The Pro Bowl: A Worse Popularity Contest than Prom King
With the Pro Bowl taking place this past weekend, it's time to review the worst year for snubs in recent memory. This lack of an all-star game usually misses out on a few key players, but not at this rate. For those that don't know, the Pro Bowl isn't voted on by a committee or an organization, it is voted on by the fans. Some teams are more popular than others, which creates a disadvantage for certain players who are more deserving of a spot in the game. To make matters worse, there are some contracts in the league that have incentives based on Pro Bowl appearances (see my Garbage Time blog for more info on that).
Let's take a look at the Pro Bowl Rosters for both conferences, and then compare players who did not make the Pro Bowl to some that did.
Some big names made this list; Patrick Mahomes, TJ Watt, Jalen Ramsey, etc. But there are some players that should not be on the list whatsoever. Not to say that they aren't good players, but there are better players - per this season - at their positions that should be in over them. Let's go position by position and see which players were robbed of a Pro Bowl nod:
James Robinson over Josh Jacobs
Robert Tonyan over Evan Engram
Garrett Bolles over Eric Fisher
Wyatt Teller over David DeCastro
Corey Linsley over Frank Ragnow
DeForest Buckner over Calais Campbell
Devin White over Bobby Wagner
JC Jackson over Stephon Gilmore
Jessie Bates over Justin Simmons
Rigoberto Sanchez or Jason Sanders over Justin Tucker
Luke Rhodes over Morgan Cox
Zach Triner over Tyler Ott
I'm not going to go over everyone listed above, but there are four players in particular that I am shocked didn't make the Pro Bowl.
Tonyan is an animal. In his breakout year, he hauled in 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 TDs. To make these numbers more impactful, there were only 6 incompletions when the ball was thrown his way (either a drop, inaccurate throw, or pass deflection). Not only was Tonyan a great receiving threat, he was also dominant in the run game. This is even more impressive when you considered he played quarterback at Indiana State. In comparison, Evan Engram hauled in 63 catches for 654 yards, but only 1 TD. He also led the league in drops by a tight end, and 4th overall in the league, with 8. This one was easy, give it to Tonyan.
Buckner is the best defensive tackle in the AFC, period. Better than Chris Jones, Cameron Heyward, and Calais Campbell. He has singlehandedly transformed that defense. Yes, there are studs like Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore II, and Julian Blackmon, but it all starts up front with DeForest. Buckner lead all AFC interior defensive linemen with 14 tackles for loss, and recorded 9.5 sacks, second behind Stephon Tuitt (11). On film, Buckner was seen constantly driving guards and centers into the backfield on both pass and run plays. He was the catalyst for the vast improvement of the Colts defense.
Jackson was probably the biggest snub of the season. Stephone Gilmore wasn't even the best cornerback on his team this year, and he got in over JC. Besides recording 9 interceptions, he also held opposing QBs to a 66.5 passer rating. For reference, Gilmore allowed a 75.7 passer rating. Pair that with Gilmore missing 5 games, and the elite play that JC Jackson produced in his absence, this should have been Jackson's spot, without question.
Bates is one of the most underrated players in the league. Throughout the first eleven games of the season, he allowed a passer rating of less than 40. If a quarterback throws the ball into the ground, his passer rating is a 39.6. In most cases, quarterbacks would do better throwing the ball into the dirt rather than throwing near Bates. Over the last 5 games, he had some rough performances and finished the year with a 70.7 passer rating against him, which is still really good. Sam Darnold, who had the lowest passer rating of all eligible quarterbacks, posted a 72.7. This shows how dominant Bates was against the pass all year. Justin Simmons is a great safety due to his versatility, but had one of his worst seasons against the pass, allowing a 102.2 passer rating and 7 TDs. Bates is due for a breakout season, and may be a defensive player of the year candidate for the following season.
Outside of who got selected for the Pro Bowl, determining positions is also out of sorts. If you look at the certain positions players are assigned, they do not match up with what they actually do. For example, Darius Leonard and TJ Watt are both considered outside linebackers, but they play completely different roles in their respective defenses. In Leonard's case, he plays in a 4-3 defense (4 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers who are off the ball or second level). An outside linebacker in this scheme will typically play in coverage more than rushing the passer. In Watt's case, he plays in a 3-4 (3 interior defensive linemen, 2 linebackers on the edge and on the line, and 2 linebackers who are off the ball or second level). An outside linebacker in this scheme will typically rush the passer more than playing in coverage. In this scenario, the same happens with defensive ends. In a 4-3, defensive ends line up outside the tackles and are typically viewed as edge rushers. In a 3-4, defensive ends line up in between the guard and tackle, and are typically viewed as defensive tackles. You can start to see how this can be an issue when selecting what players at each position go to the Pro Bowl. Because of this misplacement, for lack of a better word, some guys are being considered for the Pro Bowl, who wouldn't necessarily stack up against their peers; conversely, some players miss out because of the uber-talent at their "position".
If we take the Pro Bowl rosters as they are, there would be six edge rushers, three interior linemen, and two true linebackers for both the AFC and NFC. That's because most of the linebackers that were selected for the Pro Bowl play in a 3-4, which sets them up to be pass rushers (hence, due to having more sacks that other linebackers, they get more votes). If the voting was set up where four interior linemen, four edge rushers, and four linebackers make each roster, then we would see players in their true positions, and we would see who is actually the best at what they do. In this example, based on votes, this would be the roster for the front seven defenders:
Hopefully the Pro Bowl can fix this moving forward, as it is a more accurate representation of what players dominate at which position compared to the rest of the league.
For those that watched the Madden Pro Bowl, which took place instead of the actual Pro Bowl due to the pandemic, it was actually enjoyable to watch. NFL players, alumni, and celebrities came together and played against one another to crown this year's winner. The NFC was comprised of Kyler Murray, Jamal Adams, Marshawn Lynch, and Bubba Wallace, where the AFC was comprised of Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry, Keyshawn Johnson, and Snoop Dogg. Virtually, they all got together and played Madden 21 against each other, with one player playing each quarter. The game was subpar, but the commentary was hilarious. Marshawn Lynch was a riot, and the banter between teams made the game much more bearable. I highly recommend checking out the highlights on YouTube if you need a good laugh.