The Brandt Report  

 

Projecting one future first-time Pro Bowler for each NFC 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 NFC picks.

ARIZONA CARDINALS: Markus Golden, DE, fourth NFL season. Golden notched 12.5 sacks in 2016, but missed 12 games in 2017 with a torn ACL. He's still in the process of recovering from that injury, according to the Cardinals' website, but presuming he returns to full health, we should see a big season out of No. 44 in 2018. Golden is a high-effort player with excellent short-area burst, and the new coaching staff in Arizona should take full advantage of his pass-rush ability in a 4-3 scheme.

ATLANTA FALCONS: Austin Hooper, TE, third NFL season. While Atlanta's offense took a slight step back in Steve Sarkisian's first year as coordinator, Hooper made a big jump from his rookie campaign, racking up 49 catches for 526 yards and three scores on 65 targets. He's more of a move tight end than a blocking tight end, but he has big hands and can catch the ball with ease. He should continue to ascend in Year 2 of the Sarkisian era.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: Devin Funchess, WR, fourth NFL season. In 2017, Funchess' first year as a full-time starter, he caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight scores on 111 targets -- a sign of things to come for the talented athlete.

CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.

DALLAS COWBOYS: Chidobe Awuzie, CB, second NFL season. Awuzie has exceptional short-area quickness and explosion and can play slot corner, corner or safety. He's very intelligent and has above-average coverage skills. Provided he stays healthy, he'll seriously improve Dallas' defense as a starter this year.

DETROIT LIONS: Jarrad Davis, LB, second NFL season. Davis is a very explosive three-down player who racked up 96 tackles in 14 games as a rookie. Under the new coaching staff in Detroit, Davis will excel as the linebacker in Matt Patricia's New England-like system.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: Blake Martinez, LB, third NFL season. Martinez is the complete package: smart, tough and aggressive, with excellent reaction skills. He's the key to Green Bay's defense, which is entering its first season under new coordinator Mike Pettine.

LOS ANGELES RAMS: Cooper Kupp, WR, second NFL season. Kupp -- who accumulated more receiving yards at Eastern Washington (6,646) than anyone in the history of college football, including Jerry Rice -- gets open and catches everything. If the Rams throw enough this year, Kupp could haul in 90 passes.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Pat Elflein, C, second NFL season. Elflein helped make a dramatic difference on the Vikings' O-line as a rookie, with Minnesota cutting its sacks allowed from 38 in 2016 to 27 in '17, while the running game jumped from 32nd-ranked in '16 to seventh in '17. And I think it was largely because of what Elflein brought to the table. Presuming he recovers from a fractured ankle suffered in the NFC title game and a shoulder injury that occurred in December -- he's aiming to be back by training camp -- we should see Elflein continue to thrive.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Marcus Williams, S, second NFL season. Williams has outstanding quickness and ability, and he plays the safety position like a cornerback. His role in facilitating the Minnesota Miracle -- misplaying Stefon Diggs and allowing him to score a walk-off touchdown in a divisional playoff game -- will live with him for a long time, but he has the talent to transcend that moment with his production in 2018 and beyond.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Saquon Barkley, RB, first NFL season. Much has been said and written about the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but the hype all comes back to this: He has everything you need to succeed in the NFL. He can run, he can catch and he has outstanding work habits. Barkley has a good chance to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Derek Barnett, DE, second NFL season. The very tough Barnett had five sacks and made the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team in 2017 -- he also had nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He's very tough with good change-of-direction skills and will step into a starring role in Year 2.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, fifth NFL season. Garoppolo was a linebacker in high school, and you can see him bring the toughness of an LB to the quarterback position. No wonder he has yet to lose an NFL start. He's really special.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Rashaad Penny, RB, first NFL season. He can do everything. In his last two years at San Diego State, he ran for 3,266 yards (7.7 yards per carry), with 35 touchdowns on the ground and five through the air. He also averaged 30.2 yards on kick returns over his entire Aztec career. I think Seattle will use him effectively.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Justin Evans, S, second NFL season. Evans is a very athletic player with cover skills and great instincts. In 14 games as a rookie (11 starts) he had 66 tackles, three interceptions and six passes defensed.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Jonathan Allen, DE, second NFL season. Allen's value lies in his ability to play inside or outside -- he could line up as a tackle or an end on the front four. He only played in five games before suffering a foot injury that required surgery and wiped him out for the rest of his rookie season. The very athletic and competitive player has a lot going for him.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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