NFL: 25 Surprising Players Who Can Make the Pro Bowl

Tyler WardAnalyst IJuly 4, 2011

NFL: 25 Surprising Players Who Can Make the Pro Bowl

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    Every year, there are those players that have a breakout season, i.e. Brandon Lloyd, Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis and a few other players in 2010.

    That's one of the things I enjoy about the NFL. You never know what to expect when it comes to players' performances. That's what makes the season so interesting, and it's more than likely going to happen again this season (if there is one).

    With the Pro Bowl now played before the Super Bowl, there may be a few players that will not play in the annual game, so there will be replacements named. Not to mention there are a few that don't want to risk an injury, so they too withdraw their names from playing in Hawaii.

    Some of these players may not be selected through the voting process, but they can still make their respective teams due to the replacement factor.

    With that being said, here are 25 players that could be considered "surprises" when it comes to making the Pro Bowl.

LeSean McCoy, Running Back

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    Team: Philadelphia Eagles

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    McCoy is about to enter his third season in the NFL and has improved his play significantly over the past two seasons.

    He rushed for 637 yards and four touchdowns during his rookie season and then upped his play to 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns for his sophomore year.

    I think his numbers will increase yet again this season, as he will be the main man in Philadelphia, and he will make his first trip to Hawaii.

Josh Freeman, Quarterback

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    Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Freeman showed last season that he could be an elite quarterback in this league, as he almost led the Bucs to a postseason appearance.They failed to do so, but not because of Freeman.

    During his rookie season, Freeman was among the top five in the league in the interceptions category with 18, but then he toned it down to just six last season to go along with 25 touchdowns.

    If the former Kansas State star can improve those numbers, he could definitely be headed to Hawaii.

Mario Manningham, Wide Receiver

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    Team: New York Giants

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    In a stacked receiving corps for the Giants, Manningham is either the second or third option, but he performed like a No. 1 guy last season.

    With fellow receiver Steve Smith a free agent during this offseason, it is unlikely that they will re-sign the former Trojan.

    If the Giants let Smith walk via free agency, Manningham would definitely become the No. 2 guy for quarterback Eli Manning.

    Last season, the former Wolverine caught 60 passes for 944 yards and nine touchdowns, and he could very well improve those numbers next season.

Mike Thomas, Wide Receiver

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    Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Thomas proved last season that he could be a very good receiver in this league, as he managed to become the No. 1 guy in Jacksonville, even supplanting Mike Sims-Walker for that spot.

    The former Wildcat is also a very good return man, which could make his stats even better.

    With Thomas set to become the first option for an entire season, he could go over the 1,000-yard plateau and land a ticket to Hawaii.

Curtis Lofton, Linebacker

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    Team: Atlanta Falcons

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Since being drafted by the Falcons with the 37th overall selection in the 2008 draft, Lofton has slowly become an anchor on Atlanta's feisty defense.

    He's played in all 48 games over the span of his career, while accumulating 60, 103 and 92 tackles, respectively.

    Although he has not been a great sack artist over his three-year career (three sacks total), he is one hell of a defensive player and possibly the best defensive player on the entire Falcons team.

    If he keeps up those numbers or maybe even increases them, Lofton could nab his first Pro Bowl selection.

Fred Jackson, Running Back

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    Team: Buffalo Bills

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Although it's hard to imagine anyone from the Bills making the Pro Bowl, Jackson has a legitimate shot at becoming the one to do so.

    He has started just 24 out of the possible 32 games over the last two seasons, but he has averaged a shade under 1,000 yards for those two years.

    If former first-round pick C.J. Spiller fails to live up to expectations and the majority of the carries are handed to Jackson, we could very well see him rush for over 1,000 yards for the second time in his career.

    His touchdown numbers aren't outstanding, but that also has to do with the fact that he plays for the lowly Bills. If he can get those numbers up, he could be punching a ticket to Hawaii.

T.J. Ward, Safety

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    Team: Cleveland Browns

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    One of the few bright spots on the Browns last season, Ward immediately came out thriving for Cleveland during his rookie season.

    Ward ranked second in the entire NFL in tackles among safeties and accumulated 123 total tackles with two interceptions.

    If the former Oregon star continues at this pace, Ward will become one of the best safeties in the league and will someday command a humongous salary (which would probably mean he'll leave Cleveland).

    Also, if he can avoid a typical sophomore slump, Ward could be considered a lock to make his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Sam Bradford, Quarterback

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    Team: St. Louis Rams

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    I'll be the first one to admit that I thought Sam Bradford was going to be a humongous bust. But the more I've watched him play, the more I believe that he can become an elite quarterback in this league.

    Last season, Bradford seemed to do a lot with less, as he threw for 3,512 yards, which ranked 12th among all quarterbacks. He launched 18 touchdowns but also threw 15 interceptions in the process.

    However, his lack of receivers cost him a little bit, as he most likely would have thrown more touchdowns and fewer interceptions (but that could also be due to his lack of experience).

    The Rams have been rumored to acquire a top-notch receiver during free agency (cough, Vincent Jackson, cough), and if they do, Bradford's numbers could soar all the way to Hawaii and could also lead the Rams to a division title in the NFL's weakest division.

Israel Idonije, Defensive Tackle

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    Team: Chicago Bears

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Idonije seemingly came out of nowhere last season, as he accumulated eight sacks after registering just eight sacks in the previous six seasons.

    With teams likely to double-team Julius Peppers, it could free up the Nigerian in the middle, as he will look to improve on his stealthy numbers.

    Idonije could punch his first ticket to Hawaii if he can improve on those numbers next season.

Antoine Cason, Cornerback

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    Team: San Diego Chargers

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Personally, I believe that Cason, a former Arizona Wildcat, could become a very good cornerback in this league and maybe even join the league's elite.

    Chosen by the Chargers in the first round of the 2008 draft, Cason only started four games during his first two years, including arguably his best season to date during his rookie year.

    The cornerback registered 74 total tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and also intercepted two passes, returning one of them 59 yards for a touchdown.

    He started 15 games last season and accumulated 67 total tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions.

    If he can average the same numbers again for the 2011 season, Cason will likely make his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Jonathan Stewart, Running Back

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    Team: Carolina Panthers

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Stewart, part of perhaps one of the best one-two punches in the league, has been a solid running back during his short NFL career, accumulating 10 or more touchdowns in two of his three seasons.

    The Panthers have been rumored to be ridding themselves of his partner DeAngelo Williams, and if they succeed in doing so, Stewart will likely become the main option in Carolina.

    If that were to happen, Stewart would receive the bulk of the carries, meaning his numbers will possibly increase across the board.

    Thus, if Stewart can rush for more than 1,000 yards and 10 or more touchdowns, there is no doubt in my mind that he will go to Hawaii.

Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver

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    Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Although Wallace's possible selection really wouldn't be considered a surprise, he would still be making his first Pro Bowl roster.

    In my opinion, Wallace is one of the best young and up-and-coming receivers in the NFL, and his game will flourish with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm (and also because of Hines Ward's age).

    He could very well become the go-to guy in Pittsburgh if he isn't already, and he is almost a definite lock to cross the 1,000-yard plateau.

    The speedster will make his Pro Bowl appearance this season. Go ahead and mark that down.

Tyvon Branch, Safety

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    Team: Oakland Raiders

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    As of right now, I believe that Branch is one of the best safeties in the entire league. He has great ability on that side of the ball and is one hell of a tackling machine.

    I'm surprised that he has not made a trip to Hawaii thus far, but he will definitely make a few trips throughout his NFL career.

    Branch amassed a very healthy 104 total tackles last season, along with garnering four sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

    With Nnamdi Asomugha practically gone, Branch will become the focal point of the secondary, and we could see his numbers slightly increase next season.

Patrick Peterson, Cornerback

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    Team: Arizona Cardinals

    Pro Bowl selections: None (DUH!)

    I know, I know, Peterson is just a rookie, but I believe that he is the most NFL-ready player out of all the draftees.

    The former LSU standout is considered a lockdown cornerback that can practically everything affiliated with that position.

    There have been a few rumors that the Cardinals could trade Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and if that happens, Peterson would immediately become the team's No. 1 cornerback.

    If they do not deal DRC away, he would still be starting opposite the cousin of the baby-making machine (sorry, just had to somehow throw that in somewhere).

    If there's going to be a rookie to make the Pro Bowl this season, it will be Peterson.

Clint Session, Linebacker

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    Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Some of y'all might disagree heavily with me on this one, but I think Session has the ability to become a great player on a defense that lacks tremendously on that side of the ball, statistically.

    Session played in just five games last season due to injury, but he will be coming back 100 percent healthy this season.

    The Kimbo Slice look-alike is a tackling machine and a very hard hitter. He showed great promise over the last few seasons, and he will eventually take advantage of those opportunities.

    In 2009, Session amassed 103 total tackles, forced one fumble and intercepted two passes, returning one of those for a touchdown. He also managed to do all of this in just 14 games and could have easily upped those totals.

    Look out for the linebacker this year as he returns healthy.

Brandon Pettigrew, Tight End

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    Team: Detroit Lions

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Even though the Lions weren't that great on offense last season, there are a few people that could eventually flourish and make them a high-powered offense. One of those guys is tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

    The tight end was targeted 111 times last season, while catching 71 of those targets for 722 yards and four touchdowns.

    With practically every defense paying the most attention to Calvin Johnson, Pettigrew is able to get open more times than not. He has great hands, as he can easily catch passes.

    With Matt Stafford returning healthy this upcoming season, we could see Pettigrew surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his young career, thus leading to his first Pro Bowl selection.

DeAndre Levy, Linebacker

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    Team: Detroit Lions

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Like a few players on this list, this selection is based solely on potential.

    I think Levy could become a good linebacker in this league, and he should help the Lions defense in the middle. With other playmakers surrounding him like rookie Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, Levy should wreak havoc right behind them.

    If Levy can stay healthy and start all 16 games, he will surpass the 100-tackle mark and collect a couple of interceptions, along with forced fumbles and recoveries.

    Look out for DeAndre Levy this season. Put that in your notebook and draft him in your Fantasy Football league.

Kenny Britt, Wide Receiver

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    Team: Tennessee Titans

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    First off, Britt needs to take care of his legal troubles before he can even think about playing football. If he can take care of all that mess, then he's got a legitimate shot.

    Anyway, the former Rutgers star has performed admirably on the field in his first two years, accumulating almost 1,500 total receiving yards while starting just 13 games in that span.

    He will likely be penciled in as the No. 1 or 2 guy this season, and if Jake Locker doesn't go down with Shaky Rookie Syndrome, then Britt could definitely surpass the 1,000-yard mark.

    Britt is considered one of the best up-and-coming receivers in the game, and he has a great shot to live up to those expectations this upcoming season.

Derek Cox, Cornerback

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    Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Personally, I believe that Cox could be this year's version of Green Bay's Tramon Williams (minus the Super Bowl appearance).

    Although he didn't get that many opportunities last season, Cox took advantage of what was given to him.

    He will likely start opposite of Rashean Mathis this season, and I believe he will perform admirably.

    Cox has great hands when it comes to interceptions, as he grabbed four of them last season. Those numbers will increase this season, and he will surprise many fans across the U.S.

Ryan Mathews, Running Back

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    Team: San Diego Chargers

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Mathews got off to a rough start last season and was eventually supplanted by Mike Tolbert, who rushed for more yards than Mathews by the end of the season.

    However, Mathews is likely to take over the starting role this year, as it is practically his spot to lose.

    He will take advantage of that opportunity and become the team's featured back and will prove the Chargers didn't waste their first-round selection on him last year.

    I believe that the running back does not go through a sophomore slump and will surpass the 1,000-yard mark, along with running for at least eight touchdowns.

    If he performs extremely well, he will be going to Hawaii for the first time in his young career.

Paris Lenon, Linebacker

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    Team: Arizona Cardinals

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Perhaps the best player on the Cardinals defense last season, Lenon surprised many people during the process.

    The journeyman amassed 125 tackles last season, good enough for a tie for 11th in the entire league. He also recorded two sacks, six passes defensed, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

    He practically did it all for the lowly Cardinals last season, as he easily took Karlos Dansby's place on the depth chart.

    Lenon could be making his first Pro Bowl appearance this season if he keeps on registering big numbers.

Anthony Armstrong, Wide Receiver

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    Team: Washington Redskins

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Armstrong came out of nowhere last season to eventually lead the Redskins in receiving yards, narrowly beating out tight end Chris Cooley.

    Of all players that caught at least 20 passes, Armstrong ranked third in terms of yards per catch (19.8, behind DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace).

    However, there is one thing that does not help the receiver in this process: the quarterback problem.

    With last season's quarterback Donovan McNabb pretty much bye-bye, it leaves just Rex Grossman and former Dolphin John Beck on the roster. Head coach Mike Shanahan has said that out of the two, he would start Beck, which could spell doom for the receivers.

    Beck has little experience in the NFL, especially when it comes to starting, and one can expect him to put up not-so-good numbers.

    But if the 'Skins can acquire a good veteran quarterback when free agency resumes, Armstrong could be due for a big season and a trip to Hawaii.

Pierre Garcon, Wide Receiver

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    Team: Indianapolis Colts

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    With Peyton Manning at the helm, anything can happen.

    Throughout the majority of his career, Manning managed to get two receivers to topple the 1,000-yard mark (Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne). There's no doubt that he can still do that.

    That's where Garcon comes in.

    The receiver has yet to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, but there is a good chance that he will accomplish that feat this season if he can stay healthy and make his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Alterraun Verner, Cornerback

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    Team: Tennessee Titans

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Verner performed great during his rookie season last year, and he could likely do the same thing this season if he can avoid the "sophomore slump."

    The former UCLA Bruin registered 101 tackles in 2010, along with 11 passes defensed, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

    Penciled in as one of the two starting cornerbacks, Verner will perform just as well this season and make his first of a few Pro Bowl appearances.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Running Back

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    Team: New England Patriots

    Pro Bowl selections: None

    Green-Ellis was one of those surprise players last season, as he rushed for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns while only starting 11 games.

    He could very well duplicate those numbers this season, as he will likely become a starter in the high-octane offense led by Tom Brady.

    It was amazing that the running back did so well while not starting five games in 2010, and if he can play an entire 16-game schedule, he could be one of the league's top rushers.

    If Green-Ellis manages to start every single game and keep up the pace he had last season, there is a very good chance that he can book a hotel room in Hawaii.

What Do You Think?

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    I know some of y'all that just read this article have differing opinions, so please leave comments on who you think will have a breakout season and surprise us all with a trip to Hawaii.

    Thanks for reading!