|Todd Rosenberg / NFL|
|NFL MVP candidate Tom Brady was the leading vote-getter for the Pro Bowl among fans.|
Analysis: It's hard to leave Philip Rivers out, but Cassel has led his team to a division title and only threw five interceptions. Coming back 11 days after an appendectomy sold me on him as the third QB.
Analysis: Tough to leave Chris Johnson out with his 11 rushing touchdowns but Foster has 14 on the ground, Jones-Drew carried the Jaguars on his back and Hillis was a one-man wrecking crew for the Browns. I judged this season on its own merits.
Fullback (1): Le'Ron McClain
Analysis: The Ravens' fullback is an old-school blocker with run skills. He sets the tempo for the offense as a rough, tough group. He will play a bigger role in the playoffs than in the regular season.
Analysis: Johnson and Wayne are the cream of the crop. It's tough to leave Wes Welker, the best slot receiver in the NFL, off the roster but Lloyd totally reinvented himself and Bowe is the AFC's touchdown machine.
Analysis: Gates is the most dangerous tight end in the game and has to be double covered. Lewis is an emerging star who became a red-zone nightmare for opponents.
Analysis: The AFC clearly has the best tackles in the NFL. If Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth was in the NFC, he would easily make the Pro Bowl. These tackles never get any help in their pass protection and are good run blockers.
Analysis: Mankins came in late but quickly went back to the top of the list. Gallery wasn't a good tackle but he is a fine guard. The Raiders' second-ranked rushing attack follows his lead.
Centers (2): Nick Mangold, Jeff Saturday
Analysis: Most of the nose tackles in the AFC tell me Mangold is the best center in the league. Saturday runs all the protections for Peyton Manning and he often is changing things with seconds to go before the snap.
Analysis: Some consider Ngata a defensive tackle but he can play anywhere on the line and be effective. Williams and Freeney are elite pass rushers that see double teams all game long.
Defensive tackles (3): Richard Seymour, Kyle Williams, Antonio Garay
Analysis: Seymour is a dominating, athletic type. Williams is a one-man show for the Bills and consistently beats the double team. Garay is a virtual unknown, but anchors the nose for the Chargers' first-ranked defense.
Inside linebackers (2): Ray Lewis, Karlos Dansby
Analysis: Hard to leave a Steeler linebacker off, but Lewis is as good as ever and Dansby led Miami to the third-ranked defense.
Analysis: The AFC is loaded with 3-4 teams and a number of outside backers didn't make the list that should have. This trio has 37 sacks between them.
Analysis: All three of these guys can play man coverage and will tackle. McCourty is a rookie, but leads the Patriots with six interceptions.
Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are elite and considered game changers. Berry is a rookie with four interceptions and the range to cover the field.
Punter (1): Shane Lechler
Analysis: The perennial Pro Bowler is averaging 47 yards per attempt with a net of 40.6 yards.
Kicker (1): Adam Vinatieri
Analysis: He doesn't have the big leg like Sebastian Janikowski but he is deadly accurate.
Returner (1): Marc Mariani
Analysis: The Titans' rookie will most likely lose this spot to Josh Cribbs, but Mariani is the workhorse of the AFC. He has 25 punt returns for 322 yards and a touchdown as well as 56 kick returns for 1,411 yards and a score. No one in the NFL has 1,734 return yards.
|Todd Rosenberg / NFL.com|
|Michael Vick's turnaround season could end at the Pro Bowl ... that is only if the Eagles don't reach Super Bowl XLV.|
Analysis: Vick is a great story and the best is yet to come. Rodgers is as beautiful a passer as there is in the NFL. Drew Brees is the defending Super Bowl champion. It is a shame Matt Ryan didn't make this list because he belongs in the Pro Bowl.
Running backs (3): Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Steven Jackson
Analysis: The NFC runners are all power backs who can handle 20-25 carries a game.
Fullback (1): Ovie Mughelli
Analysis: The blocking back is a workhorse who sets the tone for the Falcons' inside run game and has made a few critical receptions in close games.
Analysis: White will finish the season with close to 110 receptions and the most receiving yards in the NFL. Fitzgerald and Johnson put up big numbers on poor offenses and there's no telling what their production would be with an elite QB. Jackson is a big play waiting to happen.
Analysis: Both guys can beat any linebacker, always draw safety coverage when they are flexed and are effective blockers. Witten could crack the 100-reception mark and Gonzalez is headed to the Hall of Fame.
Analysis: Clabo is a rough-and-tumble type, Gross never gets any help over on the left side and Clifton is steady.
Analysis: The NFC guards are all really physical and can stop a big defensive tackle or get up on a linebacker.
Centers (2): Ryan Kalil, Olin Kreutz
Analysis: Kalil is the most athletic center in the NFL and Kreutz is still one of the toughest players in the league.
Analysis: There are others worthy of a spot here, but Peppers has changed Chicago's defense, Abraham has the production he had two years ago and Tuck is so versatile.
Defensive tackles (3): Ndamukong Suh, Sedrick Ellis, Kevin Williams
Analysis: Suh isn't just the best rookie defensive tackle, he's the best tackle period! He will be headed to the Pro Bowl for the next 10 years. He reminds me of a young Reggie White. Ellis is a leverage player and Williams can anchor the point or penetrate.
Inside linebackers (2): Brian Urlacher, Patrick Willis
Analysis: Urlacher still has great range and is the leader of the Bear defense. Willis is a tackling machine who always records close to 150 stops a year.
Outside linebackers (3): Brian Orakpo, Clay Mathews, DeMarcus Ware
Analysis: All three of these guys get after the quarterback and can drop into coverage. The three of them have generated 33.5 sacks.
Analysis: Each has good size, man-to-man skills and should finish with 20-plus interceptions.
Analysis: Thomas is only a rookie but he can matchup with any wide receiver or play the deep middle. Landry only played nine games, but can come in the box and play the run as well as Rolle and both can play a deep half.
Punter (1): Donnie Jones
Analysis: The Rams' punter is averaging 45.6 yards on 85 punts. He has also placed 30 punts inside the 20-yard line and has been a critical piece to the resurgence in St. Louis.
Kicker (1): David Akers
Analysis: He leads the NFC in points scored and has made 30 field goals.
Return man (1): Devin Hester
Analysis: He is the most dangerous return man in the game. He averages 17.1 yards per punt return.