Three tailbacks and one fullback from each conference are selected for the Pro Bowl, with rosters unveiled Dec. 28. In the AFC, Texans RB Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher, figures to have a very good shot at locking up one of the spots.
After that, it's a wide-open competition for the other two RB berths. The Chiefs' Jamaal Charles, a brilliant big-play threat, merits strong consideration. He's second in the AFC in rushing (1,021 yards), and he's averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He's also caught 32 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown.
Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew is also in the discussion. He's played very well recently, with 100 rushing yards or more in four consecutive games. The Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall, who played a key role in helping the Steelers off to a fast start even with QB Ben Roethlisberger missing the first four games, also figures to be a top candidate. So will Tennessee's Chris Johnson, who has a shot at 1,500 yards rushing with a strong finish. There may also be some support for Baltimore's Ray Rice and Oakland's Darren McFadden, too.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis belongs on this short list of Pro Bowl candidates at his position, too. Foster, Charles, Jones-Drew, Johnson and Mendenhall have more rushing yards than Hillis, who has 905 yards on 199 carries. However, only Foster and Rice have more catches among running backs than Hillis, and neither player is his team's leading receiver like Hillis (46-414-2). What's more, of the aforementioned backs, only Charles, Foster and McFadden are averaging more yards per carry than Hillis (4.5 ypc).
Hillis is third in the AFC in combined rushing-receiving yards (1,319) behind Foster (1,600) and Charles (1,380). Like Foster, the Browns workhorse has 13 TDs; only Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (14) has more.
If Hillis doesn't make the Pro Bowl, it would be understandable, with quite a few compelling options. Foster is the best bet of the group to make it, and Charles, considering his production despite sharing carries with Thomas Jones, is making a wonderful case, too. Also, there's just a lot of starpower in the conference, and this is Hillis' first season being mentioned in the same breath as the conference's best. Perhaps he gets left out.
With rosters not announced for close to another month, much can happen, but I know this much: through 11 games, Hillis is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He's the Browns' unquestioned MVP, the catalyst for their offense. And his numbers give him a chance to make a Hawaii trip no one saw coming before the start of the season.