(Philadelphia, Pa) — Pro Bowl selections were announced on Wednesday (December 18th) and once again it was one of the most controversial events of the NFL calendar with players, coaches, media, and fans either celebrating or questioning the picks. The selection process usually gets it right, but there will always be much debating about the number of players some teams get or undeserving players getting a free vacation. The 57th rendition of the game will be played in Honolulu at Aloha stadium on Feb. 10th a week after the Super Bowl, so there will be plenty of time for everyone to chime in on who was snubbed or deserving. Remember the selection process like baseball’s All Star Game is not an exact science as fans voting based on popularity (1/3 of the vote) play a key factor — there were a record number of 83.7 million votes cast (14 million more than 2006) on NFL.com and on wireless phones with 2,262,000 total ballots. This year’s insanity around the selections included the Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4 and contending for a playoff spot) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5 NFC South champions) not having a single player selected. Clearly reputation is a huge deciding factor over numbers sometimes when it comes to a young upstart losing a spot to a “name” veteran (This year’s example Dolphins DE Jason Taylor getting selected over Texans DE Mario Williams).The one selection from this year that everyone will agree upon is the posthumous selection of Redskins Safety Sean Taylor. Taylor had been leading the NFC in interceptions at the time of his death last month and he was well on his way to stamping himself as a perennial visitor to Honolulu. Redskins teammate and Center Casey Rabach said of his former comrade’s selection, “If he would have been able to finish the season, he would have been in there. It just shows the respect everybody around the league had for him and what a great player he was.” Taylor is the second person elected posthumously to an all-star game in a professional sports league joining Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh, who was voted by fans to start in the 1986 NHL All-Star game — Being a native Philadelphian I can still remember the horrible accident involving Lindbergh’s Porsche in South Jersey that claimed the spunky netminder’s life in Nov. 11, 1985.
A recap of the selections shows once again that teams with the best records at the time of voting — AFC – Patriots (14-0) with 8 selections and in the NFC – Cowboys (12-2) with a whopping 11 players — have the most players selected as a starter or reserve. America’s new team the Patriots tied their 1985 squad for the most players going to the Pro Bowl (8). The contingent is led by three of Tom Brady’s wall of offensive lineman (Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, and Matt Light) and the record-setting pass combination of Brady – making his fourth Pro Bowl with insane numbers of 4,235 passing yards, 45 TDs, completion percentage over 70%, and a passer rating of 119.7 — and receiver Randy Moss – making his 6th trip after leading the NFL in receiving yards (1,343) and touchdowns (19) — who is making his first trip since 2004 after two inauspicious seasons in Oakland.
There will be 29 first time players (18 for the AFC and 11 for the NFC) at the game, which is more than I can remember (Browns KR Joshua Cribbs (NFL kick return leader w/ a 31 yard average), Vikings rookie RB Adrian Peterson (Leading candidate for R.O.Y and NFC rushing leader with 1,278 yards), Browns WR Braylon Edwards (13 Ds), Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, NFL receptions leader Bengals WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh, veteran Patriots LB Mike Vrabel making his first appearance after 11seasons, Niners rookie tackling machine Patrick Willis, the entire NFC cornerback group (Starters Green Bay Packer Al Harris and Seattle Seahawk Marcus Trufant backed up by Dallas Cowboy Terence Newman) and many others . But the rosters are littered with perennial veterans like:
- Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning (8th selection) – The reigning Super Bowl MVP has led his team to a strong 12-2 record. I can just picture him holding court at the hotel pool joking with other players/media, because I cannot think of a player that enjoys Pro Bowl week more than Manning.
- Green Packers QB Brett Favre (9th) – The leading vote getter among fans (1,140,863 votes) tied Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Norm Van Brocklin for the second-most Pro Bowl selections by a quarterback behind Johnny Unitas with 10.
- San Diego Chargers backfield duo of running back LaDainian Tomlinson and fullback Lorenzo Neal were named as starters for a second year in a row. This will be LT’s fifth trip after ranking second in the NFL with 1,311 rushing yards this season. Neal in his 15th NFL season has been selected to his fourth Pro Bowl and third as a Charger.
- Some familiar linemen – Offensive Tackle Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens will be playing in his 11th consecutive Pro Bowl in just 12th NFL seasons and the best tackle in the business Walter Jones of the Seahawks will be joining him in on the beach (8th selection). The linemen will also have Pittsburgh Steelers 10-year veteran guard Alan Faneca making his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl trip and maybe it will help his contract negotiations with the Steelers that reached a stalemate this summer.
The process does have the problem of “snubs” and I have listed some players that will not be making the trip to Hawaii in February. The biggest problem areas always seem to be at running back (Fred Taylor), linebacker (Thomas Howard), and wide receiver (Wes Welker), because there are so many deserving candidates. These guys shouldn’t be sad because injuries, playoff worn down players, alternates, coaches picks, etc will factor in non-selected players being able to take in the NFL’s All Star game/vacation week.
Jacksonville Jaguars QB David Garrard – In his first full season as a starter I have been thoroughly impressed with the cool steady play of the East Carolina product. In the games that Garrard didn’t play the Jags struggled 1-2. Garrard may not be a down the field gunslinger type or a break out of the pocket for an eighty yard run guy, but he is an efficient passer and a winner. Roethlisberger may have more touchdowns (29 to 16), but he is also much more reckless with the ball (11 Interceptions to Garrard’s 2). With the Jags having a better record than the Steelers (10-4 to 9-5), we should go to their head to head battle last week for the decision. In the game, Garrard out performed Big Ben in Pittsburgh in a 29-22 win in the snow and slop.
New Patriots WR Wes Welker – The “Sultan of the Slot” deserved to be in Hawaii. I know Randy Moss is the main receiver for Tommy Boy, but it is Welker that is the go-to guy in key game situations. He was a monster in the Patriots three point win over the Eagles contributing 13 catches. I know the NFL is built around big play receivers with even bigger mouths, but this mighty mite is one of the NFL’s best with 96 catches so far this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Fred Taylor – It is hard enough to believe that the Jags have no one going, but it is truly remarkable that this 10,000-yard career back has never been selected to the Pro Bowl. I thought the chain moving former University of Florida running back that makes up half of the Jags dynamic thunder/lightning backfield with Maurice Jones-Drew should have been selected. He currently ranks sixth in the NFL with 1,091 rushing yards and averages 5.1 yards per carry.
Cleveland Browns RB Jamal Lewis – I know Colts running back Joseph Addai is a solid selection, but the rebirth of Lewis in Cleveland is one of the NFL’s best stories for 2007. The NFL’s third 2,000 yard back during his days with the Ravens was thrown on the scrap heap by them only to be claimed by the Dawgs. The Browns saw immediate dividends with the reborn player and Lewis has rewarded them week in and week out, especially last week running for 163 yards in a win over the Bills that was played in the slop and snow. His year totals are 251 carries for 1,084 yards with a 4.3 ypc and 9 touchdowns.
Cleveland Browns Offensive Tackle Joe Thomas – I don’t know if it was the rookie factor or the public is so used to voting for Ogden, but this kid deserved to go. He has been the cornerstone of a line that has protected Derek Anderson and gotten Lewis well over 1,000 yards. Thomas has not been credited with a sack allowed and if he doesn’t go this year look for him for at least the next five years to come.
New York Giants WR Plaxico Burress – As someone that recently watched him dismantle the Eagles in person (game changing 41-yard touchdown), I thought the big play receiver deserved a spot. Burress has battled through a season long ankle injury, which has hurt is overall numbers (65 catches for 935 yards with 10 TDs). But he has done the impossible of making struggling quarterback Eli Manning look good, which we know is hard to do. With the Giants in playoff contention this probably should have been the year he went instead of Rams receiver Torry Holt.
Cleveland Browns TE Kellen Winslow – The maturation of Winslow has been tremendous this year. We know he and perennial Pro Bowler KC tight end Tony Gonzalez have the same numbers (both have 971 yards and five touchdowns), but K2 has made a bigger impact on a playoff team. By the way Winslow has achieved the same amount of yardage on few catches (71 to Gonzalez’s 82) showing his more explosive playing style.
Houston Texans DE Mario Williams – I would have bet anything that this year two wonder should have been in the game. The selection process did a disservice as perennial player Jason Taylor made it in a down year for himself and his team. Williams just came off a huge night last week harassing fellow ’06 draftee Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and registering a career high 3.5 sacks and seven tackles. He now has 10 sacks in his last seven games and a AFC leading 13.5 sacks for the year.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Trent Cole – With the NFC sporting a group of Kampman, Kerney, and Umenioyra this position was hard to break in the top three, but Cole deserved it. The former University of Cincinnati player’s sack total of 12.5 is more than Kampman and Umenioyra (12) — Did I mention that most of the G-man’s sacks (6) came in one game versus the Eagles, sorry Winston Justice — plus Cole has 65 tackles and 4 forced fumbles. The Eagles may have been inconsistent all season, but defensive coordinator could count on Cole to bring the wood each week even though he was giving up usually fifty pounds to blockers.
Buccaneers LB’s Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud – I think it is disgraceful that the selection process could not find room for one or both of the Bucs linebackers. The fact that the NFC South champs don’t have a single player on the Pro Bowl team is horrible and I know it will be motivation going into the playoffs. The Bucs sport a healthy 218 points allowed (tied for first in the NFL with the Steelers), but neither linebacker nor all-world corner Rhonde Barber made it. The linebackers omission shows once again that the selection process rewards sack players (ex. Steelers LB James Harrison) more than all-around linebackers. Also add a snub to Raiders LB Thomas Howard who leads all LB’s with 6 INTs for his low sack total.
Oakland Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha – Everyone talks about “shutdown” corners, but this guy is a bona fide “don’t throw it to my side” guy. He may only have one interception this year, but offensive coordinators will tell you to stay away from the Cal Bear’s side of the field. Denver corner Champ Bailey has the press clippings, but he was routinely beaten deep while Asomugha made play after play. I am sure the Raiders poor record had something to do with it.
Indianapolis Colts MLB Gary Brackett – Another undervalued big play guy. Brackett is the key player on defense for the defending Super Bowl champs now that DE Dwight Freeney has been lost. The Colts rank as the second best defense in the NFL and the undersized linebacker has contributed 107 tackles, half a sack, and four interceptions. Those numbers should have been enough to keep Ray-Ray home.