The NFL announced its Pro Bowl selections on Tuesday, which triggered the usual outbursts over snubs, both real and imagined (more on those below).
All snubs are not created equal.
The purest snubs outplayed the selections at their positions and should have earned spots on the conference roster instead. Other snubs enjoyed Pro Bowl-caliber seasons, only to lose out because other players at their positions were similarly worthy.
Some of the most unfortunate snubs befall players the NFL lists at incorrect positions. That is how the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, listed by the league as a defensive end, missed the Pro Bowl while collecting 14 sacks as a defensive tackle. Should a defensive tackle beat out actual defensive ends? Maybe, but he’s more a victim of the system than an outright snub.
Other players are among a growing list who can blame an outdated voting structure. While the NFL has become a league featuring three-receiver personnel, joker running backs (hello, Alvin Kamara!), nickel cornerbacks and various other hybrid personnel, Pro Bowl ballots have not evolved.
Four snubbed players stood out in my conversations with personnel evaluators after the NFL released its initial rosters. These are the select few.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Patrick Mahomes (starter) and Philip Rivers were obvious choices at quarterback in the AFC. Tom Brady beat out Luck for one of the other backup spots. That is not exactly a travesty given Brady’s greatness, but Luck seems to be having the better season.
Luck trails only Mahomes in touchdown passes with 34 (Brady has 24). Brady has a higher percentage of explosive passes (those gaining more than 15 yards), while Luck has converted with greater success on third down, both overall and when adjusting for distances.
“Tom is going to make it as long as he is playing,” a personnel director said, “so you might as well find another quarterback to talk about.”
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
So many wide receivers in the NFC are putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers that we could make the case that Beckham simply fell short. That is a superficial case in the eyes of evaluators who differentiate between productive receivers and truly elite ones.
Adam Thielen has more receptions for more yards and more touchdowns than Beckham has produced this season. He’s having a Pro Bowl-caliber year from a production standpoint, without question. Making the case for Beckham requires stressing quality.
Beckham lines up outside, where the coverages faced are often more challenging, about 75 percent of the time (it’s 37 percent for Thielen). Beckham’s average reception has been made 11.5 yards downfield (it’s 8.9 for Thielen). Beckham’s average reception has gained 13.7 yards (12.0 for Thielen). More than 36 percent of Beckham’s receptions have gained more than 15 yards (it’s 22 percent for Thielen). Even though Thielen is catching passes that are much shorter on average, Beckham still averages slightly more yards after the catch.
“Thielen has all that yardage and is very good, but it depends on the criteria of the Pro Bowl,” an evaluator said. “Odell is just overall a better player. Mike Evans is as well.”
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans has more yards than Thielen on 31 fewer receptions while aligning outside 88 percent of the time and catching passes 15.7 yards downfield on average. He has made explosive gains on 47 percent of his receptions, most in the league among the 39 wide receivers with at least 50 receptions this season.
David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers
Evaluators might agree that Pro Bowl NFC tackles Tyron Smith, Terron Armstead and Trent Williams are more physically gifted than Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side protector. Bakhtiari seems at least as deserving because he has played so effectively while starting every game. Smith, Armstead and Williams have all missed time to injuries.
“Those guys are all more talented,” an evaluator said. “The problem is, they did not play enough.”