Getting to Pro Bowl Too Tough for Most Rookies

Alex MarvezCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2008

Youth was not served on the 2008 Pro Bowl rosters announced Tuesday.

Two rookies — Tennessee running back Chris Johnson and Tampa Bay returner Clifton Smith — were chosen for a February trip to Hawaii. But three other newcomers were arguably more worthy selections than veterans who received the nod instead.

Presenting the case that can be made for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Houston running back Steve Slaton and Denver tackle Ryan Clady:

1.  Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan (NFC starter: Kurt Warner/Arizona. Backups: Drew Brees/New Orleans, Eli Manning/New York Giants)

There's no knocking Manning, especially with the defending Super Bowl champions already having clinched the rough-and-tumble NFC East with an 11-3 record. Pro Bowl voters — a combination of players, coaches and fans — also were understandably impressed by Brees and Warner's gaudy passing numbers.

But when you look at the most important statistic — victories — Ryan has more than either of them while playing in the NFL's toughest division (NFC South). The Falcons are still in playoff contention at 9-5; Brees and the 7-7 Saints aren't.

Warner has carried Arizona (8-6) to a division title without support from a running game, but he also padded his stats playing in the lousy NFC West. Warner also may be fading down the stretch. His worst quarterback ratings of the season came during losses in three of the past four games.

Unlike other rookie quarterbacks, Ryan isn't being used as a caretaker. While he enjoys the luxury of having Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner in the backfield, Ryan can carry the offense when asked and make plays in the clutch a la his last-second heroics in Atlanta's 22-20 victory over Chicago in Week 6.

The third overall pick in April's draft, Ryan has yet to lose consecutive games. That shows the 23-year-old already has the maturity to shrug off a rough outing. Ryan has proven incredibly efficient. He has as many games with a triple-digit quarterback rating (six) as Brees and one more than Warner. Plus, Ryan's interception ratio translates to one turnover for every 43.2 pass attempts. That, too, is better than the marks posted by Warner (42.3) and Brees (34.1).

2.  Houston running back Steve Slaton (AFC starter: Thomas Jones/New York Jets. Backups: Johnson, Ronnie Brown/Miami)

The razzle-dazzle that Brown displayed in Miami's "Wildcat" formation drew him plenty of early-season publicity. But when it comes to pure running back play, Slaton was a far more deserving choice.

Brown has 10 rushing touchdowns, but seven came in the first five games. He also has rushed for 70 or more yards in just one of his past 10 outings while sharing carries with Ricky Williams.

As for Slaton, he is further proof that fan Pro Bowl voting shouldn't be conducted until December. Slaton has rushed for 579 yards in the past five games, four of which the Texans won. Overall, Slaton has 1,124 rushing yards; Brown stands at 877. Slaton also has a better per-carry average (4.9 to 4.2) and reception total (40 to 24) than Brown.

An argument can be made that Houston (7-7) would still be in playoff contention if Slaton — a fourth-round draft pick from West Virginia — had received more snaps earlier in the season.

3.  Denver tackle Ryan Clady (Starters: Joe Thomas/Cleveland, Jason Peter/Buffalo. Backup: Michael Roos/Tennessee)

Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall are headed to the Pro Bowl. The least they could do is pool funds and buy Clady a plane ticket to travel with them.

Cutler wouldn't be having so much success throwing to Marshall without Clady protecting his back side at left tackle. Clady and Roos are the NFL's only tackles to have started every game and not allowed a full sack, according to Stats Inc. Like Thomas in 2007, Clady blossomed so quickly that Denver hasn't needed to provide blocking help with a tight end. Clady held three of the NFL's best pass rushers — Miami's Joey Porter, Atlanta's John Abraham and Carolina's Julius Peppers — without a sack. Plus, the Broncos field the NFL's fifth-best rushing offense despite injuries that have decimated the running back position.

The selections of Thomas and Roos are justified. But Peters? Please. He's living off the reputation built in prior seasons. After missing the season opener following a contract holdout, Peters allowed 8.5 sacks in the next 12 games. He then made a critical error late in last Sunday's 31-27 loss to the Jets. Peters was slow getting out of his stance to block blitzing Jets safety Abram Elam. The result was a sack-and-strip of Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, leading to Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis returning the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.

While Ryan, Slaton and Clady have legitimate reasons to feel snubbed, they may still be on the field Feb. 8 when the Pro Bowl is played. That's because all three were chosen as alternates who may get promoted if current starters and backups drop out of the game because of injuries.

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