Many Usual Suspects, a Few Surprises for Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl Selections
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There are a number of deserving names when it comes to the Baltimore Ravens' list of six Pro Bowl starters; however, the biggest surprise is how heavy it is on offense, rather than being defensively-focused as it has traditionally been in the past.
Ravens representatives to the AFC's starting lineup include fullback Vonta Leach and running back Ray Rice—an excellent one-two punch for Baltimore that could repeat that magic in Hawaii should they both choose to go—offensive guard Marshal Yanda, and receiver and (in this capacity) special teams returner Jacoby Jones, who has been voted in for the first time in his career.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Ed Reed made it in despite not having a great season, having been hindered by a shoulder injury, as well as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, which marks his fourth trip to the NFL's all-star contest.
Surprisingly, Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard made it in as a first alternate rather than a starter, that honor going to the Chiefs' Eric Berry. Pollard is the Ravens' leading tackler, with 98 combined this season, and he also has two sacks, six defensed passes and an interception. He also helped carry his defense when it was marred by a number of injuries to high-profile players for much of his season. Should Berry or his backup, LaRon Landry of the New York Jets, bow out, Pollard will get the nod.
Rice's inclusion on the list is a welcome honor for one of the AFC's premier backs. This season, he saw his carries and thus his yards dip with now former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron focusing more heavily on passing the ball than in years past. He has No. 3 duties at the position behind the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles and starter Arian Foster of the Houston Texans.
Of course, Rice wouldn't have been so successful over his tenure in Baltimore without the help of an excellent lead blocker, and again Pro Bowl voters have recognized Leach for what he is—the AFC's (and, frankly, the NFL's) best fullback.
Two names familiar to Pro Bowl fanatics (they do exist, right?) didn't make the cut this year—Ravens linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. With both battling injuries this season and not having the kind of on-field impact upon which they built their names, they were passed up—Lewis for the first time since 2005 and Suggs for the first time since 2009.
Jones' first Pro Bowl trip is well-deserved. His 32.1 yard average on kickoff returns and two kick return touchdowns are both the league's top numbers in those categories this season, and he also has a punt return for a touchdown. Since joining the Ravens, he's become one of their best weapons, and clearly a not-so-secret one after earning this honor. He may also contribute as a receiver in this year's Pro Bowl—last year, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who was voted in as a special teams player, did get snaps at receiver as well.
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