2021 Pro Bowl Selections: Another Major Failure

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The selections for the 2021 Pro Bowl came out last week and they were disappointing once again. The choices, based on the 2020 season, were far from perfect and yet another example of the fundamental flaws of the Pro Bowl. The current voting system is divided by fans, coaches, and players. Each and every year it results in some obscure selections and omissions. It is so disappointing because a Pro Bowl selection is supposed to be very meaningful and is a piece of the criteria for Hall of Fame cases. The 2021 Pro Bowl will be virtual, but the selections were the same as usual, eye-opening. Let’s dive into the biggest snubs and surprise selections for the 2021 Pro Bowl, as well as some ideas to fix it.

*NOTE: All stats are updated through Week 16 of the 2020 NFL season*

Biggest Snubs

1. Jessie Bates, Safety, Cincinnati Bengals
2021 Pro Bowl
CINCINNATI, OH – NOVEMBER 01: Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) in action during the game against the Tennessee Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals on November 1, 2020, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jessie Bates is vastly underrated. Bates has likely been the best safety in the NFL this season, but is not known by most casual fans. He has been flat-out fantastic in the 2020 season. Bates has 101 tackles on the year, as he is great in run defense. He also has 3 interceptions and 15 pass deflections, which is the most in the league among safeties by far. Bates has allowed just a 43.5 passer rating in coverage, which is absurd, and second best in the NFL among safeties. Bates checks all the boxes you could want in a safety. He has all the tools, from pass coverage to run defense. Jessie Bates has had a crazy good season, stuffing the stat sheet. It makes no sense that he was robbed of a Pro Bowl selection, and it certainly has something to do with playing for a poor team, the Bengals. The teams that they play for should not affect a player accomplishment like the Pro Bowl, but it does time and time again.

2. DeForest Buckner, Defensive Tackle, Indianapolis Colts

DeForest Buckner is a fantastic defensive lineman. Buckner has likely been the second-best defensive tackle in football this season, behind only the immaculate Aaron Donald. Buckner has been a monster as the anchor of the Colts defense upfront. He has 7.5 sacks and 54 tackles, which are both top 5 among defensive tackles in the NFL. This is extra impressive because of all the double teams that Buckner faces. Buckner is insanely productive as a pass rusher, racking up 49 pressures. Buckner is just a great all-around defensive tackle, who was extremely deserving of a Pro Bowl selection this season. He was a major snub.

3. Devin White, Inside Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Devin White is an absolute machine. White has been everywhere sideline-to-sideline in his second year in the league. Him and Lavonte David make up the best linebacker duo in the NFL. White has racked up 140 tackles this season, third in the NFL. He also has 9 sacks, which is crazy for his position. Pure pass rushers dream about putting up sack numbers like that, meanwhile White does it on much fewer pass rushing snaps, at an insane clip. White’s 9 sacks are the most in the league among inside linebackers by far. He also has 31 pressures, which is crazy for 109 pass rushing snaps. White has been a monster all over the field in his sophomore campaign. Devin White was snubbed of a Pro Bowl selection surprisingly, like many of his deserving Bucs teammates.

4. J.C. Jackson, Cornerback, New England Patriots

J.C. Jackson has been a beast this season. The Patriots corner has broken out as a major ballhawk in his third season. Jackson has snagged 8 interceptions on the year, the second most in the league. Jackson has also racked up 13 pass deflections and 36 tackles. He pans out in the advanced stats too. Jackson has allowed just a 62.3 passer rating when targeted in coverage. Jackson has been sensational this season, and his teammate Stephon Gilmore getting named to the Pro Bowl over him made no sense. Gilmore has played in just 11 games, four less than Jackson. Jackson has 8 interceptions to Gilmore’s 1, 8 pass deflections to Gilmore’s 3, and a 62.3 passer rating allowed compared to Gilmore’s 96.7. Stephon Gilmore is obviously a superstar, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. However, this is yet another example of name value having much too big of an impact on the Pro Bowl, as Jackson is clearly having a better season than Gilmore any way you stack it.

5. Tom Brady, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It may seem like Tom Brady has had a rocky debut season in Tampa, but the G.O.A.T. has actually had a fantastic campaign. Brady has racked up 4234 passing yards and 36 passing touchdowns, which are both top 5 among quarterbacks. Brady is in the vaunted Bruce Arians offense which has a reputation for bloated interception numbers for the QBs who run the system. Brady has managed to have more passing touchdowns than Jameis Winston did last season in the same system, while at the same time have just 11 interceptions, about a third of Winston’s amount, as he had 30. The Bucs are winning games because of Brady’s protection of the football, while still putting up monster passing numbers. Brady has a 90.9 PFF passing grade, which is second in the NFL behind only Aaron Rodgers. In addition, Brady has been much more impressive than one NFC QB Pro Bowl selection, Kyler Murray. Brady has a whole 10 more touchdown passes than Murray, which is a massive difference. He also has thrown less interceptions and outweighs Murray in every quarterback passing stat. Tom Brady was worthy of a Pro Bowl selection for his 2020 season.

There were tons of glaring snubs, so here are some of the other ones:

Worst Selections

1. Evan Engram, Tight End, New York Giants
2021 Pro Bowl
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 22: New York Giants Tight End Evan Engram (88) misses a reception in the second half during the game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles on October 22, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The selection of Evan Engram to the Pro Bowl was definitely the most appalling one. Nothing about Engram displays a top 4 tight end in the game, which is what it takes to be a Pro Bowl caliber player. Engram has 637 receiving yards this season and just 1 touchdown. Engram has a whooping 9 drops this season, the most by any tight end in the NFL by far. He is also an atrocious blocker. Engram is simply not a highly effective weapon. The passer rating of his quarterback when targeting him is a lowly 63.2. Rob Gronkowski or Robert Tonyan would both have been much better picks. Touchdowns are crucial for tight ends and they have 7 and 10, respectively. Their quarterbacks both also have passer ratings in excess of 100 when targeting them. George Kittle, who has played in less than half as many games as Engram, probably would’ve been a better selection too, due to his immense value as a blocker as well as a receiver. Engram being a Pro Bowler does not make sense.

2. Andrus Peat, Guard, New Orleans Saints

Andrus Peat’s third straight Pro Bowl selection shows exactly what is wrong with the Pro Bowl process. While he may have been deserving in 2018, Peat keeps getting selected because of the vast success of his team. Now he has an established reputation that gets him selected, but it is very deceiving. First off, Peat has only averaged 11.7 games a season over the past three years. Also, he just has not been very good this season. Peat has allowed 22 pressures in 426 pass blocking snaps this season. For comparison, Bucs guard Ali Marpet has allowed just 10 pressures in 504 pass blocking snaps. Marpet also has an 86.1 run blocking grade from PFF, while Peat’s is just 58.3. This is a major difference in both pass and run blocking. Marpet was not selected. There are many more comparisons like this among offensive guards in the NFC. Peat’s third straight selection shows just what is wrong with the Pro Bowl, as the teams that players are on continue to have a big impact when they shouldn’t.

3. Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Marshon Lattimore is a very good cornerback who had a fantastic first three seasons of his career. He just has not been very good this season and was selected to the Pro Bowl off of reputation. Lattimore has just 1 interception and has allowed a lackluster 114.3 passer rating in coverage. There are a load of better options at cornerback in the NFC. Kendall Fuller of the Washington Football Team and Darious Williams of the Los Angeles Rams both would have been exponentially better options. They each have 4 interceptions on the season and Fuller has allowed a 76.2 passer rating when targeted, while Williams has allowed just a minimal 57.0. Lattimore’s selection is perplexing when you compare him to some other candidates who were snubbed.

4. Frank Clark, Edge Rusher, Kansas City Chiefs

Frank Clark is a star pass rusher who is racking up accomplishments in his career. Clark has had a solid season, but not a Pro Bowl level one. Clark has 6 sacks, 44 pressures, and 29 tackles on the season, a solid campaign. But, there were clearly more deserving players. Emmanuel Ogbah of the Dolphins has racked up 9 sacks, 62 pressures, and 42 tackles on the year. Ogbah has outperformed Clark in every category, as other Pro Bowl snubs have as well. You can’t help to believe that Clark’s prestige from being on the best team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs, was the prime reason he received a Pro Bowl selection.

5. Tremaine Edmunds, Inside Linebacker, Buffalo Bills

Tremaine Edmunds had a very good 2019 season and is an up and coming linebacker. He is the anchor of the Buffalo defense. However, he is having a very poor 2020 season. Edmunds has been terrible in coverage. He has allowed a whooping 132.4 passer rating when targeted, which is beyond lackluster. Edmunds has also missed 15 tackles on the year and been ineffective when asked to pass rush. He has mustered just 5 pressures in 69 pass rushing snaps. Other AFC linebackers like Alexander Johnson of the Broncos have more tackles, 117 to 110, fewer missed tackles, 15 to 8, more pressures, 16 to 5, and a significantly lower passer rating allowed, 88.9 to 132.4. Despite being on a great team, Tremaine Edmunds is not playing well this season. It is another textbook example of teams fueling player Pro Bowl selections.

Final Thoughts: How Can the Pro Bowl Be Fixed?

The Pro Bowl will never be even close to perfect. It is impossible with so many great players in the NFL, so few spots, and it being so subjective. Obviously, everyone will never agree as well. But, there are a few ways to improve the Pro Bowl. First off, conference designations should be removed. Selections are currently broken down by position and conference. Having it be split evenly by conference does not make sense though. One of the conferences could be much weaker at a certain position, while the other is much stronger. This can cause an unworthy player to make it and a very worthy player to miss it, because of the conference they play in. A good example of this is Devin White and Lavonte David missing the Pro Bowl, while Tremaine Edmunds made it. White and David are in the NFC, which is loaded at linebacker with stars Bobby Wagner and Fred Warner. Meanwhile, the AFC is much weaker, allowing Edmunds to grab a selection. Removing conference designations would be a strong step in the right direction for the Pro Bowl to do a better job with its selections.

Another way to improve the Pro Bowl is to limit the impact of fan voting. While fan voting is marketable and a fun way for fans to interact with the game, it usually just ends up with big names and players on great teams. I would propose a voting breakdown that is 60% media vote, 20% fan vote, and 20% coaches vote. While not perfect, the media does a pretty good job putting together the All-Pro teams every year. Giving them the bulk of the vote is wise as they have no team affiliation. Giving fans and coaches a small chunk each makes sense as well. This way fans can keep interacting with the process and coaches too, which is important since they live the game daily. This is the best way for the voting process to move forward in my eyes.

All in all, the Pro Bowl is a fun event and an important accolade for players. Every year the selections are highly flawed though, and it was no different this season. There are steps to make that will improve the selections a bit, like removing conference designations and tweaking the voting process. Hopefully it can improve soon so we stop having to deal with major snubs and alarming selections.

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Adam is a passionate Jets fan from New York City. He has been a NFL writer and editor for OTH since 2020.