It may seem like a strange time of year to talk about the Pro Bowl but it's never too early to take a look at the emerging talent capable of a trip to Honolulu.
I have put together a list of the probable candidates poised to take the jump from solid starter to star in 2008. I went to the fans for their opinions because they have a voice in the process. I also turned towards players and coaches for their insight about emerging stars; it didn't take long to get a list of twenty potential candidates.
While it took Fred Taylor 10 years and 10,000 yards rushing before he made his first Pro Bowl, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, and Joe Thomas all got the call in their rookie years. Keep in mind that 2007 Pro Bowlers Asante Samuel, Jarred Allen, and Tony Richardson have all switched conferences during the offseason. Brett Favre retired, Jonathan Ogden appears to be retiring and no one is sure where Jason Taylor will play in 2008.
Volatility has always been a reality in the NFL personnel business and it has a ripple affect on Pro Bowl rosters. Last year an NFL.com poll after the Pro Bowl game listed the top four exciting players in the game and it included three recent newcomers: Adrian Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Having a great year in 2008 is what will get players to Hawaii, but it also doesn't hurt if the player had a solid 2007 season. Team success and fan passion to stuff the ballot box are factors in the process, but when a coach or GM tells me about an emerging star on his roster, especially at positions where stats don't dominate the discussion like offensive line, it is very important.
Here are the top 10 players that have emerged from my discussions over the past few weeks.
1. Mario Williams, DE, Houston: Heading into his third season after 14 sacks last year and 18.5 in his first two years. A teammate said Williams is walking around at 300 lb. and looks unblockable.
2. LaRon Landry, S, Washington: As a rookie, Landry finished up the 2007 season with 95 tackles and 1.5 sacks. A front office executive said Landry did an amazing job after the death of Sean Taylor.
3. Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans: In two seasons he has 168 receptions and 19 touchdowns. As one defensive back told me, Colston should be headed to his third pro bowl by now but this should be his year or there's something wrong with the system.
4. Arron Sears, OG, Tampa Bay: Coaches around the league continually brought his name up as a dominating run blocker and a player they would love to have on their team.
6. Plaxico Burress, WR, Giants: Burress established himself as a star during the Giants' Super Bowl run. His performance in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay set him apart from the pack. He has found the end zone 29 times in the regular season during his three years with the Giants. More than one fan claimed he's the greatest offseason acquisition in the history of the Giants.
7. David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville: He wasn't even the starter when camp got under way last year but by the end of the season his 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions got everyone's attention. The Jags look ready for a great season in 2008 and that should put Garrard in the limelight.
8. Nick Hardwick, C, San Diego: Coaches tell me they consider him the best center in the AFC. He missed four games last year but is on the verge of star status. Fans have to pay close attention to him this year.
10. LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh: Steeler fans know defense and when they like a player they get behind him in a big way. Woodley is a very popular young player in the Steel City.
Here are the next 10 names that emerged while looking for potential 2008 first-time pro bowlers: Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City; Jamaal Jackson, C, Philadelphia; Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Cleveland; Karlos Dansby, OLB, Arizona; Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets; Donte Whitner, S, Buffalo; Lee Evans, WR, Buffalo.
Finally, if 2007 repeats itself then there will be upwards of 20 new Pro Bowlers in 2008. Some of the players listed above will make the trip but what's just as intriguing are the guys we're not even thinking about heading into the season. Could the list include Marshawn Lynch, Adam Carriker, Laurence Maroney, or a 10-year veteran waiting his whole career to get the call?