Although the field has become a bit diluted for various reasons, many of the top players in the NFL will still be in action for the 2016 Pro Bowl.
The All-Star Game generates less interest than similar events in other sports, partly due to the timing before the Super Bowl and otherwise because of the players actually involved.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau (h/t Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com), declined invitations to the event has led to a record number of 133 official Pro Bowlers. Those on the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos are still playing football that matters, while others have legitimate injuries. But either way many notable names will not be in Honolulu.
Despite the turnout, fans will still get to watch plenty of their favorite players for the last time this season in a fun atmosphere. Here is a look at what you need to know heading into the weekend.
2016 Pro Bowl
When: Sunday, Jan. 31
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
List of Players and Injury Replacements: NFL.com
Going Down the List
As previously mentioned, there have been quite a few dropouts from the Pro Bowl, and the result has been going far down the list of top players at each position. The group of quarterbacks recently added is among the most debatable, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:
New Pro Bowl QBs Jameis Winston, Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater finished 16th, 20th and 26th in NFL in TD passes; 11, 23, 22 in yards.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) January 26, 2016
Michael Silver of NFL Network joked about some players who could be added, including one who didn't play a down this year:
Waiting to learn that Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon have been added as Pro Bowl alternates...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) January 25, 2016
Players always deserve recognition for a great season, but the more names added to the list, the less it means to make it. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, Teddy Bridgewater shouldn't be striving to be a part of any group that has him as a member.
A link to the full list of players selected as replacements and those who have been replaced is above, allowing you to see just how many men are involved in this game. With that said, it's all in good fun, and there is nothing wrong with celebrating more players for the difficult job they do.
Pro Bowl Draft
To make things interesting, the exhibition is not just the AFC against the NFC anymore. Instead, Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin drafted two different teams out of the pool of eligible players, creating a mixed bag on each side.
You can see the full lineups here, but the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson was the first overall pick as clearly the top quarterback still headed to Hawaii:
As someone who had to wait until the third round to get drafted in real life, you could tell he appreciated the honor:
Among the other interesting storylines, Eli Manning will get a chance to not only throw to New York Giants teammate Odell Beckham Jr., but also the receiver's former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry. There could be some fun one-handed catches on display.
Also notable is Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald playing alongside each other on the defensive line for Team Rice. These two players were taken in the first round after Jadeveon Clowney in the 2014 draft and have turned themselves into two of the best defensive linemen in the league. Anthony Barr will also be in Hawaii for Team Irvin.
Charles Woodson's Last Ride
There isn't often a whole lot of emotion involved with the Pro Bowl, but there might be when Charles Woodson comes out for the last time. The future Hall of Famer announced his retirement earlier this season and now will play his final game in the NFL.
The chance to play one last time was a reason he agreed to play in the game, per Kalani Takase of the Associated Press:
It was about being my last time, but it was about my family and us being able to take this trip together. This will be my last time ever suiting up in an NFL uniform to actually go out there and run around as a player, so this is it. After this game, there's no more — my NFL career is over — so we wanted to come out, enjoy Hawaii and then hopefully ride off into the sunset.
Few players have accomplished more on the defensive side of the ball in football history; from his playmaking ways in college to his longevity in the NFL, it has truly been an impressive career.
If Cal Ripken Jr. can homer in his final All-Star Game, Woodson should be able to grab an interception in his final Pro Bowl.
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