No Surprise: Rodgers, Jennings, Matthews Lead Packers With 2011 Pro Bowl Credentials
Voting for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl opened on Tuesday, which makes it only fitting to run down which Packers have a crack at getting a trip to Hawaii. And yes, I know—October is entirely too early to be thinking about the Pro Bowl. But this early start to the voting gives us a convenient way of running down how players are doing seven weeks in.
Don’t forget, getting voted in doesn’t necessarily guarantee their spot. If the Packers have it their way, they’ll be preparing that week for a trip to Indianapolis to play in Super Bowl XLVI .
Let’s run down the nominees and their credentials so far:
QB Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers could probably take the rest of the season off and still secure a spot in the Pro Bowl. No quarterback in the game is playing better right now, and the stats back it up: 171-for-239 (71.5 percent), 2,371 yards, 9.9 average, 20 TDs, 3 INTS, 125.7 rating. Barring any injury, he should be a lock.
FB John Kuhn: Kuhn hasn’t seen as much of the ball this season as the last, but he’s still contributed two scores to the Packers high-octane offense. Kuhn has also been solid in pass protection. There are more deserving candidates, like Jed Collins in New Orleans, but the popularity of Kuhn could be enough to sneak in.
WR Greg Jennings: Jennings remains Rodgers’ top target despite a myriad of weapons in the offense. With 42 receptions, 677 yards and five TDs in seven games, Jennings is on pace for his best season as a pro. In a crowded NFC field for receivers (Steve Smith, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks), Jennings still should make the squad with ease.
WR Jordy Nelson: A fast start, fueled by a bevy of big plays, gives credence to the discussion of Nelson in the Pro Bowl. Of players with 20 or more catches, Nelson has the third highest yards per reception at 19.4 and he’s No. 1 in average yards after catch (10.1). If Nelson stays on his current pace, he’d finish with 55 catches for 1,062 yards and 9 TDs. While there’s very, very little chance that Nelson could make the Pro Bowl with the level of receivers in the NFC, it’s worth noting that he’s having far-and-away the best season of his career.
TE Jermichael Finley: Those expecting the breakout season from Finley haven’t witnessed it…yet. The Packers tight end has 25 receptions, which is good for 11th at his position in 2011. He is ninth in yards (334) and third touchdowns (4) while only being targeted 37 times (15th). Defenses are keying in on Finley this season and Rodgers has found other places to go with the football. With Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and even Fred Davis playing well in the NFC, Finley has a tall mountain to climb over the next nine games to secure a spot.
C Scott Wells: According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Wells grades out as the second best center in the NFL after seven games. Seattle’s Chris Meyers is No. 1, but there’s a large gap between the two and Nick Mangold, the third center on the grading sheet. Wells got the highest of marks in pass protection, where he’s only given up two hurries all season. At this point, Wells should be a sure thing. A Pro Bowl would be long overdue.
G Josh Sitton: Most will tell you that Sitton hasn’t been as dominant this season, but PFF doesn’t agree. Sitton is graded as the third best right guard and sixth best guard overall. He grades as the top pass blocker but also gets high marks in the run game. There will be some competition with both Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, but Sitton should be on pace to secure the first Pro Bowl nod of his NFL career. He deserved that honor last season.
G T.J. Lang: For how worried fans were heading into the season about left guard, Lang has quieted those fears in a hurry. He currently sits as the 11th highest rated guard in the NFL at PFF. For comparison, Daryn Colledge ranks 49th. Instant upgrade. Lang received high marks in the passing game, but a position-high five penalties holds him back. And really, Lang doesn’t stand a chance to make it to Hawaii. He’s not there yet. But the early returns on Lang are almost universally positive so far, which bodes well for the Packers offensive line both now and down the road.
T Bryan Bulaga: If someone would have asked you who the top right tackle in football has been in 2011, would Bulaga have come to mind? Maybe it should. Bulaga rates as the PFF’s highest graded right tackle and second overall tackle. He hasn’t given up a sack or quarterback hit and only nine hurries are credited to his name. But where Bulaga really shines is in the run game, where only Phil Loadholt of the Vikings has been better. Losing two games might hurt, but there’s plenty of substance here to think that Bulaga could be a Pro Bowler in 2011.
DL B.J. Raji: If you look back at the film of the Packers first two games, Raji played like the dominant defensive lineman he was a year ago. In those games, Raji recorded five quarterback pressures, including one sack, and batted a pass at the line against the Saints. Since then, he’s been a ghost. Raji especially got pushed around Sunday in Minnesota. The name appeal is there for Raji, but he’s not going to Hawaii with performances like we’ve seen over the past five weeks.
LB Clay Matthews: By now, rational Packers fans have realized that Matthews isn’t having a down year—just a different year. The sacks aren’t there in abundance like 2010, but he’s still rushing the quarterback. Overall, Matthews has 34 combined sacks, hits and hurries, which is tops among 3-4 linebackers. He’s stopping the run better than he ever has before, too. PFF has him as the highest graded 3-4 linebacker in 2011 against the run. Matthews should be a lock.
LB Desmond Bishop: Bishop is tied for the most sacks among inside linebackers, and he’s one of the leaders in the tackle category depending on which site you use to track that stat. That in itself could be enough to warrant a spot on the Pro Bowl roster. He does have some negatives, however. One glaring argument against Bishop is the fact that he has given up the third most yards in coverage among inside linebackers. He should be in the running.
CB Charles Woodson: PFF hates Woodson in 2011, and that might be putting it nicely. He’s their 92nd rated cornerback through seven games. Is that too harsh? Maybe not if you consider that Woodson is in the bottom 15 of receptions/yards/touchdowns allowed, penalties and missed tackles. The opposing quarterback rating (68.1) and interception (5, first in NFL) numbers are solid, but it’s hard to ignore those statistics. Woodson is still a good bet to make the team, however.
CB Tramon Williams: Williams has failed to intercept a pass this season and still struggles on occasion with his shoulder injury. But he hasn’t given up a touchdown pass since Week 1, and opponents are completing only 51.7% of their passes against Williams in 2011. To get a crack at the Pro Bowl for the second straight year, however, the interceptions need to accumulate. Like it or not, that singular stat is usually a telling one for those who get the nod.
S Morgan Burnett: Before breaking his hand in the week leading up to the Rams game, Burnett was undoubtedly putting together a Pro Bowl season. The numbers are still good: 50 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack. But that club on his hand has really impacted his ability to make the kind of impact plays we saw early on. PFF also suggests that Burnett has been poor in coverage, as opposing quarterbacks have a 93.3 rating when throwing at him in 2011. Once he gets the club off his hand, and he get two working hands back on the football, Burnett could still have a crack at making the Pro Bowl.
K Mason Crosby: I’m done making Jersey Al jokes about Mason Crosby’s 2011 season, as his tally on such jokes is probably reaching the thousands by now (close?). Kidding aside, Crosby has made all 18 of his field goals and looked confident doing it. His 58-yarder in the Dome on Sunday ensured his second NFC special teams player of the week award. Through seven games, Crosby should be the NFC’s kicker.
KR/PR Randall Cobb: Cobb hasn’t done much with punts (just 8.1 yards/return) in 2011, but does he rank fifth in the NFL in kickoff return average (minimum eight returns). While San Francisco’s Ted Ginn should have a solid hold on the Pro Bowl spot right now, there’s no telling how Cobb’s 108-yard TD return on opening night might stick in the minds of voters.
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2