Although the Pro Bowl may eventually be killed off by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, for right now the NFL’s version of an All-Star game is still around, and fan voting is still a big part of the selection process. With the best record in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons have more than a handful of players on this year’s ballot.
Among the NFC leading Falcons’ candidates are tight end Tony Gonzalez, quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Roddy White, defensive end John Abraham and safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud.
In 2010, when the Falcons also had the NFC’s best record, they sent a team record seven players to Honolulu, including Ryan and White.
While the names on the above list are ones that are easily spotted for the statistics and impact they make during the course of a season, there are a few Falcons who’s names did not appear on the ballot that have played a huge part in the Falcons’ success this year. While these names didn’t appear on an NFL Pro Bowl ballot, if there were a ballot just for Falcons’ All-Stars, they’d definitely make the grade.
One Robert McClain leaps to mind. McClain, who barely made the roster coming out of training camp, was forced into duty from the start of the season when starting CB Brent Grimes went down with a season-ending injury. Although McClain hasn’t lit up the stat sheets as far as interceptions and passes defensed are concerned, his presence in the Atlanta secondary has been undeniably felt.
Another Falcons All-Star you have to consider, is LT Sam Baker, who has been the target of many journalistic barbs (mine included) for nearly his entire NFL career. But Baker has grown up right in front of our eyes this season and done an exemplary job of protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side, while also becoming an excellent blocker in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter‘s newly installed screen game. Most analysts and fans seriously questioned the wisdom of head coach Mike Smith sticking with Baker for as long as he did, but it appears his patience may not have been for naught.
You can’t talk about unsung heroes on this Atlanta team without bringing up the name of DE Kroy Biermann. When the Falcons finally called the Ray Edwards project a bust, Biermann stepped up and provided the energy and hard-nosed play that had been missing on the end opposite John Abraham. While Biermann’s four sacks aren’t going to make the league leaders sheet, he’s been involved in a number of huge defensive plays this season.
Finally, in the special teams department, Matt Bryant has to be considered as a huge reason for the Falcons big year. While his 86.5% FG percentage isn’t tops in the league, only two of Bryant’s five misses came under 40 yards, and he is 4-4 in attempts of over 50 yards. Bryant also had two game-winning field goals early in the season in tough games against the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders.
The Falcons may send another large group of players to the Pro Bowl this season, but some of the lesser known names should get the recognition they deserve.