Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The AFC

| October 23, 2012

I know, I know. This is too early right? Unfortunately, this is the first day of Pro Bowl voting on NFL.com. It’s like Christmas; it feels like it begins earlier every year. It won’t be long before we are voting before the season’s even started. Frankly, when you see some of the final selections you realize that’s exactly what happened — some people didn’t actually bother to watch any football at all, they just voted for their favorite players regardless of their performances.

Obviously, at ProFootballFocus.com that doesn’t happen. We’ve watched every snap of every game and graded each and every player to bring you the most authoritative selections anywhere. If you really want to vote now, these are the guys you should be putting on your ballots.

Just a few notes: For the first time ever we are sticking to the NFL “rules” and will only use positions as designated on their sheets. While we are fairly convinced Justin Smith and Calais Campbell play the same position, as the NFL has Smith down as a defensive tackle and Campbell as a defensive end that’s the way we’ve chosen to go. There’s not a lot of point giving you a cheat sheet you can’t use. The only concession we’ve made to our way of doing things is to try and always select at least one of each type of tackle and guard; left and right. It always seems a bit strange when you see a list containing three left tackles and three right guards.

(NFC cheat sheet found here)

AFC Offense (starter’s name first)

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady (NE), Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) and Peyton Manning (DEN)

None of the elite quarterbacks are challenging defenses as much as Brady. After building something of a dink-and-dunk reputation over the past few years, his 14.4% of passes thrown over 20 yards is more than even Drew Brees (11.7%) and Eli Manning (11.3%), and massively up on his own 9.8% last year. While there can be no argument over the choice of Roethlisberger, there’s possibly one for Matt Schaub (HST) over Manning. But while Schaub’s form has dipped, Manning seems to have come to terms with his limited arm strength and flourished.

Halfbacks: C.J. Spiller (BUF), Ray Rice (BLT) and Willis McGahee (DEN)

He came into the year as the second choice halfback on his own team, and is currently our starting AFC tailback. After a couple of sub-par games recovering from his injury in Cleveland, Spiller’s now looking back to his early-season best. It was a close call in the end between Arian Foster (HST) and McGahee. It came down to Foster’s appalling, league-worst, pass protection (one sack, three hits and seven hurries allowed) and his failure to generate anything as a receiver.

Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne (IND), A.J. Green (CIN), Wes Welker (NE) and Malcolm Floyd (SD)

So Wayne can’t play without Manning? Well maybe not with Curtis Painter, but an inconsistent first-rounder is fine it seems. Green has kicked on brilliantly after a good, if penalty strewn, first year. The only question is if his production will slip with Dalton’s? The selection of Floyd may raise a few eyebrows but he’s been the one bright spot in a disappointing Chargers passing attack. With a very good 1.88 yards per route run and just a single drop he may not be here at the end, but for now he’s on the team.

Fullback: Vonta Leach (BLT)

Leach hasn’t been as dominant as in previous years but if things go to plan he normally picks things up as the weeks go by. In the last seven weeks of last year (including the playoffs) he was superb.

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski (NE) and Heath Miller (PIT)

Even a sub-par Gronkowski makes this team, which is more a testament to his ceiling as opposed to the failings of tight ends in the AFC. As for Miller, reliability (zero dropped passes) , his nose for the end zone (a league-leading five TDs) and superior blocking see him force his way in front of Owen Daniels (HST).

Tackles: Duane Brown (HST), Sebastian Volmer (NE) and Ryan Clady (DEN)

Joe Thomas and Jake Long are still decent pass protectors but they’re struggling with the other parts of their games, including discipline. We wanted more of an all-around game from our trio, with Brown and Vollmer in particular adding a lot as run blockers. Clady has certainly benefited from Manning’s quick release, but only five QB disruptions on 255 pass drops is superb by any measure.

Guards: Ryan Lilja (KC), Marshal Yanda (BLT) and Kevin Zeitler (CIN)

The left guard position is a bit of a cheat because Lilja has played exclusively at center for the past three weeks. Needless to say the NFL still have him down as a guard. The point is his overall grade of +12.6 across both positions would see him fourth among guards and also centers, so it was probably now or never to give him the kudos he deserves. Zeitler gets a nod as the only offensive rookie to make either squad — his all-around ability and consistency has more in common with an eight-year veteran.

Centers: Mike Pouncey (MIA) and Chris Myers (HST)

Last year, Pouncey started his rookie season well and faded. So far he’s been admirably consistent. After getting beaten up badly by the 49ers (-6.1 grade) I didn’t give Nick Mangold (NYJ) a chance of making this team, but, just like last year when he came back from injury, his last two games have been excellent. The fight is on.

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  • http://twitter.com/DoctorBondura Marc Bondura

    is justin tucker doing tht good?

    • http://twitter.com/PFF_Neil Neil Hornsby

      Only the 47 yarder on TNF against the Browns missed (wide right) and our third ranked KO guy.

  • Jr

    So arian foster who is leading in rushing didn’t get no love. Dont know to many people that would mcgahee over foster.

    • http://twitter.com/PFF_Neil Neil Hornsby

      Knew this would be an issue but the truth is 2 yards per carry AFTER contact is Shonn Greene territory and 30th in the league. Won’t repeat the other issues as I don’t want to appear to be piling on (too much)

      • David

        I wonder if Foster’s issues could be related. He is being kept behind the line for extra pass protection with the inexperienced right side of the line, and thus has more opportunities to give up sacks and hurries, while also getting less opportunities to catch the ball. Just a theory, but Foster’s lack of production in the passing game has to be related to scheme. He’s too explosive as a receiver to have just dropped off like that. My feeling is we will see him featured as a receiver more down the road. (Obviously I was addressing the issues you raised in the article and not the problem of yards after contact. I’m not sure about that one).

  • Jr

    Oh btw. He also leads in rushing tds

  • David

    Is the order of players at each position in order of who’s having the best season? (e.g. that would mean McCourty is having a better season than Cromartie or Smith.)

    • http://twitter.com/PFF_Neil Neil Hornsby

      Generally yes, although where the two players would start together I haven’t made too much of an effort to be precise.

  • Doug Faust

    Will you guys be updating this closer to the end of the voting window? I hate turning in my ballot this early…

    • http://twitter.com/PFF_Neil Neil Hornsby

      Absolutely, next is probably a half year All Pro squad followed by an updated version of this after week 10 or 11.

  • TomNickle

    I love Haloti Ngata but how can the anchor at the point of attack get a ProBowl nod when his team is pitiful in run defense and barely adequate in rushing the passer?

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Ngata has done a good job playing end in a more traditional 3-4 the Ravens have been using. Got some penetration, just hasn’t had much help. Nose tackle position been particularly weak. Me personally, I’d have gone for Starks, but thats just one mans opinion.

  • Shaun

    Just curious, how close was the Zoltan to making that list? He deserved the game ball in the win vs the Jets and he’s just been so consistent in the past. Bill is much less likely to go for those midfield 4th downs that he’s garnered a reputation for, with Zoltan, he’s become a bit of a weapon.

  • Shaun

    Also, can you elaborate on McCourty I’m probably the only fan in a sea of cynics that’s been defending. Personally, I routinely notice that he hasn’t been involved in very many completions, although the few he has let up stick out. He must be one of, if not the best corner at defending the run. Can you quickly just sum up why you gave him the nod? Thanks. BTW new and loyal reader this year, I dig the in-depth objective analysis – only downside, i don’t want to read anybody else…

    • Khaled Elsayed

      He’s given up a couple of touchdowns which always catches peoples attention, but only 45.9% of plays into his coverage have been complete while he’s broken up six passes. Feels like a degree of disappointment from his poor sophomore year that is coming across with some. Positive grade in run defense as well

  • kate

    I’m a patriots fan, down here in NE everyone is getting on McCourty. He has been the face of this awful Defense, I am confused.

    • Shaun

      don’t listen to all the lemmings. they see a big play now and again and they catch onto the idiot tv guys and the idiot talkshow guys. Pay attention to McCourty next game and you’ll notice he consistently makes tackles in the run game and isn’t often on the receiving end of a completion. If you make it a point to focus on him you’ll notice he’s actually playing at a high level.

  • Joey

    How’s Colquitt grading as punter for the Broncos? Seems to be fairly consistent, but hard to compare for the layperson.

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Middle of the road. Best game against Tampa, just other guys producing some more noteworthy (if a punt can be noteworthy) punts

  • scott

    Jamal Charles? He is basically doing this with out a pulse of a qb and the box stacked against him…

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Playing reasonably well but line has done a decent job for him, and he hasn’t helped himself with three fumbles. Not quite at 2010 level when he led our RB rankings

  • cyrus

    How close is Randy Starks from the top 3 DTs?

  • Cliff Wagner

    is it crazy to think that Ryan Clark deserves consideration at Free Safety?

  • NFL Guru

    No Champ Bailey is a joke, Malcom Floyd over Demaryius Thomas is as well…and I’m very much an objective fan.
    The lack of appreciation for Champ Bailey on this site is comical at times though, just because he’s gotten older all of the sudden he’s not in the discussion for best CB in the league? Watch him play. He’s still arguably the best corner in football. I could do a better job keeping stats as well for you, he’s got 3 PF’s this year, 1 vs Antonion Brown, 1 vs Roddy White, and 1 vs the Chargers…Actually analyze the games please. I do it as a fan and keep more accurate stats.
    Do enjoy your site though. Not bashing, just the lack of respect for Champ is ridiculous on here, and wish there’d be more attention to detail was put into the stats.
    Sean Smith, and Antonio Cromartie have been excellent as well, agree with those two.

    • http://twitter.com/ArifHasanDN Arif Hasan

      “Watch him play” is the silliest thing you can say here. More attention to detail?

      If you feel you have a stat correction, mark the quarter and time remaining on the play, then get in contact with him through the “Contact Us” menu option. They are very responsive and I’ve had a number of discussions as to what counts as a PD and what does not. They have corrected attribution when I’ve pointed it out, too.

      They don’t think they’re infallible, but I have to say it seems more likely that there is bias on your part than a lack of attention to detail on their part, particularly when the grading plus/minus system ranks him 26th overall. That doesn’t happen because of an oversight. That happens because Bailey is playing slightly above average. He’s allowed a good but not great passer rating in coverage. He gets credit for not being thrown to that often, but that’s mostly a function of Tracy Porter and Chris Harris giving more open looks than it is Bailey blanketing in coverage.

  • NFL Guru

    *PD’s

  • Matt

    Great read…good to see a nod to Ryan Lilja, who has filled in admirably for the injured and impressive Rodney Hudson. It’s these kind of unheralded players that make the NFL what it is and allow the skill players to excel. He’s more than done his bit. The KC line has been good, but Cassel makes them look bad by having to have 10 secs in the pocket and walking into sacks. Funny how both Orton last year and now Brady Quinn don’t get sacked through the whole 60mins…….

  • http://twitter.com/Ben24626 Ben Fitzgerald

    If the NFL’s pro bowl positions are rubbish then use your own. Also, the button to the page with the defense was kind of hard to spot.

  • Ryan

    What good is Tom Brady passing 20+ yards if he can’t complete any of them?

  • lolol

    Why does this website use such weird city abbreviations? Doesn’t everybody else in the world use HOU for Houston and BAL for Baltimore?

  • corners

    Randy Starks and Brandon Fields. Fields always gets stubbed