Omission of Patriots' J.C. Jackson exposes flaws of NFL Pro Bowl ballots

Phil Perry
·4 min read

Perry: Jackson's Pro Bowl snub exposes flaws of system originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots couldn't have been anticipating Pro Bowl balloting blowback on a Wednesday morning in November, but . . . 2020, I guess?

Jason Cole tweeted that the Patriots had left third-year corner J.C. Jackson, the NFL's leader in interceptions (6), off the ballot by choice. After consulting with the league, Cole noted that the Patriots could have listed three corners among their 11 voting options. Instead the team listed a "base" defense, including four defensive linemen and three linebackers.

Not long after Cole's report hit the internet, a correction was made: Jackson was added to the ballot on NFL.com, while rookie Anfernee Jennings -- an outside linebacker option for Pro Bowl voters -- was removed.

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My understanding is there was no malicious intent on the part of the Patriots with their decision to initially leave Jackson off the ballot.

They've simply done things a certain way when it comes to the Pro Bowl balloting process, and they continued down that path this year by listing the positions they listed: Jennings and John Simon at outside linebacker, Ja'Whaun Bentley at inside linebacker, Chase Winovich and Deatrich Wise at defensive end, Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty at corner, Adrian Phillips at strong safety and Devin McCourty at free safety.

Cole's tweets, though, shined a light on the fact that it's probably time to change things up. Hard as it is to get worked up about Pro Bowl balloting, as hilariously non-competitive as the game is, it does impact player wallets in the form of bonus money and it's worth taking the process seriously. 

That would mean treating the Pro Bowl roster like a modern-day football team and giving more spots to defensive backs than defensive linemen or linebackers. Because "base" defense is no longer the standard personnel package in the NFL, it probably shouldn't be the standard by which Pro Bowl balloting options are chosen.

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This isn't a new trend, either. Things have been going this way over the course of the last decade as offensive approaches have changed and more receiver-heavy sets have become go-tos for coaching staffs. According to Football Outsiders, in 2019 only 26.7 percent of all defensive snaps across the NFL came in "base" packages with four defensive backs. The majority of the rest came in "sub" packages with either five (55.9 percent of defensive snaps) or six defensive backs (16 percent) -- "nickel" or "dime" -- on the field. 

The Patriots are no exception. Last season, six of their top nine players in terms of defensive snaps played were defensive backs.

Pick of the Litter

J.C. Jackson has an interception in each of the Patriots' last five games, a new franchise record.

5

Variation

Single

Jackson, sixth in snaps last year for the Patriots defense, was the No. 2 corner when it came to playing time (738 snaps) behind only Gilmore (1,006). Next at the corner spot were Jonathan Jones (655) and Jason McCourty (474). 

Jackson is about to hit restricted free agency and will likely be worthy of the first-round tender, which will likely cost the Patriots a shade under $5 million. Jackson could sign an offer sheet with another club after receiving the tender, and if the Patriots decided not to match they'd be entitled to a first-round pick from Jackson's new club.

The combination of paying out a new contract and giving up a first-round pick is typically too much for teams to consider poaching a player on a first-round tender.

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As it stands right now, Jackson is one of the best values in football on a contract that is paying him $750,000 this season. He'd certainly have to be considered among the best non-quarterback values in the game.

Getting him onto the Pro Bowl ballot should have been a no-brainer.