It’s Christmas time, and it’s time some NFL players get the love they deserve -- but didn’t get -- from Pro Bowl voters.
I have a problem with the voting process in general, already because pass-rushing outside linebackers are still in the same category off-ball players, but this year in particular the NFL’s ballot were pretty ridiculous – whether it’s not even showing comma numbers, listing players by categories that shouldn’t be as relevant or even having kickers all with a perfect 100 percent rate for a while, while listing them by total makes rather than percentage altogether.
Considering that, the results weren’t as bad as I thought they might be, because the choices for a few positions are just so much straight-forward, but there are a few glaring omissions
While most people just throw out names of players they like, but don’t tell you who they’d take off, I’m looking for actual solution here. So I will keep names like Ryan Tannehill or Justin Herbert, who are both certainly worthy, in the honorable mentions, because the three AFC quarterbacks are just amazing in their own right.
1. DeForest Buckner (DT, Indianapolis Colts)
Don’t get me wrong – Chris Jones, Cam Heyward and Calais Campbell are all awesome players and they have made me ballot just about every of the last five years, but nobody outside of Aaron Donald has been a more dominant on the interior D-line than this guy. And I get why Buckner didn’t get voted by fans, who saw that he “only” has 7.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss, but I also don’t get why he didn’t ultimately make it because other players and coaches should recognize what he has done this season. What he represents as a disruptive force for that Colts defense, in terms of constantly flashing in the backfield to make ball-carriers redirect or flush quarterbacks to the outside has been phenomenal. Buckner is second among defensive tackles in QB hits (24), total tackles (52) and defensive stops (meaning less than a third of the needed yardage for a first down to make it simple). He was the best player on that incredible 49ers defense last season for my money and he’s been even better this year.
2. Trey Hendrickson (DE, New Orleans Saints)
I won’t tell you that a player should make it purely based on being tied for second (to go along with Aaron Donald) in the league with 12.5 sacks – even though that usually is an automatic vote when people get to the ballot – but Hendrickson is also top ten in total pressures (32) and tackles for loss (11). So he has not only doubled up his teammate Cam Jordan in sacks (6.5), but he also has eight more pressures and the same amount of TFLs. Just this past Sunday, he absolutely rag-dolled an AFC starter on the O-line in Eric Fisher and almost singlehandedly kept the Saints in that game against the Chiefs. He has been a outstanding all-around player all season long, who has put up better stats across the board than the three D-ends in the NFC and I would put him over all of them for 2020. And I’m one of those guys who said for years that Brandon Graham should have made the Pro Bowl and Chase Young was my number one overall prospect in the most recent draft.
3. Jessie Bates (FS, Cincinnati Bengals)
I think it is undeniable that Bates has played like one of the top six safety in all of football this season. The AFC has a strong trio, but other than Minkah Fitzpatrick, I don’t think anybody has had a better season than Bates. Obviously the Bengals haven’t had a great season, but whether it’s the stats or the tape, this guy has stood out all year long. His 18 plays on the ball (3 INTs and 15 PBUs) are more than any other safety in the NFL has and while this of course isn’t always a great stat, Bates has been asked to clean up a lot of stuff as the last line of defense, which is illustrated by being top five at the position with 70 solo tackles, while being in the single-digits in missed attempts. What his range and play-making ability does for the Cincy defense is hard to quantify and he still has numbers to back up his case. Justin Simmons has had another very good season himself, but I voted Bates over him on my ballot.
4. James Robinson (RB, Jacksonville Jaguars)
I really thought this guy would get some love from the voters for what he has done in terms of jumping on the scene and showing out every week for a 1-12 Jaguars team. Robinson has already broken the record for an undrafted rookie with 1414 scrimmage yards and he has reached the end-zone ten times. He is one of only three players with over 1000 rushing yards on the season and 615 of those have come after contact. I’ve always been a big fan of Josh Jacobs, but this young man has 269 scrimmage yards more in one extra game and Robinson is averaging 0.8 yards more per carry, while being part of a much less potent offense. I have to pad myself on the back here for having him as a top ten RB in the 2020 draft and now I want him to get the credit he deserves for being the only dependable offensive player for a unit that has seen three different quarterbacks play for extended periods. Purely based on production he should have made it over Jacobs at least and when you add in the circumstances, that should only strengthen his case.
5. Garrett Bolles (OT, Denver Broncos)
When it comes to the Pro Bowl voting process, the biggest issue always seems to be offensive linemen. Every year a couple of guys make the cut purely based on name recognition. The poster child for that is Maurkice Pouncey, who was one of the better centers in the NFL for several years, but at best is an average player at his position by now. Another trend is that those high draft selections get a lot of votes, like former first overall pick Eric Fisher. He’s had another solid season and is playing for the best team in the league, but when Mitchell Schwartz is fully healthy, he’s not even the best OT on his own team. Another guy at that position in the AFC West that is a former first-round pick, but didn’t have a good start to his career and has people still thinking of him in that light is Bolles. Over his first three years, he was among the league leaders in penalties and lost badly in protection at times. This season he has cut his penalties way down to only four for 30 yards, including just one hold. And he has yet to surrender a sack all year long.
6. Wyatt Teller (OG, Cleveland Browns)
Let’s talk some more about the O-line and the AFC in particular. And since I already hated on one of the Steelers guys on that line, let’s get David DeCastro off the list. He has missed three games, but more importantly, he has created any vertical push in the run game and has not been able to anchor down against interior rushers to mess with integrity of the pocket. For me the best AFC guard not named Quenton Nelson has been Wyatt Teller. He has only played in eight games and has actually been tagged with three sacks allowed, but on the inside that can be skewed at times, with free rushers off twists that weren’t actually on him. He has been an absolute bully in the run game, washing down guys to create big cutback lanes on zone and leading out in front on power runs. You can make a case for both Cleveland guards making the cut, but from what he’s shown this season, I think Teller deserved to be on over Joel Bitonio as well.
7. J.C. Jackson (CB, New England Patriots)
Another occurrence of name over game happened with the Patriots corners. In terms of the AFC as a whole, I don’t think you can really argue with Xavien Howard or Marlon Humphrey, with the latter one actually deserving to be a starter, and Tre White has had another good season too. However, I would absolutely put J.C. Jackson in over his teammate Stephon Gilmore. The latter has already missed a couple of games and was put on IR earlier this week, but more importantly, he has certainly taken a step back from his DPOY season in 2019, whether you look at completion percentage against (57.1%), yards per target (6.7), missed tackles (15.9%) or his one interception. And Jackson is a little bit worse in all those categories actually, but only Xavien Howard (9) has more than his eight interceptions on the season, plus he has recovered three fumbles. Turnovers are the name of the game and the majority of his receiving stats against came against the Jets of all times on a Monday Night game, that most people probably saw, when he surrendered almost 100 yards and two of his three TDs on the season, slipping on the turf on one of them, before coming up with the game-changing fourth-quarter pick. And some of this is about politics, with New England originally not putting Jackson on their ballot, probably because this will help them for contract purposes down the road.
8. Demario Davis (LB, New Orleans Saints)
Let’s just overlook the fact that in reality the NFC has six edge rushers and just two off-ball linebackers on the roster and that Jason Pierre-Paul would be called a defensive end by anybody watching the games. Even with all that, I absolutely believe Demario Davis deserves a spot. I listed both Tampa Bay guys as honorable mentions, because they have been special as a group, but their numbers are a little inflated by simply being on the field longer for a defense that has been a little hot and cold at times, as talented as they may be. Their division rival from the Saints has missed a lower percentage of his tackles (7.0%), a better pressure rate (14 on 76 blitzes – 18.4%) and has made more crucial stops than any linebacker I believe when I think back – whether it’s a sack in a goal-to-go situation versus San Francisco to force a field goal, a tackle on Todd Gurley for like minus nine yards (one of ten TFLs) to force a stop against the Falcons when they were in the red-zone a couple of weeks ago and many others. You can’t really argue with Fred Warner, who has been the best LB in the NFC this season for me, but because of this weird voting structure is actually a backup, but I think Davis has been the next guy up.
9. Robert Tonyan (TE, Green Bay Packers)
Let’s be real here – the only reason there are even two TE spots available on the NFC Pro Bowl roster is the fact George Kittle has missed most of this season. He’ll be a fixture on there for the rest of his contract with the 49ers at least, barring injury. But I think the Lions’ T.J. Hockenson is also highly deserving of his selection, with the best receiving stats at the position in the NFC and a lot of responsibilities in the run game. However, I think Evan Engram only made the cut because people still think back to his great rookie season and some of the flashes he always shows as an athletic mismatch piece. He has disappeared in some matchups and had some really bad drops in big moments. My choice here would be Robert Tonyan, who has become Matt LaFleur’s version of George Kittle, whether it’s securing the edge or kicking out the backside on zone runs and slipping into the flats or running crossers behind the second level in their boot game. Engram has 21 more yards (572 vs. 551 yards), but Tonyan has nine more touchdowns (10 vs. 1) and he has yet to record a drop – Engram has nine (second-most in the NFL).
10. Ben Jones (C, Tennessee Titans)
The fact that this guy makes the list here as well shows you how much the voters got the AFC offensive line wrong. This is more about Maurkice Pouncey making the list – as a starter no less – for like the third year in a row now when he has been a below-average starter. However, Ben Jones is absolutely deserving of those honors for the season he’s played. I rarely want to refer to Pro Football Focus grades, but he’s at 76.6 compared to Pouncey’s 59.8. Not only has he played 97 percent of the snaps compared to 83 for Pouncey (two games missed), but he is also the “center”-piece of the number two rushing offense in the league compared to Pittsburgh’s second-worst in that category, where Jones excels at scooping up down linemen and climbing to the second level in the zone run game. Jones also hasn’t allowed a single sack all year and has just three penalties for 25 yards accepted against him, plus one more hold declined. What it really comes down to is a better player at his position on a much better offense.
Ryan Tannehill, Justin Herbert, Calvin Ridley, Terry McLaurin, Duane Brown, Corey Linsley, Brian Burns, Quinnen Williams, Shaquille Barrett, Both Bucs linebackers, Zach Cunningham, Bryce Callahan, Harrison Smith