Every Pro Bowl roster has its snubs, but we'd like to present this list more as the guys we think should be on there with the understanding that a ball of excellence at certain positions and the politics of popularity will have things going another way. Here is the full list of Pro Bowl starters for 2011. You'll see some of these names below as alternates, and at the very least, consider this to be a list of players you should be watching out for in future seasons. The offense is below; the defense can be found right here.
Quarterbacks — Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions/Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Stafford didn't make it because of the sheer volume of outstanding quarterbacks in the NFC (and a predisposition to insure that Eli Manning makes it in Stafford's stead), but the Lions have the lowest run/pass ratio in the NFL (0.562), no run game to speak of, an iffy offensive line, and a defense that is volatile and violent but gives up more than its share of points. Stafford has responded by become the quarterback of the first team in NFL history to overcome four different second-half deficits of 13 or more points. Not bad for a 23-year-old kid! As for Newton, he's not just putting together ridiculous combined touchdown numbers; he's also assimilating enormous chunks of NFL-complex offenses on a weekly basis and becoming far more than just a running quarterback.
Running Backs — Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills/DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys/Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
An honorable mention for all-purpose yardage stud Jackson, who may have made the actual Pro Bowl had it not been for a season-ending fibula injury in late November. Meanwhile, we'll endorse one former Bills back in Lynch, whose "Beast Mode" persona has given the Seahawks their first 1,000-yard rusher since the last time Van Halen was releasing new music. Also, a shout out to out Senior Bowl favorite, the rookie Murray, whose season was cut short just as he was impressing with a full array of skills.
Fullback — Michael Robinson, Seattle Seahawks
Since Vonta Leach is everyone's fave to make the Pro Bowl at this position as he should be), let's give a little love to Robinson, the former Penn State quarterback and San Francisco 49ers jack-of-all-trades who has enjoyed a professional rebirth as a surprisingly effective blocking fullback. Because he doesn't fit the fire-hydrant body type profile, Robinson is just as adept at rushing out to seal an edge as he is bulling a lane open up the middle.
Receivers — Victor Cruz, New York Giants/Laurent Robinson, Dallas Cowboys/Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers/Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints/Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Since we have more and more teams going five-wide these days, we've upped our count of deserving receivers, and we fear that by leaving out Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, we're looking like idiots. So, we'll add him too. Cruz has been able to teach us more about end zone salsa dances than expected this season, and Robinson has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys (how much do you think the Rams would have liked him back this year?). Jordy Nelson may have the most impressive combination of catch rate and yards per catch of any receiver in the NFL, Moore has been an unheralded go-to-guy, and the undrafted rookie Baldwin has the inside track on becoming the first such player since the AFL-NFL merger was announced to lead his team in receptions and receiving yards.
Tight Ends — Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills/Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles/Joel Dreessen, Houston Texans
When the Bills' offense was going full force, Chandler was the guy making it all work as Ryan Fitzpatrick's security blanket. Celek has brought in a number of impressive catches from Michael Vick and Vince Young — along with LeSean McCoy and a handful of other players, he's been a bright spot on a very disappointing team. We'll take Dreessen as our red zone tight end, since we're pretty sure Rob Gronkowski is taken — that's what happens when you have six touchdowns in 36 targets. To put that achievement in perspective, Green Bay's Jermichael Finley has seven touchdowns … in 84 targets.
Left Tackle — Duane Brown, Houston Texans/Left Guard —Wade Smith, Houston Texans/Center — Chris Myers, Houston Texans
Since Philly's Jason Peters made the Pro Bowl (and Lord knows he should; he's been by far the best in the game at his position this year), we'll staff our roster of unheraldeds with the first of several Texans linemen. Brown is still getting the hang of the more advanced aspects of pass protection, but he's just mashing fools in the run game.
The Texans have the best offensive line in the league, and these are two very big — and very underrated reasons why. Along with Brown, they provide every Houston running back rwith huge lanes and a lot of trampled defenders.
Right Guard — Chris Kuper, Denver Broncos
Let's assume that Green Bay's Josh Sitton is the main man here ... oh, wait ... he isn't? Well, we'll add him to our list. We also really like the way Kuper has performed seal blocks inside at the line and has flattened people at the second level. This is especially impressive as the Broncos were adapting to a very different offense in-season after Tim Tebow was announced as the starter.
Right Tackle — Erik Pears, Buffalo Bills/Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
The Bills' offense has collapsed a bit lately, but that has more to do with injuries than anything else. The right side of their offensive line has stayed stout; only the Carolina Panthers have more line yards to the right tackle, and many of the Carolina runs are based off right-side read-option plays. Pears is the ideal representative of his no-name line. "We all just come to work, each and every day," Pears told Buffalo radio in November. "We definitely take our job serious to get all on the same page to work hard every day on technique. You kind of get what you put in to stuff, so we feel like we put in a lot of work and hopefully the results will keep showing."
Bills center Eric Wood was more succinct about Pears' abilities: "He's a stud, man." We agree.
As for Smith, he was profiled in the 2011 Shutdown 40 draft preview, and he's exceeded our expectations as the one guy on the iffy Cowboys offensive line that has really brought it in the second half of the season.
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