Breaking Down the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl Candidates
We’re less than two weeks away from the Dec. 17 deadline for Pro Bowl voting, and five Green Bay Packers lead their respective positions in NFC votes, according to the NFL’s most recent publication of vote tallies. (That leads the NFC, by the way.)
Those five players are quarterback Aaron Rodgers, fullback John Kuhn, center Jeff Saturday, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and strong safety Charles Woodson.
Despite leading their respective positions, none of these players are guaranteed a selection. Once player voting is complete, coaches and players will cast their own votes, with those two votes and fans’ rankings each comprising one third of the final decision.
Will these Packers be able to hold on and earn a trip to Hawaii? Will others be able to rise up for a selection themselves?
Here are 10 possible Pro Bowlers for Green Bay, ranked from most likely to be selected to least.
He’s also the reigning MVP, leads the NFL in passer rating, is tied for second in passing touchdowns and does all his work behind a very questionable offensive line—he’s been sacked more times than any other quarterback this year despite ranking 13th in pass attempts.
I also trust the players and coaches to rightfully put the league’s best quarterback in Hawaii.
Rodgers gets in easily.
It’s a little surprising Matthews is still atop the NFC in fan votes, given that he has missed the past three games while fellow NFC outside linebacker Aldon Smith now leads the NFL in sacks with 17.5.
Still, Matthews has been a beast while healthy and should return soon. His main competition would be Smith, DeMarcus Ware and Lance Briggs.
None of them are slouches, but Matthews is too good not to be considered the worst out of those four.
The injury hurts, but Matthews should still make his fourth-consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.
Just like Matthews, Woodson’s chances are hampered by the injury that has already kept him out of five games. But also like Matthews, Woodson’s play while on the field and name recognition will greatly help his cause.
Woodson’s move from cornerback to safety also helped his chances. Although he’s basically doing the same things he did as a corner, his official listing as a safety puts him against lesser competition to make the Pro Bowl.
Despite his injury, Woodson has a better chance to be selected than not.
Not saying Kuhn isn’t deserving to make the Pro Bowl, but his selection last year and his lead so far this season has got to be more the cause of fan loyalty than any other player.
This is simply because the fullback position is the least-known in all of football.
The AFC leader, Vonta Leach (a former Packer too), is an easy choice because he has been so good for so long and has gained strong name recognition.
There is no such fullback in the NFC, so a large part of the voting goes to fan loyalty. Green Bay, with one of the largest and strongest fan bases in the nation, will make sure Kuhn gets the majority of the fan vote portion.
Despite his elusive abilities as both a pass catcher and runner out of the backfield, there’s no way Randall Cobb is making the Pro Bowl as a wide receiver.
With topflight talent such as Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz and others, Cobb’s best chance to earn a trip to Hawaii would be as a returner.
It’s really just a competition between him and Percy Harvin, who currently leads the NFC in votes.
Harvin has the edge in kick returns, with one touchdown and a league-leading 35.9 yards per return, compared to Cobb’s zero touchdowns and 25.8 return average.
But, Cobb has the edge in punt returning. Whereas Harvin has yet to return a punt this season, Cobb leads the NFC in punt return average and has already taken one to the house.
This will be a close one, but if Harvin’s injury sidelines him for the rest of the year and Cobb returns another for a touchdown (which I believe will happen), Cobb should get the nod.
Sorry to say, but Saturday is only in the lead for NFC center voting right now because of his history with the Indianapolis Colts.
While his production as a pass-blocker has been satisfactory, it hasn’t nearly been good enough to make up for his dreadful run-blocking.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Saturday has been Green Bay’s worst run-blocker by a fairly wide margin. That’s pretty sad, considering how bad the entire offensive line has been at creating holes for its running backs.
There are many more deserving candidates, including Dominic Raiola, Jonathan Goodwin and John Sullivan.
But, the voters have Saturday as the NFC’s best center right now, so he has a good chance of making his sixth Pro Bowl.
Now we’re into the portion of players whom I believe won’t make it, even if they are deserving.
The first of these players is Casey Hayward. In any other year, Hayward would probably be a lock to make it.
Despite being a rookie and not seeing as many snaps as most Pro Bowl candidates, Hayward is tied for second in the league with five interceptions. He’s also allowed only a 27.6 passer rating on passes thrown into his coverage.
But, this is a pretty special year for NFC cornerbacks. Hayward is going up against fierce competition that includes Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Janoris Jenkins, Patrick Peterson and many other deserving corners.
His time will eventually come, but Hayward will likely have to wait until at least next year.
Unfortunately for Tim Masthay, fan voters seem to only care about how far punts go.
The leading vote-getters for the AFC and NFC punters (Brandon Fields and Thomas Morstead) lead their respective conference in yards per punt.
This doesn’t bode well for Masthay, as he ranks 13th in the NFC in that category.
But, he ranks much higher in other categories I believe to be more important. In his conference, Masthay is second in yards allowed per return, third in punts downed inside the 20-yard line and second in fair catches forced.
He consistently pins opposing returners deep in their own territory and doesn’t allow them to make any big returns.
Voters dig the long ball, however, so don’t expect Masthay to make it.
Despite the recent 210-yard gashing by Adrian Peterson, Green Bay has had a much improved run defense from a year ago. A huge thanks goes to Ryan Pickett for that.
He’s not racking up big stats (36 tackles and no sacks), but his constant penetration into the backfield and absorbance of multiple blockers have allowed Green Bay’s linebackers to hawk to ball carriers and stop them short during their runs.
As a 33-year-old, this will likely be Pickett’s last good chance of landing his first Pro Bowl selection.
But with strong competition and the lack of possessing a house-hold name, I don’t see Pickett going to Hawaii.
Bush has established himself as the Packers’ best non-kicking special teamer over the past couple years. As a gunner, Bush has consistently helped Masthay down punts inside the 20-yard line and stopped returners from breaking off huge plays.
But this year, Bush has not lived up to his usual standard. He has committed several penalties that have nullified great punts by Masthay and caused the Packers to give return men more chances.
Given that he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl yet and isn’t playing as well as he normally does, I’d be very surprised if Bush was selected as a special-teamer.