New York Giants center Weston Richburg.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

The balloting is a flawed process that relies too much on old reputations and not enough on advanced stats. Here are 10 players who should be Pro Bowlers but probably won’t because they lack name recognition

By Neil Hornsby
December 19, 2015

Editor’s note: Throughout the 2015 NFL season, The MMQB is publishing an advanced analytics column by Neil Hornsby, the president of football operations at Pro Football Focus.

The Pro Bowl discomforts me. The psychological term that best describes it is cognitive dissonance: the mental stress caused by holding two contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time.

On one hand it’s a waste of time, voted for by fans who care only about their own players or coaches, and who at best may have watched about a third of the other teams in the league in any detail. In another breath I could tell you it’s hugely important. Contracts have bonuses that are based on being selected, and how many Pro Bowls you play in is always an important ingredient in Hall of Fame discussions.

What I’m saying is that it really should be important, but the process is a farce on the order of the “game” itself. I can pretty much guarantee that there will be worthy players left out while “names” get the nod based on old reputations. By far, the worst areas are the offensive line and the defensive backfield, where “stats” are in short supply.

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At ProFootballFocus.com we get around this by watching and grading every snap by every player twice—and then having a third person adjudicate any discrepancies between the two grades. After that, we ask our partners at the Pro Coach Network (a group of ex-coaches who combine for over 400 years on NFL experience) to run the rule over them.

Based on those grades, here are 10 players who should be selected to the Pro Bowl but will likely be overlooked for varying reasons—mostly due to lack of name recognition.

* * *

Weston Richburg
Giants, Center
91.2 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 1st

Our top-rated center this year, he’s been superb in pass protection (allowing only eight hurries) while also getting it done overall as a run blocker (our fourth-rated player). If there’s a slight criticism, it’s some inconsistency in the running game. He’s interspersed some excellent work (last Monday at Miami) with some lesser days (at Buffalo in Week 4).

* * *

Anthony Barr
Vikings, Outside Linebacker
91.3 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 4th

Unlike the others mentioned here, I don’t believe this omission will result from people not knowing how good Barr is; it’ll be more of a quirk in the system that mixes edge rushers with more traditional 4-3 outside ’backers such as Barr. Unfortunately it’s still sacks that get the votes and dropping in coverage on 80% of passes, as Barr does, isn’t helpful in that regard.

What he does have—to complement his three sacks on blitzes—is an innate feel on those coverage drops, allowing him to make multiple tackles short of first downs. He’s also a good run defender. Only the Patriots’ Jamie Collins matches Barr’s unique skillset, and he’s made fewer plays than Barr has.

* * *

Terron Armstead
Saints, Left Tackle
93.2 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 3rd

He has a lot stacked against him. No name recognition, few primetime appearances, and a struggling team will combine to see our third-rated tackle miss out.

To play so well is fantastic, but to do it while playing through a knee injury is rare indeed—and worthy of far more than the Pro Bowl inclusion that is unlikely to come his way. Fifteen quarterback disruptions is all he’s allowed to date, trailing only Andrew Whitworth and Jason Peters (who has blocked for far fewer pass drops).

* * *

Patrick Chung
Patriots, Strong Safety
88.1 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 5th

As my good friend Steve Palazzolo says, “Second time is a Chung.” Fortunately his play since returning to New England after a one-year spell in Philadelphia has been far better than that pun. He was good last year, but is even better this season as they have now found the perfect “in the box role” for him: covering tight ends and playing the run aggressively.

What might stand against him is that his worst game by far came in the loss to Denver on Sunday Night Football, but that type of subset scouting doesn’t happen at PFF and we believe the overall quality of his other work more than offsets that game.

 

* * *

Cordy Glenn
Bills, Left Tackle
89.9 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 5th

If you believe right tackles are people too, then maybe Glenn doesn’t deserve a place, but I’m willing to lay a lot of money that not a single one of them will come close to being selected. After a mediocre first game, Glenn has been a model of consistency, allowing a single sack and only 18 quarterback disruptions. He hasn’t blocked the run as well this season as he has in years past, but he’s still well above average for the position. Pass protection for tackles is paramount, and it’s the reason he should (but won’t) make the cut.

* * *

Bashaud Breeland
Redskins, Cornerback
88.6 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 6th

He’s played well every week and improved as the season has gone on. After a difficult Week 3 game against the Giants, he’s been superb, with his best game coming last Sunday at Chicago, where he allowed just one of four targets to be completed for two yards. Most impressive: he lined up against Alshon Jeffery more than anyone else.

* * *

Joe Berger
Vikings, Center
90.6 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 3rd

He’s our No. 3 center this year; ranked No. 7 in pass protection and first in run blocking. Taking over for an injured John Sullivan, he’s been by far Minnesota’s top offensive lineman and a model of consistency, only grading below average in the first game of the year. He struggled a little in pass protection at Detroit in Week 7, but outside that he’s allowed a mere nine hurries.

* * *

Pernell McPhee
Bears, Outside Linebacker
87.7 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 6th

People often ask, “What happened to the Ravens’ defense?” To which many respond, “They lost Terrell Suggs.” Which is true. However, it would be more accurate explanation would be to say, “They lost Suggs and McPhee.”

He’s not getting the praise he deserves in Chicago due to a lack of sacks (five), but if you look closer, his 59 QB disruptions are good enough for eighth among edge rushers (i.e., including 4-3 ends). Add to that his great play against the run, and this is a guy who is worth every bit of the money the Bears paid to get him as an undrafted free agent.

* * *

Kevin Zeitler
Bengals, Right Guard
88.1 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 5th

Of all the guys on this list, if there’s one who might actually be selected to the Pro Bowl, I feel it would be Zeitler who gets the nod. While name recognition is low, the preserve of lazy fans is often to look at teams doing well and select a “likely lad” to be rewarded for his team’s success. If that’s the case here, well, I’m all for fortunate circumstance when it compensates the worthy—and Zeitler is certainly that.

After his poor start (and his only poor game) against Oakland, there hasn’t been a more consistent guard in football. Following on that theme, he’s well balanced across each facet of play: run and pass.

* * *

Darius Slay
Lions, Cornerback
88.3 PFF Rating | Position Rank: 7th

When Slay was drafted in 2013, he had the prototypical size, speed, and agility to play corner—but there were times in his rookie season when you thought that’s all he may be—typical—so frequent and egregious were his errors. He improved massively last year. He still makes the occasional error, but he has the swagger of being a potentially superb cover corner. In his last six games he’s allowed just 70 yards combined, defensed three passes and intercepted another.

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