Pro Bowl Roster 2013: Underrated Stars Who Deserved Invites to Hawaii
As with every NFL Pro Bowl roster, 2013's edition omits several underrated players who deserve to be amongst the stars in the annual clash in Hawaii.
All but one of the following snubs are guaranteed to play in the postseason and wind up playing in the game anyway if the ultimate goal of reaching the Super Bowl isn't realized. For some players, it could be argued there simply wasn't enough room, while others were obvious shoo-ins that didn't get the nod for one reason or another.
Here is a look at two players from each conference who should be suiting up in Aloha Stadium.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
It's been a phenomenal season for the third-year player, who endured lumps as a rookie and played in a very run-heavy offense in 2011 with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
The arrival of Peyton Manning required Thomas to study up and expand his route tree, which allowed him to blossom into the player the Broncos expected when he was made a first-round pick in 2010.
Despite Manning's diminished arm strength due to all the neck surgeries and the inevitable nature of getting older, he has had a sensational season. But Thomas' explosiveness is a huge reason why. Thomas leads the AFC with 26 catches of 20 yards or more, second in the league only to Calvin Johnson's insane number of 39.
That type of big-play threat is an indication of how much more refined Thomas' game has become from year two to year three. He does have the benefit of sure-handed Eric Decker to draw some coverage away, but Thomas had nothing less than a Pro Bowl-type season.
What's scary is that Thomas has room to become even better if this incredible campaign is a sign of things to come. Arguing against the likes of Andre Johnson, A.J. Green, Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker is difficult, but Thomas should have been squeezed in somehow.
Jerrell Freeman, LB, Indianapolis Colts
On a pretty much nameless defense aside from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, it was Freeman who may have been the quietest breakout player of the year in the AFC. An undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in 2008, Freeman is sixth in the league with 135 combined tackles.
Freeman only had one previous stint in the NFL with Tennessee back in 2008. After three seasons in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders—the last of which saw him become an All-Star—he returned to the States to play for the new-look Colts.
This is proving to be yet another brilliant move by new GM Ryan Grigson, as Freeman has simply made plays all year long despite a rash of injuries that have plagued Indy's defensive unit.
The biggest knock is that the Colts are just 30th in the league against the run. But the inside linebackers who made it over him—New England's Jerod Mayo and KC's Derrick Johnson—don't play for very stout defenses either and haven't had to adjust to a new defense on the fly.
In terms of individual production, Freeman's numbers stack up very favorably with those of Mayo and Johnson, and he exceptionally filled the void left by Pat Angerer in the heart of the Colts' defense.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
If it truly is about how one finishes rather than starts, Bryant is one of the most ridiculous snubs in recent memory.
While the New York Giants have imploded down the stretch—along with star WR Victor Cruz—the Salsa Dance will be on display in Hawaii, while Bryant likely goes under the knife to repair a broken finger.
Bryant has played through that pain, though, to emerge as one of the most dominant receivers in the game. He is on a seven-game touchdown streak, and he has caught two TDs in three of those contests, including a career-best 225-yard performance against New Orleans in Week 16.
That apparently wasn't enough to swing voters in his direction, despite his status as the best receiver on America's Team of standout playmakers.
Only James Jones of the Green Bay Packers has more touchdown grabs than Bryant's 12, but Bryant should have done plenty enough in his stunning explosion in the second half of the season to secure a Pro Bowl appearance.
Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Is there a better cornerback in the NFL right now?
Perhaps some were irked about Sherman's outspokenness and trash-talking of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady. Maybe it's because of his location—far from the most prominent media markets.
More likely, if Sherman were to have lost his appeal on a four-game PED suspension, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. That couldn't have helped his Pro Bowl stock, but Sherman did win his appeal on Thursday, according to NFL.com.
With 23 passes defensed (h/t CBS Chicago), seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and two touchdowns, it's hard to believe Sherman didn't get the nod.
Seahawks FS Earl Thomas is going to Honolulu, and all three of Sherman's defensive backfield mates have been to at least one Pro Bowl. This was thought to have been his year, and it should have been.
It's hard to argue with the selection of Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson because of his freakish athleticism and his returning ability. But from a pure cornerback standpoint, Sherman is the superior second-year player. Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears is the only one that rivals Sherman's play at the position, and he is rightfully starting.
But Tillman's Chicago teammate Tim Jennings shouldn't be starting opposite him. It should be Sherman.
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