Before playing host to Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, Glendale, Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium will frame the setting for the 2015 Pro Bowl tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
In the latest installment of the NFL’s All-Star game, the league will continue its “Unconferenced” format that was implemented in last’s year contest. Also continuing its “Team Captain” procedure, Hall of Fame wide receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin will lead their respective sides with the players they drafted.
Perennial stars such as Peyton Manning and J.J. Watt were voted in once again. This year, veterans like Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell and Detroit Lions free safety Glover Quin will finally make their Pro Bowl debuts after being recognized for their solid 2014 seasons and productive careers.
As in every professional sports league’s All-Star showcase, however, there will always be those handful of deserving players who will unfortunately watch the action at home. To cut to the chase, here is my 2nd-Annual Edition of “Top 10 Pro Bowl Snubs.”
1. DeAndre Levy – Outside Linebacker, Detroit Lions
Since 2007, the Detroit Lions have struck gold in the offseason by acquiring key franchise players in the draft. Pro Bowlers Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford have propelled the Lions to two playoff appearances in the last four seasons (the franchise missed the playoffs from 2000-2010).
One of the players drafted within those eight years was DeAndre Levy, a third-round selection back in 2009. Six seasons into his career, he remains a steady constant on the defensive side of the ball. In 2014, Levy finished second behind Luke Kuechly with 151 tackles, the third time in three years he has finished with more than 100 tackles in a single campaign. His output helped the Lions boast the league’s top-ranked rushing defense this season, only surrendering 69.3 yards per game on the ground.
Over the past four years, critics and fans nationally have collectively uttered Detroit’s biggest concern was to, “Get a receiver to go opposite of Calvin Johnson.” In actuality, however, getting yet another offensive weapon was far from the main issue. In 2011, 1,681 of Stafford’s 5,038 passing yards went to Megatron. The Lions’ downfall has been their defense. Suh has always been a force inside, but the surrounding cast performed inconsistently, placing more pressure on Stafford’s arm. Glover Quin’s 73 tackles and seven interceptions helped patrol the backend while Levy did clean-up around the line of scrimmage. Quin and Levy’s standout seasons were key in Detroit placing the NFL’s second-best defense and returning to the postseason. The issue here is each of the Lion players mentioned in this section are named Pro Bowlers, whereas Levy is still considered an “unknown.”
2. Jerry Hughes – Defensive End, Buffalo Bills
In my “Boisterous Brigades” series last offseason, I ranked the Buffalo Bills defensive line as the best in the league. The combination of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes has turned into a deadly front four. The Bills lead the NFL with 54 sacks in 2014 (they finished second in 2013 with 57).
Edge Rusher Mario Williams and tackle Marcel Dareus both finish with double-digit takedowns, posting 14.5 and 10, respectively. Tackle Kyle Williams remained at even keel with 41 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Each of these guys were named to this weekend’s Pro Bowl while Hughes was the odd man out. In 2013, Hughes had a 10-sack campaign. He only finished with nine this season, but his 53 tackles were more than each of his three teammates.
Hughes’ presence along the line has been equally significant as the three other guys, so how come he can’t get his invitation to the party?
3. Jerrell Freeman – Middle Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts
When it comes to the Indianapolis Colts nowadays, Andrew Luck is a Pro Bowl mainstay. It was good to see wide receiver T.Y. Hilton–who was on my Pro Bowl Snub list last season–finally make it to the Pro Bowl. From this squad, Jerrell Freeman is the one who will miss out on the chance to play with the other stars.
Coming to Indy in 2012 after spending four seasons in the Canadian Football League, Freeman has silently stuffed the stat sheets. Beginning his second stint in the NFL two years ago, Freeman posted 145 tackles, two sacks a forced fumble and an interception. In 2013, he had 126 tackles and career highs in sacks (5.5), forced fumbles (6) and interceptions (2). This season, Freeman finished with 94 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in only 12 games. Freeman’s 32 tackles lead all players during this season’s playoffs. Teammates D’Qwell Jackson and Mike Adams placed second and third, respectively (both of whom were named Pro Bowlers). Although Jackson and Adams were deserving of spots this year, Jackson has a great body of work as well.
As he approaches 29, hopefully his productively will one day get nationally recognized.
4. Kelvin Benjamin – Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
New York Giants’ rookie wideout Odell Beckham, Jr. set the football world on fire with his electrifying play, but Kelvin Benjamin put forth a great first-year campaign in his own right.
A difficult offseason that featured the ugly departure of franchise great Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers were out of their top-three receivers from 2013. The Panthers did bring steady veteran targets Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery, but they weren’t enough to carry the entire receiving corp.
Kelvin Benjamin was acquired in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he has made an impact ever since. Benjamin finished with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns to become the 11th rookie wide receiver in NFL history to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season. In the Panthers’ playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Benjamin recorded seven catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
Kelvin is no Steve Smith yet, but he’s definitely on the right path.
5. Bruce Carter – Outside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
With the exception of their long snapper, each of the Dallas Cowboy players who were named to the Pro Bowl came from the offensive side of the football; Bruce Carter should have represented the defense. Carter lead all linebackers in interceptions with five, which also tied for the third-most in the league for 2014. His 68 tackles and one sack weren’t eye-popping, but he was very productive in only 13 games. In 2013, he had 96 tackles and two sacks in 15 games.
His production was significant in the Cowboys’ defensive turnaround as they placed 19th in total defense (the team ranked dead last defensively in 2013).
6. Perrish Cox – Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
In a disappointing season for the San Francisco 49ers, Perrish Cox was one of the few bright spots on the team. Due to absences of linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith–along with a down year for defensive end Justin Smith–the 49ers’ placed outside of the Top-5 in rush defense for the first time since 2008. Thanks to their fifth-ranked pass defense, however, the entire defense didn’t completely fall apart.
Niners’ strong safety Antoine Bethea got a deserving nod for the Pro Bowl, but Cox’s 53 tackles and five interceptions were worthy enough for a bid.
7. Harrison Smith – Strong Safety, Minnesota Vikings
Harrison Smith is simply one of the top “young and unknown” safeties in the league today. In his rookie year of 2012, Smith posted 104 tackles, three interceptions and a sack. After an injury-plagued 2013 campaign, Smith responded with 93 tackles, five interceptions and three sacks this season.
At a position that is filled with stars like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Eric Weddle–along with playing for the Minnesota Vikings–it has been difficult for him to garner recognition.
8. Fletcher Cox – Defensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
With the successful, no-huddle offense the Philadelphia Eagles have, players on defense go unnoticed; Fletcher Cox is the biggest example here. With an offensive attack that is as fast as the Eagles, the defensive players have to spend additional time on the field–let alone if the offense is forced to punt early on drives. Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin ultimately got in the Pro Bowl after his strong season, but Fletcher Cox deserved more notoriety after posting 61 tackles and 4 sacks this season.
When you play in a division featuring Pro Bowl running backs LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris, your work against the run should be respected.
9. Jeremy Hill – Running Back, Cincinnati Bengals
Coming into the 2014 season, rookie Jeremy Hill was set to split the carries between teammate Giovani Bernard, but down the stretch he became a dominant force. Hill rushed for over 100 yards in five of the last nine games of the season, including three straight games to close out the year. Hill concluded his rookie campaign with 1,124 yards on 224 carries and nine touchdowns.
He’s definitely due a bid to the Pro Bowl in the upcoming future.
10. Paul Worrilow – Middle Linebacker, Atlanta Falcons
This may be the most unrecognizable player on this list, but he is indeed a talented young football player. In his rookie campaign of 2013, Worrilow had 127 tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection. This season, he posted 142 tackles, two sacks and three pass deflections. Another linebacker who recorded more than 120 tackles in his first two seasons was his NFC South division rival, Luke Kuechly.
The Atlanta Falcons’ defense have been a downward slope over the past couple of years, but Worrilow is a strong piece to build around for the future.
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