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)
No change here. Brady and Manning are two of the easier choices I’ll get to make, while even the injury to Roethlisberger can’t convince me to go in another direction. Andrew Luck throws too many bad balls and Matt Schaub I find far from convincing under pressure.
Running Backs: C.J. Spiller (BUF), Ray Rice (BLT) and Stevan Ridley (NE)
Those crying out for Arian Foster and his 3.9 yards per carry average will be disappointed. Instead, I’ve gone for the explosive Spiller, dynamic Rice, and industrious Ridley. Similarly, as much as I like Jamaal Charles, the four fumbles were always going to hurt his chances of getting my nod.
Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne (IND), A.J. Green (CIN), Andre Johnson (HST) and Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
This choice has become easier over the past two weeks. It just so happens that these guys top the charts in receiving yards for the AFC, and it’s well earned. Wayne has become the go-to guy for Andrew Luck, while A.J. Green has picked up an impressive 10 touchdowns. Johnson leads the conference in Yards Per Route Run with Thomas not far off. This is one year where Wes Welker, as good as he is, may need to take a back seat.
Fullback: Vonta Leach (BLT)
I am a fickle one. One week I allow myself to be won over by the ball carrying skills of Marcel Reece, the next I’m all about the lead blocking of Leach. Football purists, make Leach your man.
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski (NE) and Heath Miller (PIT)
Whether Gronkowski can continue to earn this vote could come down to whether he plays again this year. Are 10 games, dominant as they were, enough to give someone a Pro Bowl spot? Marcedes Lewis’ superior blocking earned him consideration, but Miller is doing enough in the passing game to look past that.
Offensive Tackles: Duane Brown (HST), Andre Smith (CIN) and D’Brickashaw Ferguson (NYJ)
Brown keeps his spot, but I’ve had a change of heart regarding the two others. Smith is coming off one of the best performances of his career on the same week Sebastian Vollmer had one of his worst. Meanwhile Ryan Clady is just missing out, with the difference in play between he and Ferguson being so marginal that something as small as having given up two penalties to five help me endorse the Jet. I wouldn’t begrudge the Bronco getting your vote.
Offensive Guards: Clint Boling (CIN), Marshal Yanda (BLT) and Kevin Zeitler (CIN)
It’s an All AFC North thing outside of Yanda, I’m looking at the NFC list of candidates and wondering why they couldn’t be in this conference to make things easier for me. As it is, Yanda is the best guard in the league, while the solid Cincinnati duo are better than anything else out there.
Centers: Mike Pouncey (MIA) and Chris Myers (HST)
No Nick Mangold? His inconsistency has got the better of me. That means Myers joins Pouncey as my two recommendations. I gave some serious consideration to Ryan Wendell, the Patriots’ center who has done an exceptional job in the run game. But you can’t give 19 quarterback disruptions up without it raising doubt in me.
Turn the page for the Defense
Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt (HST), Cameron Wake (MIA) and Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ)
These guys look nailed on for me. Our top-ranked 4-3 defensive end and our two top-ranked 3-4 defensive ends. Chandler Jones at one point was a guy I thought could be in contention, but injury and inconsistent performance derailed that. Instead, the dominant pass rusher Wake and run defender Wilkerson are joined by the total package that is J.J. Watt. Easy.
Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (CIN), Kyle Williams (BUF) and Jurrell Casey (TEN)
If you haven’t got Atkins on the list then you’ve failed. Massively. He’s the best defensive tackle in football and a genuine Defensive Player of the Year candidate. In any other year Williams himself would be a contender, and it’s a shame his comeback season has gone so criminally unnoticed. Casey is my final choice. I want myself a good old fashioned big body who can get off blocks and make plays in the run game. Not enough people know how good he already is.
Inside Linebackers: Derrick Johnson (KC) and Brandon Spikes (NE)
And this duo remains. Spikes may be as good a run defender as any linebacker in the league. Johnson isn’t far off him, mind. Two guys very deserving of your votes.
Outside Linebackers: Von Miller (DEN), Kevin Burnett (MIA) and Justin Houston (KC)
It’s easy for Burnett and Houston to be overshadowed when you consider the year Miller is having. He gets off blocks, makes plays and just generally dominates. Burnett though, has really flourished in the Dolphins’ 4-3, showing himself to be one of the most complete linebackers in the league. In a tough year for the Chiefs, the development of Houston has been a huge plus.
Cornerbacks: Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Alterraun Verner (TEN) and Chris Harris (DEN)
You’ve got to respect what Cromartie is doing matching up with a team’s top receiver. The six penalties aren’t great, but allowing just 42.2% of passes into his coverage to be complete is. Verner is one of the most solid cornerbacks in the league, rarely letting anything get behind him. While Champ Bailey has arguably the tougher job, it’s Harris who has really stood out this year. Moving into the slot in nickel, his progress from undrafted free agent to starter in the NFL continues to astound.
Safeties: T.J. Ward (CLV) and Jairus Byrd (BUF)
It’s really not fair. Ward is an easy choice for the strong safety spot, but how do I choose between Reshad Jones, Eric Weddle and Byrd? In short, I go for Byrd because I believe him to be a better player in coverage. But by all means vote for Weddle or Jones. They’ve both been excellent.
AFC Special Teams
Kicker: Justin Tucker (BLT)
Punter: Donnie Jones (HST)
Kick Returner: Marcus Thigpen (MIA)
Special Teamer: Darrell Stuckey (SD)
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