The Brandt Report  

 

Projecting one future first-time Pro Bowler for each AFC team

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Gil Brandt has plucked one prime candidate from each team to earn a first Pro Bowl nod in 2018. Below are his AFC picks.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: Brandon Williams, DT, sixth NFL season. Williams is strong, explosive and agile, very hard to block in the running game. When he's healthy, Baltimore's defense plays a lot better. He's so good, in fact, that I'm surprised he hasn't already earned a Pro Bowl nod. Of course, he does play at a stacked position, with many stellar defensive tackles in the league today. But this year, I think he'll cut through the noise.

BUFFALO BILLS: Tre'Davious White, CB, second NFL season. The 2017 first-round pick made the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team after picking off four passes -- including one of Tom Brady that inspired an overzealous response from Rob Gronkowski -- and starting all 16 games. He has great coverage ability and will tackle, and I think he'll shine in Year 2 under Sean McDermott.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: Joe Mixon, RB, second NFL season. Mixon didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2017, finishing with 913 yards from scrimmage (including 626 rushing yards on 178 attempts for a less-than-inspiring yards-per-carry mark of 3.5) and just four touchdowns in 14 games (seven starts). But he has outstanding big-play ability and 4.45 speed; he just needs to start full-time. I see him breaking the 1,000-yard mark on the ground behind Cincinnati's revamped O-line.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Myles Garrett, DE, second NFL season. Garrett accumulated seven sacks and earned a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie Team, but he was stuck on a squad that was (obviously) often playing from behind. The restocked and overhauled Browns offense should be able to get more leads in 2018, which will put additional pressure on opponents to throw more, which should, in turn, create additional opportunities for Garrett to wreak havoc in the backfield.

DENVER BRONCOS: Bradley Chubb, DE, first NFL season. Chubb has the speed (4.65-second 40-yard dash), athletic ability (36-inch vertical) and strength (24 lifts on the bench press) to be a star as both a pass rusher and run stopper. Along with six-time Pro Bowler Von Miller, the fifth overall pick should help return Denver's defense to the ranks of the elite.

HOUSTON TEXANS: Benardrick McKinney, LB, fourth NFL season. McKinney is a three-year starter and a newly rich man. He's a fast, explosive MIKE, able to take on blockers and fill in the gaps. Also a very good blitzer, McKinney has posted eight sacks since 2016. The linebacker led the Texans in tackles last season with 95, and it's not hard to imagine him taking another leap forward into the Pro Bowl this fall.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Malik Hooker, FS, second NFL season. Hooker missed the last nine games of the season with a torn ACL. But in his first four games as a pro, he picked off three passes. Presuming Hooker's healthy come Week 1, we'll see the Ohio State product flash his Ed Reed-like potential. He has speed and ball skills and is exceptional in man coverage (one of the best I've ever scouted, in fact).

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Andrew Norwell, OG, fifth NFL season. Norwell made first-team All-Pro in his final season with the Panthers, and a Pro Bowl nod should follow suit in 2018, after the well-compensated guard makes the top-ranked running game from 2017 even better. Norwell is a huge man (6-6, 325 pounds) with excellent strength -- it's surprising he wasn't drafted.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Sammy Watkins, WR, fifth NFL season. Watkins only has one 1,000-yard season on his resume, but he has averaged 15.9 yards per catch in his career, the third-best mark in the NFL from 2014 to '17 among those with 150-plus catches. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes' strong arm will mesh well with Watkins' long-ball skills. It's true that he could be overshadowed on an offense that also includes Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce -- but I think Mahomes will turn to Watkins enough to give him a chance to shine.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Mike Williams, WR, second NFL season. A back issue kept him from doing much as a rookie in 2017, but the former first-round pick has great size, body control, arm length and the physical ability to go up and catch the ball. He's not that fast, but ask Alabama -- against whom he had eight catches for 94 yards and a score in Clemson's win in the 2017 National Championship Game -- how much that means.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: Xavien Howard, CB, third NFL season. After a rookie season hampered by injury, Howard started 16 games in 2017, finishing with 13 passes defensed and four interceptions -- including two of Tom Brady in one game. He plays the game well.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Trey Flowers, DE, fourth NFL season. Flowers has led the Patriots in sacks in each of the past two seasons (with 7.0 in 2016 and 6.5 last season), and he was one of just four Patriots to play every defensive snap in Super Bowl LII, which further shows you his value to this team. He has 34-inch arms and an 85-inch wingspan, two traits that are very helpful to a pass rusher.

NEW YORK JETS: Jamal Adams, S, second NFL season. Adams' fellow Jets safety, Marcus Maye, could qualify here, too. The very tough Adams started 16 games and notched 83 tackles with a pair of sacks as a rookie. He needs to improve against the pass -- but he will.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: Gareon Conley, CB, second NFL season. Conley was thought to be as good as eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore. But he played in just two games, landed on injured reserve and underwent shin surgery. Conley is an excellent athlete with the talent to live up to those initial lofty expectations, although he needs to add strength.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, second NFL season. Smith-Schuster caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven scores in 14 games. He also became the youngest person to score a touchdown in the NFL since 1964 and the youngest to catch a touchdown pass since 1930. Big things are ahead for the rising star.

TENNESSEE TITANS: Adoree' Jackson, CB, second NFL season. Jackson started 16 games 2017, collecting 70 tackles, 17 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. He's a playmaker -- as evidenced by his eight touchdowns on kick and punt returns in college -- and that should continue to serve him well in the NFL.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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