The 2014 Pro Bowl will be different than all those that came before it. Gone are teams based on conference affiliations, and here are teams based on the whims of NFL legends Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.
These two former players—who, by many accounts, are the greatest to ever play their respective positions—started off this affair by selecting two captains apiece: Rice went with Drew Brees and Robert Quinn and Sanders selected J.J. Watt and Jamaal Charles.
That was followed by the selection of defensive and offensive interior linemen, fullbacks, special teams players and punters. As if those guys don't get beat on outside of the limelight enough in the regular season, they don't even get the attention in this draft.
On the second day, everyone else was drafted in a drawn-out and tropical process on the NFL Network.
After all of that, here are the rosters we are left with:
|Team Sanders||Position||Team Rice|
|Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts||QB||Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers|
|Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers||QB||Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs|
|Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles||QB||Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints|
|Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs||RB||LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles|
|Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers||RB||Matt Forte, Chicago Bears|
|Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins||RB||DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys|
|A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals||WR||Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears|
|Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys||WR||Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns|
|Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers||WR||Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears|
|DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles||WR||Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals|
|Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns||TE||Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints|
|Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys||TE||Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons|
|Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs||OT||Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns|
|Trent Williams, Washington Redskins||OT||Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys|
|Duane Brown, Houston Texans||OT||Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers|
|Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills||DE||Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints|
|Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers||DE||Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins|
|Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs||OLB||Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs|
|Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins (via trade)||OLB||John Abraham, Arizona Cardinals|
|Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens||OLB||Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts (via trade)|
|Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers||ILB||Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals|
|Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars||ILB||Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs|
|Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears||CB||Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans|
|Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals||CB||Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns|
|Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers||CB||Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs|
|Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins||CB||Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets|
|T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns||S||Antrel Rolle, New York Giants|
|Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs||S||Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills|
|Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers||S||Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers|
|Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens||K||Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots|
|Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings||PR||Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs|
|Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions||DT||Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys|
|Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers||DT||Marcell Dareus, Buggalo Bills|
|Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs||DT||Kyle Williams, Buffalo Bills|
|Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens||OG||Jahri Evans, Philadelphia Eagles|
|Logan Mankins, New England Patriots||OG||Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints|
|Kyle Long, St. Louis Rams||OG||Evan Mathis, New Orleans Saints|
|Mike Pouncey, Chicago Bears||C||Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers|
|Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns||C||Nick Mangold, New York Jets|
|Marcel Reece, Oakland Raiders||FB||Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers|
|Matthew Slater, New England Patriots||ST||Justin Bethel, Arizona Cardinals|
|Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins||P||Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams|
We will see if any of this helps the product of the game. So far, it is not getting universal acclaim:
John Madden rips the Pro Bowl, says "it's become an embarrassment, it's become a joke" http://t.co/0azzIKLi8k— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 23, 2014
If nothing else, this new process makes evaluating the rosters more interesting, and I'll do just that.
I'm going to offer up grades and break the players into two groups: offense and defense. Then, I'm going to break down each of those groupings into two sub-categories: passing game and running game—which is a woefully poor way to do this, but it is nicer them calling "players that matter" and "players that don't matter."
In football games that matter, those latter labels would be an insult, but in the Pro Bowl, there isn't the same level of impact being made by players in the trenches.
QB: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith
TE: Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez
With Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints reunited, Team Rice has a wonderful foundation for success.
Rice also went for physical receivers who can make plays all over the field to pair with his experienced quarterbacks. This is the foundation for a team that features precision passing and possession football. My only criticism is that Rice left a lot of speed for Sanders
TE: Jason Witten, Jordan Cameron
Sanders went with a youth movement with his quarterbacks. Although his passers are not as polished, there is more collective mobility.
I prefer Sanders' receivers over Rice's, in the context of this game, due to this being a group that thrives more as a whole on speed rather than physicality. Both Brown and Jackson have the speed and moves to take a short pass to the house, and Green and Bryant have a strong size/speed combination.
In the less physical environment of the Pro Bowl, speed kills.
FB: Mike Tolbert, Panthers
T: Joe Thomas, Tyron Smith, Jordan Gross
G: Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs, Evan Mathis
C: Ryan Kalil, Nick Mangold
Rice not only gave Drew Brees his favorite target, but also two of his guards. That helped give Rice a strong and bullish offensive line.
In fact, I prefer this offensive line over Sanders', and the potential is there for this team to open up big holes for the talented backs.
You can't knock Rice for selecting a stable of backs led by LeSean McCoy and the blocking, running and receiving of Mike Tolbert.
FB: Marcel Reece
T: Trent Williams, Duane Brown, Branden Albert
G: Marshal Yanda, Logan Mankins, Kyle Long
C: Mike Pouncey, Alex Mack
As I said, I'm not as big a fan of Sanders' offensive line, although it should be a touch better in pass protection, which could lead to rushing yards from the quarterbacks.
Like Rice, there is no knocking Sanders for his choice of backs. Jamaal Charles is a touchdown waiting to happen, and Marcel Reece's ability to leave the backfield and catch passes down the field is perfect for the Pro Bowl.
CB: Joe Haden, Brandon Flowers, Antonio Cromartie, Alterraun Verner
S: Eric Reid, Jairus Byrd, Antrel Rolle
As far as Pro Bowlers go, Rice has a blue-collar group in the secondary. His corners aren't boom-or-bust players, and they aren't going to wow people with insane size/speed ratios.
Although Joe Haden has a costly lapse from time to time, this is a group of corners and safeties that can be counted on during every play. That should work out well in the Pro Bowl, where teams are constantly hunting for the big play.
CB: Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes, Tim Jennings
S: Eric Berry, Eric Weddle, T.J. Ward
The secondary group for Sanders' team is a little more boom-or-bust, but there are some highlight makers in this group.
Of course, along with the highlights come the occasional lapses and penchant to give up the big play. In the Pro Bowl, I see a gambling type like Patrick Peterson or Tim Jennings only making even riskier decisions.
DE: Robert Quinn, Cameron Jordan, Cameron Wake, Jason Hatcher
DT: Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Jason Hatcher
OLB: Justin Houston, Robert Mathis, John Abraham
ILB: Vontaze Burfict, Derrick Johnson
This is a good and versatile front seven for Mr. Rice. He's got power up the middle with his pair of Bills defensive tackles and then has inside linebackers who pick up tackles by the handfuls.
On the edge, Justin Houston, Robert Mathis and John Abraham are a menacing pass-rushing trio, but it is not the most well-rounded group. Although the range and coverage skills of Derrick Johnson should help make up for that, as they did in Kansas City this year.
DE: J.J. Watt, Greg Hardy, Mario Williams
DT: Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe
OLB: Brian Orakpo, Tamba Hali, Terrell Suggs
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Paul Posluszny
Well, this group is just frightening. J.J. Watt with Ndamukong Suh on his inside and Tamba Hali on his outside? No thank you...is what quarterbacks would be saying if this wasn't the Pro Bowl.
Of course, the tropical setting tells us that pass-rushing is not going to be a big part of this game.
Still, this group isn't going to leave many holes for running backs, either.