The NFL has been pushing people to vote for the Pro Bowl for what seems like an eternity now, but with the final roster announcements closing in (Dec. 20), it’s time for the Pro Football Focus team to bring its take to the table.
There's quite a few quirks in the current Pro Bowl system that could use some updating, but the league has at least returned to a conference vs. conference format, so we will see the traditional AFC vs. NFC showdown once more. Rather than try and fix the position designations of players and present a fictional look at what the roster should be, we're going to stick to what the NFL presents and show the best possible rosters that can be assembled from the current setup.
So, here are the 43 players from each conference (with Pro Bowl coaches each selecting a long snapper) that should make up the 2017 Pro Bowl roster, given the previous 14 weeks of play.
Tom Brady (NE), Andrew Luck (IND), Derek Carr (OAK)
Tom Brady has been the best quarterback in football this season by a fairly wide margin. Both Derek Carr and Andrew Luck have put together the best seasons of their respective careers, but remain a good distance from the untouchable standards Brady has set after returning from his “Deflategate” suspension.
Le’Veon Bell (PIT), Jay Ajayi (MIA), Melvin Gordon (SD)
Le’Veon Bell remains the all-purpose yardage master, dominating on the ground or as a receiver for the Steelers' offense, while the Dolphins' season turned around when they started handing the ball to Jay Ajayi and let him carry the offense. Melvin Gordon has been vastly improved in year two for San Diego, both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
Kyle Juszczyk (BAL)
The fullback position isn’t quite dead in today’s NFL, and no team uses an FB more often than the Ravens with Juszczyk, who has made solid contributions as both a blocker and receiver.
Antonio Brown (PIT), A.J. Green (CIN), T.Y. Hilton (IND), Emmanuel Sanders (DEN)
Antonio Brown hasn’t been quite the same unstoppable force we saw season ago, and yet he still has 93 catches for 1,130 yards and 11 touchdowns through 14 weeks. T.Y. Hilton quietly trails only Atlanta's Julio Jones in receiving yards, while A.J. Green was having the best season of his career before injuring his hamstring. Emmanuel Sanders has been extremely reliable for the Broncos, despite quarterback issues in Denver.
Travis Kelce (KC), Martellus Bennett (NE)
Travis Kelce is the most important player on the Kansas City offense, and leads all TEs in yards (916) and catches (70) on four fewer targets than Carolina’s Greg Olsen. Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert would each easily make this list if they could stay healthy, and there is a substantial drop to either Martellus Bennett or Delanie Walker, who were the next two candidates.
Andrew Whitworth (CIN), Donald Penn (OAK), Joe Thomas (CLE)
Andrew Whitworth remains one of the league’s most dependable tackles, surrendering just 14 total QB pressures in 13 games. Donald Penn has yet to give up a sack this season, and Joe Thomas has once again been among the best tackles in the game, though perhaps not quite at his elite best.
Kelechi Osemele (OAK), Marshal Yanda (BAL), David DeCastro (PIT)
Oakland’s big investment on the offensive line has paid off, with Osemele dominating in his first year with the Raiders. He has yet to allow a sack and has crushed people in the run game. Marshal Yanda has been excellent but for missed time, and David DeCastro narrowly edges Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler for the last spot.
Matt Paradis (DEN), Rodney Hudson (OAK)
Matt Paradis has developed into a terrific center for the Broncos, rivaling Dallas' Travis Frederick in run-blocking excellence, while Rodney Hudson hasn’t surrendered a sack or hit on his QB this season.
Khalil Mack (OAK), Joey Bosa (SD), Cameron Wake (MIA)
After a slow start, the real Khalil Mack has been back dominating, racking up 73 total QB pressures and 37 defensive stops. Rookie Joey Bosa has been excellent after he finally got on the field, splitting time between defensive end and outside linebacker in San Diego, while Cameron Wake showed he is still far from done after his Achilles injury. New York's Leonard Williams is unlucky to miss out here (not to mention the fact that he's probably miscategorized, given how much more he plays inside as a defensive tackle).
Ndamukong Suh (MIA), Geno Atkins (CIN), Jurrell Casey (TEN)
Ndamukong Suh has put together his second consecutive excellent season for Miami, grading well against both the run and pass. Geno Atkins hasn’t been quite at the level we know he can achieve, but there have been few better pass-rushing defensive tackles, while Jurrell Casey has earned the highest pass-rushing grade among all interior defenders in the AFC.
Von Miller (DEN), Melvin Ingram (SD), Whitney Mercilus (HOU)
Von Miller picked up this season where he left off last year, and has been nearly unstoppable as a pass-rushing force. Melvin Ingram and Whitney Mercilus have each finally begun to realize the potential that made them each former first-round draft choices, and have been fine pass-rushers this season in their own right.
Dont’a Hightower (NE), Vontaze Burfict (CIN)
Flying solo this season after the Patriots dealt away Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower has remained an impressive all-around linebacker for New England. Vontaze Burfict has his issues in coverage, but there are few more impactful linebackers against the run and on the blitz, where he runs right through blockers like a defensive tackle.
Aqib Talib (DEN), Chris Harris Jr. (DEN), Casey Hayward (SD), Malcolm Butler (NE)
Aqib Talib has always had this ceiling, but this is the first year he is playing to his ability consistently. Talib has yet to allow a touchdown and has given up only 292 receiving yards all season. Chris Harris Jr. remains one of the most consistent corners in the game, and Casey Hayward has flourished in a more featured role in San Diego, currently leading the league in interceptions, with seven. Malcolm Butler had an ugly game early in the season against Miami, but has been excellent since.
Eric Weddle (BAL)
Eric Weddle has been the best safety in the game once again this season, this time for a new team in Baltimore after his offseason move from San Diego. He has strong grades in every facet of the game PFF grades.
Devin McCourty (NE), Darian Stewart (DEN)
Devin McCourty has once again been solid for the Patriots in the defensive backfield, while NFL Pro Bowl position designations mean skipping several players here before we arrive at Denver’s Darian Stewart. Stewart has been impressive in both coverage and against the run for the Broncos, and thoroughly deserved his new contract.
Justin Tucker (BAL)
Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the game and a reliable source of points for the Ravens.
Marquette King (OAK)
Not just a Twitter celebrity, Marquette King has developed into one of the league’s best punters after a shaky start to his career. He has added control and direction kicking to his booming leg.
Tyreek Hill (KC)
Hill has been a spark on offense and on special teams for the Chiefs this season, with a touchdown on both punt returns and kick returns to his name.
Michael Thomas (MIA)
With 11 special-teams tackles to his name, no team in the league has received more from a consistent special-teams performer than Miami has from Michael Thomas.
Matt Ryan (ATL), Aaron Rodgers (GB), Matthew Stafford (DET)
Matt Ryan has completed 68.3 percent of his passes this season and owns a passer rating of 113.2—around 20.0 points better than any other season of his career. Rodgers has recorded some ugly games this season, but since Week 7, has been the league’s top-graded quarterback. Matthew Stafford is having a career year for the Lions; he's embracing the art of being a well-rounded QB, and not simply relying on former Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL), David Johnson (ARI), Jordan Howard (CHI)
Ezekiel Elliott has the league’s best platform to run from, given the Dallas offensive line, but he has done his share of the heavy lifting, too. David Johnson is the only RB in the league that can compare to Pittsburgh's Le’Veon Bell in terms of versatility and production, and Jordan Howard has been a true force for the Bears since winning the starting job in Chicago, averaging 3.1 yards per carry after contact.
Aaron Ripkowski (GB)
Aaron Ripkowski has blocked well for Green Bay, but also carried the ball 25 times, more than any other true fullback, scoring two touchdowns and averaging 2.7 yards per carry after contact, from a 3.6 yard per carry total.
Julio Jones (ATL), Mike Evans (TB), Doug Baldwin (SEA), Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)
Julio Jones and Mike Evans have been the league’s most dominant wideouts this season, and are the clear frontrunners in PFF's WR rankings. Evans has been the league’s most-targeted receiver, and combined, he and Jones have over 2,350 receiving yards. Doug Baldwin has been excellent in Seattle, while the work Beckham has done making up for some horrendous Eli Manning play elevates him above players like Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals) and Cole Beasley (Cowboys), who were both in contention for the final spot.
Greg Olsen (CAR), Jordan Reed (WAS)
The NFC has two of the league’s best receiving TEs to offer, with Jimmy Graham also in that category (and narrowly missing out). Each player has been his team’s most important receiving weapon for stretches, if not the entire season, and both have taken over games with huge performances.
Trent Williams (WAS), David Bakhtiari (GB), Tyron Smith (DAL)
Trent Williams was having the best season of his career before suspension, finally getting back to the league-best form he showed back in 2013. David Bakhtiari has justified the new contract he received, and has been the best pass blocker in the game, surrendering only 16 total QB pressures in 13 games, despite Aaron Rodgers holding onto the ball longer than all but two other quarterbacks on average. Tyron Smith has missed some time, but has been dominant for spans, as well, showing the potential to be even better.
Zack Martin (DAL), Josh Sitton (CHI), Justin Pugh (NYG)
Zack Martin has been a force in the run game, but allowed only 12 total QB pressures as a pass blocker, also—fewer than one per game. Josh Sitton has surrendered only six, though he has played in just 10 games, while Justin Pugh has yet to allow a sack, and the Giants have badly missed him when he has been injured.
Travis Frederick (DAL), Alex Mack (ATL)
Travis Frederick has been excellent, particularly against the run this season, where he has been able to defeat bigger and stronger interior players with quickness and technique. He has also not allowed a sack. Alex Mack has been a big part of the Falcons' improved offense, especially with his run blocking.
Cameron Jordan (NO), Brandon Graham (PHI), Calais Campbell (ARI)
He doesn’t yet have double-digit sacks, and the Saints aren’t winning, but Cameron Jordan has been dominant up front against both the run and pass, racking up 63 total QB pressures so far this season. Brandon Graham has 65, and again is a player underrated because he doesn’t get the same sack totals as others; regardless, Graham brings consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Calais Campbell (more of a DT than a DE, realistically) has been one of the league’s best interior defenders, elevating his game to another level over past seasons.
Aaron Donald (LA), Fletcher Cox (PHI), Kawann Short (CAR)
Aaron Donald’s relentless dominance has cooled off over the past couple of weeks, but he remains as dominant of a force as there is in the league, and is consistently unblockable over a game one-on-one. Fletcher Cox has received some negative comment lately, but the tape shows a player that is consistently playing well against both the run and pass. And although Kawann Short began the year quietly, he has become the player he was a year ago—a force in the middle for the Panthers.
K.J. Wright (SEA), Vic Beasley (ATL), Chandler Jones (ARI)
K.J. Wright is one of the league’s most underrated players; he's consistently excellent in all facets of the game for the Seahawks. Vic Beasley has racked up a league-leading volume of sacks, forcing fumbles on six plays this year. Chandler Jones has seen his play drop slightly over the past few weeks, but remains a quality addition for the Cardinals, grading well as both a run defender and pass-rusher.
Luke Kuechly (CAR), Bobby Wagner (SEA)
Luke Kuechly is the best linebacker in the game, and the Panthers are a different team when he isn’t in the lineup. Kuechly has again been forced to miss time due to a concussion, allowing Bobby Wagner to close the gap in PFF's linebacker grades. Wagner has double the number of hits on the QB of any other inside linebacker this season, with 12.
Janoris Jenkins (NYG), Darius Slay (DET), Patrick Peterson (ARI), Terence Newman (MIN)
Janoris Jenkins has been a vastly-improved player for his new team this season, and his display shutting down Dez Bryant was a pretty good advertisement for his Pro Bowl credentials. On seven targets into his coverage, Jenkins caught as many passes (one) as Bryant did, and on the one play Bryant did bring the ball in, Jenkins forced a fumble. Darius Slay and Patrick Peterson have made big plays all season, while the coverage of 38-year-old Terence Newman has been scarcely believable. Newman has allowed the league’s lowest number of yards per snap in coverage this season, at 0.60.
Landon Collins (NYG)
Moved closer to the line of scrimmage this season after a rookie year at free safety, Collins has become the impact player the Giants hoped he would be when they drafted him. He is a complete strong safety, capable of making plays against the run, on the blitz, and in coverage.
Harrison Smith (MIN), Earl Thomas (SEA)
Again, NFL Pro Bowl position designations mean some deserving players (think Kam Chancellor) get skipped here, but Harrison Smith and Earl Thomas have both had good seasons, and are important players for their respective defenses. The loss of Thomas from that Seattle scheme will be a big worry for the Seahawks down the stretch.
Matt Prater (DET)
Matt Prater has nailed six kicks from six attempted field goals from over 50 yards this season, including more than one game-defining effort.
Johnny Hekker (LA)
Everything is not lost in Los Angeles. In addition to Aaron Donald, they also have the league’s best punter this season. Hekker’s kicks have been returned for a total of 95 yards this year, the lowest figure of any punter to play more than six games.
Tyler Lockett (SEA)
He has yet to find the end zone, but Tyler Lockett has made multiple big returns for the Seahawks as a kick returner and punt returner, and consistently makes moves that gain extra yardage.
Jaquiski Tartt (SF)
Tartt plays across several units; the punt team, punt-return team, kick-off team, and kick-return team. His 10 special-teams tackles are tied for second-most in the league, but his best work has come against gunners, routinely blocking them out of the play on punt returns.
Though the coaches select the long snappers, we thought we’d give them a helping hand here. From our data—PFF has been charting the accuracy of every long snap in games this season—the Pro Bowl long snappers should be:
AFC: Jonathan Weeks (HOU)
NFC: J.J. Jansen (CAR)