The top five Pro Bowl snubs

david2

There will be some intrigue around the Pro Bowl this year with the new format, and two “fantasy teams” being selected. It’ll be the first time in recorded human history that the NFL has borrowed an idea from the NHL, one that will surely add some life and personality to a game that had exactly zero of both.

Can you watch and tell me how it goes? Thanks.

Speaking broadly, every all-star game in every major North American sport sucks. The only one that’s sort of OK is baseball’s attempt, because at a fundamental level you can’t dumb down baseball. It’s still pitcher vs. batter, regardless of name or talent. Elsewhere, hockey isn’t hockey without physical play, and the NBA all-star game in a little over a month will basically be highly athletic grandpas doing their thing at the Y, sans defense.

When you largely remove/restrict defense in football because players quite rightly see little need to dismantle each other in an exhibition game, it’s not even flag football. It’s quarterbacks barrel shooting for a few hours, and it’s the absolute worst.

Good, that’s over with. My annual anti-Pro Bowl rant is getting shorter every year, and to summarize I could have just went with this: the game is horrible in any format, and you can make a difference by not watching and it’ll go away. Eventually players will be named to a Pro Bowl team and honored for their season of excellent play, but a game won’t exist. It’s that part — the naming and honoring part — that truly matters in this whole process.

Or does it? Herein lies the next and even more troubling problem.

Hey, how you mindlessly watch television is your deal, and if you want to spend a few hours on Jan. 26 watching a thing that’s sort of football, then go nuts I guess. But the vehicle we use to arrive at that point and determine which players are most worthy of the (supposedly) high recognition of the Hawaii spotlight is deeply flawed. So if the game is still blah despite changes mostly focussed on speed, and more importantly, the result of the selection process is also problematic, what do we have left?

The group of players selected by a combination of fan voting (for the starters) along with voting from players and coaches is rarely ever a proper representation of the best in the league that season. Inevitably there will be injury/Super Bowl replacements, and by default some wrongs will be righted. But it shouldn’t have to come to that if the aim is to showcase the best players in the 2013 regular season, instead of handing out Hawaii tickets based on career accomplishments.

The result is a game that’s already a gimmick drifting even more so in that direction before it even begins. Basically, I agree wholeheartedly with every word written by Kevin Seifert yesterday regarding the list of “snubs” bemoaned both here and elsewhere:

To label that group “snubs” is to imply that their exclusion was debatable. It is not. It is simply the result of a glaring mistake. Viewed collectively, these errors tell us this is not a serious endeavor. This is not the first time we’ve seen it, but the annual repetition has worked to erode our faith in the game.

So, who are these jilted would-be all-stars? In no particular order, here’s my top five.

1. Lavonte David

I genuinely don’t understand how we live in a world where Lavonte David isn’t considered an all-star, and it takes only a casual glance to see why. As a linebacker he intercepted five passes, one of only six defenders in the league to do so. When we combine that with his 137 tackles and six sacks, we get a player who is a great all-around defender, excelling against both the pass and run. Just not great enough to be among the greatest players of 2013, evidently.

Player(s) to replace: John Abraham had a fine season at his vintage, but half of his sack total came over two games. Terrell Suggs has been similarly streaky, and he’s cooled dramatically over the second half of the season.

2. Alshon Jeffery

With even a typical showing tomorrow in a play-in game, Jeffery could be among the few receivers averaging 90 yards per game (he currently sits at 89.4 yards per game, with 1,341 overall). More impressively, he’s only the eighth player in league history to have two +200 yard games in one season.

Player(s) to replace: This is difficult, making Jeffery is one of the few more honest snubs. But if there’s a killing device to my temple, I’d remove Dez Bryant. I know that feels blasphemous, but his advantage in touchdowns (12 to Jeffery’s seven) is more circumstantial, while Jeffery’s significant lead in yards (1,341 to 1,134) despite receiving passes from a backup quarterback for much of the season hints strongly at Bryant winning the edge through a previously earned reputation.

3. Evan Mathis

The Eagles have the league’s best rushing attack, and it’s not at all even a little bit close (heading into the final Sunday they’re averaging 161.9 rushing yards per game, while the second place Bills are well behind with 142.5). Yet only one member of their offensive line is Hawaii-bound (Jason Peters).

Player(s) to replace: Look, I’m a Mike Iupati fan. But he missed a quarter of the season with a knee injury, and even prior to that Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 35th best (worst?) guard.

4. Muhammad Wilkerson

Is it consistency you desire in your pass rushers (hint: yes it is)? Well, Wilkerson didn’t cool until after Week 12, if we can even call it that. Over the first 11 games of Wilkerson recorded 10 sacks, and then he added two forced fumbles and four passes defensed with an interception just because.

Player(s) to replace: Cameron Wake and Greg Hardy were impressive, sure, but consider that Wilkerson produced the above numbers as a 3-4 defensive end, a position where premier pass rushers are scarce.

5. Antrel Rolle

If you ask Rolle what he thinks about his exclusion, he’ll likely drop a few expletives, and do it publicly. Rolle not only led his position in interceptions, he finished second overall with six while recording 93 tackles and 17 passes defensed. You could also easily slot in T.J. Ward and/or Devin McCourty here instead of Rolle.

Player(s) to replace: Troy Polamalu still made some impressive plays this year because that’s what he does. But he’s deteriorating quickly, and his inclusion is the shining example of name value being placed ahead of performance. Even worse is the inclusion of Jairus Byrd at free safety, as he’s played in only 10 games.