In a shocking turn of events, there is a bevy of snubs from the 2021 Pro Bowl roster.
The fans, players, and coaches combined to screw up several picks for both the AFC and NFC. The game itself is meaningful, but Pro Bowls end up being a valuable counting stat for players. It answers “how many seasons was this player pretty good,” or at least it should.
Let’s fix it, starting with the AFC.
Joe Burrow in, Lamar Jackson out
We start with the single most egregious pick of either team. Lamar Jackson has been an eyesore for more than two months at this point. While the NFL meme pages will focus on Josh Allen, Joe Burrow has had the superior season. Allen edges Burrow out in the counting stats, but he has nearly 100 extra attempts to accumulate the extra five passing touchdowns and 94 passing yards. On a rate basis, Burrow has been a decent bit better. He is tied for third in touchdown percentage, third in yards per attempt, and has the best passer rating in the AFC. Burrow is PFF’s top-graded quarterback.
The quarterback spots seemed to be a four-horse race, but the voters inexplicably chose Jackson. There is a solid argument that Jackson would not be deserving of an AFC North Pro Bowl roster let alone an AFC one. He ranks last in his division in passer rating, and he has slipped significantly after a hot start. Top that off with a 525 yard performance and Burrow should be there.
Austin Ekeler in, Nick Chubb out
Unlike the quarterback spot, Nick Chubb is not an undeserving pick. He is one of four rushers who have already gotten to the 1,000-yard mark. However, Austin Ekeler deserves it slightly more. Ekeler is second among running backs in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns. He has a ridiculous 17 total touchdowns including 10 on the ground. Chubb is having a great season, but he missed three games, and Ekeler should be rewarded for his excellence this season.
Patrick Ricard was the fairly easy pick. He has been an exceptional run blocker for the Baltimore Ravens’ offense, and he has been effective with the ball in his hands. He converted both first downs he was asked to on the ground, and he had a dominant drive against the Minnesota Vikings that ended with a receiving touchdown. Ricard is the NFL’s second-best fullback.
Diontae Johnson in, Keenan Allen out
Diontae Johnson and Keenan Allen are neck-and-neck, but Johnson deserves the nod. Stefon Diggs is also close to this conversation, but Johnson is the leader of the group in receiving yards. He also plays with the worst quarterback and in the worst offense. Despite missing a game early in the season, Johnson is already over 1,000 yards, and he has six receiving touchdowns. With a quarterback better than Ben Roethlisberger, he would almost certainly have a better stat line.
Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce are the top two receivers among tight ends, and they are just a step behind the leaders in touchdowns. Hunter Henry has nine touchdowns, but a one-or-two-touchdown lead should not overcome getting doubled in yardage. These were the easy picks, and the NFL delivered.
Kolton Miller in, Dion Dawkins out
Braden Smith deserves a shoutout, but the discussion here is between Kolton Miller and Dion Dawkins. Miller has had an exceptional season as a pass protector for Derek Carr. Despite playing more snaps than Dawkins, he has allowed fewer sacks and fewer hits, leading to a superior pass-blocking grade. He has been considerably better as a run-blocker. Dawkins has been reasonably good in 2021, but he did not deserve to make the Pro Bowl.
Shaq Mason in, Quenton Nelson out
Quenton Nelson is the bigger name, but he has not been as good as he was in his first three seasons. Shaq Mason, on the other hand, has been every bit as good as any right guard in the AFC. As a pass protector, Mason is fourth in efficiency among guards and sixth in grade. However, he is a better run blocker than all of the players ahead of him (other than Joel Bitonio). Mason deserves the spot, but Nelson likely gets in based on pure name recognition.
Creed Humphrey in, Ryan Kelly out
This is the second-worst pick in the AFC (with the worst being Jackson over Burrow). Creed Humphrey should be the favorite for the All-Pro spot, so his exclusion is baffling. Ryan Kelly is more than 30 grading points lower than Humphrey. Even if you are skeptical of PFF’s grading, Kelly has allowed more than double the pressure that Humphrey has despite having nearly 200 fewer pass-blocking reps. Humphrey has been the league’s best-run blocker at the center position, and he is competent enough as a pass blocker to warrant a spot.
Jeffery Simmons in, DeForest Buckner out
This position was a five-man race. Cameron Heyward and Chris Jones were easy selections. Jeffery Simmons had an up-and-down season from a grading perspective, but he was second among defensive tackles in pressures. Calais Campbell and D.J. Reader have been dominant in the run, and they both grade out well. For those counting at home, DeForest Buckner should not have been in the top five, let alone third, at the position.
EDGE: (Defensive End & Outside Linebacker)
The NFL desperately needs to make a catch-all “EDGE” position because this is ridiculous. The AFC edge defenders were composed of the top five in pressures and T.J. Watt. It ended up being six logical players. Emmanuel Ogbah and John Franklin-Myers had good seasons, but the NFL got these picks correct.
Denzel Perryman was incorrect
Denzel Perryman is a tackle machine for the Raiders, but his selection is perplexing. Among AFC linebackers to play 300 snaps, Perryman ranks 14th in PFF grade, even behind one of his teammates (K.J. Wright). Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah would have been the best pick, but other viable candidates include Josh Bynes, Matt Milano, Kyle Van Noy, and Anthony Walker. Even Bobby Okereke and his ball production should have gotten the nod over Perryman.
A Las Vegas Raider in, Xavien Howard out
Unlike other positions, there are more than four deserving cornerback spots. However, Xavien Howard should be replaced with either Nate Hobbs or Casey Hayward. Hobbs and Hayward do not have quite the same ball production, but they have been consistently better than Howard. Despite Howard’s four interceptions helping him out, he has allowed a higher passer rating than either Raider. Patrick Surtain also deserves a shoutout here.
Tyrann Mathieu was incorrect
The free safety and strong safety designations ruin the voting process, but Tyrann Mathieu was fairly average this season. If you just want to include strong safeties, Jordan Poyer should have been the pick over Mathieu. However, opening the process open to both safety roles, Adrian Phillips, Jevon Holland, and Micah Hyde deserve consideration over Mathieu. Even Mathieu’s teammate (Juan Thornhill) would be a better pick at safety than Honey Badger.
Special teams could be the most nitpicky, but the kicker, punter, and return specialist positions were correct, and they should represent the All-Pro spots. Matthew Slater likely received the “special teamer” designation on name value, but he is still a stalwart. Teams may complain that their long snapper or special teamer did not make it, but there is little to differentiate them beyond name value.