We're midway through the 2011 NFL season, which of course means it's time to start voting players into the Pro Bowl based on just that - half of a season. It doesn't make a ton of sense that the Pro Bowl voting occurs this early in the season, but that's neither here nor there. The facts are these: the San Francisco 49ers are leading the NFC West with a 5-1 record and the biggest reason that they are where they are is the play of some very, very key contributors.
Of course, first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh and his coordinators, Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, have a lot to do with that as well. But it always comes down to the players, and they deserve to be recognized with a trip to the 2012 Pro Bowl, even if the actual game itself is usually rather boring and a ratings nightmare. Regardless of how often it ends up feeling like a joke, fans get emotional and irate if a player is snubbed. How about a quick look at the players that are probably deserving on the 49ers?
LB Patrick Willis- Is this one really in question at all? Willis is one of the best linebackers in the entire league. He might even be the best, at this point. He's got just under fifty tackles on the season and no sacks, but he's been doing a lot more coverage this year, with Bowman's emergence across from him. Willis is everywhere all at once and there's really no debating that he deserves to make the Pro Bowl once again.
LB NaVorro Bowman - It's not often that a TED linebacker makes it ... they often get overlooked, but it's probably safe money to say that the rest of the league is aware of his presence. Coaches and media alike have noted how it's sometimes hard to tell if it's Bowman or Willis making a play.
DE Justin Smith- For some reason, Smith is once again listed as a defensive tackle. Either way, he's playing better than any 49ers defensive lineman and might just be their MVP. He's got 4.5 sacks from the end position and has two forced fumbles, including the game-clinching fumble he forced on Jeremy Maclin of the Philadelphia Eagles.
CB Carlos Rogers- He hasn't been perfect, but he's clearly a number one corner on many teams in the NFL. His biggest knock was always his hands - yet he's caught three interceptions, and has done a wonderful job covering everybody he's been up against. Not only should he be in the Pro Bowl, he should be getting a bigger conract.
DE Ray McDonald - This is his first year as a starter and he looks great. He's got three sacks and has been a force against the run. McDonald is also listed as a defensive tackle on the ballot, and there's some stiff competition, but he's definitely got a place in the Pro Bowl.
RB Frank Gore- Gore got off to a slow start and 49ers fans started freaking out big time. They questioned his ability and said he's slowing down ... but now that he's got going - it's been in a big way. Gore has 541 yards and four touchdowns, maybe a bit low compared to a couple, but he's gone into a higher gear in recent weeks.
LG Mike Iupati - The man is a mauler, and the only 49ers player that is doing well on the offensive line, all things considered. But that doesn't mean he's just the best of a bad group, he's one of the best at his position in the league. He's great in run blocking, great in pass protection, and probably has a few Pro Bowls ahead of him.
K David Akers/P Andy Lee- Well, Lee has been criminally overlooked multiple times when it comes to the Pro Bowl. He's consistently one of the top punters in the NFC (and the league), and in this writers opinion, is the second best one in the NFL. His averages are way up this year, so he should make it. Akers is Akers, is there really anything else needed?
There's a couple other players who might have arguments: quarterback Alex Smith might get some kind of consideration for leading the 49ers to the 5-1 record and tight end Vernon Davis is always worthy of a nomination. Isaac Sopoaga might have a chance and rookie linebacker Aldon Smith might do well in the fan votes ... if he were actually on the ballot. Ted Ginn Jr. has been a really good returner, as well.
Head over here to the official 2012 NFL Pro Bowl ballot and vote now.