, and bring out in the NFL exam almost everyone finds tricky.

On the off chance a random solar flare may decimate communications at some stage in the coming weeks and you feel you won’t be able to hang on until you’ve seen as much as possible, we’ll also update this feature on a weekly basis. If you have any questions as to why certain players aren’t included then please add these to the comments section below and we’ll answer as many as possible.

AFC

(* indicates starter)

Wide Receivers

Brandon Lloyd (Den)*, Reggie Wayne (Ind)* and Andre Johnson (Hou)

Lloyd has exploded from nowhere to rack up 709 yards at an average of 20.3 yards/rec. while not dropping a catch. Wayne remains as probably the most consistent WR around and in spite of his injury Johnson just continues to perform and win games.

Worthy of consideration

Anquan Boldin (Bal), Brandon Marshall (Mia) and Malcom Floyd (SD)

Tackles

LT — Jake Long (Mia)*, RT — Damien Woody (NYJ)* and DBrickashaw Ferguson (NYJ)

With Joe Thomas miles from his best, Long is now the premier O-lineman at any position. Woody is run blocking superbly while his teammate Ferguson continues to improve his game and may have the best combination of skills around.

Worthy of consideration

Marshall Yanda (Bal) — another position change has slowed him down again but he’s now finding his feet at RT

Guards

LG – Wade Smith (Hou)*, RG – Stephen Neal (NE)* and Bobbie Williams (Cin)

Major Kudos to Ben Stockwell, who highlighted every single one of these players as his premier FA guards in 2010. They’re all playing extremely well and justifying the faith of those who signed them.

Worthy of consideration

Kris Dielman (SD) and Ryan Lilja (KC)

Centers

Matt Birk (Bal)*, Chris Myers (Hou) and Jeff Saturday (Ind)

How the Vikings would love Birk back in their fold right now. Myers loses the starting role to him because of pass blocking and Saturday is incredibly working his way back to his best form after a couple of years of solid, if not Saturday-like, play.

Worthy of consideration

These three are current locks but who would bet against Nick Mangold (NYJ) getting back in the mix?

Tight Ends

Zach Miller (Oak)*, Anthony Fasano (Mia) and Antonio Gates (SD)

At long last Miller has put it together and is the best all-around TE in the NFL at the moment. Fasano is a key component in the Dolphins’ running game while, for those who like their blocking “light,” Gates remains the best pass-catcher by some distance.

Worthy of consideration

Tony Moeaki (KC) is finding his feet and his last three games have shown huge promise.

Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning (Ind)*, Philip Rivers (SD) and Kyle Orton (Den)

Putting Manning in here is almost a habit but he is the best there’s ever been, so why not? Rivers keeps finding ways to keep the Chargers in games that others conspire to lose and we’ll throw Orton a mulligan on the Oakland debacle.

Worthy of consideration

Joe Flacco (Bal) and Tom Brady (NE) are close to Orton but the long-held idea that somehow Brady and Manning are 1a and 1b seems absurd at the moment.

Halfbacks

Jamaal Charles (KC)*, Peyton Hillis (Cle) and Joseph Addai (Ind)

We nailed our colors to Charles’ mast a long time ago and no underuse by the Chiefs is going to sway our view he’s the best around — well, not just yet anyway. Hillis started the year as the third-down back but after realizing he was running over everyone, they let him start and the Saints (among others) just couldn’t get him off the field. Finally, if some people think the Colts can’t run the ball, Mr. Addai begs to differ and he also does a pretty good job of keeping Manning clean too.

Worthy of consideration

Three substandard performances in the last four weeks keeps Arian Foster (Hou) on the bench, while simply banging Chris Johnson (Ten) into the brick wall his O-line creates doesn’t float our collective boat. Should we forget the “Disaster in the Desert” for Darren McFadden (Oak) against Arizona?  The vote came back no.

Fullbacks

Vonta Leach (Hou)*, Greg Jones (Jac) and Marcel Reece (Oak)

Why the Pro Bowl Ballot makes you pick three players is beyond our wildest comprehension. We struggled beyond two.

Worthy of consideration

We’re going to add Corey McIntyre (Buf), but only to prove we know more than three fullbacks in the AFC.

Defensive Ends

Terrell Suggs (Bal)*, Mario Williams (Hou)* and Dwight Freeney (Ind)

Choosing Suggs as our starting DE was easy; he’s always played the run superbly but now he’s getting to the QB as well. Despite the fact he plays the majority of snaps with his hand on the ground and has dropped in coverage only 35 times, picking him as one of your DEs will be much tougher. The ballot sheet lists him as a LB.

Worthy of consideration

For those who see Freeney’s play as one-dimensional this year (possibly us next week), you should look no further than the Jason Babin (Ten), who is doing a stellar job against both pass and run.

Defensive Tackles

Jason Jones (Ten)*, Haloti Ngata (Bal)* and Kyle Williams (Buf)

Jones has always had the ability to get to the quarterback but now he’s playing the run as well as anyone. Ngata has suffered from overhype because he has the ability to do things others can’t. Now he’s really performing (although he has spent no an inconsiderable amount of time at DE). How Williams can play as well as he does with the wreckage around him in Buffalo is a question for the ages.

Worthy of consideration

If you’re a rabid Raiders fan, high on a 59-14 victory, Richard Seymour wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

Outside Linebackers

Tamba Hali (KC)*, Matt Roth (Cle)* and Cameron Wake (Mia)

OK, so he’s not doing an exactly bang-up job against the run, but seven sacks, seven hits and 29 hurries will buy Hali more than a little leeway. If only the Dolphins had listened to us. We were apoplectic when they let Roth go for nothing, and here he is burning it up in Ohio. We know they didn’t like his attitude but how would you like to be kept on the bench for a player like Joey Porter? Imagine Roth on one side and the hugely talented Wake on the other.

Worthy of consideration

James Harrison (Pit) and his bookend Lamarr Woodley (Pit) will always be close.

Inside Linebackers

Ray Lewis (Bal)*, Bart Scott (NYJ)* and Lawrence Timmons (Pit)

Lewis is still the best coverage linebacker available while Scott’s kamikaze attacks on opposing blockers are his forte. Timmons may not have that level of skill in either area but he is perhaps the best blitzer of the three.

Worthy of consideration

For those Charger fans in need of some consolation, Kevin Burnett is playing very well.

Cornerbacks

Brandon Flowers (KC)*, Champ Bailey (Den)* and Alterraun Verner (Ten)

I may try to dig out the numbers later but my bet would be Flowers is playing even better than Darrelle Revis at this stage last year. Bailey is always good and his run support is a bonus, while Verner is losing votes due to not being on the NFL ballot.

Worthy of consideration

Nnamdi Asomugha (Oak) will never get you laughed at but if you can’t bring yourself to vote for him you have to go a long way down the list, past Perrish Cox (Den) — who’s not on the ballot (although, incredibly Derek Cox is) — to Quentin Jammer (SD).

Strong Safeties

Chris Hope (Ten)*, Yeremiah Bell (Mia) and Troy Polamalu (Pit)

It was when the NFL ballot split the safeties (strong and free) and asked you to pick three of each that I almost lost the will to live. So we have chosen only three cornerbacks and twice as many safeties! Who comes up with this crap? Anyway, in an effort to help all our readers, (and despite some rather dubious designations) we came up with the names above.

Worthy of consideration

If you can bring yourself to call Renaldo Hill (Den) a strong safety, he’s a decent choice for a guy who spends the majority of his time playing Cover 1.

Free Safeties

Michael Huff (Oak)*, Eric Weddle (SD) and Michael Griffin (Ten)

The good news here is at least we had no problem with the designations. Huff often starts the season well and then fades and Weddle has being getting better with experience. Griffin had a horrible year in 2009 but appears to have bounced back.

Worthy of consideration

We suggest you stick with these three.

NFC

(* indicates starter)

Wide Receivers

Roddy White (Atl)*, Santana Moss (Was)* and Hakeem Nicks (NYG)

White has reduced his drops and increased his production to turn good to great. Moss started hot but has faded so the Redskins may need to reduce his snap count from 94 percent of offensive plays. Nicks’ eight TDs lead the league and he’s a solid blocker — but drops (five already) may become an issue.

Worthy of consideration

In truth, no one else is close to these three just at the moment.

Tackles

LT — Bryant McKinnie (Min)*, RT — Kareem McKenzie (NYG)* and Tyson Clabo (Atl)

There are currently better right tackles, but McKinnie is probably the best in the NFC playing left. McKenzie is crushing run defenders to the point he can’t be ignored but needs to improve his pass protection a little. Clabo’s struggle against Kenyon Coleman in Cleveland was his only aberration.

Worthy of consideration

Jeff Backus (Det) may come through to challenge McKinnie shortly.

Guards

LG — Carl Nicks (NO)*, RG — Josh Sitton (GB)* and Harvey Dahl (Atl)

Nicks and Sitton were two of the easiest picks to make in this article; both are at the top of their games and also consistent. Dahl is finally justifying some of the hype previously based more on his aggression than actual performance.

Worthy of consideration

Rich Seubert (NYG)

Centers

Todd McClure (Atl)*, Ryan Kalil (Car) and Scott Wells (GB)

McClure is a consummate professional who does everything well and Kalil has probably the most talent outside of Nick Mangold. Wells needs to shore up his pass blocking (a sack, three hits and five hurries) if he wants to maintain this position.

Worthy of consideration

Jonathan Goodwin (NO) and Olin Kreutz (Chi) are both better pass-protectors than Wells.

Tight Ends

Jason Witten (Dal)*, Vernon Davis (SF) and Kevin Boss (NYG)

Witten has been for many years the standard against which all TE’s (or those who wish to block, at least) should be measured. Davis, if the Carolina game is anything to go by, is still having consistency issues, but has improved. Boss is quietly imposing himself after his return from concussion.

Worthy of consideration

Anyone beyond these three is simply a “fan” vote.

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers (GB)*, Matt Ryan (Atl) and Eli Manning (NYG)

Rodgers was poor on SNF last week, but prior to that he’s been golden. Ryan looks to be getting into his stride and may overtake him, while Manning needs to stop taking every other week off.

Worthy of consideration

Tony Romo (Dal) would have challenged Rodgers as a starter but with his recent injury we’ve taken the liberty of removing him from contention.

Halfbacks

Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG)*, Adrian Peterson (Min) and LeSean McCoy (Phi)

The AFC was tricky, but the play of the gentlemen above made this a much easier call. Only McCoy’s name was questioned, but when you consider his receiving and pass blocking, the picture became clear.

Worthy of consideration

Ryan Torain (Was) is running tough but any Redskins fans considering their new “star” will be disappointed — he’s not on the ballot.

Fullbacks

Korey Hall (GB)*, Ovie Mughelli (Atl) and Bear Pascoe (NYG)

While Hall and Mughelli are certainly worthy of your consideration, the fact that Pascoe makes this list after about 70 snaps at the position since Madison Hedgecock’s injury shows the absurdity picking three fullbacks.

Worthy of consideration

Oh, Please!

Defensive Ends

Trent Cole (Phi)*, Julius Peppers (Chi)* and Chris Clemons (Sea)

We prefer all our DEs to play the run, and all these guys have managed that this year as well as causing headaches for multiple QBs. The starters in particular are holding their edge and Cole has 26 stops — more than all bar seven inside linebackers.

Worthy of consideration

If you are looking purely for a pass-rusher you may want to consider John Abraham (Atl), but we think his run defense is too far off the pace just now.

Defensive Tackles

Fred Robbins (Stl)*, Barry Cofield (NYG)* and Kevin Williams (Min)

Seven months after we wrote them both off following poor seasons in 2009, the ex-Giants starting tandem are reunited as our Pro Bowl starters. Yes, we are embarrassed for believing one bad year was the end — something we’ll never do with Williams, as he’s never been anything other than superb for as long as we can remember.

Worthy of consideration

Chris Canty (NYG) is playing well and also keep an eye on Antonio Dixon (Phi) — he has the makings of a serious run-stuffer.

Outside Linebackers

Clay Matthews (GB)*, DeMarcus Ware (Dal)* and Chad Greenway (Min)

Matthews IS the pass rush in Green Bay, and Ware may be the best player in the league. Greenway was superb in 2008, struggled last year and seems back to his best in 2010.

Worthy of consideration

Given Lofa Tatupu’s clear inability to cover anyone, it seems an even more egregious error to take off the superb David Hawthorne (Sea) on passing downs. The fact that Tatupu is joined by Will Herring in the nickel just makes things surreal — he’s currently rating a “perfect” 158.3 in coverage.

While we feel for Hawthorne, we couldn’t legitimately consider a two-down backer for our squad.

Inside Linebackers

Desmond Bishop (GB)*, Brian Urlacher (Chi)* and James Laurinaitis (Stl)

We’ve never been sure what the Packers saw in A.J. Hawk to keep Bishop on the bench, and maybe now they aren’t either. Urlacher has tailed off a bit, particularly as a run defender, but he still warrants inclusion. Laurinaitis is another guy now living up to premature hype.

Worthy of consideration

Dan Connor (Car) can’t get past our no-two-down-linebacker rule but if you don’t have one, he’s a good choice. Patrick Willis (SF) is close and it’s hard to think he won’t be included by the year’s end.

Cornerbacks

Antoine Winfield (Min)*, Asante Samuel (Phi)* and Jabari Greer (NO)

We went against the grain here with two of the CBs not named Winfield getting in despite some poor run support. As much as it pains us, we came to the conclusion that watching some of Samuel’s feeble attempts to bring down a HB may be outweighed by his superb coverage skills.

Worthy of consideration

If you absolutely can’t take tackling on your team of the style employed by Samuel, then perhaps Tim Jennings (Chi) is your man. He’s a legitimate top-five run support corner that’s actually doing a good job of coverage at the moment. That may not last, however.

Strong Safeties

Quintin Mikell (Phi)*, Danieal Manning (Chi) and James Butler (StL)

If you’ve jumped to this section without reading the AFC, please remember the caveats regarding safeties. Mikell and Manning are good choices, particularly as coverage guys, but to call Butler a SS is stretching our credibility a lot.

Worthy of consideration

If you absolutely have to have a guy who doesn’t consistently play more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage you could do worse than Kenny Phillips (NYG). If you really don’t care about coverage skills then go ahead and pick LaRon Landry (Was)

Free Safeties

Nick Collins (GB)*, Sherrod Martin (Car) and Earl Thomas (Sea)

Collins is a superb coverage safety and Martin has done well in that regard too. However, the need to pick three guys here together with the SS/FS distinction means you really are stretching it to go with a player like Thomas, whose overall performance probably wouldn’t put him in the top 20 safeties.

Worthy of consideration

If Thomas is a stretch, so is anyone else.

  • jakuvious

    I’m a bit curious as to how far away Derrick Johnson (ILB, KC) is from this list. He’s made an appearance or two on the players of the week lists here, but I know that it should be obvious to anyone who watches KC regularly, that he still maintains some of the inconsistencies that have plagued his career. How far is he from being a legitimate candidate here?

  • Neil Hornsby

    It’s all very close after the top 3. Derrick Johnson would be joined by Burnett (there because of some excellent blitzing work), Dansby (very good all-round and in hindsight maybe a better #4 than Burnett) and the two Cleveland guys (Barton and Gocong). The truth is my favorite, for purely personal reasons, is Johnson. We were stupefied when he was kept as a back-up last year in favor of DeMorrio Williams and Corey Mays, said so very loudly and very often and are delighted he’s working his butt off to justify our faith (and probably a little to vindicate himself too ;-) ).

  • Rai

    I know I might come across as a homer but why isn’t Babineaux and Lofton up there or atleast up for consideration? I don’t think Brent Grimes has been playing all that bad either, he seems to be really reliable now in the pass-game.

  • Neil Hornsby

    All of those guys are doing well but, as usual with these things, there are other guys doing better. Babineaux would have been one of my pre-season favorites to make it but had a very poor game against the 49ers and hasn’t been the force against the run we generally expect. Lofton is a very solid player but once you get through the guys we mention you’ve still got Takeo Spikes, Goff in New York, E.J. Henderson and Bradie James to consider.
    Interestingly, of them all, I think Grimes is the closest (at the moment at least) but Tramon Williams, Ronald Bartell and Rhonde Barber have all being performing too.

  • Rai

    thanks for clearing that up for me and the falcon fans. cheers.

  • John Breitenbach

    Todd Haley has really made some questionable moves as HC. Most of the personnel who are making the most difference this year are players who were still on the team a year ago especially on defense. Belcher, Johnson, Smith and Gilberry especially. Obviously they added Berry and Lewis but its not like they were having outstanding seasons. They have improved on the offensive line with Wiegmann and Lilja as well as Moeki at TE but the key to their success has always been on the back if Jamaal Charles.