Johnny Hekker Snubbed From 2015 Pro Bowl Roster


January 25, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker (8) poses with Rams cheerleader during the 2014 Pro Bowl Ohana Day at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the 2015 Pro Bowl roster was announced, bringing fans of the St. Louis Rams something to celebrate for the holiday. The gift? The inviting of two Rams defenders to the NFL’s all-star game in February. Robert Quinn will make the trip for the second-consecutive year, something that hasn’t happening for a St. Louis defender since Jerry Gray in 1988 and 1989. More impressively, Aaron Donald will be headed to the Pro Bowl, being one of only three rookies to make the cut this year, along with Zack Martin and C.J. Mosley.

There were even a handful of surprises that made the “alternates” list for the Pro Bowl, meaning that they are the “next man up” if one of the actual invitees declines the invitation due to injury, playing in the Super Bowl, personal reasons, etc. Tavon Austin was named an alternate for the kick returner role, behind Devin Hester and Darren Sproles. More surprisingly, Janoris Jenkins was named as an alternate cornerback for the Pro Bowl.

While some will beat their chest that EJ Gaines should have make the cut over Jenkins, being arguably the most consistent defensive back in the Rams rotation this year, there is certainly a case to be made for the “Jackrabbit.” Jenkins has been regularly tasked with shadowing the No.1 receiver on the opposing team, with some impressive shutdown performances against players like Vincent Jackson. Moreover, the third-year cornerback has not allowed a touchdown since Week 6 (the Denver touchdown is on Rodney McLeod), including allowing only two catches for 10 yards against Odell Beckham, Jr. last Sunday. To top it all off, Jenkins has been one of the most “influential” cornerbacks in the NFL this season in the turnover game, with two interceptions and two forced fumbles this season. He is one of only three corners with multiple pick-sixes this year, holds the season-long for return yards on a single interception, and leads the league in defensive touchdowns since 2012.

However, the biggest surprise of all might the exclusion of Johnny Hekker from the roster, particularly considering his flawlessness since receiving his record-breaking contract extension. Pat McAfee was a deserving invitee, besting Hekker in a handful of key areas, including net yard average on punts this season. However, Kevin Huber is a shocking No.2 selection, with little-to-no justification for placement over the Rams’ ace. To make that point, Hekker has allowed returns on 5.3% fewer of his attempts, has fewer touchbacks, has more punts downed into the opposing 20 yard line, and the duo are virtually even in net yard average. That doesn’t count the other contribution that the “Red Rifle of St. Louis” makes on special teams, such as going two-for-two on passing attempts this season, including a successful two-point conversion. Johnny Hekker has been the most consistent punter in the league over the last two season, which is why he has a +38.4 grade on Pro Football Focus (PFF), compared to a nearly “average” +2.8 grade for Kevin Huber. In fact, with a solid punting day against the Seattle Seahawks, Hekker will set the record-high season grade for special teamers since the site began keeping track of stats in 2007.

The Pro Bowl voting system is one of the most flawed in professional sports, particularly considering the prestige that some still place on being named a “Pro Bowler” in the league. Last year, despite setting an NFL-record for net punting average, Hekker did not rank in the Top 5 in fan voting, and needed the help of player and coaches’ votes to make the final cut. Luckily, the members of the Associated Press (AP) have an opportunity to right the ship when they announce their AP All-Pro selections in a couple of months. If Johnny Hekker doesn’t make that cut, there is a problem…