2023 NFL season: One potential first-time Pro Bowler from each NFC team

2023 NFL season: One potential first-time Pro Bowler from each NFC team

Kevin Patra has chosen one prime candidate from each NFL team to earn a first Pro Bowl nod in 2023. Below are his NFC picks.

With the Cardinals in full-on rebuild mode, let’s give Collins the Haason Reddick Position Switch Breakout nomination. The 2021 first-round pick spent most of his first two seasons miscast as an off-ball linebacker — he played just 16 percent of his snaps on the edge. While he owns the traits to play several positions, moving him to a rushing linebacker role was the correct move by the new staff. Allowing the 6-foot-4 Tulsa product to get after the quarterback could pay the same dividends it once afforded Reddick.

The 2020 first-round pick owns all the traits of a top cover corner, with the ability to play on an island, blanket No. 1 WRs and make plays on the ball. Since 2021, Terrell has allowed 630 passing yards and 4.7 yards per target, both fewest in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. The Falcons bulked up on defense this offseason, adding the likes of Jessie Bates, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree and Kaden Elliss. The improvements should make Atlanta a contender in the NFC South. With the attention that comes along with winning, Terrell should garner more praise for the lockdown coverage he’s always provided.

The pesky linebacker is always in the middle of the action. Luvu’s star shot upwards in 2022, as he stuffed the stat sheet with 111 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four passes defended. Boasting the ability to shed blockers and make plays in the backfield, Luvu profiles as a demon in Ejiro Evero’s defense. Luvu is heading into the final year of his contract. A big season, culminating with a Pro Bowl nod, could set him up for a payday next offseason.

Despite averaging more than 1,000 yards over five seasons in Carolina — including three-consecutive campaigns of 1,100-plus yards — Moore remains underrated. A true No. 1, Moore’s standing as a $20 million WR indicates his talent more than the Pro Bowl shutout. Now, he has a chance to rectify the brazen lack of national recognition in Chicago. Moore’s ability to win off the line of scrimmage will earn him plenty of targets from Justin Fields. The wideout’s dynamic run-after-catch ability will gobble up stats. It’s finally time Moore gets invited to the Pro Bowl.

Despite surpassing the 1,000-yard mark in six of his nine NFL seasons, Cooks surprisingly has been shut out of the Pro Bowl. Joining the high-profile Cowboys could help end that streak. Cooks’ deep-ball ability should fit well in Dallas’ offense, where he can take the top off the defense as opponents focus on slowing CeeDee Lamb. The NFC WR group is stacked, but Cooks still brings juice and should have enough big-play opportunities to have a chance to earn his first Pro Bowl selection at 30 years old.

Hutchinson is an obvious choice after a rambunctious rookie campaign. He led all rookies with 9.5 sacks, 15 QB hits and 45 QB pressures while ranking second with nine tackles for loss and tied for second with five takeaways last season. Boasting a good array of rush moves and relentless energy, Hutch is on a T.J. Watt-like trajectory.

The former first-round pick was on his way to making the Pro Bowl last year before injury struck, ending his season after nine games. In that span, he was dominant, ranking fifth among edge defenders with 38 pressures, per PFF, and he posted six sacks. Gary is a bully off the edge who can wreck the backfield. He recorded 25 stops prior to his injury, second most in the NFL over the first nine weeks. It’s asking a lot to return to form immediately, but if he picks up where he left off, the Packers’ vital pass rusher will be in for a big campaign.

Admittedly, this feels like throwing a dart blindfolded with the Rams a young, rebuilding team. But suppose they overperform, becoming a pesky opponent that burrows its way into the playoff picture. Akers is likely to play a key role in such a swift turnaround. After a tumultuous start to the 2022 season, which included a bevy of trade rumors, Akers caught stride down the stretch. The back generated three consecutive 100-plus-yard games to close the season with 786 rushing yards and seven TDs on 188 carries. It’s easy to imagine an exponentially better season without all the drama. The Rams like Kyren Williams‘ upside, but we’ve often seen Sean McVay teams ride one back. On an offense that needs playmakers outside of Cooper Kupp, Akers should get plenty of chances to pick up where he left off last season.

Darrisaw was a rock on the Vikings’ offensive line in 14 starts last season. The 24-year-old made a massive leap in Year 2, improving his pass-blocking technique and proving to be a road grader in the ground game. He ranked second among all OTs in 2022, per PFF. Darrisaw owns the size and athleticism to have an even more impressive campaign in 2023. The Vikings might have other questions on the roster, but they have their LT of the future already in the building.

Olave is a stud, putting up 1,042 yards on 72 catches with four touchdowns in 15 games as a rookie. A big-play force, Olave was one of six rookies since 2010 to post 70-plus receptions and average 14-plus yards per catch, joining Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper and Keenan Allen. Olave’s ability to beat corners with precise route running generates space QB’s love. The pairing with Derek Carr will likely be a match made in heaven. Olave’s explosive ability and Carr’s deep-ball acumen should lead to a host of highlights in the Bayou.

Noticing a theme of good, young O-linemen being overlooked by voters? Thomas is already a top-tier blocker and should be recognized as such in 2023. The 6-foot-5 left tackle improved by leaps and bounds in the past two seasons. Last year, Thomas ranked as PFF’s No. 3 overall tackle and fourth-best pass blocker. He ranked in the top six in pressures allowed among all tackles with at least 950 snaps. I expect the 24-year-old to be even better in 2023 and he should be recognized as one of the best OTs in the NFL.

I don’t expect the recent addition of Albert Okwuegbunam to take the shine off Goedert’s production — that was simply GM Howie Roseman pouncing on an underutilized asset. When healthy, Goedert’s pass-catching ability fits perfectly in the Eagles’ offense alongside receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. With soft hands and the ability to beat linebackers in coverage, Goedert can gobble up catches and set career highs in 2023. Goedert would have likely been a Pro Bowler last season had he not missed five games. If the elite tight end stays healthy, he should hit the mark this season.

While Fred Warner justifiably garners most of the attention in the Niners’ linebacker corps, Greenlaw deserves to be mentioned among the top off-ball backers. A sideline-to-sideline tackling maven, Greenlaw can cover the entire field. The 26-year-old generated 127 tackles last season and grades as one of the best cover linebackers in the league. With no discernable weaknesses in his game, Greenlaw is the glue to the team’s ferocious defense.

Seattle signed Jones to a big-money contract this offseason to revamp the defensive front. The penetrating defensive tackle could pay it off immediately. Jones generated 45 QB pressures and 6.5 sacks last season. He’s a menace in the backfield who can eat up blockers. Boasting power, Jones is a multi-gap disruptor who should feast in the Seahawks’ system, something they haven’t consistently had since Michael Bennett prowled the field.

The Bucs made it a priority to keep Dean in Tampa for good reason. His star continues to ascend on the back end of Todd Bowles’ defense. He allowed a 75.1 passer rating when targeted last season, 13th-lowest among corners (min. 60 targets). Also, Dean isn’t afraid to mix it up against the run. He’s one of the surest tacklers from the CB position in the entire NFL. The 26-year-old remains underrated nationally but sports the traits to make a splash if he forces a few more turnovers in 2023.

Commanders WR Terry McLaurin had to wait far too long to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. Dotson might not suffer the same fate. After a wobbly, injury-infested start to his rookie season, Dotson came on strong down the stretch, making 16 catches for 290 yards and two TDs in the season’s final four games. With vice-grip hands, Dotson could grow into a scoring machine after leading Washington with seven receiving TDs in just 12 games played last season. Dotson owns the natural ability to stack numbers, and with defenses focused on McLaurin, the second-year WR could feast.

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