Aloha 2009: Picking the Skill Positions for the Pro Bowl
Ah, the Pro Bowl. Not the biggest stage, not the highest-rated game, not even the best performances.
But you'd have to be crazy to deny that the players are the biggest names.
In that spirit, and with the regular-season opener just days away, I'm going to be predicting who I believe will represent the NFC and the AFC at the skill positions.
Yes, only the skill positions. O-line is too much of a crapshoot, tight end is too easy (Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow - next question, please), and defense is too random - picking the big names is too easy and picking the breakouts is too hard.
Your kick returners? Well, one of them will be Devin Hester. I guarantee it.
So, I'll start with the NFC:
Well, let's start with process of elimination.
Chicago: Safe to say Chicago won't be sending anyone under center (unless Rex Grossman can shake off the cobwebs).
Green Bay: I like Aaron Rodgers, but I'm not sold on him yet. I don't see Brian Brohm starting too many games either.
Minnesota: If you've read my other article, you should know that I'm not sold on Tarvaris Jackson yet either. John David Booty neither.
Detroit: Let's all agree that Jon Kitna isn't going to Hawai'i anytime soon. Neither is Dan Orlovsky and especially not Drew Henson.
OK, then. That's the NFC North.
As for the South, we may have a bit to work with.
Atlanta: OK, Matt Ryan gets eliminated right off the bat. Atlanta's O-line is too shaky and their receiving corps too inconsistent to allow him to do much of anything at all. Roddy White showed some skill last year, but can it continue? I don't think so, especially with Joe Horn gone.
New Orleans: Drew Brees is looking to have a rebound year after being forced to carry the team on his arm in '07. Opposed to Atlanta, New Orleans looks to have a solid group at wideout - Marques Colston, David Patten, Devery Henderson, and the hopefully revitalized Robert Meachem. Anyway, I like his chances and I say he lands a starting spot.
Carolina/Tampa Bay: As for Delhomme and Garcia, time will tell. I say Garcia gets another alternate spot and Delhomme gets another season-ending injury. But if he remains healthy, he could very well be an alternate.
And out West...
Arizona: Matt Leinart or Kurt Warner? That seems to be the question in Arizona. No matter who starts, I don't see either of them landing either an alternate or a starting spot. This may very well be the year Leinart turns it around, but as for now, he's in the hot seat.
Seattle: Matt Hasselbeck, given his running back situation, may well face the same problem Drew Brees faced last year. And his passing options just aren't as good as Brees'. Still, if Julius Jones does better in Seattle than he did in Big D, then he should have no problem landing another starting spot.
San Francisco: None of San Francisco's QBs seem worthy of a trip to Hawaii (J.T. O'Sullivan, Alex Smith, and Shaun Hill; Niner fans, you may commence being frightened).
St. Louis: It may well send its leader if he plays his cards right. If they can avoid the rash of injuries from last year - and that's a big if -Marc Bulger could force his way into the reckoning for a Pro Bowl spot. He's got Torry Holt, one of the most consistent WRs in the game. Drew Bennett just might return to the form he showed as the #1 wideout in Tennessee. Steven Jackson is back and primed to make up for a disappointing '07. Orlando Pace may return full-strength to anchor that O-line. But for the time being, I'll say this: Marc, make sure you're not doing anything that weekend, but don't reserve the hotel room just yet.
Finally, the NFC East.
Dallas: Tony Romo seems like the only sure option right now - and that's not just my love of the Cowboys speaking. TO, Jason Witten, and a monstrous O-line more or less ensure that he should be hopping his third plane to Honolulu come '09.
Philadelphia: Donovan McNabb has been beset by injuries in years previous, but it seems like he's ready come back and prove all the haters wrong. Of course, that's what everyone said about McNabb two years ago. And last year. But, if he can avoid the injuries and return to 2005 form, he may well be headed to Hawaii. For now, I'll consider him a longshot.
New York Giants: Eli Manning - same deal. If he's regular season Eli Manning, he may want to make other plans that weekend. But if he turns back into Super Eli, the hero of the 2008 Playoffs, then he could very easily be sitting next to Peyton on the plane.
Washington: I don't consider Jason Campbell a possibility - his numbers are solid, but his injury history is questionable.
So, to recap:
Buy your plane ticket now: Tony Romo (DAL), Matt Hasselbeck (SEA), Drew Brees (NO)
Reserve the hotel room, but be ready to get a refund: Jeff Garcia (TB), Eli Manning (NYG)
Keep the weekend open, but don't reserve the room: Donovan McNabb (PHI), Jake Delhomme (CAR), Marc Bulger (STL)
Make other plans for that weekend: Matt Ryan (ATL), Rex Grossman (CHI), any QB for San Francisco.
NFC Running Backs
Once again we start our journey with the NFC North.
Minnesota: And this time we start our journey with the sure thing: Adrian Peterson. I know, I know, my article before this one was saying "don't believe the hype brought on by one year of play", but it's too hard not to pick the guy for a spot. Barring injury, he'll be headed for Honolulu.
Green Bay: Ryan Grant is a question mark of the largest proportion. Also, it seems like Green Bay likes the running back committee option too much.
Chicago: They aren't sending anyone anytime soon. Hey, just like quarterback! Matt Forte may surprise, but he just as likely doesn't. Kevin Jones will get injured again - mark my words.
Detroit: They may be free of Mike Martz, but that doesn't mean their running game is at all improved. I don't see Kevin Smith or Tatum Bell saying "Aloha" anytime soon.
And in the South...
New Orleans: They adopted a running-back committee. Reggie Bush is looking like a player unworthy of the #2 draft pick. Deuce is injured. I don't really see either of them going.
Tampa Bay: They have a lot of question marks. Can Earnest Graham carry the team if Cadillac gets injured? Can Cadillac remain uninjured? Actually, if the answer to that second one is "yes", and Cadillac puts up stats similar to his rookie year, he could very well be a starter or an alternate. For now, though, I'll give him the same advice I just gave Marc Bulger.
Carolina: They heavily rely on carry-splitting, so neither DeAngelo Williams nor Jonathan Stewart will get the individual stats needed to get noticed.
Atlanta: Here we've got the only team that looks like it has a true #1 back. Turner the Burner has looked impressive behind LT, but will his first year out of the other man's shadow be more Dominic Rhodes or more Chester Taylor? Either way, he's not going to have the stats necessary to compete.
Arizona: I dunno, I still kind of like Edgerrin James. If Arizona can win the key games it needs to and he can improve on his YPC average (3.6 in two years with Arizona), he could return to national prominence and get the attention he once got in Indy. For now, I'm getting an alternate vibe from him.
San Francisco: Frank Gore. Wouldn't you love to be him? Two years removed from leading the NFC in rushing yards, he's basically forced to take snaps from...well, either a nobody, a journeyman, or some guy who's really starting to look like a bust. I know it, you know it, the 49ers know it, and most importantly, the opposing defenses know it. If you're playing San Francisco, you can pretty much just put eight guys in the box all year long and you wouldn't have to worry about a thing. Gore's legit, but I think even LT would have trouble facing that kind of constant coverage. So, I'll put him in the same pile I put Bulger in.
Seattle: Neither Julius Jones or Maurice Morris looks to be a Pro-Bowl caliber back, though Jones could still surprise. Let's put it this way: at the end of the season, Dallas is either going to look like morons for letting him go or they're going to look like geniuses for letting him go. As of right now, I say "geniuses". No Hawaii for you, Julius.
St Louis: Steven Jackson. If he can shake out the cobwebs from a down 2007, he might be heading on another flight. It's all a big "if", but I like the guy too much not to award him a starting position. This is my official "What? You're Crazy" pick for starter.
Lastly, the East.
Dallas: Marion Barber. I was surprised when he went to the Pro Bowl last year, honestly. There was both pleasant surprise and shock in there. Did a player who didn't break the 1,000 yard mark deserve to go? As much as I like the guy, I have to say he's an alternate at best. Same deal for Felix Jones - they're splitting carries, so don't pencil either of them in.
Philadelphia: Brian Westbrook, however, gets my nod for the third starting spot. He proved he can carry Philly on his own, and if McNabb remains healthy, he'll do even better. If such is the case, I think he honestly might finish among the top five rushers.
New York Giants: Like so many other teams, none of their players are going to get the individual stats necessary to land a roster spot. Brandon Jacobs looked good. So did Ahmad Bradshaw. But neither one looks Pro-Bowl worthy.
Washington: Clinton Portis is always an enigma. Just when you're ready to give up on him, he churns out a 150-yard performance and restores faith. Just when you're ready to hand him a Pro Bowl spot, he gets injured or gives a pathetic performance. I'm putting him in my "longshot" category, though honestly, he's either going to be competing for the first spot on the depth chart or so far out of the converstaion that you mock me for writing this article.
So, let's recap:
Buy your plane ticket now:Adrian Peterson (MIN), Steven Jackson (STL), Brian Westbrook (PHI)
Reserve the hotel room, but be ready to get a refund: Edgerrin James (ARI)
Keep the weekend open, but don't reserve the room: Marion Barber (DAL), Clinton Portis (WAS), Frank Gore (SF), Cadillac Williams (TB)
NFC Wide Receivers
Last year's roster: Terrell Owens (DAL), Larry Fitzgerald (ARI), Donald Driver (GB), Torry Holt (STL)
As customary, we'll start up North:
Minnesota: If you read my other article, you know my feelings regarding Bernard Berrian. If you didn't, I'll sum them up here: he didn't deserve that $42 million with $16 million guaranteed. No Pro Bowl here, nor among any of Minnesota's other wideouts.
Green Bay: They return a talented corps of receivers, including Pro Bowler Donald Driver. There's no reason he shouldn't return unless Rodgers bombs at the QB position. However, that's a pretty big "unless"...for now, let's call Driver an alternate.
Chicago: They, as customary, have long since been eliminated from sending any offensive players to the Pro Bowl. Surprised? I thought not.
Detroit: They have the talented Roy Williams and the talented Calvin Johnson. If Williams returns to Pro Bowl form and Johnson shows some of the skill that got him drafted #2 overall, then this could be a very hard choice. For now, I'll tell Roy to reserve the hotel room, and tell Calvin to keep the weekend open.
And down South:
New Orleans: The sheer fact that Marques Colston has been ignored makes me very displeased. Two straight 1,000-yard seasons out of a seventh-round pick! That, dear readers, is amazing. If he builds on his success from the first two years, then he'll have no problem going to Hawaii. So, drum roll, he's my first choice for a starting spot. If Robert Meachem commands the number two position, he could very well be an alternate.
Tampa Bay: Joey Galloway still has the skills. He's in his late thirties and plays like he's in his mid-twenties. But his supporting cast is too plain (Michael Clayton, anyone? Anyone?) to give him much consideration. He'll be facing double-teams all year, and he won't be getting the numbers necessary to head to Honolulu.
Atlanta: Roddy White really impressed last year. 1,202 yards and 6 TDs gave the Atlanta faithful some much needed hope. I know what I said about Matt Ryan. I know I don't think he'll continue his trends. But if he can prove me wrong, he'll be a starter. For now, let's just tell him to clear his calendar, but don't make any plans. As for Atlanta's other options...oh, what other options?
Carolina: And we come to Steve Smith. He's currently missing the first two games of the regular season thanks to his temper. Given the position that John Fox is in, that took some cojones. Anyway, Steve Smith is the Clinton Portis of the wide receiver position. He's either competing for the spot of "best at his position", or he's so far gone that people mock you for bringing him up. He's still capable of pulling off the big play, so...look, I could go back and forth on this all day. If he's healthy, he's going to Hawaii, no questions asked. If he's not, he's not. For now, I'll tell him to keep the weekend open. I just don't see DJ Hackett, Muhsin Muhammad, or Dwayne Jarrett going to the Pro Bowl.
Arizona: They are stacked, baby. Anquan Boldin. Larry Fitzgerald. Need I say more? One of these two men is going to the Pro Bowl. Maybe both. For now, I'll give Fitzgerald the nod and tell Boldin to book a room - his recent contract whining may mean he's wearing another helmet in Honolulu. Jerheme Urban is a good third option, but not Pro Bowl caliber. And Early Doucet won't be going anywhere.
San Francisco: Sadly, they don't know the meaning of stacked. Oh, sure, Isaac Bruce may return to "Greatest Show On Turf" form (remember what Martz did with Shaun McDonald last year? He loves guys that used to play for St. Louis). And maybe Bryant Johnson will prove that he's every bit as good as the guys he backed up. But those are maybes. San Francisco needs definites, and their only definite will be facing blitzes galore. Shocking, I know.
Seattle: They have Bobby Engram, who just had a career year. But let's be frank - the guy is 35. I just don't see him duplicating his '07 stats in '08 - especially with Deion Branch hurt and the WR roster looking...slim, to say the least. He's going to be facing all kinds of double-coverage.
St. Louis: Torry Holt is one of the most dependable players in the league: eight straight seasons of at least 1,000 yards and 80 catches. He's my safety net for the Pro Bowl position - if no one else steps up, he'll get the nod. If not, he doesn't. For now, I'll say "book the hotel room".
And The East:
Dallas: Terrell Owens. If TO doesn't let age slow him down, then there's no reason he can't return to Hawaii. Terry Glenn is gone, but Big D got by just fine without him on the roster in '07 - there's no reason TO can't head back to the Pro Bowl. He gets the third nod.
Philadelphia: Maybe, MAYBE DeSean Jackson might be the answer to their wideout woes. If he's doing great come midseason, he might be my pick for the rookie that sneaks into the Pro Bowl. But for now, let's just assume he's another #2 receiver, much like the 50 other #2 receivers on Philly's roster.
New York Giants: They have Plaxico Burress. As much as I dislike the Giants, I have to admit: Plaxico's legit. I say this is the year he steps it up and gets that Pro Bowl nod. That's right, nod number four.
Washington: To save you the trouble, I'll just say their wideouts won't be going. Santana Moss will choke in the crucial games and Antwaan Randle El isn't worth mentioning.
So, to recap:
Buy your plane ticket now: Marques Colston (NO), Larry Fitzgerald (ARI), Terrell Owens (DAL), Plaxico Burress (NYG)
Reserve the hotel room, but be ready to get a refund: Anquan Boldin (ARI), Torry Holt (STL), Roy Williams (DET), Donald Driver (GB)
Keep the weekend open, but don't reserve the room: Calvin Johnson (DET), Steve Smith (CAR), Roddy White (ATL)
Make other plans: Joey Galloway (TB), Santana Moss (WAS), Bobby Engram (SEA)
American Football Conference
We'll start with the North this time around:
Cincinnati: Carson Palmer is a beast. He took 100% of his team's snaps last year, and he's looking like one of the few #1 draft picks to live up to the hype. He has two top-flight wide receivers to throw to...well, usually. Things will fall apart this year for Cincinnati in a big way. With...Ocho Cinco injured, TJ Houshmandzadeh is going to face double-coverage all year long. That's not going to be good for Palmer. He'll do the best he can, but I don't see him in Honolulu this year.
Baltimore: Hey, they're the AFC's answer to Chicago. Multiple options at QB, all very frightening. Safe to say Joe Flacco, Kyle Boller, or Troy Smith won't be heading to the Pro Bowl. Not to mention the suspect wideouts, the line recovering from the loss of its leader...I could go on, but I have other teams to cover.
Cleveland: Derek Anderson got the nod last year after Tom Brady pulled out. Cleveland's got a tougher schedule this year, so I think it'll take a few more pullouts to get him in the roster this year. Still, he's got some very talented targets and a staunch O-line. He just might do it. Derek Anderson, you may book the hotel room.
Pittsburgh: Big Ben does more than keep accurate time. Now he completes accurate passes. He seems to have recovered from his motorcycle shenanigans and looks to actually follow a solid performance with - you may gasp - yet another solid performance. I'm not going to pencil him in for a starter slot, but I am going to tell him to book a hotel room.
And down South:
Tennessee: Vince Young isn't going to any Pro Bowls soon. Neither is Kerry Collins. Fair enough? Thought so.
Houston: Matt Schaub showed some skill at the QB position last year. Also, he's throwing to Andre Johnson. Also, the O-line seemed to gel last year. However, until he can complete a season, I've gotta take a pass on selecting him for the Pro Bowl.
Indianapolis: Is Peyton Manning injured right now? Yes, but he'll recover. He's an ironman. He's a beast. He's going to another Pro Bowl. No more needs to be said.
Jacksonville: There have been plenty of Pro Bowl snubs in the history of the sport, but none quite as great as David Garrard's last year. Come on: the guy led his team to a fantastic record and only turned over the ball three times. And this is after everyone wondered where the Jags would end up after they got rid of Leftwich. Well, I say he has another fantastic season - sure, he doesn't have much to work with at WR, but he didn't last year and he got by - and I say this time he isn't ignored. Buy your plane ticket, David.
And out West:
San Diego: To me, Philip Rivers has always seemed like a caretaker quarterback. Not the flashiest, not the glitziest, but you could always count on him to get the job done. He's not going to go to the Pro Bowl, but he'll do just fine. If there's not a lot of choice, he'll get an alternate slot, so I'll tell him to keep the calendar clear.
Denver: Jay Cutler seems to get a lot of positive press. And it's true: he's a solid player. But not quite solid enough to make me jump on the bandwagon.
Kansas City: Hey, Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard walked into a bar. But it wasn't a bar in Hawaii, cause they're not going to the Pro Bowl. Seriously, Croyle may be on the way out. Huard, while solid filling in for Trent Green, has displayed absolutely none of the poise he showed during that stretch in '06. The best they can hope for is a high draft pick and a solid young QB.
Oakland: JaMarcus Russell now has Javon Walker to throw to - until he gets injured. I don't know what Al Davis was on when he paid that much money, but I'm sure it's illegal. Obviously, JaMarcus sits at home.
Finally, the East:
New England: Tom Brady is injured right now, but he'll come back. I've heard a lot of naysayers claim that New England won't be as good because...get this...Donte Stallworth is gone. Whew, there's a gamechanger right there. He's still throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and he'll still get the Pro Bowl spot.
Miami: I'm trying to ask the hard-hitting questions to Chad Pennington, but he keeps getting injured from them. And behind him, I don't see any Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks among Henne, Beck, or McCown.
New York Jets: Brett Favre can play one of two ways. We'll either see the sleek, polished 1996 edition that showed back up in 2007; or we'll see the rusted, beat-up edition that played in '05. If it's the former, we may have some serious competition to deal with. If it's the latter, we can take him off the board. Clear your calendar, Brett.
Buffalo: I really, really like Trent Edwards. He's shown a lot of poise as a rookie, and Buffalo looks to improve this year. If he's leading that charge, he may well be in the Pro Bowl discussion. Clear your calendar, Trent.
So, to recap:
Buy your plane ticket now: Peyton Manning (IND), Tom Brady (NE), David Garrard (JAX)
Reserve the hotel room, but be ready to get a refund: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT), Derek Anderson (CLE)
Keep the weekend open, but don't reserve the room: Brett Favre (NYJ), Trent Edwards (BUF), Philip Rivers (SD)
Make other plans: Baltimore, Miami QBs
AFC Running Backs
Last year's roster: LaDainian Tomlinson (SD, injured); Joseph Addai (IND); Willie Parker (PIT, injured); Fred Taylor (JAX, injury replacement); Willis McGahee (BAL, injury replacement)
Cincinnati: Rudi Johnson had a massively down year in '07. Kenny Watson was better, but not by much. And sadly, I don't see either of them improving enough to go to Hawaii.
Baltimore: Unlike Chicago, Baltimore has a ray of sunshine at running back: Willis McGahee. Much like Frank Gore, however, he's going to be facing eight men in the box for most of the year, given the Ravens' terrible QB situation. I'll tell him to book his hotel room, though - he may become an alternate again through with a heroic effort.
Cleveland: Jamal Lewis actually had a really good year in '07. 1,304 yards and 9 TDs at 4.4 YPC - and he really, in my opinion, should have been Comeback Player of the Year. Well, I say he builds on that great year and - call me crazy - but he's my first pick for an AFC slot.
Pittsburgh: Willie Parker earned the slot last year thanks to his high rushing yardage. He only scored twice all year. Well, he'll score more this year, but I don't think he'll get a starting slot. I say he gets an alternate; so I'll tell him to book the hotel room.
And in the South:
Tennessee: Even more from the "guys you didn't expect to do anything that did" files: LenDale White. The training-camp word was that he was overweight and unable to compete. The regular-season word was that he ran for 1110 yards and 7 TDs. While impressive, Chris Johnson will cut into those numbers a bit, so I don't see the Titans sending an RB to Hawaii.
Houston: Houston has a veritable army of halfbacks. Steve Slaton, Ahman Green, Chris Brown (though injured). If anything, it looks like they'll use all of them, so none of them will accrue the individual stats necessary to earn a trip.
Indianapolis: Indy fields Joseph Addai. But Dominic Rhodes is back, so he'll be splitting carries again. Which means he might want to hold off on that return trip.
Jacksonville: Fred Taylor overcame the yearly Pro Bowl snub to make his first trip. So should he book a return flight? Not necessarily. If Maurice Jones-Drew can continue his fantastic production, it looks like they'll share the backfield. If either one gets injured early, look for the other one to contend for a spot. I'll tell both of them to clear their calendars.
And out West:
San Diego: LT is the man. Need I say more? Unless he gets injured or San Diego has a catastrophic season, he has probably already bought his ticket. And he was right to do so.
Denver: Running back has always been a strong position for Mike Shanahan. See, one of the NFL's eternal questions will always be "is it his system that makes RBs so successful or does he just find really great ones?" Sadly, this year it looks like the question might go unanswered as second-year Selvin Young prepares to carry the load. I don't see a Pro Bowl back in Denver, and given Shanahan's pedigree, that's a scary thing.
Kansas City: Larry Johnson is one of my favorite players. It's just sad that he's going to be facing the same situations that Frank Gore and Willis McGahee will be facing: nigh-unto-constant pressure. If either Croyle or Huard step it up and force the defense to start thinking pass, he could very well earn a starting spot. For now, I'll say "clear your calendar".
Oakland: Oakland, much like Houston before them, has a bunch of talented guys in the backfield, all of whom will share carries - and none of whom will accrue the stats needed for a Pro Bowl trip.
Finally, the East:
New England: Laurence Maroney is not worthy of a Pro Bowl spot. Kevin Faulk, while really good at what he does, isn't either. However, if LaMont Jordan returns to the form he showed during his first year in Oakland, he might just get the attention necessary to land an alternate slot. That's right: LaMont Jordan is my sleeper alternate pick. LaMont, keep the weekend free.
Miami: Running back is the area on their roster that doesn't cause the casual viewer to break out in laughter. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will make a devastating tandem. I'll give them the same notice I gave Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew: if one goes down, the other may well get in.
New York Jets: Low TD total aside, Thomas Jones is still a solid player. If he can get a few more scores while keeping the yardage up, he can get in. The AFC has plenty of quality running backs, I see.
Buffalo: I like Marshawn Lynch as much as I like Trent Edwards. While Adrian Peterson got the press, Marshawn Lynch was getting it done. Look for his second year to be even more successful. Marshawn, I say "book the flight".
So, to recap:
Buy your plane ticket now: Jamal Lewis (CLE), LaDainian Tomlinson (SD), Marshawn Lynch (BUF)
Reserve the hotel room, but be ready to get a refund: Willie Parker (PIT), Willis McGahee (BAL), Joseph Addai (IND)
Keep the weekend open, but don't reserve the room: Thomas Jones (NYJ), Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX), Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams (MIA), LaMont Jordan (NE), Larry Johnson (KC)
AFC Wide Receivers
Last year's roster: Randy Moss (NE, injured); Reggie Wayne (IND); Braylon Edwards (CLE); TJ Houshmandzadeh (CIN); Chad Ocho Cinco nee Johnson (CIN, injury replacement)
Cincinnati: Chad...you know, we'll just call him Chad. Chad got injured during the preseason, and it's likely that injury will nag him all year. If he goes down, TJ's facing double coverage all year long, as previously stated. That makes it hard for either of them to go the Pro Bowl; but I'll still tell both of them to keep their weekend free.
Baltimore: Uh, who are they fielding again? Derrick Mason's still in the league? Yes, yes he is, and he had a decisively solid year in '07 (103 catches). Will he follow that up with a solid year in '08? I don't think so, so I'll pass.
Cleveland: Braylon Edwards broke out last year alongside Kellen Winslow. There's no reason to believe he can't be back in Hawaii, but...I'm always wary of "hot" teams, and Cleveland is no excpetion. I'll tell him to book the hotel room.
Pittsburgh: Hines Ward continues to be solid, but Santonio Holmes (18.1 yards per reception in '07) is the face of the future. Check back during my midseason writeup: if he progresses, he may well be looking at a Pro Bowl spot. For now, I'll tell him to clear his calendar.
Tennessee: Roydell Williams, David Givens, Justin Gage...can you pick the Pro Bowler? I thought not.
Houston: Andre Johnson is absolute royalty at the WR spot. He had an almighty 94.6 yards per game last year. If he can keep up those numbers and stay healthy, he's looking at a Pro Bowl spot. I give him the first nod.
Indianapolis: Marvin Harrison...what happened? You were always such an ironman. And then you got injured. Fortunately, Reggie Wayne took his opportunity to lead the team and ran with it - repeatedly - to the endzone. That's why I say he gets the second slot on the Pro Bowl team.
Jacksonville: Jerry Porter? No. Matt Jones? No. Much like Tennessee, they don't have a quality WR on the roster.
San Diego: Can you imagine what it would be like if they still had Drew Brees? Drew Brees, LT, and Chris Chambers...it just might have been the second coming of the Triplets. In his first full year with them, I say Chris Chambers breaks the 1,000-yard mark but doesn't earn a Pro Bowl slot. Maybe an alternate slot. Book the hotel room, in any case.
Denver: Brandon Marshall looked decidedly solid in some of his games, and unlike Mason, he's not on the downward slope. If he can return full strength after his suspension, he might have what it takes to give Denver their best season from a WR since Rod Smith. For now, I'll say "clear the calendar".
Kansas City: Strong drafting aside, no one in their WR corps looks like much. Pass.
Oakland: I've already speculated as to what Al Davis was on when Javon Walker (26 rec, 287 yds in '07) was given a gigantic contract. But if he remains healthy and actually keeps his mouth shut, he just might pull off a solid year. No way am I scheduling him for any Pro Bowls, though.
And the East:
New England: Super Bowl hangover? Ha! Randy Moss and Wes Welker are a raw egg and hair of the dog, respectively. Both of them will have fantastic years. Randy gets the nod, and this time, the voters won't be able to ignore Wes: he'll get in too. There you have picks three and four.
Miami: Ted Ginn Jr. just might...become a solid player.
New York Jets: I like Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Coles had a down year, but with some stability at QB, he may reverse that trend. In any case, Cotchery books the hotel room and Coles keeps his weekend free.
Buffalo: Like Edwards and Lynch before him, I like Lee Evans a lot. He's quick and bright. I say he books the hotel room.
So, let's recap:
Buy your plane ticket now: Andre Johnson (HOU), Reggie Wayne (IND), Randy Moss (NE), Wes Welker (NE)
Reserve the hotel room, but be ready to get a refund: Jerricho Cotchery (NYJ), Lee Evans (BUF), Braylon Edwards (CLE), Chris Chambers (SD)
Keep your weekend free, but don't reserve the room: Laveranues Coles (NYJ), Brandon Marshall (DEN), Santonio Holmes (PIT), Chad (CIN), TJ Houshmandzadeh (CIN)
Alright, folks, that was fun. I'm going to revisit these picks come midseason and either congratulate or laugh at myself. One or the other. Check back then.
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