Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The AFC
Out with the old, and in with the young right? With Neil Hornsby either occupied elsewhere or deposed from his Pro Bowl cheat sheet writing duties depending on your perspective, I’ll be trying to steer you in the right direction.
You see we bang on about how we watch and grade every player on every play in every game. That means we’re pretty confident in pushing you in offering guidance so players get the recognition they deserve. As always with our Pro Bowl Cheat sheet we’re following the rules set out by the Pro Bowl ballot.
AFC Offense (starter’s name first)
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady (NE), Peyton Manning (DEN) and Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
The hardest thing in this contest was deciding who would start. While Manning maybe the hot quarterback right now, it’s the work of Brady throughout the year that earns him the nod. Matt Schaub is playing well enough to feel like he deserves a mention, but it’s safe to say third string Big Ben is doing more with less right now.
Running Backs C.J. Spiller (BUF), Ray Rice (BLT) and Willis McGahee (DEN)
Spiller may only be 14th in terms of rushing yards, but his 7.2 yards per carry leads the league as does his 115 Elusive Rating. He’s as explosive a back as there in the league this year. Arian Foster may lead all AFC backs in yardage, but when I look at Rice and McGahee I’m seeing guys doing more to earn their yards.
Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne (IND), A.J. Green (CIN), Andre Johnson (HST) and Wes Welker (NE)
Green is an obvious slam dunk pick and playing as well as anyone right now while Johnson is averaging just 0.05 yards per route run less than Welker. While he hasn’t quite built on that superb display against Green Bay, Reggie Wayne has already proved the doubters wrong and is well worth a start. Demaryius Thomas can thank his habit of fumbling for his non-inclusion.
Fullback: Vonta Leach (BLT)
A predictable selection but well earned. Leach remains the best pure lead blocker in the AFC.
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski (NE) and Heath Miller (PIT)
The AFC affords us the luxury of picking up two guys who can both be described as complete tight ends. That’s what gives them the edge over Owen Daniels even if his 2.31 yards per route run matches Gronkowski as the best of both leagues at his position. Miller comes 15th in that regard and while he’s a better blocker out in space than in line, he can still get the job done.
Offensive Tackles: Duane Brown (HST), Sebastian Vollmer (NE) and Ryan Clady (DEN)
It finally happened. Brown gave up a sack for the first time since the 2010 season. He still edges Ryan Clady though for the starting spot by virtue of some far superior run blocking even though Clady has yet to give up a sack. The right tackle we’ve stumped for (because there should always be a right tackle in these things) is Vollmer. The little talked about Patriot has surrendered just 14 quarterback disruptions and done a quietly efficient job with his run blocking.
Offensive Guards: Willie Colon (PIT), Marshal Yanda (BLT) and Kevin Zeitler (CIN)
While picking Yanda was one of the easiest decisions out there (he is after all our top ranked right guard and rightfully so), choosing the left guard was not quite so. I threw out some names but none of them inspired me. In the end I decided I could look past the eight penalties of Willie Colon because of what he offers when he’s not breaking the rules.
Centers: Mike Pouncey (MIA) and Alex Mack (CLV)
The better of the Pouncey brothers starts here and it’s down to you guys to ensure the right one is bragging at the end of the year. Joining him you’ve got a fight between Mack, Nick Mangold and Chris Myers and I really wouldn’t argue with any of the choices. Overall, Mack has been that little bit more consistent.
Turn The Page for the Defense
AFC Defense (starter’s name first)
Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt (HST), Cameron Wake (MIA) and Chandler Jones (NE)
The top two picked themselves. I simply had to take full advantage of the Pro Bowl voting to pick two guys who played predominantly on the left side because both are having the kind of years where they warrant Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Wake leads the league with 55 quarterback disruptions, while Watt has 34 and has also added 10 batted passes and 36 total defensive stops. Jones’ numbers pale in comparison, but the rookie has been an every down influence for the Pats.
Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (CIN), Randy Starks (MIA) and Kyle Williams (BUF)
I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that Geno Atkins is the best defensive tackle in all of football. He’s relentless and as disruptive an interior threat as there is in the league with 26 defensive stops already. Starks is a player who always gets the job done without ever getting the credit it truly deserves. You should do something to change that. Those two have earned the start and Williams has done a phenomenal job in Buffalo while those around have faltered.
Inside Linebackers: Jerod Mayo (NE) and Karlos Dansby (MIA)
I was under the impression (from you know watching the Patriots) that Mayo actually lined up as an outside linebacker. In some respects it’s a mistake that helps me out because the talent at inside linebacker in the AFC is quite a ways off from their NFC counterparts. The Patriots defensive leader is having his best season to date and making plays in all areas of the game. At least the consistent Dansby is a middle linebacker and has looked right at home in the Dolphins 4-3.
Outside Linebackers: Von Miller (DEN), Justin Houston (KC) and Kevin Burnett (MIA)
If you’re Pro Bowl voting and Miller isn’t on your ballot then you’re doing it wrong. He already has 44 quarterback disruptions and has another 19 defensive stops. It’s like he’s addicted to making plays.
Sticking in the AFC West, Houston has really stepped it up this year and more of you would probably know that, but the Chiefs have got him rushing the passer just 59.1% of the time. He’s made it count though and shown an ability to make plays all over the field. Backing them up you could do worse than click on the name of Kevin Burnett who has really impressed in his second year in Miami. He makes plays on every down.
Cornerbacks: Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Alterraun Verner (TEN) and Devin McCourty (NE)
Not the easiest of decisions to make. Cromartie earns it for how he has stepped up since Darrelle Revis went down. He’s allowed just 41.9% of passes into his coverage to be complete, so you can look past the high (six) penalty count.
The second and third choices were a little harder. Names like Sheldon Brown, Jason McCourty, Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers are all worthy choices, but I’ve stumped for Verner and McCourty. The Titan is just an all round solid player who can be counted on. McCourty is probably one of my more controversial selections, especially given he’s moved to safety the past couple of games. Before that he’d allowed only 45.9% of plays into his coverage to be complete while picking off two balls and deflected another six. Better than people seem prepared to give him credit for.
Safeties: Eric Weddle (SD) and T.J. Ward (CLV)
Damn the way I’m made to vote. I’d rather not vote for Ward and focus on deciding between Reshad Jones and Jairus Byrd as to who partners with Weddle. Weddle was an easy choice and I’ve always liked what he does in coverage and his ability to come up and clean up messes in front of him. That hasn’t changed this year.
Special Teams: K – Justin Tucker (BLT), P – Donnie Jones (HST), KR – Marcus Thigpen (MIA), ST – Corey Graham (BLT)