Taking stock: NFC West Pro Bowl balloting

Running backs Frank Gore and Steven Jackson are among 14 NFC West players ranked among the top five at their positions in fan balloting for the Pro Bowl.

As usual, it appears as though a few fans have not spent the season carefully studying players throughout the league.

San Francisco 49ers rookie Taylor Mays might develop into an elite player. For now, he's having trouble beating out Reggie Smith. No matter. Mays, with six starts in 10 games, ranks fifth among strong safeties in fan balloting.

Arizona Cardinals veteran Adrian Wilson ranks second. That would normally be about right, but the Cardinals are struggling on defense and Wilson hasn't performed well consistently.

A few other notes on fan balloting, which continues through Dec. 20 (with players and coaches voting Dec. 22-23 and the NFL announcing rosters Dec. 28):

  • Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ranks fifth among NFC receivers. He's on pace for close to 90 receptions and is almost always worthy of consideration, even during a rough season. Roddy White, DeSean Jackson, Hakeem Nicks and Calvin Johnson rank ahead of him.

  • The San Francisco 49ers' Vernon Davis ranks second among tight ends. Five tight ends in the conference have more receptions. No NFC tight ends have more TD receptions or more receptions covering at least 20 yards.

  • The Cardinals' Alan Faneca ranks third among guards. Faneca was supposedly about finished. He's been better than that, but not exceptional.

  • The Cardinals' Darnell Dockett ranks fifth in voting among defensive tackles even though he plays defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Dockett has been hurt and has not been dominant. His defense has struggled badly.

  • The Cardinals' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ranks fourth among NFC cornerbacks. He has two picks.

  • The 49ers' Patrick Willis ranks first among inside linebackers. Willis hasn't had a season packed with highlights. He has gotten better as the season has progressed, however. Willis has stood out in the last couple games, including when he collected two sacks Sunday.

  • St. Louis Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe ranks third among free safeties in the NFC. Antrel Rolle, formerly of the Cardinals, ranks first. Seattle Seahawks rookie Earl Thomas ranks fifth. He has five picks. Two defensive backs have more.

  • The 49ers' Andy Lee ranks fifth among punters.

  • The Seahawks' Leon Washington ranks fifth among return specialists. The Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling did not crack the top five. Washington leads the NFL in kick-return average among players with more than two returns. He also has a 23.8-yard average on five punt returns.

  • The Rams' Chris Long and James Hall did not crack the top five at defensive end. Neither did the Seahawks' Chris Clemons. All three have produced. The top five: Julius Peppers, Osi Umenyiora, Jared Allen, Justin Tuck and John Abraham.

Sometimes it's tough to know how well some players are performing. The Seahawks' Washington should get strong consideration as a return specialist. Earning a Pro Bowl spot would carry extra value for him after recovering from a career-threatening leg injury.