We all know the Pro Bowl game doesn’t matter (admit it, you won’t even watch), but the Pro Bowl rosters do. The selections—which the league released Tuesday night—serve to identify which players defined the season, especially for positions that don’t put up many stats. So while you may not be watching the game in January, it’s worth paying attention to the rosters. Here are 12 takeaways from the selections:
Lamar Jackson Is the NFL’s Most Popular Player
A Pro Bowl selection wasn’t needed to establish Jackson as the NFL’s most sensational player in 2019, and the Ravens QB is likely on the path to some much more prestigious hardware (including an MVP and maybe even a Lombardi Trophy) in the near future. Jackson received 704,699 total fan votes, over 100,000 more than the next highest player (Russell Wilson).
Lamar, of course, doesn’t care. “I’m not really worried about the Pro Bowl voting or Pro Bowl,” Jackson told NBC Sports in November. “I’m trying to win games. That’s all I can say. I’m trying to win, trying to get to the Super Bowl.”
The fan voting counts for only a third of the Pro Bowl selection process, but the margin of Jackson’s lead is worth celebrating. Even Patrick Mahomes didn’t lead fan voting last year (Drew Brees took that crown). Think about that: Jackson is more popular this year than Mahomes was a season ago. There are a lot of kids who will be unwrapping his jersey in a week. Speaking of the Ravens …
Baltimore Is Packed With Talent
Twelve Ravens made the Pro Bowl, which matches the record for the most players from one team in Pro Bowl history (at least when the rosters are first announced). The list includes: Jackson, fullback Patrick Ricard, tight end Mark Andrews, running back Mark Ingram, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard Marshal Yanda, corner Marcus Peters, corner Marlon Humphrey, safety Earl Thomas, linebacker Matt Judon, long snapper Morgan Cox, and kicker Justin Tucker. Whew!
Also, the team is currently on an incredible run when it comes to draft picks:
Also for @Ravens, first-round draft choices from three-consecutive years were tabbed as Pro Bowlers: Ronnie Stanley (2016), Marlon Humphrey (2017) and Lamar Jackson (2018).— Patrick Gleason (@PMGleason) December 18, 2019
At this point, anything other than a Super Bowl win may be a disappointment for the Ravens.
The Rams Traded a Pro Bowler for a Fifth-Round Pick
One last Ravens thought: Baltimore got one of its Pro Bowlers in Peters for almost nothing, sending just a fifth-round pick (plus special teamer Kenny Young) to the Rams for the talented corner before the NFL’s trade deadline. Peters has three interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdowns) with the Ravens (he had another pick-six with the Rams), and has graded out at Pro Football Focus’s third-best corner on the season. He’s been an absolute steal, and while Baltimore’s offense has stolen most of the spotlight, the team has a top-five defense by DVOA.
It’s a Big Fall for the Rams
Speaking of the Rams, they sent four players to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and five players the year before off the initial rosters. This year it’s down to just two: defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Donald was a no-brainer pick, while Ramsey probably got in based on name recognition.
Regardless, for the talented Sean McVay to field no offensive Pro Bowlers is a tough look. It’s no secret that L.A.’s offense has collapsed this year, and the lack of Pro Bowl recognition is one more reminder of how few standouts this team has. The Rams are nearly out of the playoff hunt, and will have a long offseason staring at Jared Goff’s $36 million cap hit.
Ditto for the Patriots
New England has the AFC’s second seed for now, but this team doesn’t feel like the world-destroyers of years past, and that begins with a lackluster offense that ranks 14th in DVOA. Tom Brady didn’t make the Pro Bowl, and neither did any other offensive player from Foxborough.
Three Patriots players did make it (corner Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and special teamer Matthew Slater), but it’s clear it will take a bigger effort than usual for the Pats to lift the Lombardi Trophy in two months.
A Lack of Games Couldn’t Keep Drew Brees From the Pro Bowl
Despite missing five games with a thumb injury in the middle of the year, Brees was still one of the three quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl from the NFC. Normally that missed time would be enough to keep a player off the roster, but Brees is no feel-good legacy pick: The 40-year-old passer is setting a career high in completion percentage (75.8 percent, which would be league record), is having his second-best year in touchdown percent (6.8), and leads the league in passer rating (115.3). He’s fourth in ESPN’s QBR metric and is the top-graded quarterback by Pro Football Focus. So far, Brees is showing no signs of decline, even after injury.
But we can’t give Brees all of the credit. Wideout Michael Thomas is having a record-setting year himself, and he’s just 10 catches off Marvin Harrison’s reception record with two full games to go. Thomas is going to crush that mark—he may be the single best receiver in football.
Aaron Rodgers Is the Most Egregious Inclusion
Brees was joined by Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC. No one can quibble with Wilson, who was an MVP front-runner until Lamar (literally?) ran away with the award, but I have a bone to pick with the Rodgers selection.
The Packers quarterback hasn’t just failed to be one of the three best passers in the NFC this year, he’s barely in the top three in his own division. Leaguewide, Rodgers ranks 15th in yards per attempt, 10th in adjusted yards per attempt, 11th in touchdown percentage, 17th in QBR, and 11th in PFF grade. Oh, and he’s done all that with what is arguably the NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive line (and left tackle David Bakhtiari joins him as the team’s only other Pro Bowl nod).
Given Aaron Jones has accumulated 1,255 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns, Rodgers isn’t even the best Aaron on his own team. At 11-3, the Packers look like legit contenders, but it isn’t due to the play of the guy under center.
Kirk Cousins Is the Biggest Snub
In contrast with Rodgers, his NFC North rival is fifth in yards per attempt, second in ANY/A, sixth in touchdown percentage, ninth in QBR, and fifth in PFF grade. The Packers travel to Minnesota next Monday night where this score could get settled in person. But regardless, Cousins is having a career year and should have been recognized, especially in a conference that isn’t very strong at the QB position.
Another NFC quarterback who had a better case than Rodgers is Dak Prescott. The Cowboys QB looked like a possible MVP candidate just a month ago, though the team’s recent slide took him right out of that conversation. Dallas’s 7-7 record and uncertain playoff future seems to have taken its talented passer out of the Pro Bowl, too.
By being named to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot, 49ers CB Richard Sherman earned a league-high $1M incentive and increased his 2020 base salary by $1M.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 18, 2019
An excellent day for still one of the league’s best corners.
For a lot of players, there is real money on the line when it comes to the Pro Bowl. Personally, if I were an NFL player, I wouldn’t want my pay tied to something that involves a fan vote, but shouts to the players who got paid tonight. Drinks are on them.
The Bosas Are the New Dominant Pass-Rushing Brothers
The 49ers’ Nick Bosa was the top fan vote-getting defensive end in the NFC, and the Chargers’ Joey Bosa topped the AFC. Both made the Pro Bowl. Combined, the two pass rushers have 19.5 sacks and 45 QB hits this season, and have probably already supplanted J.J. and T.J. Watt as the NFL’s premier pass-rushing brothers. The Bosas will be dominating offensive lines for a long time to come.
The Eagles Are 2019’s Biggest Underachievers
Philly had five players make the Pro Bowl: guard Brandon Brooks, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, tight end Zach Ertz, center Jason Kelce, and long snapper Rick Lovato. The only NFC team with more players is the Saints.
Yet the Eagles sit at 7-7, and haven’t even looked impressive in their past couple of wins. They needed overtime to beat the Giants and let the Redskins hang around late in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia can still win the lousy NFC East, but this team is a far cry from the Super Bowl champs of a couple of years ago.
The Snubs Won’t Stay Snubs
Try not to get too upset about the Pro Bowl. In the coming hours and days, people will complain about the snubs: Cousins (hello!), Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, Lions wideout Kenny Golladay, Jags pass rusher Josh Allen, Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and basically the entire Bills defense, among many others. Most of the prominent players who didn’t make it are alternates, and if they accept invitations from Pro Bowlers who drop out, they will be considered Pro Bowlers. So don’t sweat the snubs! There are more Pro Bowlers on the way—and you probably won’t even watch the game anyway.