The reformatting of the NFL Pro Bowl makes snubs less likely, since rosters are now composed of the league's best, rather than just the best from each conference.
Still, snubs are an inevitable part of any all-star voting process, especially one decided almost entirely by the fans and players. It's axiomatic to say that these votes are simply the byproduct of a popularity contest, and that sentiment certainly holds true every year.
While the majority of the Pro Bowl honorees are deserving, here are a few of the likeliest players to get left off the plane to Hawaii.
The Steelers have quietly been one of the better teams in the AFC since a disastrous 2-6 start, and Big Ben is a significant reason why. Per Pro-Football-Reference, Roethlisberger has the sixth-best adjusted net yards per attempt average in the season's second half, illustrating his improved efficiency and protection of the ball.
And it's not as if Roethlisberger does not have the full-season resume to back up his more recent success. Roethlisberger ranks seventh in passing yards, 10th in yards per attempt, and ninth in passer rating. Those numbers do not make him a no-brainer for the Pro Bowl, but he is certainly worthy of making it onto the roster as a replacement.
Much has been made of Roethlisberger's supposed rift with abrasive offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but the new system has done wonders for the veteran quarterback. Big Ben is having one of his best seasons with Haley at the helm, and he seems to realize the fit on the field, if not off it:
“I think production has gone up and I think that the mistakes have really come down,” Roethlisberger said. “I think guys enjoy doing it. I’m sure if you ask the receivers they say they like it. Le'Veon [Bell] likes it, mixing in the run and the pass so it’s not just pass-heavy.
"I think just being able to take what Coach gives helps me with and what we, whether it’s [quarterbacks] coach Randy [Fichtner] and coach Todd [Haley], the other quarterbacks, we put so much work in. I know I get a lot of credit, but it’s all of us really. This is a lot about communication.”
After losing Mike Wallace and missing Heath Miller for much of the year, Roethlisberger should receive a Pro Bowl nod for keeping the Steelers afloat during some trying times.
Nelson has been one of the league's best receivers for years now, but has yet to earn a Pro Bowl nod. Take a look at Nelson's numbers over the past three years, and compare them to some other notable receivers over that time:
The other four have combined for five Pro Bowl berths in that time span. Nelson has put up similar production in fewer starts, but has failed to achieve similar acclaim, in part because of the multitude of weapons Green Bay has possessed over the years.
The Packers haven't had as dynamic an offense in 2013 for obvious reasons, but Nelson has kept the passing game afloat. He's even maintained relevant fantasy numbers since Aaron Rodgers' departure from the lineup:
Jordy Nelson is #fantasyfootball WR12 with 7 missed Rodgers games.— Josh Moore (@4for4_Josh) December 17, 2013
Nelson is not a physical freak like Calvin Johnson, or a frightening deep threat like Josh Gordon or even a slot aficionado like Wes Welker. But he is in the same class, and deserves that recognition.
It's difficult to assess offensive line play, especially without knowing the specific blocking schemes of a particular play. So many may be unaware that Eagles guard Evan Mathis has made himself into arguably the best interior lineman in the league.
According to @PFF data, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are , by far, the best two run blocking guards in the NFL. Not even close.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) November 1, 2013
That's not hyperbole, and Mathis has been on the rise for sometime now. In the preseason, Grantland's Robert Mays did a feature on Mathis, and even seemed to foretell the eventual likelihood of his snub:
More than those of any other position, the reputations of interior offensive linemen are built on pedigree. One reason that first-round guards have been consistent Pro Bowlers is that the only guards to whom people pay any mind are the ones taken in the first round. After two seasons as one of the top players in the NFL at his position, Mathis has yet to receive a single postseason accolade, and he understands why. “The problem is, most people aren't watching guards and there's no real stats to follow for OL,” Mathis says. “Who has time to watch every guard for 1,000 snaps a year, anyway? A lot of people just vote on name recognition.”
If there is a situation that could lead to Mathis becoming one of those names, it’s likely the new one in Philadelphia. Mathis’s quickness and ability to create movement along the line of scrimmage are an ideal fit in Chip Kelly’s zone-based scheme. With the rest of his line returning healthy in 2013, this may be the season that the Eagles’ offense does enough for Mathis to get the type of credit he deserves.
Well, the Eagles offense has certainly held up their end of the bargain, developing into one of the league's most explosive units. And Mathis has held a critical role in that, with a plus-42.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus that laps the field as the highest among guards. Second-place Josh Sitton of the Packers has a plus-29.4 grade; the distance between Mathis and Sitton is roughly equivalent to that between Sitton and ninth-highest rated guard Brandon Fusco of the Vikings.
Just as the public has slowly come around to accepting Chip Kelly's blur offense as a legitimate NFL system, they should also realize that Mathis is one of the underrated foundation pieces of the unit.