Given our increased awareness about head injuries, the Pro Bowl in its current form is very likely an endangered species. Though the game itself has always bordered on ridiculous, filled with players desperate to not get injured and only playing out of requirement, this is still football—people are bound to get bumps and bruises.
Fan reaction to the game, while overwhelmingly tepid, keeps the train moving forward. Despite the apathy, more than 12 million people watched Kyle Rudolph win the MVP of a football game that wasn't the Rudolph Family Flag Football Classic (note: probably not a real thing) last year.
To put it another way: The same number of people tuned in to watch a crappy football game as they did for the series finale of Breaking Bad. As long as there are NFL players playing NFL football, folks will watch—no matter how much they complain about it along the way.
So until the groundswell becomes such that the NFL is forced to cancel the game or the ratings dip beyond the benefit side of cost-benefit analysis, the Pro Bowl continues.
In fact, the league has already taken steps to try to get more people to tune in. Taking lessons from the NHL and NBA's Rising Stars Challenge, the NFL will be divvying up teams based on a fantasy-style draft rather than splitting them up by conference.
Playing the role of Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley are Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice, who will select the teams on Jan. 22. Like past seasons, the Pro Bowl honorees are chosen via a combination of votes between fans, players and coaches. The fan vote ends on Dec. 26, and the NFL will announce the final results a day later.
As you can probably imagine, though, NFL fans don't always correlate performance with whom they vote for. They don't do a bad job, mind you, but snubs are inevitable. Keep in mind that none of this matters, because 75 percent of the players selected will drop out with a hangnail. But, alas, let's assume everyone is willing and able to play for these purposes and check out a few semi-undeserving vote leaders.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks (821,487 Votes, 2nd Among RBs)
Like a majority of the players we'll highlight here, Lynch is a borderline Pro Bowl candidate. He comes into Week 17 sixth in the NFL with 1,160 rushing yards and ranks behind only Jamaal Charles with 11 touchdowns. That said, here is a snapshot of Lynch's performances since his back-to-back 100-yard games to start November:
It's been a month-and-a-half since Lynch has rushed for more than four yards per carry. He's gone under the running back Mendoza Line nine times this season. While 2013 was always more of a career-year anomaly than the rule with Lynch, he was below four yards per carry in only three regular-season games last season. Overall, Lynch is nearly a yard worse per touch.
That's not to say he's bad.
As NFL teams continue to splinter the running back position into smaller parts, Lynch is the rare every-down back. He's become a vastly better pass-catcher out of the backfield as his career has progressed, and it would be pretty hard to get upset about him getting a nod.
Still, among running backs who have received at least 100 carries, Football Outsiders' DVOA ranks Lynch 14th. He's behind guys like DeAngelo Williams, Fred Jackson and Rashad Jennings—none of whom have the slightest chance of getting a postseason honor. Lynch is your typical legacy vote. He was so good this season and his highs are so spectacular that the lows get obscured.
But how Lynch ranks ahead of Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy on the fan vote is flabbergasting. Peterson's overall numbers will be cut short by injury, but he's been spectacular again in 2013 despite seeing eight-man fronts every Sunday. All McCoy has done is lead the NFL in rushing by nearly 200 yards while adding more than 500 as a pass-catcher.
Lynch hasn't been bad, but he's a tertiary figure on the running back hierarchy this season. That he's second among running backs is perhaps a testament to the true strength of the 12th man.
Jason Hatcher, DT, Dallas Cowboys (286,457 Votes, 1st Among DTs)
There's no denying that Hatcher has been very good this season. He's one of a few bright spots on the Cowboys' dumpster-fire defense, recording 37 tackles and a team-high nine sacks. He's one of the league's best values, combining with George Selvie to give Dallas two players it almost certainly can't afford long-term.
And, at age 31, it would probably be advisable to not make too much of a commitment. This is by far Hatcher's career year. He had never recorded more than 4.5 sacks in a single season before 2013, and his future performance will most likely regress to previous levels rather than sustain its current highs.
You can already see the regression built into his first-half, second-half splits in 2013. Hatcher had seven sacks in his first eight appearances this season and only two (both in one game) over his past six. His leading the Pro Bowl voting is attributable to both being a Cowboy and fans getting overzealous in the early part of the process.
But let's be real here: Hatcher is almost entirely a one-dimensional player.
Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) run-stopping metric ranks Hatcher 28th among the 49 defensive tackles who have received at least 50 percent of their team's defensive snaps. Hatcher is seventh in pass-rush productivity and deserves some consideration for a Pro Bowl berth—or at least an alternate selection.
There are just better players. And, considering the Pro Bowl is supposed to honor the best players at respective positions, that's kinda-sorta a problem.
Plus, any Pro Bowl list that doesn't feature Ndamukong Suh is so wildly wrong it's inconceivable. The Lions have been Cowboys North in 2013, immolating themselves despite the NFC North's best efforts at giving them the division. Whenever things are going poorly in Detroit, it gives folks chances to get all haughty and criticize the NFL's bad guy in Suh.
For those who actually watch football and don't concern themselves with satisfying a narrative, there has been no better defensive tackle in the sport.
He's recorded a relatively disappointing 5.5 sacks, but much like 2012, the low sack total doesn't accurately measure his impact. Suh and Miami's Randy Starks are the only two players measured among the 10-best defensive tackles against the run and pass. Starks is another solid Pro Bowl option, but Suh dwarfs him in terms of total snaps.
Either way, both players and a few others are better than Hatcher.
Barry Church, FS, Dallas Cowboys (117,693 Votes, 2nd Among FS)
How would you like me to express my amusement at Church sitting second among free safeties? Would you like a simple LOL? How about HAHA in succession for six paragraphs?
How about a GIF of Kenny Powers because it amuses me and I miss him greatly?
Church, like Hatcher, is getting a nod from voters by virtue of some misleading counting stats. His 127 total tackles made him a gem in IDP fantasy leagues all season, and he's the only non-linebacker in the top 20 in tackles. Monte Kiffin's system consistently puts Church in a position to make plays, and he's a very capable tackler who helps against the run.
That said, he's a wreck against the pass. Many of his tackles come because quarterbacks go out of their way to target him in coverage. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks Church 55th among safeties in its coverage metric, giving him luminous contemporaries like Antrel Rolle, Major Wright and Brandian Ross.
Don't worry, I'll give you time to Google Brandian Ross.
Done? OK, cool.
Church is just fine against the run, but free safeties are often the last line of defense preventing a big play. It's no shock, then, that the Cowboys secondary has given up 400-yard games like they're gift cards.
No player even needs to be highlighted here as an egregious omission, because Church is a pretty egregious selection. But, I mean, whatever. At least the fans got Earl Thomas right.
(Full voting results can be seen here.)
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