Biggest Snubs and Surprises of NFL's 2020 Pro Bowl Selections
The NFL Pro Bowl is where the best of the best is supposed to take center stage as a showcase for the league's otherworldly talent. That's rarely the case, though.
More often than not, the event serves as a running joke. Some of the top stars never take the field because of injuries, while others sit out as they prepare for the Super Bowl. The game itself lacks the competitive juices seen in a typical football game.
Even so, the honor of being named to the 2020 Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, is a significant achievement. Players' legacies are partially defined by how many times they're named to the all-star squad.
Every year, the Pro Bowl voting provides both pleasant surprises and incomprehensible snubs. The following are this year's top examples of those two categories.
Snub: QB Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer, but he hasn't played well enough to warrant a spot on the NFC's Pro Bowl roster.
Instead, the final spot behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and New Orleans Saints signal-caller Drew Brees should belong to either Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings or Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys.
Cousins gets the edge here because he's been more efficient this season.
The Vikings signal-caller is the only quarterback other than Wilson with 25 or more touchdowns passes and five or fewer interceptions. Cousins is second among NFC quarterbacks with a 111.1 quarterback rating and is tied for fourth leaguewide with Prescott at 8.4 yards per attempt.
Furthermore, Cousins leads a 10-4 Vikings squad, while the 7-7 Cowboys might squeak into the playoffs.
These type of decisions typically aren't so obvious, but Cousins is clearly among the three best quarterbacks in the NFC this season.
Surprise: WR Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry deserved to go to the Pro Bowl as much as teammate Odell Beckham Jr. did.
That means neither should be going.
The Browns offense has struggled throughout the year to establish any rhythm. Neither Landry nor Beckham seems to be on the same page with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Both have reportedly told opposing teams to "come get them" this offseason.
Landry leads the Browns with 74 receptions for 1,018 yards and five receiving touchdowns. But look around the AFC, and he doesn't stack up compared to other options.
For example, New England Patriots wideout Julian Edelman has more receptions, yardage and touchdowns. The Denver Broncos' Courtland Sutton has been a better downfield threat despite far worse quarterback play.
Landry is productive and has been the Browns' best receiving threat this season. But he's the arguably the best in a bad situation.
Snub: OT Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
What on earth does Mitchell Schwartz need to do to earn a Pro Bowl berth?
Schwartz established himself as one of the NFL's best offensive tackles years ago, yet he still hasn't made it to a single Pro Bowl.
Last season, Schwartz earned first-team All-Pro honors and didn't make the Pro Bowl. A player of that caliber usually gets a make-up call the following year.
However, Schwartz missed out again this season, even though he can challenge anyone in the AFC for the title of top edge-blocker.
Schwartz isn't the only right tackle deserving of such attention. Ryan Ramcyzk of the New Orleans Saints is younger, but he established himself as a top offensive lineman and should be on the NFC's squad.
However, right tackle still holds some kind of stigma compared to its more highly touted blindside brethren.
Surprise: C Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick has been one of the NFL's best comeback stories this season, but he hasn't been elite.
Frederick missed all of last season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes rapid-onset muscle weakness.
The 28-year-old came back this season and has played relatively well while starting all 14 games. But he appears to have benefited from name recognition in landing this Pro Bowl nod.
Prior to his diagnosis, Frederick went to four straight Pro Bowls. At that time, he was the game's best center. Now, multiple others at his position did more to earn the spot behind starter Jason Kelce.
The Detroit Lions' Frank Ragnow, Green Bay Packers' Corey Linsley, Saints' Erik McCoy and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ryan Jensen could have gotten the nod, and no one would have blinked an eye.
Instead, a good story will get a bonus chapter.
Snub: LB Za'Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers
More recognizable names often land Pro Bowl nods instead of lesser-known options who are playing better.
Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack is an outstanding football player. Opposing offenses are always aware of where he is. There's no denying his ability to change a game.
However, Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith has put together a better all-around season and deserves the recognition.
Entering Week 15, Smith led all edge-defenders with an 18.2 percent pressure rate, according to Pro Football Focus. He also ranks seventh in the NFC with 10.0 sacks.
Edge-defenders have to do more than sack the quarterback. They must hold contain against the run, and Mack is a wrecking ball against opposing ground games. Even so, Smith more than holds his own in the other phase of the game. He's developed into a complete defender after signing with Green Bay in free agency.
The Packers feature the league's best edge duo in Za'Darius and Preston Smith, yet neither could overcome more notable choices in Pro Bowl voting.
Surprise: LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
A year ago, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. He led the league in tackles and received a first-team All-Pro nod, but he wasn't named to the Pro Bowl.
That rectified itself in his second season.
Leonard isn't on pace to match his rookie-season production since he's been hampered by injuries. However, he still has 104 total tackles, five sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown in 11 games.
Few defenders have the same instincts, sideline-to-sideline capabilities and skill set to affect every facet of the game. Leonard is adept in all areas and continually finds himself around the football.
No linebacker has been more productive over the last two seasons than the man known as "The Maniac." Although his production is down relative to last year, he received an overdue Pro Bowl nod this year.
Snub: S Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos
Playing for a bad team can destroy a player's Pro Bowl chances.
Case in point: Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons.
Simmons is easily one of the NFL's best safeties, especially in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus (h/t DNVR Sports' Andrew Mason), opposing quarterbacks have a 29.5 passer rating when targeting Simmons.
More conventional statistics reflect well on Simmons, too. He's the only safety ranked among the top eight overall in both defended passes (14) and interceptions (four).
However, the Broncos are 5-9. That overshadows the fact that their defense ranks in the top half of the league, including the 10th-best pass D.
The AFC could have gone in three different directions instead of naming Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas as Minkah Fitzpatrick's backup. Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu and New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty should have garnered strong consideration as well.
Surprise: CB Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens
Two months ago, the Los Angeles Rams effectively salary-dumped cornerback Marcus Peters in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
The 26-year-old hadn't played well to start the season, but the game-changing ability he showed throughout his career never went away. When the Ravens traded backup linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick for Peters, his career revival began immediately.
Three of his five interceptions and nine of his 13 defended passes have come during his eight games in Baltimore. He has also found the end zone twice with the Ravens.
The AFC features the NFL's top two cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots and Tre'Davious White of the Buffalo Bills, but Peters might be the most naturally gifted of the three. While he needs to be far more consistent, his ability to change a game is unmatched.