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In the era of fantasy football, recognition among NFL fans has been determined by the stat sheets. To be considered an elite player, you must put up the big numbers. This evaluation of a player's worth is also apparent in the Pro Bowl. Participation within the league's annual All-Star contest is partly determined by the fans. Fan voting counts one-third in the selection process for each conference's 43-man roster.
Currently, San Francisco 49ers punter, Andy Lee, is the only NFC West player leading his position in fan voting. Obviously the Green bay Packers, the last of the league's undefeated teams and the only team with a better record than San Francisco, has numerous players doing well in fan voting.
That's not to say that Any Lee will be the only representative for San Francisco. With the team currently possessing the league's second best record and being in the hunt for a bye week, possibly even home field advantage, in the playoffs, it is unlikely that there will be a lack of representation from the 49ers on the NFC's roster.
49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis is behind Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop while defensive lineman Justin Smith is behind Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.
Looking at the statistics, here are some other 49ers, who if they keep performing at their current level or better, could earn some respect among voters ... or at least should.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman
You want to talk statistics, this guy has them. When you think "San Francisco 49ers linebacker," you probably automatically think Patrick Willis. However, second year player NaVarro Bowman leads all NFC players in total tackles and solo tackles. He even has two fumble recoveries. The guy has been doing it all and performing at an extremely high level this season. If the Pro Bowl is a statistics contest, Bowman deserves to be there.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers
Packers cornerback Charles Woodson leads the NFC in voting at the cornerback position, partly due to his 5 interceptions and his team's 9-0 start. However, there is one NFC cornerback with just as many interceptions who happens to be on a team with almost as perfect a record ... San Francisco's Carlos Rogers. While Woodson is the clear winner in the tackles category, Rogers has just as many passes deflected, touchdowns (one) and more yards returned from his interceptions. At this point in the season, if anyone deserves to be on the other side of Woodson on the NFC roster, it might as well be Rogers.
Rogers came to the 49ers from the Washington Redskins during the offseason, where he had a reputation for not being able to hang onto the ball. His coverage skills were never in doubt, but when a ball came his way, he rarely was able to hang on. In fact, prior to his first nine games as a Niner, Rogers never had more than two interceptions in a season. There may be bigger names out there, but this former first round selection deserves to be in the Pro Bowl discussion.
Quarterback Alex Smith
Love him or hate him, Smith's 2011 play has earned him some respect. His 95.8 quarterback rating ranks fifth among the NFC and is his best in his seven NFL seasons. With Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees running away with the voting, that leaves only two quarterbacks, Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys and Eli Manning of the New York Giants, ahead of Smith when it comes to quarterback rating. Smith's 49ers have already beaten Manning's Giants. However, they have also lost to Romo's Cowboys. And both quarterbacks have thrown for more yards.
You can debate all you want on whether or not Smith is playing like an elite quarterback right now, but you can't argue the fact that he is playing pretty mistake free with 11 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. However, there are 11 NFC quarterbacks with more passing yards.
In a league where statistics rule, it is unlikely Smith will make the final cut because the 2011 San Francisco 49ers are not about statistics, they are about winning football games.
Running back Frank Gore
Running backs Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears are currently in the NFC voting lead. After a slow start to the season for Gore, both Peterson and Forte have more rushing yards. In fact, there are four NFC running backs with superior numbers in this category. However, Sunday's win against the Giants ended a streak of five straight games of 100 yards or more for Gore. A strong upcoming few weeks and more wins by San Francisco could get Gore some notice.
Kicker David Akers
Kicker Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers leads the NFC in voting at his position. While Crosby is perfect when it comes to field goal attempts, making all 16 of his, Akers has more attempts with 25, making all but two of them. Akers' longest of the season is just 3 yards shy of Crosby's. Both are perfect from inside the 40 while Akers is a perfect 5 for 5 from beyond the 50. Crosby has made only two such attempts. Don't get me wrong, Crosby is having a fine year and deserves to be considered for the top spot. However, a case could be made for Akers to be considered as well.
Linebacker Aldon Smith
When Aldon Smith was selected using San Francisco's first round pick in April, passing on bigger names, fans were frustrated. After all, Smith was not a well known name. However, all of that has been forgotten as Smith's rookie season has been a good one. He is second in sack total in the NFC to Dallas' DeMarcus Ware. He had four during two games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the then undefeated Detroit Lions. He also has a forced fumble. He is young, fast, strong, and will only get better with playing time. However, his name is not even on the online fan ballot.
While we encourage fans to keep voting for their favorite 49ers players, it is likely that some very deserving players will not make it. That is the nature of the Pro Bowl.
In fact, it would be ideal if no San Francisco 49ers players made an appearance in the 2012 Pro Bowl ... because hopefully, they will be preparing for the Super Bowl which takes place the Sunday after.
Voting will end on Monday, December 19 and the two rosters will be announced on Tuesday, December 27 on NFL Network.
Are there any other 49ers not mentioned here that you feel should make the Pro Bowl? Leave a comment below.