The draft format for the 2014 Pro Bowl has given the NFL's annual all-star showcase a little bit more excitement. Several players deservedly securing a bid for the first time will help add to the theatre in Honolulu, Hawaii's Aloha Stadium Jan. 26, 2014.
Voting ended Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, so it is still yet to be determined which of pro football's stars will make the competitive cut for these rosters.
Some veterans from the best teams aren't likely to participate due to either reaching Super Bowl XLVIII or mending—and not risking—injury that comes with the extra playoff football.
However, let's take a look at some promising prospective Pro Bowl rookies who should dazzle NFL fans if they're given the nod.
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns
It's almost impossible to believe this story. A 22-year-old, who had just two years of college football under his belt, came into the NFL without training camp a year ago and fared remarkably well in a vanilla West Coast offense.
Despite picking up a completely new system, being suspended for the first two games and having Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer as quarterbacks in 2013, Josh Gordon somehow leads the league in receiving.
As documented by Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, this is just the beginning for what Gordon aspires to be:
This doesn't make much sense, and it's a pretty much unprecedented rise to stardom that cannot be compared. Imagine what Gordon (80 receptions, 1,564 yards and nine touchdowns) could do with a surefire franchise QB.
One will be throwing to him in Hawaii, which should allow Gordon to end the game as the leading receiver.
Gordon is absolutely electric in the open field with shocking breakaway speed for a 6'3", 225-pound athlete. With improved precision in route-running, understanding of the position and general adjustment back to the gridiron, the sky is the limit for this young sensation.
In a Dec. 4 post for ESPN.com, Pat McManamon pointed out how Gordon was 10th among receivers in the fan ballot. That counts for one-third of the Pro Bowl voting.
The good news for Browns fans and Gordon is that coaches and players decide the rest.
Considering that Denver has a decent shot at playing for the Lombardi Trophy and that Welker is hurt at the moment, it's a pretty safe bet that Gordon should make it. If and when he does, anyone who has not caught on to how spectacular he's been will bear witness to some serious greatness.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Remember that whole notion that running backs aren't valuable and aren't worth a first-round pick? Eddie Lacy tumbled to Round 2 in the 2013 draft, where Packers general manager Ted Thompson snatched him up.
There was almost a hex of sorts on recent Alabama running backs between Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who were selected in the first round and haven't lived up to that billing.
Amid a spectacular maiden pro campaign, the powerful, 230-pound Lacy has scampered for 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns while also catching 33 passes for 242 more yards in 14 games. Some significant history has been made in posting those numbers:
Most impressive has been Lacy's stellar overall year despite the absence of superstar QB Aaron Rodgers for the past seven games.
Inserting a physical runner like Lacy into a Pro Bowl game that tends to be in short supply of defense and less intense contact, and the possibility of rolling up a bundle of yards is rather high.
Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills
One emerging stud with a relentless motor, a chip on his shoulder and someone who isn't liable to back down despite the diminished stakes of this game is Kiko Alonso.
The second-round Oregon product is in the running for being dubbed as the best rookie defender. Given the integral role he's played in the Bills' emerging powerhouse of a defense, it makes sense.
Alonso has 145 combined tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and four interceptions in the heart of Buffalo's outfit. He's given room to roam by an amazing defensive front featuring Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, but Alonso's own athleticism in space and in coverage is exceptional.
It would not be at all surprising to see Alonso making big plays, pass breakups and crushing hits when wide receivers or tight ends try to go over the middle in Honolulu.
BuffaloBills.com reported Dec. 4 that Alonso was leading the voting for his position, which is essentially a sure indicator that he will receive a bid.
Given the lack of national exposure the Bills receive due to their market and rather poor record, it will be exciting to see Alonso on a bigger stage to flash his talents.
Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams
It's possible that Robert Quinn will take home honors for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, ensuring his first Pro Bowl berth in a season in which he's racked up a whopping 18 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
Quinn leads the NFL in sacks and is second to Robert Mathis in forced fumbles—a testament to how well he's combined his natural gifts with work ethic. Marrying speed, power and technique, he's become a terrifying force off the edge.
Veteran defensive end William Hayes, a teammate of Quinn's, weighed in on the 2011 No. 14 overall pick, per FoxSports.com's Nate Latsch:
You think about Rob, man, they are trying to do everything possible to try to block him. Chips. Running backs. Tight ends. I mean, he's beating you any way he possibly can. You had the tackle out there complaining because he wasn't getting enough help. He's going against two or three guys at one point in time and he's still winning. He's special. We don't run across people like that. Not since I've been in the NFL. I haven't seen nobody close to him.
The Pro Bowl figures to be a pretty loose atmosphere with more passing than anything, but opposing signal-callers shouldn't be comfortable when Quinn is lined up and coming after them.
There is a certain nastiness to the St. Louis defense under head coach Jeff Fisher. The Rams play in a tremendous NFC West division and are the only team without double-digit wins, yet they are still a respectable 7-8.
A big reason for that has been Quinn, his fellow defensive end Chris Long and game plans that have leaned heavily on rookie RB Zac Stacy and the Quinn-anchored defense.
This will have a totally different feel than most Rams games. In Quinn's case, that will bode well for his production and the number of eye-popping plays he's bound to make in his first crack in Hawaii.
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