Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
08 Nov 2012
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 NFC Pro Bowl roster represents one man’s opinion, based on what the film has shown this season. (Players are listed in order of merit.)
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Ryan has responded to Dirk Koetter’s new offense quite well, wouldn’t you say? Most encouraging is how comfortable he looks throwing from a muddied pocket.
Eli Manning, Giants
Week 9 struggles aside, having the best season of his (we’re now realizing) illustrious career.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Dropped off the radar just a bit due to a slow start. But nine games in, despite injuries at wide receiver and problems along the offensive line, he has 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions, leading the Packers to a 6-3 record. Give him the defense Jay Cutler has (Cutler is playing extremely well, by the way) and the Packers would be undefeated.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Showing absolutely zero signs of any lingering knee issues. If anything, he’s been better than he was before.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Tenacious as ever, but Lynch is also showing patience and vision behind Seattle’s zone-blocking line. Without him, the Seahawks offense would be spinning mud.
Frank Gore, 49ers
Averaging well over 5.5 yards per carry in an offense that opponents know is going to run the ball.
Victor Cruz, Giants
Ability to generate late movement on routes makes him the toughest one-on-one cover in the NFC -– especially when he’s coming out of the slot.
Roddy White, Falcons
Percy Harvin has been great, but White has been nearly just as versatile. The Difference is, from a pure wide receiver standpoint, White is the more refined (and therefore more dangerous) player.
Brandon Marshall, Bears
Marshall has been everything Chicago’s offense needed as a possession receiver. And somehow, despite ho-hum speed, he has an ability to get downfield, too.
Calvin Johnson, Lions
With Megatron and the Lions offense having somewhat of a down year (by their standards), you could make strong arguments for Harvin, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald and Marques Colston in this spot. But what’s easy to forget is that none of those guys, not even Fitzgerald, command the type of everydown attention that Johnson gets.
Henry Hynoski, Giants
At times, he has almost been like a sixth offensive lineman coming out of the backfield.
Joe Staley, 49ers
Not a stalwart, but he has developed into the most stellar pass-protecting outside lineman in the NFC. And, of course, he’s also adept in the run game.
Matt Kalil, Vikings
Adrian Peterson’s favorite lineman throws one of the best pass-blocking punches in the game. It’s evident that this sport comes very naturally to the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft.
Sam Baker, Falcons
Baker has quickened his feet in pass protection after losing his starting job at one point last year.
Mike Iupati, 49ers
Tremendous movement skills for a man with his power.
Kevin Boothe, Giants
Gets to the second level as a run-blocker and has been a key contributor on the most unified, consistent pass-blocking line in the league.
Jahri Evans, Saints
If New Orleans ran more, we wouldn’t forget how gifted he is so easily.
Max Unger, Seahawks
Unger's mobility and knack for delivering well-angled blocks in space are key to Seattle’s zone efforts.
John Sullivan, Vikings
Sullivan's an up-and-comer with good feet in confined areas. Improved strength has means he is no longer a liability in pass protection or inside road-grading.
Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants
Always dominates in ways the stats don’t show. (Plus his stats are pretty darn good.)
Chris Clemons, Seahawks
Quietly one of the most explosive edge-rushers in the league. Supple strength makes him very good against the run, too.
Jared Allen, Vikings
Productive as ever. And another star who is also better than his stats.
Henry Melton, Bears
Splendid one-gap shooter who’s a perfect fit in Chicago’s scheme.
Justin Smith, 49ers
Just about everything the Niners do with their dynamic front seven hinges on him eating up blocks.
Brandon Mebane, Seahawks
A stout run-stuffing nose tackle who plays with near-flawless leverage and lateral strength. Mebane is also capable of pressuring the passer, particularly with second efforts late in the down.
Brian Urlacher, Bears
Urlacher fills run gaps as effectively as anybody in the game. He's also started making plays in coverage after seemingly overcoming the knee issues that hounded him early in the year.
NaVorro Bowman, 49ers
It’s a tossup between Bowman and Patrick Willis. Bowman has done slightly more in San Francisco’s dime package, but we’re splitting hairs between two elite players. Perhaps the fair thing to do is leave both of them out and just go with Daryl Washington. The third-year Cardinal has been outstanding in all facets this season, particularly on passing downs.
Clay Matthews, Packers
The swiftest front-seven force you’ll find these days. He stands out on film more consistently than anyone in the league.
Aldon Smith, 49ers
In his second year, Smith has maintained his dominance as a pass-rusher while improving dramatically as an edge-setter against the run.
DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys
The linchpin to Rob Ryan’s pressure packages. Can command double teams on non-passing downs, too.
Charles Tillman, Bears
Turnover creating machine who can also line up and simply stop opposing No. 1 receivers.
Richard Sherman, Seahawks
The obnoxiously-cocky second-year pro is every bit as good as he thinks he is.
Tim Jennings, Bears
In addition to six interceptions, he’s also been outstanding in run support.
William Moore, Falcons
A wider array of responsibilities has turned him into an adequate cover guy who still has a big-hitter mentality.
Blair Walsh, Vikings
His outstanding accuracy is all the more impressive when you look at the distance he’s kicking field goals from.
Andy Lee, 49ers
Lee's power and placement skills are always unparalleled in the NFC.
Devin Hester, Bears
Big plays haven’t been there quite as much this season, but Hester still alters field position by simply walking out on to the grass.
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