Who Will Be the Next Browns to Make the Pro Bowl?

James Walker, ESPN’s AFC North guru, had an interesting piece today when he named the player from each team whom he felt would become future stars.  While he went with the Bengals rookie receiver AJ Green, he curiously picked Mike Wallace for the Steelers and Ray Rice for the Ravens.  Two guys who are already fairly big stars in their own right.

However, it did get the Chat Sports wheels turning so we decided to name the brightest rising stars on the Browns.  Our criteria was simple—who are the players on the current Browns roster who have never made the Pro Bowl, that have the best chance of making the Pro Bowl in the future.  Could be a rookie, could be a guy 8 years in, the only criteria being that he never has been to the Pro Bowl. 

This also means that the only players on the roster that get eliminated are Joe Thomas, Josh Cribbs, Alex Mack, Sheldon Brown, and of course long snapper Ryan Pontbriand.  (We’ll leave off Eric Steinbach and Scott Fujita as well since they have been named as alternates).

We’ve identified 5 potentials, in order of likelihood.

  1.  Joe Haden.  This was actually Walker’s pick as well, and it’s hard to disagree.  You could make the argument that he would have made the Pro Bowl had he been a starter for the entire season last year, since he played at that caliber for the 2nd half of the season after cracking the lineup.   He gets beat on occasion, but has incredible closing speed and a knack for getting to the ball just in time to break up passes.  Plus, he is a very solid tackler as far as DB’s go.  He could make the Pro Bowl as early as this season.

 2. Peyton Hillis.  It will be hard for Hillis to duplicate his 2010 season in which he practically became the Juggernaut.   Especially with excellent blocking back Lawrence Vickers appearing to be on his way out.  However, Hillis arguably should have made the Pro Bowl last year and he seems to have the work ethic that might prevent a huge letdown like the Browns are used to seeing with backs that have a breakout season.  Having a health Montario Hardesty should help to lessen his load, which should make him even more effective.  Health and competition at the position in the AFC will be his biggest obstacles.

 3. Ahtyba Rubin.  Rubin has been a stout DT since taking over the role in Shaun Rogers, um, absence?  He has played the NT spot for his whole career, so it will be interesting to see how he makes the transition to a 4-3 defense.  It won’t hurt his cause to have an anchor playing next to him in 1st round pick Phil Taylor.  His biggest obstacles to making a Pro Bowl however are Kris Jenkins and Haloti Ngata.

 4. Reggie Hodges.  Stats for punters are very goofy and subject to a lot of interpretation.  While he doesn’t blow away people with his average punting distance, it’s his ability to pin the ball inside the 20 and 10 that make him so effective.  Almost all NFL punters can boom the ball, but Hodges is already among the league’s best a pinning a team deep.

 5. Greg Little.  Greg Little has all the intangibles that would point to being him a star NFL receiver.  Mainly he is very athletic and has a combustible personality.  When you watch film of him he really reminds you of Braylon Edwards.  While that will make Browns fans cringe, Edwards did make the Pro Bowl once, and that is why I am putting Little on the list.  He is the definition of a ‘boom or bust’ player, and it will be up to the coaching staff to develop this raw talent if he is to become a star. 

Guys who didn’t make the list;

Colt McCoy.  I love everything about Colt McCoy, except his arm strength, which is why I am not sold on him yet.  Having a cannon arm isn’t a requirement to greatness at the QB position (see Montana, Joe), but there is a certain level that a QB must possess in order to be successful in the NFL.  Being lucky enough to attend all the Browns home games and two always games last year left me very weary after seeing far too many deep balls get hung up mid-air.   It doesn’t matter who the receivers are, if he can’t throw the ball a certain distance all the intangibles in the world aren’t going to make up for the fact that defenses will stuff the shorter routes against him which will make life miserable. 

Plus, in order to make it on the PB roster, he would have to beat out the likes of Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers.  Which is why he was left off.

TJ Ward.  I considered TJ Ward because of the great start he got off to last year.  But, he seemed to lack the big hit in his arsenal after getting fined for his hit on Jordan Shipley of the Bengals, and he missed several tackles at big points in games down the stretch ( the Santonio Holmes and Jones-Drew were abominations of attempted tackling).  While he has the potential, he is going to bring back the hammer he had in the early going in order to have a shot.

Honorable Mention:  Phil Dawson.  One of the most accurate kickers in the history of the NFL, yet never been to the Pro Bowl.  It's not even clear if he will be on the team in 2011, so I couldn't include him in the list

While making this list, I realize the Browns do in fact have a nice core of young players.  I also didn’t consider their first two draft picks from this year who will be immediate starters most likely.  Should either one of them become premier players the Browns will have a nice nucleus going forward.  Couple that with two first round picks in next year’s draft and you do get the sense that the team is headed in the right direction.

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