Last season, the St. Louis Rams had their best season in nearly half of a decade, finishing with a 7-8-1 overall record, and going 4-1-1 in the toughest division in football; the NFC West. On the Rams’ roster were the league leader in defensive touchdowns (Janoris Jenkins), the league leader in solo tackles (James Laurinaitis), a Top 5 player in total defensive pressures on the quarterback (Chris Long), and a Top 3 player in total defensive stops (Jo-Lonn Dunbar). Yet, sadly, there was not a single representative from the St. Louis Rams in the Pro Bowl last year; not even as one of the dozen alternates handed a spot due to injury or by a “starter” playing in the Super Bowl.
Being overlooked is not anything new for the Rams’ players. In fact, outside of Steven Jackson, the last “official” Pro Bowler from the organization was Torry Holt, who represented the team back in 2007. In an interview with 101ESPN: St. Louis, Chris Long explicitly stated, “I never expect to go.” Why?
When the announcement was made yesterday about the “new Pro Bowl,” many, including myself, hoped that the new changes would give some deserving Rams’ their shot at playing among the elite in the league. However, the bulk of the changes will be to the game itself: allowing “zone coverage,” eliminating kickoffs, adding a “two-minute warning” to the first and third quarters, and reducing the playclock.
To be fair, the selection process did see a relatively large change, namely that “players will be selected without regard to conference.” That means that a player like James Laurinaitis, who has consistently produced at a Top 5-level, will no longer get stone-walled behind the inside linebacker duo in San Francisco. However, for the most part, it was not the conference divide that was the “fatal flaw” in the Pro Bowl…
The major issue with the Pro Bowl is not where the players are selected from, but, rather, who is selecting those players. As long as ” fans, coaches and players” are the ones making the final decisions, the rosters will inevitably be filled with large-market bias, media-favorites, and players who make the cut merely as a “familiar” name (i.e. Jeff Saturday last season, despite being benched in Green Bay). It is not just the fans who are oblivious, but the players as well, made evident by the most recent addition of NFL.com’s Top 100 Players of 2013 Countdown. There is no team in the NFL that is completely void of a top player… enough said.
Expanding the “roster” to include the top players from the whole league, as opposed to the top handful of players from each conference, should open the door for some of the supremely talented players in the NFC. However, as long as the overall roster remains primarily composed of player voted on by fans and players who, for the most part, are looking at the league through a narrow lens, the Pro Bowl will continue to be nothing more than a popularity contest or an honoring of recognizable player names.