While the football world waits to see if Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will repeat to earn their record-tying sixth Super Bowl against the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, Orlando, Florida’s Camping World Stadium sets the stage for the 2018 Pro Bowl January 28 at 3 P.M. ET on ESPN.
Back in the Sunshine State for the second straight year, the NFL All-Star game maintains its classic AFC vs. NFC format after utilizing the “Unconferenced” structure for the three matchups from 2014-2016. This year marks the ninth consecutive season that the Pro Bowl occurs the week prior to the league’s big game.
As the Patriots and the Eagles compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a combined total of 10 Pro Bowlers will miss out on the superstar showcase, opening the door for a heightened number of well-deserving replacements.
As in every professional sports league’s All-Star contest, however, there will always be a handful of meritorious players who will, unfortunately, watch the action at home. To highlight these recognition-worthy contributors, Last Word On Sports presents its fifth annual edition of “Top 10 Pro Bowl Snubs.”
Top 10 Pro Bowl Snubs: 2017 Season Edition
- Jason Kelce – Center, Philadelphia Eagles
With the reemergence of running backs being a large focal point for team’s offensive attacks, peak offensive line play was at a premium. As one of the league’s top interior offensive lineman, Jason Kelce is no exception to this. At age 30, the seventh-year center enjoyed his best season as a pro. Only posting a 71.9 Pro Football Focus grade in 2016, Kelce improved to a personal best 91.7 this season, good for number one in the NFL for centers. His 95.9 PFF run blocking grade played an integral role in Philly’s third-ranked rushing attack in 2017. Second-year quarterback Carson Wentz was the biggest headline due to his MVP-esque campaign before his season-ending injury, and rightfully so, but the Eagles every-down snapper was deserving of Pro Bowl acknowledgment. Though he earned First-Team All-Pro honors, Kelce should have also been tabbed for the initial Pro Bowl roster alongside his fellow trench-mate Lane Johnson.
- Ryan Ramcyzk – Offensive Tackle, New Orleans Saints
The Saints had an outstanding rebound season after three consecutive years of going 7-9. Even though the greatest player in the history of the franchise, Drew Brees, was still magnificent, the story of the 2017 Saints was the vastly-improved defensive unit and the record-breaking rushing duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Pro Bowl pair became the first backfield in NFL history to each record over 1,500 scrimmage yards. The exceptional run blocking was matched by a pass protection that only surrendered 20 sacks this year (second-fewest in the league). The Black and Gold’s productivity is in large part due to the play of Ryan Ramcyzk, who, along with center Max Unger, played every offensive snap for the Saints in 2017. Drafted 32nd overall out of Wisconsin, Ramcyzk was PFF’s highest-graded rookie offensive lineman with an 84.2. The first-year blocker did a superb job in replacing the injured Zach Strief. Despite his performance, one of the biggest surprises from the Pro Bowl voting was that no Saints offensive linemen were selected to the initial roster. Guard Larry Warford ultimately was added as an alternate, but the line’s collective body of work should’ve warranted them at least a second spot for Ramcyzk.
- Evan Engram – Tight End, New York Giants
From the early-season injury of Odell Beckham Jr. to the late-season firing of head coach Ben McAdoo, it was a tumultuous 2017 season for the New York Giants. The G-Men also dominated the news with the benching debacle of Eli Manning. Despite the support he received, however, the franchise’s greatest signal-caller has seen better days behind center, albeit making occasional plays and maintaining his widely-respected image. New York is expected to draft their quarterback of the future this April. Regardless of who that is, that passer will lean heavily on the abilities of Evan Engram. At 6’3” and 240 pounds, the Ole Miss standout was productive his entire first year. The 23-year-old pass catcher hauled in 64 receptions for 772 yards and six touchdowns in just 11 starts. Engram set a plethora of rookie records, including surpassing Sterling Sharpe for the most catches by a rookie in his first eight games, regardless of position (34). Even with his output, Jason Witten and Kyle Rudolph were the ones who filled in the two alternate slots at their position. Witten is the second-greatest tight end in NFL history, but the 35-year-old didn’t play up to his Hall of Fame self. Rudolph has been a solid player, but he was not at his 2012 Pro Bowl form this season. Being snubbed from Orlando after outperforming his contemporaries should give Engram some motivation for the 2018 campaign.
- Lavonte David – Outside Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There were four linebackers from the NFC South who garnered selections for this year’s Pro Bowl: Carolina Panthers’ All-Pros Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Kwon Alexander and Atlanta Falcons’ Deion Jones, who clocked in at number seven on our Pro Bowl Snub list from last season. The backer who wasn’t listed among the aforementioned, though, was the one who statistically outdid Davis and Alexander in few areas. In his sixth NFL season, Lavonte David recorded 101 tackles, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a pass defended. His 94.2 overall PFF grade was second only Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks for linebackers; both his overall and run stop marks bested those of Kuechly’s. Since entering the league in 2012, David has averaged 128 stops, three sacks and six pass breakups. Despite his consistent on-field impact, David is perpetually overlooked by critics and viewers due to the likes of Kuechly and Wagner. Regardless of the Buccaneers being an underperforming team, this is a snub that should almost never happen.
- Akiem Hicks – Defensive End, Chicago Bears
All the talk about rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky left the quietly-solid Bears defense unnoticed. Chicago silently placed seventh, 11th and 10th overall in pass defense, rush defense and total defense, respectively, in 2017. Formidable at each level, the youth movement is in full effect in the Windy City. Of course, the promising future says a lot about the veteran presence of Akiem Hicks. Drafted by the Saints in 2012, the lineman had a modest first four years. Since 2016, he’s started all 32 games and has accumulated 15.5 sacks, 108 tackles, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recoveries. Pro Football Focus even rated him as an 87 as an interior defender. Though he’s not peak Tommie Harris, the Bears will take whatever Hicks has to offer moving forward.
- Tre’Davious White – Cornerback, Buffalo Bills
Marshon Lattimore may end up with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after greatly impacting the revitalized Saints defense, but Tre’Davious White also made a compelling case in year one. Coming out of LSU, White has followed Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid as the next great talent from the school known as “DBU” (Defensive Back University). Though Peterson is clearly the better NFL player now, he wasn’t nearly as stout as a rookie as White was in 2017. Tallying 53 tackles, 18 passes defended, four interceptions and a defensive touchdown, White was graded at a 92 by PFF, the second-highest mark in football for corners. Notwithstanding his special teams significance, Peterson only achieved a 40.1 grade in 2011. In an entirely different environment from south Louisiana, the former Tiger did a beyond-admirable job in replacing Stephon Gilmore, who is now with the AFC Champion Patriots.
- Leonard Fournette – Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
White’s collegiate teammate, Leonard Fournette, was also asked to contribute right away and did not disappoint. In his professional debut, Fournette rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against the Houston Texans. He went on to post four more 100-yard outings, including an electrifying 181-yard, two-score showing in Heinz Field versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was an unbelievable campaign for rookie running backs, and Fournette proved why he was a top-five draft pick. He missed a couple of games to injury, but he concluded the season with 268 attempts for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. One must take into account that Blake Bortles was his quarterback. Though he was respectable at times during the season, Bortles didn’t make the key plays on a continual basis, thus allowing defenses to crowd the box and stop the run. It seemed as though Fournette was playing in college again. Had it not been for the elite depth at the position (Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy and Kareem Hunt made the Pro Bowl), Fournette would’ve walked into the league’s All-Star showcase.
- Adrian Amos – Free Safety, Chicago Bears
With the help of Hicks, Adrian Amos helped propel the Chicago Bears defense into the top half of the league. After decent play in years one and two, Amos finished behind Harrison Smith as PFF’s number-two safety, reaching a grade of 92. His 89.5 and 89 coverage and run defense marks were better than perennial All-Pro defensive back Earl Thomas. His success against the ground game has increased significantly, as that aspect of the game was stated to be one of his weak points as a 2015 rookie. With his versatility allowing him to produce at multiple places on the field, he will be an exciting player to watch in seasons to come.
- David Bakhtiari – Offensive Tackle, Green Bay Packers
When Aaron Rodgers became Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008, the offensive line was a mess, forfeiting a league-worst 51 sacks. Gradually, the unit has made tremendous strides over the years. One of the several protectors who has made the difference is David Bakhtiari. Enduring a tough beginning to his career, Bakhtiari has boasted consecutive campaigns with a PFF grade of 88 and above. His 90.6 pass blocking mark in 2017 was number one at his position. Though he only played in 12 contests, his presence was greatly needed by backup signal-caller Brett Hundley. With the Rodgers injury this season, many fans didn’t pay much attention to the other Packers who made contributions. Whether viewed or not, the University of Colorado product is really beginning to show his value to the Packers offense.
- Lamarcus Joyner – Strong Safety, Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles made the playoffs primarily because of their revamped offense and their enthusiastic new coach. While most fans only recognize superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald on their defense, the Rams have another young producer in Lamarcus Joyner. In only 12 games, Joyner posted 49 tackles, nine defended passes and three picks (one of which went for a touchdown). Harrison Smith has the higher overall PFF grade, but he and Joyner’s coverage tally is identical (92.2). Joyner’s on-field prowess helped the Rams finish 13th in passing defense for 2017.
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