AFC East: Brandon Fields

Pro Bowl selections: Miami Dolphins

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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The Miami Dolphins are hoping to get into the postseason for the first time since 2008 this weekend. But on Friday Miami, received additional good news by getting four players into the Pro Bowl.

Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive end Cameron Wake, punter Brandon Fields and center Mike Pouncey were all selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, as voted by fans, players and coaches.

"It is a well-deserved honor," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "I know they will be outstanding representatives of their teammates and the rest of the Dolphins organization in Hawaii."

This will be the first Pro Bowl for Fields and Pouncey. It is the second for Grimes and the third nod for Wake.

Fields and Pouncey have been considered Pro Bowl snubs in the past. But perhaps the Dolphins' success this year got them over the hump. Wake, who has 8.5 sacks, didn't have his strongest year. He was hampered by a knee injury earlier in the season, but name recognition and a fast finish helped in the selection process. Grimes has been a stud in his first year with Miami and has four interceptions. Grimes missed nearly all of 2012 following Achilles surgery.

"This selection means a lot especially coming off last year," Grimes said. "To come back and make the Pro Bowl is a big deal."

Miami (8-6) can clinch a wild-card spot with a win Sunday over the New York Jets and a loss by the Baltimore Ravens or a win by the San Diego Chargers.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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MIAMI -- Thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday.

What it means: The Dolphins picked up their biggest victory of the season to improve to 8-6 thanks to a late touchdown pass by quarterback Ryan Tannehill to running back Marcus Thigpen with 1:15 remaining and a big defensive stop to end the game. Unheralded safety Michael Thomas picked off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the end zone with two seconds remaining. Miami also snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Patriots (10-4), who still hold a firm lead in the AFC East. However, the Dolphins hold sole possession of the final wild-card spot in the AFC -- even if just for a day. The Baltimore Ravens (7-6) have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami and will try to reclaim the sixth seed when they play the Detroit Lions on “Monday Night Football."

Stock Watch: Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace had another solid performance. Wallace had six receptions for 105 yards and a 39-yard touchdown catch before halftime. It was Wallace’s fourth 100-yard game of the season. Wallace’s chemistry with Tannehill has improved tremendously in the second half of the season.

In terms of stock down, the Patriots did a terrific job to shut down Miami tight end Charles Clay. New England made a concerted effort to stop Clay by rolling extra coverage his way. Clay had zero receptions in the first half and just one reception in the game.

Field goal folly: Miami had a costly mistake in the first half. Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up for a 42-yarder that was botched as Miami was going for the tie before halftime. Long-snapper John Denney snapped the ball to an unsuspecting Brandon Fields, and the ball hit Fields in the helmet. The Patriots recovered and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive before the half.

What’s next: The Dolphins will hit the road for their final road game of the regular season to play the Buffalo Bills Sunday in an effort to split the season series. The Bills upset the Dolphins in Miami 23-21 in Week 7. The Dolphins will need to win this game to firmly remain in the playoff hunt.

Patriots-Dolphins halftime notes

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins trail the New England Patriots, 10-7, at halftime.

Here are some notes at intermission.
  • New England head coach Bill Belichick added an interesting wrinkle on defense. The Patriots put No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib on Miami tight end Charles Clay several times on passing downs. Belichick spoke very highly of Clay this past week. For him to put New England’s best cover corner on a tight end speaks to that level of respect. Clay has zero receptions in the first half.
  • The Patriots are giving Miami second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill a lot of different pre-snap looks. Tannehill looked confused several times and checked into a few bad plays. Tannehill also has been sacked three times in the first half before throwing a 39-yard touchdown to receiver Mike Wallace before the half ended.
  • Miami had a big football folly in the first half. Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up for a 42-yard that was botched. Long-snapper John Denny snapped the ball to an unsuspecting Brandon Fields and the ball hit Fields in the helmet. The Patriots recovered and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
  • Miami defensive tackle Paul Soliai suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter. His return to the game is questionable.

Midseason Report: Miami Dolphins

November, 6, 2013
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The Miami Dolphins (4-4) enter the midpoint of their season as a .500 team. There have been plenty of ups and downs in the first eight games.

Here is a look back at Miami’s first-half grades:

W2W4: Dolphins at Patriots

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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With Rob Gronkowski returning to the field in Week 7, the speculation that previously permeated throughout each week about his availability no longer exists. As Gronkowski said Wednesday, his focus can be geared toward the upcoming opponent and not become distracted by questions about whether he’ll be available to play on Sunday.

His return was an impactful one, despite the team falling in overtime, as he hauled in eight catches for 114 yards.

But while they got back arguably their best player not named Tom Brady, the Patriots aren’t entirely out of the woods yet on the injury front. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/groin) has practiced on a limited basis this week and is listed as questionable to play Sunday. Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), who has also practiced on a limited basis this week, also is questionable for Week 8.

The Patriots always put a premium on division games, and they’ll play their fourth of the season on Sunday and their first against the Miami Dolphins, who were hopeful to make the leap this season after a 7-9 campaign in 2012. While the Patriots are looking to bounce back from a disappointing Week 7 loss, the Dolphins are try to break a three-game losing streak and climb back above .500.

When the two square off on Sunday, here’s what we’ll be looking for.

1. Talib and Amendola’s availability. Amendola was the team’s most notable offseason acquisition, while Talib has proven to be an indispensable member of this defense. Getting both of them back for Sunday would be a boon for the Patriots, as the offense needs Amendola to help kick-start its production, while Talib is playing like one of the best cornerbacks in all of football. The Dolphins haven’t been able to generate much on the ground this season, but with a receiving corps that features Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and a capable slot presence in Brandon Gibson, getting Talib back would be a big step in slowing down their passing game. Two players we know the Patriots won’t have: defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle), who have been ruled out by the team.

2. Can Brady find his rhythm? Brady hasn’t lost any confidence despite recent struggles, as he shouldn’t have. That being said, the veteran quarterback needs to raise his level of play as the season progresses, as he’s completed fewer than 56 percent of his throws. The Patriots' offense has dealt with moving parts, but the potential to have Gronkowski and Amendola on the field at the same time opens things up. Can the offense get it going against a Dolphins defense that made steep investments on players at all three levels this offseason?

3. Exposing the Dolphins' pass protection. The Dolphins made the decision to pass on Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson when they traded up to the third pick in this year’s draft to grab defensive end Dion Jordan. With second-year player Jonathan Martin struggling, the team acted on a trade opportunity to acquire veteran Bryant McKinnie from Baltimore this past week, which could eventually swing Martin over to the right side and move Tyson Clabo into a reserve role. Regardless of who mans the left side, the Patriots have an opportunity to generate pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Veteran Andre Carter, signed this week, isn’t likely to start for the team, but he could be an effective edge rusher with a natural nose for the quarterback.

4. Containing the Dolphins' pass rush. By the numbers, the Dolphins' pass rush hasn’t been particularly strong, but that’s due in part to time missed by standout Cameron Wake, who is now healthy after dealing with a knee issue earlier this season. Bill Belichick said of Wake: “He’s just a good football player. I don’t think there’s any one thing that just jumps off about him. It’s just all solid and good. He plays strong, he’s athletic, he’s active. He can rush the edge but he can also rush with power. He’s got a good variety of moves.” Wake, who primarily aligns on the defense’s left side, will be the responsibility of Sebastian Vollmer to contain. Vollmer has been his usual solid self this season, and Sunday will mark yet another test for the towering right tackle.

5. Punt game in focus. Dolphins punter Brandon Fields leads the league in both gross and net punting, a testament to both his strong leg and directional punting ability. But the Dolphins have allowed an average of 9.9 yards per return, which could be tied to Fields at times outkicking his coverage. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is the NFL's active leader in punt-return average, and he had a brilliant return against the Jets last weekend. He’s the only NFL player to return a punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons, and he may have a chance to find space and room to maneuver if Fields unloads on a punt.

Walker's Fab 40 snubs

February, 2, 2013
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Not everyone could make Walker’s Fab 40. This is the best of the best in the AFC East, and this year we had another very competitive list.

Here are several good players who didn’t make the list:

Fields
Fab 40 snub: Brandon Fields, P, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 50.2 yard average, 29 punts inside 20

Why he missed the cut: This was a tough call to make. I think Fields is one of the top 10 punters in the NFL. However, is he one of the top 40 players in the AFC East? I went back and forth on this one but eventually placed a lower value on punters and included players who were more productive at other positions. Ultimately, could I rank Fields ahead of Miami safety Reshad Jones, who came in at No. 40? I just couldn't do it.

Jones
Jones
Fab 40 snub: Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 45 tackles, six sacks

Why he missed the cut: Jones started his rookie season on a tear. He had six sacks early and brought the Patriots a much-needed pass rush. However, Jones came to New England with an injury history in college, and that also hampered him in the second half of this season. Jones suffered through a bum ankle and couldn’t finish the year strong. I need to see more of Jones. Eight good games as a rookie weren’t enough. But the talent is there, and I fully expect him to be on Walker’s Fab 40 in 2014.

Kerley
Fab. 40 sub: Jeremy Kerley, WR, New York Jets

2012 stats: 56 receptions, 827 yards, two TDs

Why he missed the cut: Kerley did the opposite of Jones. He was nonexistent for the first half of the season but came on strong late in the year. Some of this has to do with Santonio Holmes' season-ending foot injury. Kerley eventually became Mark Sanchez's No. 1 target when Holmes went down. Kerley continues to flash but needs to put it together for a full season. Kerley is probably most effective in the slot, but the Jets need more receivers.

Dareus
Fab 40 snub: Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks

Why he missed the cut: I expected much more from Dareus in his second season. He showed plenty of flashes his rookie year but definitely went through a sophomore slump and disappeared in games. Dareus also had family issues off the field this season that may have impacted his play. The Bills were 31st against the run, which is inexcusable for a unit that includes Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams.

Fitzpatrick
Fab 40 snub: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 3,400 yards, 24 touchdowns, 16 INTs

Why he missed the cut: Fitzpatrick had another erratic year and was 6-10 as a starter. His numbers looked decent, but Fitzpatrick had an uncanny knack for throwing mind-boggling interceptions at the worst times. He was definitely not clutch as a quarterback. His streakiness made it difficult for the Bills to win consistently. Fitzpatrick probably played his last game in Buffalo. Rookie head coach Doug Marrone is looking for Fitzpatrick’s replacement, and it could come in the draft or free agency. Fitzpatrick is due a $3 million roster bonus in March and a $4.45 million salary that Buffalo is not expect to pay.

Thanks for checking out another fun year of Walker’s Fab 40 as we put a final bow on the 2012 season. I’m sure the debate will continue on, but it’s time for the AFC East blog to fully turn its attention to free agency and the 2013 NFL draft.

Poll: Biggest AFC East Pro Bowl snub

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
2:50
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The Pro Bowl rosters are in, and there are several players in the AFC East who should not be happy Thursday.

SportsNation

Who is the biggest AFC East Pro Bowl snub?

  •  
    28%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    16%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,946)

In our latest poll question, we want to know who is the biggest Pro Bowl snub?

The Miami Dolphins have three players who should have received strong consideration. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake made the Pro Bowl. But teammates Mike Pouncey, punter Brandon Fields and safety Reshad Jones all had good seasons.

Pouncey was a stud in his second season. He was a big reason for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill's rapid development. Fields has been underrated for years, and Jones came on strong in the second half of the season.

Were any of these Dolphins the biggest Pro Bowl snub in the AFC East?

The Buffalo Bills were the only division team without a Pro Bowl player. Their best two candidates are dynamic tailback C.J. Spiller and playmaking safety Jairus Byrd.

Spiller was big time when he got enough opportunities. Byrd was the only consistent playmaker for Buffalo's defense. Is one of these Buffalo players the biggest Pro Bowl snub?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the biggest Pro Bowl snub in the AFC East. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

AFC East Pro Bowl analysis

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Most of the seven New England Patriots were easy calls. Quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Wes Welker were immensely productive, as usual, and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was stout once again. Even Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made the Pro Bowl despite missing five games with a broken forearm. But Gronkowski still leads AFC tight ends with 10 touchdowns. He averaged a touchdown per game this season. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake made his second Pro Bowl after leading the Dolphins with 15 sacks. Wake also doesn't get enough credit for holding his own against the run in Miami's stout front seven. This nod was well deserved. It also was good to see Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie get credit for his good year by making the Pro Bowl as a reserve. Cromartie really stepped up his game in Darrelle Revis' absence and showed that he is still capable of being a No. 1 corner.

Made it on rep: Most of the selections for the AFC East were solid. However, Patriots guard Logan Mankins wasn't his usual self this season. He came back early from ACL surgery and was bothered by other injuries. Mankins missed six games but was still voted as a starter. Jets safety LaRon Landry has been a bright spot, but I didn't think he had a Pro Bowl year. Still, Landry's 95 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions are proof that he stayed around the football this year. He will be a free agent this offseason and his price tag for the Jets just went up. New York will have salary-cap issues and could have a hard time keeping Landry.

Got robbed: You would be hard pressed to find a center who had a better season than Mike Pouncey of the Dolphins. Pouncey made tremendous strides in his second year but was snubbed in favor of his twin brother, Maurkice Pouncey, of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chris Myers of the Houston Texans. Mike Pouncey was pivotal in Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill's rapid development and tailback Reggie Bush being on pace for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Dolphins punter Brandon Fields is another major snub. Fields has been underrated for years and continues to boom kicks. Fields averaged a career-high 50.3 yards per punt and had 26 land inside the 20. Fields was beaten out by Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt. I also tend to have a soft spot for Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller. After watching him all season, the eye test tells me Spiller is one of the most dynamic talents in the NFL. But his numbers (1,185 yards, six touchdowns) aren't overly impressive because Spiller didn't get enough opportunities. The Bills are the only AFC East team without a Pro Bowl player.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
Winning and popularity often go hand and hand.

Want proof? Look no further than the NFL Pro Bowl voting.

The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots are dominating the fan voting from the division. They have two of the top-seven players overall in quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Fans also have three New England players voted in the starting lineup: Gronkowski, linebacker Jerod Mayo and guard Logan Mankins. Brady is the second-leading vote getter but trails Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning at his position.

One of the more interesting fan votes is Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields. He's been underrated for years and is finally getting noticed.

Fields, who averages 50.4 yards per punt, is trying to make his first Pro Bowl this year.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Cowboys

August, 30, 2012
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The Miami Dolphins wrapped up their 2012 preseason with a 30-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Miami finished winless in the preseason for the first time since 1989.

Here are several notes and observations:

What I liked: Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill was efficient in limited playing time. He made safe throws and finished 5-of-7 for 35 yards. Miami led 3-0 when Tannehill exited the game. He looks fairly ready for the regular season. Backup running back Daniel Thomas also ran well. The second-year tailback, who is in Dolphins coach Joe Philbin’s doghouse for tardiness, gained 31 yards on five carries. It appears Miami’s running game should be the best part of its offense.

What I didn’t like: The Dolphins have few playmakers and little depth. The backups were throttled by Dallas’ reserves, which is a trend we saw throughout the AFC East division this preseason. Dolphins No. 2 quarterback Matt Moore finished his miserable preseason, completing just 4 of 12 passes and another interception. This time Moore’s turnover was a pick-six. The receiver position is still an issue. No one has really stepped up to claim the top spots heading into the regular season.

Fields is ready: Miami punter Brandon Fields already is in midseason form. Fields’ punts were booming Friday. He had an average of 50.2 yards on six punts. With a young offense, Fields could be needed a lot this year.

What’s next: The Dolphins will travel in their regular-season opener to face the Houston Texans. It’s a tough game for Miami, which is rebuilding with a rookie quarterback, to hit the road and face a playoff-caliber team in its home opener.
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Leonhard visited the Buffalo Bills earlier in the week but didn't sign; he must have liked his chances to get more playing time in Denver. He would have been coming off the bench for Buffalo.
Morning take: Gallery had a long career in the NFL and was struggling some with the Patriots. New England now has a lot of questions at guard with Gallery retiring, Logan Mankins hurt and Brian Waters' status uncertain.
Morning take: Fields is a great punter who is underrated. The Dolphins did the right thing to secure him for four more years.
Morning take: The team has begged Mangold to go and he refused until now. This is a good time to get a breather and spend time with family.
Many AFC East fans on Twitter and the division blog voiced their displeasure with HBO choosing the rebuilding Miami Dolphins as the latest subject on "Hard Knocks." The Dolphins do not have the star power to draw in casual fans.

However, there are reasons to watch the Dolphins. In no particular order, here are a dozen reasons to tune in:
  • QB competition between Matt Moore and David Garrard.
  • See GM Jeff Ireland work behind the scenes.
  • You never know what owner Stephen Ross will say next.
  • RB Reggie Bush is fun and interesting.
  • Coach Joe Philbin's sly sense of humor.
  • Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill's development.
  • Watch Miami install the West Coast offense.
  • See Jared Odrick's Pee Wee Herman dance.
  • See if Miami's receivers step up.
  • Watch Brandon Fields boom punts in practice.
  • See your favorite AFC East blogger at Dolphins practice.
  • Catch the 2012 AFC champions at work.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 33-36

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
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The AFC East blog continues its rankings Monday of the top 40 players.

Ninkovich
No. 36: Rob Ninkovich, LB

Team: New England Patriots

2011 Stats: 74 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions

Analysis: Ninkovich is a nice story of a self-made player who earned his way on the field. Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t care where you came from. If you’re smart, always play hard and don’t make many mistakes, the Patriots will find a way to get you on the field. Ninkovich was one of those players who fit in well with the Patriots. He worked his way into the starting lineup, and by the end of the season he was one of New England’s best pass-rushers. A full year of starting experience will go a long way for Ninkovich. New England’s 31st-ranked defense needs a lot of work. But the linebacker corps of Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Ninkovich could have a bright future together.

Fields
No. 35: Brandon Fields, P

Team: Miami Dolphins

2011 Stats: 48.8 average, 30 inside 20

Analysis: Those who read the AFC East blog regularly know that Fields is one of my favorite players to watch. He had only one bad game that I can remember in 2011. I thought he deserved a Pro Bowl nod. He averaged 48.8 yards per punt and was great at pinning opponents inside the 20. Punting in Miami all season probably helped his numbers a bit. But Fields played a big role in Miami's special teams and defense consistently winning the field-position battle.

Sanchez
No. 34: Mark Sanchez, QB

Team: New York Jets

2011 Stats: 3,474 yards, 26 touchdowns, 18 interceptions

Analysis: Sanchez is the first AFC East quarterback listed in "Walker's Fab 40." His statistics improved marginally in key areas. But many observers think he took a step back this past season. The Jets thought they could run the offense through Sanchez in 2011. New York started the season throwing the football 30-40 times a game and things didn‘t work out. New York head coach Rex Ryan opted to go back to ground-and-pound football to protect Sanchez. It put the Jets back in playoff contention, but the team couldn't hold it together down the stretch. There are no excuses for Sanchez next season. He has to prove in 2012 that he can carry an offense. Otherwise the Jets have little chance of winning a championship.

Anderson
No. 33: Mark Anderson, DE

Team: New England Patriots

Stats: 29 tackles, 10 sacks

Analysis: Anderson burst on the scene as a lesser-known free agent who really produced. He provided a much-needed pass rush for New England's struggling defense and tied for the team lead with 10 sacks. Anderson exceeded expectations and more for the Patriots in a contract year. Anderson now is an unrestricted free agent who could cash in on his productive season. The Patriots need all the pass-rushers they can get and will try to make a good pitch for Anderson. But there is no guarantee New England can keep the veteran defensive end.

2011 All-AFC East Team

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
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Darrelle Revis/Rob Gronkowski/Brandon MarshallGetty ImagesDarrelle Revis, left, Rob Gronkowski, middle, and Brandon Marshall shined in 2011.
The 2011 season was an interesting one filled with ups and mostly downs for the AFC East. Only one team finished with a winning record.

But that doesn't mean the AFC East lacked great individual performances. For example, the division produced an MVP candidate at quarterback who threw for more than 5,000 yards and another stellar season from the best cornerback in football.

Here is our All-AFC East Team for 2011:

Quarterback: Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Analysis: There is no question about this one. Brady set a new career-high with 5,235 passing yards, which surpassed Dan Marino's old record. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (5,476) finished with more yards and has the new record. Brady is the single biggest reason the Patriots are 13-3 and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. His performance carried New England through injuries and inconsistencies in other areas. Brady will be chasing his fourth Super Bowl title in the playoffs.

Running back: Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills

Analysis: This might be a controversial pick, because two other running backs -- Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene -- had 1,000-yard seasons. But Jackson was the best running back I watched this season. He simply had some bad luck, suffering a season-ending leg injury. He was on his way to making his first Pro Bowl. Jackson rushed for 934 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games. He had an additional 442 yards receiving. His numbers would be off the charts if he'd played the final six games.

Fullback: Charles Clay, Dolphins

Analysis: Clay was one of the surprise rookies from Miami's draft class. He was a good blocker for Bush, has great hands and knows what to do with the football. Clay caught 16 passes for 233 yards. He averaged 14.6 yards per reception, which is astounding for a fullback. John Conner of the Jets is the best blocking fullback. But Conner is not a receiving threat.

Receivers: Wes Welker, Patriots; Brandon Marshall, Dolphins

Analysis: The best receivers in the AFC East this season are a pair of Pro Bowlers. Welker had an unbelievable year. He set a new career high with 1,569 yards. He also caught 122 passes and was one of the league's most sure-handed receivers. Marshall, in contrast, wasn't sure-handed. He had plenty of big drops, but still had a good season. Marshall caught 81 passes for 1,214 yards and six touchdowns. What's even more impressive is that Marshall put up big numbers despite Miami's in-season quarterback switch from Chad Henne to Matt Moore.

Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

Analysis: Gronkowski showed flashes as a rookie. But no one knew he would explode the way he did in his second season. "Gronk" set an NFL record for tight ends with 17 touchdowns. He averaged more than one per game, despite many teams' focus on stopping him late in the season. Gronkowski finished with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and made his first Pro Bowl. Considering he's only 22, it will most likely be the first of many Pro Bowls.

Center: Nick Mangold, Jets

Analysis: Jets head coach Rex Ryan says a lot of things. But we believe him when he says Mangold is the best center in the NFL. Mangold fought through an ankle injury but had another solid season. He was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. The Jets' offensive line was up and down but completely fell apart when Mangold missed two games. New York's entire running game and blocking scheme is built around its center -- and for good reason.

Guards: Logan Mankins, Patriots; Andy Levitre, Bills

Analysis: Mankins, who made his fourth Pro Bowl, stayed healthy right up until the end and played 15 of 16 games. He should be ready for the playoffs. Levitre was one of my favorite players to watch because of his versatility. He's a very good guard, a solid offensive tackle and struggled at center. Levitre was forced to play all three positions in Buffalo this season because of injuries.

Offensive tackles: Jake Long, Dolphins; Matt Light, Patriots

Analysis: Long played through injuries all season. His back bothered him, and he ended up on injured reserve after tearing his biceps. But Long at 80 percent is still better than most left tackles, and he was good enough to make his fourth Pro Bowl in four years. Light gets our last tackle spot over New York's D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The Pro Bowl nod went to Ferguson. But Ferguson struggled at times this season and didn't play up to his usual standards. I think Ferguson got in on reputation and name recognition.

Defensive ends: Andre Carter, Patriots; Mark Anderson, Patriots

Analysis: No one flinched when the Patriots quietly signed a pair of veteran defensive ends in free agency to bolster their pass rush. Most of the focus was on big-name acquisitions such as receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. But two of New England's best signings were Carter and Anderson. Each finished with 10 sacks, and Carter made the Pro Bowl despite a late, season-ending quad injury. For all of New England's issues on defense, arguably its biggest strength was rushing the passer. The Patriots registered 40 sacks, and Carter and Anderson combined for half of that total.

Defensive tackles: Vince Wilfork, Patriots; Sione Pouha, Jets

Analysis: Wilfork, 30, continues to improve with age. He combines strength and smarts to play defensive tackle/nose tackle. Wilfork finished with 52 tackles and 3.5 sacks. But it was his two interceptions this season that were most memorable. Wilfork rumbled for 28 and 19 yards, respectively, on his two picks. The second defensive tackle was one of the most difficult selections. But we went with Pouha over Miami's Paul Soliai. Pouha's numbers were more impressive for a nose tackle. He recorded 58 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Soliai played well for Miami but registered only 27 tackles.

Outside linebackers: Cameron Wake, Dolphins; Calvin Pace, Jets

Analysis: It was a down year for outside linebackers in the AFC East. Wake and Pace were the best of a thin crop. Wake's sack numbers dipped from 14 to 8.5 this season. Teams put more focus on Wake, and he faced more double teams. Pace stayed healthy this season but recorded his lowest sack total (4.5) since 2006. Pace's backup, Aaron Maybin, led the Jets with six sacks.

Inside linebackers: David Harris, Jets; Karlos Dansby, Dolphins

Analysis: Harris continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Harris was the Jets' most consistent defensive player outside of Darrelle Revis. He was always around the football and recorded 86 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions. The second inside linebacker was another tough call. But we think Dansby had a slightly better season than New England's Jerod Mayo. A tailback getting 100 yards against the Dolphins' defense was rare, in large part due to Dansby. He established a physical presence in the middle for Miami and recorded 103 tackles and two sacks.

Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis, Jets; Kyle Arrington, Patriots

Analysis: What more can you say about Revis? He had another great season for the Jets. He led New York with 21 passes defended, and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. One pick was returned 100 yards for a touchdown. Teams opted to attack Revis more this season, which allowed more chances for him to make big plays. Arrington was this year's version of Devin McCourty. New England gave up a lot of passing yards, but Arrington made the most of his interception opportunities. He led the Patriots with seven picks and had 88 tackles.

Safeties: Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins; George Wilson, Bills

Analysis: The safeties struggled in the AFC East this season. But Bell was probably the most consistent in the division. He led Miami with 107 tackles. He also had two sacks and one interception. Wilson played lights out at times, particularly early in the season. He set a career high with 106 tackles and tied a career mark with four interceptions. Wilson did all of this despite missing three games with injuries.

Punter: Brandon Fields, Dolphins

Analysis: Fields was spectacular this season. He averaged 48.8 yards per punt and had 32 punts inside the 20. Fields was the only Dolphins player exciting to watch during Miami's ugly 0-7 start. Fields had a Pro Bowl season. But Oakland Raiders punter and Pro Bowler Shane Lechler is probably the best punter in the NFL.

Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots

Analysis: Fantasy football players fell in love with Gostkowski this season. New England's high-scoring offense constantly put Gostkowski in position to rack up points, and he usually came through. Gostkowski led New England in scoring with 143 points. He made 28 of 33 field goals and all 59 extra points. The pressure of the playoffs always is different for kickers. But Gostkowski has shown no signs that he will be bothered by it.

Return specialist: Joe McKnight, Jets

Analysis: McKnight was a must-see because something exciting could happen every time he touched the ball. McKnight was fun to watch in the open field. He averaged 31.6 yards per kick return and is a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams. His longest of the season was a 107-yard touchdown return. The next step for McKnight is to develop as a running back. With LaDainian Tomlinson a free agent, McKnight could get a chance to backup Greene next season.

Poll Friday: Biggest Pro Bowl snub

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
12:30
PM ET
The AFC East had 13 players selected for the Pro Bowl this week. That is impressive, considering only one team from the division most likely is going to the playoffs.

But this time of year people like to talk about the Pro Bowl snubs as much as they talk about the players who are going to Hawaii. In our latest edition of “Poll Friday,” we want to know who was the biggest Pro Bowl snub in the AFC East.

Was it New York Jets linebacker David Harris? Outside of Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis, Harris has been the most consistent defensive player for the Jets this season. He recorded 84 tackles in addition to five sacks and four interceptions.

What about Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields? He has 31 punts inside the 20 and averages 48.9 yards per punt for Miami. He was the team’s only bright spot this year.

Was New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez snubbed? The Patriots already had eight players in the Pro Bowl and Hernandez could have been a victim of the numbers game. He’s the backup to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. It would’ve been odd to have the starter and backup from one team in the Pro Bowl, but Hernandez’s numbers (72 receptions, 772 yards) are impressive.

Finally, don’t forget about Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Andy Levitre. The versatile lineman started at tackle, guard and center this season. Perhaps not sticking to one position hurt his Pro Bowl chances.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the biggest Pro Bowl snub from the AFC East. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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