10 biggest Pro Bowl snubs
The announcement of the Pro Bowl roster every December brings with it three things: congratulations for roster spots well earned, questioning glances for puzzling selections, and commiserations for the deserving players snubbed by the process. Having predicted a few of the snubs a couple of weeks ago, I am now going to run the rule over the guys who were snubbed—at least in the initial selection process, before half the league winds up being selected as an injury or Super Bowl replacement down the line.
Thankfully, I was wrong when predicting Fletcher Cox’s omission, as the Eagles’ defensive end was deservingly elected to his first Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, the four other players I predicted two weeks ago did indeed miss out. You can read about the credentials of Terron Armstead, Anthony Barr, Darius Slay, and Doug Baldwin in my earlier article, but for now, I’ll go over new ground, because as always, there are plenty of deserving players who have been left on the outside looking in.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (89.1 overall grade)
Starting on the offensive side of the ball, we have a player whose raw numbers I expected to overcome the fact that breakout seasons are usually overlooked until a year later. His “base” numbers catch the eye, with 13 touchdowns now on the season, closing in on 1,200 receiving yards. Robinson has built his game around his work down the field. No one has more than his 17 receptions on passes 20+ yards in the air, and only Sammy Watkins can top his 559 receiving yards on deep targets. Name power has proven the downfall of breakout stars Robinson and Doug Baldwin this season, snubbed in favor of veterans like Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans (93.6)
Staying in the AFC South—and in the passing game—Delanie Walker was squeezed out in a tight field at tight end, where receiving was weighted above all else. Even considering that balance, it’s still odd to see Walker snubbed after the two-touchdown display against the Patriots this weekend, proving that he is no mere blocker. At a position where the well-rounded tight end is a dying breed, Walker balances his threat in the passing game with strong work as a blocker, and his work this season more than deserved one of the four tight end nominations.
Weston Richburg, C, New York Giants (91.2)
This is one of the better put-together Pro Bowl rosters in recent seasons, but a couple of spots still reek of the name pushing certain players over the line; at center, that is certainly the case with Alex Mack (75.6) and Mike Pouncey (78.2) getting the nod after solid seasons when others have excelled. Weston Richburg is our highest-graded center this season, equally adept as a run blocker, pass protector and even working in front of screens. Richburg has proven, with his elite play this season, that he probably should have been at center for the Giants from day one of his rookie season, and if he keeps up this level of play, the accolades will soon follow.
Richie Incognito, G, Buffalo Bills (90.8)
A fellow snub in the trenches (and in the same state) comes in the shape of the returning Richie Incognito, who has been one of the league’s elite guards this season, only behind Marshal Yanda (93.0) in our grades. Now, I am hard-pressed to say that any of the six guards selected are undeserving—all six selected have had excellent seasons, with all earning a grade of 85.2 (David DeCastro) or higher to this point in the season. However, there seems to have been little appetite to give credit to Incognito’s excellent level of play this year in Buffalo, which has been exemplary and well-rounded, earning a top 10 grade as both a run blocker and a pass protector.
Joe Berger, C, Minnesota Vikings (90.0)
Rounding out our five offensive snubs is Berger, who has once again found playing time as an injury replacement, but this time around has excelled with an extended run on the field in John Sullivan’s absence. It is rare to be able to replace a top-tier talent and not see a drop off in play, but that is precisely what Berger has provided for the Vikings this season, especially as a run blocker, currently sitting comfortably atop our run block rankings. A journeyman backup coming in and excelling at a position that few notice, you could see this snub coming a mile off, but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami Dolphins (92.5)
Shifting over to the defensive side, and we find Olivier Vernon, who perhaps started his run (at a crowded spot on the ballot) a little too late to earn recognition, but his second-half form has been remarkable. Filling the void for the injured Cameron Wake as the Dolphins’ top pass rusher, Vernon’s performance level and production since Week 10 has been astonishing. In the last six weeks, Vernon is our top-graded edge defender by a wide margin, and has recorded 20 hits on opposing quarterbacks in that time frame. To put that in perspective, only J.J. Watt (31) and Muhammad Wilkerson (21) have more than that in the entire season. Too little too late is perhaps the case for Vernon, but we can but hope his late-season surge is rewarded if roster spots open up due to injury or Super Bowl participation.
Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints (91.6)
A late season surge is something that you could definitely not level at Cameron Jordan, who has been ultra productive on a bad Saints’ defense since the start of the season. That last point is perhaps what has held Jordan off of the roster; unfairly overlooked on an individual level due to the failings of the defensive unit around him. What more Jordan could have done than rack up 66 defensive pressures, five batted passes, and 30 stops to help those around him, I’m not quite sure. A crowded pack on the edge for certain, but Jordan’s play this season is absolutely worthy of a trip to Hawaii.
Mike Daniels, DI, Green Bay Packers (91.8)
Given the recognition of a new contract, it turns out that the dual recognition of a first Pro Bowl selection was too much to ask for Daniels. There are a host of deserving interior defenders this season, and while you cannot argue with five of those selected, this was not a season for Gerald McCoy (73.6) to be punching his ticket to Hawaii. Perhaps falling victim to the sack count, Daniels loses out to McCoy in the first (and for some, only) stat that many look at for defensive linemen, with only five to McCoy’s eight. In reality, Daniels’ all-around play far exceeds McCoy’s, with more total pressures and a higher grade as a pass rusher, and a far higher grade in run defense, a crucial aspect of an interior defender’s game. There weren’t many glaringly wrong selections this year in the Pro Bowl, but McCoy’s selection over Daniels and Ndamukong Suh was one.
K.J. Wright, LB, Seattle Seahawks (90.7)
The Pro Bowl selection process pits off-the-ball linebackers against rush linebackers, and still that methodology has no merit at all. Anthony Barr, as I expected, missed out, and K.J. Wright joins him as exactly the kind of elite, off-the-ball linebacker who unfairly misses out on recognition of his play for being pitted against the likes of Von Miller and Justin Houston, who execute completely different roles. The Pro Bowl desperately needs to re-think how they assign positions, because this year, they have essentially selected 10 edge defenders to pair with six linebackers. Even if you were to combine outside linebackers with inside linebackers Wright would still be deserving of a nod ahead of Clay Matthews (73.2), whose nomination appears to be for simply changing positions rather than on the merit of how well he is playing at his new position: good, but not great.
Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills (87.1)
One rookie cornerback made the Pro Bowl roster, and one rookie cornerback deserved to make the Pro Bowl roster—but I am not describing the same player in this sentence. As Sam Monson and I discussed in the PFF Podcast earlier this week, Marcus Peters (69.7) is having a strong and eventful rookie season, but his performance level is not among the league’s very best. That distinction among rookie corners belongs to Ronald Darby, who in spite of a couple of shaky games in recent weeks, is still outperforming Peters in a very similar man-coverage role. Only shaded by Peters in terms of interceptions, Darby shows a similar knack for playing the ball (13 pass defenses), has surrendered three fewer touchdowns, and 343 fewer yards on only 19 fewer targets. Peters is having a noteworthy rookie season, standing up to a barrage of targets, but Darby has been overlooked merely based upon one statistic that accounts for 0.75 percent of Marcus Peters’ snaps this season.