The NFL Pro Bowl is a popularity contest that sees many players get selected on name recognition alone. In addition, the players at the top of the various defensive statistical categories usually get nods regardless of how they perform against the run.
I've spent the last couple of weeks compiling the following list, my All-Pro team for the 2004 season. In my view, these are the 53 best football players I saw this season … and these are the guys I would go to war with tomorrow if I had to win one football game. I based my selections on individual and team statistics, accounts I've read from national and beat reporters on the web, and most importantly … my personal accounts of watching these players during the insane amount of time I invested this season watching NFL football on the Sunday Ticket.
Despite the fact that this is just one team, using players from all 32 NFL franchises, I selected 19 players who did not make either the AFC or NFC Pro Bowl teams. There were many players that it was incredibly difficult to leave off, and this roster has been through many revisions in the last couple weeks.
Not surprisingly, the San Diego Chargers, who have had an amazing season despite being picked to finish as bottom-feeders by the entire world (I predicted the Chargers would go 2-14!), lead this team with five players selected. I also chose four players from the Steelers, Colts, and Eagles and three from the Patriots, Falcons, Packers, Chiefs (all offensive players), and Redskins (all defensive players).
Simply put, Peyton Manning has had the most incredible individual season of any QB in NFL history … throwing for over 4,500 yards and tossing 49 TD passes. It was a joy to watch, and Manning is well on his way to joining Marino, Unitas, and Montana as the greatest signal callers ever to play the game. McNabb has also had a great year, with 30 TD's and just 8 INT's in leading the Eagles to a 13-1 start. Drew Brees was one of the toughest guys to leave off, and I considered Ben Roethlisberger as well.
Tomlinson scored in 12 weeks in a row, has amassed 1,800 total yards, and has staked his claim as the top back in the NFL. What Curtis Martin has done this season at age 32 has defied logic, and he has carried the Jets on his back to a likely playoff berth. Dillon may be one of the most unappreciated players in the league this year, restoring balance to the Patriot offense with over 1,500 yards rushing … which just got him the nod for one of the last spots on this team over Tiki Barber and Domanick Davis.
Starter: William Henderson, Green Bay
Henderson has been one of the league's best fullbacks for many years now, and has had another great season at age 33 blowing open holes for Ahman Green, and catching over 30 balls out of the backfield.
TO has had a great season, and I could not leave him off this team despite his unfortunate leg injury. Muhammad has been phenomenal this year as well, helping lead the Panthers into the playoff hunt without the benefit of Steve Smith lining up across the field for him. Muhammad has quietly caught 14 scores and has over 1,300 yards. Hines Ward is the best blocking wideout in the league, and there is no one else I'd rather have running patters across the middle of the field for me. Harrison is not having his best statistical season, but opens up so much of the field for Manning's other weapons and is still one of the best 4-5 WR's in the game. Walker and Andre Johnson are budding starts having breakout seasons. Torry Holt and Chad Johnson are also great talents worthy of spots that were tough to keep off this team.
Gates has burst onto the NFL scene with a vengeance, scoring 13 times for the upstart Chargers. Gonzalez has had another impressive season, and Crumpler edged out Witten, McMichael, and Shockey for a spot due to his impressive blocking prowess, his team's success, as well as his agility and fluidity for such a big man.
Ogden is still the standard for NFL tackles despite a tough season where he was hobbled with injuries. Tra Thomas had his best season as a pro, helping lead the Eagle offense to new heights. Marvel Smith had a breakout season for the Steelers, and was robbed out of a Pro Bowl spot due to NFL rules stating that Willie Roaf and Willie Anderson must get selected each season. Chad Clifton was also deserving of a Pro Bowl selection, leading a Packer line that surrendered just 14 sacks all year and averaged 4.5 yards per rush … but again, Walter Jones gets picked every season. Bryant McKinnie and Orlando Pace were tough omissions.
Waters, now in his 5th season out of North Texas, may be the league's best guard … and teams with Shields to form one of the most dominating guard duos in recent NFL history. Faneca is a rock for the Steelers inside, and spearheads a rushing attack that goes for over 150 yards per game. Kynan Forney of Atlanta and Steve Hutchinson from Seattle are also amongst the elite at their positions, and could have easily been selected.
Saturday is the captain and centerpiece of a Colt line crucial to a complex offense heavy on audibles, and is having a career year. Mawae is one of the best centers of this era, and gets the nod over Pittsburgh's Jeff Hartings for the backup role.
Peppers is one of the most talented defensive players to enter this league in the last ten years, and is having a career year after struggling with double teams last season. Freeney has the best pure speed off the edge of anyone in the league, and you can pencil him in for double digit sacks for the next five seasons. Grant, a third year man out of Georgia, is an emerging star that leads all defensive ends in tackles and also has eight sacks and an INT. Kerney is another guy that plays the run very well, and he also has eleven sacks. There were many players at this position that it was tough to leave off, headlined by Jevon Kearse, Richard Seymour, Aaron Smith, and John Abraham.
When mentioning the biggest Pro Bowl snubs, few mention Coleman and Griffin, yet they were clearly the most notable omissions in my mind. Griffin, a relative unknown, has been one of the top free agent acquisitions this season, leaving the Giants to lead the Redskins top ranked rush defense, which is yielding just 3.1 yards per carry. Coleman also came over to the Falcons via free agency (from Oakland) and is dominant against the run, while also showing a consistent ability to get to the passer. Williams has been great in the middle of the Charger line, and Rogers gets better by the game for the Lions. Henderson was left out of the Pro Bowl in favor of teammate Marcus Stroud, but in my view is the more impressive player and tougher assignment for opposing blockers. Stroud was a tough guy to leave home, as were Kevin Williams and Bryant Young.
Starters: Donnie Edwards – San Diego, Keith Bulluck – Tennessee, &
James Farrior - Pittsburgh
Reserves: Lance Briggs – Chicago, Steve Foley – San Diego, Marcus Washington – Washington, & Derrick Brooks- Tampa Bay
How does Donnie Edwards not make the Pro Bowl? He will get (or should get) votes for defensive player of the year with his 135 tackles, 4 interceptions, and role as middle linebacker for the leagues second best run defense. Bulluck continues to put up huge years in Tennessee, this season posting 140 tackles, four sacks, and two INT's. Farrior has proven to be a huge upgrade from Earl Holmes, who they replaced him with three seasons ago, and he is having a huge year. Briggs, a second year guy out of Arizona, has come on incredibly strong as of late and is one of the league's great young linebackers. Foley is another of the unsung heroes on the tough Charger defense after struggling with the Texans last season. Washington was stolen from the Colts this off-season by Joe Gibbs, and has had a monster season playing the role of LaVar Arrington for Washington. And Derrick Brooks has been his usual self this year, proving he is still amongst the league's elite defenders. There are many talented linebackers in this league and Joey Porter, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Al Wilson, Jonathon Vilma, and Antonio Pierce were all deserving.
Tampa Bay consistently has one of the league's best pass defenses, and Barber is a big part of the reason why … developing into one of the league's elite corners over the years. Bailey has been an excellent addition for the Broncos, whose pass defense has been superb this season. Robinson will battle Jonathon Vilma for defensive rookie of the year, and has all the makings of becoming a dominant shutdown corner for many years to come. Trufaunt is a great tackler, and a big and physical corner destined for stardom. Smoot has stepped up and filled the role of the departed Bailey for Washington, and is having a great season despite just three INT's. Surtain is a dominant corner as well, still in his prime, with 24 INT's over the last five seasons. Lito Shepard, Sam Madison, Antoine Winfield, Dre Bly, and Rashean Mathis also merited consideration here.
Few thought Ed Reed could continue to elevate his game from his first two impressive campaigns, but that is what he has done this season, registering eight INT's and eclipsing Ray Lewis as the most valuable player on the Raven defense. Reed will receive considerable support for defensive player of the year. As should Dawkins, who quarterbacks the Eagle defense with his ability to cover a lot of ground and hit like a ton of bricks from his safety spot. Harrison, like Curtis Martin, continues to defy the laws of aging at age 32 … and is having another standout season. Wilson is one of the best-kept secrets in the league and is one of the best young safeties in football. As are Roy Williams, Troy Polamalu, and Sean Taylor … who also were considered here.
Starter: Adam Vinatieri – New England
Starter: Shane Lechler – Oakland
Starter: Eddie Drummond, Detroit