PFF Pro Bowl Team 2014
Everything is so much cooler when you give it a subtitle. It’s why this year’s Pro Bowl: Unconferenced promises to be… well, exactly the same as years gone by. Only there’s no more AFC or NFC team and we’re left with Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders leading teams into battle with the top two vote getters picking the team.
So at Pro Football Focus we’re presenting our own Pro Bowl roster. We’re not going to break it down into Team Jerry or Team Deion, but we will give you the starters and let you know who we think should be the captains.
Since this is our official 2014 Pro Bowl team, we’re ignoring the NFL ballots and positioning people where we see fit.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (DEN) and Philip Rivers (SD)
Backups: Russell Wilson (SEA), Drew Brees (NO), Matthew Stafford (DET) and Tom Brady (NE)
We decided to be controversial and go with Manning as a starter. He’s had a pretty decent year however you break it down. The other starter, Rivers, is one of three players with a better adjusted accuracy percentage and has been reborn with an offense that gets the ball out of his hands quicker. Of the backups they all picked themselves but it was the inadequacy of others that cemented the selection of Stafford. He’s been poor recently but should we forget his fine start to the year?
Running Back: LeSean McCoy (PHI) and Jamaal Charles (KC)
Backups: Eddie Lacy (GB), DeMarco Murray (DAL), Adrian Peterson (MIN) and Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
Slightly boring that we’ve gone with the two running backs with the most yardage, but there’s a reason why they’re leading that category and it owes a lot to their own ability. Again on the backup front we’ve gone with guys who can run the ball chiefly, so Darren Sproles might feel slighted in that regard for his fantastic work as a receiver.
Full Back: Anthony Sherman (KC) and Mike Tolbert (CAR)
Sherman is our top ranked pure lead blocker, and by some distance. We initially scoffed when the Chiefs brought him in but it’s been a masterstroke. We felt uncomfortable giving Tolbert the nod given his good work as a running back, but there was no outstanding candidate to give us another option.
Wide Receiver: Antonio Brown (PIT), Calvin Johnson (DET), Brandon Marshall (CHI) and Andre Johnson (HOU)
Backups: DeSean Jackson (PHI), Alshon Jeffrey (CHI), Jordy Nelson (GB) and Josh Gordon (CLE)
Talk about competitive. We could have gone any number of ways here so we’ll understand fans of Anquan Boldin, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas siding against this. As it is can you really argue against any of those selections?
Tight End: Jimmy Graham (NO) and Vernon Davis (SF)
Backups: Jason Witten (DAL) and Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
If only Rob Gronkowski had featured a little more. His 390 snaps were far too few to be considered which is a shame because there isn’t a receiving weapon like him. That left us scrambling to find three guys to fit next to the ever excellent Jimmy Graham. In the end Davis gets the start over Gonzalez for his superior blocking, while Witten is really the best all rounder out there in something of a down year for tight ends.
Tackle: Joe Thomas (CLE), Andrew Whitworth (CIN), Demar Dotson (TB) and Phil Loadholt (MIN)
Backups: Jordan Gross (CAR) and Joe Staley (SF)
Damn our own system. The truth is the standard of left tackle play has been much higher than that on the right side, but we’re committed to playing left and right tackles which means we had a very difficult choice between Zach Strief, Loadholt and Dotson. It was an even tougher task separating the left tackles where Trent Williams and Jake Long can consider themselves extremely unlucky to miss out. Special mention for Whitworth who filled in when his team needed him at left guard most admirably, with our good selves opting not to hold that against him.
Guard: Evan Mathis (PHI), Josh Sitton (GB), Louis Vasquez (DEN) and Larry Warford (Det)
Backups: Brandon Fusco (MIN) and Travelle Wharton (CAR)
You know the drill with Evan Mathis, who for a third year is our top ranked guard by some distance. Perhaps this is the year he gets his due with a trip to Hawaii. Sitton has done exceptionally well moving over to the left side of the line while our right guards really picked themselves with rookie Warford a revelation and Vasquez well worth the money. The biggest point of contention then came down to picking between Wharton and Matt Slauson, with the former Jet surprising everyone with his play in Chicago. In the end the more consistent Wharton won out.
Center: Alex Mack (CLE) and Chris Myers (HOU)
Backups: John Sullivan (MIN) and Jason Kelce (PHI)
A lot of teams are going to be monitoring the contract situation of Mack very closely. Centers like him rarely hit free agency but he’s nearing it. He’s having a fine year. Myers got the nod over Kelce … just. The logic being that when Myers was bad (see Week 16), he wasn’t nearly as bad as Kelce (see Week 5). The last spot was fought out by three men, with Travis Frederick bowing out courtesy of his poor pass blocking and John Sullivan winning due to his superior consistency over Manny Ramirez.
Turn the Page for the Defense
Defensive End: Robert Quinn (SL), J.J. Watt (HOU), Calais Campbell (ARZ) and Cameron Jordan (NO)
Backups: Greg Hardy (CAR) and Cameron Wake (MIA)
We’ve been a bit creative with our ends and tackle picks to ensure we get as many of the best guys in as possible. That means while Campbell and Watt spend a lot of time playing between the tackles we’ve put them in as ends, with their performance never a question mark. Quinn was the obvious choice to start with his grade a positional record on the year, which left us with a dilemma on the backups. On one hand we love what Michael Bennett has done, and the run defense of Michael Johnson has been phenomenal. But weighed against the more complete every down efforts of Hardy we had to go for the Panther.
Defensive Tackle: Gerald McCoy (TB), Ndamukong Suh (DET), Jurrell Casey (TEN) and Kyle Williams (BUF)
Backups: Dontari Poe (KC) and Marcell Dareus (BUF)
There are a lot of players who might feel wronged here. The nose tackle types who only play on early downs like Damon Harrison and Brandon Mebane are victims of their own limitations despite their excellent work against the run, while there simply wasn’t the room for Randy Starks or Jason Hatcher. It’s been a tremendous season for the DT spot, with us treating Kyle Williams as one because it’s the role that most closely resembles his on field work.
Inside Linebacker: NaVorro Bowman (SF) and Patrick Willis (SF)
Backups: Derrick Johnson (KC) and Karlos Dansby (ARZ)
The big controversy. Have we forgot about Luke Kuechly? Not so and while the world likes to pin the success of a unit on one player, the truth is the Panthers’ defense is more about the collective than any one individual. So while Kuechly has played well, we’re not going to let the hype do the 49ers duo, the excellent Johnson and the criminally underrated Dansby out of a spot. Kuechly, Kiko Alonso, Sean Lee and Stephen Tulloch were all considered for the final spot, but the playmaking of Dansby (he leads his position with eight sacks and 10 pass break ups) made our minds up for us.
Outside Linebacker: Lavonte David (TB), Justin Houston (KC), Robert Mathis (IND) and Vontaze Burfict (CIN)
Backups: Brian Orakpo (WAS) and Thomas Davis (CAR)
We considered Elvis Dumervil, but given he’s a purely situational player we went in a different direction, instead trying to balance out with three 4-3 guys and three 3-4 ones. That meant the pass rushing terrors of Houston, Mathis and Orakpo got the nod while it wasn’t difficult picking David, Davis or Burfict. Granted it would have been easier if Burfict wasn’t flagged 12 times but we digress.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis (TB), Brent Grimes (MIA), Richard Sherman (SEA) and Patrick Peterson (ARZ)
Backups: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DEN), Keenan Lewis (NO), Vontae Davis (IND) and Joe Haden (CLE)
Some selections were easy, some less so. The easy ones are the guys you see starting, with us happy to look past Patrick Peterson’s besting at the hands of Kendall Wright to see a cornerback who doesn’t just man up with a team’s top receiver, but quiets them down. Picking the backups however was a tad harder and in the end Haden and Lewis, who don’t have the best PFF grades in the world, gets the due because the job they’re asked to do is so much harder than pretty much any cornerback out there. In that regard our grades always need a little context and it’s why they make it over Tramaine Brock despite his excellent play that has seen him promoted to the starting lineup recently.
Strong Safety: Eric Berry (KC) and T.J. Ward (CLE)
This was really a case of two from three, and the choice came down to Ward or Donte Whitner. The stinker of a game Ward had against the Jets almost had us changing course, but in the end he’s in with Whitner the first alternate.
Free Safety: Devin McCourty (NE) and Earl Thomas (SEA)
McCourty looks at home as the deep safety in New England, up to the tests of whatever comes his way that sees him top our overall grades for safety. Joining him is Thomas who makes the kind of plays few can. That was enough for us to look past some of the more negative plays he makes.
Kicker: Nick Folk (NYJ) and Justin Tucker (BAL)
These two know a thing or two about making game winning kicks.
Returner: Cordarrelle Patterson (MIN) and Golden Tate (SEA)
You get the impression something is going to happen every time these two get the ball in the open field.
Punter: Shane Lechler (HOU) and Johnny Hekker (SL)
A big year from Lechler who tops our punter grading from Hekker, with Thomas Morstead and Pat McAfee not far from making the list.
Special Teamer: Justin Bethel (ARZ) and Jeremy Lane (SEA)
Simply put there isn’t another special teamer like Bethel and our look at special teams units in more detail this year has really bore that out. Lane may not have been the selection for his team but he just edges out Robert Golden who was nominated initially before being bumped .