The Pro Bowl is beloved by NFL fans across the globe, and the league’s players often react with joy or disdain at being selected or passed over for the annual showcase. It is, however, a flawed concept, given that every year it appears to be more of a popularity contest, reflecting which team’s fans can register the most votes. For instance, this year, and I say this as a Bears fan, the selections of Khalil Mack, as well as the Bengals’ Geno Atkins, could be seen as more about reputation than their production throughout the entirety of this season.
With that in mind, which players should have been invited to Orlando? This obviously looks at the selected rosters, not the players selected as alternates.
Josh Jacobs (RB, Oakland Raiders)
Its pretty unfathomable that Jacobs didn’t make it onto the AFC roster. He’s put up 1,150 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns this season, whilst fumbling just once. After the high-profile departure of Antonio Brown, the former Alabama running back has been the fulcrum of the Raiders’ attack this season.
He has been a veritable workhorse out of the backfield and has been nothing but dependable. Perhaps voters saw his success as more of a product of Oakland’s vaunted offensive line?
Diggs has been something of a big play machine. He’s put up 1,073 receiving yards this year, averaging 17.9 yards per reception on a run first team.
He’s also done that for a considerable chunk of the season with his running mate at wideout, Adam Thielen, out with injury. That’s enabled teams to key in on Diggs, yet he has still put 18 receptions of 20+ yards, good for third in the league, as well as 8 receptions for 40+ yards, which ties him for first in the NFL with the Chargers’ Mike Williams.
Allen Robinson (WR, Chicago Bears)
Okay so I’m pretty biased here as I watch a lot of Bears football. But in an offense which has been beyond woeful at times this year, Robinson has still managed to put up over 1,023 yards, especially when opposing defenses have known he is Mitch Trubisky’s go to receiving target.
The same argument applies to Sutton. He’s played on a rebuilding Denver squad, with an offense operated by a quarterback in Joe Flacco who is no longer in his prime, and then with second rounder Drew Lock at the reins.
Sutton though has racked up 1,019 receiving yards at an impressive average of 16.2 yards per game. Robinson and Sutton are perhaps victims of being on teams that aren’t marching towards the postseason.
Darren Waller (TE, Oakland Raiders)
Waller could be a victim of not being a household name, and playing a position in which there are plenty of them, such as Zach Ertz and George Kittle. The Raiders have lacked a true number one receiver and Waller has taken on that role with over 1,000 yards receiving from the tight end position. He has emerged from nowhere to be a dominant presence in the passing game.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore seems to be the representative of the Patriots’ ball hawking secondary, but McCourty, the long-time leader on defense, has put together a very good season too.
He’s had 48 combined tackles, 12 passes defended, 5 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. That’s an impressive all-round level of production over the season.
Preston Smith (OLB, Green Bay Packers)
Preston and his namesake Za’Darius, have been key to the effective defensive unit in Titletown, yet neither were rewarded with a Pro Bowl roster spot.
Not only has Preston taken opposing quarterbacks down 11.5 times, he’s also defended 4 passes and picked 1 off. The Packers were kept afloat earlier in the season by their defense whilst their offense went through some growing pains. Both the Smiths were a key part of that.
Joe Schobert (MLB, Cleveland Browns) and K. J. Wright (OLB, Seattle Seahawks)
Both of these linebackers probably missed out because of either the team they play for (Schobert) or because of their position (Wright). Both players have been around the ball consistently, as indicated by the number of tackles made (116 for Schobert and 113 for Wright).
Coupled with that, they’ve also been playmakers in coverage (4 interceptions for Schobert and 3 for Wright) as well as defending 13 passes each. Most fans probably wrote off many of the Browns players given the dysfunction surrounding the team this year, whilst Wright has zero sacks on the year from a position where voters often look at sack numbers.