Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The AFC

Let the Pro Bowl voting commence! Neil Hornsby knows its early, but his cheat sheet will help you avoid making mistakes.

| 5 years ago

Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The AFC

AFC Defense & Special Teams (starter’s name first)

Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt (HST), Cameron Wake (MIA) and Chandler Jones (NE)

Elvis Dumervil (DEN) will get to the quarterback more frequently than Jones, but he is nowhere near the run defender the rookie is. Getting pressure in this unit won’t be much of an issue anyway, as it features two of the three most dominant rushers in the league (with the other playing OLB as you’ll see in a few lines).

Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (CIN), Haloti Ngata (BLT) and Kyle Williams (BUF)

I remember struggling with tackles last year and ending up with either run defenders or pass rushers. As with most positions, we put a premium on balance and wanted players who are as good at getting after the QB as they are at stuffing the run. Boxes ticked in all three cases here.

Inside Linebackers: Jerod Mayo (NE) and Karlos Dansby (MIA)

Does Mayo play inside or outside? Well I’m sure you all know the answer, but on this ballot he’s down as an inside linebacker? However you see it, he’s a considerably better player now than when he was when getting all the undeserved hype as a rookie — his coverage skills have improved massively. Dansby was expensive for the Dolphins when they signed him from Arizona, but he’s more than played up to that value ($8.5M a year).

Outside Linebackers: Von Miller (DEN), Justin Houston (KC) and Philip Wheeler (OAK)

We didn’t think it was possible, but Miller is actually playing better than last year. His performance against the Patriots, where at times he seemed like a one-man defense, was one for the ages. He’s also that third pass rusher we mentioned earlier. Houston is now taking over from Tamba Hali as the top player on the Chiefs’ outside, but you wouldn’t think it judging by how they use him at times. Against Tampa Bay, on 29 drop-backs, he rushed the passer only nine times. How good will he be when deployed effectively? Finally, Wheeler has taken his opportunity in Oakland with both hands. The Raiders were looking for bargains and certainly found one. Expect his $1M per year salary to increase substantially if he keeps this up.

Cornerbacks: Devin McCourty (NE), Antonio Cromartie (NYJ) and Sean Smith (MIA)

After a disastrous sophomore year, where he gave up more yardage than all bar one player, McCourty is looking like his rookie self again. In New York, Cromartie is doing his best Darrelle Revis impression and is allowing only 39% of passes into his coverage to be completed. In Miami, Smith clearly didn’t get my memo labelling him one to watch in 2011… until just before this year.

Safeties: T.J.Ward (CLV) and Jarius Byrd (BUF)

The ridiculous way in which the NFL allow you to choose safeties leaves me taking the rather unpleasant option of not picking Eric Weddle (SD). It’s just he’s down as a FS too and not quite playing as well as the Bill. How we end up with the same number of safeties as centers I’ll never know.

Special Teams: K – Justin Tucker (BLT), P- Donnie Jones (HST), KR – Josh Cribbs (CLV) and  ST – Corey Graham (BLT)


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Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • Marc Bondura

    is justin tucker doing tht good?

    • Neil Hornsby

      Only the 47 yarder on TNF against the Browns missed (wide right) and our third ranked KO guy.

  • Jr

    So arian foster who is leading in rushing didn’t get no love. Dont know to many people that would mcgahee over foster.

    • Neil Hornsby

      Knew this would be an issue but the truth is 2 yards per carry AFTER contact is Shonn Greene territory and 30th in the league. Won’t repeat the other issues as I don’t want to appear to be piling on (too much)

      • David

        I wonder if Foster’s issues could be related. He is being kept behind the line for extra pass protection with the inexperienced right side of the line, and thus has more opportunities to give up sacks and hurries, while also getting less opportunities to catch the ball. Just a theory, but Foster’s lack of production in the passing game has to be related to scheme. He’s too explosive as a receiver to have just dropped off like that. My feeling is we will see him featured as a receiver more down the road. (Obviously I was addressing the issues you raised in the article and not the problem of yards after contact. I’m not sure about that one).

  • Jr

    Oh btw. He also leads in rushing tds

  • David

    Is the order of players at each position in order of who’s having the best season? (e.g. that would mean McCourty is having a better season than Cromartie or Smith.)

    • Neil Hornsby

      Generally yes, although where the two players would start together I haven’t made too much of an effort to be precise.

  • Doug Faust

    Will you guys be updating this closer to the end of the voting window? I hate turning in my ballot this early…

    • Neil Hornsby

      Absolutely, next is probably a half year All Pro squad followed by an updated version of this after week 10 or 11.

  • TomNickle

    I love Haloti Ngata but how can the anchor at the point of attack get a ProBowl nod when his team is pitiful in run defense and barely adequate in rushing the passer?

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Ngata has done a good job playing end in a more traditional 3-4 the Ravens have been using. Got some penetration, just hasn’t had much help. Nose tackle position been particularly weak. Me personally, I’d have gone for Starks, but thats just one mans opinion.

  • Shaun

    Just curious, how close was the Zoltan to making that list? He deserved the game ball in the win vs the Jets and he’s just been so consistent in the past. Bill is much less likely to go for those midfield 4th downs that he’s garnered a reputation for, with Zoltan, he’s become a bit of a weapon.

  • Shaun

    Also, can you elaborate on McCourty I’m probably the only fan in a sea of cynics that’s been defending. Personally, I routinely notice that he hasn’t been involved in very many completions, although the few he has let up stick out. He must be one of, if not the best corner at defending the run. Can you quickly just sum up why you gave him the nod? Thanks. BTW new and loyal reader this year, I dig the in-depth objective analysis – only downside, i don’t want to read anybody else…

    • Khaled Elsayed

      He’s given up a couple of touchdowns which always catches peoples attention, but only 45.9% of plays into his coverage have been complete while he’s broken up six passes. Feels like a degree of disappointment from his poor sophomore year that is coming across with some. Positive grade in run defense as well

  • kate

    I’m a patriots fan, down here in NE everyone is getting on McCourty. He has been the face of this awful Defense, I am confused.

    • Shaun

      don’t listen to all the lemmings. they see a big play now and again and they catch onto the idiot tv guys and the idiot talkshow guys. Pay attention to McCourty next game and you’ll notice he consistently makes tackles in the run game and isn’t often on the receiving end of a completion. If you make it a point to focus on him you’ll notice he’s actually playing at a high level.

  • Joey

    How’s Colquitt grading as punter for the Broncos? Seems to be fairly consistent, but hard to compare for the layperson.

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Middle of the road. Best game against Tampa, just other guys producing some more noteworthy (if a punt can be noteworthy) punts

  • scott

    Jamal Charles? He is basically doing this with out a pulse of a qb and the box stacked against him…

    • Khaled Elsayed

      Playing reasonably well but line has done a decent job for him, and he hasn’t helped himself with three fumbles. Not quite at 2010 level when he led our RB rankings

  • cyrus

    How close is Randy Starks from the top 3 DTs?

  • Cliff Wagner

    is it crazy to think that Ryan Clark deserves consideration at Free Safety?

  • NFL Guru

    No Champ Bailey is a joke, Malcom Floyd over Demaryius Thomas is as well…and I’m very much an objective fan.
    The lack of appreciation for Champ Bailey on this site is comical at times though, just because he’s gotten older all of the sudden he’s not in the discussion for best CB in the league? Watch him play. He’s still arguably the best corner in football. I could do a better job keeping stats as well for you, he’s got 3 PF’s this year, 1 vs Antonion Brown, 1 vs Roddy White, and 1 vs the Chargers…Actually analyze the games please. I do it as a fan and keep more accurate stats.
    Do enjoy your site though. Not bashing, just the lack of respect for Champ is ridiculous on here, and wish there’d be more attention to detail was put into the stats.
    Sean Smith, and Antonio Cromartie have been excellent as well, agree with those two.

    • Arif Hasan

      “Watch him play” is the silliest thing you can say here. More attention to detail?

      If you feel you have a stat correction, mark the quarter and time remaining on the play, then get in contact with him through the “Contact Us” menu option. They are very responsive and I’ve had a number of discussions as to what counts as a PD and what does not. They have corrected attribution when I’ve pointed it out, too.

      They don’t think they’re infallible, but I have to say it seems more likely that there is bias on your part than a lack of attention to detail on their part, particularly when the grading plus/minus system ranks him 26th overall. That doesn’t happen because of an oversight. That happens because Bailey is playing slightly above average. He’s allowed a good but not great passer rating in coverage. He gets credit for not being thrown to that often, but that’s mostly a function of Tracy Porter and Chris Harris giving more open looks than it is Bailey blanketing in coverage.

  • NFL Guru


  • Matt

    Great read…good to see a nod to Ryan Lilja, who has filled in admirably for the injured and impressive Rodney Hudson. It’s these kind of unheralded players that make the NFL what it is and allow the skill players to excel. He’s more than done his bit. The KC line has been good, but Cassel makes them look bad by having to have 10 secs in the pocket and walking into sacks. Funny how both Orton last year and now Brady Quinn don’t get sacked through the whole 60mins…….

  • Ben Fitzgerald

    If the NFL’s pro bowl positions are rubbish then use your own. Also, the button to the page with the defense was kind of hard to spot.

  • Ryan

    What good is Tom Brady passing 20+ yards if he can’t complete any of them?

  • lolol

    Why does this website use such weird city abbreviations? Doesn’t everybody else in the world use HOU for Houston and BAL for Baltimore?

  • corners

    Randy Starks and Brandon Fields. Fields always gets stubbed