Oakland Raiders: 5 Players That Will Make the 2012 Pro Bowl Team
Even though the rest of the league doesn't yet take them seriously, they are poised to make a roar this year.
Maybe even a playoff run.
With rejuvenated receivers that were injured for a good portion of the 2011 season, Darrius Heyward-Bey and company look to rebound. Rookie Juron Criner has the ability to add another dimension to the fastest receiving core in football.
With that in mind, here are five Raiders that have a good shot at playing in Hawaii.
After finally earning a spot on the 2011 Pro Bowl team, Sebastian Janikowski has gained recognition throughout the NFL as one of the league's best kickers.
Sharing the league record for longest field goal at 63 yards probably helps.
A first round pick in 2000, Al Davis obviously thought a lot of Janikowski, and the Polish kicker has not disappointed.
Janikowski has hit 80 percent of his attempted field goals over his career. On top of that, he has the NFL record for longest field goal (63 yards), longest OT field goal (57 yards), most 60+ yard FGs (2), most 40+ and 50+ FGs in a game (3,4).
Yes, I know. Another kicker.
Who cares, right? Well this free-spirited kicker was named to the 2000s All Decade team. He also has seven Pro Bowl appearances to his name and is a nine-time All-Pro player (including each of the past five years).
His 80-yard punt in 2011 was the longest in franchise history, and Lechler's boot forces opposing offenses to drive a long distance to score even when the Raiders' offense has struggled.
This strong kicking game stretches the field for opposing offenses and shortens it for the Raiders' offense, adding a strength that most NFL teams don't strongly consider.
You probably already know that I expect an outstanding year from Oakland's running back.
An injury-shortened season prevented the true Darren McFadden from shining, but Oakland is waiting for the center of their offense to come back strong.
Stretch his career 4.8 yards per carry average over the length of a full season and you have a deadly weapon.
McFadden is a complete running back who has the ability to not only run the ball at an elite level, but can also go out for screen passes and line up in the slot occasionally.
Darren McFadden is the Raiders hope for sending a legitimate offensive player to the Pro Bowl.
He may be 32 years old, but Richard Seymour still dominates the defensive line.
The former New England Patriot great is a three-time Super Bowl champion, so he knows what it's like to win on the biggest stage. That should help Oakland not only toward the end of the season if they are in a playoff race, but also in the playoffs.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All-Pro, Seymour is one of the most formidable presences on the Raiders' defense.
Like Shane Lechler, Seymour was also named to the 2000s All-Decade team.
Look for him to continue that dominance, carry a significant portion of the load for the Raiders' defense and represent that side of the ball in Hawaii.
ESPN (via Silver and Black Pride) says Marcel Reece "has good hands and receiving skills, and he is probably the only FB in the league who can flex or lineup wide and run a vertical route," making him one of the most versatile players in the AFC.
As you may know, I have already mentioned the possibility for a breakout season from the Raiders' full back.
He creates matchup problems out of the backfield, adds another dimension to the Raiders' offense that will help take pressure off Darren McFadden in the running game and provides another receiving threat for Carson Palmer to utilize.
Add that to the downward trending role of fullbacks in the NFL and Marcel Reece has an excellent shot at making the Pro Bowl team as a fullback.
Read more of my writing about Raider football and other sports here.