ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Peyton Manning
's selection to the 2014 Pro Bowl was not simply a slam dunk. It was a basket by goaltending call -- guaranteed points, no matter where the shot was launched or what the trajectory could have been. Had Manning not been selected, the Pro Bowl balloting would have had the legitimacy of your average North Korean election.
But beyond that, the Broncos can be satisfied with their Pro Bowl haul, which includes two first-timers who few projected to be in this spot at the start of the season: placekicker Matt Prater and tight end Julius Thomas.
No player broke through from national obscurity more than Thomas did this year, while Prater soared from 25th in the league in field-goal percentage to first in one year, punctuating it with his league-record 64-yard blast against Tennessee.
Guard Louis Vasquez is also a first-timer, but his selection was not a surprise relative to preseason expectations. His momentum toward this accomplishment has built for two years, and crested in a season in which he has yet to allow a sack. If Vasquez remains healthy, this could be the first of a gaggle of Pro Bowl selections for the five-year veteran.
There was some question about Demaryius Thomas earning his second bid, because the league's pool of elite receivers is so deep. Seven have more receptions, six have more receiving yardage, eight have more yards per game, and six have more first downs. But no wide receiver has more touchdowns, being in the top 10 in all of those categories resulted in an overall profile that made him a worthy selection.
If there is a surprise among the selections, it is that Terrance Knighton did not even make the list of alternates. While this has been a breakthrough season for Knighton, he did not truly emerge until recent games, when he has held up the defensive line in the wake of injuries to Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe. If Knighton continues his stellar play, he should be in the Pro Bowl mix a year from now.
INFERRING THE VOTE:
We don't know how the coaches and players voted -- each group counts for one-third of the final vote -- but we do know about the fan voting, and the 19 Broncos that ranked among the top 10 vote-getters at each position.
From that, we can surmise the following:
• Prater did slightly better among players and coaches than he did among fans, where he ranked third, which would have placed him as the first alternate.
• Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was significantly better; he was not among the top 10 cornerbacks in the fan voting, but as an alternate, finished well in the player and coach voting.
• The respect of players and coaches for Von Miller is deep. Miller was not among the top 10 fan-vote getters among outside linebackers, but as an alternate, he must have received strong nods from his peers.
• There was a discrepancy between fan and player/coach voting for center Manny Ramirez (second in the fan vote, alternate) and guard Zane Beadles (first in the fan vote, alternate).
• With eight wide receivers in the game, Wes Welker (fifth in the fan vote) would have qualified for the game if only the fan vote counted. He was an alternate. Eric Decker was 10th in the fan voting and would have just missed the game if only the fan ballots counted; he is an alternate.