Analysis  

 

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

Print

Marc Sessler has plucked one prime candidate from each team to earn a first Pro Bowl nod in 2019. Below are his AFC picks.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: Matt Judon, edge, fourth NFL season: The departure of Terrell Suggs and free-agency darling Za'Darius Smith strips the Ravens of 15.5 sacks from last year's defense. Still, Baltimore's track record of drafting and developing pass rushers speaks for itself. Enter Matt Judon, the 26-year-old enforcer who tied for second on the team with seven sacks last season after posting eight in 2017. The table is set for upped snaps and double-digit takedowns with Judon, in a contract campaign, leading the charge ahead of Shane Ray, Pernell McPhee, Tim Williams and rookie Jaylon Ferguson. Not bad for a guy drafted in the fifth round in 2016 out of Division II Grand Valley State.

BUFFALO BILLS: Tre'Davious White, CB, third NFL season: The final first-round draft pick for Doug Whaley in Buffalo, White surged out of the gate to start 16 games as a rookie in 2017. He finished that season as the NFL's sixth-best cornerback, per Pro Football Focus, with the analytics site rating him as the league's top rookie. Less splashy on paper in 2018, White clearly had the attention of opposing teams, who made him the fifth-lowest-targeted cornerback in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. One of the grittier press-cover operators in the conference, White is Pro Bowl-ready.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: Joe Mixon, RB, third NFL season: The Bengals were chopped down by a flood of injuries and issues in 2018, but Mixon glowed as a wire-to-wire bright spot. After years of backfield-by-committee action in Cincinnati, the do-it-all workhorse turned Giovani Bernard into an afterthought by outpacing his teammate, 280 touches to 91. Mixon's 1,464 total yards and nine scores were the product of a versatile talent who rumbles through would-be tacklers and stirs chaos as a catch-and-run weapon in the flats. Just getting started, Mixon has an opportunity for career numbers come September.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Baker Mayfield, QB, second NFL season: Below rests a list of Browns quarterbacks selected to the Pro Bowl:

-- Otto Graham (1950-1954)
-- Tommy O'Connell (1957)
-- Milt Plum (1960-1961)
-- Frank Ryan (1964-1966)
-- Bill Nelsen (1969)
-- Brian Sipe (1980)
-- Bernie Kosar (1987)
-- Derek Anderson (2007)

Notice something? Outside of Derek Anderson's deal-with-the-devil campaign in '07, Cleveland has offered nothing but junk under center since Bernie Kosar was cut by Bill Belichick in 1993. The painful decades feel lodged in the past, though, thanks to the rise of Baker Mayfield, who arrived as a somewhat surprising first overall draft selection only to transform the entire franchise in his first season. Beyond setting a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes, Mayfield finished third in the league with 39 big-time throws, described by Pro Football Focus as "a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window." This happened despite the Browns dropping the ninth-most passes in the NFL. Odell Beckham Jr.'s arrival only adds to the excitement around Mayfield's second season -- assuming that offensive line holds up.

DENVER BRONCOS: Bradley Chubb, edge, second NFL season: Chubb lived up to his billing as a havoc-wreaking quarterback night-terror unleashed in unison with Denver's Von Miller. His 12 sacks as a rookie included a midseason tear of 7.5 takedowns over a five-game stretch. Chubb and Miller remain the heart of this Broncos squad, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see both earn Pro Bowl honors this time around. "Spoiler alert ... Both these guys have 20 sacks; it's never been done before," Peter Schrager of "Good Morning Football" predicted in May. "Two 20-sack guys, 40 sacks total." Dream big!

HOUSTON TEXANS: Justin Reid, S, second NFL season: Attached to a rough-and-tumble Texans defense, Reid offered a little bit of everything as a 12-game starter during his rookie year. He held his own in coverage as one of the AFC's sure tacklers and lifted Houston with a handful of key turnovers, headlined by his 101-yard pick-six against the Redskins in Week 11. While Jamal Adams and Derwin James are favorites to return to the Pro Bowl -- three safeties make the roster for each conference -- Reid has forged a path as one of the game's exciting young players at the position.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Darius Leonard, LB, second NFL season: First-team All-Pro? Check. Defensive Rookie of the Year? Check. Pro Bowl selection? Oops. One of Earth's dimmer human events occurred last December, when Leonard was left in the cold by dazed-and-confused Pro Bowl voters. As an act of revenge, the rookie vowed to record 40 tackles against the Giants in Week 16. Leonard fell a tad short with nine stops against the G-Men, but still led the league with 163 tackles on the year -- 19 more than the next guy on the list. Adding seven sacks, two picks and four forced fumbles in Year 1, Leonard is a roaming force who can do it all.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Myles Jack, LB, fourth NFL season: Jack tumbled down draft boards in 2016 due to concerns over his surgically repaired right knee, which he acknowledged might someday require microfracture surgery. The athletic linebacker has swatted away doubters by starting 34 consecutive games for the Jaguars dating back to his rookie year and playing more than 2,200 snaps over the past two seasons. With Telvin Smith out of the mix, Jack -- a standout coverage 'backer and playmaker with four turnovers and two defensive scores in three seasons -- figures to see another massive workload in 2019.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Chris Jones, DT, fourth NFL season: We love you, Pro Bowl selection process, but sometimes you operate like a drunken uncle tipping over at the Christmas dinner table. Jones was snubbed despite finishing third league-wide behind only Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt with 15.5 sacks. The behemoth also earned second-team All-Pro honors, November's AFC Defensive Player of the Month and the fifth-highest mark by Pro Football Focus at his position. After sitting out voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp in search of a new deal, Jones looms as the centerpiece of a revamped Chiefs defense that needs him to double his efforts in 2019.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Desmond King II, CB/return specialist, third NFL season: Three cheers for wildly underrated Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, whose track record for unearthing late-round gems has turned this roster into a beast. King, a 2017 fifth-rounder out of Iowa, finished last season as the second-best corner in the NFL, via Pro Football Focus, while giving the Bolts a dangerous element in the return game, capped by his electric 73-yard punt-return touchdown in a comeback triumph over Pittsburgh in Week 13. King added another 72-yard kickoff return in the postseason win over Baltimore, making him one of the AFC West's most intriguing young talents.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: Laremy Tunsil, OT, fourth NFL season: The Dolphins have roster issues, but whoever wins the quarterback tussle between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen should feel fine about the left tackle position. With 44 starts at the tender age of 24, Tunsil will be ready to rock long after the Fins complete their so-called organic tank job: "He's the best young LT in the NFL," NFL Network draft guru Daniel Jeremiah tweeted in May. "He'll get HUGE money soon."

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: J.C. Jackson, CB, second NFL season: After casting off Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick found a suitable replacement in Jackson, the undrafted cover man out of Maryland who morphed into a reliable, difference-making starter down the stretch. Jackson finished the year with a league-best 42.0 passer rating allowed, leading some inside the building to believe he might ultimately surpass All-Pro Pats corner Stephon Gilmore.

NEW YORK JETS: Sam Darnold, QB, second NFL season: Not unlike Browns fans wearing Baker Mayfield jerseys, hanging Baker Mayfield posters on their walls and drinking gleefully from Baker Mayfield coffee cups, Jets faithful finally have a rising sun to wake up to each morning. Sam Darnold is poised to make a serious second-year leap, with Le'Veon Bell at his disposal and just enough talent at the receiver position. Limiting turnovers will help, but the Darnold we witnessed in the final month of last season was uber-promising. Playing in a ponderously conservative offense as a rookie, Darnold now finds himself with a challenging, creative, alpha-male spirit-guide in Adam Gase. The future is aglow.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: Maurice Hurst, DT, second NFL season: The Raiders house a few young options for this list in pass rusher Arden Key, cornerback Gareon Conley and a trio of first-rounders in pass rusher Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram. I'm going with Hurst, a dominant college performer at Michigan who fell to the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft after being diagnosed with a heart condition at the NFL Scouting Combine. The interior D-lineman was the best Raiders defender for long stretches in 2018 and looms as a steal for the Silver and Black. My 1b choice would be Conley, who came up big as the Raiders held Antonio Brown (when he was still a Steeler) to 35 yards in Week 14 and the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill to 13 yards off one grab in Week 13. Yummy.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Vance McDonald, TE, seventh NFL season: Older than most on this list, the 29-year-old McDonald has generated some noise as a breakthrough player for the Steelers after producing a career-high 50 catches for 610 yards with four scores. I'm buying the chatter based on an offense stripped of Antonio Brown and tight end Jesse James, who combined for 207 targets to McDonald's 72 in 2018. This offense enjoys its pass-catching tight ends, and McDonald tops the depth chart heading into camp. "It's required, it's definitely being asked," the tight end said in May of his expanded role, "... and I will embrace it."

TENNESSEE TITANS: Harold Landry, edge, second season: Landry's part-time role is set to grow with Brian Orakpo (who retired) and Derrick Morgan (who's still a free agent) out the door. A second-round pick in 2018, the rookie showed pass-rushing promise down the stretch and triggered a game-turning forced fumble of Carson Wentz in a Week 4 comeback win over the Eagles. Landry should benefit from one-on-one matchups, with Cameron Wake added to the mix. "I think he will break out. ... First-step quickness, outstanding closing burst and had a knack for getting it done," NFL Network's Bucky Brooks said on the "Move The Sticks" podcast in May. "We saw flashes of it during his rookie season with the Titans. I believe we get a bigger dose [in 2019]."

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

Listen on Google Play Music
Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop