Dolphins player who should have made Pro Bowl but didn't? Not who you think | Habib
MIAMI GARDENS — It’s not Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s not Jaylen Waddle.
Or Jevon Holland.
No. If you want to question Pro Bowl selections — that’s the whole reason they announce these things, you know — start in a less-obvious place. Be forewarned: It’s not as sexy as the quarterback leading the league in everything but respect from his peers. So here goes …
Did Christian Wilkins get the short shrift?
Wilkins is enjoying the best season of his four-year NFL career, but it wasn’t enough to land him his first Pro Bowl selection. Instead, the AFC starters are Quinnen Williams of the Jets and Chris Jones of the Chiefs, and the backup is Jeffery Simmons of the Titans.
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Oh, but wait.
Williams, Jones and Simmons are defensive tackles, just like Wilkins — but Wilkins wasn’t beaten out by them.
It’s understandable. Wilkins was slotted at defensive end, not tackle, for voting purposes, meaning his competition actually was Myles Garrett of the Browns, Maxx Crosby of the Raiders and Trey Hendrickson of the Bengals — the three edge defenders who made the Pro Bowl.
The NFL’s official game books sometimes list Wilkins at both positions within the same game, especially when he and Zach Sieler flank Raekwon Davis, the nose tackle. So even though Wilkins is commonly thought of as a defensive tackle, the notion of listing him at end isn’t as outlandish as lumping him in at, say, linebacker.
But considering Wilkins leads all NFL defensive linemen in tackles with 81, it’s natural to wonder if his listing affected his chances for selection.
Maybe fans, coaches and players intending to vote for him didn’t see him nominated at tackle and moved on. Maybe the competition at one position (think defensive end) wasn’t equal to another (tackle). And while we're on the subject of competition, we'll mention that top vote-getter Tua Tagovailoa has a wicked bunch of quarterbacking peers in the AFC, starting with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, who aren't going away anytime soon.
It’s no secret playing on the edge is a glamor position on defense. They’re the guys who get all the sacks, the TV camera iso shots and the monster contracts. If Wilkins, playing on the interior, absorbs a double team and Jaelan Phillips gets the sack, it’s a tree falling in the woods. Does anyone notice?
You can’t assume Wilkins would have been a shoo-in at tackle, but you can wonder. The AFC Pro Bowl starters at tackle are the Jets’ Quinnen Williams and the Chiefs’ Chris Jones. No quarrel there. The backup — and this is where things get sticky — is the Titans’ Jeffery Simmons.
So let’s compare Wilkins and Simmons.
They were drafted six picks apart in the first round in 2019. This season, Simmons surpasses Wilkins in three areas: passes defensed (7 to 2), sacks (7.5 to 2.5) and quarterback hits (12 to 6). Wilkins surpasses Simmons in four areas: forced fumbles (2 to 1), fumble recoveries (1 to 0), tackles (81 to 49) and tackles for loss (14 to 9). So if you’re building a case for Simmons, you lean on his sack total, while the case for Wilkins centers on tackles, including those behind the line of scrimmage. Splash plays vs. consistency.
Fun fact: Wilkins’ 273 career tackles rank second among DLs since 2019.
Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead, who made his fourth Pro Bowl, said the strength of Wilkins’ game is that he never gives up on plays. Just think about how often Wilkins always seems to be in the right place at the right time. That’s no accident. “Elite technique” and “elite effort” are two phrases Armstead applies to Wilkins.
“He’s relentless,” Armstead said. “I think his biggest attribute may be the plays he doesn’t make initially, like when he’s chasing the ball down the field. I think that is an extreme asset to the team. Other teams have to keep that in mind when they’re trying to get extra yards, so you see guys slow down and ball up before the guy in front of them gets to them and that’s because they feel that pressure from behind from Christian and J.P. (Phillips). That’s a really big advantage for us.”
Getting back to the Pro Bowl debate, what about competition in the AFC at edge? There’s no questioning the choices of Garrett and Crosby, who between them have 25 sacks. Hendrickson, from FAU, has six sacks, 29 tackles and 22 quarterback hits. He didn’t crack the top 10 in fan voting (Wilkins was sixth) and is rated 17th on the edge by Pro Football Focus. Clearly, players and coaches see more in Hendrickson than fans and stats do. PFF stacks them up this way: Wilkins, 83.4 overall defensive grade; Simmons, 83.2; Hendrickson, 81.4.
Wilkins hasn’t spoken to reporters since the Pro Bowl rosters were announced, but on Monday, he acknowledged the type of season he’s having when asked if this is his best year.
“I guess, but you’re just never really satisfied as a player,” he said. “It’s just funny, because people might say it’s my best year, but there’s a lot I feel like I leave out there. I always feel like a play I can make or something I can do, win, lose, draw, if it’s the best game of my career or the worst game, I always look at myself and I’m a pretty harsh judge, trying to figure out what I can do.
“But also with that having a little bit of perspective. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better each year.”
Maybe, if he continues that trend in 2023, it won't matter where he's listed on the ballot. Just like Wilkins finds the ball, voters will find him.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Which Dolphin has best gripe about Pro Bowl snubs? Not who you think