Fantasy just became a reality in the National Football League!
The NFL and NFL Players Association has announced that starting with the 2014 Pro Bowl, the traditional AFC vs. NFC contest will be replaced in favor of a roster selection process that is much like a fantasy football draft.
You heard me right - the NFL is holding a fantasy football draft for the Pro Bowl! No longer will Pro Bowl teams be split up by conference. Instead, players will be assigned to teams through a Pro Bowl draft. Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will serve as alumni team captains and assist the Pro Bowl team captains - as well as two NFL.com fantasy football champions - in selecting the ultimate squads.
In the spirit of this exciting and innovative announcement - and to give Deion and Jerry a hand in what could be their first endeavors into the world of fantasy football - here's my projected 2014 Pro Bowl rosters for both teams using NFL.com's standard scoring system and the major fantasy positions in both standard and IDP leagues. Who knows, maybe they'll ask me for some help - in Hawaii!
Quarterbacks - Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Rodgers has finished no worse than second in fantasy points at his position in each of the last five years. That's an impressive statistic. He's also the first quarterback being selected in 2013 NFL.com fantasy football leagues based on average draft position. Backup - Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Running backs - Arian Foster, Houston Texans: No running back has scored more combined fantasy points over the last three years than Foster, who is also one of the top two players being drafted on NFL.com. Barring a setback in his return from an injured calf, Foster is a good bet to remain an elite fantasy back. Backup - Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Wide receivers: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions; A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Megatron has led all wideouts in fantasy points in each of the last two years, and there's no doubt he'll be the first player at his position picked in both fantasy football and the Pro Bowl draft. Green, who finished fourth in fantasy points among receivers in 2012, enters his third pro season and should continue to build on his statistical success. The duo of Megatron and Green would be an unbelievable fantasy combination. Backup - Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Tight ends - Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: I'm going to assume the best for Gronkowski, whose status for the start of the season is in question after forearm and back operations. Regardless, he's a good bet to be among the top fantasy options at his position even if he misses a few games. Backup - Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Kickers - Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots: Over his last three full seasons, Gostkowski has finished no worse than fourth in fantasy points at his position. Hopefully, Deion and Jerry heed the advice of fantasy football experts when it comes to kickers, though - don't even consider drafting one until the very last round!
Defensive linemen - Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins; Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings: Wake is one of the youngest and most valuable defensive linemen in IDP fantasy football formats. He's finished sixth or better in fantasy points in two of the last three seasons, during which time he has recorded a combined 37.5 sacks. Allen, a fantasy superstar in IDP leagues for years, has recorded double-digit sacks in each of the last six seasons and seven times since 2005 between the Chiefs and Vikings. Backup - Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
Defensive backs - Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers; Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears: After playing in just four games as a rookie, Burnett has finished among the top five defensive backs based on fantasy points in each of the last two seasons - including second in 2012. Tillman has been the top-scoring defensive back in each of the last two years, during which time he's recorded a combined six picks, five interceptions for touchdowns and 28 passes defensed. "Peanut" is an IDP fantasy star. Backup - Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Linebackers - Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers; D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns: Kuechly wasted little time making an impact both on the field and in fantasy land, recording 164 combined tackles and a league-leading 152.50 fantasy points. He's going to be the first defender drafted in most IDP leagues for 2013. Jackson ranked 17th in points among linebackers last year, but playing for new coordinator Ray Horton should be wonders for his value - much like it did for Daryl Washington. Backup - Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
Quarterbacks - Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Aside from Rodgers, there hasn't been a better quarterback than Brees over the last five years. During that time, he's ranked no worse than sixth in points at his position. Brees has also finished either first or second an impressive four times. Backup - Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Running backs - Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: If Rice has the first overall pick in a fantasy draft, chances are he's going to take Peterson. That might not be the case in the Pro Bowl draft, but it's tough to envision a scenario where A.D. isn't one of the two starting running backs. Backup - Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Wide receivers - Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: There isn't a wideout in this contest (or any contest for that matter) who is on the same level as Rice, but even the former Niners great would have to love fielding the duo of Bryant and Marshall at wide receiver. Both Marshall and Bryant finished within less than 13 fantasy points of the top overall wideout, Megatron, during the 2013 season. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bryant take over the No. 1 spot this season. Backup - Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Tight ends - Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints: Due to the fact that Gronkowski's status for Week 1 is in question, Graham is the clear-cut No. 1 tight end in fantasy football heading into the season. Over the last two years, the Miami (FL) product has found the end zone a combined 20 times. Backup - Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Kickers Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons: Bryant doesn't get a whole lot of recognition in fantasy football circles, but he has been quite a solid kicker as a member of the Falcons. Over the last three years, he has ranked no worse than 10th in fantasy points among kickers - that includes a third-place finish during the 2013 campaign.
Defensive linemen - J.J. Watt, Houston Texans; Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers: If you're playing in an IDP league, chances are Watt is going to be one of the first defenders picked on draft day. An athletic freak, the Wisconsin product recorded 20.5 sacks and led all defensive linemen in fantasy points last season. Johnson is coming off his best season with the Panthers, recording 12.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. With added help to the interior line, Johnson could be better in 2013. Backup - Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
Defensive backs - Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers: Smith made quite the impact as a rookie, recording 104 combined tackles with 11 passes defensed and two visits to the end zone. With one season under his belt, Smith could be even better in 2013. Weddle is trending in the right direction from a statistical perspective, scoring an increased number of fantasy points in the last three years. He'll continue to post strong tackle and passes defensed numbers. Backup - Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints
Linebackers - James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams; Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars: Laurinaitis has been an animal at the NFL level, recording 142 combined tackles and top-five fantasy totals among linebackers in each of the last two years. He's a virtual lock to remain one of the elite players at his position. As for Posluszny, he's coming off his fifth straight season with 110 or more combined tackles between the Bills and Jaguars. He's also posted 16 passes defensed in the last two years. Backup - Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!