I write a weekly column ranking quarterbacks, and there is a clear hierarchy at the top this season. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are clear-cut no-brainers to make it to the Pro Bowl. That leaves Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan in a competitive battle for the last two spots. Any other option is a stretch.
Rivers had a November swoon, but he's played like an MVP for much of the season. He's in. My final spot comes down to Roethlisberger and Romo, and I'd give the edge to Big Ben because he's had to carry his team more.
That leaves three spots for the following group: Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and LeSean McCoy. It feels wrong to leave out Forsett, the league's fourth-leading rusher, in his career year. Let's put him. Lynch is also running angry and carrying the Seahawks' offense. This hasn't been the most consistent season for McCoy, so I'm leaving him out. Forte is the best receiving back in the league, so he gets my last spot over Foster, who has missed three games. When Foster is healthy, he's right there with the top backs in the league.
This is annually the toughest position to fill out on the Pro Bowl ballot. Injuries make it even trickier this year. My locks at the position include Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant. That leaves three spots for the following strong candidates: Jeremy Maclin, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Alshon Jeffery. That's a loaded list.
Megatron and Green are out because they missed too much time. Maclin is close to a lock for his monster season coming off a torn ACL. My final two spots would go to Jones and Hilton, although it's painful to leave Cobb off the list.
Only four tight ends make the team. Rob Gronkowski is a legitimate MVP candidate. This hasn't been Jimmy Graham's best season, but he's still a lock to make the team. After that, there is plenty of gray area. Antonio Gates, Martellus Bennett, Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce and Jason Witten are all fine picks. I can't abide by Thomas' Bubba Franks-like 40-421-12 line, so he won't make my ballot. Bennett makes too many mental errors.
My final two spots will go old school/new school. Gates has enjoyed a throwback season, especially in the red zone. Kelce has done a lot with limited opportunities in Kansas City.
This is the part where writers pretend to be offensive line experts. These are the toughest positions to quantify, but Andrew Whitworth, Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas and Jason Peters have stood out the most. Other fine options would include Joe Staley, Cordy Glenn, Trent Williams or Duane Brown, even though he's had a down year.
Four centers get in. Cowboys second-year pro Travis Frederick should be rewarded, while Kansas City's Rodney Hudson has enjoyed a breakout season. Jets center Nick Mangold is always a worthy choice. After that, Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah, Packers newcomer Corey Linsley and Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey make sense.
I have strong feelings about Pro Bowl guards. Really! Rookie Zack Martin is a great pick from Dallas. Both of the Ravens guards, Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda, are also really good selections. Cleveland rookie Joel Bitonio is another rookie of the year candidate. Denver's Louis Vasquez has been great at guard and tackle, but he's listed at guard. That's five, and you need to vote for six. This last choice is on you, dear voter. You will never make a more important decision.