Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The NFC

Pro Bowl voting is open and Neil Hornsby explains which NFC stars have earned your vote after 7 weeks of the season.

| 5 years ago

Pro Bowl Cheat Sheet: The NFC

If you haven’t already checked out our AFC squad I’d recommend you go here to ensure you have all my caveats and get-outs logged before sending me dozens of emails about Justin Smith not being at DT, etc.

Anyway, now suitably protected by small print, let’s move on to the NFC squad.


NFC Offense (starter’s name first)

Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers (GB), Eli Manning (NYG) and Matt Ryan (ATL)

After back-to-back games against the Texans and Rams that were every bit as good as any two games you’re likely to see, who else would you expect to see leading this unit. As well as Manning is playing, it almost seems as if he really doesn’t want to show too much until the game is on the line. Maybe he just likes the challenge and having a decent offensive line in front of him for a change is taking away the thrill.

Halfbacks: Adrian Peterson (MIN), Marshawn Lynch (SEA) and Frank Gore (SF)

It almost felt disrespectful to not have Peterson as our NFC Starter last year because of his injury and subsequent missed games — 2.9 yards after contact, 23 tackles avoided and all is right again with the world. That said, Lynch is doing his level-best to make things difficult. His identical average yards post contact and 27 missed tackles means only Peterson’s superior skills as a receiver are separating the pair.

Wide Receivers: Percy Harvin (MIN), Roddy White (ATL), Vincent Jackson (TB) and Brandon Marshall (CHI)

The ‘Most Explosive Player in FootballTM ’ is as dangerous a player as there is in football when he gets his hands on the ball. He’s avoided 20 tackles — the next best WR has nine. The hardest fought battle across both squads was for the fourth WR berth. In the end it went to Marshall, although I’d have zero issues with anyone slipping the name of Victor Cruz (NYG) on their ballot in his place.

Fullback: Henry Hynoski (NYG)

Kevin Gilbride does like a fullback, and as Hynoski has shown he’s worthy of the job he’s been rewarded with extra snaps. He’s now averaging 41% of all plays and doing a fine job with them as a traditional lead blocker.

Tight Ends: Vernon Davis (SF) and Tony Gonzalez (ATL)

Of all the tight ends in the league, Davis probably has the most all-around talent and that makes it all the more annoying when he fails to make use of it. This year he’s doing everything at a high level, including not giving away a single penalty. Almost as frustrating as watching Davis for the last few years is listening to another commentator tell us what a great blocker Gonzalez is — “no” I scream at the TV, “he used to be”. Now he’s a fabulous receiver that got his selection in this group because colleague Khaled Elsayed persuaded me his skills in the passing game outweighed his negatives. He is right, but I still like Greg Olsen (Car) who’s made a decent fist of his blocking in 2012.

Tackles: Trent Williams (WAS), Todd Herremans (PHI) and Joe Staley (SF)

Balance was the key to Williams over Staley at left tackle. Of the tackle position, only Joe Thomas (back in 2009) has graded as well as a run blocker as Staley — he may even set a new PFF standard that will be hard for anyone else to beat. When it came down to it, for the time being at least, William’s superior pass protection numbers got him our job. It will be interesting to see how this one progresses.

Guards: Mike Iupati (SF), Alex Boone (SF) and Evan Mathis (PHI)

Our all-49er guard combination is the most dominant pairing since Carl Nicks and Jahari Evans drove the Saints to Super Bowl glory in 2009. Among guards, their run blocking ranks second and third, with only Marshal Yanda grading higher. Not one trick ponies, they’ve both put in solid pass pro numbers too. That’s something they’ve got in common with backup Mathis, who’s just struggling a little with penalties this year — his four being the same number as he gave up in the whole of 2011.

Centers: John Sullivan (MIN) and Jonathan Goodwin (SF)

After shocking all the PFF analysts with his breakout season in 2011 after years of mediocrity, Sullivan is going out of his way to prove it was no fluke. Although he struggled with his protection a little against the Cardinals last week, his run blocking has been improving week on week. After a mixed season for the Saints in 2010, Goodwin also took time to find his feet in San Francisco. Now, along with the rest of the line, he’s showing just how good he really is.

| PFF Founder

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.

  • Drew

    Josh Sitton? Jordy Nelson?

    • Neil Hornsby

      Sitton is probably the best pass protector of all those guys but the gap between him and the others is nowhere as big as there is for him to catch up in run blocking. In addition we put a bit of a premium on the running game for guards (as we do for tackles in pass pro) in this type of article.
      RE: Jordy – he was too average for too long this season before picking up in the last two games. Let’s see where he ends up.

    • John

      Nelson wasn’t producing at all for the first five games. 2 good games of production does not get you to the pro bowl. At the end of the year… Maybe, but not now. I don’t pay much attention to guard play, but I’m pretty sure he was abused in at least two if not more games this year.

  • Ravi

    Kam Chancellor should be the starter hands down at SS.

    • Neil Hornsby

      It was certainly close (in fact on my first cut I had Kam’s name written in) but in the end Wright was slightly ahead in the key categories, coverage and run support.

  • Ian B

    Drew Brees should be right up there with Aaron Rodgers. Eli doesn’t belong on this list. I think Calvin Johnson should also be on here. Despite yesterday’s bad game and a lack of TDs this season, he’s probably the most effective WR in the NFL.

    • guest

      Rodgers won games last year with the 32nd ranked defense.
      Brees ….2 – 4 with this year’s 32nd ranked defense.

  • daniel

    Isn’t Kerry Rhodes hightest rated NFC safety

    • Neil Hornsby

      For FS we are always putting a fairly substantial weighting on coverage. Some guys (like Goldson) play only 11% of plays with 8 yards of the LOS. Rhodes is at 46% which gives him a massive advantage in run support.

  • MikeFromCanada

    I think Cruz not making it is absurd. Just sayin’. White, Jackson, and Marshall have combined to drop 6-8 doughnut games on their teams/fantasy owners, where as Cruz just catches 4th quarter TDs.

    • MikeFromCanada

      I mean, he has more yards than all the other guys, and your four probowl WRs combine for 15 TDs, where as Cruz has 7 on his own. Just confused as to how this conclusion was reached.

      • Neil Hornsby

        As I mentioned in the piece I have no issue with Cruz making the team at all. His 6 drops do loom large though; that’s as many as all the other four wide-recievers combined

        • That Man

          After seeing V-Jax get caught from behind, Cruz has to leap over him. He won’t get caught…

          • Dempseylicious23

            V-Jax is nursing a nagging calf injury. Hard to run full speed when every step you take causes you pain.

          • Nick

            And even if he weren’t, getting caught from behind doesn’t make you a worse receiver.

      • TomNickle

        Just my opinion but Cruz has had a noticeably lesser impact in games where Hakeem Nicks has been out. 20-202-4 with 9.7 yards per catch with Nicks out, 30-426-3 and 13.6 yards per reception when he’s in the lineup. 4 games with Nicks, 3 games without him.

        If not for a three touchdown game against the Browns where he mustered all of fifty yards the line without Nicks would be borderline pitiful for a #1 wideout against lesser competition in the Panthers, Eagles and Browns(without Joe Haden).

        • Jade-Addon Hall

          If you’ve watched the games,
          Vic’s been open, and Eli has been missing him.

          • Jade-Addon Hall

            Also the constant double teaming has allow other WR to get off. Barden, Randle, Hixon.

        • Drew

          Really of all the games you discount….you discount the game he had 3 touchdowns??? and he hasn’t had much of an impact? Fine, discount the Browns game…..but what about the 80 yard touchdown vs Tampa to retake the lead late in 4th? How about the 77 yard TD last week to win the game? Nicks isn’t playing healthy and cruz has stepped up HUGE.

  • TomNickle

    I completely disagree with Joe Staley. With Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker helping consistently in protection and run blocking his assignments become easier. In addition, he was gifted earlier starts consistently when replacement officials were granting him the opportunity to start protection from the backfield without calling false starts.

    • Neil Hornsby

      Delaine Walker (2) and Vernon Davis (7) have stayed in to block on his side a total of 9 times in 222 pass blocks by Staley.

      • TomNickle

        Really? Those numbers include chip blocks where they release into a route after getting a piece of Staley’s protection assignment?

        I find that very difficult to believe.

        • Fish Lung

          Why don’t you go re-watch the games and let us know

          • TomNickle

            Sincere question. I’m asking one of the men who does have an opportunity to watch every game, or most of them. So take a breathe.

          • TomNickle

            To elaborate. Staley through six games didn’t grade out in the top 20 for Pass Proteection among tackles. He’s committed three penalties which granted isn’t much but as a 49ers fan I can attest that he was getting away with false starts and holds at an alarming rate with the replacement officials on the field. So to respond to your smart alec trolling. I was again asking a sincere question regarding Staley’s inclusion because of my perception that he hasn’t been a Pro Bowl quality player so far this season.

            Clay Matthews and Jason Pierre Paul abused him. Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Jared Allen got a sack against him and the Seahawks had significant pressure on Alex Smith despite Staley himself not surrendering a sack.

      • Clocke66

        This is why I love PFF. You can’t just pull out BS things trying to defend someone. You guys see everything.

  • John Swan

    How far off is Will Beatty, LT on the Giants from this list? 0 sacks this year!

  • John Swan

    How far is Will Beatty, LT from the Giants, from being on this list? 0 sacks this year, and run game picking up in NY.

    • Neil Hornsby

      He’s playing well and is a monumental upgrade on David Diehl. That said his performances have tailed off slightly and he’s got work to do to catch the two guys mentioned.
      He has now given up a sack by the way. With 5:14 left in the 4th against the Skins he was beaten inside by Rob Jackson for a take-down.

      • eebyenih1

        Will Beatty man handled Harrison and pff only scored him at +2.5 I think with Beatty the giants look a lot better. No one in the News is confronting Diehl taking Locklear place You can tell Eli did not feel comfortable against Pittsburgh. Why aren’t they talking about this?

  • @MTW6

    2 Eagles Offensive Lineman? Woe. Shocking.

    • Anders

      The Eagles had one of the best OLs last year, sadly they lost the best LT in the game and a good center. Of the starting 5 last year, only Watkins was really bad. Now we have a LT there should only be a backup and a career PS center.

  • b0rd3rline

    No Daryl Washington @ ILB?

    • Khaled Elsayed

      If he played in the AFC he’d been in. Super competitive in NFC. Four best inside linebackers (with Cushing out for year and Derrick Johnson off to slow start) in that conference. Washington has sack numbers, but too many missed tackles (6 in last two games) push him to outside … for now

  • Scitt

    No John Abraham makes the defensive list poopy.

  • Nick

    I must be having eye problems; I don’t see RG3 on here.

    • Richard

      Probably because he’s not a top-3 QB in the NFC yet.

      • Nick

        No, but he’s easily performing at a top 3 level in the NFC so far this season. Best YPA in the NFL, best completion percentage, most effective running QB, and even after finally having a turnover-filled game he’s still amongst the best in term of efficiency with the football. Not to mention, per PFF’s own analysis, he is the most accurate and efficient downfield passer in the league.

        Richard Sherman, Major Wright, and Mike Iupati aren’t the best in the league either, but they still made it because that isn’t the purpose of this list. It is performance this year.

        • dylan

          Actually according to PFFs own stats, RG3 doesn’t even qualify for being ranked as a “downfield passer” (assuming you mean passing the ball deep, which he has only attempted 13 times this season).

  • Kevin

    Sean Lee looks like he is out for the season so he wouldn’t make it on the Pro Bowl Roster

  • quip

    No love for the NFC’s leading rusher…Alfred Morris?

  • Johnny Hatelak

    Can you say front running picks? SMH! There are 6 49ers yet they’re 16th in scoring? These aren’t the Bill Walsh 49ers guys. More film study less number crunching.

    • That Man

      All these guys do is film study, that’s why we visit this site…

  • Arif

    Can’t agree with Tillman over Jennings. I know they look identical, but I feel as if Jennings lined up over the best receiver more often than Tillman (except against Detroit, to Tillman’s credit), has more interceptions (I understand that this is a bit obviated by the fact that they have the same passer rating, but it still stands out to me), and has a better catch rate against.

    I get that it’s close and one picks their own favorite here, but Jennings has just stood out more to me on the eye test and some of the metric I happen to think are important. Perhaps I am biased by his greater play earlier in the season, but it seems fairly clear to me.

    Thanks for the work! Pro Bowl voting opens too soon, but I like these articles.

    • Dempseylicious23

      As a Bears fan, I can guarantee the Bears would have lost the game if Jennings was lined up against Calvin Johnson that whole game instead of Tillman.

      Both CB’s play in the traditional Bears Tampa 2 zone cover run support style of CB, but Tillman has been in the system longer and is much better as an overall player and man-to-man CB. Jennings has more (4) interceptions sure, but how many of those were defensive TDs? None, whereas Tillman’s 2 interceptions both put points on the board. Also, Tillman has 3 forced fumbles (almost 4) and 1 fumble recovery to Jennings’ 0 and 0. Also, Jennings’ best interception this year, the over-the-head leaping INT against Andrew Luck was actually a poor play by Jennings that worked out due to an underthrown pass. Jennings was beaten by a streaking route down the sideline and his over the top safety coverage (Major Wright) wasn’t there in time to make a play. However, due to an underthrown pass, Jennings was able to jump up and grab the ball because he was behind the receiver and the ball was well underthrown. Last year, that was Jennings’ biggest weakness, following streak routes properly. He let up several big plays on drives that more or less directly lead to a score by the opposing team and he still looks highly susceptible to the same types of plays.

      Tillman is just more a more consistent, higher awareness, more physical CB that loves taking on a challenge. Jennings is not quite at his level, even if the statistics state otherwise (which they really don’t).

  • That Man

    Thought on the 49ers:
    Their O-line is playing amazing. This shows the benefits of investing in the big guys up front. And Anthony Davis, the most athletic O-line on their team, is still improving (only 19 when he was drafted). Looks like Singletary got a few things right.
    Dashon Goldson has come a long ways. After being derided here at PFF for not being deserving of his Pro-Bowl nod, he is playing up to his franchise tag and is a big reason why the 49ers pass defense hasn’t fallen apart with the CB’s taking a step back.
    With All-Pro level talent at 12 positions (LT,LG,C,RG,TE,DT,OLB,ILB,ILB,FS,P,coach), I can only imagine what would happen if they actually had an All-Pro level QB.

  • Realist

    RG3 and Alfred Morris will be pushed in there by fans, whether they deserve it or not, as fan voting is often fantasy football driven.

  • jarem

    RG3? Alfred Morris? Chris Chester?

  • White Dress

    Marshall over Cruz? Hilarious.

  • Kevin

    I wish these people actually knew how to analyze football games. PFF sucks.

  • Andrew

    How about Daryl Washington at inside linebacker arguably the best inside linebacker this year. He is top 5 in tackles in the NFC and unlik bowman half of his tackles aren’t assists plus he leads all inside linebackers in the NFL in sacks with 6 which is a ton for an inside linebacker.

  • Patrick

    This doesn’t make any sense. You guys have Casey Hayward ranked #1 on your cornerbacks list, yet he doesn’t make the pro bowl? Confused.

  • Ket1

    Morris is third in the NFC