2015 NFL Pro Bowl: A Complete Guide to This Year's All-Star Game

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 24, 2015

2015 NFL Pro Bowl: A Complete Guide to This Year's All-Star Game

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    The Pro Bowl is the pinnacle of professional football, a titanic struggle featuring teams comprised of only the very best players in the National Football League.

    OK, so that might be exaggerating just a tad.

    The Pro Bowl is actually a much-criticized exhibition played like a backyard game by the NFL's best players who actually feel like showing up. The game catches a lot of flak. In fact, as recently as 2012, there was talk in league circles about eliminating it altogether.

    That was until, of course, they remembered that it's a football game on television at the end of January. And people will watch a football game at the end of January, even if the level of play is somewhat less than "crisp."

    In recent years, new rules have been added in an effort to increase interest in the matchup. Gone is the old AFC vs. NFC format, in favor of a "fantasy style" Pro Bowl draft a few days before the game.

    The teams have been selected for this year's game in Glendale, Arizona, and whether it's new wrinkles (Ooooh. Shiny trophy) or old faces, here's everything you need to know in advance of Sunday's big showdown.

    OK, so that might be another one of those exaggerations.

Particulars and History

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    What: 2015 NFL Pro Bowl

    Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

    When: Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015

    Time: 8 p.m. ET

    TV: ESPN

    Line (no, really): Team Carter (-2) Team Irvin

    The Pro Bowl has, believe it or not, been around since before World War II.

    Back then, it was known simply as the "Pro All-Star Game." It featured a team of all-stars facing off against that season's NFL champion. In the inaugural game in 1939, played at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (yes, you read that right), the New York Giants beat the All-Stars 13-10.

    The war caused a cessation of the game in 1942. When it was reborn in 1950, it came with the moniker of "Pro Bowl" and pitted the best players of the American and National conferences against one another. The American conference prevailed 28-27, with Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham winning MVP honors. Yes, long ago good things happened in Cleveland.

    From 1950 to 1971, the game was played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It then went on walkabout for nearly a decade, alternating sites, before settling in at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu for what most fans recognize as the modern Pro Bowl.

    In 2009, the game was moved to Sun Life Stadium in Miami (site of that year's Super Bowl). The date was also changed from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before. The game moved back to Hawaii the following season, but this year it was relocated to Glendale the week before Super Bowl XLIX.

    Next year's game will take place back at Aloha Stadium on Jan. 31, 2016.

Voting Process

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    Every year in December when the Pro Bowl rosters are announced, I am invariably asked how exactly the players are chosen.

    Well, it's actually pretty simple. A vote by the NFL's coaches counts for one-third. A vote by the league's players does as well. And since 1995, the final third of the vote is comprised of fans.

    As with any vote involving the fans, there are pitfalls. In many respects, the Pro Bowl is as much a popularity contest as a true barometer of the league's top players in a given season. Then, there is the teeming horde known as "the alternates."

    Obviously, with the Pro Bowl now the week before the Super Bowl, player's from that year's game can't play. Many players (especially veterans who have been named to multiple Pro Bowls) beg off with injuries or for personal reasons.

    And by "injuries," I mean the sniffles, a sprained eyelash, my eyes hurt so I can't see going to the Pro Bowl—that sort of thing. For each of those players who declines to attend, an alternate is named. If that alternate declines, an alternate for the alternate is named, and so on.

    The large number of players who beg off on the game has long been one of the primary criticisms of the Pro Bowl, and this year those critics got some fresh ammunition.

    As Marc Sessler of NFL.com reported, after Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (calf injury) and Baltimore's Joe Flacco (personal) bowed out of this year's Pro Bowl, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was named to the team.

    As a seventh alternate.

Coaches

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    Much like the game itself, the selection process for the coaching staffs for the Pro Bowl has undergone some changes in recent years.

    For most of the modern history of the Pro Bowl, when the game was held the week after the Super Bowl, the losing staffs from the AFC and NFC Championship Games would coach the game.

    That went by the wayside when the date of the game was changed. Now, the highest-seeded staff from each conference that loses in the divisional round typically coaches the game.

    I say "typically" because that's not how things played out in 2015. With the Denver Broncos and head coach John Fox parting ways a day after their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL was forced to go to, well, an alternate in John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens' staff.

    Harbaugh told Garrett Downing of the Ravens' website he's looking forward to getting to know "his" team. "You get to know guys," Harbaugh said. "That’s always a fun part, is getting to know some of the players around the league."

    Harbaugh and the Ravens' staff will be opposed by head coach Jason Garrett and the coaches of the Dallas Cowboys. Garrett's own status was up in the air after his contract expired following the season, but a new five-year extension gives Garrett one more reason to enjoy this little siesta.

New Rules

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    As I mentioned earlier, the Pro Bowl has been big on tinkering with the game in recent years in an effort to drum up more interest. OK, so it was to drum up any interest in the game. Whatever.

    For starters, as Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com reports, the NFL will be making life harder for kickers at this year's Pro Bowl:

    The NFL is narrowing the goalposts for Sunday's game, moving them from 18.6 feet wide to 14 feet wide, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said at a Pro Bowl news conference Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore.

    And as the league did early in the preseason, extra points will be moved back to the 15-yard line, making them 33.5-yard attempts, Vincent added.

    'It'll allow us to see exactly how skilled the kicker position has actually become,' Vincent said.

    But wait, there's more! As Marc Sessler of NFL.com reports, teams will also be granted more timeouts, because more is always better:

    Teams will be granted two timeouts per quarter instead of the customary three timeouts per half. If teams use just one timeout in the first or third periods, they can carry over one to the second and fourth quarters, respectively.

    These rules are in addition to a slew of new additions (per Sessler) from a year ago:

    Offensive and defensive MVPs: The media will choose two game MVPs, one offensive player and one defensive player. Each MVP will be presented with a new GMC vehicle and an MVP medallion.

    Game within the game: A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters, with the ball changing hands after each quarter.

    No kickoffs: A coin toss will determine which team is first awarded possession. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays.

    Rosters: The rosters will now consist of 44 players per side, including an additional defensive back for roster flexibility.

    Cover 2 and press coverage: Defenses will be permitted to play Cover 2 and press coverage. In previous years, only man coverage was permitted, save for goal-line situations.

    Stopping of the game clock: Beginning at the two-minute mark of each quarter, if the offense fails to gain at least one yard, the clock will stop as if the play were an incomplete pass.

    Game timing: The game clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee, except inside the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.

    Play clock: A 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.

    Sacks: The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the game. The game clock currently stops in these situations outside of two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.

    Confused? Good, it's the perfect frame of mind to be in while I try to explain...

The Draft

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    Last year, the NFL ditched the whole "AFC vs. NFC" format. Instead, two former NFL greats assemble their Pro Bowl rosters over a two-day "fantasy style" draft...if fantasy football drafts were 138 more times complicated than necessary.

    This year's teams were built by alumni captains Cris Carter and Michael Irvin. The alumni captains are then assigned the top two vote-getters on each side of the ball (via a coin toss) as team captains. This year that was Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (Team Irvin) and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (Team Carter).

    And don't start about the team names and uniforms. I don't know what they were thinking either.

    At this point, the real fun begins. I would not dream of denying you the opportunity to experience the full effect of what would happen if you let 19 attorneys run your fantasy league, so without further ado here are the official rules for the Pro Bowl draft, via NFL.com:

    Team Rosters

    Offense: Each Pro Bowl team must have 21 players on offense in the following positions:

    » Four wide receivers
    » Three tackles
    » Three guards
    » Two centers
    » Two tight ends
    » Three quarterbacks
    » Three running backs
    » One fullback

    Defense: Each Pro Bowl team must have 18 players on defense in the following positions:

    » Three defensive ends
    » Three interior linemen
    » Three outside linebackers
    » Two inside/middle linebackers
    » Four cornerbacks
    » Three safeties

    Special Teams: Each Pro Bowl team must have five players on special teams in the following positions:
    » One punter
    » One placekicker
    » One special teamer
    » One returner
    » One 'need' player selected by coach (e.g., long snapper)

     

    Draft-Eligible Players

    There are 88 players that participate in the Pro Bowl. Eighty-two of these 88 players are draft-eligible. Four of the 88 players will be captains as described above. Two of the 88 players are appointed by coaches because they are 'need' players (e.g., long snapper) and will be drafted with the coaches.

    A maximum of 64 players will be drafted, while a minimum of 18 players will be assigned. Once a team fills its roster limit for a position, the other team is assigned the remaining players at that position. Assignments do not count as picks. For example, if Team Carter has only picked two WRs when Team Irvin picks its fourth WR, the remaining two WRs will be assigned to Team Carter and Team Carter will have the next pick in the draft.

     

    Pre-Draft Selection

    This draft will be taped either on Jan. 20, 2015 at noon directly after the coin toss (part of this will be shown on NFL.com and throughout the Jan. 21, 2015 night draft). Picks will be a maximum of 30 seconds.

    Twenty-six players, 13 per team, are drafted or assigned in segments from the following position groups in this order:

    1. Three interior linemen
    2. Three guards
    3. Two centers
    4. One fullback, one punter, one placekicker, one returner and and one special teamer (e.g. coverage player)

    Picks are in alternating order. There will be eight players assigned. There will be 18 actual selections made by the full front office. After the pre-selection, each team will have 15 players (30 total players): 13 draft/assigned during Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015's draft and two captains.

     

    Draft Night

    On Jan. 21, 2015, players selected/assigned during the pre-selection draft will be recognized at the outset of the show. All players will be given and wear their team's Pro Bowl jersey. All players being drafted on Wednesday night's show will wear their NFL team jersey. The remaining players are drafted in a two-hour live show on NFL Network on Wednesday night Jan. 21, 2015.

    Sixty seconds maximum per pick, but captains need not take the full time to make a selection.

    Fifty-six players, 28 per team, will be drafted or assigned from the following position groups:

    » Four wide receivers
    » Three tackles
    » Two tight ends
    » Three quarterbacks
    » Three running backs
    » Three outside linebackers
    » Two inside/middle linebackers
    » Four cornerbacks
    » Three safeties
    » Three defensive ends

     

    Notes

    Four of the players above will be captains and already on a team prior to the Jan. 21, 2015 draft.

    There will be a minimum of 10 players assigned. There will be a maximum of 46 players drafted.

    At the conclusion of the draft, the team that chooses second will draft the coaching staff (and need player).

    Coaches only need to be present for the last 30 minutes of the draft.

    Now, as you digest all that (and reach for the Advil), you're probably wondering, "Did I really need to know all that? Couldn't you just tell me which players are on what team after last week's draft?"

    Yes. Yes I could. And I will.

    But this way was more fun for me, and I thought the Pro Bowl should at least be fun for somebody.

Team Carter

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    Head Coach: John Harbaugh, Baltimore

    Team Captains: J.J. Watt, Houston; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

    It fell to Team Carter to make the first selection on the second day of the Pro Bowl draft. For the second straight season, a quarterback was taken in that spot. The same quarterback as last year, as a matter of fact.

    As Sports Illustrated reported, team captain J.J. Watt strolled to the podium and announced that Team Carter had selected "the neckbeard with the arm." That's Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, for those who were wondering.

    Luck told Will Brinson of CBS Sports that being selected No. 1 overall (again) in the Pro Bowl was an honor, even if he still felt "deflated" by the team's playoff loss to the New England Patriots.

    Yes, he really said that.

    Here's the rest of Team Carter, courtesy of ESPN:

    Offense

    Quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis; Drew Brees, New Orleans; Andy Dalton, Cincinnati.

    Running backs: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City; Justin Forsett, Baltimore; Alfred Morris, Washington.

    Wide receivers: A.J. Green, Cincinnati; T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis; Jordy Nelson, Green Bay; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (captain).

    Tight ends: Martellus Bennett, Chicago; Greg Olsen, Carolina.

    Fullback: John Kuhn, Green Bay.

    Tackles: Joe Staley, San Francisco; Duane Brown, Houston; Ryan Clady, Denver.

    Guards: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia; Mike Pouncey, Miami; Josh Sitton, Green Bay.

    Centers: Jason Kelce, Philadelphia; Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh.



    Defense

    Defensive ends: J.J. Watt, Houston (captain); Mario Williams, Buffalo; Calais Campbell, Arizona.

    Interior defensive linemen: Marcell Dareus, Buffalo; Dontari Poe, Kansas City; Kyle Williams, Buffalo.

    Outside linebackers: Justin Houston, Kansas City; Connor Barwin, Philadelphia; Tamba Hali, Kansas City.

    Inside linebackers: C.J. Mosley, Baltimore; Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh.

    Cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson, Arizona; Aqib Talib, Denver; Antonio Cromartie, Arizona; Sam Shields, Green Bay.

    Safeties: Antoine Bethea, San Francisco; Glover Quin, Detroit; Donte Whitner, Cleveland.



    Special teams

    Punter: Pat McAfee, Indianapolis.

    Place-kicker: Cody Parkey, Philadelphia.

    Return specialist: Devin Hester, Atlanta.

    Special-teamer: Justin Bethel, Arizona.

    Long-snapper: Jon Dorenbos, Philadelphia.

Team Irvin

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    Head Coach: Jason Garrett, Dallas

    Team Captains: DeMarco Murray, Dallas; Joe Haden, Cleveland

    Michael Irvin is apparently quite the homer.

    Irvin's Pro Bowl team is littered with players from the Dallas Cowboys. In addition to team captain DeMarco Murray and head coach Jason Garrett, Irvin made quarterback Tony Romo his first draft pick. Four more Cowboys players would follow.

    In fact, the team even added a former Cowboys star in Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware.

    While speaking with ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer, Ware said the reunion won't be for naught:

    Actually [defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] came to me and he said, 'Do you have any rushes left in you? Let’s get to the quarterback this week,' so I know he’s excited. He takes his game to a whole other level. Whenever he’s out there able to coach it’s a game and he said, 'I am going to be on the winning team. I’m not going to lose.'

    Here's a look at the players who will be joining Ware, Murray and Romo on Team Irvin:

    Offense

    Quarterbacks: Tony Romo, Dallas; Matt Ryan, Atlanta; Matthew Stafford, Detroit.

    Running backs: C.J. Anderson, Denver; Mark Ingram, New Orleans, DeMarco Murray, Dallas (captain).

    Wide receivers: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants; Golden Tate, Detroit; Emmanuel Sanders, Denver; Randall Cobb, Green Bay.

    Tight ends: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans; Jason Witten, Dallas.

    Fullback: Marcel Reece, Oakland.

    Tackles: Joe Thomas, Cleveland; Tyron Smith, Dallas; Trent Williams, Washington.

    Guards: Kyle Long, Chicago; Zack Martin, Dallas; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore.

    Centers: Travis Frederick, Dallas; Nick Mangold, New York Jets.



    Defense

    Defensive ends: Robert Quinn, St. Louis; Cameron Wake, Miami; DeMarcus Ware, Denver.

    Defensive tackles: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati; Aaron Donald, St. Louis; Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets.

    Outside linebackers: Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore; Clay Matthews, Green Bay; Von Miller, Denver.

    Inside linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Carolina; D'Qwell Jackson, Indianapolis.

    Cornerbacks: Vontae Davis, Indianapolis; Brent Grimes, Miami; Joe Haden, Cleveland (captain); Chris Harris Jr., Denver.

    Safeties: Eric Weddle, San Diego, Mike Adams, Indianapolis; T.J. Ward, Denver.



    Special teams

    Punter: Kevin Huber, Cincinnati.

    Place-kicker: Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis.

    Return specialist: Darren Sproles, Philadelphia.

    Special-teamer: Darrell Stuckey, San Diego.

    Long-snapper: L.P. Ladouceur, Dallas

Pro Bowl Storylines

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    OK, we've established that the Pro Bowl isn't exactly replete with drama and intrigue. If it was, we might have had a football story that didn't involve deflated balls in the past week.

    Be sure to see a doctor if...never mind. The jokes are already getting stale. However, that doesn't mean there's nothing interesting that will be going on as Team Irvin and Team Carter do "battle" Sunday.

    No One Wants to Be the Last Kid Picked

    Criticize all you want, but the switch to a "fantasy style" draft seemed to cause an increase in the intensity level among players at the Pro Bowl last year.

    J.J. Watt told Deepi Sidhu of the Texans' website that Team Carter was all about picking players who will give it their all.

    "When we are going through and picking guys, we’re going to pick the guys that are going to go out there and play hard," Watt said. "We’re going to pick the guys that want to win. That’s what makes it so much fun."

    Conversely, the draft room has become maybe the most exciting part of the entire week. Players give one another grief about how long it took for a guy to get picked. It's the playground all over again.

    2014 sack king Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs took to Twitter to express his displeasure over being selected 15th in this year's Pro Bowl draft. "As the NFL sack leader," Houston wrote, "I'm a (little) mad I didn't go earlier but I'm happy I wasn't the last pick."

    No, that "honor" (excluding the players who were assigned to teams) went to San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea.

    We'll see if that slight inspires Bethea in the game itself.

    Teammates No More

    Another interesting possibility was created when the Pro Bowl went to its new draft format—friends becoming enemies.

    With the teams no longer divided by conference, it's now possible for teammates to become opponents. That's exactly what happened this year with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (Team Carter) and cornerback Vontae Davis (Team Irvin) of the Indianapolis Colts.

    Hilton (who was taken before Davis) told "Around the NFL" (via Kevin Patra of NFL.com) that he's looking forward to the showdown after the pair engaged in some verbal sparring on Twitter earlier this week. "It was fun talking smack with him for a little bit," Hilton said. "We finally get to play on different teams and just go at it."

    That isn't the only wide receiver vs. cornerback teammate duel that will play out Sunday. Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (Team Irvin) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Team Carter) also find themselves on opposing squads.

    In a game that's all about throwing the ball, these individual competitions should be fun to watch, especially given the grief the loser will catch next summer in training camp.

'Fixing' the Pro Bowl

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    Every year, there are any number of suggestions bandied about how to "fix" the Pro Bowl. Well, in addition to the annual calls to abolish the game altogether.

    Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter recently proposed a number of ideas, including a change in how players are selected and rescheduling the game:

    The solutions here are obvious: Open fan voting for two weeks following Christmas, reduce or eliminate player and coach voting, change the definition of positions being voted on and return the Pro Bowl to its post-postseason date.

    There's another possible remedy, and it goes hand-in-hand with the expanded 18-game regular-season schedule the NFL has hinted at implementing: an all-star break.

    Every other major American sport takes a break in the middle of the season for an All-Star Game. Why not ditch the rotating-bye-week boondoggle and just take a two-week break in the middle of the year?

    Everyone can play, everyone can benefit from the rest, and there's less risk of injury as opposed to players going a dangerous mix of speeds. There's also less time for fans to get silly with the voting and a better chance you see what the Pro Bowl's supposed to be: all the game's top stars, playing their best.

    Fantasy Sports Lead Writer Eric Mack, on the other hand, had a couple of suggestions for reconfiguring the teams:

    The NFL finally altered its salary structure so the top draft picks aren't richer than the players who have cut their teeth in the league for years. Now, it would be interesting to watch those same vets prove to the world they are better than the young guns.

    Father Time is undefeated in the universe. Let's see the big-name vets fight against it for 60 minutes.

    Whether it is rookies or first- and second-year players, it doesn't matter to us. Put the kids out there against the game's older players and see what happens.

    If young vs. old isn't your cup of tea, how about East vs. West?

    Maybe you don't buy that veterans will show up to potentially get, well, shown up by the youth. How about this: Take the high school or college origins of the selected Pro Bowlers and divide them up into teams that way.

    Then, similar to baseball, put the Super Bowl in the region of the winner.

    Personally, I've always been partial to the notion of combining the Pro Bowl and the Senior Bowl, which both take place this weekend. The nation's top collegiate seniors could fly into Honolulu (or wherever) for several days of workouts for scouts, just as they now do in Mobile, Alabama.

    Then, those college seniors would square off in an exhibition against the NFL's best. Or, the "fantasy draft" format could be kept, and teams would be constructed of both veterans and incoming rookies. However, while each of these suggestions has its merits, each also has one likely insurmountable obstacle.

    The odds that the NFL would reschedule the Pro Bowl for November aren't good. The odds that they'd change how (and where) Super Bowls are awarded may be worse. And agents aren't about to risk NFL careers that haven't started yet in an exhibition against All-Pros.

    Besides, for all the criticism the Pro Bowl gets, it still drew more than 11 million TV viewers last year. That was better than every other sport's All-Star Game and better than most postseason games in other sports.

    So, while you're watching the Pro Bowl Sunday, rather than trying to figure out all of the things that are wrong with it, just sit back, grab some snacks and enjoy the elements that are right.

    Because the Pro Bowl isn't going anywhere.