Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The NFC
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.
Now here’s the list.
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan (ATL), Aaron Rodgers (GB) and Drew Brees (NO)
There’s a case to be made for RG3, but realistically all the men I’ve selected are doing more at the moment and picking up wins in the process. That’s not to downplay the achievements of my frontrunner for rookie of the year, but a reflection on how well all three have played, even if they’ve all had their blips.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson (MIN), Marshawn Lynch (SEA) and Doug Martin (TB)
Frank Gore certainly warrants contention, and if this was the AFC he’d have made it for sure. But this is the NFC, home to the best backs in the NFL. Peterson is a no-brainer, and leads the league in rushing and the PFF rankings. Lynch isn’t too far behind him, while Martin isn’t breaking as many tackles as he was a couple of weeks ago.
Wide Receivers: Percy Harvin (MIN), Roddy White (ATL), Vincent Jackson (TB) and Brandon Marshall (CHI)
Am I mad? Leaving out Calvin Johnson? This is one case of wanting to pick five players but not being able to, and you could make a case for any of them missing out. As it is I’m looking at the two fumbles by Johnson, his nine drops and three touchdowns and thinking the others have more consistency. Harvin with his ability after the catch, Jackson as the league’s premier deep threat, White for his clutch work and Marshall for how he’s improved that Bears passing attack. Johnson may have the most yards in the NFC, but he’s only fifth in the conference in yards per route run.
Fullback: Bruce Miller (SF)
Just a solid hit-you-in-the-mouth lead blocker. Does he stand out? No. But then he consistently executes. I like that.
Tight Ends: Vernon Davis (SF) and Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
While the numbers say Davis has been having a down year, the tape says he’s having his best. He’s taken full advantage of what pass catching chances he’s had, while his blocking is more consistent than ever. I’d understand those who would go for Jason Witten and his superior blocking over Gonzalez. But the Falcon has been so good for Atlanta catching the ball I couldn’t ignore him.
Offensive Tackles: Trent Williams (WAS), Anthony Davis (SF) and Joe Staley (SF)
I very nearly opted for Gosder Cherilus at right tackle, but I wanted a guy who packed more of a punch in the run game. Step forward Davis, who still has the odd bad moment in pass protection, but has really stepped it up this year. Williams and Staley are two different types of tackles, but no guy in the NFC has come close to them in terms of on field production.
Offensive Guards: Evan Mathis (PHI), Alex Boone (SF) and Mike Iupati (SF)
Both Jahri Evans and Rob Sims will feel disappointed. They’re ranked three and four in the PFF guard rankings, but with their work being heavily weighted toward pass blocking I wanted some guards who mauled a little more. The 49ers pair and Mathis definitely fit that criteria.
Centers: John Sullivan (MIN) and Jonathan Goodwin (SF)
Much like the AFC, you could make a case for a number of other guys. I get why people would pick Will Montgomery or Max Unger, but I really like centers who can handle big defensive tackles. Sullivan is playing as well as anyone right now, with Goodwin not far off that pace.
Turn The Page for the Defense
Defensive Ends: Charles Johnson (CAR), Calais Campbell (ARZ) and Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG)
Now I’m happy with my choices of Johnson and Campbell. The Panther is back to his best after a mildly disappointing 2011, while Campbell has turned himself into a real every-down pest. But JPP? I didn’t think I’d have to make that decision. John Abraham has beaten up bad tackles, Michael Bennett similar, and Jason Hatcher needs to carry on his recent good form. I’ve gone for JPP for his ability to generate pressure on an underperforming line, and his excellent work in the run game.
Defensive Tackles: Gerald McCoy (TB), Justin Smith (SF) and Nick Fairley (DET)
McCoy and Smith were slam-dunk picks after the NFL decided to credit Smith as a DT. Odd that Calais Campbell isn’t, don’t you think? The final choice came down to Fairley, Kevin Williams, Henry Melton, and Brandon Mebane. I obviously have a short memory, but I just can’t help but be impressed by Nick Fairley nearly every time I see him play. He’s a real force and the only player who might threaten the dominance of Geno Atkins as the league’s best defensive tackle.
Inside Linebackers: Daryl Washington (ARZ) and Patrick Willis (SF)
With NaVorro Bowman not playing as well in the past couple of weeks I avoided the usual agonizing decision that I refer to as ‘Khaled’s Choice’. I can settle for the all-around play of Willis and playmaker Washington with a clear conscience.
Outside Linebackers: Clay Matthews (GB), DeMarcus Ware (DAL) and Aldon Smith (SF)
I’ve gone pass rusher heavy here. Matthews and Ware continue to get the job done, even if seven penalties for Ware are far too many. The last choice I went for Smith, though if he didn’t beat up on the Bears like he did I could quite easily have gone for his teammate Ahmad Brooks, or Lance Briggs.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman (SEA), Charles Tillman (CHI) and Casey Hayward (GB)
Above all else I want my corners to be excellent in coverage and be that way against the better players out there. Though I love the work of Antoine Winfield in the run game, I didn’t think he’d done enough in this regard. Nonetheless I’d understand those voting for him or Tim Jennings, whose overall play doesn’t quite match his interception tally. Sherman is approaching elite status with the body of work he’s put out this year, while Hayward has dazzled in a way few rookies do. Tillman, if only for the forced fumbles alone, can’t be ignored. Playmakers change games.
Safeties: Kam Chancellor (SEA) and Kerry Rhodes (ARZ)
The NFC hasn’t been high on quality safety play, and I’m left picking our fourth-ranked free safety with our 11th-ranked overall safety. Chancellor played better last year while Rhodes has finally found some of that form that made him one of the best safeties in the league at times in New York.
NFC Special Teams
Kicker: Blair Walsh (MIN)
Punter: Thomas Morstead (NO)
Kick Returner: Percy Harvin (MIN)
Special Teamer: Colt Anderson (PHI)
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