As the NFL regular season comes to its final quarter here in the early winter months, that can mean only one thing.
It’s time for the annual popularity contest that is the NFL Pro Bowl selection!
The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 88 All-Star players who will be eligible for the Pro Bowl.
Being the draft-centric site that we are, we spend a lot of time focusing on rookie players in their first year. So that got me thinking, are there any rookies who deserve Pro Bowl spots this year?
Let’s breakdown each position group and see.
Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and though all have seen playing time and all are currently already starting for their respective teams, at this time, none really deserve to overtake the other NFL vets.
I would say Mayfield would be the closest, but even he would fall quite short of the cut-off line.
RB: Yes, And Maybe Two?
You certainly hope that when you select a running back No. 2 overall that he’s going to produce for you as soon as possible, and that’s exactly what Saquon Barkley is doing for the New York Giants. Barkley is not only 4th in the league in rushing yards with 829 and 5th in the league in rushing touchdowns with eight, he’s also the 2nd running back in the league in terms of receiving yards with 581 and has four receiving touchdowns. He should be one of the six chosen to represent the league’s best from 2018.
The other dark horse here is Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay. The undrafted rookie Lindsay is 7th in the league in rushing with 780 yards, and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, which is second-best of the backs that have at least 100 carries. You really could argue Lindsay has been one of the best for his team this year.
WR: Ridley Is Nice, But No
It’s really hard to break into the Pro Bowl as a rookie with all these wide receivers around the league going off. There are already nine receivers with over 1,000 yards this season with five games left to go, and none of them are rookies. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley is tied for 5th in the league with eight touchdowns, but that won’t be enough to put him over the guys who have the better stats and the bigger names.
TE: Super No
The NFL Pro Bowl takes four tight ends. The top tight end in the NFL in terms of receiving yards, Travis Kelce, has 914 receiving yards. The next two both have over 800, Zach Ertz and George Kittle. Then there are 13 more players in between Kittle and the first rookie on the stat sheet, which would be Baltimore’s Mark Andrews, who has 337 and then Jets’ Chris Herndon is right after him at 317.
Not a great year for first-year tight ends.
OL: McGlinchey And Nelson Have A Shot
Offensive line is tough for young guys to crack. Since there aren’t really stats to go by, once some of the veteran offensive linemen get in and are established names, people just click them and vote by default.
With that said, Mike McGlinchey for San Francisco and Quinten Nelson for Indianapolis are having good seasons. Are they Pro Bowl worthy? PFF has McGlinchey as the No. 17 OT and Nelson as the No. 12 OG. If you factor in offensive linemen that have played 80 percent of their teams snaps this season (so taking out guys who have been injured) McGlinchey moves up to No. 12 and Nelson moves up to No. 8.
Tyron Smith, Jason Peters and Trent Williams have all been hurt this season, so you could find a case to give McGlinchey a vote, if you wanted to. He’s had a great first year for the Niners.
See, this is where the whole Pro Bowl positions for voting gets weird. Broncos pass rusher Bradley Chubb was drafted as a defensive end, but he isn’t listed as a defensive end anymore because of the Broncos’ system. So he isn’t an option to vote for here.
Instead, the only two rookies you can vote on from the defensive end category are Arden Key and Nathan Shepherd, and though Shepherd was my draft crush, he certainly hasn’t had the production this year to be one of the six best “defensive ends” in the NFL. Neither has Key with only one sack.
DT: More Options Than DE, But No
At least they put a few more rookie names on the list for defensive tackle than they did defensive end.
The most productive has certainly been Washington’s Da’Ron Payne. Payne has been a force on the interior all year long, and has four sacks to go along with his good run-stopping production, too.
But getting in over Donald, Atkins, Buckner, Rankins, Clark and McCoy? I doubt it.
OLB: Noted Linebacker Bradley Chubb
As stated before, Broncos pass rusher Bradley Chubb is in a weird position switch where he was drafted as a defensive end but now is listed as a linebacker. He plays with his hand in the ground and from a stand-up position, but it doesn’t matter where he’s been or what he’s been labeled as, he has produced.
With nine sacks already, he’s in.
Not only do we have anther rookie who is worth of being a Pro Bowler in this list, that certain player also leads the entire NFL in combined tackles at 114. Darius Leonard for Indianapolis has been as good as you could possibly ask this year. He has racked up the team-lead in tackles, has six sacks, one interception and four forced fumbles. He’s been a monster, and one of the best linebackers in the NFL in terms of production.
ILB: The Guy With Three Names
There is also an argument for Dallas Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch. LVE has the second-most total tackles in the league behind only Leonard, and the Cowboys’ first-year stud also has two interceptions with nine passes defended.
Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers has also had a fantastic year, but I’m not sure he gets in this year. Those who watch him know just how good he’s been, though.
CB: Three Have A Shot
Cornerback is sort of like offensive line, meaning once you get in there’s a chance people just vote you in by default. But if you can get enough interceptions then you have a chance to sway some opinions. That said, the ultimate compliment of a good corner is not getting the ball thrown your way, so it gets tricky.
Browns’ Denzel Ward, Packers’ Jaire Alexander and Panthers’ Donte Jackson are the three that I think have a shot. Ward has three interceptions while Jackson has four. Those are the 8th and 4th most in the league for all defensive backs, safeties included. With eight spots available for cornerback votes, I think Ward and Jackson will be on quite a few ballots, but will they combine to be on enough for at least one of them to get in?
Alexander is probably playing the best football out of all of them, but with just one interception, will people appreciate him enough to put him in? I’d put him in on my ballot. He’s been awesome — as expected.
S: Maybe, But Not The One You Think
If I just said yes to this category, many people would think I’d be talking about Chargers safety Derwin James, who has 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. However, due to the NFL dividing up their safety voting into strong safety and free safety, and due to the fact that James is listed as a free safety, I actually don’t think he’ll get in over the likes of Harrison Smith and Eddie Jackson. And I would even say Jessie Bates from Cincinnati is playing the best of any rookie safety. I still think he gets snubbed, too. So I say no rookies from the free safety spot.
But strong safety, on the other hand, could have rookie representation in the form of Justin Reid from Houston. I think Jamal Adams will get a lot of votes, so he’ll be a guaranteed one. But outside of him, I think Reid has a chance to get in over guys like Landon Collins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Shaun Williams just because Reid is a new name with three interceptions on a hot Houston team.
ST: No Here, Too
Justin Tucker is the kicker and Tyreek Hill is the kick returner, if nothing else. Raiders punter Johnny Townsend has punted a lot since the Raiders are bad, but he doesn’t have the net average or the inside the 20 numbers some of those other guys do, so he won’t make it.