For the first time in a long, long while, the St. Louis Rams are sending a pair of players to Hawaii at the end of the season. Robert Quinn’s invitation marks the first step on his journey for Defensive Player of the Year, and ends a decade-long drought of St. Louis defenders in the Pro Bowl. Johnny Hekker was more of a “surprise” entry, needing the votes of both the players and coaches to usurp his sub-Top 10 placement in the fan balloting. However, as with every year, there are a handful of players that got “snubbed” and several “head-scratchers” on the roster. So, who are those players this season?
Jake Long, OT, Rams: Snub
The only player on the St. Louis Rams roster that could fight to be in the “snubbed” category is Jake Long. The newly-acquired offseason tackle is currently ranked No. 6 overall at his position on Pro Football Focus, and tops the league as a run blocker. This year, Branden Albert was the “celebrity” pick, likely bolstered by the success of the Kansas City Chiefs this season. However, Albert ranks No.28 among players at his position, allowing four sacks this season, despite only starting 12 games. Tyron Smith is another “less deserving” offensive tackle that will get a ticket to Hawaii; but it is not surprising when any member of the Cowboys gets the nod. In the big picture, it wouldn’t have mattered for Jake Long, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL last Sunday. However, on principle, Long was certainly more deserving than a handful of the player who will be making the trip.
Justin Smith, DE, 49ers: Surprise
Justin Smith being in the Pro Bowl is not unusual, by any stretch of the imagination. However, the fact that he made is as an “interior linemen” is a bit strange, considering he plays defensive end in the 49ers’ 3-4 base scheme. Players like Cameron Jordan and J.J. Watt were both not counted as interior linemen, so why would Smith…?
Lavonte David, OLB, Buccaneers: Snub
Lavonte David not being in the Pro Bowl is a tad preposterous, especially considering that he should be fighting as a dark-horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. You can take your pick of the outside linebackers on this list (John Abraham, Ahmad Brooks, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Robert Mathis, and Terrell Suggs) and make a nearly indisputable case for why the second-year stud should be ahead of them. To start, David leads the NFL in defensive stops, leads 4-3 outside linebacker with 8.0 sacks, and trails only DeAndre Levy in interceptions (5) among all linebackers this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks among the Top 5 at his position in coverage, pass rush, and run defense, which should be more than enough to seal his invitation to Hawaii. Meanwhile, players like Justin Houston, who played in essentially 10 games this season before injury, will go in his place…
Greg Hardy, DE, Panthers: Surprise
For once, this is a good surprise! Hardy, much like Chris Long, has been putting together Pro Bowl-caliber seasons for a number of years. In fact, last season, Hardy finished tied for 3rd among 4-3 defensive ends in sacks and 5th in defensive stops, rounding out a solid resume that should be slotted him above players like Jason Pierre-Paul in the 2013 Pro Bowl. Regardless of the past, it is nice to see “lesser name” players finally getting the recognition they deserve.
Thomas Davis, OLB, Panthers: Snub
Davis doesn’t have the “flashy” sack number or the name recognition of the other players on the Pro Bowl. However, Davis is, arguably, as integral to the Panthers’ defensive success as an other player on the roster. When you imagine a prototypical 4-3 outside linebacker, you should envision a player like Davis: 1) solid against the run (100+ combined tackles on the season, 51 defensive stops) and 2) solid in coverage (2 interception, 4 pass deflections, 0 touchdowns allowed in coverage, league-low 6.9 yards per catch average). The defensive core is extremely strong in Carolina, with Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, and Luke Kuechly. However, Thomas Davis’ individual efforts this season should have been rewarded…