It happens every year. Undeserving players at various positions are selected to the Pro Bowl, while deserving players are snubbed and left out in the cold. Unsurprisingly, the Pro Bowl has turned into a glorified popularity contest. The most popular players on the most popular teams are often chosen based on their reputation.
This is a plus for the players who benefit from it.
Pro Bowl appearances help players garner clout, money and Hall of Fame consideration. Clearly, being elected to the Pro Bowl a couple of times throughout a player's career won't put him into the Hall of Fame, yet being selected on a annual basis, thanks in large part to reputation, will.
The good news is the general football IQ amongst fans seems to be going up. It seemed like fewer undeserving players made the Pro Bowl this year compared to years past. However, that doesn't mean there weren't a few snubs along the way. Plenty of deserving players, especially in the NFC West, will be watching this year's game from the comfort of their own home.
Let's take a look at the biggest Pro Bowl snub for every NFC West team.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been an absolute godsend for the Arizona Cardinals this year.
With one regular-season game left to play, the Gridbirds have the sixth-best defense in the NFL (based on yards allowed per game), the fifth-most quarterback sacks and the third-most takeaways.
Unexpectedly, the Cardinals defense has actually gotten better under Bowles’ watch. This is hard to believe based on the fact Ray Horton was always seen as Arizona’s miracle worker during his two-year tenure in the desert.
In addition to the defense’s gaudy statistics, Arizona sent two of its finest players (linebacker John Abraham and cornerback Patrick Peterson) to the Pro Bowl. Yet, it’s safe to say there should have been another member of Bowles’ defense making the trip to Hawaii.
When inside linebacker Karlos Dansby signed with the Cardinals this past May, pundits from around the league didn’t expect the 32-year-old veteran to revive his career.
However, Dansby not only revived his career in 2013, he put together Pro Bowl performances on a weekly basis. Through 15 games, he has 117 combined tackles, 6.5 quarterback sacks, one forced fumble, four interceptions and two touchdowns.
Not to mention, the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) view him as the fifth-best inside linebacker in the league. He has a plus-13.8 grade overall and only trails San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman by two points for the No. 1 spot on PFF’s list.
Bowman, Patrick Willis and Luke Kuechly were deserving of their Pro Bowl nods, yet Dansby should have been the fourth selection instead of Vontaze Burfict. Not to take anything away from Burfict, because he’s having a fine year, but the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker has started every game this season at weak-side linebacker. How did he get on the ballot as an inside linebacker?
Nevertheless, Dansby has proven to the masses that he still has the ability to play at a Pro Bowl level after 10 seasons.
In total, San Francisco sent eight players to the Pro Bowl.
Left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore will represent the offensive side of the ball, while defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebackers Willis, Bowman and Ahmad Brooks will represent the defensive side of the ball.
If you’re a 49ers fan, it’s hard not to like those selections, yet the decision-makers should have made room for one of the best cover corners in the NFL. He may not be a “name” guy right now, but Tramaine Brock’s time is coming sooner rather than later.
Over the course of 15 games (five starts), Brock has established himself as the most underrated cornerback in the league. Signal-callers can’t throw on him, and wide receivers can’t separate from his airtight coverage. In 605 snaps, he has five interceptions, 14 passes defended and one pick-six.
Moreover, opposing quarterbacks are completing 56.3 percent of their throws and have a quarterback rating of 68.3 when throwing into his coverage area. According to PFF, only Vontae Davis, Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes and Brandon Boykin have posted higher coverage grades this season.
Grimes, Revis, Richard Sherman, Alterraun Verner and Patrick Peterson are worthy of their Pro Bowl selections. Yet, it’s a crime to think Brandon Flowers, Joe Haden and Aqib Talib had a better season than Brock. Flowers, Haden and Talib all got in on name recognition alone, it’s that simple.
The Pro Bowl selection process is getting better; yet, as you can see, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
When general observers take the time to examine the Pro Bowl roster, the last thing they typically care about is who made the team as a special teamer. Most only care about big-name positions like quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback.
But that doesn’t mean a less publicized position shouldn’t be scrutinized.
The special teamer position is typically awarded to players who excel on punt and kick coverage units. And for those of you who don’t pay attention to gunners, it's easy to assume that the selected player is deserving of the Pro Bowl nod.
Often times the choices are understandable and justifiable because of the small talent pool to choose from, yet the selection committee made a mistake this year. Instead of nominating two gunners from the NFC West, it only nominated one.
Justin Bethel of the Cardinals was a no-brainer. He’s always the first player around the punt returner, he rarely misses tackles in the open field and he even blocks kicks (punts and field goals) on a regular basis. He does it all, and that’s why Arizona made him its sixth-round pick in 2012.
Furthermore, all of those same things can be said about Seattle Seahawks special teams phenomenon Jeremy Lane. Lane is a master of positioning along the sideline, he hasn’t missed a single tackle this year in the open field, and he has the third-highest special teams coverage grade at PFF.
Matthew Slater (Bethel’s counterpart), on the other hand, is the 57th-best special teams gunner based on PFF’s ranking. Despite having 10 special teams tackles, he has missed three tackles in the open field, and his biggest contribution comes on kickoff returns. His impact is rarely felt on punt returns.
Great gunners change the game by limiting a player’s success on returns. Just like any other position, Slater was voted in thanks in large part to his name and past accomplishments.
If Lane keeps performing at high level, voters will eventually have to take notice.
This past offseason, the St. Louis Rams hit the jackpot when they signed All-Pro left tackle Jake Long. In addition to giving St. Louis an elite pass protector, Long has single-handedly fueled the team’s rushing attack.
According to PFF, running back Zac Stacy is averaging 4.2 yards per carry when he rushes off the left side of the offensive line. Additionally, three of Stacy’s seven rushing touchdowns have come when he runs off of Long’s backside.
This should come as no surprise based on the fact Long has PFF’s highest run-block grade. The sixth-year player also has the team’s highest overall grade on offense by a wide margin. Offensive linemen are rarely seen as game changers, yet it’s evident he has given the Rams a newfound edge on offense.
Of the six offensive tackles tabbed to play in the Pro Bowl, there is only one Long should replace. And that’s Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert. Albert is having a fine year in pass protection, but his run-blocking skills are dismal, and he has been flagged for numerous penalties nine different times.
Obviously, Long’s torn ACL would have effected his availability for the Pro Bowl, but that shouldn’t have deterred voters. Prior to his injury, he logged 872 snaps and appeared in all 15 games for St. Louis.
If the Rams would have been in contention for the greater part of 2013, it’s apparent Long would have garnered more Pro Bowl attention. For St. Louis’ sake, hopefully he can bounce back from his knee injury and put together a stellar season in 2014.