Pro Bowl 2014 Roster: Top Players to Watch in Annual Showcase

Austin GreenCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2014

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 01: Wide receiver Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns runs by linebacker Russell Allen #50 of the Jacksonville Jaguars at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The NFL Pro Bowl is a joke, but that won't stop some of the NFL's best from "earning" $26,000 or $53,000 according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, soaking in the Hawaiian sun and maybe even expending a little on-field effort for the fans. 

In an attempt to draw interest to this year's game, the ever-thirsty NFL switched to a draft format, forgoing the traditional conference split in favor of teams picked by Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. This has produced some intriguing matchups and perhaps given a little extra motivation to the players. 

If you choose to spend your Sunday evening in front of the TV (game starts at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC), then be sure to watch the following players. 

For complete rosters, click here and here.


Team Rice

Vontaze Burfict, ILB

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15:  Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles Jonathan Dwyer #27 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 15, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Despite going undrafted out of college, Vontaze Burfict has become one of the best young defensive players in the league. The inside linebacker led the NFL in tackles this season (171), while helping the Cincinnati Bengals win 11 games and reach the playoffs. 

But while Burfict has been playing like a great veteran, he's still getting paid like the undrafted 23-year-old he is.

Burfict signed a three-year, $1.441 million contract with the Bengals before the 2012 season. In 2013, his base salary was $480,000, and unless the Bengals extend him this offseason, he's set to make $570,000 in 2014. 

That means a victory check of $53,000 would equal 11 percent of his 2013 earnings and 9.2 percent of his expected 2014 salary.

So, while guys like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton (who both signed $22 million contracts recently) may not care about the outcome of this game, I'm assuming Burfict does. This could lead to fascinating results as he chases them through the backfield.

Other interesting things to consider: Does Burfict crush Bengals teammate and Team Sanders wideout A.J. Green when he comes over the middle? Does he freak out on the sidelines if other guys aren't trying as hard as he is? Maybe he punches someone in the groin like he did to Packers tight end Ryan Taylor. 

Either way, you should definitely keep an eye on Burfict this Sunday. 


Josh Gordon, WR

Like Burfict, Josh Gordon is a second-year player on a rookie deal, so the potential dollars to be won are more significant to him than most players in this game. 

Gordon is also a physical freak who officially snatched the title of "Best Receiver Not Named Calvin Johnson" this year. 

The Baylor product led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards, while finishing in the top 15 in catches (89) and touchdowns (nine). He also led the NFL with 30 catches of 20-plus yards. That's five more than second-place DeSean Jackson

Even more impressive than his numbers is the fact that he produced them while catching balls from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer. 

With quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers (and to a lesser extent Alex Smith) on his team this week, Gordon should provide plenty of highlights. 


Team Sanders

Eddie Lacy, RB

What happens when one of the NFL's most physical runners plays against a defense that's going at half-speed? Hopefully plenty of plays like the one above.

Eddie Lacy had a fantastic rookie season, finishing third in the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns and eighth in rushing yards (1,178). He also embarrassed some grown men, using his 230-pound frame to annihilate opposing defenders. 

Sticking with our theme here, Lacy is also on a rookie contract and making less than $1 million a year, so he could use the extra coin. If we're lucky, he'll treat the Team Rice defense like he did Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS Championship. 


Dez Bryant, WR

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys carries a pass for a fourth quarter touchdown against the defense of  Patrick Chung #23 of the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by R
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dez Bryant is one of the most electrifying receivers in the game, so it should be a thrill to watch him catch bombs from Luck, Newton and Nick Foles

Bryant lit up defenses this season, catching 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. He scored two touchdowns in three separate games this season, and he found the end zone in each of the Cowboys' last five contests. 

He also developed a reputation for melting down on the sideline, via, which is always fun. 

Whether he's on the field or on the sideline, Bryant should be one of the most interesting players on Sunday.