Sports Central Pro Bowl Selections

Pro Bowl voting has been open for over a month, but now every team has played more than half of its schedule, so it's finally reasonable to vote for each conference's representatives. Here's a look at my ballot, with AFC players listed first. I didn't vote for anyone who has been placed on injured reserve.

Quarterback

Tom Brady (NE), Peyton Manning (IND), Ben Roethlisberger (PIT); Tony Romo (DAL), Brett Favre (GB), Jeff Garcia (TB)

Despite how well they've played, Manning and Big Ben were not locks for my AFC ballot. It hurt to leave out Derek Anderson (CLE), and especially David Garrard (JAC), who would have been an easy choice if he hadn't missed several games with an injury. Garrard still has yet to throw an interception this season, and he plays with a very unexciting receiving corps. In the NFC, I would have loved to find a spot for Jon Kitna (DET), a good passer and a terrific leader, but I couldn't fit him in ahead of the three I voted for.

Running Back

Joseph Addai (IND), LaDainian Tomlinson (SD), Willie Parker (PIT); Adrian Peterson (MIN), Brian Westbrook (PHI), Marion Barber (DAL)

Tomlinson may seem like a questionable pick in a "down" year, but he leads all AFC running backs in touchdowns and yards from scrimmage (and, as long as we're at it, passer rating). The real question here was whether or not to take Parker over Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC), who is a better receiver, a great returner, and has significant leads over Parker in both touchdowns and rushing average. I stuck with Parker because of his huge edge in rushing yards and how good he's looked when I've seen the Steelers this year. I would also be remiss not to mention that I have been very impressed with rookie RB Marshawn Lynch (BUF). Peterson and Westbrook were slam dunks in the NFC, but I agonized about taking Barber over Clinton Portis (WAS). I'm impressed with what Reggie Bush (NO) has done in Deuce McAllister's absence, but he's not quite Pro Bowl caliber yet.

Wide Receiver

Randy Moss (NE), Reggie Wayne (IND), Wes Welker (NE), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (CIN); Terrell Owens (DAL), Torry Holt (STL), Roy Williams (DET), Larry Fitzgerald (ARI)

Wide receiver is always the hardest position to narrow down, and this year was no exception. In the AFC, I initially planned to vote for Braylon Edwards (CLE), then switched to Derrick Mason (BAL) before finally deciding on Houshmandzadeh. I also really like Brandon Marshall (DEN), but he's seventh on my AFC list right now. The final position in the NFC was almost as hard. For the sake of brevity, I'll just list the others I considered in alphabetical order: Marques Colston (NO), Bobby Engram (SEA), Antwaan Randle El (WAS), and Steve Smith (CAR). Colston, who is among the NFC's top 10 in all three major receiving categories, was probably closest.

Fullback

Greg Jones (JAC); Mike Sellers (WAS)

Jones was an effective runner in 2005, but now he's developed into a solid fullback as the lead blocker for Fred Taylor and Jones-Drew. Sellers, for his part, has always been a beast as a blocker, and this year he's also making his mark as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. He's a great lead blocker, no one wants to tackle him, and he was an easy choice for my Pro Bowl ballot.

Tight End

Antonio Gates (SD), Kellen Winslow, Jr. (CLE); Jason Witten (DAL), Chris Cooley (WAS)

The AFC is full of good candidates, and you can't go wrong with Tony Gonzalez (KC). Earlier in the season, I expected to pick Dallas Clark (IND), but after his injury, it just wasn't going to happen in the competitive AFC. Winslow and Gates lead the conference in receiving yards, and Gonzalez leads the AFC in receptions. This is the sixth year I've selected a Pro Bowl team for Sports Central, and it's the first time Gonzalez has missed my ballot. Fortunately, the NFC was a very easy call, with only Jeremy Shockey (NYG) even close to displacing the guys I chose. Cooley's skill as a receiver is well-established, but he's also become a fine blocker. When Washington played Philadelphia in Week 10, I saw him handle DE Trent Cole by himself on multiple occasions. There are other tight ends who can take on a Pro Bowl defensive lineman one-on-one, but none of them are weapons in the receiving game.

That wraps up the so-called "skill positions," but I want to make one quick point before we get to the offensive line. I'm fairly good at judging line play, but having watched a limited number of games, I'm reduced to some guesswork at these positions. Other guys get highlights and statistics to help you choose, but not the offensive linemen. I'll be much more confident in the offensive line selections for my all-pro team at the end of the season, when I've had more chances to see these guys. That disclaimer aside, here are my picks:

Offensive Tackle

Matt Light (NE), Nick Kaczur (NE), Ryan Diem (IND); Flozell Adams (DAL), Levi Brown (ARI), Jon Stinchcomb (NO)

There should be no discussion necessary on my AFC choices, but the NFC was very tight. Some of the guys I'll be keeping an eye on as the season continues include: Chad Clifton (GB), David Diehl (NYG), Walter Jones (SEA), Bryant McKinnie (MIN), Jon Runyan (PHI), Chris Samuels (WAS), and Mark Tauscher (GB). I know that's a long list, but I've only had one or two looks at most of these guys right now. I'll narrow it down pretty quickly as the season continues, but I'm open to input from those of you who've seen these guys all season.

Offensive Guard

Logan Mankins (NE), Ryan Lilja (IND), Jake Scott (IND); Shawn Andrews (PHI), Steve Hutchinson (MIN), Chris Snee (NYG)

Mankins, whom I nearly chose as my Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005 — I chickened out and went with Cadillac Williams — is the best. Lilja and Scott are great, too, but I also like Alan Faneca (PIT), Mike Goff (SD), and Eric Steinbach (CLE). In the NFC, I've been impressed with Leonard Davis (DAL), Pete Kendall (WAS), and especially Kyle Kosier (DAL).

Center

Jeff Saturday (IND), Dan Koppen (NE); Shaun O'Hara (NYG), Chris Spencer (SEA)

A cynic might dismiss my taking only Patriots and Colts for my AFC linemen as gimmicky, but I challenge any cynics out there to tell me who's been better than these guys. Only the Indianapolis guards, I think, are even close calls. Cynics should also note that I voted for Light, Diem, Mankins, Saturday, and Koppen last year, as well. This isn't a gimmick. New England and Indianapolis have by far the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Defensive End

Jared Allen (KC), Elvis Dumervil (DEN), Kyle Vanden Bosch (TEN); Osi Umenyiora (NYG), Aaron Kampman (GB), Andre Carter (WAS)

Allen is a very serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Dumervil is second in the AFC in sacks — 1.5 behind Allen but two ahead of anyone else — with four passes deflected, an interception, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. If you really want a 3-4 DE on your ballot, I like Brett Keisel (PIT). Michael Strahan (NYG), as always, was in the NFC mix, but I wanted to vote for Carter, who has been terrific for Washington.

Defensive Tackle

Albert Haynesworth (TEN), Vince Wilfork (NE), Casey Hampton (PIT); Darnell Dockett (ARI), Jovan Haye (TB), Tommie Harris (CHI)

Look, I don't like picking someone who stomped on a guy's head any more than you do, but Haynesworth has been out of sight this season. Hampton edged John Henderson (JAC) for the last spot in the conference. Dockett has become a huge difference-maker in Arizona, with 31 solo tackles and eight sacks so far. Haye, a first-year starter from Jamaica, has become a force on the line. In Tampa's 13-10 win over the Titans, Haye had 10 tackles (7 solo) and a sack. Harris, who has seven sacks, edged Chuck Darby (SEA), Fred Robbins (NYG), Shaun Rogers (DET), and Pat Williams (MIN) for the final spot.

Outside Linebacker

Mike Vrabel (NE), James Harrison (PIT), Thomas Howard (OAK); DeMarcus Ware (DAL), Julian Peterson (SEA), Ernie Sims (DET)

At long last, the NFL has seen the light and allows us to vote for three OLBs instead of just two. Vrabel didn't play much against the Bills on Sunday night, but he was a monster — unstoppable — against Washington, with 11 solo tackles and three sacks, and in the opener over the Jets, when he tallied five solos and 2.5 sacks. There's a lot of competition at this position, with others in the mix including Keith Bulluck (TEN), Rosevelt Colvin (NE), Donnie Edwards (KC), Derrick Johnson (KC), and Shawne Merriman (SD). In the NFC, I took two sack mavens, Ware (9 sacks, 63 tackles) and Peterson (8 sacks, 43 solo tackles, 4 forced fumbles, and an interception), plus Sims, a space player who does it all (team-leading 91 tackles, two forced fumbles, plus a sack and an interception), edging out Lance Briggs (CHI), Karlos Dansby (ARI), and A.J. Hawk (GB).

Inside Linebacker

Kirk Morrison (OAK), James Farrior (PIT); London Fletcher (WAS), Barrett Ruud (TB)

First of all, I want you to understand how desperately I wanted to take three NFC middle linebackers. Antonio Pierce (NYG) had gotten my vote three times in a row, and frankly, he's still deserving. But so are Fletcher and Ruud, and after some hand-wringing, Pierce was the one I left out. Rookie Patrick Willis (SF) leads the conference in tackles, but I haven't gotten a good look at him yet. In the AFC, Morrison has been an absolute monster on pass defense (three interceptions, 11 deflections), and I had Mike Peterson (JAC) penciled in for the other spot, but now he's out with an injury that might keep him off the field until next year. Stepping into the void was Farrior, by a hair over DeMeco Ryans (HOU).

Cornerback

Asante Samuel (NE), Rashean Mathis (JAC), Marlin Jackson (IND); Ken Lucas (CAR), Lito Sheppard (PHI), Ronde Barber (TB)

Please note my unhappiness that Antonio Cromartie (SD) is not on the ballot. I realize that he's only started one game, but he leads the NFL in interceptions (6), he's tied for the league lead in deflections (18), he leads all defensive players in scoring (three TDs), and he set a league record that can never be broken (109-yard return of a missed field goal against Minnesota). The guy deserves a trip to Hawaii. I pick Barber every year (yes, six times in a row now) and I hate myself for it, but Tampa easily leads the NFC in pass defense, and Barber is a major reason for that. Anthony Henry (DAL) leads the conference in picks and deflections, but that's partly because he gets picked on across from Terence Newman, and I've voted for him too many times (2004, '05, '06) anyway.

Strong Safety

Bob Sanders (IND); Adrian Wilson (ARI)

Troy Polamalu (PIT), when he's 100%, is a one-man wrecking crew on defense. But he's been battling injuries this season, and Sanders has been doing some wrecking himself. The NFC is full of unappealing candidates, and Wilson is the only one I'm half-excited about.

Free Safety

Ed Reed (BAL); Gibril Wilson (NYG)

I hate everyone in the NFC, and I desperately wish that Brian Dawkins (PHI) was healthy, because he's still the best, and the Eagles are a totally different team when he's on the field. Sean Taylor (WAS) might have been a possibility, but he's still inconsistent and right now he's hurt. That left me with Wilson, who's not terrible — I voted for him last year as a strong safety — but not really what I hope for in a Pro Bowler. I hate everyone in the AFC, too. Reed is the best of a weak crop, but he's not the same player he was in 2004, when I (and most other people) chose him as Defensive Player of the Year. Antoine Bethea (IND) is okay, too, and I almost took him over Reed.

Kicker

Kris Brown (HOU); Nick Folk (DAL)

I'm happy with my choice of Brown over Rob Bironas (TEN). Brown has missed only two field goals this season, one of which was blocked. He leads the NFL in field goals of 50 yards or more — Brown is 4-for-4 — including the longest field goal of the season, 57 yards. The NFC was a little tighter, but I ultimately decided on rookie Nick Folk, who leads the NFC in scoring and made a last-second 53-yarder to beat the Bills on MNF — over veteran Josh Brown (SEA).

Punter

Mike Scifres (SD); Andy Lee (SF)

This may sound kind of dumb, and in fact, it probably is kind of dumb, but I spent more time picking punters than any other position. I agonized about Lee, who leads the NFC in net punting average, over Brad Maynard (CHI), who has been much better about pinning opponents deep and preventing returns, but trails Lee in net average by about 5.5 yards. Too much ground to make up. The AFC race was even harder, with Shane Lechler (OAK), Brian Moorman (BUF), and Matt Turk (HOU) also in the mix. I eventually took the easy way out, going with Scifres because I've never voted for him before, even though he's been terrific in each of the last three seasons.

Kick Returner

Josh Cribbs (CLE); Devin Hester (CHI)

I'm not going to be the idiot that doesn't pick Hester in the NFC, but I would like to point out that as dangerous as Hester is, he actually ranks 20th in the NFL in kickoff return average. Where Hester has made his mark is on punt returns, with two TDs and an NFC-best 15.9 average. But please note the resurgence of Dante Hall (STL), whose averages (24.3 on kickoffs, 13.8 on punts) are comparable to Hester's (23.8, 15.9). Hester is the best, yes. But not by as wide a margin as it sometimes seems. The AFC field is full of great returners I didn't have room for, most notably Darren Sproles (SD) and Leon Washington (NYJ).

Special Teamer

I never vote at this position — not enough information — but some of the guys I like are Larry Izzo (NE), Quintin Mikell (PHI), and Kassim Osgood (SD). It always annoys me that James Thrash (WAS), who's terrific, is never even on the ballot. Matt Giordano (IND) and Cribbs, whom I chose as a returner, would also be good choices if they were on the list.

The teams I voted for most this season were the Patriots (10), Colts (9), and Cowboys (7). Last season, my leading teams were the Chargers (8) and Bears (8).

My own, admitted snub is the 9-1 Green Bay Packers (2). To be fair, the players I did select are standouts. Favre plays the game's most important position, and Kampman, who made my all-pro team last season, has a good chance to make it again this year. The Packers also had some close calls — both offensive tackles were very close, as was A.J. Hawk. Green Bay also has a number of players who are well above average, but not quite at Pro Bowl level: WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, LB Nick Barnett and DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson, and kicker Mason Crosby.

Last year's biggest snub was probably the Seahawks, who had a 6-4 record when I voted and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, but had no one on my Pro Bowl ballot. This year, I think only two Packers is the worst, but I also feel pretty bad about not getting anyone from Buffalo on my ballot. Lynch and Moorman were the closest, but I do like DE Aaron Schobel, LB Angelo Crowell, SS Donte Whitner, and KR Terrence McGee. Please note, also, that I do not hate the Jaguars. David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew were extremely close to making the cut, John Henderson was close, and Mike Peterson would have been in if not for his current injury.

As one final note, I've selected a Pro Bowl team for SC every year since the 2002 season, and in that period there are five players for whom I've voted at least five times each: Ronde Barber, Tony Gonzalez, Torry Holt, Peyton Manning, and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Midseason Awards

Offensive Player of the Year — Randy Moss (NE)
Defensive Player of the Year — Jared Allen (KC)
MVP — Tom Brady (NE)
Coach of the Year — Bill Belichick (NE)
Assistant — Jason Garrett (DAL)
Rookie of the Year — Adrian Peterson (MIN)

Comments and Conversation

December 5, 2007

Mike Gillingham:

you really think Lito, Ken Lucas and Ronde all deserve a pro-bowl selection over Terence Newman, your just like every other dummy that doesn’t know how good T-New is. Those 3 guys couldn’t hold a candle to him….no one throws at Newman, if they do, it gets broken up, or picked….I don’t get it??? Ronde is a nickel back who got torched by the Boys on Thanksgiving ‘06….Newman’s never been torched in his career….he’s given up 2 TD’s the past 3 seasons….pleas forward this to every dumb football writer for me. Thanks!!!

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