Predicting 20 Likely First-Time Pro Bowlers for 2012

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2012

Predicting 20 Likely First-Time Pro Bowlers for 2012

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    The list criteria is simple here. These are the 20 guys most likely to crack into their first Pro Bowl this upcoming season. Naturally there are a lot of names that are deserving of mention, but as is the nature of any list, there must, and always is, a limit.

    As is normal for articles of this nature, there will be many of you out there who will feel as though I left a guy out that belongs in the top 20. I encourage you to check the honorable mention section on the last slide. The names listed in that section were all guys who I had an extremely hard time leaving out and very well could have been listed over another guy. It really became a matter of splitting hairs with many of those who were left out.

    So lets get this thing started shall we?

20. Sean Weatherspoon

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    It's becoming increasingly difficult for traditional 4-3 outside linebackers to make the Pro Bowl these days considering sacks are the stat which garners the most attention. But a talent as rare and dominating as Sean Weatherspoon should be able to overcome such biases.

    Weatherspoon may be the best true 4-3 outside linebacker in the league next year if he manages to carry the momentum and growth he has shown in his brief but productive NFL career.

    Falcons fans are well aware of what Sean Weatherspoon means to this defense. Soon, the entire league should know his name.

19. Josh Sitton

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    Josh Sitton was a 2010 Pro Bowl alternate and was named 2010 Offensive Lineman of the Year by the NFL Alumni Association.

    He has been a model of consistency for a few years now and should continue his dominance in the trenches where he left off from 2011. If the Packers' run game improves the way they anticipate, this should give Sitton enough credibility to finally get some national recognition for his outstanding play. He is one of the best interior offensive linemen in the league and rarely misses an assignment.

18. Jermichael Finley

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    Finley had a lot of trouble with drops during his career but I really think he will turn those issues around.

    Fellow Columnist Matt Stein gives a convincing argument as to why he should be a Pro Bowler sooner than later.

    Clearly Finely has the physical tools and talent to be a deadly option for Aaron Rodgers this season. This should be the year he takes his game to the next level and establish himself as a premier tight end in the NFC.

17. Chad Rinehart

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    Rinehart is the best pass-blocking guard to not make the Pro Bowl last year. Perhaps this is the year that fans and media members start to take notice. But first, the Bills need to take notice and make him a regular starter, which I fully expect for the 2012 season.

    Whether or not Rinehart finally makes a Pro Bowl will likely depend on the success of Buffalo as a team considering he is a relative unknown lineman who has risen from obscurity. If the Bills manage to finally get into the playoffs, consider Rinehart a lock for a Pro Bowl spot. However, if the team does fall short of the playoffs, Rinehart should still end up dominating enough to have people eventually take notice.

16. Kenny Phillips

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    Kenny Phillips was an unsung hero for the Super Bowl champs last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips was the only safety in the league last season to have at least four interceptions while not allowing a single touchdown.

    Furthermore, Phillips' impressive tackling abilities meant he only allowed 47 total yards by receivers after the reception. What does that mean exactly? Well, if you do manage to catch the ball on Phillips, he is always close behind to make the sure tackle.

    This is the type of reliability you want from a safety.

15. Lardarius Webb

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    Lardarius Webb has been one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league the last couple of years. Eventually, people will begin to take notice that this guy can flat out play. Last year, Webb was the only guy in the league to have five interceptions while not allowing a single touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Lardarius Webb was one of the biggest snubs from the Pro Bowl last season, largely because he wasn't a well-known name amongst fans. Hopefully this year he's given the respect he deserves, as the best from Webb is undoubtedly yet to come.

14. Nate Solder

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    With top-notch coaching and talent surrounding this youthful tackle, Nate Solder has a great opportunity to contribute towards the success of the most stable franchise in the NFL.

    The Patriots tend to produce Pro Bowl offensive linemen like they produce playoff wins. Perhaps this is a result of the team's overall success. Clearly this team generates a lot of attention, which is exactly what an offensive tackle needs in order to gain enough votes to get the Pro Bowl nod.

    Solder may not be the most polished tackle in the AFC, but he showed a lot of promise in his playing time last season. Expect him to play solid football this year, which is often all you need as an offensive lineman on a successful team.

13. Marcel Dareus

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    Once Dareus makes the switch to a traditional 3-technique defensive tackle, in only his second year as a pro, he should be one of the most dominate interior linemen in the AFC.

    Buffalo has a ton of talent on the defensive line, which should mean plenty of one-on-one opportunities for No. 99. Marcel Dareus is a fantastic penetrating big man who makes his living in the backfields of his opponents.

    With a year under his belt coupled with playing his most natural position, Dareus should be able to make some big waves in Buffalo.

12. Chris Long

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    Chris Long has consistently improved as a pro ever year he has been in the league. Last year, he put up Pro Bowl numbers but failed to be voted onto the team.

    Long is a complete defensive end who can play the run and pass equally well. His effort and tenacity are his biggest weapons. Unfortunately he played on a team that few people were paying attention to, including voters.

    If he can improve upon his 13 sacks from a year ago, Long will be a lock for the Pro Bowl come 2013; an honor that seems to run in the family.

11. Mike Iupati

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    This physical beast of a man is the 49ers' best offensive lineman. He is a young, tough, aggressive tone-setter for this offense and should be even more polished heading into the 2012 season.

    Guys like Iupati bring an attitude to a team that cannot be quantified into a statistic. But when you watch him on tape, it's clear who brings life to that tough pounding run game of the 49ers.

10. DeMarco Murray

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    We all saw what this rookie running back was capable of before he was injured for the season. Murray was one of the most impressive backs in the league in his brief cameo as a starter, averaging an  outstanding 5.5 yards per carry.

    There may be a hole to fill this year at running back for the NFC while Pro Bowl mainstay Adrian Peterson recovers from a horrific knee injury which likely will take a while before he can return to his old form.

    If Murray can remain healthy and repeat the type of games he had as a rookie last year, we may be talking MVP of the league. But that's an award designated almost exclusively for quarterbacks these days. At the very least, DeMarco Murray should establish himself as one of the best running backs in the NFC.

9. Richard Sherman

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    According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman gave up the fewest receiving yards of all cornerbacks in the league with at least four interceptions.

    Sherman is big enough to match up against the biggest receivers in the game and has the skill to become one the best at the position. If the Seahawks are to have any chance at winning their division, Sherman will likely be one of the biggest reasons for it. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite defensive backs in the entire league. 

8. J.J Watt

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    Size, strength and intensity are his weapons; Watt is clearly on his way to becoming an extremely dominant football player who can shut down your run game just as effectively as he can rush the passer. And when he isn't sacking the quarterback, he can even snag passes out of midair and take them all the way to the house.

    Watt enjoyed a very impressive rookie campaign and should be a much more complete player entering his sophomore season. In fact, J.J was almost voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year.

7. Joe Haden

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    With the type of natural ability Joe Haden brings to the position, he will soon be known as one of the best in the game. Last year, Haden defended a league high 17 passes while also allowing less than 50 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed according to Pro Football Focus.

    Browns fans have good reason to be excited about this guy's future. He's a complete player who works hard and shows up against the run as well.

6. Victor Cruz

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    After the kind of breakout season Victor Cruz had, accumulating over 1,500 receiving yards for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Cruz was considered one of the biggest snubs of the year for the Pro Bowl.

    With his elite quickness and run-after-the-catch ability, Cruz should put up big numbers this season. I don't expect him to be passed over a second time now that the fans have become familiar with this charismatic salsa king.

    The only way Cruz doesn't make the Pro Bowl this year, barring injury, would be if his teammate and fellow Pro Bowl absentee, Hakeem Nicks, has the better numbers and takes his spot. There are far too many talented receivers in the NFC for both guys to get in; so I had to pick one, and I went with Cruz.

5. Matthew Stafford

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    When you pass for over 5,000 yards in a season you clearly know what you're doing at quarterback. The scary part is that Stafford's best games are ahead of him. He is moving his way up the list of best QBs in the game and just needs to stay on the field for a full season yet again.

    As long as Matt Stafford has Calvin Johnson as his primary weapon and Jim Schwartz as their pass-happy head coach, expect some big numbers in the passing game and a likely spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

4. Aldon Smith

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    Many believe Aldon Smith should have been a Pro Bowler last year. Well, after 15 sacks his rookie season, they would be right.

    He is quickly establishing himself as one of the league's best young pass rushers, and I don't expect that to change this upcoming season. He's going to receive a bigger role in the defense which should mean more opportunities to make plays.

    Being one of the best players on the best defense in the league should be all the credentials one needs to land a spot on NFC's roster. The more applicable discussion should be whether or not Aldon Smith is going to win defensive MVP of the league.

3. Darren McFadden

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    Injuries have been the undoing of McFadden year in and year out. If he can put together his first complete NFL season without injury, he should be looking at his first Pro Bowl.

    "Run DMC" is one of the most impressive athletes at running back in the entire league. His breakaway ability can change the outcome of the entire season for the Oakland Raiders.

2. Jordy Nelson

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    Nelson had 15 receiving touchdowns last season, and according to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a league high 150 passer rating when throwing his way.

    With his surprising speed and big-play ability, Jordy Nelson may be one of the best wide receivers in the game today. Expect him to be a regular on the Pro Bowl roster for years to come.

1. NaVorro Bowman

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    This was one of the biggest snubs from the Pro Bowl of all time. He was even named by the Associated Press as a first-team All-Pro. This guy may actually be just as valuable as Patrick Willis, who is widely regarded as the best interior linebacker in the league; pretty scary thought for opposing offenses, isn't it?

    Bowman is a tackling machine and should be a lock for a Pro Bowl spot next season. In all the games I've watched of Bowman, I don't think I saw him miss a single tackle. He has an uncanny ability to weed his way through blockers and find the ball. He also has the strength stuff blockers at the point of attack, then shed them with ease.

    Perhaps the icing on the cake would be Bowman's impressive ability to effectively blitz from the inside backer position. He has no weaknesses and should be even better in 2012.


    Honorable Mention:

    Ryan Kerrigan, Chris Gamble, Bryan Bulaga, James Laurinaitis, Hakeem Nicks, Fred Jackson, Jon Asamoah, Andy Levitre, Mike Pouncey, Chris Clemons, Adrian Clayborn, Charles Johnson, Robert Quinn, Justin Houston, Calais Campbell, Sione Pouha, Sean Lee, Brandon Spikes, Stephen Tulloch, Vontae Davis, Brice McCain, Andrew Whitworth, Julio Jones, Sam Bradford.