Pro Bowl Roster 2012: NFC
It’s that time of year once again where the PFF staff collates all of our grades and views up to the end of Week 15 and put together our Pro Bowl ballots, as ever, before the season has even finished. Not our preferred methodology for sure.
We won’t be swayed by gaudy stats in only one facet of a player’s game or by a teams win/loss record; we look solely at the player’s performance irrespective of the success of the team.
Here we’ll take a look at our NFC Pro Bowl ballot which features amazing debut seasons. Read on to see who made it from your team.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers (GB), Matt Ryan (ATL) and Robert Griffin III (WAS)
Rodgers and Ryan are already champions of the NFC North and South and were easy choices but the third spot saw some debate. In the end it was Griffin who took the honors on the PFF ballot on the back of his playmaking ability and efficiency in helping the Redskins to compete for a playoff spot. Good overall season though he had, early mistakes and inconsistency from Drew Brees contributed to the Saints falling quickly out of the playoff race.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson (MIN), Marshawn Lynch (SEA) and Alfred Morris (WAS)
There could only be one man to lead the backfield for the NFC in this year’s Pro Bowl and that is of course Adrian Peterson. Still in the reckoning to set a new NFL single season rushing record his yards AFTER contact this season would rank him 8th in the NFL in rushing if it were his total rushing yardage. Filling out the roster is Marshawn Lynch, who has now blended consistency with the physically explosive ability he has shown throughout his career and Alfred Morris whose bruising and determined running style makes him one of the toughest running backs in the league to bring down. Morris just edges out fellow rookie Doug Martin who exploded onto the scene around mid-season but has been somewhat inconsistent in the last month as the Buccaneers have fallen away from the playoff race.
Fullback: Bruce Miller (SF)
Yet another high-functioning cog in the machine which is the 49ers running game. Miller has not only played more snaps than any other NFC fullback but done so at a high level throughout.
Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson (DET), Brandon Marshall (CHI), Vincent Jackson (TB) and Percy Harvin (MIN)
The NFC is stacked with a group of prototypical “#1” wide receivers that have been extremely productive and a number of players have missed out through sheer weight of numbers. Like Peterson our top ranked player (Johnson) is in the running for an NFL single season record whilst Brandon Marshall’s consistent playmaking ability has surely made him one of the best off-season bargains. Up until recently Jackson was the catalyst to a dramatically improved passing attack but even he can only take a QB so far. The fourth spot was a tough call but in spite of missing almost half the season we simply couldn’t overlook the impact of Harvin on an anemic Vikings’ passing game in the first half of the season. Roddy White, who just misses out, has only just surpassed Harvin’s receiving grade in spite of playing more than twice as many snaps and Harvin’s 1400+ all purpose yards from little more than eight games is simply too much to ignore.
Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez (ATL) and Jason Witten (DAL)
We have often banged the drum about a tight end being more than a receiver and how their blocking is an important part of their game too. However when they are such a difference maker as a receiver it would be foolhardy to overlook them and that is why Tony Gonzalez makes the roster in spite of some dreadful run blocking. Meanwhile the backup spot goes to Witten who recovered from injury at the start of the year to become the dependable target and reliable blocker we’ve been used to.
Edit: Initially we had Martellus Bennett in instead of Jason Witten, but this came as a product of an error in our voting process. We’ve now corrected this but apologies for the mix up.
Offensive Tackles: Joe Staley (SF), Tyson Clabo (ATL) and Trent Williams (WAS)
We have rarely seen a season of run blocking as dominant as Joe Staley has displayed this year and though he has allowed eight sacks that accounts for more than two thirds of total pressure meaning he has allowed little else besides. This has been a much improved season for tackle play and Trent Williams has continued his development in Washington excelling in both areas of his game whilst Tyson Clabo has performed well enough to save us from the discussion on whether a right tackle should be forced onto the ballot ahead of more deserving left tackles. Seemingly destined for his fifth straight season grade of +15.0 or better Clabo is arguably the most consistent right tackle of the PFF era.
Offensive Guards: Evan Mathis (PHI), Alex Boone (SF) and Mike Iupati (SF)
It’s all too easy to overlook the season that Evan Mathis has had in Philadelphia with the utter shambles around him as the Eagles lost offensive linemen left and right but you simply cannot fault his effort and production at guard, he simply hasn’t allowed any defensive player to get the better of him this season. He is joined by the pair of San Francisco guards who have led the most physical run blocking unit in the league. No offensive line has more consistently taken opposing defensive lines to pieces than the 49ers and the highest yards per carry average for San Francisco running backs is off left guard (6.1) and right guard (5.7).
Centers: John Sullivan (MIN) and Will Montgomery (WAS)
Ever since the light went on for Sullivan last season he has been the league’s most consistent center and his inclusion was a no brainer with him leading Adrian Peterson to a 6.4 yard per carry average on A-gap carries. Behind him there was a traffic jam with any one of four centers worthy of the accolade in a vintage season for NFC centers. In the end the consistency and fine pass protection (one game aside) of Will Montgomery ensured the Redskins’ center edged the competition. Brian De La Puente (showing his replacement of Olin Kreutz was no single season blip), Max Unger (much improved run blocking from last season and allowing no sacks for the second straight season) and Jonathan Goodwin would all have been worthy additions to this Pro Bowl roster. An embarrassment of riches for the NFC.
Turn the page for defense
Defensive Ends: Calais Campbell (ARZ), Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG) and Charles Johnson (CAR)
The front seven is always somewhat of a mess in Pro Bowl voting with 3-4 players being grouped in different places and being compared against players in positions which put up far more gaudy statistics. However in spite of missing a long stretch of the season Calais Campbell’s impact for the Arizona Cardinals cannot be denied as he put up strong pass rush numbers (5 Sacks, 9 Hits and 17 Hurries) and also brought a greater presence as a run defender than he mustered in 2011. The 4-3 contingent is headed by Jason Pierre-Paul who hasn’t quite excelled as a pass rusher (though he’s been far from quiet) but has been phenomenal setting and defending the edge in run defense. The third selection came down to a choice between two edge rushers from the NFC South who occasionally view run defense as an optional extra in their defensive repertoire. In the end it was Charles Johnson’s strong mid-season form just saw him edge past John Abraham who has adjusted his game well to the Falcons more hybrid, 3-4 defense in their first season under Mike Nolan.
Defensive Tackles: Gerald McCoy (TB), Justin Smith (SF) and Nick Fairley (DET)
One more quirk of the NFL’s Pro Bowl balloting sees Justin Smith pop up as a defensive tackle even though division rival and fellow 3-4 end Campbell is among the defensive ends. In the AFC J.J. Watt may have taken what Smith did last season and extended it beyond our wildest imagination but this has been yet another strong season for the 49er. His pass rushing hasn’t been as physically overpowering as last year but his work in run defense is still excellent and he doesn’t give opposing offensive linemen a quiet snap. The more conventional 4-3 DT spots are taken by a pair of young players with Gerald McCoy finally on the field and able to show the extraordinary blend of speed and power that had the Buccaneers so excited back in 2010. He has excelled with unnerving consistency against both run and pass irrespective of the players lining up across from him. He is joined by another young player putting a turbulent start to his career behind him. Ndamukong Suh may draw the headlines but Fairley has been magnificent this season putting a slow start behind him with a scintillating run of form from Week 6 onwards. If he could stop jumping offsides he would be up with McCoy challenging for a starting spot rather than seeing off the attentions of Henry Melton whose fine performances in primetime games this season have ensured that he is well known as a defensive tackle to fear in the coming seasons.
Inside Linebackers: Patrick Willis (SF) and NaVorro Bowman (SF)
For the second straight season we have the San Francisco 49ers inside linebackers pairing up on our NFC Pro Bowl squad in a selection that is sure to draw the ire once again of Arizona Cardinal fans with Daryl Washington missing by the slenderest of margins. What more needs to be said about Willis and Bowman? But but for coinciding bad games in the tie with St Louis they have been not far short of flawless once again this year with both players working tremendously against the opposing run defense. Others aside from Washington who can count themselves unlucky are DeMeco Ryans, thriving in a full-time role in Philadelphia and excelling behind the wide-9 alignment which asks a great deal of inside linebackers physically and athletically and Bobby Wagner who was eased into a three down linebacker role but thrived and has become an excellent downhill players who doesn’t give away more than he should in the passing game.
Outside Linebackers: Aldon Smith (SF), Anthony Spencer (DAL) and Clay Matthews (GB)
The league is starting to run away with talk of Aldon Smith as a defensive player of the year candidate and whilst we don’t think he is worthy of that level of praise he was an easy selection for our Pro Bowl squad. He has evolved almost seamlessly into a full time starting role and is quickly becoming one of the most fearsome and consistent defensive players in the league. But would we really be speaking of him as a defensive player of the year candidate without his game against the completely outmatched J’Marcus Webb? He is joined in a clean sweep for 3-4 outside linebackers by one man band Clay Matthews who marked his return to the Packers’ lineup this weekend with another excellent performance. Our selection of Spencer over teammate DeMarcus Ware will certainly raise some eyebrows but with productivity as a pass rusher now paired with a season of run defense that is almost unmatched we simply couldn’t overlook Spencer.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman (SEA), Charles Tillman (CHI) and Casey Hayward (GB)
As our premium subscribers will find from looking at the top of our cornerback rankings this decision was somewhat of a four into three with the most worthy coverage defenders taking the top spots for the NFC and the ultra active and instinctive Antoine Winfield just missing out. In his second season Richard Sherman has cut down the penalty count and is making a strong case for being the best man coverage cornerback in the league in the absence of Darrelle Revis. Meanwhile Charles Tillman had a streak of forced fumbles earlier in the season that must have had skill position coaches running extra ball carrying drills in the run up to games against the Bears. Not merely a turnover a machine Tillman is also amongst the league leaders in terms of limiting gains for opposing receivers when he does give up a reception it hasn’t resulted in a gain of more than 30 yards. The group is rounded out by the phenomenal rookie Casey Hayward who has proven capable of shutting down receivers both in the slot and out wide. He started the season on the fringes of the lineup but as the season progressed he saw an increased role in the defense and responded with the kind of consistently good coverage performances that you would expect from only the best veteran corners.
Safety: Kerry Rhodes (ARZ) and Quintin Mikell (SL)
To round out our NFC defense we head back out West with the Rams providing their first PFF Pro Bowler with Quintin Mikell’s form over the second half of the season giving him the nod as the ideal box safety. Mikell has excelled blitzing the passer recording pressure on better than one in five of his blitzes and he has been a strong presence in run defense too. His coverage does suffer at times but regardless this is the sort of impact the Rams were expecting when they signed him last season. Mikell is joined by another safety who headed West recently and Kerry Rhodes has re-discovered some of his best form as a coverage defender and all round safety after missing much of the 2011 season.
Kicker: Blair Walsh (MIN)
As requested by Chris Kluwe on twitter, specialists deserve an explanation too. Walsh and Zuerlein have been standout rookie kickers this year with Walsh winning the battle of the two in December. 90.6% on field goals this season and averaging 70.6 on kickoffs.
Punter: Andy Lee (SF)
Tough group in the NFC here with Lee winning out in the end. Just 215 return yards allowed this year and over half of his kicks inside the 20.
Returner: Leon Washington (SEA)
So dangerous the Bills went out of their way to try and avoid kicking it straight to him, but he kept coming anyway.
Special Teamer: Colt Anderson (PHI)
Another top special teamer who has now earned himself some defensive playing time.