Wednesday December 28th, 2011

Cam Newton did enough in his rookie year to deserve a Pro Bowl nomination. (ZUMAPRESS.com)

The Pro Bowl rosters announced Tuesday will wind up looking nothing like the final rosters for the game on Jan. 29. Between players dropping out for "injuries" and those ineligible to participate because they're headed to the Super Bowl the following Sunday, the NFL will cycle through a ton of alternate picks before kickoff -- players pulling out of the Pro Bowl has become a bigger annual tradition than the game itself.

So, a lot of the players snubbed from the initial rosters will wind up in Hawaii anyway. But that doesn't make them any less deserving now.

A look at some of the most glaring snubs from this year's Pro Bowl rosters.

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford (Lions), Cam Newton (Panthers)

Given that Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were locks for two of the three NFC QB positions, there were going to be notable players left out. Still, Stafford's stats are better than Eli Manning's almost all the way across the board, plus the Detroit star has his team in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Newton, meanwhile, simply has been one of the most dynamic rookies the league has ever seen, compiling 34 touchdowns (20 passing, 14 rushing) on a mediocre Carolina team.

Running back/Fullback: Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks)

There are a few other guys who could have made a case in both conferences -- San Diego's Ryan Mathews, Atlanta's Michael Turner and maybe even Reggie Bush in Miami or DeMarco Murray in Dallas. But no one can argue how impressive Lynch has been down the stretch, as he almost single-handedly brought Seattle back into the playoff race. It's hard to pick an NFC back to bump from the roster, but Lynch deserves a trip to Hawaii.

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz (Giants), Roddy White (Falcons), Marques Colston (Saints); Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs)

Cruz is a glaring omission -- especially since Eli Manning made the roster at QB. The Giants' second-year receiver is on pace to go over 1,400 yards on the season and finish in the top 10 in receptions. He's been the straw that stirs New York's offensive drink. Case in point: His dazzling, 99-yard touchdown catch in last week's win over the Jets.

White leads the league in drops this season, a fact that probably kept him off the initial Pro Bowl roster. Still, he's No. 2 in receptions, behind only Wes Welker. Colston's been the top target on a loaded Saints offense, one that feels worthy of having a receiver in Hawaii. And Bowe topped 1,000 yards, despite a mess of a quarterback situation in Kansas City.

Tight end: Aaron Hernandez (Patriots)

There are some really, really good tight ends that didn't make the cut -- Brandon Pettigrew, Jason Witten and Jermichael Finley, to name a few. But it's hard to argue with the NFC's selections (Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez) or the AFC starter (Rob Gronkowski).

If there is one spot open for discussion, it's the AFC's second TE spot, which was handed to Antonio Gates. Like his QB, Philip Rivers, Gates sleepwalked through the first half of the season, because of injuries or whatever else you want to blame. While he's turned it on lately, Hernandez has been there all season. Considering how much the Patriots' tight ends have dominated this year, sending both of them to the Pro Bowl would have been justified.

Offensive line: Chris Snee (Giants), Duane Brown (Texans), Andrew Whitworth (Bengals)

Any number of Texans' linemen could have made a case, so it's pretty surprising that none of them actually landed on the roster. Brown said the lack of Houston reps up front was a "slap in the face."

Snee has been terrific on the interior of the Giants' line. There's not really a slouch among the three NFC guards selected -- Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph -- but New York wouldn't still be in the playoff hunt without Snee's work.

And Whitworth has gone unnoticed this year, but the Bengals' turnaround isn't all on A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

Defensive line: Julius Peppers (Bears), Cliff Avril (Lions), Chris Long (Rams), Geno Atkins (Bengals), Brandon Mebane (Seahawks)

Arguably more than any other spot on the field, the defensive line Pro Bowl selections are up for debate. The tough part about it is that there wasn't a plethora of head-scratching choices named to the two teams at defensive tackle or end. Jay Ratliff or B.J. Raji, both NFC DTs, could be replaced on the roster by a guy like Mebane or even Ndamukong Suh, but neither is an awful choice.

Peppers, Long and Avril combined for 34 sacks this season, but the NFC's defensive end representatives -- Jared Allen, Jason Babin and Jason Pierre-Paul will finish the season 1-2-3 in that category.

Atkins is leading all DTs in sacks (8) and has been a key cog in Cincinnati's revived defense. Like the playoff-bound Lions in the NFC, it feels as if the Bengals were disrespected a bit by Pro Bowl voters.

Linebacker: London Fletcher (Redskins), Aldon Smith (49ers), NaVorro Bowman (49ers), Brian Cushing (Texans), D'Qwell Jackson (Browns)

Ok, so maybe this is the spot on the field that should be open for discussion ...

That list of five snubs at inside/outside linebacker could have made up a pretty strong Pro Bowl team of its own at those positions. Fletcher and Jackson are the top two tacklers in the NFL, and Fletcher has a whopping 163 takedowns heading into Week 17. Even on another last-place Redskins team, he has stood out on a weekly basis.

Bowman and Smith may be the two biggest snubs across the entire league. Bowman has stepped up with partner Patrick Willis injured, playing just as well as Willis has, which ought to be enough to get him to Hawaii.

Smith may win Defensive Rookie of the Year, thanks to his 14.5 sacks. He and Cushing were both dominant players at times this season -- and both played on spectacular defensive units.

Defensive back: Ryan Clark (Steelers), Joe Haden (Browns), Tyvon Branch (Raiders)

Not much to nitpick in the NFC, unless you want to make a case for a member of the Eagles' disappointing defense like Nnamdi Asomugha.

It's a different story in the AFC, though, where Clark and Haden should have gotten in -- the former over San Diego's Eric Weddle; the latter over Denver's Champ Bailey. Clark has Ed Reed to contend with at the safety position, but the Steelers landed just one defender on the Pro Bowl roster, and that's not enough.

Haden has been the best cornerback in his division, which ought to have earned him an invite.

Special mention for Branch here -- he's topped 100 tackles each of the past three seasons.

Special teams: Darren Sproles (Saints)

Not really sure where else to put Sproles, and Arizona's Patrick Peterson definitely earned the NFC's returner spot. That said, Sproles has been a terrific addition to the Saints' roster and is a player that every team in the league would love to have.

He doesn't have the numbers to be an obvious pick at running back, but he should be involved somewhere.

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