2017 NFL Pro Bowl: Biggest Snubs and Surprises from This Year's Game

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 21, 2016

2017 NFL Pro Bowl: Biggest Snubs and Surprises from This Year's Game

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    The Pro Bowl is the NFL's annual talent showcase, but who plays in the all-star event is quite subjective. 

    At times, those voted into the game are the result of a fan-determined popularity contest or name recognition instead of individual achievement. There are always those who appear to be less deserving than others around the league.

    Six teams—the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers—didn't have a player selected to the 2017 Pro Bowl in Orlando at Camping World Stadium on Jan. 29. 

    Inevitably, the original 43-man rosters will morph into something entirely different when those honored can't play due to injuries or playoff obligations. Alternates will take their spots. 

    Until then, Bleacher Report identified the five biggest snubs and surprises for the annual event.

Snub: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    What more can New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees do to receive an invite to the 2017 Pro Bowl? 

    Brees leads the NFL with 4,559 passing yards and 34 touchdown tosses. He's also second in the league with a 71.1 completion percentage. 

    Overall, the Saints are 6-8, but the team's issues extend beyond their quarterback. Brees is asked to carry an explosive offense year after year. He shouldn't be punished for the rest of the roster not living up to its end of the bargain. 

    Some may even make the argument the 37-year-old signal-caller's skills are diminishing. Even so, his production speaks for itself. Brees is on pace to eclipse 5,000 passing yards for the fifth time in his career. As such, he should be going to his 10th Pro Bowl.

Surprise: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the biggest surprise of the 2016 NFL campaign. The rookie has been sensational leading his team to a 12-2 record after being selected in the fourth round of April's NFL draft. 

    Prescott already established himself as the Cowboys' new franchise quarterback, and he'll warrant consideration for Rookie of the Year honors and the league's MVP due to his team's overall success. 

    However, his presence in the 2016 Pro Bowl might be a tad premature. He's in the right situation to succeed and is everything Dallas needs from the game's most important position. It doesn't mean he's lighting up the league in regard to production. 

    Prescott is 16th overall in passing yards and touchdown passes, 19th in passing yards per game and tied for 21st in pass attempts. The first-year quarterback is efficient and managing the game well within a Dallas offense that features the game's best offensive line and league's leading rusher—Ezekiel Elliott. 

    An argument can be made the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees and Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford have been just as good or better this season. Those quarterbacks don't play on America's Team, though.

Snub: Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate isn't a household name, but he's developing into one.

    The Harvard product signed with the organization as an undrafted free agent after the 2014 NFL draft. Now in his third year, he's proved to be a premier red-zone target for quarterback Jameis Winston. 

    Brate is tied for the league lead among tight ends with seven touchdown receptions. The number is only one fewer than the combined total of the two tight ends, Greg Olsen and Jordan Reed, who were named to the NFC's Pro Bowl roster. 

    Winston and Brate built a bond through the course of the 2016 campaign. As a result, the tight end is second on the team with the 56 receptions for 648 yards. 

    Brate may not be the Bucs' No. 1 target like Olsen is with the Carolina Panthers, as he's played 272 fewer snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Even with the disadvantage, the Buccaneer has quietly developed into one of the league's top tight ends.

Surprise: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

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    Year after year, left tackle Joe Thomas is the only reason to watch the Cleveland Browns. 

    His presence at the Pro Bowl has been automatic since he entered the league in 2007. In fact, Thomas became only the fifth player in NFL history to start his career with 10 straight Pro Bowl appearances, per the Browns' official site

    When a player keeps company with Merlin Olsen, Mel Renfro, Barry Sanders and Lawrence Taylor, he's special. Thomas is a future Hall of Famer. 

    However, he shouldn't be named to the Pro Bowl purely out of habit. Thomas remains one of the game's best offensive tackles and ranks sixth overall, according to Pro Football Focus, but his performance in 2016 hasn't lived up to his lofty standards. 

    The NFL's iron man (up to 158 straight games played) has already been credited with three quarterback sacks, four more hits and 21 hurries in 14 games. Those are either tied or the worst numbers from Thomas over the last three years, per PFF

    The Browns left tackle is still great. He's considered the standard at the position. He's set such an impossible standard, it's become noticeable that his performance has taken a slight step back.

Snub: David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers

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    In the NFC, it's difficult to argue against the Dallas Cowboys' Tyron Smith and Washington Redskins' Trent Williams as the conference's best offensive tackles.

    However, the Green Bay Packers' David Bakhtiari deserves more credit for his consistent improvement. Right now, the Packers' blindside blocker is the game's best pass protector. 

    Of the 75 offensive tackles Pro Football Focus graded, Bakhtiari ranks first in pass blocking. The fourth-year lineman has allowed a sack, quarterback hit or hurry on only 2.7 percent of his 584 pass sets. 

    For comparison, Jason Peters was named the NFC's third offensive tackle. He surrenders pressure at a rate of 4 percent. 

    The Colorado product struggled mightily when he came into the league as a fourth-round draft pick after being forced into a starter's role. He should be rewarded for putting together his best season, though.

Surprise: Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks

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    Since becoming a member of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013, defensive end Cliff Avril has registered 33.5 sacks. Avril has already set a personal best with 11.5 sacks this season. 

    Yet, his performance barely registers among the league's top sack-artists. The reason is twofold. 

    First, the 30-year-old defender hadn't made a Pro Bowl during his previous eight seasons. Second, other more prominent names like Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor or even Bobby Wagner overshadow Avril's contributions. 

    Due to these factors, seeing the defensive end's name counted among this year's Pro Bowlers came as a surprise even though he's tied for third in the league in sacks. 

    Avril is deserving of his first Pro Bowl bid, but so were other defensive ends such as the New Orleans Saints' Cam Jordan, Philadelphia Eagles' Brandon Graham and New York Giants' Olivier Vernon.

    Any of the aforementioned edge defenders could have been named to the squad, and no one would have blinked.

Snub: Leonard Williams, New York Jets

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    A defender faces an inherent disadvantage if he's listed as a 3-4 defensive end. Although these designations are archaic, an understanding of what 3-4 DEs are asked to do is often lacking and underappreciated. 

    For example, New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams isn't going to rack up as many sacks as true edge defenders like the Oakland Raiders' Khalil Mack or the Miami Dolphins' Cameron Wake.

    This doesn't mean he's a less effective player. Williams, who was considered the No. 1 overall talent in the 2015 NFL draft, has developed into a force during his second campaign. 

    The USC product is a monster at the point of attack and can destroy opposing running games all by himself. Plus, the end registered seven sacks and 29 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus

    The 2016 Jets are a disaster. Williams' performance shouldn't be downplayed because his teammates aren't performing well.

Surprise: Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis has been a great linebacker during his 12-year career. He's also a great humanitarian and man off the field. 

    Both of these clearly played a factor in Davis' inclusion to the 2016 Pro Bowl since this year's performance isn't as good as those we've seen in recent seasons. 

    Father Time catches up with everyone eventually. The 33-year-old linebacker displayed a level of resilience unseen in overcoming multiple knee injuries. Davis simply doesn't look like the same linebacker everyone saw just a year or two ago. 

    He's struggled in coverage—which was considered his greatest strength. He wasn't flying all over the field like he used to. 

    Davis is still one of the league's smartest and craftiest competitors. He's posted good numbers across the board, too. Anyone who's watched him closely also understands his skills have diminished to a degree.

Snub: Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys

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    For the first time in his professional career, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is healthy and expected to play a full 16-game slate. 

    After dealing with injury after injury, Lee developed into the league's great tease. When on the field, the linebacker looked dynamic. Yet, he never played a full season coming into this year's campaign. 

    With two games left, Lee has played more snaps than any other Dallas defender, per PFF, and his production has skyrocketed as a result. 

    Lee ranks second with 140 total tackles and can seemingly be found near the ball on every play. His presence has created a ripple effect throughout the roster, too. 

    The Penn State product creates a sense of continuity and sets a certain level of expectation. Rod Marinelli's defense plays disciplined football, and it starts with Lee. 

    Outside linebackers like the Atlanta Falcons' Vic Beasley and Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan will always be noticed because of their ability to sack the quarterback, but a hard-nosed sideline-to-sideline linebacker like Lee still has his place in the league and the Pro Bowl.

Surprise: Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills

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    The Buffalo Bills' Lorenzo Alexander is the NFL's most improved player, and he's the type of athlete everyone loves to root for after overcoming the odds. 

    The linebacker has experienced a career Renaissance at 33 years old. Alexander is tied for third in the league with 11.5 sacks. 

    But he was never supposed to be in this position. Sure, he made the 2012 Pro Bowl as a special teams performer. He wasn't considered a top defender, though. 

    The collegiate defensive lineman went undrafted in 2005 and floated around on practice squads during his first two seasons before he latched on with the Washington Redskins. Three teams later and he finally found a home. 

    Alexander continued to outwork his competition and incrementally improved each season before exploding this year. 

    To say everyone should be surprised he developed into this caliber of player is an understatement. Alexander deserves to be in Orlando based on his unrelenting desire and work ethic to become one of the league's best.