Nick Shook has chosen one prime candidate from each team to earn a first Pro Bowl nod in 2022. Below are his AFC picks.
Oweh stormed out of the gate in his debut season, recording three sacks and two forced fumbles in his first five games before cooling off down the stretch. Fortunately for him, the Ravens were able to convince Calais Campbell to return for another pursuit of a title, retaining a key interior pass rusher who will demand the offensive line’s attention. Oweh will first have to fully recover from offseason shoulder surgery, but should he successfully complete that process, I expect him to build on what was a promising first season. Safety Marcus Williams is also a logical choice here, but I'm swinging for the fences with Oweh, who could garner greater accolades if he continues to force turnovers, as he did in timely moments in 2021.
I'm choosing Rousseau because of whom he's sharing the field with in 2022. Von Miller's arrival should make the going easier for Rousseau, who has a year of experience under his belt and should see more favorable matchups thanks to the presence of Miller. The veteran recently said working with Rousseau is "like polishing a diamond," and since we're in the market for potential gems, let's dig for Rousseau, an edge rusher who got on the board with four sacks, 50 tackles (eight for loss) and a quarterback pressure rate of 12 percent on 233 pass-rushing snaps in 2021, per Next Gen Stats. It's time for him to take the next step in his young career.
It's shocking, but it's true: Joe Burrow hasn't yet reached the Pro Bowl. Burrow's stellar 2021 season was good enough to earn him the Comeback Player of the Year award, but not enough for him to beat out Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson for all-star recognition. That's fine. We know what to expect from Burrow after he lit up the league for the sixth-most passing yards in 2021, a 34:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 108.3 passer rating. It’s only a matter of time before Burrow gets the nod.
Browns two-time Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward reached nine digits with his contract extension this offseason, but let's not overlook Newsome, who proved to be a blanket defender as his first season progressed. Newsome looks like he was a wise choice for general manager Andrew Berry in the first round of the 2021 draft, and although he'll have plenty of quality competition for a spot (starting with his teammate), Newsome has arguably the best chance of any current Browns player to make his first Pro Bowl. Also: Keep an eye on wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones this season.
Did I think about going with Jerry Jeudy here? Yes, I did. However, the Broncos are loaded with offensive talent, and no Denver pass-catcher has been more dependable in the last couple of years than Patrick. The team rewarded him with a three-year, $34.5 million extension late in the 2021 season, but the reason I feel confident in this pick is because of how Patrick has performed despite Denver's revolving door at quarterback. Patrick ran routes for the likes of Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel, yet he's remained consistent no matter the passer. That door has stopped spinning with the arrival of Russell Wilson, and I expect an even better result from Patrick -- potentially good enough to get him Pro Bowl recognition.
The pickings remain slim in Houston, and while I desperately wanted to push all of my chips to the center of the table on Davis Mills, I just couldn't do it (at least not yet). The more likely candidate to reach the Pro Bowl is one of the sneakier standouts from last season, Greenard, a player who quietly led the Texans with eight sacks. He did so on a limited number of snaps, too, and didn't miss the watchful eye of Pro Football Focus, which has Greenard listed among its top 10 breakout candidates from the 2020 draft class. If we're looking for a first-time Pro Bowl candidate in Houston, Greenard is the one.
Paye was already trending toward becoming a Pro Bowler after one season, and the addition of Yannick Ngakoue only helps him. Paye enters 2022 focused on building on the four-sack, 32-tackle foundation he established as a rookie, and the addition of Ngakoue to a defensive front that also already includes DeForest Buckner will give opposing offenses a lot more to worry about than just trying to limit the second-year edge rusher. It's fair to believe Matt Ryan's arrival might elevate one of his pass-catchers to new heights (Michael Pittman Jr., Mo Alie-Cox or Parris Campbell, perhaps), but history tells us it's more beneficial to pair effective edge rushers than expect one to do all the work on his own. Paye should see a boost, and it just might be enough to push him to the Pro Bowl.
Did the Jaguars overpay for Kirk this offseason? Based on past production, that’s a fair assessment, but they handed over the cash because they expect Kirk to emerge as a primary target for Trevor Lawrence in the quarterback’s second season. This is still a roster in need of additional talent and one that's relying on a handful of young, unproven hopefuls, so I'm turning to the speedster and hoping Doug Pederson can maximize this pairing. If the front office is going to score a win, it would be by watching Lawrence connect with Kirk often enough to earn him a Pro Bowl nod.
Reid left the rebuilding Texans for the win-now Chiefs, and he has big shoes to fill. He arrives as the replacement for Tyrann Mathieu in a defense that has seen considerable turnover on the back end, but if his past performance on a competitive team is proof, he should elevate his play to match the expectations of the Chiefs. If Steve Spagnuolo can use Reid as he did Mathieu, it's fair to expect Reid to be a standout for Kansas City and perhaps even earn that first Pro Bowl invite. The team certainly showed confidence in him by offering a three-year, $31.5 million deal.
Moehrig impressed many in his first NFL season, and I'm picking him here because of what Las Vegas did this offseason to the group that plays in front of the second-year safety. After a regime change, the Raiders acquired All-Pro edge rusher Chandler Jones and linebacker Jayon Brown to bolster their front seven. If that duo can help the team get after the passer and stop the run better than it did in 2021 -- mind you, Las Vegas already boasted the best pass-rushing duo in Maxx Crosby and the since-departed Yannick Ngakoue -- then Moehrig should find ample opportunities to make a difference on the back end. And if he makes the most of those chances, Moehrig just might find himself in the Pro Bowl conversation.
Ekeler is an easy pick here, provided he can stay healthy over the course of the season. The Chargers are noticeably better with Ekeler on the field, and he'll return as an essential part of Los Angeles' offense in 2022. All that's left for Ekeler to do is further capitalize on his opportunities, and with plenty of big-time matchups awaiting the Chargers in the incredibly stiff competition of the AFC West, he'll get plenty of chances to prove his worth to more than just fantasy football owners.
Waddle would have had a strong case for a Pro Bowl bid in a typical year -- you know, one that wasn’t dominated by another record-setting rookie in the same conference. Still, Waddle emerged as Miami's top receiving threat in his first season, catching 104 passes for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns. Now he has Tyreek Hill on his team. With defenses forced to account for Hill, Waddle could benefit from favorable matchups and improve on his rookie numbers. Of course, a lot comes down to the effectiveness of Tua Tagovailoa. If the QB takes another step in the right directions and Miami’s high-priced acquisitions from the offseason deliver, Waddle should get more attention from Pro Bowl voters.
If you're surprised by this selection, that's good. It's better to get Barmore on your radar now than in the middle of the season, because those paying close attention to the Patriots already know what the former Alabama standout brings to the field. Though he only recorded 1.5 sacks as a rookie, Barmore finished with a quarterback pressure rate of 9.3 percent to go along with 37 stops (stops are tackles that result in a successful play for the defense), per Next Gen Stats. He's only going to improve with time in Bill Belichick's defense, and although I could easily choose DeVante Parker for this spot, I'm digging a little deeper for a player I’m excited about entering 2022.
If the Jets were a better football team, we'd spend more time talking about Williams. The defensive tackle has recorded 13 sacks over the last two seasons, posting team highs in the category in both 2020 and 2021. If he can record double-digit sacks in 2022, Williams will be seriously considered as a Pro Bowl candidate. Carl Lawson might be a good choice here, too, but he still has to prove he can be the same type of player after rupturing his Achilles last August. Regardless, the Jets have some dogs up front, and I'll go with consistency at this point, even if Williams hasn't quite elevated himself to Pro Bowl caliber -- yet.
Najee Harris made the Pro Bowl after shouldering a heavy offensive load in his first season, so the next-best option on the Steelers' roster is Freiermuth, who fit in seamlessly as a rookie and looks to be on a path toward becoming the franchise’s next beloved tight end. A new quarterback will make the going a little rougher, at least initially, but a reliable tight end is often a young passer's best friend. I expect Freiermuth to see a ton of targets, no matter who plays quarterback for Pittsburgh in 2022, and to be in the conversation for the Pro Bowl, even with some stiff competition (including Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce) awaiting him.
Bobby Trees has often played the unglamorous but essential role of second fiddle in his NFL career. However, after the departures of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, the Titans are going to need Woods to play a major part in their passing offense -- at least initially. First-round pick Treylon Burks arrives with great expectations, but it's unfair to expect him to make a significant impact right away. That's why Woods will be very important to Tennessee in 2022 as he makes his return from an ACL tear. If the Titans can once again win the AFC South, Woods should end up getting much-deserved praise. Posting 1,000 yards for the third time in his career would enter him in the Pro Bowl conversation, but receiver -- like quarterback -- is a tough position group to crack. It might take a career year, and at 30 years old, this is Woods' best remaining chance.