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Friday, December 27, 2013
Jordan, Lewis should be Pro Bowlers

By Mike Triplett

The 2014 Pro Bowl rosters will be announced tonight. Remember, this is the first year under the new format in which the top players are selected, regardless of which conference they play in.

Here's a look at which New Orleans Saints I think will be invited -- and which ones I think should be invited.

The no-brainers:

TE Jimmy Graham. I listed Graham first since he's the one player on the Saints who is clearly the best in the NFL at his position. He has 15 touchdown receptions -- three more than any player in the NFL, including wide receivers. And he leads all tight ends with 81 catches and 1,144 yards.

QB Drew Brees. This needs no explanation. But it's worth pointing out that Brees' season has been even better than people probably realize (since these last two weeks have been so disappointing). He is on pace for 5,100 yards, 37 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a completion percentage of 68.2 and a passer rating of 101.8. Every one of those numbers would be the third best of his eight-year tenure with the Saints.

Should be in (and probably will be):

DE Cameron Jordan. Jordan ranks fourth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, and he is arguably the MVP of the Saints' revamped defense. The only possible hurdle for Jordan is that the defensive end position is filled with so many big-name players. But it seems like Jordan has gotten a lot of well-deserved national recognition throughout the year. He should earn his first Pro Bowl invite in his third NFL season.

Should be in (but might not make it):

CB Keenan Lewis. I think Lewis has been every bit as valuable as Jordan this year to the Saints' defense. Unfortunately, he hasn't received as much national attention -- probably because he only has three interceptions. And he's stuck in a position group with a lot of big-name players.

I can't believe many of them are playing better than Lewis, though. The fifth-year pro has been outstanding as a No. 1 corner who gets matched up on a weekly basis against the opponent's No. 1 receiver in man coverage. You can count on one hand the number of deep balls or touchdowns he's given up this year. And his arrival in free agency is the main reason why the Saints rank No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense -- a stunning turnaround from last year, when they ranked 31st.

Close calls:

P Thomas Morstead. Morstead finally broke through to make his first Pro Bowl last year, which gives him a huge leg up (get it?) on the competition from a name recognition standpoint. His numbers are slightly down from last year, but he still ranks third in the league in net punting average.

G Jahri Evans and G Ben Grubbs. Two other guys who could get a boost based on name recognition. They aren't having their best seasons -- but a down year for them is still better than many around the league. The Saints' run game has been inconsistent, but both guards have been strong in pass protection for a team that ranks second in the NFL in passing yards. Evans has bounced back strong after battling injuries early in the season.

OLB Junior Galette. Galette has been another breakout player for the Saints' revamped defense with 10 sacks (tied for 14th in the NFL). Galette (a speed rusher) and Jordan (a power rusher) have worked in sync to give the Saints a pass rush we haven't seen in years. But Galette seems to be in the same boat as Lewis, as far as the national attention goes. And this is yet another position group loaded with big-name candidates.

Long shots:

S Kenny Vaccaro. The Saints' rookie standout has gotten a lot of national recognition, but he was probably a long shot for the Pro Bowl even before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last week. Only four safeties will make the roster, and Vaccaro doesn't have any numbers that jump off the page.

ILB Curtis Lofton. Lofton does have a big number that helps his case -- he's tied for 12th in the league with 119 tackles. He's also well-known and respected around the league as a guy who's been on the verge of the Pro Bowl throughout his six-year career. The Saints' defensive turnaround could help, but there are only four inside linebacker spots on the roster.

RT Zach Strief. He'd have a better chance if there was a specific place for right tackles, since left tackles get so much more notoriety. But the stat service Pro Football Focus has been giving Strief some love this year, which could help.

FB Jed Collins. He does a little bit of everything for one of the league's best offenses, and he's earned a solid reputation in recent years.

DE/DT Akiem Hicks. Those watching the Saints closely will know how big of a factor he's been in the defense's resurgence as both a pass-rusher and run stuffer. But his profile probably isn't high enough yet.

ST Ramon Humber. The longtime veteran actually got a little love in the fan voting for the special teams position. And it didn't hurt that he recovered two onside kicks over the past two weeks. But he's probably still a long shot.