5 underrated players who deserve your Pro Bowl votes
‘Tis the season—no, not just the festive season, it’s the season for Pro Bowl snubs, as well. Every year, with the rightful recognition for excellent seasons, also comes deserving players being overlooked in favor of players being selected based upon reputation. Often times, a player is selected a year late after his breakout season, which can then become an undeserving appointment when their performance slips after their breakout the year before. Here, I’m going to take a look at five players who deserve Pro Bowl recognition, but based upon selections in previous seasons, may well be destined to be overlooked in the initial selection process in favor of more familiar names.
To the NFL’s credit, they do appear to have done a better job this year of putting the Pro Bowl ballot together— there are more defensive players on there—and while I feel the likes of Jabaal Sheard, James Harrison, Nick Fairley, and Dominique Easley have played at a level that should allow them to accrue votes, I don’t think they’ve missed anyone who should be going. Now, that said, they are still handicapping players on defense by the way that they combine positions on the defensive line, which is going to lead to inevitable snubs—which leads me to my first deserving player who may miss out:
1. Fletcher Cox, 3-4 DE, Philadelphia Eagles (90.5 overall grade)
Having praised the Pro Bowl organizers for sorting out one of the traditional flaws in the Pro Bowl ballot, another remains; namely, the combination of some 3-4 defensive ends with 4-3 defensive ends. That a stout, two-gapping 3-4 defensive end like Cox is being listed to compete for votes against edge rushers like Khalil Mack and Ezekiel Ansah is ridiculous, and history tells us that Cox doesn’t stand a chance. Defensive ends are picked based upon sacks, not performance, and in the Eagles’ scheme, Cox doesn’t have a chance to put up the numbers that he needs. Even the high praise that he received from Bill Belichick after the Eagles’ win last week, when he racked up 11 pressures, is unlikely to punch Cox’s ticket to Honolulu.
2. Terron Armstead, LT, New Orleans Saints (91.5)
Falling foul of Pro Bowl attention on multiple counts is Saints’ left tackle Terron Armstead. An offensive lineman selected outside the first round—who is having a breakout season for a team out of the playoff race—is not the recipe for receiving your first Pro Bowl nomination. Our third-highest rated offensive tackle has put together, on a consistent basis this season, the kind of play he had shown in streaks over the first two years of his career. Armstead didn’t allow a sack until Week 9 against the Titans, and has earned a positive grade in all but one game that he has played this season. Even with the likelihood that all six selected offensive tackles are left tackles, leaving right tackles like Mitchell Schwartz on the outside looking in, I will be pleasantly surprised if the former third-round pick isn’t unfairly overlooked.
3. Anthony Barr, 4-3 OLB, Minnesota Vikings (91.6)
The whole Pro Bowl voting process is geared around edge rushers and their sack numbers. On the defensive line, that leads to 3-4 defensive ends like Cox missing out, and at linebacker, it’s off-the-ball linebackers who miss out every year because they are compared against stand-up pass rushers who are executing a completely different role. In theory, Anthony Barr is a player who could buck that trend; converted from an edge rusher since his arrival from UCLA, Barr has rushed the passer 90 times this season, but he is sent on blitzes as a linebacker rather than rushing the passer from the edge. Consequently, his sack numbers don’t matchup and his excellent play as a stand up linebacker will naturally be overlooked. Players like Von Miller and Justin Houston are unquestionably deserving of Pro Bowl nominations, but pitting them up against stand up linebackers like Barr and K.J. Wright (another likely snub) does both sets of players a disservice.
4. Darius Slay, CB, Detroit Lions (88.6)
Those late-season surges don’t tend to play well for Pro Bowl prospects, and one player who seems destined to miss out this season with a similar stretch of play is Darius Slay of the Lions. Back in Week 3, Slay had a chastening performance in front of a national audience as he surrendered 123 yards on five catches to the Broncos, but since then, his form has gone through a complete 180. Since then, only Tyrann Mathieu (a safety on your Pro Bowl ballot) has earned a higher grade among corners, surrendering only 217 passing yards 18 catches in the nine games since. Since Week 7, those numbers are even better, allowing only one catch of more than 10 yards. Slay’s performance level is superb, but on a team out of the playoff hunt early on, with a late season surge in form, Slay ticks a number of boxes to be my fifth and final predicted Pro Bowl snub.
5. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks (88.5)
Dating back to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl season, Doug Baldwin has been vocal about how his efficiency stacks up to other receivers in the NFL, and he has always graded well in our rankings since he entered the NFL back in 2011. This season, Baldwin take a step forward in every regard, and he is hot on the trail of the levels of production and performance that Randall Cobb produced for the Packers last season, which were among the best for a slot receiver since 2007. Unfortunately for Baldwin’s Pro Bowl prospects, he has done it in a year when the likes of Allen Robinson (whose double-digit touchdowns should snag him a deserved Pro Bowl spot) and DeAndre Hopkins are producing stunning numbers to try and feed off the scraps that the established big-name receivers leave. This is a position at which Odell Beckham Jr.’s late-season surge in 2014 came too late to make the initial Pro Bowl squad, so expect a deserving player to miss out; and to me, Baldwin looks like the most likely candidate to get squeezed out.
The last day to cast your votes for the Pro Bowl is Dec. 15, with the official 88-man roster announced on Dec. 22.