Every year there are a handful of NFL players whose names jump off the Pro Bowl rosters, launching debates about their merits and how in the world they earned a trip to the big game.
Some get in solely to due to name recognition, while others slide in on reputation rather than current season performance.
For these players, it’s a tremendous honor.
To us, it’s head-scratching and irritating.
The 2012 rosters delivered again and here’s a look at the most surprising additions to the Pro Bowl this season.
Without question, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is in the top three at his position in the AFC alongside Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and New England’s Tom Brady. By no means however, does that mean he should be a recurrent lock for the Pro Bowl, especially after such a down season.
Coming into the year, Rivers was considered by many to be a top MVP candidate. He challenges for the passing title every season, his Chargers were considered Super Bowl contenders and this looked like the season everything might break right for him.
Instead, it’s been a season filled with heartbreaking losses, untimely fumbles and lots of interceptions. His turnovers (19 interceptions, 7 fumbles) outnumber his touchdown passes (24) and the AFC West-favorite Chargers have already been eliminated even though a .500 record could feasibly win the division.
Simply put, Rivers is not deserving of the AFC’s third quarterback slot. At the very least, injured Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub should have received the honor after leading his team to the playoffs, with Rivers filling in as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Last season, Green Bay Packers defensive tackle BJ Raji anchored the line for one of the league’s top defensive units that finished second in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed on the season.
Raji seemingly always drew a double-team and yet still found ways to break into the backfield, striking fear in opposing quarterbacks and finishing the season with 6.5 sacks. He was considered one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs.
One season later, Raji seems to be a fraction of the player he was in 2010. Registering just 21 tackles and three sacks with one game to play, Raji has been pushed around more than not this season, rarely drawing more than one blocker. That's been a game changer for the Packers' defense this season.
As Raji continues to struggle plugging gaps and freeing up other defenders, the Pack has given up over 4.7 yards per carry (26th in the NFL) and sacked opposing quarterbacks just 27 times (27th in the NFL). There’s no reason a defensive tackle on such a unit should be getting such high praise.
Since we’re blasting the defending champs, Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn is another player tremendously helped out by the fan vote and his name recognition.
The six-year veteran is a fun player to root for and has made his mark in the Packers' offense, but he doesn’t even serve as a fullback in Green Bay. He’s a situational runner, third-down specialist and leads all fullbacks in carries this season. His run-blocking hardly brings anything to the table at all for the Packers' ground attack.
His addition doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but it would’ve been great to see someone rewarded like Minnesota’s Jim Kleinsasser, who is retiring after this season and has been one of the most underrated run blockers of the last decade.
Much like Rivers, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey may indeed be one of the top two centers in the AFC, but his 2011 play hasn’t been up to par battling illness and injuries for much of the season while other AFC centers have proven more deserving.
Regardless, just one year removed from being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and being injured in the 2011 postseason, Pouncey's name recognition and inexplicable over-hype landed him the fan vote.
Pouncey has certainly been a rock for the Steelers this season and has matched up well against some of the AFC's top defensive tackles, but after missing three game already, it's his nod over Houston Texans center Chris Myers that surprises me the most.
Myers has been an integral part of the Texans’ success as a key run blocker, paving the way for two 800-plus yard rushers this season in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Not a single Texan lineman was named to the Pro Bowl this season. That is just wrong.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph has been praised quite a bit this season for his play, and frankly, I don’t really see why.
Fresh off a seven-year, $53 million dollar extension this offseason, Joseph hasn’t been any better this season than in past years — seasons that he wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl. He hasn’t been a tremendous pass blocker—allowing just two sacks but also giving up over 20 pressures—ranking among the top 10 among guards across the entire NFL.
Joseph hasn’t been much better at run blocking, allowing defenders to shed often and forcing Buccaneers running back LaGarrette Blount to break tackles to gain even minimal yardage. Sure, he makes hustle plays and is as durable as any lineman in the game (he has started 82 of the last 83 regular season games), but Joseph isn’t a Pro Bowl caliber guard and certainly hasn’t been this season.
Chicago Bears linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher have 15 Pro Bowl selections among them and while they both had good 2011 regular seasons, neither is the elite Pro Bowl-caliber player they once were. With his inconsistency issues and the NFC’s sheer level of talent at outside linebacker, I expected Briggs’ run of six straight Pro Bowl bids to end this season.
Again for the seventh time in his career, Briggs has wrapped up 100 tackles, a mark of a productive linebacker. However with just two forced fumbles and a total of one quarterback hit, he hasn’t been the biggest game changer this season.
The outside linebacking position has become one of pass-rushing specialists and running back punishers, as demonstrated by starters Clay Matthews and Demarcus Ware. While Briggs has stayed true to his craft and been a model of consistency, his time as a Pro Bowl linebacker is coming to a close. I’m surprised it wasn’t this season.