Pro Bowl Voting began this Wednesday, with teams turning to social media to promote fan votes for their players. Pro Bowls used to mean a lot more to a player’s legacy, but the system has changed to a weighted fan vote in recent years, making a good chunk of the vote be a popularity contest for players. This, along with some weird labeling of players’ positions (Darius Leonard as an OLB along with many notable 3-4 pass-rushing OLBs hurting his candidacy in 2018, for example), has caused many deserving players to be snubbed from the free trip to the Pro Bowl game in recent years. With the popularity aspect giving apparent favoritism to bigger fanbases, smaller markets and fanbases like Indianapolis can be at a clear disadvantage to ones like Dallas. However, the Colts have several standout players that have name recognition already + will get a rare boost with an in-season Hard Knocks coverage. Because of the nuance of the Pro Bowl voting system, I’ve divided the 7 Colts with a Shot to make the Pro Bowl into seven different categories of their candidacy.
Sure Fire Pro Bowler: RB Jonathan Taylor
Position Sorted By: Rushing Yards
Rushing Yards Rank: 1st
Suppose there is one Colt who is as set in stone to be a Pro Bowler at this rate as you can get; it’s Jonathan Taylor. Taylor has been a phenomenal RB this season, making his case as the best RB in the NFL in year 2 of his NFL career. Thankfully for Taylor, the Pro Bowl vote for RB is sorted by Rushing Yards & on the ballot, Taylor is the unquestioned top RB, with a 216yd lead over Nick Chubb in 2nd. In reality, though, Jonathan Taylor is only tied first in rushing yards with Derrick Henry, who is currently ineligible to be voted on due to being on IR for potentially the rest of the season. The Voting Ballot also excludes the Context that Taylor has played two more games than Nick Chubb and is behind him in rushing yards per game but also excludes Taylor’s advantage in receiving Stats. For the most part, this lack of context on the ballot should help Taylor get casual fans’ votes, but make no mistake, even with the full context, Taylor has a strong candidacy.
With six spots available for RBs in the Pro Bowl, Taylor has undoubtedly cemented his candidacy by being a top 6 RB in many key stats:
- 1st in Rushing Yards
- 2nd in Yards per Carry
- 3rd in Yards per Game
- 3rd in Rushing TDs
- 1st in Total Yards
- tied 2nd in Total Touchdowns
And in all of the categories he isn’t first in, non-Pro Bowl eligible RB Derrick Henry is tied or ahead of him, thus thinning the competition for his Pro Bowl vote. He is even 1st in total fantasy points for RBs right now and 2nd in points per game (behind Henry), thus adding to his national recognition in the fantasy community.
With a strong statistical candidacy, favorable ballot context and positioning, national recognition with routine highlight plays, and fantasy domination, Taylor is a shoo-in at this rate.
Likely Pro Bowler: DT DeForest Buckner
Position Sorted By: Sacks
DT Sacks Rank: 7th
DeForest Buckner is turning the corner on his season. After a slow start to the season, Buckner has had 3.5 sacks and 5 TFL over the last five games, displaying his All-Pro 2020 Form at times. One of the best DT’s not named Aaron Donald, Buckner is just on the cusp of Pro Bowl territory in sacks. However, despite his highest double team % in his career this season, he is still producing, albeit not as many years prior.
I am confident that Buckner has several solid games down the stretch against some poor OLs and continues his upward trend with the Colts’ young rookie DEs Dayo & Paye now healthy to help lighten the load on the double teams. Should the Colts rookies continue to emerge, Buckner will be leading a very athletic and promising pass rush and get more opportunities to get the vital sacks for his Pro bowl candidacy. Already a household name, I expect him to be a likely Pro Bowler in 2021.
Maybe Pro Bowler: LB Darius Leonard
Position Sorted by: Solo Tackles
Solo Tackle Rank: 27th
While he can be divisive among analysts, Darius Leonard certainly has become a household name over the last 3.5 seasons. The Maniac has flashed consistent game-wrecking ability, with the most sacks, tackles, INTs, & forced fumbles in the NFL for off-ball linebackers. He has especially thrived in creating game-ending plays, adding to his national spotlight. The small school FBS standout LB from South Carolina State has made quite an impression as a 3x All-Pro the last three seasons (2x 1st team), even getting 2 Pro Bowl nods the previous two seasons. While he was egregiously snubbed as an NFL leading tackler as a rookie, he has since been recognized by fans and many national media figures for his talents.
This season has probably been Leonard’s most divisive. On the one hand, he leads the NFL in total turnovers and 2nd in turnovers, forced behind only CB Trevon Diggs. On the other, he has lost some of his sideline to sideline speed because of a nagging ankle injury he had surgery on in the offseason that had a setback. Yet, while his play has been affected in a few different areas, he has been one of the best playmaking LBs this season yet again.
Leonard is only 27th in the sorted stat, so being lower on the ballot does hurt his chances. But if there is one player household name who stands to gain a lot of fans in Hard Knocks, it’s Darius. His fun-loving and energetic personality is infectious and camera-ready, so expect him to continue to get a lot of attention from the show and help his Pro Bowl candidacy as well.
Name Recognition Pro Bowler: G Quenton Nelson
I will preface this by saying: Quenton Nelson has had one of the most fantastic starts for an OL in NFL history. He has allowed only three sacks in his first three seasons and was one of the most dominant run blockers in the NFL at all levels. He is the only 3x 1st team All-Pro in his first three seasons in the Super Bowl Era other than Barry Sanders. But this is the worst year of his career and his least worthy of a Pro Bowl birth.
It starts with his injuries, of course. Nelson has missed 3.75 games this season due to injury and has played through the injury in all 6.25 games played this season, clearly hampering his play. He is allowing more pressures per game than any other season he’s had prior and has been limited in his ability to get out in space. In addition, his leg and back injuries have made his play suffer. However, Nelson’s candidacy is helped by his name recognition (arguably the most famous Guard in the NFL at an unknown position to casual fans) and his position’s ballot having no stats and thus no context for any players. With 6 Gs per Pro Bowl Ballot and the position being very unheralded, his name recognition alone very well could catapult him into the Pro Bowl, deserving or not. I expect him to rebound if he is healthy for the 2nd half of the year, making him more worthy of his bid.
Possible Alternate Pro Bowler: WR Michael Pittman Jr.
Position sorted by: Receiving Yards
WR Receiving Yards rank: 8th
After ten games, Michael Pittman Jr has established himself as a bonafide WR1 in year 2. 729 receiving yards and 5 TDs on 55 catches is damn good production this far into the season. His size and speed on the outside have been a very valuable part of this Colts O. There is a case to be made that he is a top 8-15 WR in the NFL. The problem is that only 6 WRs are chosen to the Pro Bowl, and even with his strong production, a few factors will hinder him from getting there.
The WR competition is fierce for Pro bowl nominees. Ahead of him on the ballot are a mix of established WRs with a history of production and name recognition like Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, & Stefon Diggs as well as a combination of young up and comers like Deebo Samuel, rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase, and Justin Jefferson. Then right behind him on the ballot are a strong mix of contenders like CeeDee Lamb (whose enormous Cowboys fanbase would flood the ballot box for), Hollywood Brown, Chris Godwin, DJ Moore, & Keenan Allen, all within 30 yards away from his total and with a complete game or two less played due to bye weeks. Add in high touchdown scorers like DK Metcalf or DeAndre Hopkins even further down the ballot in yards, and you can see how picking only 6 of that entire group may be a tough call. Pittman can make it, and he is within that range of possible Pro Bowl WRs. But if he does make it, at this point, it would be as an alternate. And with Jonathan Taylor continuing his dominant pace, opportunities for a high volume passing attack will be limited compared to many of his contemporaries. Even if he doesn’t make it this year, being in the conversation is a significant step up from his rookie year, and he is clearly on the rise.
Long Shot Alternate Pro Bowler: QB Carson Wentz
Position sorted by: Passing Yards
Passing Yards rank: 13th
Carson Wentz’s bounce-back season has been very impressive compared to his last season, but he still is a long way to go to being a Pro Bowl QB. Ranking 13th in passing yards, 11th in Passing TDs (17), and tied 2nd in lowest INTS (3), Wentz has had solid starting QB production. However, Wentz’s most significant issue isn’t his lack of recognition but the bias that still surrounds him nationally. Despite playing reasonably well, the national perception of him is still shallow. Several of his turnovers were SportsCenter highlight bad, with ill-advised shovel passes and left-handed throws while under pressure being the subject of mockery. His play in the national spotlight games outside of a beatdown of the lowly Jets has been subpar so far, though one of them should be forgiven considering the atmospheric river conditions in the 49ers game. His game against the Titans in week 8 was not good down the stretch, and due to the high importance of the game, national media pounced on him for INTs towards the end of the game.
However, his biggest obstacle is overcoming this negative perception of his play and winning over those who outright despise him. He needs to be consistently excellent, especially in big games with a large audience, to convince people that his play isn’t a fluke. After his time with the Eagles, he has three significant media cities filled with fans who have a very unfavorable opinion of him. Dallas and their enormous Cowboys fan base had an adversarial relationship with Wentz, and comparisons to Dak from the same draft class caused quite a stir regularly. The massive New York media empire routinely puts out opposing segments on him to feed the Giants fanbase who has a significant presence online and in person. Then there is his old city Philly, whose media reported dubiously sourced pieces on Wentz’s character to help turn the once-beloved QB into a pariah among his fanbase once Wentz had a single bad non-rookie season in 2020. With so much of the Pro Bowl process being popularity and his level of play not being high enough at this time for a strong Pro Bowl push, the odds of Wentz getting to the pro-bowl are low. To make it to the Pro Bowl, he needs to take advice from the movie Gladiator: “Win The Crowd, Win your Freedom”… to go on a free trip to Vegas for the Pro Bowl. In that fight, the war of his reputation is far from over.
Pro Bowl Snub: CB Kenny Moore II
Position Sorted by: Interceptions
CB INT ranking: t8th-19th
Kenny Moore II should be a multi-year Pro Bowler at this point in his career based on his play since 2018. He is the only CB in the NFL in that span with 10+ INTs, 5+ sacks, & +10 Tackles For a Loss, and he accomplished all of that before this year even started. The only player who did that entering this year was Safety Tyrann Mathieu, who was awarded two 1st Team All-Pros in those three years. But Kenny has yet to be an All-Pro or a Pro Bowler thus far, despite three straight years of solid play.
At first glance, Kenny Moore II has done nearly everything he can to get that recognition. Multi-year consistently great play? Check. Highlight plays? Check. Analysts recognizing his talents? Check. There are only two things he has against him: hype and Interception totals. He has yet to be a true ballhawk, but he has been arguably the best slot defender in the national football league for years and still gets solid INT totals, but never more than 2-4 a season so far. If he can get 5+ INTs in a year, that will make a more significant impression on voters in the sorted category. But his lack of hype is the toughest to gain. Kenny Moore II is a young, energetic, and fun-loving personality with a heart of gold that could become a national darling if given exposure in HBO’s Hard Knocks. But all of his current recognition he has built up has been from the ground up compared to his fellow CBs, as his small school roots at Valdosta State gave him no national exposure before his pro career as an UDFA turned star. He was a blank slate, and in a position like corner, great play can be challenging for the viewing public to notice, but bad play is very easy to spot. His lack of spotlight has kept him a hidden gem to national fans. I believe he should get his long-deserved respect among NFL circles, but I don’t know if he will get it this year. Thus he is a likely Pro Bowl Snub yet again.