Chargers center Nick Hardwick deserves to go to the Pro Bowl

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Hardwick is playing some of the best football he's ever played, and it's time he makes it back to the Pro Bowl to represent the San Diego Chargers.

Last week, when I was trying to figure out if this was the best season of Ryan Mathews' career (in addition to being Philip Rivers' best season) I couldn't get a quote from the San Diego Chargers QB out of my head. In an interview with Darren Smith a few weeks back, Rivers said something to the effect of "Even Nick will tell you that he's playing the best football he's played this year."

In 2006, Hardwick made the Pro Bowl along with Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, Lorenzo Neal, Antonio Gates, Jamal Williams, Nate Kaeding, Kassim Osgood and Shawne Merriman. Apparently, it takes a lot of talent to win 14 out of 16 games. However, the only two Chargers to make the Pro Bowl in 2006 that haven't been back to Hawaii since are Hardwick and now-retired long snapper David Binn.

That lead to whispers. Perhaps Hardwick wasn't a Pro Bowl talent, but looked better because he was surrounded by Pro Bowlers. Then there were the injuries.

In the three seasons following 2006, Hardwick played in just 28 games. He missed at least three games in each of those seasons. In 2010, after missing all but three games the previous season, Hardwick put on some weight at the request of the training staff and hasn't missed a game since.

In 2013, it has seemingly all come together for Hardwick. He's healthy and flourishing under new offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris.

According to Pro Football Focus, Nick has accumulated an overall rating of 6.4 through seven games this year. His overall rating in 2012 was -6.1. That's negative six-point-one. His career high to since 2008 came in 2011, when he finished with an overall grade of 5.9. Don't forget that PFF's grades are counting stats, meaning that Hardwick has accumulated as much good play in seven games this season as he had in all of 2011.

Offensive line stats are obviously difficult to get a handle on, but this one passes the eyeball test as well. Nick Hardwick has been a force at center this season, as opposed to the years since 2006 when he was above-average. His boost in performance can be attributed to Mike McCoy, Ken Whisenhunt, Joe D'Alessandris, himself or all of the above. It doesn't really matter who gets credit. What matter is that the Chargers no longer need to be searching for a way to replace Hardwick when his contract expires after 2014.

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