What the Pro Bowl Rosters Should Be at NFL's Midseason Mark

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2019

What the Pro Bowl Rosters Should Be at NFL's Midseason Mark

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The NFL's All-Star Game doesn't seem to carry as much weight as those in other professional sports. Due to injuries or a lack of interest, several players now skip the Pro Bowl, meaning some of the contributors appearing in the game are in the second or third tier of vote-getters.

    Still, earning a nod is important to players, both because they like to be recognized for their accomplishments and because many contracts include Pro Bowl incentives. For fans, it's a great way to recognize which standouts are at least among the best at their respective positions.

    While other sports have their All-Star games during the season, that isn't possible due to the physical nature of the NFL. It's a fun exercise, however, to identify who this year's Pro Bowlers would be if there were a midseason break.

    That's what we're going to do here, recognizing which players have been the best through nine weeks of action. This is an important distinction because players who have missed significant time due to injury—like Patrick Mahomes and Kyle Juszczyk—may ultimately get the nod but aren't quite there just yet.

         

Quarterback

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    Texans QB Deshaun Watson
    Texans QB Deshaun WatsonIan Walton/Associated Press

    AFC: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans; Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens; Tom Brady, New England Patriots

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is having a tremendous season. He's already passed for 2,432 yards with 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's also rushed for 279 yards and five more scores, and he's been dangerous enough to keep the Texans in playoff contention despite their questionable defense.

    Along with Baltimore Ravens signal-caller Lamar Jackson, Watson is a legitimate MVP candidate.

    Jackson has been equally impressive, though he's done so as even more of a dual-threat option. The Louisville product really might be changing the position, as he has passed for 1,813 yards, rushed for 637 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns with just five picks. His ability to avoid the pass rush and elude would-be tacklers can be demoralizing to a defense.

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady represents the more traditional pocket passer, and he's done so remarkably well. He ranks second in the NFL with 2,536 passing yards and has thrown 14 touchdown passes with five interceptions. Brady may not be as flashy as Watson or Jackson, but no one is more trustworthy in big games or critical situations.

         

    NFC: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers; Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions.

    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson may be the leading MVP candidate after nine weeks. He remains as elusive as ever and rarely makes the sort of mental mistakes that might sink his team's chances.

    Wilson ranks third in passing yards with 2,505 and has thrown an incredible 22 touchdowns with just one interception. He has added 203 yards and three more scores on the ground.

    Aaron Rodgers continues to do Aaron Rodgers things—like tossing falling-away scoring strikes that would make Stephen Curry envious. The Green Bay Packers quarterback has thrown for 2,485 yards with 17 touchdowns and two picks.

    While things haven't gone as planned for the Detroit Lions, quarterback Matthew Stafford has been tremendous. His arm talent has never been in question, but with a better supporting cast around him—including Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola, Marvin Jones Jr. and T.J. Hockenson—he has entered elite territory.

    Stafford has thrown for 2,499 yards with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Running Back

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    Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
    Panthers RB Christian McCaffreyMike McCarn/Associated Press

    AFC: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns; Leonard Fournette,  Jacksonville Jaguars; Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders; Patrick Ricard, FB, Baltimore Ravens

    The AFC's two leading rushers are Jacksonville Jaguars back Leonard Fournette (831 yards) and Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns (803 yards). Chubb actually leads the AFC in rushing yards per game with 100.4. He's also added 161 receiving yards and has scored six touchdowns on the ground.

    Both Fournette and Chubb are capable of powering through opposing defenses, and they gobble up yards after contract. Yet both are also home-run threats. Fournette has a long of 81 yards this season, while Chubb has hit from 88 yards out.

    The newcomer to the Pro Bowl mix is Oakland Raiders first-round rookie Josh Jacobs. The former Alabama standout has been nothing short of special in Year 1, racking up 740 rushing yards, 102 receiving yards and six touchdowns of his own.

    "He's having a real heck of a year," Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said of Jacobs, per Jason B. Hirschhorn of Sports Illustrated. "It wouldn't surprise me if he won Rookie of the Year. I mean, this guy could run it. He can catch it. He has a nose for the end zone. He's a dynamic player."

    Jacobs is a big reason why the Raiders sit at 4-4.

    Fullback Patrick Ricard has played a critical role in the Ravens offense this season, both as a lead blocker and a pass protector. Physical and efficient in both areas, Ricard has played more than 25 percent of Baltimore's offensive snaps, which leads the AFC, per Football Outsiders.

        

    NFC: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers; Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings; Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; C.J. Ham, FB, Minnesota Vikings

    A running back hasn't been named NFL MVP since Adrian Peterson won the award back in 2012. However, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey could make a realistic case this season. It's hard to argue about his value through nine weeks, anyway.

    McCaffrey has racked up 881 rushing yards, 363 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns so far this season. He's incredibly elusive in the open field but strong enough to break through on interior runs. McCaffrey is the epitome of a modern every-down back.

    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has been nearly as valuable as McCaffrey. Both shifty and strong, he is finally healthy and living up to his status as a 2017 second-round pick. He has 894 rushing yards, 338 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in nine games.

    One reason Cook has had success this season is the presence of fullback C.J. Ham. The third-year man has filled a bigger role than any other fullback this season, playing 36.6 percent of Minnesota's offensive snaps, per Football Outsiders.

    More than just a powerful lead blocker, Ham has contributed nine rushing yards, 51 receiving yards and a touchdown to the Vikings offense.

    While Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott may miss out on his third rushing title in four seasons, he's been invaluable to the Dallas attack. He has 917 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns through eight games and remains hard to bring down with just one defender.

Wide Receiver

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    Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins
    Texans WR DeAndre HopkinsMatt Dunham/Associated Press

    AFC: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans; DJ Chark Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars; Julian Edelman, New England Patriots; Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

    Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins remains one of the NFL's most prolific wide receivers. Big (6'1", 212 lbs), physical and quick, he is able to gain separation in a variety of ways. One might point to Deshaun Watson as a reason for his success before remembering he was a Pro Bowler in 2015 with Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Hopkins is truly special.

    Through nine games, he has already amassed 68 receptions, 665 yards and four touchdowns.

    Likewise, Chargers wideout Keenan Allen is in line for a third consecutive Pro Bowl nod. The 27-year-old has racked up 54 receptions, 657 yards and three scores. Capable of stretching the field and catching the ball in traffic, he is one of the most complete receivers in the game.

    The surprise entries here are Jaguars wideout DJ Chark Jr. and Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. Chark, a second-year player, has 692 yards and six touchdowns on 43 receptions. He's arrived as the No. 1 receiver Jacksonville has been missing.

    In his 11th season, Edelman could be racing toward the first Pro Bowl of his career. He has 63 receptions for 663 yards and four touchdowns in nine games. He's long been one of the most reliable postseason receivers in the league, but his toughness, precise route-running and sticky hands are now making him a regular-season standout.

        

    NFC: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints; Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Despite not having quarterback Drew Brees for a five-game stretch, New Orleans Saints wideout Michael Thomas has continued to produce at a high level. He already has 73 receptions for 875 yards and four touchdowns, and he has dominated opposing secondaries regardless of whether Brees or Teddy Bridgewater is throwing him the ball.

    Meanwhile, Chris Godwin has emerged as the top receiver for the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His game-breaking quickness has allowed him to rack up 54 receptions for 766 yards and six touchdowns.

    Teammate Mike Evans is still one of the best wideouts in all of football, though, and he remains the ultimate cheat code in jump-ball situations. Evans has 50 receptions for 842 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season.

    Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett is second in the NFC with 59 receptions to go with 767 yards and six touchdowns. He has replaced Doug Baldwin as Seattle's No. 1 receiver and is quickly becoming one of the conference's most dangerous players. His breakaway speed has long been an asset to the Seattle offense. Now he's capitalizing on the chance to show off his consistency.

Tight End

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    Chiefs TE Travis Kelce
    Chiefs TE Travis KelceCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    AFC: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs; Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders

    The AFC's top two players at this position both reside in the AFC West.

    Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is a perennial Pro Bowler and is on that path again in 2019. He has 49 receptions for 666 yards and two touchdowns so far. Almost a wideout despite his 6'5", 260-pound frame, Kelce is the rare tight end for whom opposing defenses have to game plan. He might also be the league's biggest mismatch at the position now that Rob Gronkowski has retired.

    Raiders tight end Darren Waller, meanwhile, has been one of the league's biggest surprises. He has just one fewer reception than Kelce to go with 548 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Like his Kansas City counterpart, he is capable of attacking all areas of the field, including the deep zones.

    Waller has 10 more receptions than the next-most-productive AFC tight end, Baltimore's Mark Andrews.

        

    NFC: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers; Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

    San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle shocked the NFL with a breakout 1,377-yard campaign last season. He hasn't been quite as productive in 2019, though that's largely a product of San Francisco's run-oriented attack. He has the size (6'4", 250 lbs) and quickness to be a mismatch for any player one-on-one.

    Kittle is still on pace to make his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He already has 46 receptions for 541 yards and two touchdowns, and he's been the centerpiece of an undefeated 49ers passing attack.

    Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper is also set to earn his second straight Pro Bowl nod. However, he's on pace to obliterate his numbers from last year.

    In 2018, Hooper received the honor after catching 71 passes for 660 yards and four touchdowns. Through eight games, he already has 52 receptions for 592 yards and five scores. Quick, shifty and explosive after the catch, he might be the most underrated piece of Atlanta's top-ranked passing attack.

Offensive Tackle

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    Cowboys OT Tyron Smith
    Cowboys OT Tyron SmithAssociated Press

    AFC: Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens; Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis Colts; Kolton Miller, Oakland Raiders

    Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley doesn't get enough credit for his pass-blocking because of Lamar Jackson's mobility in the pocket. However, he's quietly been one of the better blindside blockers in the game and has been a key piece of Baltimore's top-ranked rushing attack.

    Anthony Castonzo has been a rock for the Indianapolis Colts this season and has helped Jacoby Brissett find success replacing Andrew Luck at quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed just two sacks and has a single penalty on the season.

    Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller deserves recognition for helping turn around Oakland's offense. He is powerful at the point of attack and has improved his technique dramatically since his rookie campaign in 2018. The Raiders rank 15th in passing (245.3 yards per game) and sixth in rushing (136.4) this season. Neither would be possible without Miller anchoring the left side.

        

    NFC: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys; Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints; David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers

    Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith has missed two games due to injury, but he's been remarkable when healthy. He's started six of Dallas' eight contests and has allowed just one sack, according to Pro Football Focus. Smith is as reliable and consistent as they come at left tackle. While he hasn't shown the durability of vintage Joe Thomas, he's picked up the mantle of the consensus best tackle in the game.

    Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk has anchored the right side for one of the NFL's most consistent offenses this season. Regardless of whether it's been Drew Brees or Teddy Bridgewater under center, he has ensured that his quarterback has time in the pocket.

    Meanwhile, Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari continues to be one of the NFL's most unheralded yet elite linemen. A first-team All-Pro in 2018, he serves as an anchor in the passing game and a springboard for Green Bay's ground and screen attack on the left side.

Guard

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    Colts G Quenton Nelson
    Colts G Quenton NelsonJeff Haynes/Associated Press

    AFC: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens; David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Colts guard Quenton Nelson was an All-Pro as a rookie in 2018. He's been the same quality player and mainstay along the line for Indianapolis in Year 2. There may not be a more powerful blocker in the run game. 

    Ravens guard Marshal Yanda is a seven-time Pro Bowler who is again having a stellar season. Baltimore has averaged an incredible 204.9 rushing yards per game, which wouldn't be possible without the veteran consistently sealing inside blocks.

    While the Pittsburgh Steelers haven't been as dominant on the ground as Baltimore, they've won three of their last four games—the only loss coming in overtime against Baltimore. With injuries at running back and with an inexperienced quarterback in Mason Rudolph, a lot of credit has to go to the line.

    DeCastro appears set to earn his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl nod.

         

    NFC: Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys; Laken Tomlinson, San Francisco 49ers; Andrus Peat, New Orleans Saints

    Cowboys guard Zack Martin has been named to the Pro Bowl in all five of his NFL seasons. That trend isn't likely to end in 2019. The former Notre Dame star has started all eight games for Dallas and remains one of the most consistent players on the entire offense. 

    Laken Tomlinson has never been named to a Pro Bowl, but he should get the honor in his third season with the 49ers. He's been a key piece of the league's second-ranked rushing attack, capable of opening holes on the interior and pulling to the outside on some of Kyle Shanahan's more exotic run calls.

    Andrus Peat deserves credit for helping anchor the interior of the Saints offensive line. He made his first Pro Bowl last season and should be in line for another nod this year.

    The Saints' run-blocking has earned a ton of recognition because Alvin Kamara is a special back. However, when Latavius Murray racks up 221 rushing yards in a two-game stretch, guys like Peat who are opening up the running lanes deserve some credit.

Center

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    Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey
    Steelers C Maurkice PounceyJoe Sargent/Getty Images

    AFC: Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers; Matt Skura, Baltimore Ravens

    Though he gains some status through name recognition, Maurkice Pouncey remains one of the most reliable and consistent players on the Pittsburgh offensive line. He's capable of moving some of the league's biggest defenders in the running game and rarely surrenders interior pressure. 

    There is a reason he has earned seven Pro Bowl nominations in his career, and he should get an eighth for his work this season.

    Matt Skura has played a similar role for the Ravens. He's great at redirecting interior pressure, and he's capable of opening huge running lanes. Lamar Jackson has often had success avoiding edge pressure because there weren't defenders in his face on the interior.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Skura has allowed just one sack through eight games.

        

    NFC: Weston Richburg, San Francisco 49ers; Erik McCoy, New Orleans Saints

    Like Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg has played a big role in springing San Francisco's potent rushing attack. He also hasn't allowed a sack while committing just two penalties in eight games, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Saints rookie second-rounder Erik McCoy deserves recognition for locking down the center position in the wake of Max Unger's offseason retirement. New Orleans also brought in free-agent center Nick Easton on a four-year, $22.5 million contract in the offseason. However, McCoy won the starting job and has run with it since.

    Powerful and agile, McCoy is an asset in all phases of the Saints offense, but he's been particularly effective as a run blocker. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints rank second with 5.11 adjusted line yards per carry on interior runs. That's a direct result of McCoy's blocking ability.

Defensive End

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    Browns DE Myles Garrett
    Browns DE Myles GarrettWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    AFC: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; Josh Allen, Jacksonville Jaguars

    The Cleveland Browns offense has been a major disappointment this season. Defensive end Myles Garrett has not. The third-year pro has 10 sacks through eight games and has emerged as one of the most unstoppable defenders in the NFL.

    "He's pretty much impossible to block," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Garrett, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "They put him in a lot of different places so you don't always know where he's going to be. But wherever he is you better find him and block him or he'll ruin the game."

    Though Joey Bosa has largely been overshadowed by his younger brother and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Bosa, he remains one of the most dangerous sack artists in the league. He has 46 tackles, 8.5 sacks, a league-leading 11 tackles for loss and a forced fumble through nine weeks.

    Nick may be getting the buzz, but that doesn't mean opposing quarterbacks are happy to face the elder Bosa.

    Jaguars rookie pass-rusher Josh Allen has also been overshadowed by Nick Bosa, but he has been nearly as impactful. He has seven sacks to go with 25 tackles and two forced fumbles despite making just four starts in nine games.

    Allen has the bend and the quick first step many rookie pass-rushers exhibit, but his ability to finish is truly remarkable for a first-year player.

        

    NFC: Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints; Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

    Look past his Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy. San Francisco rookie end Nick Bosa is a viable Defensive Player of the Year possibility.

    The former Ohio State standout has 21 tackles, seven sacks, a forced fumble and an interception, and the pressure he is able to create off the edge impacts plays even when he doesn't hit home. Bosa planted an imaginary flag after sacking Baker Mayfield back in Week 5. He's likely to take down several more quarterbacks before his rookie campaign concludes.

    Down in New Orleans, Cameron Jordan is putting together an underrated defensive campaign. The four-time Pro Bowler has amassed 28 tackles and eight sacks in eight games. He is one of the most difficult edge-defenders to block one-on-one, and he's been a big reason why the Saints defense is playing like a championship-caliber unit.

    Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter has also been quietly productive, producing 42 tackles, 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He should make his second straight Pro Bowl appearance this year because he can do a little bit of everything. He might even be having a career year as a pass-rusher, just six sacks shy of the career-high 14.5 he produced last season.

Defensive Tackle

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    Rams DT Aaron Donald
    Rams DT Aaron DonaldAlex Gallardo/Associated Press

    AFC: Danny Shelton, New England Patriots; Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals; Larry Ogunjobi, Cleveland Browns

    Defensive tackle Danny Shelton was widely considered a bust with the Cleveland Browns, but he has rejuvenated his career with the Patriots. He got his first Super Bowl ring last season and should see his first Pro Bowl nod in 2019.

    Through nine games, Shelton has produced 31 tackles and two sacks. For a big man (6'2", 345 pounds) who is supposed to occupy blocks and free up New England's ends and linebackers, his quickness and pursuit skills are impressive.

    While virtually nothing has gone right for the winless Cincinnati Bengals, defensive tackle Geno Atkins just keeps rolling along. The seven-time Pro Bowler is having another strong season and has been responsible for 26 tackles and three sacks this season.

    Atkins has long been a terror on the defensive interior, and that hasn't changed in his 10th season.

    The forgotten man on Cleveland's defensive line, Larry Ogunjobi has quietly been one of its best. He doesn't command as much attention as Garrett or Sheldon Richardson, but offensive linemen have to account for the powerful 305-pounder. The third-year man has 25 tackles and four sacks so far this season.

        

    NFC: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams; DeForest Buckner, San Francisco 49ers; Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

    Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is having a down year by his standards but remains one of the most impactful interior defenders in recent history. He has just five sacks through eight games but continually commands double teams and needs to be game-planned around.

    Donald also has 25 tackles and two forced fumbles.

    While Bosa has made the flash plays for San Francisco's defensive front, tackle DeForest Buckner has been its anchor. Capable of stonewalling running backs, he also has enough interior-rush moves to collapse the pocket and force quarterbacks into the waiting arms of Bosa and Dee Ford.

    Buckner has four sacks to go with 33 tackles and two forced fumbles.

    Grady Jarrett, meanwhile, is continuing his rise as one of the best young tackles in the NFL. The 26-year-old doesn't quite command Donald-level attention, but he's getting close. He has three sacks, 44 tackles and two forced fumbles in eight games.

Outside Linebacker

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    Steelers OLB T.J. Watt
    Steelers OLB T.J. WattGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    AFC: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers; Jamie Collins, New England Patriots; Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

    The Steelers have managed to win four of their last five thanks in large part to an aggressive defense. Linebacker T.J. Watt has been one of the best players on that defense, racking up 26 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

    A natural edge-rusher, Watt is maturing into a complete outside linebacker and a player opposing offenses want to avoid.

    Jamie Collins was a complete linebacker during his first stint with the Patriots, and he has seen a return to form in his first year back with the franchise. The 2015 Pro Bowler has 48 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions so far. He has been one of the league's most disruptive all-around defenders.

    Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus was overshadowed by Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt for far too long. With Clowney in Seattle and Watt on injured reserve, fans are now getting a good look at just how dominant he can be.

    Through nine games, Mercilus has 32 tackles, 5.5 sacks, a league-leading four forced fumbles and an interception.

        

    NFC: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders; Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Preston Smith, Green Bay Packers

    Back in 2015, Khalil Mack earned All-Pro honors at both defensive end and outside linebacker. He's played primarily at linebacker with the Chicago Bears since arriving last season, but his defensive impact has not declined.

    So far this season, Mack has 31 tackles, 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. While his numbers aren't quite as impressive as they were a year ago, he is still capable of taking over a game almost entirely by himself.

    Though he plays on one of the league's worst pass defenses, Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks in eight games. He also has 28 tackles, four forced fumbles and an interception. Barrett had shown glimpses of being an elite pass-rusher throughout his five seasons with the Denver Broncos, but he's blossomed into one of the NFL's most dangerous defenders off the edge in Tampa Bay.

    The Packers acquired linebacker Preston Smith in the offseason to add some physicality and punch to their pass rush. He has wasted little time making an impact for the Green Bay defense and has already racked up 35 tackles, eight sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.

    A perfect fit for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's multi-look scheme, Smith can set the edge, get to the quarterback, defend the pass and do just about anything else required of him.

Inside Linebacker

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    Steelers ILB Devin Bush
    Steelers ILB Devin BushKyusung Gong/Associated Press

    AFC: Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers; Joe Schobert, Cleveland Browns

    Along with Nick Bosa, Steelers inside linebacker Devin Bush is a front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He's shown the ability to take over games, as he did against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6. The former Michigan standout has already produced 66 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown.

    Pittsburgh traded up to 10th overall in the 2019 draft to secure Bush and keep him from falling to the Cincinnati Bengals. That move is quickly looking like the right one.

    Browns linebacker Joe Schobert made his first Pro Bowl appearance two seasons ago, and he appears on pace to make his second. Through eight games, he has 77 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. Schobert is an instinctive player who flows to the football like Cuyahoga rapids. He's already logged four games with double-digit tackles this season.

        

    NFC: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks; Jaylon Smith, Dallas Cowboys

    Bobby Wagner has always been one of the more underrated players on the Seahawks. Back in the Legion of Boom days, he was a key cog but never got the recognition enjoyed by Seattle's defensive backs. Once the Legion disbanded and Seattle became more of an offensive team, standouts like Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett got the credit—and rightfully so.

    However, Wagner has quietly been a four-time first-team All-Pro. He's one of the most consistent and productive inside linebackers in the NFL and already has 86 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble this season.

    Cowboys inside linebacker Jaylon Smith appears poised to make his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2019. The 2016 second-round pick has produced 68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while emerging as the centerpiece of the second level.

    Dallas bet on Smith's ability to fully recover from his 2016 Fiesta Bowl injury. The Cowboys have been rewarded with one of the best read-and-react linebackers in the game.

Cornerback

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    Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore
    Patriots CB Stephon GilmoreNick Wass/Associated Press

    AFC: Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots; Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills; Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens; Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans

    The Patriots have perhaps the NFL's best pass defense, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been a huge part of that. He already has three interceptions on the season, which is impressive considering how infrequently opposing quarterbacks test him. He can essentially erase an opponent's No. 1 target.

    Tre'Davious White has filled the same shutdown role for the Buffalo Bills, though he doesn't generate as much attention as his New England counterpart. He can play the ball as well as anyone, but he's also willing to mix it up with ball-carriers. His goal-line interception and forced fumble in Week 7 earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

    Marlon Humphrey, who has 22 tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns, has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 corner and the highlight of Baltimore's secondary. He isn't an elite cover corner yet, but his physicality and stickiness in coverage have him trending in that direction.

    Former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan has also been spectacular this season. The Tennessee Titans cover man seems to have an uncanny ability to diagnose pass patterns and play the ball in the air. He has 61 tackles and three interceptions. More impressively, he has an NFL-high 15 passes defended through nine games.

        

    NFC: Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers; Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Kevin King, Green Bay Packers; Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers

    Jalen Ramsey doesn't make the list because he's only played two games with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC. Fellow NFC West defensive back Richard Sherman, however, has returned to form as one of the NFL's few shutdown cornerbacks.

    In eight games with the 49ers this season, Sherman has 29 tackles, eight passes defended and three interceptions. While he isn't quite as physically dominant as he once was, his veteran savvy allows him to be in the right position more often than not.

    Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller continues to be one of the league's top pass-defenders. His man-coverage ability is strong enough that the Bears rarely have to double-cover opposing No. 1 receivers. The 2018 All-Pro is having another strong season and has 43 tackles and three interceptions thus far.

    The Packers have two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks on their roster in Kevin King and Jaire Alexander. They have combined for 19 passes defended and 68 tackles. The former has three interceptions and a forced fumble, while the latter has one of each.

    King is a long (6'3") and physical corner, while Alexander is quick and aggressive. As a tandem, they've been capable of slowing most passing attacks they've gone up against.

Safety

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    Vikings S Harrison Smith
    Vikings S Harrison SmithBruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    AFC: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots; Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers; Jamal Adams, New York Jets

    While Gilmore rightfully gets a lot of credit for leading New England's secondary, safety Devin McCourty might actually be its centerpiece. One of the league's most versatile safeties, the two-time Pro Bowler has 28 tackles, six passes defended and an impressive five interceptions so far this season.

    Capable of targeting a receiver, supporting the run and playing the center field role, McCourty is the player who makes New England's defense hum.

    Jamal Adams continues to play at a high level, even though the New York Jets are not. He's an above-average pass-defender, and he can absolutely lay the wood in run support. The 2018 Pro Bowler has 43 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and five passes defended this season.

    Minkah Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has been nothing short of a revelation since arriving with the Steelers after Week 2. In six games with Pittsburgh, he has produced 30 tackles, six passes defended, four interceptions and a forced fumble.

    Fitzpatrick is a game-changer and a steal regardless of where Pittsburgh's 2020 first-round pick lands.

        

    NFC: Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Landon Collins, Washington Redskins, Jabrill Peppers, New York Giants

    Vikings safety Harrison Smith is nothing if not consistent. He's made the Pro Bowl in each of his last four seasons and appears poised to make it five in a row. So far, he has 53 tackles, a sack, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles and an interception. Smith is one of the best all-around safeties in the game.

    Over in Washington, Redskins safety Landon Collins has continued the strong play he previously exhibited with the New York Giants. He's added some needed physicality to Washington's secondary and has 79 tackles, a forced fumble, a sack and two passes defended.

    As Collins' replacement in New York, Jabrill Peppers finally appears to be reaching his first-round potential. He has 65 tackles, four passes defended, three forced fumbles, an interception and a defensive touchdown. He's also been one of the few bright spots on New York's otherwise underwhelming defense.

Specialists

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    Ravens K Justin Tucker
    Ravens K Justin TuckerElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    AFC: Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens; Bryan Anger, P, Houston Texans; Desmond King, RS, Los Angeles Chargers

    Unsurprisingly, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker finds himself back in the Pro Bowl mix in 2019. He's perfect on field goals (17-of-17), and while he has missed an extra point, he remains as reliable as kickers come.

    Tucker isn't automatic, but he's close.

    Punter Bryan Anger has averaged an impressive 47.6 yards per kick this season and has had just seven punts returned for a total of 10 yards. With a defense that ranks 20th in yards allowed, Anger's ability to flip field position has been invaluable for the Texans.

    Returner Desmond King has averaged 21.5 yards per kick return, tallied 7.0 yards per punt return and has one return touchdown.

        

    NFC: Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay Packers; Mitch Wishnowsky, P, San Francisco 49ers; Deonte Harris, RS, New Orleans Saints

    Packers kicker Mason Crosby has missed just one of his 13 field-goal attempts and has nailed all 26 of his point-after tries.

    While the 49ers defense has received a lot of credit for San Francisco's undefeated run, punter Mitch Wishnowsky deserves credit for consistently pinning back the opposition. He has averaged 43.9 yards per punt and has allowed just nine returns for 19 total yards.

    Saints returner Deonte Harris has averaged 22.2 yards per kick return, produced 9.3 yards per punt return and has one return touchdown on the season. Both the offense and the defense have played well for New Orleans, but Harris has also helped provide a spark.