December 27, 2011
Every Pro Bowl roster has its snubs, but we'd like to present this list more as the guys we think should be on there with the understanding that a ball of excellence at certain positions and the politics of popularity will have things going another way. You'll see some of these names as alternates, and at the very least, consider this to be a list of players you should be watching out for in future seasons. You can find the Pro Bowl starters here, and our list of unheralded offensive players here with explanations for our selections.
We're going to throw some math at you with these selections. To start, Clemons hasn't just been an excellent sack artist with the Seahawks -- he's also among the best defensive ends when it comes to two Football Outsiders metrics against the run — stops and defeats. Stops are defined as "The total number of plays by a defensive player that prevent a successful play by the offense, defined as 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, and 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down." Defeats are "The total number of plays by a defensive player that prevent the offense from gaining first down yardage on third or fourth down, stop the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or result in a turnover." Clemons has a surprisingly high Stop Rate for a guy who's generally going after the quarterback either on the edge or stunting inside. He's also great when asked to drop in zone blitzes.
Idonije doesn't get the credit he deserves on the other side of Julius Peppers, but if you ask his coaches and teammates about him, you'll get the real story. Same with Redding, who's had a great season while Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata get all the praise — we could add end Jarrett Johnson to that list as well. Starks has been overlooked in the Dolphins' miserable season, but he's been a great under-the-radar guy for the last couple of years now.
Peters is just picking up steam as a name to watch this season; Greg Cosell told me about him earlier this year, and that got me watching him and discovering just how many double-teams he draws on one of the best run-stopping front fours in the league. Atkins is one of the best pure disruptive tackles in the game; his omission is especially curious. Pouha is a rare bastion of stability in the Jets' backsliding run front, and we have a feeling that Dareus is close to a career with about 10 straight Pro Bowls once people get with how good he really is.
We'll let Fletcher's teammate, defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, do the stumping for him via Twitter: "OK, tell me whos pro bowl material based on stats. FLETCHER 163 tackles, 3FF, 2 Sacks, 2 INT; URLACHER 92 Tackles, 0 FF, 0 Sacks, 3 INT." Yeah, that's tough to argue.
But if there's one "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS GUY DOING OFF THE STARTERS LIST?!?!?!?" snub in my mind, it's Bowman — he's been incredible all season, and he really stepped up over the last few weeks when Patrick Willis got hurt. But that's the nature of this position; there may have been more snubs here than anywhere else. Butler and McCarthy have really come on this year, and all you have to do to understand just how valuable Lee is to the Cowboys is to watch how bad their pass defense is when he's not in there.
Rolle is a surprise pick here, but since he took over for Casey Matthews and helped that linebacker group play better, he's put up a better Stop Rate than Calvin Pace, LaMarr Woodley, or Jarrett Johnson. Gocong has been a force when dropping inside on run stops, especially in the red zone. Weatherspoon is really developing as an overall player in the Falcons' 4-3 — Mike Smith's defense has a LOT of underrated players — and Smith is one of the stars of a Jags defense that everybody misses, because nobody wants to watch their offense.
On we go to FO's game charting stats, which they're putting together for the 2011 season — that's where we find that the Seahawks rookie Richard Sherman has stats that match up to the eye test he keeps passing when I watch his cornerback play from the CenturyLink pressbox. When he pretty much shut down A.J. Green, I had a feeling. Greer has been underrated for a long time, and that's still happening. Grimes is a one-off — a shorter guy built like a Tampa-2 corner, but he can play man and defend the back-shoulder fade as well as anyone. Finnegan gets short shrift because people remember him more for his attitude, but he's put together a quietly effective season.
Quin is an interesting cat — the best cornerback in last year's iteration of the Texans' pass defense that was one of the worst in recent memory, he's been quite good as a coverage safety in Wade Phillips' transformative approach. Chancellor is another one-off; built like a nickel linebacker with an enforcer's attitude (two fines from the NFL this year) and he's really getting the hang of pass coverage. We've been calling Wilson underrated for a while now, and Nelson is one of the key pieces in Cincinnati's surprising defense.
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