The 2016-2017 Pro Bowl rosters are out by now, and it’s a lot of the names you’d expect to see.
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Antonio Brown are annual fixtures on the team by now. There were also some surprises – who would have thought Dak Prescott, preseason third-string quarterback behind Tony Romo and Kellen Moore – would put together as fine of a season as he’s had?
I took a look at the best players at each position in each conference. This is my own Pro Bowl roster – if you made me commissioner of the NFL and I had the right to pick who I think fairly deserves it, these are the players I’d go with.
NFC – Drew Brees is leading the NFL in passing yards (4,559) and touchdown passes (34), and has a chance to set a single-season record for completion percentage (71.1) while winning his unprecedented seventh passing title… Joining Brees will be potential league MVP winner Matt Ryan, whose 8.96 ANY/A highlights just how efficient he’s been this season… Aaron Rodgers has been the game’s hottest quarterback over the last five weeks, tossing 10 touchdowns to no interceptions during that span while leading the Green Bay Packers back into the thick of the NFC playoff hunt.
Just Missed: Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford
AFC – Despite missing the first four games of the season due to an undeserved suspension, Tom Brady has returned to play lights out football. He’s playing nearly as well as he did during his magical 2007 regular season, and he’s sitting at a nifty 22-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio… Until the past two weeks, Marcus Mariota was on one of the hottest streaks of any quarterback, with eight consecutive multi-touchdown games. He has the Tennessee Titans on the brink of an AFC South title.. Derek Carr has led the Oakland Raiders to an 11-2 record and will be garnering serious MVP consideration. He’s made unbelievable strides since a so-so rookie year in 2014.
Just Missed: Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck
Running Back (6)
NFC – David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott are by far the conference’s two best running backs. Johnson maintains a slim lead in yards from scrimmage (1,938 to 1,902) and total touchdowns (17 to 14), although Elliott will likely win the rushing title, Offensive Rookie of the Year, and possibly even league MVP… The third NFC spot should best go to surprise rookie success story Jordan Howard, who maintains a nifty 5.0 yards-per-carry average with 1,348 scrimmage yards on a team that has shuffled through a trifecta of quarterbacks.
Just Missed: Devonta Freeman, Mark Ingram, Carlos Hyde
AFC – Le’Veon Bell returned from his three-game suspension to reassume his role as the NFL’s most dominant and versatile running back. He’s already amassed 1,747 total yards in just 11 games… DeMarco Murray’s rebound should put him in line for Comeback Player of the Year; after a miserable 2015 campaign under Chip Kelly, Murray is already over 1,200 rushing yards with 12 total touchdowns… Your final AFC candidate could be a slew of talented players. I’ll go with LeSean McCoy; after being unceremoniously dumped by Chip Kelly, he’s rushed for 2,024 yards at a 5.0 yards-per-carry clip in the two seasons since.
Just Missed: Melvin Gordon, Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Spencer Ware
NFC – it’s always difficult to evaluate fullbacks, but 2015 Green Bay sixth-round pick Aaron Ripkowski has done a fine job of replacing long-time Packers fullback John Kuhn, and he rates as one of the game’s best blockers, per Pro Football Focus.
AFC – A fourth-year pro, Kyle Juszczyk has become the game’s best fullback. He’s a super blocker, and while he doesn’t play much of a role as a runner, he’s a solid receiver out of the backfield.
Wide Receiver (8)
NFC – Julio Jones is on pace for close to 1,700 receiving yards this season, which would give him an absurd 3,500 over a two-year span… Mike Evans has rebounded from a quietly disappointing sophomore campaign to be a dominant receiver in all phases of the game… Odell Beckham, Jr. rebounded from a slow start to the season (by his standards) and has amassed 10 receiving touchdowns since Week 5… You could certainly make a case for others at the fourth spot, but I’ll go with Kenny Britt, a former first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans who has finally reached his true potential on his third team. Britt has totaled 987 receiving yards on a team that ranks dead-last in passing offense DVOA, and he’s set to become the first Rams receiver to top 1,000 yards since Torry Holt.
Just Missed: Larry Fitzgerald, Jordy Nelson, Doug Baldwin, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams
AFC – Antonio Brown has been the NFL’s best wide receiver for the last three years, and he’s on pace for a pretty nifty 110/1,358/12 statline… A.J. Green’s hamstring injury may eventually cost him a spot on the AFC team, but he was playing arguably the best football of his career pre-injury. Green was on pace for over 100 catches and 1,600 yards, although his touchdowns were down… Downfield deep threat T.Y. Hilton is one of just two players with 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last four seasons, and he’s probably going to set his career high in that category in 2016… Second-year pro Amari Cooper is already a top-five dynasty asset, and he’s thriving for the high-scoring Oakland offense. Even though he’s cooled off immeasurably in recent weeks, he’s still over the 1,000-yard mark after just 14 games.
Just Missed: Emmanuel Sanders, Terrelle Pryor, Michael Crabtree, Mike Wallace
Tight End (6)
NFC – For the first half of 2016, it looked like Greg Olsen had a chance to break Rob Gronkowski’s single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,327 in 2011). Olsen has since cooled off, but he’s still leading his position in yards; he’s on pace for a career-best 1,134 receiving yards, which would make him the first tight end ever with three straight seasons of 1,000 receiving yards… One of the season’s most underrated storylines has been the return of Jimmy Graham from a horrific injury; Graham is finally the big-play threat Seattle envisioned him being when they traded a first-round pick for him… The third Pro Bowl spot should go to Jordan Reed, although a bout of severe concussions threatens to derail an extremely promising career.
Just Missed: Jason Witten
AFC –Travis Kelce made his first Pro Bowl a year ago, and looks to be a fixture on the team for years to come. He leads all tight ends in receiving yards (957) and has cleared the 100-yard mark in each of his last four contests. In a higher-volume passing offense, he would have Gronkowski-esque numbers… Delanie Walker is probably older than you think (32), but he’s a sure-handed target and Marcus Mariota’s top option in the passing game. Walker has already tied his career best in touchdown grabs (6)… Despite playing in just eight games this season, three-time All-Pro Rob Gronkowski has secured 25 grabs for 540 yards and three touchdowns. His 21.6 yards-per-catch average leads the league, although he’s finished for the season.
Just Missed: Martellus Bennett
Offensive Tackle (6)
NFC – Have you watched a Dallas Cowboys game this season? There’s no way those two rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, would be doing what they’re doing without this monster offensive line paving the way. $100 million offensive tackle Tyron Smith is arguably the game’s best tackle, this will be his fourth Pro Bowl selection, and he just turned 26 years old... Not to be outdone, the NFC East has another phenomenal offensive tackle – Trent Williams rates as PFF’s best offensive tackle (92.4 overall grade), although he did miss the last four games due to a suspension… David Bakhtiari, a former 2013 fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, is a rising star and well-deserving of the contract extension he signed this offseason.
Just Missed: Jason Peters, Terron Armstead
AFC – Joe Thomas recently played his 10,000th consecutive snap, a marvelous accomplishment and a depressing one when you realize they were all for Cleveland. Thomas has a good chance at becoming the second offensive player in league history (Barry Sanders is the other) to make 10 Pro Bowls in his first 10 seasons… Andrew Whitworth is as steady as they come at left tackle. He’s locked down the position for over a decade and will likely earn his third Pro Bowl selection soon… Taylor Lewan was PFF’s highest-rated offensive tackle for the first half of the season, and while he’s slipped in recent weeks, he’s still a huge reason for Marcus Mariota’s breakout campaign.
Just Missed: Jack Conklin, Donald Penn, Marcus Gilbert
NFC – Next to Tyron Smith, the Dallas Cowboys have All-Pro guard Zack Martin, a former left tackle at Notre Dame who has ridiculous athleticism. Since the Cowboys drafted Martin in 2014, they rate first among all NFL teams in rushing yards; in the three seasons prior, they rated fourth-worst… Justin Pugh was originally drafted to be an offensive tackle, but he’s now excelling as a left guard… The Green Bay Packers curiously released Josh Sitton before the season, and while he’s played very well in Chicago, T.J. Lang has been even better in Green Bay. He’s the top-rated guard for his conference in terms of pass-blocking.
Just Missed: Brandon Brooks, Josh Sitton, Brandon Scherff
AFC – Marshal Yanda is football’s best interior lineman for the second consecutive season, and he’s on his way to his sixth straight Pro Bowl appearance… The Oakland Raiders paid Kelechi Osemele a whopping $58 million to be the anchor of their interior offensive line, and he’s more than been worth the money. The Raiders have allowed Derek Carr to be sacked 15 times for 71 yards all year, both bests among all NFL teams, and Osemele hasn’t allowed a single sack… David DeCastro is most deserving of the final AFC guard Pro Bowl spot. He’s started 60 straight games and while he’s committed too many penalties this season (11), he’s the best lineman on a team that has allowed just 17 sacks all year.
Just Missed: Kevin Zeitler, Joel Bitonio, Gabe Jackson
NFC – When the Dallas Cowboys took Travis Frederick in the first round in the 2013 draft, most experts had him pegged as a mid to even late-round selection. Since then, all Frederick has done is play every game over four years and establish himself as the best center in the league. This year will be his third straight Pro Bowl selection… Atlanta’s offseason signing of Alex Mack has helped to solidify the offensive line. Mack has allowed just one sack in 14 starts this season, and the Falcons have the league’s highest-scoring offense.
Just Missed: Max Unger
AFC – One of the surprise breakout players of the 2016 season has been Matt Paradis, starting center for the Denver Broncos. Per Pro Football Focus, Paradis is the top-rated center in the AFC… Rodney Hudson has turned in a strong year for the Oakland Raiders, justifying the $44.5 million deal he signed prior to 2015.
Just Missed: Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Jones
Defensive End (6)
NFC – Cliff Avril has racked up an impressive 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles, although teammate Michael Bennett has been the better player. Bennett can line up at tackle and end, and he’s the heart of an underrated Seattle defensive line. His impact in the games in which he has played (he’s missed five due to injury) is still enough to put him on this list… Olivier Vernon signed a ridiculous $85 million contract with the New York Giants this past offseason, and after a slow start, he’s heating up. Vernon has 7.5 sacks in his last 10 games, eight of which have been Giants wins.
Just Missed: Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham, Cameron Jordan, Frank Clark, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter
AFC – After an inauspicious start to the 2016 season, Khalil Mack has been dominant as of late. He’s recorded 10 sacks in his last nine games. His performance against Carolina in Week 12 was his finest work yet – he recorded a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and pick-six… There was a time when a torn Achilles’ tendon would end a player’s career, but don’t tell that to Cameron Wake. The 34-year-old has rebounded from last season’s injury to record 10.5 sacks in 13 games this year, including five forced fumbles, and he’s doing this without Olivier Vernon opposite him on the defensive line… Carlos Dunlap has shown an unbelievable propensity to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage; this year, he’s racked up a ridiculous 15 in 13 games. By comparison, Dunlap had one last year and just 20 in his 86-game career prior to 2016.
Just Missed: Leonard Williams, Joey Bosa, Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue
Defensive Tackle (6)
NFC – By Pro Football Focus’ standards, Aaron Donald has been the NFL’s best player by far – he’s spent much of the season in J.J. Watt territory. It’s a shame Donald doesn’t get more publicity, but such is the result of playing on a weak Los Angeles Rams team. Donald should be in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year award… Despite playing 3-4 defensive end, Calais Campbell was classified as a defensive tackle in the Pro Bowl voting. He’s one sack away from his eighth consecutive season with at least five sacks… Gerald McCoy has regained his form as a dominant defensive tackle, as he’s registered 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 12 games.
Just Missed: Fletcher Cox, Mike Daniels, Kawann Short, Damon Harrison, Linval Joseph
AFC – Ndamukong Suh is still one of the most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL, and he’s in the middle of a Hall of Fame career. Suh has 5.0 sacks in 13 games, an impressive total for a 3-technique tackle, and he rates per PFF as the top interior defensive lineman in the AFC… Geno Atkins isn’t far behind, if at all, and he’s added 6.5 sacks while playing every game for a disappointing Cincinnati Bengals team… A Tennessee Titans team on the rise has a strong defensive tackle in Jurrell Casey, who can play tackle in a 4-3 and a 3-4.
Just Missed: Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson
Inside Linebacker (4)
NFC – His concussion issues are scary regarding his NFL future, but when Luke Kuechly was on the field, he was his typically dominant self. In the first two games he missed due to injury, the Carolina Panthers allowed 35 and then 40 points. Bobby Wagner is the most underrated player on the Seattle defense. He’ registers tackles in bulk and he’s the best run defender in the league.
Just Missed: Sean Lee, Jordan Hicks, Deion Jones, NaVorro Bowman, Jerrell Freeman
AFC – How much do the New England Patriots like Dont’a Hightower? He’s the one they’re going to keep after they traded away Jamie Collins during the season. Hightower is the rare inside linebacker who can rush the passer, and he’s stout in both pass coverage and playing the run… Collins is still going to be paid handsomely in free agency this coming offseason – he’s already picked up multiple interceptions, forced fumbles, and sacks in 2016 for a dismal Cleveland Browns squad.
Just Missed: C.J. Mosley, Paul Posluszny, Brandon Marshall
Outside Linebacker (6)
NFC – Thomas Davis is one of the NFL’s most underappreciated superstars. He’s rebounded from three ACL tears – and last year’s conference championship game broken arm – to still play at a high level at age 33. This season, he’s the only player in the league with three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and at least 2.5 sacks… K.J. Wright is an unheralded star on Seattle’s defense, rating as PFF’s top 4-3 outside linebacker… Chandler Jones was outed by the New England Patriots but has continued playing well in Arizona, where he’s amassed 8.0 sacks, three fumble recoveries, and a pair of forced fumbles.
Just Missed: Ryan Kerrigan, Nick Perry, Trent Murphy
AFC – You can put Von Miller right in the Defensive Player of the Year competition. In his first game after signing a $114 million contract, he sacked Cam Newton with two minutes left in a close contest, then followed it up with a three-sack outburst against Andrew Luck in Week 2. Miller is currently tied for the league lead in sacks (13.5)… As a rookie, Dee Ford couldn’t even run the right way; now he’s hit the double-digit sack mark with three games to play still… Lorenzo Alexander has been a revelation this season; he’s been a career journeyman before 2016 and has now racked up 10 sacks and three forced fumbles under Rex Ryan.
Just Missed: Melvin Ingram, Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo, Terrell Suggs, Whitney Mercilus
NFC – He’s always in the new with his brash personality, but Richard Sherman is still the league’s best cover corner. Quarterbacks know how good he is, they avoid him frequently, and yet he’s still recorded four interceptions (and a fumble recovery) in 2016… Since signing a $62.5 million deal this past offseason, Janoris Jenkins has been a godsend for Big Blue. He’s registered 17 passes defensed and three interceptions thus far, and he held Dez Bryant to one catch total in two meetings… Patrick Peterson is playing All-Pro football at the cornerback position, and he’s set to join Joe Thomas as the only players in league history – at any position – to start all 16 games and make the Pro Bowl in each of his first six NFL seasons… After recording two interceptions in his first three seasons, Xavier Rhodes has four – including a 100-yard run back for a touchdown, and he’s fueled a defense that has allowed the third-lowest passer rating in the league in 2016.
Just Missed: Darius Slay, Terence Newman, Brent Grimes, Josh Norman
AFC – Pick your Denver Broncos corner – Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Jr. have been the epitome of shutdown cornerbacks this season. They’re 1-2 in PFF’s rankings this season… Marcus Peters is an absolute defensive ballhawk, having recorded a ridiculous eight takeaways (five interceptions and three fumble recoveries) to go with 17 passes defensed. He deserves to be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation… The San Diego Chargers stole Casey Hayward in free agency – all he’s done is record a league-high seven interceptions and 18 pass knockdowns. That makes it a clean sweep of AFC West cornerbacks.
Just Missed: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, A.J. Bouye, Byron Maxwell
NFC – Landon Collins is a completely different player than the rookie who struggled in 2015; he’s made his mark in coverage (five interceptions, including arguably the return of the year), but he’s also recorded three sacks and 96 tackles… Earl Thomas finally missed his first NFL game, and the Seattle Seahawks were lit up for 38 points without him in the secondary. His season-ending broken leg will be costly to the Legion of Boom secondary… A strong case could be made for Harrison Smith as the league’s best all-around safety. He plays the run, covers the pass, and even blitzes the quarterback.
Just Missed: Kam Chancellor, Rodney McLeod, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Keanu Neal
AFC – After a messy offseason divorce with the San Diego Chargers, Eric Weddle has thrived with the Baltimore Ravens. He’s spent much of the season as PFF’s top-rated safety, and he’s already recorded four interceptions in 14 games… Eric Berry has arguably been the best defensive playmaker in the league. He has two pick-sixes and a pick-two, almost single-handedly fueling the Kansas City Chiefs to a comeback win over Atlanta in Week 13… It took some years for his career to get kickstarted, but John Cyprien is finally playing at a high level. On a per-play basis, PFF rates as him as the game’s seventh-best overall safety for 2016 and his grade in run defense (97.4) is almost off the charts.
Just Missed: Reggie Nelson, T.J. Ward, Reshad Jones, Devin McCourty
NFC – Matt Bryant may be 41 years old, but he’s still kicking with the best of them. Bryant has converted 93.5 percent of his field goal attempts this season, with his only misses coming from over 50 yards. He’s an impressive 8-for-8 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards.
Just Missed: Caleb Sturgis, Dan Bailey
AFC – Justin Tucker has been so good as a field goal kicker this year that he’s being touted as a sleeper MVP candidate. Tucker has missed just one field goal – and it was a block. He’s 10-for-10 on field goals from over 50 yards, which means he’s tied Blair Walsh’s single-season record. Tucker is a ridiculous 20-for-20 on kicks over 40 yards. He’s legitimately been the Baltimore Ravens’ best player this year.
Just Missed: Adam Vinatieri
NFC – Do you realize Johnny Hekker is literally having the greatest season by a punter in NFL history? He’s averaging 47.9 yards per punt with a net punting average of 46.2. That would shatter the single-season record, a mark ironically set by Hekker back in 2013 (44.2). That makes the Los Angeles Rams the perfect team for Hekker – where else would he get so many opportunities to punt the football?
Just Missed: Sam Martin, Thomas Morstead, Andy Lee
AFC – Pat McAfee is pushing a 50.0 yards-per-punt average, and while he’s probably going to miss (right now, he’s at 49.1), that shouldn’t negate a fantastic season he’s having.
Just Missed: Shane Lechler, Marquette King
Kick/Punt Returner (2)
NFC – He’s a free-agent-to-be, and someone should pay a lot of money for Cordarrelle Patterson’s kick returning skills. This is his third year out of four in which he’s at a kick return average of over 30 yards, and he added his fifth career return touchdowns.
Just Missed: Marcus Sherels, Darren Sproles, Andre Roberts, Tyler Lockett
AFC – Tyreek Hill is an absolute playmaker. Every time he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to score. He leads the NFL in punt return yards (476) and average (14.0), and he’s scored via kick return (1), punt return (1), rushing (2), and receiving (6).
Just Missed: Jordan Todman, Kenyan Drake