The 2012 Pro Bowl rosters were announced on Tuesday night, and as always, there were deserving players who were left off the rosters while others were given a spot purely based on reputation.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots – The Patriots led all teams with eight selections, but there was one player who was conspicuous by his absence; Hernandez. The second year tight end was undoubtedly hurt in the voting by his teammate Rob Gronkowski, who has emerged as the best tight end in the AFC, but Hernandez still deserved the nod.
Hernandez is currently ranked second among AFC tight ends with 772 yards receiving, despite missing two games early in the season. The Patriots have had the two best at the position this season and should have two tight ends going to Hawaii.
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants – The UMass product and 2010 preseason standout fell off of everyone’s radar by the start of the 2011 season, but once Domenik Hixon was lost for the season in the second game of the year, Cruz got his shot.
The following week he scored two touchdowns and went over 100 yards and never looked back. Cruz is currently second in the NFC in receiving yards with 1,358, including a 99-yard touchdown catch last week against the New York Jets.
Cruz has become one of the most exciting receivers in the NFL because of his unmatched quickness and ability to turn any catch into a big gain. He has earned a spot on the roster and has been much better down the stretch than Carolina’s Steve Smith, who had a great start to the season but faded late.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions – The first two NFC quarterbacks were no-brainers…the third one should have been as well.
Coming into the season, Stafford was labeled as “injury prone” and a huge question mark for the Lions. Fast-forward 15 games and now we have the elite quarterback that the Lions thought they were getting with the first overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft.
Stafford has carried the Lions offense on his back, especially in games when Calvin Johnson was double or triple teamed and taken out of the game. Stafford has thrown for 4,518 yards (a Lions record) and 36 touchdowns while leading Detroit to their first playoff appearance since 1999.
Stafford has a higher completion percentage, higher rating, more touchdowns, less interceptions, and more wins than Eli. And although he has arguably the best weapon in the league with Johnson, from top to bottom Manning has a better supporting cast around him as well. Manning was picked based on his name and market, and this year Stafford is the victim of the bias.
London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins – Has there been a more overlooked player in the NFL over the last decade? It’s doubtful. Fletcher has been one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the NFL since the late 90’s, but mostly goes unnoticed. Does anyone actually know that he had his 12th consecutive 100-tackle season this year?
The 36-year-old Fletcher leads the NFL with 163 tackles; 19 more than anyone else in the NFL. He also added two sacks and two interceptions. Sadly, these astronomical numbers weren’t enough to get Fletcher to his first career Pro Bowl. He has put up borderline Hall-of-Fame numbers and still has never been selected, although he has been added to the game as an alternate twice. It’s a crime.
Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh Steelers – I’m under no illusion that Clark would ever be picked over Baltimore’s Ed Reed, but this year he should have been.
Clark has been absolutely ferocious this season and some would argue that he has actually been the best safety in Pittsburgh this year. Clark has been stellar against the run all year and has put fear in the heart of any receiver who has come near him. And he has done it clean all year (except for a few questionable flags) in a league that has almost completely taken away the ability to hit a receiver as the ball arrives.
Clark has been far better than Reed has been this year. He has always played the run better than Reed, and wasn’t significantly worse than his Baltimore counterpart in pass coverage. Reed is known as a playmaker, yet he only had three interceptions. It was a down year for Reed and he should have been left out for Clark, but only for this year.