Carolina Panthers: 7 Players That Could Make the Pro Bowl
The Panthers sit at 2-5 and are on the edge of falling from playoff contention, but they are stocked with individual talent, including seven players who could very well end up in the Pro Bowl.
You won't see the typical names like elite linebacker Jon Beason or the highly talented Thomas Davis in contention for the Pro Bowl due to season ending injuries, but the surrounding talent on this team has stepped into the limelight and earned respect around the league.
Keep in mind that this list includes the players with the best chance at a Pro Bowl selection, not who I feel is most deserving. With that out of the way, let's get going.
Quarterback Cam Newton
You knew this man would be on here. The 2011 NFL Draft's first overall pick has burst onto the scene and quickly become one of the most recognizable stars in football.
Newton has been the most effective rushing quarterback in the league, totaling seven touchdown on the ground through seven games. His ability to rush has made the Panthers nearly unstoppable in goal to go situations and he continues to prove how athletic he is week after week.
The young quarterback has relied on more than just his athleticism though. He has shown great resiliency and leadership as the Panthers' quarterback and to this point, he's only shown his inexperience on rare occasions.
Newton has shown the accuracy and arm strength of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, quickly adapting to the complex defense's he has faced in a shocking manner. If he continues to play like he did against a very good Washington defense, expect Newton to compete for a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
Wide Receiver Steve Smith
Possibly the biggest beneficiary of Cam Newton's success, Steve Smith is a completely changed man. He currently leads the league in receiving yards and he is regaining respect as one of the best vertical targets in the game.
The veteran receiver had a dry stretch for a few seasons as Carolina battled through some tough quarterback situations and fell into the shadows of a league predicated on current production, rather than respect earned in past seasons.
With Smith's resurgence, he has earned back the respect of the fan community and if he continues on his current pace, he is a lock for the Pro Bowl.
Left Tackle Jordan Gross
On a weekly basis, Gross is one of the most consistent players on this high powered Carolina offense. He has done a great job of protecting Newton's blind side from some of the best pass rushers that the NFL has to offer.
Almost all of the offensive line's allowed sacks have come from the right side, where rookie Byron Bell is starting in replacement of Jeff Otah. Gross continues to do a great job on the left side, and already has the respect around the league to earn a Pro Bowl berth if he continues to play like he has been this season.
Center Ryan Kalil
At the heart of the offensive line stands Ryan Kalil, a 26-year-old center who has quickly gained the respect of teammates and coaches. Through his first four seasons in the league, Kalil played well enough to earn the league's top salary for a center.
Kalil is likely the best that the NFC has to offer at the position, but has some work to do to surpass Nick Mangold as the most vaunted center in the entire league.
His ability to call out pass protections and play the mental game as well as any offensive lineman in the game makes him a sure-fire Pro Bowler if he stays healthy.
Defensive End Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson, who stands at 6'2", may be slightly undersized for the position, but his array of pass rushing moves make him a consistent threat to opposing quarterbacks. He has great speed of the edge and a spin move that reminds me of Dwight Freeney's.
Although Johnson's size gets him into trouble at times when facing mauling offensive tackle's, he typically holds his own against the run. He does a solid job of setting the edge and is rarely out of position.
Johnson currently ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks and has a very good chance at making the Pro Bowl, as well as proving to the Carolina front office that he was worth the $72 million salary he signed in the offseason.
Linebacker James Anderson
Anderson has quickly made the transition from the developing prospect into one of the NFC's finest ball-hawking linebackers. The 28-year-old strongside backer has assumed the leadership role of the defense after veteran linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis fell to serious injuries.
Anderson has not looked back and currently ranks fourth in the NFC in tackles. He has fared just as well in coverage though, being forced to compensate for what Dan Connor and the select player that lined up at weakside linebacker lack.
Although Anderson's shot at the Pro Bowl may not be as high as the others on this list, it is very possible that he be selected as a replacement for any linebacker playing in the Super Bowl, considering his versatility to play either outside linebacker position.
Cornerback Chris Gamble
Take a look at how well Carolina has limited opposing teams' star receivers through seven weeks.
Larry Fitzgerald (ARI) - 3 Rec, 63 Yds
Greg Jennings (GB) - 2 Rec, 55 Yds
Mike Thomas (JAC) - 4 Rec, 55 Yds
Johnny Knox (CHI) - 3 Rec, 48 Yds
Marques Colston (NO) - 5 Rec, 69 Yds
Roddy White (ATL) - 2 Rec, 21 Yds
Santana Moss (WAS) - 2 Rec, 17 Yds (Note: Left with injury before halftime)
As you can see, he's no Darrelle Revis, but those are some impressive numbers and many of those receptions didn't come against Gamble. In a season that's been dominated by outlandish passing numbers, seeing a corner play this successful is refreshing.
If he adds a few more interceptions to his season total, a Pro Bowl selection could be in store for Gamble.
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