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Guide to filling out the Pro Bowl ballot: Defense

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It's Pro Bowl voting season. After 10 weeks, it's time to start figuring out who deserves recognition as the NFL's best players this year. Now that we no longer pick Pro Bowlers based on conference, the voting can be a little tricky.

So here's our guide on how to fill out your Pro Bowl ballot, with a look at defensive choices first. Here goes:

Defensive end


You get six votes at defensive end. J.J. Watt and Cameron Wake are locks. If you don't vote for them, you should not be allowed to vote for Pro Bowls or local elections. After that, the position is wide open with plenty of solid options.

Calais Campbell missed a few games with a knee injury, but he's wildly disruptive. He's listed at defensive end even though he does a lot of his damage from the inside. He's the best player in the NFL never to make a Pro Bowl and his recognition is overdue. Help the man!

After those three, Everson Griffen, Robert Quinn, Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, DeMarcus Ware, Ezekiel Ansah and Olivier Vernon would all be worthy picks. Griffen and Quinn started slow, but they've been too good since to deny. Ware would get my final vote for now.

Defensive tackle


The guys on the interior are a little easier to shake out than the defensive ends. I'd put both Bills defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams on the team. Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson and Gerald McCoy all dominate week after week. (Wilkerson is listed at DT despite playing end in Rex Ryan's 3-4 defense.) Haloti Ngata is having his best season since at least 2011.

That's six picks, which gives you a full roster. Rams rookie Aaron Donald has come on strong, but doesn't have as many snaps as the top guys. Jurrell Casey, Jared Odrick and Kawann Short have flashed at times, but this is a position where the biggest names are the best choices.

Inside linebacker


This is the weakest position on the board. Luke Kuechly won't win Defensive Player of the Year award again, but he deserves to go to Hawaii Arizona. After that, you can make a lukewarm case for a lot of players: Lawrence Timmons, Mychal Kendricks, Rolando McClain, Ravens rookie C.J. Mosley and Karlos Dansby. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner deserves mention, but he's been too injured. Kendricks, McClain and Dansby would get my last three spots for now, but this race could change.

Outside linebacker


This is a weird position that mixes pass rushers with rangy run-stoppers. Six spots are open. Von Miller and DeAndre Levy are the best at what they do, and need to be on the squad. Levy might be the most instinctive (read: smart) outside linebacker in football. Justin Houston leads the league with 12 sacks and remains one of the best pure pass rushers in the league.

That's three spots, with a big group of worthy players fighting for the rest. Here are some of my favorite options: Khalil Mack, Lavonte David, Dont'a Hightower, Connor Barwin, Thomas Davis and Denver's Brandon Marshall. Davis, David and Mack would would get my final three votes. It also sounds like a sweet law firm.

Strong safety


The distinction between free safety and strong safety has become increasingly irrelevant to coaches that want every player to do everything, but it still matters in Pro Bowl voting. (Can we change this, NFL?) There are two votes at strong safety, and the field isn't as strong as free safety. Antoine Bethea is a lock pick after a career year. That leaves Donte Whitner, George Iloka, Eric Berry and Devin McCourty as fine options to join him. (This hasn't been Troy Polamalu's best year.) McCourty would my my pick for quarterbacking a much improved Patriots secondary.

Free safety


This pick is a lot more challenging. Earl Thomas feels like an annual must, and he probably deserves it. But there are plenty of great options like Eric Weddle, Harrison Smith, Malcolm Jenkins and Tashuan Gipson. Reshad Jones of Miami would also be a good choice if he was eligible, but his PED suspension knocks him out. My vote for now would go with the old guard: Weddle and Thomas.

Cornerbacks


Oh boy. Eight spots are open here, with only two total locks: Vontae Davis and Richard Sherman. After that it's wide open. Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden struggled to start the year, but could still get in because of their big names. They also deserve a lot of extra credit because they are asked to do so much more than most of their cornerback counterparts.

The Saints' Keenan Lewis is having a terrific year and should get in. Brent Grimes is a good repeat pick. Darrelle Revis is playing at a high level for the Patriots. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris could both make it from the Broncos. Sean Smith and Antonio Cromartie are having comeback seasons, while Perrish Cox has led a shockingly good 49ers cornerback crew.

We'll be back next week to try to pick the offense.

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