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Pro Bowl voters generous with Green Bay Packers' Chad Clifton, Charles Woodson

Dec. 28, 2010
 
Green Bay Packers' B.J. Raji, takes down  New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning for one of his 6 1/2 sacks on the season during Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Raji played well enough over the second half of the season to win a spot on the Pro Bowl roster, but he’s a second-year pro who didn’t have the name recognition.
Green Bay Packers' B.J. Raji, takes down New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning for one of his 6 1/2 sacks on the season during Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Raji played well enough over the second half of the season to win a spot on the Pro Bowl roster, but he’s a second-year pro who didn’t have the name recognition. / Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette

Pro Bowl rosters

NFC
OFFENSE

WIDE RECEIVERS — x-Calvin Johnson, Detroit; x-Roddy White, Atlanta; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia; æ Greg Jennings, Green Bay
TACKLES — x-Jordan Gross, Carolina; x-Jason Peters, Philadelphia; æ Chad Clifton, Green Bay
GUARDS — x-Jahri Evans, New Orleans; x-Chris Snee, N.Y. Giants; Carl Nicks, New Orleans
CENTERS — x-Andre Gurode, Dallas; Shaun O’Hara, N.Y. Giants
TIGHT ENDS — x-Jason Witten, Dallas; Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta
QUARTERBACKS — x-Michael Vick, Philadelphia; Drew Brees, New Orleans; Matt Ryan, Atlanta
RUNNING BACKS — x-Michael Turner, Atlanta; Steven Jackson, St. Louis; Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
FULLBACK — x-Ovie Mughelli, Atlanta
DEFENSE
ENDS — x-John Abraham, Atlanta; x-Julius Peppers, Chicago; Justin Tuck, N.Y. Giants
INTERIOR LINEMEN — x-Jay Ratliff, Dallas; x-Ndamukong Suh, Detroit; Justin Smith, San Francisco
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS — æ x-Clay Matthews, Green Bay; x-DeMarcus Ware, Dallas; Lance Briggs, Chicago;
INSIDE/MIDDLE LINEBACKERS — x-Patrick Willis, San Francisco; Brian Urlacher, Chicago
CORNERBACKS — x-Asante Samuel, Philadelphia; æ x-Charles Woodson, Green Bay; DeAngelo Hall, Washington
STRONG SAFETY — x-Adrian Wilson, Arizona
FREE SAFETIES — æ x-Nick Collins, Green Bay; Antrel Rolle, N.Y. Giants
SPECIALISTS
PUNTER — Mat McBriar, Dallas
PLACEKICKER — David Akers, Philadelphia
KICK RETURN SPECIALIST — Devin Hester, Chicago
SPECIAL TEAMER — Eric Weems, Atlanta

AFC
OFFENSE

WIDE RECEIVERS — x-Andre Johnson, Houston; x-Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis; Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City; Brandon Lloyd, Denver
TACKLES — x-Jake Long, Miami; x-Joe Thomas, Cleveland; D’Brickashaw Ferguson, N.Y. Jets
GUARDS — x-Kris Dielman, San Diego; x-Logan Mankins, New England; Brian Waters, Kansas City
CENTERS — x-Nick Mangold, N.Y. Jets; Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh
TIGHT ENDS — x-Antonio Gates, San Diego; Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville
QUARTERBACKS — x-Tom Brady, New England; Peyton Manning, Indianapolis; Philip Rivers, San Diego
RUNNING BACKS — x-Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville; Jamaal Charles, Kansas City; Arian Foster, Houston
FULLBACK — x-Vonta Leach, Houston
DEFENSE
ENDS — x-Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis; x-Robert Mathis, Indianapolis; Jason Babin, Tennessee
INTERIOR LINEMEN — x-Haloti Ngata, Baltimore; x-Vince Wilfork, New England; Richard Seymour, Oakland
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS — x-James Harrison, Pittsburgh; x-Cameron Wake, Miami; Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
INSIDE/MIDDLE LINEBACKERS — x-Ray Lewis, Baltimore; Jerod Mayo, New England
CORNERBACKS — x-Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland; x-Darrelle Revis, N.Y. Jets; Devin McCourty, New England
STRONG SAFETY — x-Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh
FREE SAFTIES — x-Ed Reed, Baltimore; Brandon Meriweather, New England
SPECIALISTS
PUNTER — Shane Lechler, Oakland
PLACEKICKER — Billy Cundiff, Baltimore
KICK RETURN SPECIALIST — Marc Mariani, Tennessee
SPECIAL TEAMER — Montell Owens, Jacksonville
x-starter

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The Packers might have deserved five Pro Bowlers, but two of the five who made it were the wrong players at their positions.

On the offensive line, give left tackle Chad Clifton all the credit for his comeback from a balky knee that got him benched against Buffalo in Week 2. At that point it looked like Clifton’s distinguished 11-year career was about finished, except for maybe as a backup.

But no. He recovered to provide some solid pass blocking over the next couple months. At age 34 he faded as the season wound down, but still, considering where he was at Week 2, not bad overall.

But a Pro Bowler? No way. Now, don’t blame Clifton, he didn’t vote himself in, but he wasn’t close to one of the three best tackles in the NFC. If someone on the Packers’ offensive line was to make it, it should have been guard Josh Sitton, ahead of the New York Giants’ Chris Snee.

At cornerback, Charles Woodson was selected for his seventh Pro Bowl. At age 34 he’s a critical piece of the Packers’ defense, where playing the slot in the nickel he’s a threat to rush or cover and a courageous tackler in the run game. He’s still making big plays (five forced fumbles, a sack and an interception this year).

But Woodson’s pure cover ability is slipping, and Tramon Williams was the team’s best cornerback this season. Not that interceptions are the only measure, but Williams is tied for second-most in the NFC with six. The two other cornerbacks voted in were Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel, who leads the NFC with seven interceptions, and Washington’s DeAngelo Hall, who along with Williams and Tampa Bay’s Aqib Talib has six. Williams, a first alternate, deserved the nod over his famous teammate.

Those choices reveal the flaw that annually marks the Pro Bowl, namely, that the people best qualified to vote, the pro scouts who watch film of all the teams all season, don’t have votes. The fans get a third of the vote, the players get a third, and the coaches a third. The fans voted Clifton the NFC’s top tackle and Woodson its top cornerback. Obviously that name recognition worked with players and coaches too, because Sitton led the guards in fan voting but was chosen only as an alternate.

All the other Packers-related choices at least were justifiable, though not necessarily correct: outside linebacker Clay Matthews, receiver Greg Jennings and safety Nick Collins made it, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and nose tackle B.J. Raji didn’t.

Matthews, a starter, was a no-brainer. He’s tied for second in the NFC in sacks (12½), is the best player on the league’s second-ranked scoring defense, and is a strong candidate for defensive player of the year.

Jennings made it at a tough position along with Atlanta’s Roddy White, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson. White was easy – he leads the NFC in receptions (109) and yards (1,327). Johnson is No. 8 in catches, No. 3 in yards (1,120) and tied with Jennings for No. 1 in touchdowns (12). Jackson has only 45 catches but might be the most dangerous receiver in the game, as evidenced by his off-the-charts 22.8-yard average per catch. Jennings, though tied for 10th in catches (72), is second in yards (1,168) and has those 12 touchdowns.

Left out was Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, who’s probably the best all-around receiver in the NFC. Considering the Cardinals’ horrendous quarterback play, his production – No. 8 in yards and tied for No. 6 in catches – might be the most impressive of the bunch. He could have made it ahead of Johnson or Jennings, but it’s hardly an injustice he didn’t.

Collins, a starter, made it for the third season in a row, and though he hasn’t made as many big plays as the last two seasons, he’s still as good as any safety in the NFC. He had 13 interceptions in 2008 and ’09 combined, but had only two when the players and coaches voted last week. The NFC’s other safeties are Arizona’s Adrian Wilson and the New York Giants’ Antrel Rolle.

Rodgers’ snub was a surprise but at least defensible because of the quality at his position. The quarterbacks chosen ahead of him were Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, the NFC’s highest-rated passer (103.6 points) and possible challenger to New England’s Tom Brady for league MVP; Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, the best player on the team with the NFC’s best record who has led his team to six wins when the Falcons trailed in the fourth quarter, including four times leading the winning score in the last two minutes or overtime; and New Orleans’ Drew Brees, the best player on a team going for its second straight Super Bowl win.

Rodgers, a first alternate, was at least as good a candidate as Ryan and Brees. His passer rating when the players and coaches voted last week was second-best in the NFC (98.5 points), behind only Vick and better than Brees (93.5) and Ryan (90.5). Ryan had thrown 16 more touchdowns than interceptions going into last week, compared to Rodgers’ 13 and Brees’ 12. Any two of those three could have joined Vick on the NFC team.

Raji, another alternate, played well enough over the second half of the season to win a spot, but he’s a second-year pro who didn’t have the name recognition.

Detroit rookie Ndamukong Suh is the NFC’s best defensive tackle — his nine sacks, which is tops among all defensive tackles in the league, accurately reflects the impact he has on games. San Francisco’s Justin Smith, an interior lineman as a 3-4 defensive end, probably deserved his spot too. But Dallas’ Jay Ratfliff (3 ½ sacks) was not the playmaker he’d been the past few years and made it as the third defensive tackle on name alone. Raji (6½ sacks), Arizona’s Darnell Dockett (4 sacks), Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux (three sacks) and New Orleans’ Sedrick Ellis (six sacks) were more deserving.

Pete Dougherty covers the Packers for the Press-Gazette. E-mail him at pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com.

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