A total of eight players are set to represent the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 Pro Bowl, though that number could end up being higher if alternates make it, or perhaps lower (which would be preferred) if the 49ers can make the Super Bowl. Eight players represents the highest total of any team representatives this year, tied with the New England Patriots and one more than the vaunted Green Bay Packers.
How deserving are these players? Surely, the 49ers are having a great season, sitting at 12-3 and with a strong possibility of finishing 13-3 with the No. 2 seed in the NFC come playoff time. On top of that, the 49ers have been considered extremely underrated in recent years, at least as far as the talent on their roster is concerned. They've had steady representatives each season, but never anything significant like eight players. Let's examine each one and his merits for making it.
CB Carlos Rogers
Rogers is having a fantastic season - perhaps the strongest of any corner in the NFL, let alone the NFC. Rogers was given a pretty standard contract after earning the ire of most every fan the Washington Redskins fan in existence. The team let him walk after it appeared he just didn't have the hands to make big plays in the passing game.
It was a huge mistake to let him go. Not only does Carlos Rogers have six interceptions, but only three players in the entire league have more - just one more, mind you. He'd be the best corner on the Redskins if they'd kept him, but then again, maybe it was the 49ers coaches who made things click for him. Easily the most deserving of the 49ers Pro Bowlers.
DE Justin Smith
Smith has gone under the radar, but there isn't a more complete 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. Jarred Allen may get a lot more sacks, but Smith is a lot better against the run and it all evens out. Smith has been underrated for quite some time, but has been getting some more exposure this season with the 49ers winning. He also was the biggest factor in San Francisco's victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, catching up to and forcing a fumble on the very fast and generally dependable Jeremy Maclin.
LB Patrick Willis
He's the best linebacker in the league and he shows it every single year. The only reason the 49ers weren't lost without him was due to the fact that NaVorro Bowman is having such a great season and Larry Grant really stepped it up in his absence. He can cover, he can rush the passer, he can tackle anybody and can catch any player in the NFL. This is his fifth Pro Bowl in five seasons, breaking the 49ers franchise record set by Ronnie Lott.
OT Joe Staley
This is certainly the most questionable of all of the selections, due to the nature of the 49ers offensive line. It certainly seems like Mike Iupati or Jonathan Goodwin deserved the honor more, and Staley might be making it due to name recognition. However, Staley has come a long way since the first couple weeks of the season in which he and the rest of the line were abused. Now, the majority of the pressure comes from the right side, where Anthony Davis and Chilo Rachal/Adam Snyder struggle.
S Dashon Goldson
Goldson is one player who is widely disputed among the 49ers fan base. Folks like how he's been getting in front of receivers to pick off six balls this year, but they don't like his tendency to over-commit on said interceptions, giving up big receptions because of it and his tendency to miss tackles. A lot of tackles. He's also given low efficiency ratings by most of the advanced stats sites. Still, at this point, it's hard to argue against six interceptions.
HB Frank Gore
One the top five backs in the NFL in regards to rushing this year, and a player who has earned Pro Bowl honors before. He's very good at what he does and the 49ers wouldn't have won nearly as much as they have without him. He's struggled at times, but that can also be attributed to the somewhat poor play of the offensive line and the fact that teams aren't afraid of quarterback Alex Smith.
K David Akers
Akers broke the 49ers franchise record for points scored in a single season, beating a mark set by Jerry Rice. Is that enough reason? No? Well, he also broke the NFL record for number of field goals in a single season. He's one of the best kickers in the league right now. There's no question he deserved it.
P Andy Lee
Lee has been so underrated over the past few years. He's always been one of the best punters in the league, and this season, he was definitely the best - even better than Shane Lechler across the bay. He'll make those return specialists look absolutely silly in the Pro Bowl.