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Nine NFL players primed to make their Pro Bowl debuts

The NFL announced Wednesday its going back to the traditional "AFC vs. NFC" Pro Bowl setup. This is great news for fans uncomfortable with the word "unconferenced" and terrible news for fans who own a "Team Sanders" jersey.

The league hopes to reduce players bowing out of the game, which has watered down the significance of being Pro Bowler. Only one quarterback initially chosen for the Pro Bowl last season played in the game -- more than 35 replacements played overall.

Despite those numbers, there are still plenty of great players who haven't made it to the Pro Bowl. Here are some of our favorites to make their first Pro Bowl appearance after the 2016 season.

1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals running back: The Northern Iowa product was one of the best offensive players at any position down the stretch last year. After a draft dry spell in true three-down running backs, the NFC West found two of them last year. Johnson can handle short-yardage work, break big plays and catch passes in the slot. Look for Johnson to join his classmate Todd Gurley among the league's best in 2016.

2. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers wide receiver: Before a lacerated kidney ended his season, Allen recorded the third-most receptions in NFL history through eight games. He's not an easy receiver to categorize or cover because of his great hands, great routes and ability to make catches in difficult positions. Allen and Philip Rivers could be one of the funkiest and most productive tandems in football.

3. Mike Daniels, Green Bay Packers defensive end: The Packers' scheme isn't set up for defensive linemen to put up huge numbers. Daniels was too good last season to be held down. A three-down threat that is equally effective against the run and the pass, Daniels was largely unknown to the general public until his breakout year. The Pro Bowl is often one or two years behind in recognizing emerging players, so Daniels is due. Then again ...

4-5. Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll has put together the best defense of this generation, and its continuity is incredible. It's hard to believe that two of the team's pillars haven't ever made it to the Pro Bowl. Avril, like his teammate Michael Bennett, only gets better at pass rushing as he gets older. Wright does a lot of the dirty work in coverage and against the run that gets ignored in Pro Bowl voting, but that doesn't make it right. So we wanted to recognize him here.

6. Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills cornerback: Ronald Darby, Gilmore's tag-team partner, is also a good candidate for his first Pro Bowl after finishing second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Still, it seems wrong for Darby to make it before his veteran teammate who also plays a physical style.

7. John Brown, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver: A 179-pound, third-round pick out of Pittsburg State, Brown gained over 1,000 yards in his second NFL season. Yet it almost felt like a let down because he's that talented. Brown plays like a receiver who has been in the league much longer, knowing how to set up defenders and find holes in coverage. He sees the field like his quarterback Carson Palmer. After Larry Fitzgerald's resurgence in 2015, look for Brown to take center stage in the Cardinals'  passing game this season.

8. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins tight end: The new Pro Bowl setup should help Reed quite a bit. With Jimmy Graham coming off serious injury, Greg Olsen is the only truly established NFC tight end favorite at the position. Reed put up 675 and six touchdowns in his final eight games last season, including his monster outing in the playoffs against the Packers. There are a lot of wide receivers for Kirk Cousins to feed in Washington, yet Reed should be his top option.

9. Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots linebacker: Bill Belichick can't hide his affection for Hightower. He's perhaps the most natural heir in years to the linebacker legacy in Foxborough left behind by Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest. Hightower is versatile enough to play inside linebacker and rush from the outside, which gives him plenty of chances to rack up tackles, forced fumbles and sacks.

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