Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The AFC
We’re only sticking to guys the NFL lets you vote for, so it leads to me being somewhat handcuffed at certain positions, and just scratching my head at others.
But here’s the list.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady (NE), Peyton Manning (DEN) and Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
I’m only voting so I don’t need to choose a starter thankfully. Otherwise I’d have a hard time figuring out if the middle-of-the-season hot streak of Manning outdid the consistency of Tom Terrific. Both have been superb and who would bet against a rematch sometime in the playoffs? The last spot was a choice between Big Ben and Matt Schaub. I opted for Roethlisberger, who has had less to work with and put forth some of his best work to date.
Running Backs: C.J. Spiller (BUF), Ray Rice (BLT) and Stevan Ridley (NE)
It may seem something of an affront to Arian Foster, but I don’t think he’s running as well as he did last year. He’s leading the AFC in yards, but his yards per carry, yards after contact and forced missed tackle number are all down on some of his rivals. I’m not thrilled with the other choices outside of the excellent Spiller, who is playing at a different level to all others in the AFC.
Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne (IND), A.J. Green (CIN), Andre Johnson (HST) and Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
I wouldn’t begrudge anyone having Wes Welker in their selection, but he just missed out. I’d say Johnson has done more with fewer opportunities, Wayne is arguably more important and productive, and A.J. Green is just the best receiver out there. So it came down to Welker and Thomas, and in the end Thomas has put the ball on the ground as much as Welker (11 combined fumbles and drops each), has more yards per route run (2.5) and more trips to the end zone (five).
Fullback: Marcel Reece (OAK)
If there was a blocking fullback out there who stood out I’d have gone for him. There isn’t, and what Reece brings to the table as a receiving weapon gets him my endorsement.
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski (NE) and Heath Miller (PIT)
How much time Gronkowski misses is the only thing that could take him off my cheat sheet. He’s the best and most complete tight end. While Miller is something of a poor man’s Gronkowski, he does have a habit of coming through with plays at the right time.
Offensive Tackles: Duane Brown (HST), Sebastian Vollmer (NE) and Ryan Clady (DEN)
My only pet peeve is that there isn’t a right tackle mandate in Pro Bowl voting. So I’m pushing the agenda and using Vollmer as my poster boy. Give the man some love — he’s earned it with the highest grade of any right tackle at PFF. The left tackles picked themselves with Branden Albert just missing out. Clady is earning himself a big deal next year while Brown may be the most complete tackle.
Offensive Guards: Clint Boling (CIN), Marshal Yanda (BLT) and Kevin Zeitler (CIN)
There are very true constants in football, but Yanda being the league’s best right guard is certainly one of them. The state of guard play in the rest of the AFC hasn’t been great, and I’ve ended up plumping for two Bengals. I’d like to see more out of them in run game, but they certainly do a good job keeping pressure off Andy Dalton.
Centers: Mike Pouncey (MIA) and Nick Mangold (NYJ)
Chris Myers, Alex Mack and even Fernando Velasco are all putting heavy pressure on Pouncey and Mangold in what is one of the most competitive positions. The superior run blocking of both men is what has earned them my vote, but this one could change drastically on a week-to-week basis.
Turn The Page for the Defense
Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt (HST), Cameron Wake (MIA) and Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ)
Was there ever any doubt Watt was going to make it? You could spend a lot of time just talking about how he leads every statistical category at his position, yet you don’t need to. His performances have made him a defensive player of the year candidate. Wake is maybe a step off that, but the talented pass rusher just keeps on generating pressure. The final choice was a tricky one, and I gave some thought to Derrick Morgan who has really come on this year. In the end Wilkerson earned it. He’s extremely active around the line of scrimmage. A real nuisance.
Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (CIN), Kyle Williams (BUF) and Jurrell Casey (TEN)
Atkins and Williams are no brainers. One is our top-ranked defensive tackle (Atkins) and the other is No. 2 (Williams). They both generate pressure and they both disrupt the run. They’re my types of players. The third choice was trickier. I considered Randy Starks, Richard Seymour and others before settling on Casey. Out of left field, I know. My rationale? He’s not a guy I’d want rushing the passer, but his work in run defense is impressive. A big body who can get off blocks and make plays. Like it. Like it a lot.
Inside Linebackers: Derrick Johnson (KC) and Brandon Spikes (NE)
I must admit I was disappointed with the slow start to the year from Johnson as he recovered from a preseason injury. Well I’m disappointed no more. No inside linebacker is playing better at the moment. With not much on the ballot to choose from I went for Spikes over Mayo. I like the aggressive play of Spikes and the fact he’s an actual inside linebacker. Whatever you do, make a Patriot your pick.
Outside Linebackers: Von Miller (DEN), Kevin Burnett (MIA) and Justin Houston (KC)
I can’t be the only one who has been impressed by Burnett this year. A truly complete linebacker, his play is flying under the radar after a much improved second year in Miami. The only thing holding Houston back is how much the Chiefs allow him to rush the passer. He’s nearly as productive a rusher as Miller but not quite. Then again nobody is. This is one guy who should get unanimous approval.
Cornerbacks: Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Alterraun Verner (TEN) and Kareem Jackson (HST)
While the NFC’s corners left me spoiled for choice, here in the AFC the picture isn’t quite as rosy. When I watch Cromartie there’s enough in his game that always concerns me a big play is around the corner, but credit to him in allowing just 46.2 percent of balls into his coverage complete. That’s marginally better than Jackson (50 percent), and while Verner is at 72.3 percent, that’s the result of rarely letting anything deep in behind him. This is one position where plenty of players could emerge from the pack and get themselves into the running.
Safeties: T.J. Ward (CLV) and Jairus Byrd (BUF)
I’ll admit it. I kind of hate the NFL when I have to choose my safeties. Just two spots and one of them has to be a strong safety? Where’s your position integrity when it comes to tackles and guards? Ward was an easy choice when you look at the list of strong safety candidates, but how am I supposed to choose between Byrd, Eric Weddle and Reshad Jones? I went with Byrd because his playmaking in coverage is exceptional, but seriously, If you’re voting for any of those three men you can’t go wrong.
AFC Special Teams
Kicker: Justin Tucker (BLT)
Punter: Brandon Fields (MIA)
Kick Returner: Marcus Thigpen (MIA)
Special Teamer: Darrell Stuckey (SD)
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