Previous selections: None . . . Not only was his rookie campaign spent primarily as a change-of-pace backup, but Freeman wasn’t even projected to enter this season as a starter after 2015 third-round pick Tevin Coleman impressed during training camp. But when Coleman was sidelined by injury late in the preseason, Freeman took full advantage of his opportunity. Although his production has plummeted over the past five games, Freeman’s strong performance through the first half of the season earned him a Pro Bowl berth.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY SportsJonathan Dyer
Carolina cornerback Josh Norman
Previous selections: None . . . Before the regular season began, Norman was best known for getting into a skirmish with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during training camp. Norman has brought the same fight to opposing wide receivers in 2015 and is a viable candidate to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY SportsJeremy Brevard
Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short
Previous selections: None . . . There is more than one Star (Lotulelei) on Carolina’s defensive line. Short came into his own this season and cemented a Pro Bowl berth with five sacks in October to earn NFL Defensive Player of the Month honors.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
Detroit defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Previous selections: None . . . Ansah is one of Detroit’s few defensive players who actually got better in 2015 following the offseason departure of star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to Miami. Ansah’s 13.5 sacks rank second in the NFL behind Oakland’s Khalil Mack and are almost double what he produced in 2014.
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
Kansas City safety Eric Berry
Previous selections: Three (2010, 2012, 2013) . . . A return to the Pro Bowl will be especially cherished because of what Berry overcame to stay alive, let alone play football again. Berry has regained his status as one of the NFL’s top safeties after being diagnosed with potentially fatal Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November 2014.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsJake Roth
Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters
Previous selections: None . . . In Nov. 2014, the circumstances surrounding Peters’ dismissal from the University of Washington football team damaged his draft stock with a number of NFL teams. Not in Kansas City. Head coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey deserve credit for their due diligence on Peters and feeling comfortable enough to select him with the No. 18 overall pick in last April’s draft. Peters has rewarded Kansas City’s faith with a performance that has made him a front-runner for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Peters is tied for second in the league with seven INTs along with a league-high 30 passes defensed.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY SportsCary Edmondson
New England cornerback Malcolm Butler
Previous selections: None . . . Butler wasn’t content to rest on his laurels after becoming the unexpected hero of Super Bowl 49. He has adroitly handled responsibilities as New England’s new ace cornerback after Darrelle Revis was released during the offseason.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsKevin Jairaj
St. Louis running back Todd Gurley
Previous selections: None . . . No one could guarantee Gurley would be ready to play for much of the 2015 season immediately after he suffered a major knee injury last November at the University of Georgia. Treated with cautionary care by Rams coach Jeff Fisher before being medically cleared to return, Gurley burst out of the gates with the highest yardage total (566) of any RB in his first four games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. With 1,023 yards already and two games left, Gurley is a strong front-runner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman
Previous selections: Two (2012 and 2013) . . . Bowman never took the field in 2014 as he recovered from a horrific knee injury suffered in the previous season’s NFC title game at Seattle. With 139 stops in 2015, Bowman is the NFL’s leading tackler along with Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, showing he’s back to becoming an elite defender.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Seattle returner/wide receiver Tyler Lockett
Previous selections: None . . . A 2015 third-round pick out of Kansas State, Lockett and the renowned Kansas Comet -- Chicago’s Gale Sayers -- now share the distinction of being the only rookies in NFL history to have at least six touchdown catches, plus both a kickoff and punt return TD in a single season. Lockett also registered a franchise-record 105-yard kickoff return for a score against Chicago.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin
Previous selections: 2012 . . . With a legitimate shot at the NFL rushing title after gaining 1,305 yards through the first 14 games, Martin has shined following two injury-ruined seasons. That effort will brighten Martin’s financial future as he heads toward free agency in 2016.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson
Previous selections: None . . . It took nine seasons, but Nelson will finally get to enjoy the Pro Bowl experience envisioned for him when made a 2007 first-round pick by Jacksonville. Nelson ranks second in the league with a career-high eight interceptions to go along with 64 tackles and 11 passes defensed.