NFL Predictions 2012: Surprise Pro Bowler at Each Position
For as much as we all claim to hate it, the NFL Pro Bowl sure does receive plenty of attention. The media talks about it, fans talk about it and players talk about it. The game actually generates quite a buzz.
It often seems like we are seeing the same names year in and year out, but usually a few surprise players slip through the cracks. Who will they be in 2012?
There is at least one player at each position who is on the brink of stardom or is just now starting to earn the recognition he deserves.
Read on to find out who exactly they are.
Quarterback: Josh Freeman
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
In 2010, Josh Freeman showed his potential. He made jaw-dropping throws, escaped pressure situations, and even displayed surprisingly good accuracy.
2011 wasn't quite as impressive, but Freeman still has the tools of an elite quarterback. With Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Doug Martin joining the Tampa Bay offense, Freeman has some new toys to play with, and should excel in 2012.
Running Back: Ryan Mathews
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
In his first two NFL seasons, Ryan Mathews averaged 4.7 yards per carry. And now, for the first time, Mathews won't be losing carries to Mike Tolbert.
The former No. 12 overall pick is undeniably talented, but he has been plagued by injuries in the past. When healthy, Mathews is a complete running back capable of incredible play.
If Philip Rivers can rebound from a down 2011 campaign, Mathews could have a huge impact on the San Diego offense.
Wide Receiver: Demaryius Thomas
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
With a more traditional quarterback calling the shots, Demaryius Thomas just might finally reach his unbelievable ceiling. Peyton Manning has helped much lesser players put up great numbers, putting Thomas in a great situation.
With Manning throwing the passes in Denver, Thomas should produce a lot more. A whole lot more.
Tight End: Jared Cook
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
It feels like people have been predicting Jared Cook to break out for years, but as of yet, it hasn't happened. If Jake Locker is the Titans' starting quarterback, though, it just might.
Cook is the stereotypical "wide receiver in a tight end's body," and that's his strength. His speed and athleticism make him a matchup nightmare, allowing him to attack from multiple positions on the field.
Locker has the arm strength and vertical mindset to turn Cook into a star.
Offensive Tackle: Branden Albert
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Entering the final year of his contract, the up-and-down Branden Albert has more reason than ever to become a consistent force. Albert is a terrific talent, but he hasn't put all the pieces together quite yet.
With the Chiefs gunning for the playoffs, Albert should receive plenty of attention. The fact that Kansas City's rushing attack should dominate doesn't hurt, either.
Offensive Guard: Jon Asamoah
Like Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah is a talented player, but unlike Albert, Asamoah just recently got a chance to prove himself. The third-year guard impressed in 2011, and should dominate in 2012.
Jamaal Charles is poised to rack up some serious numbers in his first year back from a torn ACL, and Asamoah will receive his fair share of credit. When it comes to Pro Bowl offensive linemen, running back play is crucial.
Center: Jason Kelce
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
In just his second year, Jason Kelce has some high expectations in Philadelphia. Across the country, though, Kelce remains a relative unknown.
Though he isn't particularly large, Kelce is intelligent and plays mean. He also plays on a high-profile offense, and the Eagles should do well enough to nab Kelce some votes.
Defensive End: Mark Anderson
Win McNamee/Getty Images
With 35.5 career sacks, Mark Anderson has proven that he can rush the passer. Now playing on the same defensive line as Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, Anderson should have even more opportunities to do so.
Anderson will luck into some sacks as the other linemen pressure the opposing quarterback, and he will come into some on his own. Either way, sacks are sacks, and Pro Bowl voters love sacks.
Defensive Tackle: Nick Fairley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Detroit's general manager Martin Mayhew believes Nick Fairley will have breakout season in 2012, and it's tough to fault him.
Ndamukong Suh will garner plenty of attention, freeing up Fairley to penetrate. Fairley's tendency to make plays in the backfield will help fans notice him on the field and on the stat sheet.
Outside Linebacker: Justin Houston
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
In limited playing time, Justin Houston impressed Kansas City observers with 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2011. Tamba Hali will obviously receive plenty of attention from opposing teams, so Houston should be left free to make plays in the backfield.
A dynamic pass-rusher, Houston fell in the draft because of a failed drug test, not his on-field performance. The Georgia product has tons of upside, and he should reach it soon under Romeo Crennel.
Inside Linebacker: Sean Lee
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Playing for the Cowboys never hurts a player's chances at the Pro Bowl. Sean Lee not only plays for the 'Boys, but he is also a pretty good player in his own right.
With the help of some attention-grabbing plays, fans of "America's Team" will flood the ballot boxes for Lee.
Cornerback: Jimmy Smith
Larry French/Getty Images
Jimmy Smith fell in the first round due to off-the-field issues, be he in no way lacks for talent. The 6'2" cornerback possesses incredible abilities, and should start for Baltimore in his second season.
As teams try to avoid Lardarius Webb, Smith should have plenty of opportunities for interceptions.
Safety: Kenny Phillips
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
At least one team will admit to avoiding Kenny Phillips when passing the ball. Phillips has been around for a while now, but he is continually overlooked in the Pro Bowl discussion.
A versatile player, Phillips can drop back in coverage or play up against the run. It is Phillips' coverage ability, however, that makes him a Pro Bowl candidate.
Pro Bowl voters look for interceptions at safety, and Phillips could pick up quite a few playing behind New York's pass rush.