Before the Super Bowl celebrates its 50th anniversary on February 7 in Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii will set the stage for the 2016 Pro Bowl on January 31 at 7 p.m. ET.
Returning to Aloha Stadium after holding last year’s installment in Glendale, Arizona, the NFL All-Star game we continue its “Unconferenced” format for the third straight year. Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin will serve as the honorary team captains for the two squads. This year will also mark the seventh consecutive season that the Pro Bowl occurs the week prior to the league’s big game.
With the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos competing for the Lombardi Trophy, a combined total of 14 Pro Bowlers will miss out on the superstar showcase, opening the door for a heightened number of needed replacements. The declinations from numerous perennial stars has stirred up much conversation about the future of the exhibition matchup in recent days. Regardless of who rejects an invitation, a Pro Bowl selection is still a wonderful accomplishment, especially for Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, who will make his Pro Bowl debut as an alternate.
As in every professional sports league’s All-Star contest, however, there will always be those handful of deserving players who will unfortunately watch the action at home. To highlight these recognition-worthy contributors, Last Word On Sports presents its third-annual edition of “Top 10 Pro Bowl Snubs.”
Top 10 Pro Bowl Snubs: 2015 Season Edition
1. Kirk Cousins – Quarterback, Washington Redskins
You like that, Redskin fans?? I’m sure you do. When Robert Griffin III was drafted second overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, it was clear that he was going to be the future of Washington Redskins football. In his rookie year, that statement proved to be true. Griffin III’s historic first-year campaign galvanized the nation’s capital and took the league by storm. Approaching four years later, after a number of serious injuries and controversial team situations, the “RG3” era appears to be all but over. Rewinding to late summer 2015, coach Jay Gruden made Kirk Cousins, another 2012 draft member, the team’s starter. Cousins replaced Griffin in the 2012 Wild Card game and had a difficult time against the Seattle Seahawks. Fast forward to the beginning part of the 2015 season, Cousins still struggled to perform, throwing only six touchdowns to eight interceptions by October 18. From October 25 to the end of the season, Cousins threw for 23 scores to only three picks. He ended the season with 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His turnaround saved the Redskins season and his professional career. After clinching the NFC East crown, Cousins became the first player in franchise history to record both a rushing and passing touchdown in a playoff game. Even with the abundant quarterback changes to the Pro Bowl rosters, it was astonishing, and somewhat disappointing, to see him miss the festivities.
2. Kurt Coleman – Free Safety, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers enjoyed their best season in franchise history, finishing the campaign 15-1. Dominating on both sides of the football, they became the league’s most complete and most standout club. Quarterback Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera are both on the verge of becoming the NFL’s MVP and Coach of the Year, respectively. Their outstanding team efforts awarded them with ten Pro Bowl selections. Familiar faces like Newton, center Ryan Khalil and linebacker Luke Kuehcly were once again deemed All-Stars whereas contributors like cornerback Josh Norman and linebacker Thomas Davis received the honor for the first time. Because the team is one victory away from a Super Bowl title, they will skip out on the actual showcase. The famous phrase, “the more the merrier,” should apply to Kurt Coleman, the free safety who should’ve been the 11th Pro Bowler from this roster. In 2015, the six-year man tallied 90 tackles, nine passes defensed, seven interceptions and a sack. His performance made him the eightth-best safety in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. The safety opposite of him, Roman Harper, has been both a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion. Since he didn’t receive his rightful Pro Bowl nod, hopefully Coleman can earned himself an NFL championship.
3. Doug Baldwin – Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks
In 1976, the Seattle Seahawks drafted a 5’11″ wide receiver in the fourth round by the name of Steve Largent. Nineteen years later, Largent was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 after compiling 819 receptions for 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns. Twenty years later in 2015, stories have surfaced that the seven-time Pro Bowler has mentored current Seahawk wideout Doug Baldwin. For the past two years, Largent has given Baldwin pointers on how to excel at the professional level, particularly with a physical frame under six feet. Soaking in everything under Largent’s tutelage, Baldwin has enjoyed a career season. The five-year veteran has gradually improved his production, but he’s taken his game to another stratosphere. Reeling in 78 catches for 1,069 yards, Baldwin found the endzone 14 times, a Seattle Seahawks record. Running back Marshawn Lynch and the “Legion of Boom” defense has carried the Seahawks squad for the past five seasons. With the “ground and pound” gameplan consistently dominating, Seattle’s pass catchers have always been second place to the football world. Former Seattle receiver Golden Tate signed with the Detroit Lions before the 2014 season and became a Pro Bowler in their more pass-oriented scheme. When tight end Jimmy Graham signed in free agency from New Orleans, pundits predicted that he would get the most touches through the air. After Graham suffered a season-ending injury, Baldwin carried the load for the passing game. Of his 14 receiving scores, 10 of those occurred in a four-game stretch, tying Cris Carter and Calvin Johnson as the only players in league history to haul in at least two touchdowns in four straight contests. Because of the litany of talented wideouts in the game, Baldwin was cheated out of his Pro Bowl selection. The once underrated and under-appreciated perimeter target is now one of the league’s most respected figures.
4. Jordan Reed – Tight End, Washington Redskins
Kirk Cousins missing out on the Pro Bowl was shocking enough, but the fact that tight end Jordan Reed was void of an invitation is equally alarming. A third-round draft selection in 2013, Reed combined for 95 receptions for 964 yards and three touchdowns in years one and two. This season, the 25-year-old pulled in 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, by far his career highs. The passer-catcher combo of him and Cousins helped the Washington Redskins rank 11th in passing offense. There are no complaints about Rob Gronkowski reaching the Pro Bowl. Tight ends Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker and Tyler Eiffert were also well-deserving of their All-Star selections. But Reed’s numbers either equaled or topped those of his contemporaries.
5. K.J. Wright – Outside Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have developed one of the league’s most intimidating defenses since 2011, thanks in large part to their playmaking and confident secondary. Perennial Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have given opposing passing attacks fits through the air. In these last two campaigns, however, the front seven has garnered its much-deserved recognition league wide. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner earned his first of two straight Pro Bowl selections in 2014. This year, Michael Bennett will make his All-Star debut. Of the seven Seahawks going to Hawaii, K.J. Wright was the odd man out. Wright made a career-high 116 tackles along with four forced fumbles. Excellent in multiple aspects of the game, Pro Football Focus ranked Wright as the second-best linebacker in football. Seattle has little to no weaknesses on defense, and Wright has been at the forefront of that success.
6. DeAngelo Williams – Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers
In 2014, the Pittsburgh Steelers boasted one of the league’s most prolific offenses. From quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to running back Le’Veon Bell to wide receiver Antonio Brown, the production was on many occasions too much for opponents to counter. This season, the injury bug bit the Black and Gold. Bell finished his season on the injured-reserved list while Roethlisberger fought injuries week after week. Just about every time Williams was asked to produce, he delivered. Although he wasn’t at the elite form from his Carolina Panther days, the 32-year-old did a phenomenal job replacing the Steelers’ star back. The ten-year ball veteran rushed for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns, his highest amount of running scores since 2008 when he finished with 18. Playing in only six games during his final campaign in Carolina, Williams’ surprising season should put him in the Comeback Player of the Year conversation.
7. Whitney Mercilus – Outside Linebacker, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt is indeed an NFL superstar. Tallying 74.5 sacks in five seasons will get you the title of “Best Defensive Player in the League.” The 26-year-old has been nothing short of dominant and overwhelming on the Texans defensive line. 2014’s top pick Jadeveon Clowney was expected to be Watt’s running mate on the opposite side, but has failed to generate mass production. Luckily, Whitney Mercilus has been a force along the front. Entering the league in 2012, one year after Watt, Mercilus entered 2015 with 18 sacks in four campaigns. The 25-year-old edge rusher exploded for 12 sacks, 52 tackles and two forced fumbles. Including the postseason, the 6’4, 254-pounder had three games in which he eclipsed the three-sack mark. He and Watt formed one of the league’s most disruptive sacking tandems as the Texans ranked third in total defense and captured the AFC South title for the first time since Mercilus’ rookie year. Despite the offense not pulling its weight when it counted, it shouldn’t take away from Mercilus’ breakout efforts.
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Quarterback, New York Jets
Before September arrived, it appeared as if the New York Jets season already reached its end with the offseason incident between quarterback Geno Smith and linebacker IK Emenpali. Despite the embattled franchise signal-caller missing most of the season, Gang Green became one of the league’s biggest surprises early on. Leading the NFL in takeaways, the defense looked like its old self, but the offense unexpectedly ascended upward. Running back Chris Ivory enjoyed a career season, making his first Pro Bowl, but Ryan Fitzpatrick also did an admirable job as the field general. The 11-year veteran posted career highs in passing yards (3,905), touchdowns (31) and yards per game (244.1). Along with ranking 13th in passing offense, New York placed top ten in total offense for the first time since 1998. With Ivory and receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in the fold, the Jets finally found their stride offensively.
9. Trumaine Johnson – Cornerback, St. Louis Rams
The Rams will be moving back to their original home of Los Angeles in 2016, and they will bring one the league’s most talented cover guys with them. The defensive line has been the main attraction for the moribund franchise in recent years, but Trumaine Johnson has proven to be a forced against the pass. Combining for 135 tackles, eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed in his first three seasons, Johnson achieved career highs in each of the aforementioned categories. His seven picks were tied for second-most in the league while his 71 tackles were eighth among cornerbacks. At 6’2 and 205 pounds, he’s affiliated with the new-age cornerbacks that boast the unique combination of size and playmaking ability. His production contributed mightily to St. Louis being ranked as a top-five secondary according to Pro Football Focus. Just turning 26 on New Year’s’ Day, the Rams must have this up-and-coming star on their roster moving forward.
10. Melvin Ingram – Outside Linebacker, San Diego Chargers
Cornerback Jason Verrett is the lone player representing the Chargers in the Pro Bowl, but Melvin Ingram should be joining his teammate. Playing on a middle-of-the-road defensive unit, Ingram definitely made his contributions in pass-rushing situations. Injuries have hampered his young career, but the 2012 first-rounder broke out in year four with career highs in tackles (65), sacks (10.5), passes defensed (6) and forced fumbles (3). Ingram had 78 tackles, six takedowns, seven passes defensed and four forced fumbles in his first three seasons combined. In an AFC West division filled with ferocious pass rushers, he is easily overlooked. With free safety Eric Weddle’s future in San Diego in doubt, Ingram can potentially become the team’s defensive anchor.