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NFL Draft

3 AFC Players Primed To Be First-Time Pro Bowlers

  • The Draft Network
  • July 28, 2020
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The 2020 NFL season will surely look or at least feel a little different than seasons of the past. With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the country and the rest of the world, sports have had to adapt their usual schedules.

The NFL has been trying to implement protocols as a result of the current special climate. Players who show up to training camp will be tested regularly, there will be less person-to-person contact before and after games, and we’re still not sure exactly what the schedule will look like.

One potential adjustment is the cancellation of the Pro Bowl. As of right now, the game is still on schedule. But it is on the table for it to be removed. If we do still get the All-Star game, there are three players who I believe have a chance to participate for the first time in their careers, each a bit more of a stretch than the last.

Most Obvious: Mitchell Schwartz, OT, Kansas City Chiefs

This one really is obvious. 

Schwartz is the Leonardo DiCaprio of NFL players. He’s had an incredible career for years and years and yet no Oscar for the majority of it. 

For the entire tenure of his eight-year career, Schwartz, the right tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, has been anywhere from good to the down-right best at his position. In 2020, he was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded offensive tackle and the right tackle for the Super Bowl Champions.

Schwartz has also never missed a game in his eight-year career. He is a perfect 128-for-128 in terms of games played and games started. He is not only great at his job, but an iron man when called to do it. Right tackles don’t always get the love they deserve, and Schwartz is the epitome of that. 

Not as obvious: Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders

As much of a crime as it was for Schwartz to not make the Pro Bowl last season, it was almost more of a crime for Waller not to make it.

The 27-year-old tight end had a career year in Oakland in 2019. His 1,145 receiving yards were second in the NFL among tight ends behind only Travis Kelce, who had 1,229. Waller’s receiving yards numbers were also 15th across all offensive positions. Yet, players like Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews and Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle were somehow chosen over him—who hardly had more receiving yards combined than Waller.

It’s unfortunate for Waller because there is no guarantee he’ll have that kind of year again. But 2019 was the first time he not only played a full 16-game slate, but also started every single game. He should still be a main piece in the Raiders’ passing game plan in 2020. If he has similar numbers, he can’t be looked over again.

Dark Horse: Steven Nelson, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers

After four seasons in Kansas City, Nelson signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2019 offseason and was stellar opposite Joe Haden in his first season there. 

Nelson didn’t replicate the same turnover total he did from the year prior (one interception in 2019 compared to four in 2018), but he allowed fewer than 50 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught and gave up only eight first-down catches when in man coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also has him credited for zero touchdowns given up in 2019, making him one of just three players with high snap totals to achieve such a shutdown feat—the other two being D.J. Hayden and Tre’Davious White. 

Nelson yielded one of the lowest quarterback ratings when targeted in 2019. If those interception numbers go up with somewhat consistent shutdown grades, he’d be a non-household name who deserves consideration for a Pro Bowl spot.

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