The 2021 Pro Bowl rosters are out! Unfortunately, as is always the case, some deserving players didn't make the cut. Nick Shook ranks the 10 biggest snubs:
Sacks are an incomplete statistic when used to evaluate a player's performance -- especially critically -- but Hendrickson's league-high 12.5 sacks (tied with Aaron Donald) never should've been overlooked. This is a great example of how reputation often influences Pro Bowl selections, too, considering Hendrickson's teammate, Cameron Jordan, made the Pro Bowl while trailing his teammate in every significant pass-rushing category. Hendrickson was better than Jordan in sacks (12.5 to 6.5), disruptions (54 to 38), pressure percentage (16 to 8.1), turnovers caused by pressure (2 to 1) and hurries (35 to 20). Jordan only bested him in one key category: run stuffs (10 to 6). There's no reason Hendrickson shouldn't be on this roster, and we could fix it by simply swapping teammates. We could put Hendrickson in over Philadelphia's Brandon Graham, too.
Cunningham has been an underrated defender for a couple of years, and he's on pace to post his best season yet. Even so, he still can't get the recognition he deserves, despite leading the league in tackles (137) and adding three sacks and two passes defensed to his stat line. A significant part of this process -- identifying snubs -- involves determining whether the subject in question had a better case for a roster spot than those who made it. And honestly, it's tough to make that argument against either of the AFC middle linebackers selected -- Buffalo's Tremaine Edmunds and Indianapolis' Darius Leonard -- so we'll chalk this one up to a lack of available roster spots. Sometimes it's a numbers game, and deserving guys tend to lose out -- even if their stats are among the best in the league.
It is quite easy to find exactly where Tonyan should be on this Pro Bowl roster. Giants tight end Evan Engram made the team, despite scoring only one touchdown through the air this season (he also scored once on the ground). When we line up the total stat lines for comparison, it's easy to see who should be in. Tonyan has caught 49 of his 55 targets this season for 551 yards (11.2 yards per reception) and 10 touchdowns, while Engram has posted a line of 54 receptions (on 95 targets) for 572 yards (10.6 per reception) and one score. We don't need to spend more time on this one.
White also fell victim to the numbers game -- sort of. San Francisco's Fred Warner is very deserving of his selection to the Pro Bowl as one of the league's best (and most versatile) defenders. Meanwhile, Seattle's Bobby Wagner is a future Hall of Famer who is having another very solid season, but it's debatable putting him on this roster over White when their stat lines are similar, as are their teams' respective standings in the playoff hunt. They have nearly the same exact amount of tackles, but White has also recorded a whopping eight sacks (Wagner has three). White has a slight edge in QB hits over Wagner (13 to 11), while Wagner has twice as many passes defensed (8-4). Reputation matters and gives Wagner the edge, but White has a compelling case for the spot, and would be a lock if we had a third inside linebacker slot available.
Quarterback is another position that is constrained by the numbers game, but Tannehill is right on the heels of Houston's Deshaun Watson for the third QB spot on the AFC roster. The two have nearly identical passer ratings, while Tannehill is one of just six passers with 30-plus passing touchdowns at this stage of the season. Of those six, only one other quarterback didn't make the Pro Bowl: Tampa Bay's Tom Brady, who also owns a solid case for an NFC bid, though Kyler Murray's dual-threat explosiveness pushed him into the final spot in a loaded QB room. Tannehill has been well worth the $118 million extension he signed in the offseason, and he's thisclose to being a Pro Bowler a year after ending up in Orlando.
Offensive line is difficult to evaluate quantitatively because there aren't many statistics used to prove how effective a blocker is, unless we're skewing negatively and highlighting sacks or pressures allowed. But if we evaluate empirically, it's impossible to overlook Teller's massive leap in 2020. The former fifth-round pick has been consistently dominant this season, especially in the run game, where he's frequently locating his target and driving him out of the play, creating plenty of room to run for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who still have a slight chance to finish as the league's first dual-1,000-yard rushers in a decade. His tape is fantastic, his year-to-year jump has been remarkable -- Teller's a great example of Bill Callahan's impact on an offensive line. If we still need to define his performance statistically, we can turn to Pro Football Focus, which grades Teller as the league's best guard. Teller's teammate, Joel Bitonio, ranks third among all guards, per PFF, and just made his third Pro Bowl. Teller should be with him on the AFC line, and we can swap him with Pittsburgh's David DeCastro if we need to identify a place for Teller.
There hasn't been much to cheer for in Duval County this year, but this undrafted rookie out of Illinois State has been a revelation. Jacksonville handed Robinson the job just days before opening weekend, and he hasn't disappointed, currently standing as one of just three rushers to crack 1,000 yards in the NFL. Robinson is averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per carry, and has also caught 49 passes for 344 yards and three additional scores. If we're looking for someone to replace with Robinson, let's swap out Las Vegas' Josh Jacobs, who is averaging less than 4 yards per carry on 245 attempts. The only moderate knock on Robinson is his rushing touchdown total, which stands at seven, but also isn't an indictment of his performance. In an offense that has seen three different quarterbacks take starting snaps, it's fair to toss out the touchdown total from the small bin of criticism.
Reputation has again influenced the selection of interior linemen on the AFC side, where Williams was left out while veteran and noted favorite of most everyone Calais Campbell earned yet another Pro Bowl nod. Campbell began 2020 on a Pro Bowl track, but has struggled to stay healthy, and his numbers have suffered. Williams, meanwhile, has become a force on the interior for the struggling Jets, racking up 53 tackles (10 for loss), seven sacks, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and 14 QB hits. Compare that with Campbell's stat line -- 25 tackles (five for loss), four sacks, six passes defensed, zero forced fumbles, 10 QB hits -- and it's fair to replace him with the youngster. Another clinching number for Williams comes from Next Gen Stats Land: The second-year defender is among the league's best in run stuffs with 15, owning a stuff percentage of 7.1. Campbell has five, with a percentage of 4.5, along with 18 QB pressures and 24 disruptions. Williams has nearly twice as many QB pressures (32) and 33 disruptions. Let's allow the next generation in the door.
Truth be told, the four NFC receivers -- Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, DK Metcalf and rookie Justin Jefferson -- all merit Pro Bowl shine. That said, Ridley is statistically right on par with (or better than) Jefferson in most receiving statistics. Ridley leads Jefferson by 10 receiving yards, but is averaging 0.7 less yards per reception. Ridley has also scored two more receiving touchdowns than Jefferson (nine to seven) in one less game played this season. We won't spend a ton of time here, because Jefferson is very deserving of the honor -- it's just Ridley is, too.
Let's pull off another teammate swap while we're here. Jason Pierre-Paul made the list with a strong 2020, recording 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, 48 tackles and 12 quarterback hits. Barrett, meanwhile, has eight sacks, two forced fumbles (zero recoveries), zero interceptions, 52 tackles and 15 quarterback hits. Based on that comparison, Pierre-Paul should get the nod, but as we've noted above and countless times before, sacks are an incomplete stat. Diving deeper into advanced pressure metrics reveals who is really making a bigger per-play impact, and it's Barrett, who ranks third in the NFL in disruptions with 64, and second in the entire league in turnovers caused by QB pressures (six). Pierre-Paul is far down the list in disruptions with 29, though he still owns a respectable three turnovers caused by pressure. Pierre-Paul is making the highlight play, but Barrett is making the more consistent impact; while this has made for quite an edge-rushing duo in Tampa, it might have given us the wrong Pro Bowler from the pair.
ALSO CONSIDERED: Robby Anderson, WR, Carolina Panthers; Jessie Bates, S, Cincinnati Bengals; Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers; Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers; J.C. Jackson, CB, New England Patriots; Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Ali Marpet, OG, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Miami Dolphins; Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns.