There was no Pro Bowl game after the 2020 regular season due to COVID-19, but at this point, the NFL will attempt to play the game Sunday, Feb. 6, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of the Raiders. Whether the Omicron strain cooperates with that plan? We can but wait and see.
But the NFL did announce its Pro Bowl rosters on Wednesday night, which always leads to boisterous arguments about which players didn’t deserve their places, and which players were correspondingly “robbed” in the process.
Touchdown Wire and USA Today Sports have a list of players who were unfairly omitted from the 2021 Pro Bowl.
All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, and Sports Info Solutions.
Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
Why he belongs: This season, Allen has thrown 31 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions with a bad offensive line, no running game from week to week, and Stefon Diggs as his only primary big-play playmaker. Allen has had his iffy games, throwing two interceptions each against the Jaguars, Colts, and Saints, but given what he’s had to work with this season, one could argue that Allen is playing at a higher level than he did in 2020 — his breakout season.
Who’s off the roster?Lamar Jackson. While Jackson has been his usual threat as a runner, tape shows clearly that he’s regressed in seeing the field as a passer. With 16 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions, it has to be said that as a pure quarterback, Jackson made this team based more on reputation than current tape.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams
Why he belongs: In his first season in Sean McVay’s system, Stafford has looked like a quarterback renewed — only Tom Brady (36) has more touchdowns than Stafford’s 35 in the NFL this season, and Stafford has connected marvelously with his receivers (especially Cooper Kupp) despite an offensive line and run game that has not always been top-notch, and McVay’s weird over-reliance on empty formations early in the season.
Who’s off the roster?Kyler Murray. Murray has played well at times, but overall, Stafford has been the superior quarterback. Murray has 20 touchdown passes to Stafford’s 35, and both quarterbacks have thrown 10 interceptions.
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team
Why he belongs:Gibson has been the epicenter of Washington’s offense in his second NFL season, with 1,122 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns as a multi-faceted weapon. Gibson can run in any scheme, he’s a versatile receiver, and he’s forced 36 missed tackles on just 236 rushing attempts.
Who’s off the roster? Alvin Kamara. We would generally never argue with Kamara’s place on any Pro Bowl roster, but he hasn’t been as productive as Gibson has in an injury-plagued season.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Why he belongs: Gronk isn’t quite the player he was at his peak in New England, but he’s still a force multiplier in Tampa Bay’s offense, especially in red zone situations. His six touchdown catches tie him for third among all NFL tight ends with San Francisco’s George Kittle, and he’s done that on just 40 catches and 65 targets.
Who’s off the roster? Kyle Pitts. The Falcons’ rookie has been exactly the athletic freak we thought he would be based on his college tape, but he’s still getting the hang of Arthur Smith’s offense in those crucial situations — he has just one touchdown on 58 catches and 92 targets. That’s not all his fault, but if you have a Super Bowl to win, and either Gronk or Pitts to choose for your offense, who are you going with?
Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
Why he belongs: The Chiefs selected Humphrey out of Oklahoma with the 63rd overall pick in the 2021 draft, and all the rookie has done since then is to become one of the best centers in the NFL, regardless of experience. This season, Humphrey has allowed just one sack (Week 4 against the Eagles) and 10 total pressures. As he was in college, Humphrey has also been an absolute mauler in the run game. This was one of the most egregious snubs at any position this year, but if Humphrey keeps it up, he’s going to have a boatload of Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods in his future.
Who’s off the roster? Ryan Kelly. The Colts’ center is a very good player, and he’s a key part of a dynamite offensive line, but he’s allowed more sacks (three) and more total pressures (24) than Humphrey, and Humphrey has displayed more root strength as a run-blocker.
Michael Onwenu, OT, New England Patriots
Why he belongs: The second-year lineman will never be the Patriots’ best sixth-round pick from Michigan (hello Tom Brady), but he’s got a good wrap on second place. Throughout his career, Onwenu has been an ideal Bill Belichick player in that he excels in multiple roles — this season alone, he’s played left tackle, right guard, and right tackle. He’s a key part of the Patriots’ dominant run game, and he’s allowed just one sack and nine total pressures in 310 pass-blocking snaps this season. No matter the position, Onwenu hasn’t allowed a single quarterback pressure of any kind since Week 8 against the Chargers.
Who’s off the roster?Dion Dawkins. The Bills’ left tackle is a decent player, but he’s allowed four sacks and 23 total pressures this season.
Jeffery Simmons, DL, Tennessee Titans
Why he belongs: Outside of Aaron Donald, I haven’t seen a more dominant interior defensive lineman in 2021 than Simmons, who has amassed 7.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and 39 quarterback pressures this season. No interior defensive lineman has more stops this season than Simmons’ 41.
Who’s off the roster?DeForest Buckner, and it’s a tough one. That’s not a slight at all to Buckner, who has been tremendous all season. But I just think Simmons has been tougher to deal with, and I’m hard-pressed to take either Cameron Heyward or Chris Jones off the AFC roster. Heyward has been a hero in a floundering defense, and if Jones had played inside all season as he should have, he would have been his usual amazing self all season long.
De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Green Bay Packers
Why he belongs: Campbell played well for the Falcons and Cardinals before Green Bay signed him to a one-year, $6 million contract before the 2021 season. That has quickly turned into one of the better bargains in recent memory. Campbell has filled a hole the Packers have seemed to have at inside linebacker since Ray Nitschke, and with his athleticism and field acumen, he’s helped to turn Green Bay’s defense around. An amazing player as a run-stopper, as a pass-rusher, and in all kinds of coverage, Campbell should absolutely find himself on the NFL’s Pro Bowl roster, even if we have to finagle a few things to get him on there.
Who’s off the roster?Well, the NFC inside linebackers are Micah Parsons and Bobby Wagner, and I can’t take either one of those guys off. Since Parsons has been even more effective as an edge defender, I’m going to move him to the outside linebacker spot, and take Arizona’s Chandler Jones off. Not an easy decision at all, but Campbell just has to be on this list.
A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Why he belongs: The Falcons took Terrell out of Clemson with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 draft, and some people who remembered Ja’Marr Chase (then of LSU) demolishing Terrell in the College Football Playoff championship took issue with that. Two things: Chase has been demolishing good cornerbacks for a long time now, and Terrell has been an absolute revelation in his second NFL season. Only J.C. Jackson of the Patriots (39.6) has allowed a lower opponent passer rating among primary outside cornerbacks this season than Terrell’s 54.6, which he’s done by allowing just 23 catches on 52 targets for 150 yards, 81 yards after the catch, two interceptions, and no touchdowns.
Who’s off the roster? Marshon Lattimore. The Saints’ main man at cornerback is an opportunistic defender who guards Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans better than anybody else, but he’s also given up 47 catches on 84 targets for 804 yards, 286 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 106.4 — nearly twice when Terrell’s is.
Amani Oruwariye, CB, Detroit Lions
Why he belongs:The Lions stole Oruwariye in the fifth round of the 2019 draft out of Penn State, and 2021 is the season in which he’s become one of the league’s primary playmakers at his position. Only Trevon Diggs (10) and J.C. Jackson (seven) have more interceptions than Oruwariye’s six, and he’s not a boom-or-bust guy, either — Oruwariye has allowed 41 catches on 69 targets for 582 yards, 154 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, and an opponent passer rating of 60.2. He’s done all that on a defense that currently ranks 29th in Defensive DVOA, and 26th against the pass.
Who’s off the roster?Darius Slay. The former Lions cornerback, who now plays very well for the Eagles, isn’t quite at Oruwariye’s level, with three picks, three touchdowns allowed, and an opponent passer rating allowed of 76.2. Great stuff, but not better than the guy we’re replacing him with.
Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills
Why he belongs: Because the Bills have the NFL’s second-best defense by DVOA, and because Poyer is such a crucial part of that. Actually, that’s under-selling it. Poyer’s coverage metrics this season are absolutely preposterous. Poyer has been targeted 27 times this season. He’s allowed 13 catches for 61 yards, 40 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, five interceptions, and an opponent passer rating allowed of … you ready?
That is not a typo. Opposing quarterbacks have a much better shot throwing the ball into Section 236 of any stadium than getting the pigskin anywhere near Poyer, and he’s been amazing from everywhere — on the defensive line as an occasional blitzer, in the box, in the slot, and as an utterly dominant free safety.
Who’s off the roster?Tennessee’s Kevin Byard is the AFC’s free safety, and I have no argument with that. The strong safeties are Tyrann Mathieu and Derwin James, so I’m going to have to bump Mr. James with all due respect. Because when you’re having the season Poyer is having, a Pro Bowl snub makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
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