Pro Bowl Draft 2014: Top Players Worth Targeting in Team Rice vs. Team Sanders

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, (L-R) Robert Quinn, defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, and Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, answer questions at a news conference for the NFL Pro Bowl Draft, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, Kapolei, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
MARCO GARCIA/Associated Press

With the Pro Bowl switching from a conference showdown to a draft format this season, the intrigue has turned from the game itself—though there wasn't really much intrigue about the game in the first place, to be fair—to the draft itself.

With Jerry Rice captaining one team and Deion Sanders the other, the pool of players that qualified for the game are all available for selection. It's basically a fantasy draft, but with an actual game being played at the end of it.

So which players are likely to be targeted early on?

With Team Rice landing Drew Brees as a captain, one of Team Sanders' first priorities should be selecting a quarterback. Look for Deion to target Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers or Cam Newton with his first pick, depending on what type of offense he wants to run. 

Neither team is likely to run a ground-and-pound offense—this is the Pro Bowl, after all—and the wide receiver depth is impressive, so expect both teams to make cornerback a priority. And there are plenty of talented players available at the position, with Joe Haden, Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson and Tim Jennings likely to be off the board fairly quickly.

Safety Eric Berry could be another player snagged rather quickly.

Speaking of those wide receivers, the talent pool is absolutely stocked. Wide receivers may actually drop a bit in this draft as the deepest position, with A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Josh Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Brown and Alshon Jeffery all available. 

In other words, expect a passing showcase. That's really nothing new for the Pro Bowl. Of course, before any of the wide receivers are off the board, tight end Jimmy Graham will probably be selected. He's such a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and he's the cream of the crop at the position (though veterans like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez are also available).

MARCO GARCIA/Associated Press

Defensively, Team Sanders already has the advantage in the trenches, with Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh playing defensive tackle and J.J. Watt as one of his captains. But there are some truly excellent pass-rushers available at both defensive end and outside linebacker, so don't expect Mario Williams, Tamba Hali, Robert Mathis or Justin Houston to last long.

Team Rice already has Robert Quinn at defensive end, so the Hall of Fame wide receiver might choose to target another position early.

Of course, there won't be any bone-crushing hits on quarterbacks. Nobody around the league wants to see one of the game's elite signal-callers go down to an injury in the Pro Bowl. So as usual, pass rushes will probably be fairly tame.

With the guards and centers selected, offensive tackle is the only spot on the offensive line left to select. Players like Joe Thomas and Duane Brown likely won't last long. Gotta protect them quarterbacks, right?

And finally, we get to the running backs. While the position has been devalued in actual drafts, Team Rice may choose to select a player at the position early, especially since Team Sanders already has Jamaal Charles.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

More than likely, Team Rice will target either LeSean McCoy or Matt Forte with an early pick given the versatility of each player, though you can't really go wrong with Eddie Lacy, Alfred Morris or DeMarco Murray at the position, either.

It will certainly be interesting to see which strategy each team focuses on. Will they be predictable, with Team Rice focusing on the passing game and Team Sanders going heavy on the secondary early? Will one team look to build the stronger offensive team and the other a stout defense?

Or will each go the "best player available" route? It should be fun to find out.


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