Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do the Dolphins have a worthy Pro Bowler on the roster?

Fan voting for the 2012 Pro Bowl came to an end last night and has the leading vote-getters by position up Wednesday. The fans' vote makes up one-third of the overall voting process, with the players and coaches each contributing a third as well.

Completely absent from the AFC list of positional vote-getters is any Miami Dolphins representation. The New England Patriots have five players on the list, while the Baltimore Ravens lead the pack with seven total players.

We'll find out soon enough the full list of players to be selected to the Pro Bowl after the players and coaches fill out their ballots over the next few days, but in the meantime I'll pose this question:

Do the Dolphins—with a record of 5-9 and losers of their first seven games—have a single player on the roster that has earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2011?

What follows is a list of any Dolphins player I think will either be in the Pro Bowl discussion (deservedly or not) as well as an analysis of whether or not that player is actually worthy compared to his NFL peers.

If I don't cover anyone you think is worth discussing, feel free to discuss it on the comments or let me know!

QB Matt Moore

Taking over for Chad Henne after a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 4, Moore has shown steady improvement over the course of the season. He is 4-2 in his last six games (with one loss coming when he suffered a concussion and missed much of the game) and earned AFC Player of the Week honors with a three-touchdown performance in a 31-3 rout of the Chiefs in Week 9.

That being said, it might seem strange to to talk about Moore as a Pro Bowl candidate. He's actually not too far from the top in a thin AFC quarterback herd, however. Although he hasn't started all season, Moore currently ranked fifth in the NFL in passer rating, and one of the players ahead of him—Houston's Matt Schaub—is out for the season.

Realistically, Moore is not deserving of a Pro Bowl selection with Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and a surging Philip Rivers. You also have to factor in that Tim Tebow is going to make his way there as a fan favorite regardless of performance. However, if a few of the quarterbacks decide to drop out, Moore is clearly a worthy alternate.

RB Reggie Bush

You can count me among the people that have long doubted Bush's ability to hold up as a feature back and between-the-tackles runner in the NFL, but the first-year Dolphin and reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week is proving many wrong with a highly productive season on the ground.

Coming off his 203-yard performance against the Bills in Week 15, Bush now has 973 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the season to go along with 41 catches for 270 yards. His rushing total puts him at sixth in the AFC and his five yards per carry is a better mark than anyone in front of him.

Realistically, I don't think you can put Bush in the Pro Bowl ahead of the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster. However, Bush is certainly one of the more productive backs in the conference and could be a worthy alternate.

WR Brandon Marshall

The argument for Marshall is certainly a divisive one. On one hand, he's a psycho wife-beater and has one of the highest drop rates over the past two seasons. On the other hand, he certainly has Pro Bowl numbers, ranking second among receivers in the AFC in receptions (70) and fourth in yards (1,021).

Marshall is certainly on the cusp of being Pro Bowl worthy, but objectively I wouldn't put him on the top four. I think you have to include Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, and Vincent Jackson over Marshall, and there are arguments to be made for guys like A. J. Green, Dwayne Bowe, and Antonio Brown as well. Green in particular is having a phenomenal rookie season and has out-gained Marshall per catch with two more touchdowns on the year.

I certainly couldn't argue if Marshall were selected to the Pro Bowl, as he's put up top numbers for his position despite missing out on a handful of big opportunities with costly drops.

TE Anthony Fasano

Let's just be realistic—Fasano has no chance of being selected to the Pro Bowls. His numbers don't jump out at anyone, as he ranks 15th among AFC tight ends in receptions (28), 10th in yards (440), and sixth in touchdowns (six).

That being said, I would argue Fasano is one of the Dolphins most worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. While his receiving numbers are solid yet unspectacular, he is easily one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the NFL. Fasano ranks first among full-time tight ends in the AFC in yards per catch (15.7) and Pro Football Focus has him as the NFL's fifth-best run-blocking tight end.

It's hard to argue against guys like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that are lighting up the stat sheets, but I would contend that Fasano is worth being considered just behind him—even ahead of some players with more receptions or total yards—based on his overall contributions to his offense.

OT Jake Long

When you're the No. 1 overall pick and you're an elite left tackle, you're going to be one of the biggest names fans know among offensive linemen and secure Pro Bowl selections with relative ease. Long has earned three straight selections to begin his career and there is always a chance he'll get a fourth this season solely based on reputation.

As far as Long deserving a Pro Bowl selection this season, I'd have to say he's not quite there. While it's true Long probably hasn't been close 100% healthy at any point this season, the reality is he's struggled at times more than I've ever seen and hasn't been as dominant as in the past. Pro Football Focus blames him for five sacks on the season and ranks him as the 17th-best pass-protecting tackle and 23rd overall tackle.

Long may get in on reputation and his dip in production can certainly be attributed to lingering injuries, but I don't see him truly deserving it no matter what the excuse. There's also virtually no chance Long would participate in the Pro Bowl even if he makes it, given how dinged up he's been for over a year now.

OT Marc Colombo

Just kidding. He's awful.

DE Randy Starks

One of the Dolphins' current regime's earliest and finest signings, Starks has been one of the league's best 3-4 defensive ends since he arrived in Miami and even performed well at nose tackle in 2010 before Paul Soliai's emergence. A stellar season in 2009 earned him a Pro Bowl alternate spot the following season to replace the Steelers' Brett Keisel who was in the Super Bowl.

While 3-4 defensive lineman often go unnoticed in their work and Starks has largely been one of those guys over the past three seasons, Starks' recognition by the league as a Pro Bowl alternate makes him a viable candidate once again in 2011.

Starks has amassed a steady 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks thus far in 2011, practically matching his 2010 output in two fewer games. Beyond that, he's been a key component of the Dolphins' No. 3 run defense both in rushing yards and rushing average and rates as PFF's eighth-best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL and fourth-bet in the AFC behind Keisel and Houston's J. J. Watt and Antonio Smith.

Clearly worthy of a Pro Bowl selection yet again in 2011 and at the very least a nod as an injury replacement, Starks will likely have to wait and see if he's recognized by the AFC coach like he was in 2010.

NT Paul Soliai

A pretty regular disappointment during his first few years with the Dolphins, Soliai really emerged last season as one of the better 3-4 nose tackles in the game. He earned the Dolphins' franchise tag and is making over $12 million this season before becoming a free agent next year.

In my opinion, Soliai isn't quite having the same impact as he did in 2010. He's still be an excellent run defender for the most part but he doesn't have nearly as many tackles as he did last season. He's been solid, but probably isn't worth Pro Bowl consideration in the same conference as Haloti Ngata, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Kelly Gregg, and others.

OLB Cameron Wake

On the surface, Cameron Wake is having a down season in 2011 after a 14-sack Pro Bowl campaign last year. Wake has 39 tackles and 7.5 sacks on the season but is still looking for his first forced fumble of the year after notching three a season ago.

However, football metrics indicate Wake is having a bigger season than his sack total indicates. Ranked as PFF's No. 1 run-stopping 3-4 outside linebacker and overall 3-4 outside linebacker, Wake grades out with extremely high marks in every area except coverage. While he may only have 7.5 sacks, he is second in the NFL and first in the AFC in quarterback hits (17) and third in the NFL in pressures (43). His pressures total is also first among all 3-4 outside linebackers, as the two people ahead of him are 4-3 defensive ends.

It may be hard to Wake to garner a Pro Bowl selection over bigger names like Brian Orakpo, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, but Wake is clearly one of the best in the game at his position and worthy of another selection. I'd give him a strong chance of being named an alternate at the very least, and deservedly so.

ILBs Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett

I'm including Dansby and Burnett in one section because I feel they've had such parallel seasons at the same position. Dansby has done well in his second season with the Dolphins, totaling 88 tackles and two sacks through 14 games. Burnett has also really come on of late and sits with 82 tackles and 2.5 sacks. It's safe to say he's a clear upgrade over the released and retired Channing Crowder.

Of the two, Dansby is the most worthy as PFF's 10th-best inside linebacker in the NFL with high marks in pass coverage and run defense. After showing up to camp at 270 pounds and getting off to a slow start to begin the season, Dansby has been playing great football lately. If he'd been playing like this all season, it'd easily be one of the best seasons of any linebacker in the league.

But is either one Pro Bowl worthy? I'd have to say no. While both are playing great football in the second half, they really struggled at the beginning of the season and thus have not had the consistency to garner real Pro Bowl consideration over guys that have been playing at a high level all year. Dansby could receive alternate consideration, but that's the extent of it.

CB Vontae Davis

The Dolphins' No. 1 corner and a promising player, Davis has certainly had a roller coaster season. He began the year with some struggled and missed a combined four games due to a hamstring injury and a suspension for violating a team rule.

That being said, Davis has really come on in the second half and may just be Pro Bowl worthy. He's already matched his career high with four interceptions on the year and has been strong against the run as well. In coverage, he's holding opposing quarterbacks to a 59.1 passer rating, which ranks seventh in the AFC.

I wouldn't say Davis should be in the Pro Bowl over guys like Darrelle Revis and Ike Taylor, but he should be on speed dial of guys start dropping out due to injury.

P Brandon Fields

Quite possibly the Dolphins' MVP in a sad season otherwise, Fields is far and away one of the best punters in the NFL. When you watch him kick and then see some of the guys other teams have around the league, it's just amazing how much better Fields' leg is than most. He may rank ninth in punting average and nowhere near the top in net average thanks to poor coverage, but he's easily one of the most effective punters in the game and ranks second in the NFL in punts inside the opponent's 20 with 30 of his 70 kicks landing in that area.

Despite all that, Field is not worthy of the AFC's Pro Bowl punter job. That honor should again go to Oakland's Shane Lechler, who already has six Pro Bowls under his belt and may just be the best punter in NFL history. If Lechler drops out, Fields is at worst the second replacement option, but could win a tiebeaker with the Broncos' Britton Colquitt due to the Broncos' mile high air.

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