Though they didn't make their way to the Pro Bowl following the 2012 season, both Andre Smith and Vontaze Burfict were named to the 2012 All-Joe team, comprised of the best players to not make the Pro Bowl, according to USA Today's Nate Davis.
Both Smith and Burfict had solid seasons. Smith, the Bengals' first-round pick from 2009 and starting right tackle, proved to be a real force up front in 2012. He started all 16 games for the Bengals and was very instrumental in aiding BenJarvus Green-Ellis to tops in the league in short-yardage conversions.In the four seasons since Smith arrived in Cincinnati, the Bengals have had four 1,000 yard rushers, though he was only instrumental in the last two.
Burfict was the surprise player of the year for the Bengals, and quite possibly the entire NFL. His draft stock took a huge hit when questions about his attitude and work ethic surfaced, along with his pathetic combine showing. Once slated as a sure first-rounder, Burfict was not selected at all but was picked up by the Bengals as an undrafted free agent. Burfict worked his way back into shape and proved to be a force and took over the starting job at WILL following Thomas Howard's injury. He ended up leading the team with 174 tackles on the year and has looked like a centerpiece for the Bengal's defense for the future.
Smith wasn't the first tackle named to the All-Joe team, that honor went to Sam Baker, but they did go on to mention that the Bengals have a solid right tackle and if they're able to hold on to him now that he's a free agent, they'll be in good shape on the right side of the line for years to come.
He may never be elite, but Smith has quietly developed into one of the league's better all-around blockers.
Burfict was the first outside linebacker to be named to the All-Joe team this year. Not only did he lead the Bengals in tackles in 2012, but he made all 32 teams look like complete fools as they passed up on him in every single round of the draft.
Once projected as a potential top-10 pick, Burfict's baggage was so heavy a year ago that he wasn't drafted. But the All-Joe team rewards hard work - Burfict has a lot more ahead of him - and this rookie free agent dug deep enough to claim a starting job on Cincinnati's underrated defense and could be installed as the middle linebacker in 2013. Bravo.
The Bengals are expected to move Burfict to MIKE, letting Rey Maualuga test the free agency market, but they will still need to make a decision on Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson. Re-signing Howard would lock up the WILL position, but the team likley needs an upgrade from Lawson at SAM. Most mock drafts predict the Bengals will use their first-round pick on an outside linebacker for this reason.
Smith is a free agent and while the Bengals may be focused on re-signing defensive end Michael Johnson to a long-term deal, bringing Smith back to the team on a multi-year contract is just as important. However, it seems as though the Bengals may be forced to use the franchise tag to keep Smith in Cincinnati.