NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis lead the 49ers' Pro Bowl contingent
The Pro Bowl rosters have been officially unveiled, and, befitting their status as defending NFC champions and a 2013 playoff squad, the 49ers lead the way with eight selections. It’s a solid group from head to toe, and befits the solid season the 49ers have had this year.
There aren’t too many snubs to mention—when you’re a 10-plus win team like San Francisco, your players tend to get the benefit of the doubt—when it comes down to, say, Ahmad Brooks against Lavonte David, the player in the red and gold will win out more often than not.
Hopefully for 49er fans, none of these players will end up playing in the Pro Bowl, as they’ll be too busy preparing for Super Bowl XLVIII. One way or another, though, here are the 49ers’ Pro Bowlers and alternates for 2013.
Is Frank Gore ever going to age? Hitting his age-30 season this year, you’d expect Gore to have hit a wall as so many of his peers have—studies have indicated that once a running back gets past age 27 or so, they begin to decline.
Barring a 200-or-more-yard day against Arizona, Gore’s numbers will be slightly down from last season, it’s true, but they’re definitely in the same ballpark, and he still keeps churning out 70-plus yards per game week in and week out.At some point, he’ll surely drop off—but he was incredibly crucial to the 49ers offense this season as the passing game sputtered and floundered.
It’s nice to see Vernon Davis return to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2009; his 12 touchdowns, the most since that season, more likely than not had something to do with that. This season has seen him put up his most yards from scrimmage since at least 2010, and, especially with the turmoil that occurred at the tight end position in New England, he was a fairly safe choice to slide into the top four.
With Tony Gonzalez retiring and Rob Gronkowski’s health in question, Davis could very well see Pro Bowl appearances becoming a regular thing in his future.
You can make arguments for a lot of players who missed the squad, and you can make arguments about why certain players who did make the game shouldn’t have. There are only a handfull of players who should be locks, and Joe Staley is one of them.
Here’s an amazing fact for you—Staley’s only had two penalties accepted on him all year long. That’s incredible—by comparison, fellow Pro Bowler Joe Thomas has had nine penalties go against him this season. That’s not to say Thomas isn’t worthy; he most certainly is. It just highlights how difficult it is to achieve that feat.
On the other side of the coin is Mike Iupati, who has missed four games this year with a sprained MCL, and had a bit of a rough go of it at times even when healthy. He hasn’t been horrible by any stretch of the imagination—his run-blocking, especially, was still a strength of his this season. It’s just a little surprising he got the nod over, say, Evan Mathis of Philadelphia, who has played well all season without missing time.
Alex Boone was named an alternate, and honestly, you could make the argument he should be swapping places with Iupati. He’s been solid all year long, and stepped in nicely against St. Louis when Staley went down after only seven snaps.
Anquan Boldin also made the alternate list—it was always going to be hard to make the loaded wide receiver field this season. Even Alshon Jeffery up in Chicago couldn’t make the final cut. Boldin’s season, where he mostly had to carry the entire receiving corps by himself, deserved to be noticed, anyway.
Justin Smith makes the team again, this time at defensive tackle. Never mind the fact that he has started every game this year at right defensive end, because the 49ers play a 3-4, making Smith not a true pass-rusher. He got slotted down into the inside—while J.J. Watt, in Houston’s 3-4, got listed as a defensive end.
I’m sure this makes sense to somebody in NFL headquarters, but regardless of position, you’re never going to hear an argument too strong against Smith, especially as he’s upped his sack total to 6.5 this season, and gone over 50 quarterback pressures. There are some deserving nose tackles whom Smith may bump off the list, however.
The 49ers are lucky enough to be starting three Pro Bowl linebackers in Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, and NaVorro Bowman—imagine if Aldon Smith had stayed in the lineup the whole year. They’ll take their trio all the way to the bank, however—Willis and Bowman are no-doubters, and each could possibly start in the game itself. If the 49ers do end up missing the Super Bowl, it might be interesting to see how each of them do running opposing defenses—or, at least as interesting as the Pro Bowl ever gets.
Jim Harbaugh has been stumping for Bowman to win Defensive Player of the Year and, while he’s no shoo-in, he’s definitely put his name into contention there. Willis, of course, is Willis—an almost sure-fire future Hall of Famer at the top of his game. Brooks has played admirably this season, especially in the time Smith was out in rehab—there was a chance the pass rush could have evaporated without him, but the least acclaimed member of the 49ers linebacking corps stepped up over that month-long stretch. Honestly, however, if I could only take three 49ers linebackers with me to the Pro Bowl, I think I’d slide Smith over Brooks.
You could argue that there were a couple snubs in the secondary, but both Donte Whitner and Eric Reid earned alternate nods. Reid is pushing for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and I think he’s got an excellent chance—the four interceptions this season aren’t going to hurt his cause, but what’s impressed me the most is his intelligence and technique. He’s been lauded for falling down after intercepting Mike Glennon, trading in a chance at a touchdown to simply end the game, and he hasn’t been called for a penalty once this season—no holding, no pass interference, nothing. His 929 snaps are the most for a 49er without a penalty this season, with Willis in second at 807.
No starters, but Andy Lee had had another great season, and was named the reserve punter, while C.J. Spillman was listed as an alternate on special teams. No argument with either of those selections.
Again, there weren’t any real snubs for the 49ers, thanks to their status as a successful team, but there were a couple players I thought had chances to make the team that were left stranded.
Aldon Smith probably got left off thanks to his five-week stint in rehab, but I would have liked to see him make the team, anyway—he’s been a force every week he’s been on the field, and while his 8.5 sacks aren’t close to the 19.5 he had last season, he’s been every bit the force in the pass rush. He has a legitimate case to make as a major snub.
Having Tramaine Brock make the team after only becoming a regular starter in Week 12 would have been a longshot, for sure, but he’s had a great year, first taking the nickelback spot from Nnamdi Asomugha and then the starting spot from Tarell Brown; he’ll be a name to watch for the Pro Bowl next season.
If you wanted to bring a true nose tackle onto the team, rather than sliding Justin Smith in as a defensive tackle, I think Glenn Dorsey would have made a solid alternate pick—I don’t think he quite had the numbers or playtime to justify making the final squad, thanks to his lack of pass-rush ability. He’s had a very solid season at the nose, though.