Who Should Have Actually Made the Pro Bowl?

The Pro Bowl voting never produces the correct roster, so let's use some math and common sense to pick a better offense for this year's event.

The 2015 Pro Bowl rosters have been announced, and some combination of the fans, coaches and players managed to screw everything up once again, naming undeserving players to the NFL's penultimate game of the season while excluding a few breakout stars who deserve a spot in the least meaningful game of the season. But there's still time to set the record straight.

So let's consider the four main positions that matter for football fans and fantasy football players (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end), and figure out who should be going to the Pro Bowl this season based on some real data. I won't pick any fullbacks, because they're boring, and because Rob Gronkowski would make for a better fullback than any of the other available options anyway. Instead, I'll pick an extra two running backs, since half of them are probably hurt and won't show up.

For each position, I'll outline the players that are deservedly already in the Pro Bowl, which players I'd remove, and which players I'd add to the player pool for the "fantasy draft" ahead of the exhibition game next year. And while I mainly based these decisions on numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) data, I did allow for some subjectivity in which of our metrics I preferred, as different positions can be evaluated different ways.

Let's start under center, where I'm going to kick things off with a controversial decision.


The Right Picks: Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger
The Wrong Picks: Tom Brady, Andrew Luck
The Snubs: Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson

Rodgers, Romo, Manning and Big Ben are currently first through fourth in our NEP per drop back metric, outlining just how efficient they've been on a per-opportunity basis this season. It's impossible to argue with any of their inclusions, so I won't. The players, coaches and fans got these four right.

But Tom Brady's "lifetime achievement award" and Andrew Luck's "Chosen One exemption" don't fly in this selection process. (That might be a bit harsh, but this is the Pro Bowl! Hot takes must abound.) Instead, Wilson and Ryan get the final two spots on this roster.

Ryan's selection over Brady comes down to consistency. The two quarterbacks currently have the same NEP per drop back, but Ryan has a better Success Rate. This means that a larger portion of Ryan's throws result in a net positive for his team's chances of scoring. And when the other numbers are so close, consistency is a fine tiebreaker.

Wilson is currently a couple of spots behind Luck in our passer rankings from an efficiency standpoint, but more than overcomes the difference in passing production with a dominant performance as a runner this season. As our Jim Sannes pointed out, Wilson is having Michael Vick-like success on the ground this year, and that is worthy of a Pro Bowl bid.

Running Back

The Right Picks: Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles
The Wrong Picks: Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy
The Snubs: Matt Forte, Justin Forsett, Jeremy Hill, C.J. Anderson

The running back position benefits from the addition of two extra players after getting rid of fullbacks, meaning the "snubs" list can hold a couple of extra players who deserve to be heading to the Pro Bowl.

We can all agree that Bell, Lynch and Murray deserve to be among the NFL's best in this process, and most would agree that McCoy probably doesn't belong after his disappointing season. Charles hasn't been all that consistent, but still ranks near the top in nearly every running back category we track. The remaining picks are where I'll have to do some work to convince you.

Arian Foster had a great season, finishing eighth in Rushing NEP with a heavy workload. But Anderson, Hill and Forsett all reached a higher NEP total on fewer carries, and all with much better Success Rates (which, again, indicates consistency). Foster was even inconsistent as a receiver, and despite some big plays in that category, he was too "boom or bust" to make this squad.

Eddie Lacy's exclusion was tough, but when deciding between he and Jeremy Hill, I went with the player who was a bit better on the ground as opposed to the player who was better through the air in one of the league's best passing attacks. Lacy doesn't get a free ride to the Pro Bowl because he stood three yards from the line and caught passes from the best quarterback in football.

Forte's exclusion is mind-boggling, on the other hand, as a back with the receiving volume and production he's posted (he leads all runners in receptions, and ranks second in Reception NEP behind Bell) while still finishing with decent rushing statistics on a struggling offense deserves all the recognition he can get. He's the anti-Lacy. He succeeded in difficult circumstances. Send him to the Pro Bowl and let him play with a real quarterback.

Anderson has only been the starter in Denver for a few weeks, but already ranks in the top six among running backs in Rushing NEP, NEP per rush, Reception NEP, NEP per target, and Total NEP (the sum of a player's rushing and receiving efforts). His production over such a short span of games is worthy of inclusion in the Pro Bowl.

Forsett picks up the final spot thanks to some really solid efficiency as a runner. He's tied with Hill and Lynch for second among all backs in per-carry NEP, just barely behind Charles for the league lead. He's stepped up through suspensions and injuries into the lead role for Baltimore, and performed admirably. He and Anderson are victims of the NFL's season-long Pro Bowl voting system, as they've been among the best despite less than a full season's worth of work.

Wide Receiver

The Right Picks: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, T.Y. Hilton
The Wrong Picks: Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green
The Snubs: Emmanuel Sanders, Odell Beckham Jr.

Brown, Jones, Nelson, and Thomas rank as the top four players in Reception NEP this season, while Bryant is sixth and Hilton is eighth. There's no way to exclude any of them, so the voters got these picks right.

Calvin Johnson is three spots shy of the top 10 in Reception NEP, but does find himself in the top 10 in per-target efficiency. But he, like A.J. Green, is behind both Sanders and Beckham in both categories, and that's what keeps the two superstar receivers out of this Pro Bowl roster.

NameRecRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/Target
Odell Beckham79104.471090.96
Emmanuel Sanders95119.421320.90
Calvin Johnson6799.151170.85
A.J. Green6177.981030.76

Beckham has some of the most ridiculous numbers in recent NFL history, including some historic fantasy football production, and should not be snubbed from this Pro Bowl, nor should he be left off a single ballot for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Sanders gets the final spot over the two more well-known wideouts thanks to his per-target efficiency, which is partially due to Peyton Manning's presence in the Denver offense, but also a testament to Sanders' consistency as a route runner in that complicated system.

Tight End

The Right Picks: Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen
The Wrong Picks: Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas
The Snubs: Antonio Gates, Jason Witten

Gronkowski is the best tight end in the league, and it's not even close. He saw more targets than any other tight end, and still finished fifth among all 50-plus target players at the position in per-target production. He's essentially a wide receiver classified as a tight end (and he would have made the list at wide receiver, were he listed as such on this hypothetical ballot).

And Olsen has been one of the most dependable tight ends in the league, earning him a spot he's probably deserved for a couple of years. Dependability is also what earns Jason Witten his spot, as the Cowboys' tight end finished with a similar per-target level of production as Gronkowski and was a solid second receiving option in one of the league's best passing offenses.

Gates gets his spot on this roster thanks to his overall production, which ranks second (in Reception NEP) among all tight ends. Despite his age, he's flourished as the top receiving option in the San Diego offense all season, including a huge game against the formidable Seattle defense.

That leaves out Thomas, who had a great year on a per-target basis, but didn't see enough volume to earn a spot over the more reliable players listed above, and Graham, who honestly wouldn't have even made a five-man roster over Thomas or Martellus Bennett, who posted similar metrics in a worse passing offense than Graham.

Do you agree with my picks? Do you feel like I left out even more snubbed players who should be in the Pro Bowl? If so, leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter, tell me exactly who you think should be in the Pro Bowl, and I will very carefully explain to you why it cannot be.