My Pro Bowl Picks

New format, same old emphasis on popularity over merit. But I'm here to correct that. Who deserves to go to Hawaii? Here's who made it in on my ballot

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

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.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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.

Running Back

After rushing for his lowest career total as a starter (840 yards) in 2012, LeSean McCoy should shatter his career-high rushing yards (1,309) this season under Chip Kelly. (Kathy Willens/AP)
After rushing for his lowest career total as a starter (840 yards) in 2012, LeSean McCoy should shatter his career-high rushing yards (1,309) this season under Chip Kelly. (Kathy Willens/AP)

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.

Wide 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.

Fullback

Weigh In

Do you disagree with Andy Benoit's Pro Bowl picks? Make sure to let us know @TheMMQB or by emailing us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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.

Tight End

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.

Offensive Tackle

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.

Joe Staley (left) and Mike Iupati are a big part of why Frank Gore excels and the 49ers win many of their battles in the trenches. (Damon Tarver/Cal Sport Media :: Daniel Gluskoter/CSM/Landov)
Joe Staley (left) and Mike Iupati are a big part of why Frank Gore excels and the 49ers win many of their battles in the trenches. (Damon Tarver/Cal Sport Media :: Daniel Gluskoter/CSM/Landov)

Guard

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.

Center

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.

DEFENSE

Defensive End

Robert Quinn, Rams* — This season’s most explosive 4-3 edge-rusher—and it’s not even close

Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets* — J.J. Watt, only with some of the “quickness” shifted to “power.”

Greg Hardy, Panthers — Has startling initial quickness for someone with such thunderous power. Could be the highest-paid defensive end in football next year.

What a Rush

Nobody knows pass rushers like Greg A. Bedard. He's been scouting them all year in his recurring Pressure Points feature. So which players, and teams, have been best at taking down the quarterback this season? Check it out.

J.J. Watt, Texans — Numbers have declined but week-to-week performance has not.

Olivier Vernon, Dolphins — His 11.5 sacks are impressive. More impressive is the fact that he weighs 270 and is a phenomenal playside run defender.

Cameron Jordan, Saints — His newfound lateral explosiveness and initial burst have spearheaded New Orleans’s pass rush, affording Rob Ryan more freedom in coverage concepts.

Defensive Tackle

Dontari Poe, Chiefs* — A 330-or-so-pounder with the movement skills of a 260-pounder. Amazingly, he almost never comes off the field.

Ndamukong Suh, Lions* — A bona fide playmaker who might also be the best in the business at setting up stunts off double teams.

Justin Smith, 49ers — Then again, the stunt master himself has shown no signs of slowing down in Year 13. Destructive in a variety of other phases, too.

Jurrell Casey, Titans — Comparisons to Geno Atkins circa 2012 might be a tad far-fetched, but only a tad.

Jason Hatcher, Cowboys — Given their myriad injuries up front, the Cowboys would not be in playoff contention without the breakout season from their eighth-year veteran. (Which, by the way, coincided with his move from 3-4 defensive end to 4-3 “three-technique.”

Gerald McCoy, Bucs — Has learned how to fully parlay his unparalleled initial quickness into everydown destructiveness.

Inside Linebacker

Luke Kuechly, Panthers* — The best player on the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense. Also the best pure middle linebacker in the game.

NaVorro Bowman, 49ers* — A rock-solid run defender who can cover backs out of the backfield and, as of this year, ruin offensive game plans as a blitzer (particularly a green-dog blitzer).

Sean Lee, Cowboys — The Cowboys changed to a zone scheme specifically with the idea of creating more big-play opportunities for their fourth-year linebacker. He has delivered.

Derrick Johnson, Chiefs — His ability to defend the run in space allows the Chiefs to regularly play dime, which is where they’re most dangerous.

Outside Linebacker

Weigh In

Do you disagree with Andy Benoit's Pro Bowl picks? Make sure to let us know @TheMMQB or by emailing us at talkback@themmqb.com.

Robert Mathis, Colts* — Has been every bit as electrifying as his 15.5 sacks and five forced fumbles suggest.

Ahmad Brooks, 49ers* — A shutdown front- and back-side run defender who also consistently makes game-breaking plays against the pass.

LaVonte David, Buccaneers — Instincts are topped only by his sheer speed to the ball.

Tamba Hali, Chiefs — A top-flight pass rusher who can stalemate—and occasionally defeat—double-teams no matter what the situation.

Justin Houston, Chiefs — Continuous improvements in run defense set him apart.

K.J. Wright, Seahawks — Doesn’t have DeAndre Levy’s interceptions, but overall he’s been an equally effective pass defender thanks to his deftness in zone and man. Has also stood out as an attack-minded run defender, including in the two games where he filled in for injured middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Cornerback

Richard Sherman, Seahawks* — It’s almost to the point where quarterbacks don’t even look his way.

Patrick Peterson, Cardinals* — Plays more Deion-style Cover-0-man than anyone in the league. And always against the opponent’s No. 1 receiver.

Aqib Talib, Patriots — Has won battles against Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Steve Smith and Demaryius Thomas, playing hefty snaps of true solo man coverage.

Alterraun Verner, Titans — Quick closing speed and keen sense of angles make him a defensive playmaker and offensive play-stopper. Not many guys are both.

Vontae Davis, Colts — The primary reason Indy has transformed into a predominant man coverage defense.

Joe Haden, Browns — Has tailed off a bit lately, but not nearly enough to negate his outstanding first half of 2013.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos — Value was affirmed in Weeks 12 and 13 when Denver’s secondary fell apart in his absence.

Sean Smith, Chiefs — Has turned out to be the steadiest cover guy in Kansas City’s very good press-man defense.

You know what the Legion of Boom is because of the play of Richard Sherman (left) and Earl Thomas. (Kirby Lee/USA Today)
You know what the Legion of Boom is because of the play of Richard Sherman (left) and Earl Thomas. (Kirby Lee/USA Today)

Strong Safety

Eric Berry, Chiefs* — Has prospered defending tight ends man-to-man and sniffing out run plays from the box.

Troy Polamalu, Steelers — Like Berry, evolved into more of a dime linebacker this season. Stayed healthy and recaptured a lot of his old playmaking prowess.

Free Safety

Earl Thomas, Seahawks* — The fulcrum of Seattle’s dynamic defense.

Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals — Uncanny football instincts and short-area quickness are why he thrived as a slot cover artist and blitzer.

Thursday night preview

Chargers offense vs. Broncos defense

The Broncos had a lot of success with overload zone blitz concepts against the Titans last week (Von Miller was particularly destructive). This week John Fox and Jack Del Rio won’t be able to pull as much from that bag of tricks, as many of the blitzes aren’t designed for a quick-passing system like San Diego’s. The Broncos will be more reliant on their man-to-man defenders, who have been hit-or-miss as of late.

When these teams met back in Week 10, top cover corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie opened the game matched on Vincent Brown but eventually moved over to Keenan Allen. The third-round rookie runs good routes and can make contested catches, which is why he’s blossomed into San Diego’s top wideout. Expect Rodgers-Cromartie to shadow Allen whenever he aligns outside—and expect Philip Rivers to throw elsewhere, likely to tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Green, who played about a third of the snaps in the last meeting, will play the bulk of this game (barring a repeat of the run-oriented game-plan that San Diego got away from last time). Green’s emergence as a flex weapon has made the Chargers a very multidimensional two-tight end offense.

Broncos offense vs. Chargers defense

The Broncos will likely also be a two-tight end offense Thursday night, with Jacob Tamme playing in place of a concussed Wes Welker. This won’t drastically alter Peyton Manning’s approach. Tamme played throughout the second half last week and ran most of his routes out of an inside receiver alignment, just like Welker. The Titans still felt compelled to keep six defensive backs on the field, which the Broncos easily ran the ball against. The Chargers should take a similar approach and hope that their defensive front can make a few more run stops than the Titans did. That won’t be easy given how well the Broncos offensive line—particularly center Manny Ramirez and guard Zane Beadles—is playing right now. But it’s still the best bet. In the last meeting, the Chargers kept the box crowded; Manning dropped back on 23 of 26 first half snaps and picked apart their two-deep coverages for touchdown drives of 85, 80 and 73 yards.

36 comments
JPSmall
JPSmall

No Robert Mathis at DE?? Again, idiot. 


JPSmall
JPSmall

Hmmm....what was that about choke artists? Idiot. 

Calman21
Calman21

How is Philip Rivers not on your list, he has out played both Brady and Luck? And Antonio Gates doesn't really deserve to be. Really no one else on the Charger except for Keenan Allen could even be considered and with how good Receivers are this year it doesn't surprise me.

JWalks82
JWalks82

I'm sorry to be the guy who complains about his team not getting deserved attention, but I find the exclusion a tad ridiculous.
Both of the Bills defensive tackles, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, are among the top 5 for DTs in both sacks and tackles. Both of them. Yet, somehow, neither of them are in the top 6 at their position.
Mario Williams is 2nd among DEs for sacks and requires constant double-teaming to contain, yet also isn't in the top 6.
Kiko Alonso, in his rookie season, is 2nd in the NFL in tackles and tied for 1st for turnovers by an inside linebacker. Yet, again, he isn't worthy of the Pro Bowl.
I try to be as objective as possible, I truly do. But seeing that not one of these people got on your list forces me to question either your allegiances or your intelligence. Either way, I suppose it doesn't really matter, because most of them will be going to the actual Pro Bowl either way.

anon76
anon76

@Andy_Benoit


So, just to recap, the 49ers offense, which averages 311.5 ypg and 24.5 ppg, gets 4 pro bowlers, while the Broncos, the greatest offense the NFL has ever seen (not an exaggeration in terms of points or yards) get 3 pro bowlers (the same as the Cleveland Browns).  Does that sound about right?

Tomppa27
Tomppa27

Are you kidding me, no Brent Grimes?

lennyb6
lennyb6

Tony Romo over Nick Foles???

MicahThoughtlife
MicahThoughtlife

"Aqib Talib, Patriots — Has won battles against Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Steve Smith and Demaryius Thomas, playing hefty snaps of true solo man coverage."

Don't get me wrong. Talib has had a great season. But if you think he won his battle against Steve Smith then you can't have seen the game. You might want to edit this after looking at the tape, maybe mention the sterling job Talib did on Jimmy Graham instead. Smith, I'm afraid, beat Talib like a drum for 4 quarters.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

Domonique Rogers-Cromartie?  Are you kidding me?

ScottSkipper
ScottSkipper

Where is Cordy Glenn at LT, has only given up 1 sack, DT Kyle Williams 55 tackles 7 sacks,

DT Marcell Dareus 60 tackles 7 sacks, OLB Mario Williams 12 sacks

diybk
diybk

How can Von Miller not be included????

diybk
diybk

I want to see the author go head to head against PFF on Zane Beadles.

afeltes
afeltes

As a Broncos fan, Louis Vasquez has been far superior to Zane Beadles.  

Mood_Indigo
Mood_Indigo

I'' take  Frank Gore over Matt Forte and Reggie Bush any day for a 60 minute football game (rather than a highlight reel). But then I'm a Niners fan...

tylery81
tylery81

River is having a way better year than romo

nyjetsfan08
nyjetsfan08

Sad to see no Revis, who is the best CB since PrimeTime. But he didn't earn it this year. Say what you want: He was injured, the coaches put him too many zone coverages and not enough press, he didn't have it this year. He may never be the same. I hope he does return to form because he was/is something special.

etep55
etep55

Did you forget about Nick Foles? 


Also, Clay over Julius Thomas? OK....ha. 

argirodo
argirodo

Davis/Smith over Grimes? WOW! They are still horrible. Grimes is the best corner back Dolphins have had since Madison. Sean and Vontae get beat weekly seemingly giving touchdowns at will. Brent has zero allowed all season. 

Cheese or Mini-Me
Cheese or Mini-Me

There are discussions of Burfict being the NFL Defensive MVP but he doesn't get probowl consideration?


enhancedakuma
enhancedakuma

Maybe because he missed 6 games and took a few to get back to form, seems obvious to me.

anon76
anon76

@diybk

Yeah, I love me some Beadles, but I don't see how you can argue he's having a better year than Vasquez, or several other guards on other teams.

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@Mood_Indigo You can see that the writer put Miller, Iupati, and Staley on the team crediting them for a lot of Gore's greatness.  Bears and Lions don't have that perceived strength at run blocking positions. 

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@tylery81 No. not a way better year than Romo.  Better year than Luck or Brady maybe. 

enhancedakuma
enhancedakuma

Nick Foles has to do it for more than 5 games before you can call him a pro-bowler. At least wait until the regular season is over.

argirodo
argirodo

@etep55 I agree kinda surprised to see Clay, but Thomas plays with the MVP. Dolphins haven't passed for 20+ tds in 15 years. Clay has 7. Cut us some slack lol.

Translucent
Translucent

@argirodo Pat Surtain was actually better than Sam Madison, but they were both terrific. Too bad Jimma couldn't draft offense.

argirodo
argirodo

I am much happier having Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson (1 and zero allowed) then the other two. (not pro bowlers tho)

anon76
anon76

@enhancedakuma


Which games did he take to get back to form?  Look at his position grades- he was the #7 ranked edge rusher in his first game, and has only been ranked lower than that in one of his 7 games.  To go along with his 5 sacks he's got 10 QB hits, 25+ QB pressures, one drawn hold, and a tipped pass leading to an INT.  And that's just against the pass.  Against the run he has 6 stuffs in 7 games along with 3 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown.

I can't say anything about the other OLBs on the list, but Miller has definitely been a one-man wrecking crew since coming back, starting with his first game against Indianapolis.

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@Mood_Indigo Also he probably had a logjam at RB and thought he had enough Niners (4) on the offensive team already for a supposedly average offense. 

argirodo
argirodo

Andy's defense via twitter is that since he leads in INTS +PD's ie he's getting thrown at more. No stats to back that up. Except that he's put more points on the board directly for his team then the other team. Related he plays defense not offense. 

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