Breaking Down the New England Patriots' Pro Bowl Candidates

Oliver ThomasContributor IDecember 3, 2012

Breaking Down the New England Patriots' Pro Bowl Candidates

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    The New England Patriots aren't planning on a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii in late January. Instead, they're planning on a Super Bowl trip to New Orleans in early February.

    Nevertheless, the Patriots have many candidates on the Pro Bowl ballot who are deserving of the honor. And while the voting process is a popularity contest, even the less renowned talents on the roster are making strong cases for themselves.

    Here is a breakdown of New England's Pro Bowl hopefuls.

Tom Brady, Quarterback

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    When it comes to Tom Brady's 2012 campaign, one number sticks out: Four.

    That is the number of interceptions the seven-time Pro Bowler has thrown this season.

    Even when he's under duress, Brady limits his mistakes by finding the open man instead of forcing a bad throw. He takes what the defense gives him, which makes him one of the most efficient passers in the game.

    It's not all about limiting turnovers, however. Brady has also tossed 25 touchdowns and racked up 3,527 passing yards—ranking him fourth and sixth respectively.

    Brady's well-rounded statistics are a byproduct of his consistency. He is the proud owner of the longest active streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass, per CBSBoston.com.

Stevan Ridley, Running Back

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    Stevan Ridley is the real deal.

    The 2011 third-round draft pick has taken the reins of the running back committee and given New England's No. 1 offense a balanced attack.

    The former LSU Tiger has gotten help from Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen, but he is certainly the centerpiece in the ground game.

    According to ESPN.com, Ridley's nine rushing touchdowns currently tie him for second-most in the NFL. He also has gained 1,010 yards on 225 attempts, which ranks him sixth among tailbacks.

Wes Welker, Wide Receiver

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    Wes Welker may not get the credit he deserves, as some attribute his success to the Patriots' system. But don't be fooled; he will be voted to his fifth-straight Pro Bowl because he is great at what he does.

    The former undrafted free agent is nearing his fifth 100-catch season. To this point, the 5'9" slot receiver has amassed 92 receptions.

    And although Welker's four touchdowns on the season won't turn many heads, his 1,064 receiving yards through 12 games certainly will.

    That yardage output is due to Welker's after-the-catch prowess. The Texas Tech Red Raider has totaled 489 yards after hauling in his receptions, second to only the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin.

Rob Gronkowski, Tight End

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    Rob Gronkowski's surgery on his broken forearm will keep him out of action from anywhere between three to six weeks, according to an ESPN.com report.

    And while that won't do him any favors when it comes to Pro Bowl voting, it does not take away from the fact that Gronkowski is one of the most unstoppable tight ends in the NFL.

    Based on ESPN.com statistics, the 6'6", 265-pound target remains the NFL leader in touchdown receptions with 10, alongside Cincinnati Bengals' receiver A.J. Green.

    Even after missing a couple games, Gronkowski's 53 receptions ranks him seventh among tight ends. In terms of receiving yards, he's third at his position with 748.

Logan Mankins, Left Guard

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    Logan Mankins has battled injuries over the last year. First it was the torn ACL he played through, now it's ankle and calf woes, per ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak.

    Whether the voting system is fair or not, as of Nov. 28 Mankins was the leading vote-getter among guards, reports the Boston Herald''s "The Blitz."

    In the six games Mankins has played this season, there's no disputing his impact on the offensive line. Even though his year hasn't gone as planned, he is more than likely going to be named a Pro Bowler for a fifth time.

Sebastian Vollmer, Right Tackle

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    Coming off a season in which he only played six games, Sebastian Vollmer was fighting off the injury-prone label. But having missed only one game this year, New England's right tackle is turning the corner.

    This season, Vollmer is hanging tough. He's become one of the most consistent blockers on the Patriots' roster.

     And according to a Nov. 30 article from Steve Palazzolo of ProFootballFocus.com, the 6'8", 320-pound German is playing like a Pro Bowl tackle:

    In addition to stellar run blocking, Vollmer is 10th in the league among tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) at 96.4 and he’s only allowed three knockdowns (sacks + hits) the entire year.

    If Vollmer's excellent all-around season continues, he will be named to his first career Pro Bowl.

Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle

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    Vince Wilfork's statistics don't jump off the page, but that doesn't mean he's not producing.

    On the year the 325-pound nose tackle has been credited with 35 total tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries. But according to Mark Daniels of the Boston Herald, Wilfork could care less about the numbers:

    “Winning is everything to me,” said Wilfork. “I care less about individual stats. I don’t care about the accolades. My main goal is to win. If we’re winning and I’m playing well with zero stats, I’m fine with that. I’m not a selfish player.”

    Wilfork's abilities to clog up the lanes and make stops outside his gaps are what make him a surefire Pro Bowler year in and year out—not stats.

Jerod Mayo, Inside Linebacker

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    Jerod Mayo relays the play calls to the rest of the Patriot defense, but his role as a leader doesn't end there.

    Mayo sets an example by always finding a way to the ball. And if his AFC-leading 118 combined tackles are any indication, he makes stops.

    The No. 10 pick in the 2008 draft also knows how to end drives. From the inside linebacker spot, Mayo recorded three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

    According to the Boston Herald Patriots blog "The Blitz," Mayo was leading all linebackers in Pro-Bowl votes as of Nov. 28.

Matthew Slater, Special Teams

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    Matthew Slater has one career catch for 46 yards, but the UCLA Bruin has been far from a disappointment for the Patriots.

    Since he arrived in Foxborough in 2008, Slater has made 73 tackles and forced a fumble, primarily through special teams work, where he's a team captain.

    Coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2011, the son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater has had his hand in 15 combined tackles and one kickoff returned 19 yards this year.

    For what it's worth, Slater at least has the vote of former Patriot and current NFL analyst Matt Chatham:

     

    Hope everyone out there voted for Matthew Slater as AFC ST representative for the Pro Bowl.#Baller #GreatYear

    — Matt Chatham (@chatham58) December 2, 2012

Honorable Mentions: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Nate Solder, Brandon Spikes

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    While Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Nate Solder and Brandon Spikes are all enjoying successful seasons, there's a good chance none of them will get Pro-Bowl nods.

     

    Chandler Jones, Defensive End

    First, Chandler Jones is worthy of some rookie accolades. The first-rounder has 34 tackles, three forced fumbles and six sacks this year. With tremendous range and quickness, Jones looks like a cornerstone of the defense for years to come. However, he has missed the last two contests with an ankle injury and ranks outside the league's top 30 in sacks, per ESPN.com.

     

    Rob Ninkovich, Defensive End

    As for Rob Ninkovich, it's not a matter of missed games. It's simply the fact that he's flown under the radar his entire NFL career. He's made 43 tackles, forced five fumbles and registered six sacks. But it's hard to say Ninkovich is more deserving than someone like the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt or the Miami Dolphins' Cameron Wake.

     

    Nate Solder, Left Tackle

    Former first-round draft choice Nate Solder has been as good as advertised for the Patriots on the blindside of Tom Brady.

    On Nov. 7, Brady spoke with ESPNBoston.com's Field Yates about Solder:

    "Nate played a lot last year too, and he's been very reliable and dependable really since the day he got here," quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday. "He's very mature. I think he's really asserted himself as a very good player. That's a tough position to play. You get the best of your opponent every single week, and he's never really backed down to a challenge. There's a lot of comfort there." 

    If Brady is happy with the protection from Solder, then odds are offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is content as well. Neither could have asked for much more from the second-year pro who had to replace longtime Patriot Matt Light. 

     

    Brandon Spikes, Inside Linebacker

    And last but not least, there's the polarizing Brandon Spikes. Spikes is finally playing at the level the Patriots had hoped for when he was selected in the Round 2 of the 2010 draft. On the year, Spikes hasn't many friends across the line of scrimmage. However, his "punk" mentality has made him a force to be reckoned with. Spikes has totaled 85 tackles, five forced fumbles and a sack.