Pro Bowl

Pro Bowl 2014 Roster: Dark Horse MVP Candidates for Team Rice vs. Team Sanders

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears plays Green Bay Packers on December 29, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images
Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2014

For the first time ever, the Pro Bowl will be played in an "unconferenced" format, with all-time greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders choosing teams in a draft that resembled something from a fantasy football league.

Roger Goodell tinkered with the Pro Bowl with the hopes of injecting some life into the annual All-Star Game, which has suffered from a lack of effort (to say the least) in recent years.

If anything, the draft format brought out some friendly trash talk from some of the Pro Bowl selections. Brandon Marshall saw four wide receivers (including teammate Alshon Jeffery) come off the board before him, causing him to utter the following, per ESPN.com: "It looks like I'm waiting. This is sad—real sad."

12 Nov 1995: Jerry Rice #80 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball as Deion Sanders #21 of the Dallas Cowboys runs after him during the game at the Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. The 49ers defeated the Cowboys 38-20.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Sanders took Andrew Luck and Cam Newton early, while Rice selected Jimmy Graham and LeSean McCoy to play alongside active player captain Drew Brees. The rosters can be found here

The big-name superstars and early picks are the obvious choices for the MVP award, but look for a dark-horse player to sneak up and take the trophy. Here are some potential candidates.

 

Matt Forte, Team Rice

Matt Forte is one of the best running backs in the league, but he rarely gets the recognition that the likes of McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson do.

Forte ran for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns while tallying 594 yards and three touchdowns in the receiving game. If any running backs in the NFL are better than Forte at catching the ball out of the backfield, you can count them on one hand easily.

What’s more, he did some of his best work down the stretch run of the season with the playoffs on the line, as NFL on ESPN points out:

He often performs at his best in the clutch moments, and it doesn’t get more clutch than the Pro Bowl, right? 

All joking aside, look for him to make a number of plays in the passing game against the leaky defense we often see at the Pro Bowl.

 

Jordan Cameron, Team Sanders

Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns was quietly one of the best tight ends in the NFL this season, and he had the 917 yards and seven touchdowns to prove it.

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 8:  Jordan Cameron #84 of the Cleveland Browns catches a pass as Steve Gregory #28 of the New England Patriots defends at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

He fits the size and speed mold that so many teams are looking for in pass-catching tight ends in today’s league, even though he doesn’t get the attention of players like Graham and Vernon Davis.

Cameron is a dark-horse candidate to win the MVP award at the Pro Bowl because linebackers and safeties had trouble matching up with him when they exerted maximum effort during the regular season. He is a walking mismatch, and it’s safe to say those who will be defending him won’t exactly be playing like Ray Lewis in the Super Bowl. 

Plus, if he can post the numbers he did with the quarterbacks that the Browns had this season, imagine what he will do with Nick Foles, Newton and Luck behind center for Team Sanders.

 

Mike Tolbert, Team Rice

That’s right, a fullback has a legitimate chance to win the Pro Bowl’s MVP honors (if you want to argue that Mike Tolbert is a running back, that is fine, but he is listed as a fullback on Rice’s roster).

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 22:   Mike Tolbert #35 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Pro Bowl is almost always an offensive-oriented game, and the guess here is that there will be plenty of opportunities inside the 5-yard line all game long. There may not be a better back in the NFL than the lumbering Tolbert for punching it into the end zone at the goal line.

He scored seven times this year, often from inside the 10.

Look for him to record a couple of early touchdowns in that fashion. If he does, his teammates may realize that they can get him numerous scores, and getting Tolbert touchdowns could turn into a game within the game.

If it does, he could walk away with the MVP trophy.

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