Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Nov 2012

Film Room: Midseason Pro Bowl Team, AFC

by Andy Benoit

(Ed. Note: Thanks to The New York Times for allowing us to re-run Andy Benoit's midseason Pro Bowl teams. -- Aaron Schatz)

With the elections finally ending, football fans can shift their voting focus back to the NFL. Pro Bowl ballots opened a few weeks ago. With most of the teams having played exactly half their schedule, it’s time for a look at midseason honors. This AFC Pro Bowl roster represents one man’s opinion (mine), based on what the film has shown this season. (Players are listed in order of merit.)

OFFENSE

Quarterback (3)

Peyton Manning, Broncos
Much further along than anyone would have guessed in making the Broncos the new Colts. Just as impressive as his conference-leading passing numbers is what he’s done at the line of scrimmage to help Denver’s run game.

Tom Brady, Patriots
Orchestrating an updated no-huddle offense at his usual top-shelf level.

Andrew Luck, Colts
With a system built around his strengths (ball-handling and pocket movement, decision-making and accuracy at the intermediate levels), he has the Colts at 5-3 and fourth in total offense. He has regularly elevated his play in critical moments (like third-and-long or late drives in close contests).

Running Back (3)

Arian Foster, Texans
The smoothest power-runner in the NFL. He's also stellar, if not spectacular, in the passing game. Houston’s misdirection zone offense wouldn’t be nearly as potent without him.

Stevan Ridley, Patriots
Has been as effective as his surprising AFC-leading numbers indicate. Good short-area burst, including laterally.

Reggie Bush, Dolphins
With Ray Rice uncharacteristically struggling in pass protection this year, the final nod goes to this veteran finesse back who has learned to run between the tackles. The numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, but the balance and stability he lends to the Dolphins young offense is a big reason why they’re a surprising 4-4.

Wide Receiver (4)

A.J. Green, Bengals
Without his acrobatic downfield prowess, Cincy’s offense would look like Jacksonville’s.

Reggie Wayne, Colts
Has basically learned a whole new position in Bruce Arian’s system and, at nearly 34 years of age, is responding with arguably the best season of his illustrious career. Technique-wise, there isn’t a better one-on-one route runner in game.

Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
Continues to hone his newly fine-tuned fundamentals. He has been Denver’s key big-play and possession target ... which sounds a lot like how one might describe a "true No. 1."

Antonio Brown, Steelers
Other guys have better numbers, but no one is tougher to match up against on the outside. His quickness off the line and in and out of breaks is the best in pro football right now.

Fullback (1)

James Casey, Texans
Essentially a second tight end -– and catches passes like one. Casey consistently capitalizes on the favorable one-on-one run-blocking matchups that Gary Kubiak’s system presents him.

Tight End (2)

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
The fulcrum of New England’s elite passing attack.

Heath Miller, Steelers
The do-it-all piece of Todd Haley’s offense. His run-blocking has always been outstanding, but this year he has assumed a bigger role in the passing game, primarily at the intermediate levels.

Offensive Tackle (3)

Ryan Clady, Broncos
Not many guys turn down a five-year, $50 million contract before the season and then play well enough to be lauded for their foresight and negotiating acumen because of it.

Duane Brown, Texans
An athletic run-blocker and reliable one-on-one pass-protector who highlights what might be the best offensive line in football.

Nate Solder, Patriots
His athletic mobility is a big reason why New England’s renewed commitment to the run has paid off so well.

Guard (3)

Logan Mankins, Patriots
He's only played five of eight games, but ive games are enough when they’re mistake-free.

Willie Colon, Steelers
Colon has overcome early-season issues with lateral movement in pass protection. More importantly, he's been the most powerful interior run-blocker in the NFL. (And to think, he’s doing this while learning a new position after missing the past two years with various injuries.)

Zane Beadles, Broncos
He's been impressive with pull-blocks in the run game while also keeping his superstar quarterback clean on a regular basis.

Center (2)

Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers
A tremendous combination of raw talent and polished mechanics have made him, by far, the best all-around center in football this season.

Chris Myers, Texans
With Nick Mangold having an uncharacteristically down year, there’s room for the veteran anchor from the league’s most cohesive front five. Myers has always been adept as an on-the-move blocker, but savvy technique has allowed him to overcome his limited strength in phone booths in more recent years. He’s now able to stalemate bigger nose tackles one-on-one.

DEFENSE

Defensive End (3)

J.J. Watt, Texans
No explanation required.

Cameron Wake, Dolphins
Tireless against the run and pass, and plays with an unstoppable blend of leverage and explosiveness on every down.

Chandler Jones, Patriots
Sinewy athlete who can penetrate inside or outside. He's arguably been even more impressive in run defense, where he uses his lateral agility and strength well.

Defensive Tackle (3)

Geno Atkins, Bengals
The most dominant all-around interior force in the NFL this season. No need to elaborate -– whatever football move it is, he does it extremely well.

Vince Wilfork, Patriots
Humans this big shouldn’t be allowed to move this well.

Randy Starks, Dolphins
A handful to deal with in the run game, especially when he’s getting penetration. A big reason why Miami ranks third in total run defense.

Inside Linebacker (2)

Donald Butler, Chargers
Improved football IQ mixed with his initial quickness and fluidity has made him into a dynamic run-stopper. He's also shown a knack for big plays.

Paul Posluszny, Jaguars
Does everything for his defense, including patrolling passing lanes between the numbers.

Outside Linebacker (3)

Von Miller, Broncos
Every opposing offensive coordinator builds his game plan around simply containing this guy. (Usually to no avail, by the way.)

Tamba Hali, Chiefs
The Chiefs are awful, but their defense –- and especially its tenacious front seven attacker –- is not the reason why.

Wesley Woodyard, Broncos
Woodyard has done a more-than-admirable job filling in for the suspended D.J. Williams. Agility in space has been a key to Denver’s run defense. More importantly, he’s made Denver’s nickel defense -– which is youthful at safety -– formidable in underneath coverage.

Cornerback (3)

Ike Taylor, Steelers
Taylor has successfully shadowed opposing No. 1 receivers week in and week out for a defense that, even without Troy Polamalu or much pass-rush pressure generated this season, ranks No. 1 in the air at the midway point.

Champ Bailey, Broncos
Still playing like Champ Bailey. (Including against the run, which too often is overlooked.)

Johnathan Joseph, Texans
His man-to-man prowess is key to Wade Phillips’ swarming defense, particularly in the dime packages.

Strong Safety (1)

Bernard Pollard, Ravens
Extremely active and disruptive near the line of scrimmage. Pollard has taken a leap since fixing many of his once-crippling weaknesses in coverage.

Free Safety (1)

Eric Weddle, Chargers
Weddle has fully blossomed into the multi-tooled Polamalu-styled safety that San Diego originally thought he’d be. His diversity is showing up in the pre-snap phase, as well, which has given the Chargers a much-needed element of unpredictability.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker (1)

Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
Janikowski has made 19-of-20 field goals and still has one of the most powerful legs in the game.

Punter (1)

Shane Lechler, Raiders
Because he’s earned the benefit of presumption.

Return Specialist (1)

Leodis McKelvin, Bills
Has been a home-run hitter on punts and at least a "doubles" hitter on kicks.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
email andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 09 Nov 2012

31 comments, Last at 13 Nov 2012, 11:00am by bengt

Comments

1
by JCRodriguez (not verified) :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 12:22pm

I only have one issue, and it is at QB, I really feel that Big Ben is having his best season ever, and I am no sure if Luck is anywhere near in terms of his performance overall. Sure, the Colts are a nice story, but in no way, shape or form Luck has had a better season than Ben.

2
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 2:07pm

Yeah, Ben is having quietly a great year. I would have him third behind Peyton and Tom.

7
by Bobman :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 3:12pm

This Colts fan has no quibbles with replacing Luck with Ben. For the most part, Luck IS the Colts and they are ahead of the Steelers in the playoff race (due to conf record), but he's a rookie and makes rookies mistakes. Nobody holds it against him, but that many turnovers don't merit the Pro Bowl ahead of the season Ben's been having so far.

19
by Johnstyz (not verified) :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 2:36pm

No question, Big Ben is at of near the top! 3rd down he's MONEY!! NO ONE CLOSE!

3
by Ben :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 2:09pm

I'd have to agree. As a Colts fan, I'm certainly excited by Luck's level play, especially for a guy with only 9 games under his belt, but I wouldn't say he's the 3rd best QB in the conference at this point.

4
by bernie (not verified) :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 2:34pm

Yeah, that's fair. I'm also a Colts fan, and Luck's play so far has gotten better every week, and he shows a lot of skills a lot of other QBs don't have. However, he still has a lot of areas of his game to improve upon, and he's definitely not at a probowl level yet. He will be in a year or two, but not quite now.
Although, he will probably make the probowl, given that whoever the superbowl QB is will sit out, and then someone else will decline due to injury, making the 5th best guy a probowler.

5
by supershredder :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 2:40pm

I think your stance on Demaryius Thomas is quite the slight to Eric Decker. Thomas is definitely the "big play" guy but you can't call him the possession receiver. If anything it's a split between the two (though Decker has 5 more targets). Also, what about the 7 TD's for Decker versus only 4 for Thomas?

20
by Anon (not verified) :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 3:30pm

Actually the numbers do back up the claim that Demaryius is a key cog in moving the chains on the Denver offense. He has more 1st downs than Decker, and has more 3rd down and 4th down catches as well.

I would also offer the proposition that Thomas is attracting tighter coverage than Decker in the red zone.

6
by Anonymous- (not verified) :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 2:59pm

Is there any possible reason other than narrative or personal likability that could cause someone to rate Andrew Luck's season as better than Roethlisberger's so far? Is he doing anything better?

9
by Bobman :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 3:33pm

I think it's largely preseason expectations, and partially playoff rankings. A lot of people had Indy down for 2-4 wins all season, and so Luck's success at the position is viewed as having a larger impact--My God, he's just not doing well, he's willing the team to win. (In some cases, he and Wayne ARE.) The other thing is that Indy is ahead of Pittsburgh--which is a perpetual playoff team--for the 5th playoff spot due to conf record. "Well, hell, if Ben was having such a good year, why can't he get his playoff team ahead of this rookie?" Finally, personal likeability probably plays a factor. I'd put Ben ahead of Luck... for now.

Luck's game reminds me a TON of Ben--throwing for big gains with defenders hanging off him like human dreadlocks, making more plays outside the pocket than inside, a few bad sacks taken. He's replaced a legend admirably--not a reason to put him in the pro bowl, but much as we Colts fans loved Manning, you never hear any regrets or wistfullness for the good old days anymore. Try that in Miami, Dallas, the years between Bradshaw and ben in Pittsburgh, etc. Hard to replace a beloved HOFer. Those points might factor in as well.

8
by Geo B :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 3:31pm

Have not seen Andrew Luck very much, but even as a biased Steeler fan - Big Ben leads the league I believe in 3rd down QB rating - I have to think he rates out higher at this point.

Steeler fan trapped in Houston!
Six Time SB Champs! ;-)

10
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:06pm

One note, and consider this a plug for FO Premium if you wish: The Colts lead the league in offensive DVOA in third-and-long.

I have no opinion on which AFC quarterbacks should make the Pro Bowl, aside from that Chad Henne should not.

11
by ZooeyGlass (not verified) :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 9:40pm

"Bernard Pollard, Ravens
Extremely active and disruptive near the line of scrimmage. Pollard has taken a leap since fixing many of his once-crippling weaknesses in coverage."

iseewhatyoudidthere.jog

12
by ZooeyGlass (not verified) :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 9:41pm

.jpg, damnit.

13
by Vicious Chicken of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 10:47pm

At this point Peyton is the only AFC QB having a better season than Ben.

14
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 12:02am

Not seen you for a while, I thought you were keeping your head down after bravely wetting yourself at the battle of Bodmin Moor.

15
by Anonymousssssssssss (not verified) :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 4:05am

Your supporting paragraph for Andrew Luck is 'just wins games' and 'clutch'

I was not expecting that

16
by theslothook :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 5:18am

Having watched all of Luck's games and only two of Ben's, I am baffled by Luck's inclusion over Ben. As a colts fan, its making me worried about future backlash luck will face from angry fans clamoring about how overrated he is. Its what I imagine motivated much of the criticism against Manning and in a way still does. Its kind of weird to say this, but after years of listening to the media bash Peyton for being a choking bum, they all(skip bayless the exception) have taken quite a shine to Luck.

My only guess is, Luck feels like hes got that aw shucks good guy in him while Manning(aside from his later commercials)comes off like a obsessed bean counter.

17
by ammek :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 9:36am

There aren't as many as three worthy RBs in this conference, but Reggie Bush? He's a below replacement level runner, and hasn't been as productive as a receiver as the likes of Spiller and McGahee. The third selection should depend on what you value: if it's heavy usage, go with Ray Rice; if it's big plays, take Spiller (and if Mankins can get in with only five starts, there's room for CJ); if it's somewhere in between, choose McGahee.

21
by BJR :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 3:55pm

His numbers are hurt by a couple of games when he played injured, but Trent Richardson looked very good on the couple of occasions I watched the Browns. If he's over his injured ribs it wouldn't surprise me if he made this team at the end of the season.

18
by erniecohen :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 10:07am

I don't understand something. Antonio Brown is something like 56th in DVOA and 58th DYAR. And he's being targeted by the 3rd best QB in the AFC. Yet you claim him to be the 4th best WR in the AFC. Exactly how do you reconcile this disconnect between observed performance and measurement?

22
by Mr Shush :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 9:25pm

I honestly think wide receiver DYAR and DVOA are as near as dammit garbage, at least if what you're trying to do is assess the receiver's play.

23
by Daaaaaaaaaaaa Bears (not verified) :: Sun, 11/11/2012 - 4:29pm

Nothing for Charles "Peanut" Tillman and his fumble forcing ways?

25
by justanothersteve :: Sun, 11/11/2012 - 11:12pm

That would be the Midseason NFC Team. http://www.footballoutsiders.com/film-room/2012/film-room-midseason-all-... (because I'm too lazy to embed it right now)

24
by Silm (not verified) :: Sun, 11/11/2012 - 5:37pm

what a dumb article. its just a list of 75% of the key players on the top record teams in the AFC. Pro Bowl Team = based on performance of player, not on your idiotic preference towards 3 or 4 teams. "other guys have better numbers..." - STOP RIGHT THERE, that is not how Pro Bowl players are evaluated. You're like the George W Bush of football, just going with "your gut" in spite of quantitative analysis eh? Yeah just delete this article now. Thought FO was better than this.

26
by theslothook :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 1:16am

Do you know for a fact that either ANdy or GW bush were just going by their gut?

27
by rfh1001 :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 6:18am

Who got out of bed the wrong side this morning?

28
by kamiyu206 :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 10:29am

Well, I wouldn't put Andrew Luck ahead of Matt Schaub yet, let alone Big Ben. Luck is having a fine rookie season, but 3rd best quarterback in AFC? That's a bit too much.

29
by Independent George :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 10:44am

Is Solder really playing better than Vollmer at T?

30
by spencer096 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 3:56pm

seabass - 3 (40-49), 2 (50+) and has missed one
dawson - 5 (40-49), 4 (50+) hasn't missed

i give the nod to dawson...but, as a browns fan, completely understand why yall never talk about the browns.

31
by bengt (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 11:00am

Good call. Cleveland currently leads the league in FG/XP DPAR and is third in 'KICK'.