Immediately after Pro Bowl rosters were announced late Tuesday, fans and players alike argued deep into the night about NFLers they feel were more deserving but left out of a game that they complain is not realistic enough or worth watching anyway.
Pro Bowl watchability problems aside, the game—and All-Star voting in general—strikes a nerve for those who feel especially passionate about certain players. The funny thing about this year’s arguments, though, was that people were making some great points. The time for simply picking the highest-rated players on Madden may soon be over. Here, we try and tip our cap to those actually building a constructive argument by doing the same for The MMQB’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs of the year.
1.Jason Kelce, C, Philadelphia Eagles: Kelce’s teammate, Chris Long, wondered aloud on Twitter...
Leaving the NFL’s best center of 2017 off the Pro Bowl roster seems like a bit of oversight. While grading offensive line play is not an exact science at the moment, Kelce ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 center by a decent margin. The Eagles have allowed just 31 sacks and are second in rushing behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars. Thanks to Kelce’s mobility and intellect, the Eagles, led by QB Carson Wentz, were able to create one of the most elastic offenses in the NFL—one that can thrive on clock control and a hard-nosed ground game, or one that can step back and shower defenses with a passing attack.
2. Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings: Arguably the most important player on the league’s No. 2 defense, Smith was cut in line by Landon Collins, Malcolm Jenkins and Earl Thomas in the NFC. All three are fine players but Smith’s three interceptions, 1.5 sacks, nine pass breakups and 51 solo tackles piece together a fine statistical resume. In terms of the eye test, his defense, like some of the others on this list, was not susceptible to a memorable amount of backbreaking coverage gaffes or lackadaisical play.
3. Melvin Ingram, DE, Los Angeles Chargers: Ingram gets at the quarterback with almost the same frequency as Pro Bowl teammate Joey Bosa (Bosa has 1.5 more sacks) but seems to do a little bit more of the dirty work. As Pro Football Focus notes, he’s far more likely to drop back into coverage than Bosa and he plays the run better. I think we can all safely argue that without Bosa this year there would be no Ingram, but without Ingram there would certainly not be Bosa.
4. Cameron Heyward, defensive end/tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers: A good point made by NFL Network Steelers correspondent Aditi Kinkhabwala, who notes that Heyward has 10 sacks at a spot in that specific defense where he shouldn’t have that high a number. Pittsburgh’s pass rush is so often buoyed by their seemingly endless arsenal of outside rush linebackers, but Heyward has been flexing his muscle inside this year.
5. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars: I think it’s unfortunate that the voting process encourages people to cherry pick the brand names out of a great defense. Ngakoue is tied for sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks (with Aaron Donald and Terrell Suggs), and also leads the league in forced fumbles (6).
6. Austin Ekeler, Chargers; Budda Baker, Cardinals; Nick Dzubnar, Chargers: All of these players have done something exceptional on special teams this year—the most thankless job in football. Ekeler leads the league in special teams solo tackles with 13 according to TeamRankings.com, and Dzubnar and Baker are second with 12. The continuous election of Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater, with the knowledge that he is Belichick’s special teams guru, is feeling more like a lifetime appointment. Slater has played in just seven games this year and while he is a transcendent special teams player of this era, he did not play enough to get the nod over someone who is continuously flying down the field to make extraordinarily difficult open field tackles.
7. Blake Martinez, LB, Green Bay Packers; Zach Brown, LB, Washington: The top two leading tacklers in the NFL are not on a Pro Bowl roster this year. Martinez should never have failed the eye test. For those who watch Packer games, he is omnipresent; a constant force around the football. I’ll respectfully disagree with Pro Football Focus’ No. 21 ranking they gave Martinez and argue that some of his better performances helped Green Bay stay in the playoff race sans Aaron Rodgers for as long as they did. Two of Martinez’s best games also came against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, two of the league’s top offenses.
8. Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs: Smith is sixth in the league in passing, with a better season on paper than Drew Brees and a more efficient season than Philip Rivers. He only threw five interceptions but, because of Kansas City’s hot start, was penalized for the team’s mid-season slump which was not his doing. I have little doubt Smith will end up in Orlando anyway if he’s not playing in the Super Bowl.
9. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears: Poor Howard. The Bears were off the Pro Bowl map altogether this season and while he’ll probably sneak in as an alternate, just like last year, Howard has posted powerful, offense-carrying numbers each of the last two seasons but falls short of brand name backs in other areas where the fanbase is more engaged.