During my daily swim through PFT, I saw an article in which writers in the Minnesota paper identified five Vikings who could make their first Pro Bowl appearance this season. It was an interesting feature, and wanted to duplicate the experiment for the Cowboys. Mind you, this is not an easy task as 14 current Cowboys have played in a Pro Bowl. That's 63% of our Offensive starters, 45% of our Defensive starters, and 50% of our Special Teams starters. So, here's my analysis of players who could, under the right circumstances, make the Pro Bowl for the very first time this season. I've put them in order of likeliness, as I see it.
1. Bradie James. This is the easy pick. He should have made the Pro Bowl last season, based on his performance. The problem is that he plays in the same conference as Patrick Willis and Jon Beason. Both those guys were former first round picks from big time college programs. Because the Pro Bowl is essentially a popularity contest, it will be hard for James to unseat either of those guys. You could compare their stats all day long. Essentially you will find that Beason and Willis outperformed James in their more conservative defensive scheme with better stats related to tackles, interceptions and passes defended, whereas James outperformed the other two in the Cowboys more aggressive scheme, having many more sacks and forced fumbles.
To me, all-pro voting by the Associated Press is the best measure of a player's performance. Unlike the Pro Bowl, the AP team is made up of the best players per position, regardless of conference. Obviously, this makes it more difficult (and a greater honor) to make the Associated Press All-Pro team. When you look at the voting from last year at inside linebacker the first team was comprised of Ray Lewis-AFC (39 votes) and Jon Beason (18). The second team was Patrick Willis (17) and James Farrior-AFC (12). Also receiving votes from the NFC were London Fletcher (8), Barrett Ruud (1) and (what?!?!?) Stewart Bradley (1). Bradie James was shutout.
The Pro Bowl utilizes a 4-3 defensive scheme, and therefore only has two ILBs on the roster, a starter and a reserve. This will make it extremely difficult for Bradie as he not only has to outperform Beason and Willis (which didn't help him last year) but also London Fletcher, Barrett Ruud, and someone named Stewart Bradley. According to London Fletcher (couldn't find anything online confirming this) he was the NFC's Pro Bowl alternate at ILB last season.
Odds of making the Pro Bowl in 2009: 3 to 1
2. Felix Jones. This one is also a possibility, but not all that likely. He could put up wonderful numbers and still lose out on the Pro Bowl and all the best RBs in the NFL are in the NFC. All four players who got All-Pro votes (Peterson, Turner, DeAngelo and Portis) all play in the NFC. That's pretty tough competition. Compare that to the AFC who had Thomas Jones start the Pro Bowl for them. Jones is a nice back, but he's not Pro Bowl starter nice. I would think Felix would be able to compete with the backs in that conference (Chris Johnson, Ronnie Brown and Marshawn Lynch also made it.)
The other aspect working against him is the running back by committee approach Dallas will certainly utilize. Felix might have to rely on a few kickoff returns to make the Pro Bowl as a return man.
Odds of making the Pro Bowl in 2009: 8 to 1
3. Igor Olshansky. Here is where the longshots start. The easiest reason to dismiss this argument would be competition. Again, the best DEs in the NFL are in the NFC. The top four All-Pro vote getters (Justin Tuck, Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, and John Abraham) all reside in the NFC. As does up-and-comer Trent Cole. Olshansky making the Pro Bowl would require a huge season. The one reason I think its possible is this: consider who he is playing next to. Igor will most likely be playing Right End. He will be flanked to his left by Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff. Now that Ratliff has established himself as a force in the middle, he will draw more double teams. This should leave Igor with many one-on-one situations. If a team did want to double Olshansky, they might want to look over his right shoulder and peer into the eyes of best defensive player in the NFL. Standard Pro Set offenses typically run their TE on the right side of the offensive line more often than not. That will mean DeMarcus Ware will usually be lined up on the right side of the Defensive Line (the weak side.) Because teams would be foolish to ask a back to block Ware, they will probably have the Tackle take him. This will allow Olshansky to be one-on-one with a Guard. Not a bad match-up for the 300+ lb Defensive End. Let's hope he's able to parlay these match-ups into production.
Odds of making the Pro Bowl in 2009: 20 to 1
4. Anthony Spencer. Ok, I'm really getting ahead of myself here. The kid hasn't even started in the league for a season, and I've got him going to the Pro Bowl. The hope here is that, similar to Olshansky) he will not get a lot of attention from opposing offenses in 2009 with Ware on the other side of the line. It worked for Greg Ellis two years ago. Ellis had his best and only Pro Bowl season playing opposite Ware and offenses said let's max protect against number 94, don't worry about that old codger on the other side of the line.' Ellis turned that into 12.5 sacks in only 13 games.
Another good example of this is Shaun Phillips in San Diego. He's done some great work while playing opposite Merriman. Only Phillips has yet to make it to a Pro Bowl after four straight solid seasons. Considering the NFC Pro Bowlers at OLB last year (besides Ware) are all getting a little long in the tooth (Derrick Brooks was released by Tampa and might retire; Julian Peterson is on the wrong side of 30 and his play is starting to slip; Lance Briggs still seams to be playing at high level but will be 29 this season) maybe its time for this position to turn over. It shouldn't surprise anyone if two or even three new players make the Pro Bowl at OLB in 2009. Why not Spencer?
Odds of making the Pro Bowl in 2009: 20 to 1
5. Stephen Hodge. I wasn't going to make this list without throwing at least one curveball at you. Obviously he won't make the Pro Bowl at Linebacker or Safety or any other position on the defense. But, I could see him making the Pro Bowl (assuming he makes the Cowboys 53 man roster first) as the Special Teams ace. As you probably know, this slot on the pro bowl team was created for a Cowboy (Bill Bates) and we've had many ST aces in the past in Kenny Gant and Keith Davis. So, I think it's time Dallas establishes another one in Hodge. Our draft was centered around special teams, so I'm going to assume we got some good ones. Of the highlights I've see on YouTube, Hodge may have the most potential as a gunner. By the way, can you name the ST representative from the NFC last year? Or maybe, I should ask the question a different way: 'Who the he!! is Sean Morey?'
Odds of making the Pro Bowl in 2009: 50 to 1