Every year, there are a handful of players that get left out of the Pro Bowl rosters, a dilemma that is hardly avoidable in a league with so much talent.
While all of the players chosen to the Pro Bowl probably deserve it in some way or another, there are always others whose statistics outshine them. Voters are faced with more than just stats, it's the face and the name that come with the numbers.
At times, it can make for a happy ending for a special player; other times, the Pro Bowl voting looks the part of a popularity contest.
Wide receivers have to work very hard to be noticed, especially those who belong to a talented corps of wide outs who equally share the load. This year, the NFC is being represented by Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson, Dallas’ Miles Austin, and Minnesota’s Simeon Rice.
As illustrious as all of their seasons have been, it appears the voters completely forgot about Steve Smith of the New York Giants. Yes, he’s an alternate, but he should be a starter.
He had more receptions than any other receiver in the NFC (107), he was third in receiving yards (1,220), and he had a better receiving average than Fitzgerald.
The AFC is being represented by Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne, Houston’s Andre Johnson, and Denver’s Brandon Marshall, with New England’s Wes Welker and Randy Moss as injured starters. But where is Vincent Jackson?
The San Diego wide out was Mr. Clutch this year; 85.3 percent of his passes were caught for first downs. He didn’t outshine anyone with his receptions or yards, but he had a higher average than any other receiver elected to the Pro Bowl (17.2).
Only two inside linebackers are chosen from each conference which leaves a sizable pool of talent out of the loop. In the NFC, San Francisco’s Patrick Willis was dominant at the very least this year and the voters will get no complaints from me on his nomination. But is Jonathan Vilma really the best choice to back him up?
Jon Beason of the Panthers was only one tackle shy of tying for the most tackles in the NFL this year. A large part of being a linebacker is staying sharp and always knowing where the ball is at all times. Beason showed his awareness this year by leading the conference with three fumble recoveries. He was also second in sacks (3) and tied for first in interceptions (3).
If Beason wasn’t the obvious alternate, my vote would go to Washington’s London Fletcher. Fletcher has consistently led his respective team in tackles and yet he is continuously snubbed from playing in Hawaii.
Indianapolis lost Bob Sanders relatively early in the season and called upon young Antoine Bethea to fill the gap. He answered the call. He finished second in tackles by a free safety (70), second in forced fumbles (2), and led the pack with his four interceptions. Ed Reed is a great safety with a lot to offer, but Bethea deserved the nod this year.
Rookie Clay Matthews Jr out of Green Bay had a spectacular first year. He didn’t fail to impress with his ten sacks, finishing second for outside linebackers. He also led in fumble recoveries (3) and made a tremendous impact in the pass defense with seven pass deflections, also a leading statistic.
Voters thought Brian Orakpo had earned the nod, though. I suppose finishing third or worse in nearly every category garners that sort of recognition in voters' minds.
Last but not least, the AFC has been blessed with talented quarterbacks of late, sporting numerous MVPs and Super Bowl slingers. This year, the voters opted to elect Peyton Manning out of Indianapolis, Tom Brady out of New England, and a relatively new face, Phillip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers.
Don’t get me wrong, Tom Brady has made a tremendous comeback since his major surgery in 2008. His numbers just weren’t dominant enough, though. Rather, Matt Schaub ought to take his spot and without reproach.
Schaub had a better passer rating than Brady (98.6) and a better average (8.2). He led the AFC in passing yards (4,770) and finished second in both pass percentage (67.9) and touchdowns (29). Of course, he also threw the ball more than anyone else in the league (583).
As I said before, the amount of talent in the NFL makes it near impossible to pick only a limited number of players for each position and it’s even more difficult to judge them by statistics alone. Character, special scenarios, and unpredictable variables all play a key role. No matter who gets voted in each year, there’s always someone else who appears more deserving.