Every year the Pro Bowl rosters are revealed at this time and every year I have a problem with the voting process. While NFL defenses get more hybrid players every year that don’t have a clearly defined position, the league hasn’t adapted the categories people can vote for. That leads to stand-up 4-3 linebackers like Anthony Barr being compared to 3-4 outside linebackers, who primarily get upfield, like Jadeveon Clowney, five-technique defensive ends in a 3-4 being compared to true edge rushers in fronts with four down-linemen and other stuff. My solution would be differentiating between interior D-linemen, edge rushers, stand-up linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. This would make things easier in terms of comparing job descriptions and not tag players for one specific alignment and responsibility. Offensively I don’t understand why there are only three running back and four wide receiver slots and we also need more depth on the D-line, but let’s work on one issue at a time. Since these are the parameters to work within, I tried to make appropriate exchanges of one player at that position with another and then I listed a few other players I think deserve a trip to Orlando. So instead of just listing snubs, I actually tried to provide solution. I don’t blame the fans too much for some of these mistakes because they are obviously biased for their team, but players and coaches contribute to this with a third of the votes each as well. So I would expect a more objective outcome.
QB Russell Wilson instead of Jared Goff (NFC)
I understand that a lot of people simply look at the touchdowns compared to interceptions, the team’s record or the names that they see at the Pro Bowl every year, but I don’t see how you can not have Russell Wilson take one of the three spots in the NFC. Wilson started the year a little slow, turning the ball over four times over first two weeks, behind a really poor offensive line, but since then the Seahawks have started gashing people in the running game and now have the league’s top rushing attack. That opens up play-action opportunities for Wilson and he has delivered on plenty of them. Since week three the seventh-year man has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 25 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. I understand that Seattle is the only team that runs the ball more than they throw it, but Wilson has come through for them in the clutch so many times. I remember him outplaying Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton in consecutive weeks in games that felt like they would go the opposite way and I remember how he went blow for blow with the Rams twice as underdogs of a touchdown or more, but what I remember most are huge winning plays late in tight games on a team that wasn’t expected to be the in the playoff conversation at all. If you want to put Drew Brees ahead of him in the total votes – okay. But after that you have to look at the Hawks’ signal-caller. I’m guessing the explanation is that the voting process ended about a week ago and Jared Goff’s numbers had looked very good through the first 12 weeks, but when you watch him these last three games there is no way he should make it ahead of Wilson and even if he had stayed on pace, I would have given the nod to Russ.
QB Andrew Luck instead of Tom Brady (AFC)
As I have mentioned many times – Patrick Mahomes would get my vote for MVP, because he still has his team as the number one seed in the AFC while making unbelievable plays all year long. Right now I would put Philip Rivers second, but after that I would already look at Andrew Luck to take home the honors. The Colts were projected to be a 6-10 team due to inexperience on the roster and question marks about the shoulder of their quarterback. Even I wasn’t sure if the former number one overall pick was at 100 percent when they substituted him out for Jacoby Brissett to attempt a Hail Mary in week three, but he has erased any doubts I had about him returning to the path of becoming an all-time great. I recently published an article about why the Colts will be a team to behold in the near future, if you want to check it out and their (still) young signal-caller is the key to their success. In that piece I mentioned that I like some of the pieces they have around him, especially that monstrous offensive line, but altogether the roster is probably not even among the top ten in their own conference yet. There was one week at Jacksonville, in which the offense was shut out by a Jaguars defense that finally showed pride and how talented they actually are (even though the Colts were in position for two easy field goals), but outside of that Indy has scored 23 or more in every game since week three. Luck is completing a career-high 67.4 percent of his passes and is second in the league to Mahomes with 34 touchdown passes. Brady has a lower completion percentage and has thrown ten TDs less, while playing for the greatest coach of this generation, and his team is just one up on the Colts in the win department. Oh and Brady made a couple of costly mistakes in the red-zone these last two games.
WR Mike Evans instead of Adam Thielen (NFC)
Yes, the passing numbers are just going through the roof right now and there are plenty of deserving wide receivers to make the cut, but I don’t get how the guy who is second in the league in receiving yards is not voted in. Evans might not come from the biggest market and the Bucs haven’t been in the playoff conversation since their hot start to the year, but can we please give Big Mike some love here? We always think of Evans as this big-bodied wideout, who skies over smaller DBs for jump-balls and he has come up with those on plenty of occasions, as it happens basically once a week, but he is a much more complete pass-catcher than he gets credit for. Evans excels at shielding defenders from the ball on inside-breaking routes and he is a true vertical threat with that speed and smooth transition to the back-shoulder, if he doesn’t get a step on the defender. He is averaging 17.9(!) yards per catch and his six plays of 40+ yards are tied for second only behind Tyreek Hill among all receivers, including a crazy 64-yard hook-up on a broken play versus the Ravens last Sunday. That is incredible for a 6’5”, 230-pound athlete. Not only is Evans super-consistent with less than 48 yards receiving just once, but he also has seven games with 100+ yards on the season. I like Thielen a lot and he had that crazy streak of 100-yard games himself, but we saw what happens when opposing teams start doubling him – see five catches for 28 yards versus the Patriots. Evans has been bracketing in several games and he still has produced at the highest level. Obviously Julio deserves to be the first receiver in from the NFC, but after that I look at those other guys in a very similar way and Evans makes a couple more big plays I think.
OT David Bakhtiari instead of either offensive tackle (NFC)
I don’t think any of the three names on the NFC side is as absurd as Eric Fisher is in the other conference, but I still believe people are overlooking would Bakhtiari has done these last three years. The Packers’ left tackle struggled with power rushers early on in his career, but with work on his core and balance he has developed into a much more sturdy pass protector. Green Bay introduced the “hug-technique” to the league a few years ago and their tackles have had a lot of success with that hand-positioning to keep their quarterback clean. When you have a signal-caller like Aaron Rodgers, who loves to buy time and get out of the pocket it puts a boatload of pressure on your tackles to sustain contact with their rusher for a long time. Despite that Bakhtiari has earned the highest pass-blocking among all offensive linemen in the league by PFF, while being in the elite category three straight seasons, and he has just two holding calls accepted against him all year long. As far as the ground game goes, the Packers are tied for second in the NFL with 5.0 yards per rush attempt even though their coaches haven’t featured their running backs enough. During the offseason I said I would take Trent Williams as my number one tackle and I thought Tyron Smith wasn’t far behind, but both those guys have missed multiple games. Terron Armstead has started just nine games and his teammate Ryan Ramczyk probably is more deserving because they have both been excellent and Ramczyk has been manning his side all 14 weeks. A strong argument can be made that Bakhtiari is the league’s premiere pass protecting left tackle with the agility and active feet to mirror just about anybody and the oily hips to quickly transition when reacting to twists up front.
C Jason Kelce instead of Max Unger (NFC)
This has been a rather weak year for centers and I understand why fans might want to vote for the center(-piece) of an offensive line that has arguably been the best in the league, being tied for the least amount of sacks allowed (16). However, the Saints O-line is strongest on the edges and then I would probably put Andrus Peat in as a guard rather than Max Unger. It is pretty obvious who I would replace Unger with – the best center in the league Jason Kelce. I would understand why people might be down on the Eagles five-man front that dominated last season, when they rode that unit all the way to a Lombardi trophy with a smashmouth rushing attack and excellent protection. It wasn’t until last Sunday that they really started attacking the middle of opposing defenses and they have allowed the eight-most pressures in the league. So I would get why people didn’t vote for anybody on that Philly O-line, but then I saw that Brandon Brooks made the cut. I like him, but he is not at the level Kelce is at and the team asks way more of their center. Kelce has tremendous lateral agility and quickness for his size, he keeps a tight grip on defenders and he takes on more tasks than anybody else at the position. If you want to know how athletic and comfortable he is in space, look no further than Darren Sproles’ 14-yard touchdown (LINK !!!) versus the Redskins in week 13. Kelce skip-pulls up to the play-side linebacker and not only rides that block for about ten yards, but at the end he also takes out a safety to allow his running back to cut back underneath for the score. He is a tremendous player, who does so much in the run and pass game for that team.
DT Chris Jones instead of Cameron Heyward (AFC)
To not have this guy make the cut for a Pro Bowl spot is absurd to me. Maybe it’s everybody’s perspective on how bad the Chiefs defense is or that Jones was listed with the defensive ends and there are those edge guys with slightly better numbers, but to me there is no way you can leave Jones out. He is fifth in the entire league with 14 sacks and he has recorded at least one sack in ten straight games. That’s the first time in NFL history someone has done that. Nobody out there has a streak close to what Jones has done and he has recorded a pick-six already as well. The Chiefs’ third-year interior defensive lineman is also tied for fourth with 17 tackles for loss and he has batted down five additional passes, plus forced two fumbles. I like to say Jones is the AFC’s Fletcher Cox, because they both came out of Mississippi State with a similar body-type and have a comparable style of play, but when you look at the numbers Jones has been better this season. Cox’s amount of total pressures is higher and he forces more double-teams, but Kansas City has their own beast in the middle and that dude has made monstrous impact-plays this season. Jones lines up anywhere from shade nose to almost a wide nine at times. I love Cam Heyward and there was nobody more worked up when he didn’t make the Pro Bowl last season, even though eight other Steelers were in. Yet, this feels more like a make-up for that crime a year ago, because his sack and TFL numbers are pretty exactly half of what they were back then and the Steelers D-linemen hasn’t nearly been as dominant as he was a year ago. A strong argument can be made that no interior player on the defensive front deserved to get in more than Jones, outside of Aaron Donald of course.
OLB Leighton Vander Esch instead of Anthony Barr (NFC)
With Barr it’s a little bit of a weird deal. You rarely hear people talk about him and still I feel like he is one of the more overrated players in the NFL. The Vikings linebacker had a tremendous 2015 season, when he recorded 54 solo tackles, forced four turnovers and deflected seven passes. However, he hasn’t intercepted a pass since then and he has forced just two fumbles in three years. In this era defense is about making impact plays and his biggest one of those probably came when he knocked out Aaron Rodgers last year. Obviously I’m joking here, but there is some truth to this – in terms of a lack of influence he has on games. He is an excellent run-defender and at his size he can take away some passing lanes, but I haven’t felt like he should have been part of the Pro Bowl since ’15 and that is especially evident when you have such tremendous competition. The Cowboys linebacker duo of Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith has been so good that I would have liked to see them both make the roster. No doubt those two inside linebacker spots are in good hands with Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly, who are the prototypes at the MIKE position. Therefore I didn’t list Smith, who is having a phenomenal year himself, finally having fully recovered from that horrific knee injury at Notre Dame. However, by the league’s own parameters, their rookie backer counts as an outside linebacker playing that WILL spot and he has been almost equally as impressive. Vander Esch has more than twice as many tackles as Barr (116 compared to 28) and 88 of those were in solo fashion. He has also intercepted two passes, while knocking down an additional seven. He and his partner in crime have been chasing down ball-carriers and knocking the crap out of them all over the field and they look like the best linebacker duo in the league already.
ILB Darius Leonard instead of either inside linebacker (AFC)
As I have stated on many occasions, I believe Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is the clear-cut Defensive Rookie of the Year, even with Vander Esch making moise. Purely the fact that he has 22 more tackles than the next-closest defender should already put him in the Pro Bowl – and I believe tackles are a meaningless statistic for the most part. However, there are so many other statistics that make the argument for Leonard. Twelve of those tackles have gone for loss, he has recorded seven sacks, seven PBUs, an interception, four forced fumbles and two more recovered. With all that being said, it’s even more impressive when you watch the rookie out of South Carolina State play. Leonard has sideline-to-sideline speed, he can shoot gaps and leverage himself correctly against blockers, he can track down ball-carriers running to the edges, he is a tremendous designed and reactionary blitzer and last Sunday versus the Cowboys, Matt Eberflus even let him cover Cole Beasley one-on-one in the slot. I can not talk enough about this kid, because I really liked his college tape but nowhere could I have imagined that he’d play at this level his first year in the league. I don’t want to question the value to their respective teams, but Leonard has made so many more impact plays than C.J. Mosley or Bernardrick McKinney as far as inside linebackers go. I’m not totally sure if they classified him as an inside or outside linebacker, bringing me back to my original comment, but the rook should have made the cut at either spot. Leonard stays on the field for more than 90 percent of the Colts snaps. He stays in on the goal-line, but he also is their only linebacker in dime packages a lot of times. This dude just flies around and makes plays. Right now he might be my second choice at inside backer for the All-Pro team.
CB Desmond King instead of Denzel Ward (AFC)
I thought about giving the Texans’ Kareem Jackson some love here. Houston’s DB has forced four turnovers, knocked down 14 passes and been a phenomenal tackler, who brings down ball-carriers right at the spot they meet at. Since he is one of those hybrid defensive backs, who plays corner, nickel and strong safety on different snaps, I let this one be because I don’t even remember where the NFL listed him. So instead of Pro Football Focus’ number one corner, I went with the second-highest graded player at the position, who has had an outstanding season as well in my opinion. The Chargers Desmond King has been the one of their three really consistent playmakers (together with Melvin Ingram and Derwin James) on a defense that has been everywhere from allowing an average of 30 points per game through their first four weeks to now threatening offenses off both edges again and being able to close games for their team. King lines up primarily in the slot and has been asked to cover a multitude of different bodies, such as small, shifty slot receivers and big receiving tight-ends. With the addition of Derwin James King has been asked less to blitz. However has held down his end every week until he struggled a little last Thursday night versus Travis Kelce. The second-year man out of Iowa came up with two great interceptions in the second half versus Baker Mayfield by undercutting routes to end any comeback hopes and then he had a clutch pick-six in the middle of the fourth quarter at Seattle, which extended L.A.’s lead to 15 points. In addition to his play on the defensive side, King also has an argument for making it as a return specialist by being seventh in average return yards on kicks and second on punts (including a game-changing touchdown versus the Steelers) among players with at least 20 attempts. Denzel Ward has had a great rookie season, but King is the premiere slot corner in the league right now.
SS D.J. Swearinger instead of Landon Collins (NFC)
I understand that the Redskins have had a lot of tough breaks once again this season and their defense has fallen off recently, but it is time to give D.J. Swearinger some love. Once again, you can’t simply call this guy a free or strong safety, because in Greg Manusky’s defense those safeties rotate high and low a lot as well as rolling into different spots. So once again just grouping all the safeties together would make sense. For this specific discussion, I thought if Harrison Smith counts as a free safety, Swearinger is at least as much a strong safety. This guy clearly is the vocal and emotional leader of Washington’s defense. We seem to forget that they were one of the best units in the league for quite some time. Even now they are up to 25 takeaways and 40 sacks on the season and until they lost their starting quarterback and have moved on to the fourth one since then – who they just signed a couple of weeks ago – they had been allowing less than 20 points per game. If you take away two horrible losses to the Saints and Falcons, that average drops to just 13.4 points. Somehow they are still alive in the playoff race at 7-7. So from that standpoint alone the best player from that defense deserves some recognition (and even though I like him as well – it’s not Ryan Kerrigan). However, when you look at the numbers and check his tape, Swearinger should have made the roster individually as well. The ‘Skins all-rounder has recorded four interceptions, three forced fumbles and ten broken-up passes. He shoots upfield against the run from single-high alignment, plays like a linebacker in the box and has a good feel for the quarterback’s release in zone coverage. I love Landon Collins and I thought he deserved the Defensive Player of the Year award as much as Khalil Mack did a couple of years ago, but this definitely hasn’t been the best season for the Giants or their former All-Pro safety.
K Justin Tucker instead of Jason Myers (AFC)
I’m not sure if people just want to give different guys an opportunity to go to the Pro Bowl, but why don’t we just vote for the kicker in football instead? Justin Tucker is the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, converting 90.6 percent of his attempts into points. He has also never missed a kick within 30 yards and he is over 95 percent on kicks under 50 yards. And just so you don’t think he can’t get it done from deep – he is 19 of 21 from 50+ these last three years. I think a lot of this has to do with that missed extra point Tucker had that would have tied the game versus the Saints. I get it. The Ravens had fought their way back and would have given themselves a chance for overtime in that game. With that being said, the guy who got that spot instead hasn’t been better in almost any metric. The Jets’ Jason Myers’ overall field goal percentage is a little higher, because he simply attempted three extra kicks, but you have to compare the misses. Tucker had both his missed kicks blocked by a perfectly timed rush off the edge by Browns rookie Denzel Ward and another one where the freakish Justin Simmons from the Broncos leaped over the line and denied that one. Myers on the other hand hooked one of his attempts badly to the right from 30 yards down 7-0 versus the Broncos in week five and then did the same with another one from 50 that could have tied the Dolphins 6-6 in week nine. Moreover, New York’s kicker badly missed a PAT versus the Dolphins in week two and he missed another pair last Saturday versus the Texans, which directly affected the outcome of that game. Myers had that seven field goal performance against the Colts earlier this season, but they were all between 30 and 48 yards. Let’s just look at the facts. If you take away blocks, Tucker has missed one kick individually all year while Myers is up to five now. It feels a little weird to be that upset about kickers, but if I can research this, voters should have definitely gotten that one right.
Who else should make the rosters:
RB Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey
RB Nick Chubb
OT Mitchell Schwartz
OT Andrew Whitworth or Ryan Ramczyk
OG Shaq Mason or Joel Bitonio
C Brandon Linder or Rodney Hudson
TE Jared Cook
WR T.Y. Hilton or JuJu Smith-Schuster
DE Jerry Hughes
DE Frank Clark or Chandler Jones
DL DeForest Buckner or Sheldon Rankins
LB Jayon Brown
LB Demario Davis
CB Kareem Jackson or Marlon Humphrey
S Kevin Byard or Tyrann Mathieu