Pro Bowl balloting closes the day after Christmas. In an effort to help “merit” trump “popularity,” I filled out a full ballot that’s based solely on film study from this season. Stats are noted in some of the analysis, but they did not factor strongly into any decisions. There are very few players who consistently pop on film and don’t have good stats anyway. But there are plenty of players who have good stats but don’t consistently pop on film.
Special teams were ignored because I do not watch film on that side of the ball. (And I don’t know any analyst who does. There simply is not enough time during the regular season.) The selections were made from NFL.com’s Pro Bowl ballot, which does not distinguish between 3-4 and 4-3 defensive positions or slot and outside receivers/corners. I was—and remain—a little leery of the new unconferenced format, in which the two top vote-getters on offense and defense become team captains and then “draft” their teams out of the voted Pro Bowlers, but I will admit it made for a smoother voting process. Choosing six players from 32 teams is easier than choosing three players from 16 teams. The players are listed in no particular order, though the players I would vote first team All-Pro are marked with an asterisk.
I’m sure you’ll take issue with some of these choices. The best part of Pro Bowl balloting is the arguments that come from it. Please feel free to share yours. And make sure to head over to page 3 for my preview of the Thursday night game between the Broncos and Chargers.
Peyton Manning, Broncos* — Easily the 2013 MVP. No player does more to make his teammates better.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks — Best on-the-move QB in football. His ability to extend plays and make touch throws—both underneath and downfield—are the biggest reasons the run-based, injury-plagued Seahawks lead the NFC in scoring.
Tom Brady, Patriots — No accident that New England is still on track for a first-round bye despite weekly changes in both scheme and personnel.
Andrew Luck, Colts — His Colts won the AFC South despite an erratic running game, understaffed receiving corps and athletically challenged offensive line. No quarterback has done more with less.
Drew Brees, Saints — Remains the most proficient progression-reader in the NFL.
Tony Romo, Cowboys — Choke artists don’t have a 3.8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs* — More than just a speedster. Without his multidimensional receiving prowess and dependable pass-blocking, Kansas City’s offense would look like that of a really good high school team.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings — Still jumps out on film even by “future Hall of Famer” standards.
Matt Forte, Bears — Patience and versatility make him an invaluable stabilizer for Chicago.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks — Tenacity and power are well-known; less talked about is his lateral agility, which he relied on in creating a lot of his own yards when Seattle’s O-line was banged up.
LeSean McCoy, Eagles — Closest thing we’ve seen to Barry Sanders since Barry Sanders himself. A perfect fit in Chip Kelly’s system.
Reggie Bush, Lions — Brought balance to Detroit’s offense, both as a runner and multi-tool receiver.
Calvin Johnson, Lions* — No explanation needed.
A.J. Green Bengals* — Augmented his splendid raw talent by improving as a route runner.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys — Productivity has dipped a hair, but only because double-teams are up.
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos — The clear-cut No. 1 weapon on the league’s most prolific offense.
Alshon Jeffery, Bears — Combination of size and speed make him as tough a one-on-one matchup as anyone in the game.
Brandon Marshall, Bears — The reason Jeffery gets so many one-on-one matchups.
Josh Gordon, Browns — Okay, sometimes stats are just too big to ignore. And he’s playing in an offense that, aside from tight end Jordan Cameron, has no other weapons to worry about.
Antonio Brown, Steelers — Has been prolific in an offense that gets very little from its ground game. Barely edged out Andre Johnson, who had just a few too many negative plays to warrant a selection off a bad Texans team.
Bruce Miller, 49ers* — Firm blocker and underrated part of San Francisco’s passing game.
Mike Tolbert, Panthers — A key ball-handler in critical situations, both on handoffs and underneath routes. Has also provided stellar lead-blocking, particularly in Carolina’s read-option game.
Jimmy Graham, Saints* — Contract is up after this season. His agent will argue that he should have gone to Hawaii as a wide receiver.
Vernon Davis, 49ers — Kept afloat a Niners passing game that’s sorely missed a downfield wide receiver. Has also continued to be an assertive blocker, which is important in San Francisco’s creative running scheme.
Antonio Gates, Chargers — Is still the guy opponents zero their coverages around, which is why he’s become an even more movable chess piece in San Diego’s new spread system.
Charles Clay, Dolphins — Without his versatility, Miami would not be in wild-card contention.
Joe Thomas, Browns* — Has consistently handled top pass rushers one-on-one.
Tyron Smith, Cowboys* — Mechanics finally caught up to his otherworldly athleticism. Tony Romo has never felt so secure.
Jake Long, Rams — A big reason why St. Louis’s offense stabilized after changing to a run-first system in early October.
Joe Staley, 49ers — Mobile as a run-blocker out in front, steady on an island in pass protection.
Trent Williams, Washington — His explosive short-area movement and rangy downhill run-blocking are why almost half of Alfred Morris’ rushing yards have come on carries classified as “wide left.”
Duane Brown, Texans — Continued to be a strong pass protector, even with the Texans using fewer blocker-friendly play-action rollouts this year. Won individual battles against leading AFC sacker Robert Mathis and leading NFC sacker Robert Quinn.
Logan Mankins, Patriots* — Few notice that New England’s run-oriented offense centers around its man-blocking, both on the ground and in play-action. This veteran’s work as a pull-blocker has been key.
Josh Sitton, Packers* — The lone bright spot on Green Bay’s beleaguered offensive line. Has terrific feel angles and technique.
Zane Beadles, Broncos — One of the best at delivering double teams and then working up to the second level. Without his services, Knowshon Moreno this year would have looked a lot more like the Knowshon Moreno of past years.
Mike Iupati, 49ers — San Francisco’s rushing attack got on track once he got on track.
Evan Mathis, Eagles — Has consistently shown the movement skills required in Philly’s finesse ground game. (And has also shown the surprising brute power needed for winning in the snow.)
Andy Levitre, Titans — Tennessee’s rushing attack is constructed around his pull-blocking, which has been downright dominant at times.
Alex Mack, Browns* — No center locks and steers opponents better than the vastly underrated fifth-year vet.
Ryan Kalil, Panthers — The only source of stability on Carolina’s front five. Mobile run-blocker, savvy pass-blocker.
Eric Wood, Bills — Buffalo has usually been comfortable letting the 315-pounder go one-on-one against top-level nose tackles.
Mike Pouncey, Dolphins — There’s something to be said for raw athleticism, which he has in spades.