Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Sports Central 2012 Pro Bowl Ballot
Pro Bowl voting has been open for over a month, but now every team has played most 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. If you'd like to vote along as you read, you can do so here.
Tom Brady (NE), Peyton Manning (DEN), Matt Schaub (HOU); Aaron Rodgers (GB), Robert Griffin III (WAS), Matt Ryan (ATL)
The AFC looked like a cinch three weeks ago. Ben Roethlisberger's (PIT) injury situation opens the door for others, all questionably qualified. I chose Schaub based on efficiency and leadership. The Texans are 11-1, in no small part because Schaub has adapted his style to help them win. Schaub has more yards and a higher passer rating than Andy Dalton (CIN), who looks like the real deal but might still be a year or two away.
The NFC is full of strong contenders. Most notably, my ballot omits Drew Brees (NO) and Josh Freeman (TB). Matthew Stafford (DET) has a ton of yardage, but mostly because he throws a lot and plays with Calvin Johnson. Freeman has been very good, but with the level of QB play in the NFC this season, you need to be great. Brees and Andrew Luck (IND) are tied for the most interceptions in the league. Great QBs don't lead the league in interceptions. Brees is having an off-year, and Luck's still a rookie. There's every reason to expect they'll both play at Pro Bowl level in 2013.
Arian Foster (HOU), Ray Rice (BAL), C.J. Spiller (BUF); Adrian Peterson (MIN), Doug Martin (TB), Marshawn Lynch (SEA)
Most of the choices here are pretty obvious. It's become fashionable for stat nerds to bash Foster, but he leads the AFC in rushing, leads the NFL in touchdowns, and has been the driving force for the best team in the league. Does he look as explosive as he did in 2010 and 2011? No, but that's a Hall of Fame standard you're holding him to.
I understand votes for Jamaal Charles (KC), Stevan Ridley (NE), and Chris Johnson (TEN). Charles and Ridley have excelled despite splitting time, and Johnson has been on fire recently, poised for a strong close to the season. But Spiller combines both of those points in his favor, and he's averaging 6.6 yards per carry. I'm sure that won't hold up, but it's still very impressive. Spiller is also an asset in the receiving game, one of only four players with 600 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards — Rice, Spiller, Martin, and Trent Richardson (CLE).
In the NFC, Frank Gore (SF) is having another fine season, and I would have liked to fit him onto the ballot, but not against this competition. I've only picked Gore once (2006), and that doesn't seem right for such an accomplished player, but I'm not into make-up calls. Lynch has out-rushed him by 166 yards, with a weaker offensive line. Alfred Morris (WAS) is having a nice rookie season, but Lynch is more valuable in the passing game, and he doesn't have RG3 to open up running lanes for him.
A.J. Green (CIN), Reggie Wayne (IND), Demaryius Thomas (DEN), Wes Welker (NE); Calvin Johnson (DET), Brandon Marshall (CHI), Roddy White (ATL), Vincent Jackson (TB)
There are always tough calls at this position. How do you leave off Andre Johnson (HOU) after what he's done the last month? How do you include him after what he did in the first nine games? If you prefer Johnson to Thomas or Welker, that's perfectly reasonable, but Thomas has been Peyton Manning's go-to, and Welker is on pace for 123 receptions. Thomas has 3 fumbles, but he's also got almost three times as many TDs as Johnson, and he's a deep threat (16.1 yds/rec) who creates opportunities underneath for his teammates.
In the NFC, I was all set to vote for Percy Harvin (MIN), but he's missed too much time. Dez Bryant (DAL) has been on fire recently, but both he and Jackson have been up-and-down. I like what V-Jax has done to open up Tampa Bay's offense, facilitating big seasons for QB Josh Freeman and RB Doug Martin.
Vonta Leach (BAL); Bruce Miller (SF)
This position is so hard to vote for, because most of these guys get very limited playing time. Even Leach has been on the field less often this season, and I almost went with James Casey (HOU), a converted tight end. Casey is a respectable blocker and a good receiver who plays most of Houston's offensive snaps. Marcel Reece (OAK) stepped up to fill the Raiders' injury void at RB, but he hasn't been an impact player at FB.
Frank Gore is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and Miller deserves some of the credit for that. Darrel Young (WAS) has helped rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris excel at the pro level. I'd take Miller and Young over anyone in the AFC right now. Please note that Brit Miller of the Rams is not the same person as Bruce Miller of the Niners.
Rob Gronkowski (NE), Heath Miller (PIT); Jason Witten (DAL), Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
Gronkowski's broken forearm will probably keep him out for the rest of the regular season, but he's so easily the best tight end in the league that it shouldn't matter. Even after two weeks out of action, he's still tied for most receiving TDs in the league, including WRs. I'd rather have 10 games of Gronk than settle for Brandon Myers (OAK) or Owen Daniels (HOU). Those guys are having nice years, but a lot Myers' production has come in garbage time, and neither of them blocks like Gronk and Miller.
Jimmy Graham's (NO) numbers are down, and he doesn't block at all. Witten and Gonzalez both have more catches and more yards than Graham, and frankly they're pretty easy choices this year.
Duane Brown (HOU), Andrew Whitworth (CIN), Ryan Clady (DEN); Joe Staley (SF), Donald Penn (TB), Trent Williams (WAS)
Brown is the best, easily, and he's getting better as the season goes on. Against the Lions on Thanksgiving, he routinely drove defenders five yards off the line. Williams, healthy at last (mostly), has provided a huge boost for Washington's offense. A good left tackle may not be a young quarterback's best friend, but he's certainly close. I will freely admit that there's more guesswork at the offensive line positions than I'm comfortable with. Some of these guys I've only seen once, and it's difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about offensive linemen from stats. I'd particularly like more looks at Michael Roos (TEN), Joe Thomas (CLE), and both Atlanta tackles. Roos is weirdly inconsistent, down some weeks and way up in others. If you insist on including right tackles, you might vote for Sebastian Vollmer (NE) instead of Clady and Tyson Clabo (ATL) in place of Williams.
Andy Levitre (BUF), Dan Connolly (NE), Marshal Yanda (BAL); Mike Iupati (SF), Ben Grubbs (NO), Kevin Boothe (NYG)
I hear all the time how good Yanda is. I've watched a lot of Baltimore games, and I don't see it. But there's no third candidate I'm crazy about, so I give up. Maybe I'm missing something. I wish I got to see more Cincinnati games; Clint Boling (CIN) interests me. Grubbs will be an unpopular choice over his teammate Jahri Evans (NO), but Evans hasn't played at the same level he did the last three seasons. Right guard in the NFC: Josh Sitton (GB) or Harvey Dahl (STL).
Chris Myers (HOU), Mike Pouncey (MIA); Will Montgomery (WAS), John Sullivan (MIN)
Dan Koppen (DEN) can't do some of the things he used to, but the improved play of Denver's offensive line isn't just because of Peyton Manning, and Manning hasn't taken the fewest hits in the NFL just because he has a quick release. I'm not sure he edges Myers and Pouncey, though. It's hard to evaluate Nick Mangold (NYJ) with such limited talent around him on the Jets' offense.
Former first-round draft pick Trent Williams has gotten more publicity, but Montgomery is probably Washington's best offensive lineman. Sullivan edges a pair of vets I've chosen before, Jonathan Goodwin (SF) and Jeff Saturday (GB). The Packer running game is most successful when it goes up the middle. Todd McClure (ATL) seems to be slowing down as the season continues.
J.J. Watt (HOU), Elvis Dumervil (DEN), Cameron Wake (MIA); Calais Campbell (ARI), Jared Allen (MIN), Chris Clemons (SEA)
The NFC lists only 25 players at this position, most of them 4-3 DEs. After Campbell, there are no obvious choices. Instead of Allen and Clemons, you could easily go with John Abraham (ATL), Greg Hardy (CAR), Charles Johnson (CAR), Julius Peppers (CHI), or Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG). I like Hardy a little better than Johnson, but that seems to be a minority opinion.
I'm not crazy about Wake, and I feel like a sellout for going with so many pass rushers. I couldn't quite talk myself into Corey Liuget (SD) or Brett Keisel (PIT). I also considered Rob Ninkovich (NE), though he's a pass rush guy, too. Wake has more sacks (10.5), but Ninkovich has 6 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries, and a batted pass. J.J. Watt is probably the most obvious selection at any position on the ballot. He leads the AFC in sacks, and he's re-defining what defensive linemen can do with his 15 pass deflections at the line. Dumervil leads the AFC in forced fumbles (6).
Geno Atkins (CIN), Vince Wilfork (NE), Randy Starks (MIA); Justin Smith (SF), Henry Melton (CHI), Gerald McCoy (TB)
Atkins, who has outrageous stats for a DT (9.5 sacks, 3 FF), is finally starting to generate mention as one of the finest defensive linemen in the league. Wilfork's game is a little up-and-down, but when he's up (like the Thanksgiving carving of the Jets), he's incredible. He has 4 fumble recoveries and 5 pass deflections. Starks edges Kyle Williams (BUF) and Haloti Ngata (BAL) on my ballot. Ngata started the season strong, but he's been invisible the last couple of months. I also like rookie DT Dontari Poe (KC).
This is Justin Smith's 12th season, but he's still only 33. Melton looks to me like the impact player on the Bears' line this season, even ahead of Julius Peppers. McCoy was a close call over Jonathan Babineaux (ATL), Stephen Bowen (WAS), Darnell Dockett (ARI), and Ndamukong Suh (DET). Babineaux has 3.5 sacks and 3 PDs, and Bowen is particularly sound against the run. Dockett has a career-high 4 pass deflections — J.J. Watt notwithstanding, that's a lot for a lineman — and Suh is the dirtiest player in the league. When he's on, though, Suh causes real problems for opposing offenses. His Thanksgiving performance was overshadowed by the apparent kick to Matt Schaub's crotch, but he was hugely disruptive in that game.
Inside LinebackerJerod Mayo (NE), Derrick Johnson (KC); Daryl Washington (ARI), NaVorro Bowman (SF)
Washington is the cinch here. He's tied for 2nd in the NFC in solo tackles (87), plus he has ... wait for it ... 9 sacks. That's unheard of for an inside linebacker. Washington also has 2 forced fumbles, 2 pass deflections, and an interception. Wow. I like Bowman a little better than his teammate Patrick Willis (SF). You could vote for Luke Kuechly (CAR) or James Laurinaitis (STL) and that wouldn't be crazy. Laurinaitis leads the NFL in solo tackles (95).
No one stands out in the AFC. The Texans' Brian Cushing would have been a lock, maybe a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, if he hadn't been cheap-shotted and injured against the Jets. Mayo has 4 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and a
partridge in a pear tree fumble recovery. Johnson leads the AFC in solo tackles (86). However, there are a number of other directions you could go at this position. Paul Posluszny (JAC) has 74 solo tackles, 7 PDs, and 3 INTs. Karlos Dansby (MIA) has 71 solo tackles and 8 PDs. D'Qwell Jackson (CLE) makes big plays: he's got 5 pass deflections and 2 picks, one of them returned for a touchdown, plus 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 recoveries. Dannell Ellerbe (BAL) could be the next defensive star for the Ravens.
Von Miller (DEN), Justin Houston (KC), Wesley Woodyard (DEN); Aldon Smith (SF), Clay Matthews III (GB), Lance Briggs (CHI)
Outside linebackers are so tough to compare, because there really are two distinct positions: pass rushers and space players. I've mostly selected pass rushers, because the best of them are true game-changers, impact players in a way the others usually aren't. The exceptions are Woodyard and Briggs. Woodyard leads the Broncos in tackles (62 solo), with 5 PDs, 4 sacks, and 3 INTs. Briggs ranks 3rd in the NFL in INT return yardage (110), with 2 TDs.
Miller is a DPOY candidate, while Houston has 10 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and an interception. Besides these three, there's really no one in the AFC who interests me. Shaun Phillips (SD) would probably be my fourth choice. Paul Kruger (BAL) might be fifth, but he's not on the ballot.
Aldon Smith leads the NFL in sacks (17.5), but it seems like his teammate Ahmad Brooks (SF) makes just as many big plays. DeMarcus Ware (DAL) is having a down year by his standards, but he's always a threat to opposing offenses. Chad Greenway (MIN) has 77 solo tackles and 2 sacks, plus he's good in pass coverage. Clay Matthews has missed a couple games with injuries, and the Packers aren't the same team without him. He might be the best defensive player in the NFC.
Ike Taylor (PIT), Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Johnathon Joseph (HOU); Charles Tillman (CHI), Tim Jennings (CHI), Cortland Finnegan (STL)
Jennings is not a great player, but he's having a great season, including a league-leading 8 INTs and 19 other PDs. Tillman has set the tone for Chicago's potent defense, leading the team in tackles and forcing 8 fumbles.
Injuries have complicated the AFC ballot. Joseph has missed the last two games, and Ike T. has a broken ankle. Their cross-field counterparts, Kareem Jackson (HOU) and Keenan Lewis (PIT), have both made some nice plays. Jackson has 4 INTs, including a TD return, and Lewis actually leads the NFL in passes defensed (19, tied with Jennings).
Mike Adams (DEN); Kam Chancellor (SEA)
Bernard Pollard (BAL) probably has the best stats, but he's developed a nasty streak — in a bad way. Several other AFC strong safeties are also having good seasons, including Yeremiah Bell (NYJ), Eric Berry (KC), Glover Quin (HOU), and George Wilson (BUF). Adams has 8 passes defensed, which leads all strong safeties, plus 2 FF, 2 FR, and a sack for a safety.
Chancellor is good enough that even people on the East Coast recognize him as one of the game's best young DBs. Roman Harper (NO) is having an unusually good year in pass coverage (10 PD, 2 INT). Adrian Wilson (ARI) isn't the player he was five years ago, but he's still not to be trifled with. I also like Donte Whitner (SF) and Major Wright (CHI), the latter mostly because he has a cool name.
Jairus Byrd (BUF); Thomas DeCoud (ATL)
Byrd, who made a splash as a rookie in 2009, is having another big year: 5 INT, 3 FF, 2 FR. He gets my vote over a strong field including Ryan Clark (PIT), Reshad Jones (MIA), Danieal Manning (HOU), Ed Reed (BAL), and Eric Weddle (SD). Clark has 60 solo tackles and 7 PDs. Weddle has 58 solo tackles and 7 PDs, with 3 picks and a touchdown. Reed has 4 INTs and 3 fumble recoveries.
DeCoud has 47 solo tackles, 5 INTs, a sack, and a fumble recovery. He's been a playmaker in Atlanta's secondary. Dashon Goldson (SF) is having another fine season, including 3 INTs, and Ronde Barber (TB) has had some nice moments, with 160 INT return yards. Quintin Mikell (STL) and Earl Thomas (SEA) are also having good years. My favorites in the NFC so far are DeCoud and Goldson.
Phil Dawson (CLE); Blair Walsh (MIN)
Dawson had a kick blocked in Week 13, and it was his first miss of the season. He's 5/5 from 50 yards and beyond. The NFC is a tougher call. Alex Henery (PHI) hasn't missed since Week 1, but his longest attempt all season is 49 yards. In today's NFL, you expect a kicker to make some 50-yarders. Greg Zuerlein (STL) is hitting 50-yarders — seven of them, including a 60-yard FG in Week 4. But Zuerlein has six misses, including two under 40 yards. David Akers (SF) hit a record-tying 63-yard field goal in Week 1, but his nine missed FGs are tied for most in the NFL.
Matt Bryant (ATL) and Lawrence Tynes (NYG) are having great fantasy football seasons, but Bryant has missed too many short kicks and Tynes struggles beyond 40 yards. Jason Hanson (DET) is still getting it done, and Connor Barth (TB) has six successful 50-yard FGs, but ultimately I went with Walsh over Dan Bailey (DAL). Bailey has only two missed kicks, both from beyond 50 yards. Walsh is 5/5 on 50+ FGs and one of his three misses was blocked. Not bad for a rookie.
Dustin Colquitt (KC); Thomas Morstead (NO)
Tough calls this year, with lots of punters having nice seasons. Colquitt narrowly edged brother Britton Colquitt (DEN), Kevin Huber (CIN), and Brett Kern (TEN). Britton leads the AFC in net average (42.9) and lowest return average (4.8), though Denver is a great home for kickers and punters. Kern's statistics are nearly as good, but in a much tougher kicking environment. Dustin Colquitt got the nod because he leads the NFL in punts down inside the 20 (33), with only 5 touchbacks, and because he's been good for years but I've never chosen him.
I chose Morstead purely because of his 44.8 net average, the best in the league, and the best in history if he keeps it up. Andy Lee is 2nd in the NFC in net average (42.3), and he's having a nice year around the goal line (30 I-20, 3 TB). Jon Ryan (SEA), Tim Masthay (GB), and Brian Moorman (DAL) were my other finalists. Masthay leads the NFL in fair catches (23), and Moorman doesn't have a touchback all season.
Leodis McKelvin (BUF); Randall Cobb (GB)
All the good returners are in the AFC. That conference accounts for 8/10 kickoff return TDs and 9/13 punt return TDs, and all five players with multiple returning TDs. Those five are Jacoby Jones (BAL), Marcus Thigpen (MIA), Trindon Holliday (DEN), Joe McKnight (NYJ), and McKelvin, who averages 28.3 on kickoffs and is having one of the all-time punt returning seasons, with 387 yards, a 20.4 PR average, and 2 TDs. In the NFC, Percy Harvin (MIN) was impressive before his injury, but he has 16 KRs and no punt returns. Cobb has over 1,000 return yards, with good averages and a touchdown.
Darrell Stuckey (SD); John Wendling (DET)
As always, many of my favorite special teamers don't appear on the ballot. It's frustrating.
The team I voted for most this season was the Broncos (7), followed by the 49ers, Patriots, and Texans (6 each). On the 2011 Pro Bowl ballot, my leading teams were the Texans (7), Bears, Patriots, and Ravens (6 apiece).
2012 Midseason Awards
Offensive Player of the Year — Adrian Peterson (MIN)
Defensive Player of the Year — J.J. Watt (HOU)
MVP — Tom Brady (NE)
Coach of the Year — John Fox (DEN)
Assistant — Kyle Shanahan (WAS)
Rookie of the Year — Robert Griffin III (WAS)