Pro Bowl Roster 2012: AFC
It doesn’t help that the voting stops after Week 15 (because the final two weeks of the season don’t matter), but a bigger problem is you have fans voting for their favorite players while players and coaches aren’t in a position to watch enough of every player in the league to make an informed decision.
Step forward Pro Football Focus. Whether you love us or hate us you can’t deny that in grading every player on every play of every game we give every player our full attention. So don’t be angry when your guy is ignored in favor of a big name player, just read on to find out who really deserves to make the Pro Bowl with the Official PFF Pro Bowl Rosters.
(Starters come first)
Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning (DEN), Tom Brady (NE) and Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
There was no doubting that Manning, our top ranked quarterback on the year, would get the start. He’s been tremendous and made all the doubts over whether he could come back as good as before seem foolish. His chief backup is Tom Brady who is having another brilliant year, with Big Ben an easy choice for the number three spot.
Running Backs: C.J. Spiller (BUF), Ray Rice (BAL) and Jamaal Charles (KC)
The only reason we don’t hear more about Spiller is his 161 rushing attempts, good for 25th in the NFL. Yet his 6.1 yards per carry and league leading 99.9 elusive rating show the kind of talent he is. Ray Rice is more of an every down back and while he’s not the dynamic threat of Spiller, his worth to the Ravens can’t be questioned. We went with Charles over Arian Foster and Stevan Ridley, and while we weren’t overly comfortable with any of them the Chief just did enough.
Wide Receivers: Andre Johnson (HST), A.J. Green (CIN), Reggie Wayne (IND) and Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
Some good competition for this spot with Wes Welker missing out. It’s easy to see why though with the talent out there. Andre Johnson leads all wide receivers in our yards per route run signature stat and is second only to Calvin Johnson in our receiver grades. Green is a touchdown machine who makes his quarterback look better than he is, while Wayne has provided a huge safety net for an at times erratic rookie quarterback. Thomas gets the last spot, even if he doesn’t always appear on the same page with his QB. He’s that much of a playmaker.
Fullback: Vonta Leach (BAL)
Still the best lead blocking fullback in the league even if we love what Marcel Reece is able to do with the ball in his hands.
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski (NE) and Dwayne Allen (IND)
Even missing time there was never any real doubt that Gronkowski, the most complete tight end out there, would earn the selection. It was harder picking the second choice with it ultimately coming down to Allen and Heath Miller. In the end, while the staff was split, the superior blocking of Allen won out.
Offensive Tackles: Duane Brown (HST), Andre Smith (CIN) and Joe Thomas (CLE)
While Brown has given up three sacks this year, with just 20 quarterback disruptions allowed in 2012 he’s one of the best pass blockers out there. What got him the start however was his run blocking, as there simply aren’t many tackles with his combination of agility and strength. The talent at right tackle was more than enough that we could pick Smith with some strong consideration for Sebastian Vollmer. That meant just picking one from three, with Thomas holding off the challenge of Ryan Clady and D’Bricksashaw Ferguson for the final spot. He does lead all tackles in pass blocking efficiency after all.
Offensive Guards: Marshal Yanda (BAL), Kevin Zeitler (CIN) and Brandon Moore (NYJ)
We’ve broken one of the unwritten rules here and decided that no left guard in the AFC warranted selection. Yep, that’s how uneven their play has been. Instead we’ve plumped for three right guards with Yanda, our top ranked right guard on the year, one of the easiest choices we had to make. His All Pro nod won’t be far away. Zeitler has been extremely consistent since day one, while in the second half of the year of Moore has been as good as any guard.
Centers: Chris Myers (HST) and Mike Pouncey (MIA)
The inconsistency of Nick Mangold meant that even after his worst performance of the year against the Jags, we still rewarded Mike Pouncey with the backup spot to Myers. The Texan center hasn’t been quite as good as he was last year but remains a huge part of the success Houston has running the ball.
Turn the page for the defense
Defensive Ends: Cameron Wake (MIA), J.J. Watt (HST) and Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ)
After much deliberation we just about found room for J.J. Watt on the team. After all he is on his way to the highest grade we’ve ever given out at any position. The Dolphins Wake has been one of the most consistent pass rushers in the league the past three years, and has added the sack numbers this year so that it isn’t just us who recognizes that. Rounding out the trio is Wilkerson, the brightest spot in a dismal year for the Jets. There aren’t many guys better at getting off blocks in the run game and making plays.
Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (CIN), Kyle Williams (BUF) and Jurrell Casey (TEN)
The worst thing about playing in Cincinnati? That a guy can have a year that warrants defensive player of the year consideration and just doesn’t get the attention he deserves. You could say something similar about Buffalo, because the excellent year of Kyle Williams as gone largely unnoticed. While we appreciate how excellent Vince Wilfork has been in recent weeks, we plumped for the more consistent Casey. There’s a player who produces week in and week out.
Inside Linebackers: Derrick Johnson (KC) and Jerod Mayo (NE)
It’s been a bad year for the Chiefs but you wouldn’t know it by how well Derrick Johnson has played. Mayo mans the weakside spot for the Patriots but we don’t have a problem (given some of the looks they use) dumping him into the inside linebacker category. With extra talent around him he’s looked better than ever. He just held off Karlos Dansby who deserves extra praise for playing hurt and yet not letting it affecting his tape.
Outside Linebackers: Von Miller (DEN), Justin Houston (KC) and Kevin Burnett (MIA)
There aren’t many players like Von Miller in the league as the 82 quarterback disruptions should show you. What is really understated about him is how good he is against the run, with only two players having more tackles for a loss. Houston hasn’t quite followed up on his strong start to the year but he’s done an excellent job of being a 3-4 outside linebacker who can contribute in every phase of the game. The backup is Burnett who has put behind him a disappointing first year in Miami to rank third overall in our 4-3 outside linebacker rankings.
Cornerbacks: Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Devin McCourty (NE) and Chris Harris (DEN)
This was a tricky one. Cromartie was the only sure fire selection, allowing just 42.3% of throws into his coverage to be complete while assuming the Revis role of manning up with a team’s top receiver more often than not. We’ve paired him with McCourty who has playing well at cornerback and is now playing well at safety. It seemed wrong to omit him for excelling at two spots. Thirdly we went with the versatile Harris who is showing signs of developing into one of the best cornerbacks in the league. That said there were strong cases and many profanities uttered as the team made their cases for Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, Kareem Jackson and Adam Jones.
Safety: Jairus Byrd (BUF) and Eric Weddle (SD)
We just couldn’t do it. We like T.J. Ward and on the list of strong safeties the NFL gave us he was the best. But he was the fourth best safety in the conference, and we felt bad enough not having room for Reshad Jones. At the end of the day we like how complete a player Eric Weddle is and would be foolish to say that anyone other than Byrd is the best pure cover safety in the league right now.
Kicker: Justin Tucker (BAL)
As demanded by Chris Kluwe, the special teams players deserve an explanation. Tucker has been exceptional as a rookie for Baltimore missing just one kick all year.
Punter: Donnie Jones (HST)
The top graded punter in our punt by punt grading system, averaging 46.2 gross yards and has just 5 touchbacks on his punts.
Returner: Leodis McKelvin (BUF)
Averaging 18 yards a punt return, the most of any returner with more than five returns. Also averaging 28.3 yards per kick return.
Special Teamer: Corey Graham (BAL)
Valuable special teams player stepped up on D and contributed well.