Setting Pro Bowl Odds for Best Players on the San Francisco 49ers' Roster

Brandon Burnett@B_Burnett49Contributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

Setting Pro Bowl Odds for Best Players on the San Francisco 49ers' Roster

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    The fact that the San Francisco 49ers saw an NFL-high nine players selected to the Pro Bowl roster in 2011 serves as an accurate indicator that the Red and Gold experienced a rather successful season.

    Perhaps, though, it's the five first-team Associated Press All-Pro selections from a year ago that should tell us just how talented a bunch lies in the Golden City.

    Though it wasn't the case with San Francisco, there are too many washed-up veterans who steal Pro Bowl roster spots they haven't earned, while hard-working youngsters go unnoticed because, quite frankly, no one really knows who they are. 

    Look at 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, for example. In just his second NFL season, Bowman racked up 143 tackles alongside perennial Pro Bowl LB Patrick Willis and earned AP First-Team honors in the process. 

    But a Pro Bowl selection he was not. Bears' veteran and perennial Pro Bowl inside linebacker Brian Urlacher was, despite a considerably less impressive season.

    Anyway, my point is that most NFL pundits, players and fans believe the AP All-Pro selections serve as a more accurate gauge of individual player performance than the whole Pro Bowl balloting process does. 

    Minnesota Vikings star defensive end Jared Allen once said it best following the unveiling of the 2011 AP All-Pro selections:

    The All-Pro Team to me is one of the all-time accomplishments. Pro Bowls are nice, but guys get voted in longer than they should and guys who deserve to go don't always get to. It's the whole league. It's not just an AFC and NFC thing. So to me this is the honor I hold the highest. It's something to put on the resume and tell the grandkids about.

    Nonetheless, earning a free trip to Hawaii is something anyone should get excited about—even a handsomely paid NFL star.

    Then again, with the increasing amount of issues the Pro Bowl is facing, there may be no trip to Hawaii in the cards, anyway.

    So, for the sake of NFL tradition and incredibly early offseason predictions, here are my Pro Bowl odds for the best players on the 49ers roster. For added fun, I've included odds of these players becoming a First-Team All Pro selection as well.

    Besides, what else is there to do in mid-July?

The Yearly Contenders

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    The players listed on this slide have each been named to at least three Pro Bowl rosters and are the most likely to be selected again in 2012.

    Patrick Willis, ILB

    Willis has accumulated more individual awards in his first five years for the Red and Gold than any Niner we've ever seen.

    No. 52 is a five-time Pro Bowler with four First-Team All Pro (2007, 2009-11) and one Second-Team All-Pro selection (2008) to his credit. He's also a three-time NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year and a two-time Dick Butkus award winner.

    Willis is arguably the best linebacker, inside or outside, in the NFL. Only a severe injury (knock on wood) is going to prevent the 27-year-old from relinquishing his reign on the Pro Bowl and All-Pro squads.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 100%

    First-Team All Pro: 90%

    Justin Smith, DE

    Coming off the best season of his career, it's hard to see No. 94's relentless motor start sputtering now.

    Smith was so effective in 2011, he earned First-Team All Pro honors at defensive end and  Second-Team All-Pro honors at defensive tackle. 

    Perhaps no man is hungrier for Super Bowl glory, but it's a safe bet to assume Justin will rack up a personal accolade or two in his quest for a February trip to New Orleans.

    While a fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance seems all but guaranteed, it's going to take a couple of clutch, game-changing efforts similar to 2011 for Smith to earn First-Team All-Pro honors for a second consecutive season. 

    Smith's energizer bunny-like efforts don't show up on the stat sheet, but the Associated Press and NFL fans in general now understand that perhaps no one player is more valuable to his defense than this tireless worker is to his 49ers' D.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 95%

    First-Team All Pro: 70%

    David Akers, K

    The 16-year vet has a whopping six Pro Bowl selections to his credit, and a matching six All-Pro selections as well. Akers joins Willis as the only two 49ers to have been named to both Pro Bowl and First-Team All Pro honors in each of the last three seasons.

    No one expects Akers to repeat his magical season of 2011 (his first in San Francisco) in which he booted an NFL-record 44 field goals on (also NFL record) 52 attempts, including nine successful three-pointers that traveled 50 yards or more.

    But that's okay; we're hoping a more well-rounded offense will take some of the pressure off the kicker's shoulders.

    Not to say that he can't handle the extra weight.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 85%

    First-Team All Pro: 75%

    Andy Lee, P

    The other half of the NFL's top kicker/punter combo, Lee has exactly half the awards (three-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection) as Akers. And at 29 years old, the former sixth-round pick of the Niners in 2004 is eight years younger.

    Lee also set the record for net punting in 2011 with a net average of 44 yards per punt.

    If the trend continues, the 2011 PFW (Pro Football Weekly) Golden Toe award winner will miss out on the Pro Bowl party this coming season, and the All Pro honors, too.

    Lee's three Pro Bowl and All Pro selections came in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Can the NFC's (and arguably the NFL's) best punter buck the every-other-year trend and receive repeat honors for the first time in his career?

    Another trend—a decreasing amount of punts in each of the last three seasons—serves as a more accurate red flag regarding Lee's chances in 2012. 

    In 2009, Lee booted the pigskin an NFL-leading 99 times. In 2010, that number declined to 91, ranking the 49ers fifth in total punts. And for all the talk of San Francisco's third-down woes, Lee punted just 78 times in 2011, just the fifteenth-highest total in the league.

    Despite an elite defense, Harbaugh will likely use the added offensive weapons and become more aggressive on third downs, keeping his All Pro punter on the sidelines and Lee's postseason accolades in serious jeopardy.

    However, that's something the 49er franchise and its faithful can certainly live with.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 65%

    First-Team All Pro: 65%

    Frank Gore, RB

    After gaining 1,211 rushing yards and finding paydirt eight times in 2011, Gore was elected to the third Pro Bowl of his seven-year career.

    Some say, especially with explosive rookie RB LaMichael James on board and second-year back Kendall Hunter looking to improve upon a promising year, that No. 21's tank is about to run dry.

    Are Trent Baalke and Co. preparing for life after Gore, or simply trying to lighten the heavy load in order to allow him to stay healthy and continue to thrive in the NFL?

    Gore has shown us this offseason that he has no intentions of slowing down at a time when his team's Super Bowl chances are picking up steam at a rapid pace, and my money is that only health issues will deter the 49ers' all-time leading rusher from reaching the Pro Bowl once again.

    The All-Pro selection—especially First-Team—is a different story. Gore was named a Second-Team All-Pro in 2006 after gaining 1,695 yards, but that's the extent of his awards from the Associated Press. 

    The AFC offers a slew of talented backs, including Maurice Jones-Drew, Arian Foster and Ray Rice, who will make it tough for Gore to be named to his first ever First-Team All-Pro roster.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 70%

    First-Team All Pro: 25%

Been There Once, Looking for More

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    The 49ers listed in this slide have each been named to one Pro Bowl and could be knocking on Hawaii's door once again in 2012.

    Carlos Rogers, CB

    Rogers recorded a career-high six interceptions in 2011, his first campaign in Red and Gold. And though he did not attend, the 31-year-old corner was rewarded with his first-ever Pro Bowl invitation in seven NFL seasons.

    Some forecast a slight regression from the typically not-so-sure-handed defensive back in 2012. But the 49er defense, as a whole, should actually be improved and more in-tune with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's complex schemes. 

    Besides, Rogers wasn't happy with his situation in Washington prior to 2011, and his instant success in San Francisco, combined with a four-year contract extension, provides evidence that he's now in a much friendlier environment.

    Still, as it stands, this one's about as much of a shot in the dark as any. The Niners face plenty of potent air attacks in 2012, and Rogers will need to come up big.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 55%

    First-Team All Pro: 35%

    Vernon Davis, TE

    The way Davis raised his level of play late in the 2011 season before eventually exploding in the 2012 playoffs hints to us that he's ready to return to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

    The arrival of WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham along with the rookie RB James should help alleviate Davis of constant double coverage, therefore offering a boatload of additional opportunities for No. 85 to help make this offense go.

    If the field does regularly open up for Davis to run free as planned, the TE should be in for a season as good as, if not better than, the 965-yard, 13-TD campaign that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2006.

    Unfortunately, with star tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and others being major contributors in pass-heavy offenses, the full extent of Davis' efforts on the gridiron do not shine through in the stat sheet as bright as theirs. 

    Davis is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL and plays in an offense that most certainly utilizes that strength. 

    If the 49ers were a team that passed the ball 600 times per season, you could argue that Davis would have considerably more individual accolades.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 60%

    First-Team All Pro: 15%

    Joe Staley, LT

    The 49ers blindside protector was one of the best at his position in 2011, earning first-ever Pro Bowl honors in the process. 

    What makes Staley such a solid lineman isn't just the talent to fend off some of the league's most elite pass-rushers, but his unique ability to block downfield in the run game. 

    Look at some of the 49ers biggest plays of 2011—most notably Alex Smith's 28-yard run in the NFC Divisional win over the Saints—and you'll see Staley hitting everything in sight until the ball carrier reaches the end zone or a whistle blows the play dead.

    I expect Staley to grow even more in 2012, and a repeat Pro Bowl selection should be the ending result. With Eagles' star LT Jason Peters out for the season with a torn ACL, a First-Team All Pro selection just may be in the works as well.

    Pro Bowl Selection:  70%

    First-Team All Pro: 45%

    Dashon Goldson, FS

    Goldson stepped up in 2011 after coming up short in efforts to secure a long-term deal, tallying six interceptions and earning Pro Bowl honors in 2011.

    The Niners slapped the franchise tag on the 27-year-old this spring, and after failing to reach a long-term agreement before the July 16 deadline, Goldson will be forced to play under a one-year contract once again.

    Will the ongoing search for long-term security lead to another Pro Bowl selection for the ball-hawking free safety, or will his sometimes over-aggressive play lead to an underwhelming 2012 season and possible exit from the Golden City?

    Only time will tell on this one.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 50%

    First-Team All Pro: 10%

They're Working on It

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    These players either have already proved themselves worthy of a Pro Bowl selection or are trending in that direction but have yet to receive a selection.

    NaVorro Bowman, ILB

    Bowman is no longer a secret, so if he comes up with a campaign in 2012 that even slightly resembles what he accomplished last season, it would be a crime to leave No. 53 off the Pro Bowl roster.

    Of course, the fact that Bowman was named a First-Team All-Pro alongside Willis paints a much clearer picture of how talented this third-year linebacker really is.

    Bowman just turned 24 in May and is already regarded as one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL today. Like Willis, he can shed blocks, cover sideline to sideline and rarely misses a tackle. 

    Bowman is an absolute stud. Before long, he'll have plenty of individual accolades to show it.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 75%

    First-Team All Pro: 75%

    Mike Iupati, LG

    Now entering his third season in the league, 2012 is the year many expect the road-grading lineman to develop into one of the best guards the NFL has to offer.

    Some, myself included, believe he's already there. 

    Pro Bowl Selection: 85%

    First-Team All Pro: 55%

    Aldon Smith, OLB

    After a wildly impressive 14-sack rookie season where the coaching staff typically only used him in third-down pass-rush situations, Aldon will step into full-time duties in 2012 as an outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 defense. 

    It's yet to be seen how the 22-year-old will react to an increased workload and the requirement of operating in pass coverage, but he undoubtedly possesses the tools to become a perennial Pro Bowl selection.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 65%

    First-Team All Pro: 45%

    Alex Smith, QB

    Some of you will suggest I get myself checked out for even adding Alex to the discussion, but I firmly believe he'll rise to the occasion in 2012 and put forth an even better campaign than that of 2011. 

    Of course, as long as Alex competes in a conference that features Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Cam Newton and even Tony Romo, his Pro Bowl chances will remain slim to none.

    Nonetheless, he's one of the better players on the 49er roster and I added him to the mix.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 35%

    First-Team All Pro: 15%

    Michael Crabtree, WR

    Crabtree's situation is similar to Alex's; there are a number of wide receivers who will out-produce Crabs simply because of the amount of targets they'll receive in 2012.

    The former Red Raider is a bit of a wild card to add here anyway, given that he's now part of a very deep receiving corps in SF with wideouts talented enough to eventually overtake his starting spot.

    However, Crabtree is entering his fourth NFL season and is now finally healthy. Finally having a full offseason to finally gain chemistry with Alex, this could be the year that Crabs lives up to the hype.

    This will be an interesting story as the 2012 season plays out.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 30%

    First-Team All Pro: 10%

Honorable Mentions

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    Donte Whitner, SS

    Like Rogers, the hard-hitting safety found a comfortable home in the Niners 'secondary in 2011, and the 26-year-old former first-round pick could very feasibly wind up on a Pro Bowl roster in 2012.

    However, there are a handful of elite safeties in the NFL that will make this feat extremely difficult to achieve. 

    Pro Bowl Selection: 25%

    First-Team All Pro: 10%

    Anthony Davis, RT

    Considerable improvement is expected from the former 11th overall pick in 2010, but will it wind up being a Pro Bowl-worthy performance in 2012?

    Not likely.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 20%

    First-Team All Pro: 5%

    Tarell Brown, CB

    The five-year veteran CB stepped up his play considerably as the 2011 season wore on, ultimately picking off four passes and defending 15 passes as well. 

    Will Brown continue to thrive as the team's No. 2 corner, or will the more physically gifted second-year CB Chris Culliver make the most of his potential and steal Brown's spot?

    I'm expecting the latter, but you never know.

    Pro Bowl Selection: 15%

    First-Team All Pro: 5%

    Special Mention: Brian Jennings, LS

    A longsnapper is voted onto the Pro Bowl roster each year, and the longest-tenured 49er has made the trip twice now. First in 2003, and the second coming in 2011. Special Teams play was huge for SF in 2011, and if the story plays out the same in 2012, the 49ers long snapper could find himself on the roster once again.

    Hopefully you didn't take this slideshow too seriously, as it is only mid-July. But it's a good time of year for wacky predictions and entertaining pieces, and I hope it served its purpose.

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