Best 8 Candidates to Make Their First Pro Bowl in 2022

Ian Wharton@@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVJuly 3, 2022

Best 8 Candidates to Make Their First Pro Bowl in 2022

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    The competition in the NFL is unlike that in any other league. Between the playoff parity and the fight for players to earn individual accolades, many of the NFL's finest players never get the chance to play in the Super Bowl or be named to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams.

    This may not be a big deal to fans, but these accolades have an impact on contract negotiations and Hall of Fame arguments.

    We've studied rosters around the league and found the best eight candidates to make their first Pro Bowl in 2022. Some are young stars who are ascending at the right time, while others are in the prime of their physical peak and have more urgency to earn recognition.

    Each of these players has the right blend of talent, production and opportunity at a position that has a potential opening for them to take. Let's dive into our top eight players set to make their first Pro Bowl this season.

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    2021 stats: 70.4 completion percentage, 4,611 yards, 34 TDs, 14 INTs, 108.3 rating

    Despite leading the NFL in completion rate and average yards per attempt (8.9), the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow didn't make the 2021 Pro Bowl. More astounding was that rookie Mac Jones and injured Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson did. The only statistical advantage either had as a passer over Burrow was that Jones had an interception rate 0.2 percent lower.

    We can chalk up this mistake to the fact that Burrow ripped off a hot streak at the end of the season, whereas Jackson and Jones cooled off as their campaigns progressed. Burrow's momentum came too late.

    However, his final five-game stretch in the regular season and impressive playoff showing has established him as the next elite AFC quarterback.

    Now protected by a much improved offensive line and still surrounded by an elite cast of playmakers, Burrow should get even better in 2022. He'll need to for the Bengals to win the AFC North again since both Baltimore and Cleveland figure to be stronger teams. We can also expect Pittsburgh to be feisty and competitive based on their success under head coach Mike Tomlin.

    Burrow's rare touch and confidence in the pocket help overcome average arm strength. His ability to pick apart defenses with underneath receiving threats Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd is perfectly paired with the big plays he and Ja'Marr Chase create.

Odafe Oweh, Edge, Baltimore Ravens

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    2021 stats: 33 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles

    If there's ever a position to bank on sheer athleticism, it's edge-rusher. Large humans who quickly explode out of their stance are difficult to find. As much as evaluators love to see collegiate production, sometimes factors beyond an individual's control limit the raw stats.

    There's not a better example of a fantastic athlete being a better NFL player than a collegiate one than Baltimore Ravens edge-rusher Odafe Oweh, who had zero sacks in seven games for Penn State in 2020. But the Ravens grabbed him 31st overall in 2021 nonetheless.

    Baltimore knew that gambling on Oweh's immense upside was worth the risk. The 6'5", 251-pounder ran a jaw-dropping 4.37-second 40-yard dash, 6.9-second three-cone drill and 4.2-second short shuttle. He also posted an 11-foot, 2-inch broad jump and 39.5-inch vertical.

    Oweh rewarded Baltimore with five sacks and three forced fumbles despite only two starts in 15 appearances as a rookie last year. Pro Football Focus named him to its All-Rookie Team as he led the first-year players with 49 quarterback pressures and 10 quarterback hits.

    New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will rely on Oweh more, since veterans Pernell McPhee and Justin Houston have departed. He could break out with a double-digit sack season and establish himself as the next dominant pass-rusher in the AFC.

Foyesade Oluokun, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    2021 stats: 192 tackles, three INTs, two sacks

    The NFL's leading tackler in 2021 was an unexpected one. A 2018 sixth-round pick, Foyesade Oluokun was an incredible find by the Atlanta Falcons. He had three seasons with 91 or more tackles, including Pro Bowl-caliber years in 2020 and 2021.

    To put his league-leading 192 tackles from last year in perspective, they were the seventh-most tackles in a season ever.

    Oluokun cashed in with the Jacksonville Jaguars as they spent heavily in free agency. Turning 27 this summer, he will make $45 million over the next three seasons. He'll be well worth his salary if he can come anywhere near the production he amassed on a much worse defense over the last two years.

    The competition at inside linebacker in the AFC is nowhere near as tough as in the NFC. His primary competition will be Indianapolis' Darius Leonard, the New York Jets' C.J. Mosley and Las Vegas' Denzel Perryman. Oluokun has more of a presence in the passing game than Mosley and Perryman, so he should have the advantage over them in head-to-head stats.

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Commanders

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    2021 stats: 1,037 rushing yards, seven TDs, 294 receiving yards, three TDs

    There may not be a position more difficult to make the Pro Bowl at than running back. While backs can seemingly come out of nowhere with a big year, the majority of Pro Bowl backs earn multiple appearances.

    James Conner grabbed his first Pro Bowl nod in 2021, but similarly productive backs without a Pro Bowl, the Los Angeles Chargers' Austin Ekeler and Washington Commanders' Antonio Gibson, did not.

    While Ekeler could have made our list, Gibson is a better candidate to make his Pro Bowl debut in 2022 because the NFC has less competition and Ekeler has an extensive injury history. Washington had horrible conditions for Gibson to be productive, yet he still amassed more yards from scrimmage than all but seven tailbacks.

    The path for him to become a top-five overall back in 2022 is not hard to see.

    The 24-year-old will benefit from the quarterback change from Taylor Heinicke to Carson Wentz and the addition of rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Defenses too easily keyed on Gibson in 2021 because Washington only had Terry McLaurin as an alternative threat.

    A more dynamic quarterback in Wentz, a healthy Curtis Samuel and Dotson will push defenders away from crowding the box and Gibson.

    Washington can also do a better job of feeding Gibson consistent touches. He had eight games with fewer than 15 carries and five with more than three targets as a receiver, with just one of those coming before Week 12.

    The team's unwillingness to feature Gibson in a more prominent role is a concern in 2022, but his opportunities should also be easier to capitalize on this season.

De'Vondre Campbell, LB, Green Bay Packers

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    2021 stats: 146 tackles, two INTs, two forced fumbles, two sacks, First-Team All-Pro

    There wasn't a single better return on investment than what the Green Bay Packers got out of De'Vondre Campbell in 2021. Campbell, despite producing no fewer than 92 tackles over four straight years from 2017 to 2020, signed a one-year, $2 million deal last June with Green Bay.

    He responded with a career year and First-Team All-Pro nod.

    Somehow, Campbell didn't also earn a Pro Bowl bid. The athletic defender was one of only two linebackers with at least 107 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was the only linebacker with 100-plus tackles and at least two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

    Campbell was the glue to the Packers defense with his ability to play the pass and the run. He has few peers, and now there's more awareness of what he can do on a unit talented enough to get the most out of him. Expect Campbell to be rewarded with his first Pro Bowl this season.

A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    2021 stats: 81 tackles, three INTs, 16 pass deflections, Second-Team All-Pro

    The Atlanta Falcons were terrible in 2021, and they face long odds to be better in 2022, but that doesn't mean there aren't young stars on their roster. The face of their defense is third-year cornerback A.J. Terrell. The 23-year-old is coming off a Second-Team All-Pro nomination after a dominant coverage season.

    According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Terrell was the league leader in completion percentage allowed (41.1 percent), yards allowed per target (4.1) and coverage success rate (68.5 percent). The latter is especially impressive since it's defined as "the percentage of targets that result in a successful play for the defense."

    It'd be an impressive enough accomplishment if Terrell played on a great defense, but it's even more so that he was consistently great despite playing on a defense that ranked last with 18 sacks. Terrell had little help and every excuse to have numbers that didn't match the eye test.

    He should have earned a Pro Bowl bid for this performance.

    The Falcons may not be considerably better on defense in 2022, but all eyes are on Terrell. 2021 may have been just the beginning of a long, incredibly productive career for the Atlanta star.

Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills

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    2021 stats: 93 tackles, five INTs, three sacks, First-Team All-Pro

    Of the seven safeties elected to the Pro Bowl in 2021, no one had more tackles, sacks or interceptions than the Buffalo Bills' Jordan Poyer. He was dominant despite playing on a loaded defense that also boasted highly talented playmakers Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds and Micah Hyde.

    Poyer has been phenomenal since joining the Bills in 2017, averaging 104 tackles, 3.6 interceptions and two sacks per year.

    2021 was even more special, though. Poyer had to step up as a coverage option after Tre'Davious White tore his ACL on Thanksgiving, and he answered the call in a big way. Poyer allowed a measly 13.7 passer rating in coverage, easily the lowest by a safety in a season since 2006, per PFF.

    Opposing quarterbacks might as well throw the ball into the stands instead of targeting Poyer. And it's not just coverage where he impacts the game. He's able to line up as a blitzer, play the run or drop back into zone as a free safety.

    With Tyrann Mathieu now in the NFC, there's no excuse for Poyer to not earn his first Pro Bowl nod in 2022, which happens to be his contract year.

Amani Oruwariye, CB, Detroit Lions

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    2021 stats: 57 tackles, six INTs, 11 pass deflections

    There weren't many reasons to watch the Detroit Lions last season. But if you did catch one of their games starting at the midpoint of the season, you would have seen one of their young stars budding. 2019 fifth-round cornerback Amani Oruwariye developed into a forceful presence in the perfect scheme for his skill set.

    Oruwariye fit the mold as a tall, long and fast cornerback who thrives in a defense that relies upon Cover 1 and Cover 3 schemes. At 6'2", 205 pounds, Oruwariye blazed a 4.47-second 40-yard dash. That speed and length paid off in 2021 when he notched six interceptions.

    His impact went beyond the splash plays, though. He allowed a passer rating of just 57.5, finishing ninth out of 130 qualified cornerbacks, per PFF. The marriage of forcing turnovers and being sticky in coverage means Oruwariye is on the verge of pushing for a Pro Bowl in 2022.

    In some ways, he already broke out with his production. He may not notch another six-interception season since turnovers are rarely predictable. But fans and pundits know more about him now, so another great season of sticky coverage will only prove he's no fluke.

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