One day later, let's do the same for the NFC. Who's set to make their initial trip to the NFL's annual all-star game in 2017?
John Brown, wideout: Last year was a struggle for Brown, who battled a concussion before his season was derailed by symptoms tied to the sickle-cell trait. This offseason, though, the deep threat "looks like John Brown" again, according to coach Bruce Arians, who praised the receiver's improved route-running and explosiveness. Brown is being asked to step into a primary role for a team that waved farewell to Michael Floyd and can't ask Larry Fitzgerald to save the world in his age 34 season. If "Smokey" bounces back, a Pro Bowl nod is in order.
Deion Jones, linebacker: Defensive lineman Grady Jarrett is another possibility here, but I'm going with Jones, the speedy linebacker who served as a pleasant surprise during his rookie season. The second-round pick finished the year as the NFL's 20th-ranked off-the-ball linebacker, per Pro Football Focus, and allowed a passer rating of just 89.0, eighth-best in the league. Playing his finest game of the year in the Super Bowl, Jones' growth mirrored the development of Atlanta's young defense under coach Dan Quinn. "It's pretty amazing to see a young guy like that have the confidence he has," said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. "We have a nice belief [in] him as well."
Christian McCaffrey, running back: It's dangerous territory projecting rookie numbers, but McCaffrey adds a special element to Carolina's attack. With Cam Newton coming off shoulder surgery, the Panthers have every reason to emphasize the dazzling new speed element to their ground game that McCaffrey promises. He'll see major action right away as a highlight-reel gem and easy fan favorite. Pro Bowl voting favors exciting new players, leaving McCaffrey as a strong candidate to reach Orlando if he delivers on the heady pre-draft buzz.
Cody Whitehair, center: Chicago's team-building process remains an enigma. The low-wattage offense suggests few Pro Bowl candidates beyond Jordan Howard, who already made the all-star affair as a rookie running back. With Mike Glennon -- and potentially rookie Mitchell Trubisky -- under center, good luck pinpointing potential Pro Bowlers in the passing game. A more logical candidate comes in the form of Whitehair, the second-year center who finished last season as the sixth-ranked player at his position, per Pro Football Focus. The second-rounder improved as the season wound on and gives the Bears a strong presence up front.
La'el Collins, right tackle: Safety Byron Jones also makes sense, but concerns loom around the Dallas secondary. Pro Bowl voters love Cowboys O-linemen -- for good reason -- and Collins has a chance to make a strong impression as the new starting right tackle. He hasn't played at a Pro Bowl level over his first two seasons, but returning to the position he starred in at LSU brings promise. "You can tell when you see him on the field how athletic he is and how explosive he can be," All-Pro center Travis Frederick told the Dallas Morning News. If he can make the next step, Collins will generate heaps of Pro Bowl buzz.
Darius Slay, cornerback: I initially had this spot pegged for Taylor Decker, Detroit's second-year left tackle who ranked 23rd at his position -- just below Cordy Glenn -- per PFF. After recently undergoing shoulder surgery, though, it's unclear when Decker will be fully healthy. That brings us to Slay, the team's
Green Bay Packers
Nick Perry, edge rusher: The Packers have plenty of stars on offense, but don't overlook the progress of Perry. The sixth-year linebacker never topped four sacks over his first four seasons before breaking out for 11 QB takedowns in 2016. He also piled up 47 quarterback pressures despite missing two games, leaving Packers fans to wonder what Perry's ceiling might be come September. How about a Pro Bowl bid, for starters?
Los Angeles Rams
Trumaine Johnson, cornerback: Coach Sean McVay was brought west to save a Rams offense that never achieved liftoff under Jeff Fisher. All bets are off, though, until quarterback Jared Goff (a) figures out where the sun rises and (b) learns how to face pressure in a live game. I have more confidence in vaunted defensive coordinator Wade Phillips doing what he always does: maximizing the defense, beginning with the play of his cornerbacks. In the past half-decade alone as a coordinator, he's done exactly that in Houston and Denver, a track record that bodes well for Johnson. The franchised cover man has stayed away from OTAs -- potentially the start of a holdout -- but I fully expect him to be available by Week 1.
Stefon Diggs, wideout: Diggs finished last season with 903 yards off 84 grabs despite suffering a Week 4 groin injury that held him back the entire way. Considering that he piled up 372 yards over those first four tilts, it's tantalizing to imagine what a fully healthy Diggs could have pulled off -- even in Minnesota's dysfunctional 2016 attack. Playing beside the productive Adam Thielen and wild-card addition Michael Floyd, Diggs today is the clear No. 1 in this Vikings offense, barring a surprise major role for Laquon Treadwell. Along with Diggs, edge rusher Danielle Hunter is a strong bet to earn Pro Bowl honors if he continues to shine on defense.
New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas, wideout: Is there a better situation for young receivers than New Orleans? With Drew Brees still flying high and Brandin Cooks now living up north in New England, Thomas steps into the role of No. 1 pass catcher for a team that -- even with a stacked backfield -- will never veer far from its DNA. Brees and Thomas built immediate chemistry last season, the preamble to a potentially monstrous campaign in The Big Easy. One of the league's most exciting young stars is a Pro Bowl lock, barring unforeseen disaster.
New York Giants
Olivier Vernon, edge rusher: It's flat-out crazy that Vernon hasn't made a Pro Bowl, having piled up 37.5 sacks over his first five seasons. Bottom line: That will change this year as the Giants unleash one of the league's nastiest defensive fronts. Vernon is a strong bet to cross into double-digit sacks en route to an appearance in Orlando.
Zach Ertz, tight end: The safer bet here might be Carson Wentz. Even if he doesn't play at a Pro Bowl level, the annual rash of quarterbacks ditching the all-star clash typically thrusts all sorts of less-than-stellar passers into the lineup. Instead, I'll go with Ertz, who snagged a career-high 78 balls last season and caught fire after Thanksgiving. Wentz has more help this year with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith on the roster, but young quarterbacks lean on their tight ends for production. Ertz is set up for a productive campaign.
San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde, running back: Mountainous end DeForest Buckner is a logical candidate on defense, but Hyde -- if he keeps the starting role -- finds himself in a premier scheme for backs. New head coach Kyle Shanahan has unleashed runners at every stop along the way, a dynamic that won't change in San Francisco. With Brian Hoyer at quarterback, the Niners likely will lean on the run week after week. That could and should mean big things for Hyde, who rumbled for 988 yards at 4.6 yards per tote despite missing three games in 2016.
Frank Clark, edge rusher: Who hasn't made the Pro Bowl in Seattle? Years of success have generated a wave of personal accolades on both sides of the ball, but Seattle continues to groom new talent. Clark, a third-year end, is trending upward after topping his three-sack rookie campaign with 10 takedowns in 2016. Film reveals a high-motor player with the talent to whirl past tight ends and tackles into the backfield. Considering that Michael Bennett has just one double-digit sack campaign over eight seasons, Clark is just getting going.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Noah Spence, edge rusher: While the offense is loaded with previous Pro Bowlers, Tampa's defense also has its share of intriguing young players. This was a toss-up between Spence and Kwon Alexander, the team's emerging third-year linebacker. Spence, though, is drawing rave reviews this offseason from teammates, with Robert Ayers insisting that the second-year pass-rusher could be "a 15-plus sack guy" after hitting 5.5 during his rookie year. Bucs Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy also predicted a "breakout year" for Spence after seeing the edge rusher trim 10 pounds off his frame since January. Showing extreme dedication to his craft, Spence is ready to shine.
Jamison Crowder, wideout: A second-team Pro Bowl alternate in 2016, Crowder finished last season as one of the more exciting players in the NFC, leading Redskins receivers in yards after the catch (383) and touchdowns (seven). All of those scoring plays came from the slot, generating some questions about the team's desire to see Crowder play outside, where he'll face starting corners on a regular basis. Terrelle Pryor will be featured in Washington, but Crowder's opportunity is clear after DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon both moved on in free agency. The Redskins are going to pass the ball plenty, leaving Crowder -- also a potent return man -- as a candidate for Pro Bowl glory.