Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The NFC
So read below to find out which quarterbacks we went for, what pass rushers impressed, and most importantly of all, which rookie kicker got the nod.
NFC Offense (starter’s name first)
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan (ATL), Aaron Rodgers (GB) and Eli Manning (NYG)
The start goes to Ryan who has done an exceptional job in leading his team to an 8-0 record that nobody predicted before the start of the year. Some in PFF Towers may disagree, but that warrants first team recognition. Behind him Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning are both coming off a couple of weeks that neither would describe as their best.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson (MIN), Marshawn Lynch (SEA) and Doug Martin (TB)
Three of our top four ranked rushers, all of whom are coming off games where they showcased their talent. The fact Adrian Peterson is on the field at all is remarkable, but that he’s leading the league in rushing and is doing it looking as good as ever. Well that warrants a start. Martin is running as well as anyone right now, and Lynch has been a model of consistency. The three have accounted for 106 forced missed tackles and have earned your vote.
Wide Receivers: Percy Harvin (MIN), Roddy White (ATL), Brandon Marshall (CHI) and Vincent Jackson (TB)
Calvin Johnson and Victor Cruz have both dropped just enough balls that it makes this selection a comfortable one. Harvin has forced 22 missed tackles, 13 more than the next best wide receiver and already has 542 yards after the catch. White just keeps on getting the job done and works the sideline catches as well as anyone. Behind those two you’ve got the most productive receiver in the league in Marshall (2.94 yards per route run) and a man averaging 22.9 yards per reception in Jackson. They’re pretty good.
Fullback: Jerome Felton (MIN)
Whether as a runner or as a lead blocker, Felton has never really stood out in his career. Until this year, where his lead blocking has helped Adrian Peterson immensely.
Tight Ends: Vernon Davis (SF) and Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
Davis has been the cream of the crop as far as tight ends in the NFC go. His 374 yards won’t blow you away, but with just one dropped pass and no penalties, he’s improved massively on the mental lapses that once highlighted his game. Throw in some excellent run blocking and he’s a no brainer. Joining him is Gonzalez because even though he’s no great shakes in the run blocking department, he is our top graded receiver at the spot. Well worth your time.
Offensive Tackles: Trent Williams (WAS), Anthony Davis (SF) and Joe Staley (SF)
While Staley actually has a better grade, Williams’ work in pass protection is undeniably superior and that’s a priority from the left tackle spot. Still, there’s one 49er who does get a start and it’s Davis who has taken a big step forward this year. He may be behind Todd Herremans in our grades, but considering the Eagle is a blindside protector, I’d like a little better pass protection.
Offensive Guards: Evan Mathis (PHI), Alex Boone (SF) and Mike Iupati (SF)
A couple of strong performances in the last two weeks meant that even though Iupati is our second ranked guard in the league, he should be behind Mathis in your voting. Much like the offensive tackles though, the right side should provide a home for a 49er with Alex Boone excelling in his first year starting.
Centers: John Sullivan (MIN) and Jonathan Goodwin (SF)
It was tough not recommending Will Montgomery, but the superior run blocking of Goodwin and Sullivan means you can vote for either man with a clear conscience. Sullivan is our top ranked center and is proving his 2011 year was no fluke.
Turn The Page for the Defense
NFC Defense (starter’s name first)
Defensive Ends: Calais Campbell (ARZ), Charles Johnson (CAR) and Chris Clemons (SEA)
Life must be hard on Campbell as he always seems to be in the shadows of other 3-4 defensive ends. Well, he should be the first guy you vote for on the NFC roster when you’re looking at defensive ends. He already has 27 quarterback disruptions and has been tremendous in the run game.
Johnson is starting to look like the force that convinced the Panthers to spend so much money on him and now has 44 quarterback disruptions on the year with 18 of them coming in the last two weeks. The final spot goes to Clemons who will need to up his game to continue getting this recommendation. He’s managed just two hits and five hurries in the past three weeks.
Defensive Tackles: Gerald McCoy (TB), Kevin Williams (MIN) and Brandon Mebane (SEA)
All football fans should be grateful that Gerald McCoy is healthy. As a result he’s rewarding us all with some play that has earned him the highest ranking of all defensive tackles. Now you can repay him with your vote.
Brandon Mebane is a player who has disappointed a tad over the past years after a storming start to his career, but has looked at his best in 2012. Playing a lot of zero technique he’s proved a real handful for centers. Mebane has been able to get up field and penetrate vertically, while also getting off blocks and making plays laterally. I wouldn’t begrudge him for starting over Kevin Williams who has continued to make plays for the Vikings.
Inside Linebackers: Patrick Willis (SF) and Daryl Washington (ARZ)
How do you pick two from three when the choices are Willis, Washington and NaVorro Bowman? It’s impossible and I can’t blame anyone for feeling slighted at my recommendations. Washington has earned my affection this week with a solid display against the Packers. My concern with him has always been his tendency to match his big plays (and he makes a lot of them like his eight sacks) with bad plays (like 11 missed tackles). Willis wins the war of the 49ers by virtue of being a slightly more rounded player.
Outside Linebackers: Clay Matthews (GB), Lance Briggs (CHI) and DeMarcus Ware (DAL)
The Claymaker is at the top of our 3-4 outside linebacker rankings and if you’re serious about you Pro Bowl voting you need to have his name on your ballot. He tops his peers in quarterback pressures. Sticking in the NFC North, Briggs has made a number of plays in coverage that you just don’t see an awful lot of linebackers make. He’s a big part of why the Bears defense has been playing so well.
It was a little bit harder choosing the third spot. Ware keeps generating pressure but not at the same kind of rate we’ve seen him do in the past. It’s good enough to get him on your ballot, but also something to watch if you’re voting later in the year.
Cornerbacks: Charles Tillman (CHI), Richard Sherman (SEA) and Antoine Winfield (MIN)
It’s uncanny just how many fumbles Tillman is able to force. His work before the catch has been pretty good as well, allowing just 8.1 yards per reception on the 64.3% of balls he’s allowing into his coverage (with no touchdowns given up). He’s a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate.
The artist formerly known as Optimus Prime (Richard Sherman) has built upon his strong rookie year, allowing just 52% of balls thrown into his coverage to be complete with three interceptions and six pass defenses. The third spot should come down to Winfield, Casey Hayward and Tim Jennings. It so close that to even suggest who to pick seems a bit wrong. I’ve plumped for Winfield because he offers something a little bit extra in the run game.
Safeties: Major Wright (CHI) and Ronde Barber (TB)
With Kerry Rhodes and Dashon Goldson playing so well, you wouldn’t be too far from making the right choice in going for them. Wright is the best of the strong safety candidates, while Barber has really turned his career around since moving to safety. He looked completely spent in his last year at corner but now with different responsibilities he’s a big part of the Bucs defensive turnaround.
Special Teams: K – Blair Walsh (MIN), P – Jon Ryan (SEA), KR – Percy Harvin (MIN), ST – Blake Costanzo (CHI)
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