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Pro Bowl Candidates who are too good to get snubbed

The 2021 NFL Pro Bowl voting window has opened and Mike Tanier has over a dozen veteran and rookie candidates to consider voting for.

Pro Bowl Candidates who are too good to get snubbed in the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl Voting Process
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 15: Terry McLaurin #17 of the Washington Football Team attempts to run with the ball against Christian Jones #52 of the Detroit Lions during their game at Ford Field on November 15, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Need help filling out your 2021 NFL Pro Bowl ballot during the voting window? Of course not: you’re too cool to fill out a Pro Bowl ballot! Even though it sure looks like there’s one open on your browser window. OK, maybe you do enjoy casting votes for the Pro Bowl, but you don’t need help selecting Patrick Mahomes, Myles Garrett, Dalvin Cook, um … which offensive linemen are having good years again? Face it. You could use a little advice to make sure you don’t overlook any worthy veteran and rookie Pro Bowl candidates.

Related | NFL Pro Bowl 2021: How to vote, location, start time, more

So read on to make sure you don’t inadvertently snub some impressive rookies, veterans on the comeback trail, and rising stars who are ready for their moment in the spotlight and a spot on the 2021 Pro Bowl roster … even though there’s no Pro Bowl game after the regular season this year. Which you are too cool to watch, anyway. (And which you totally watch).

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Derek Carr, Quarterback, Las Vegas Raiders

You are allowed to select up to six quarterbacks on your ballot for this year’s virtual Pro Bowl. Let’s see … Mahomes? Check. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady? Check check check. That leaves two choices. Josh Allen? Too erratic. Deshaun Watson? Too much of a “great job trying your hardest in a miserable situation” trophy. Ryan Tannehill? Sure, if you stopped paying attention in early October. 

Even if you select someone like Allen/Watson/Tannehill, there’s still a slot left. How about using it on the guy with the 107.4 efficiency rating who has led his team to a 6-3 record and wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints?

Carr quietly had a great year in 2019, and he’s having another excellent one while playing behind a patchwork line, throwing to lots of guys who would be the fourth or fifth receivers on the Kansas City Chiefs or Tampa Bay Buccaneers and getting little help from his defense. Carr may not be the most exciting quarterback in the NFL, but it’s time to recognize that he is pretty darned good. 

James Robinson, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson, a rookie candidate to consider for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl, is the lone bright spot for a Jaguars team that’s so bad it cannot even tank properly: the Jaguars’ season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts positions them behind the New York Jets in the 2021 NFL draft order, and the Jets are a hard team to catch in a battle for the bottom.

Robinson, an undrafted rookie from Illinois State, ranks fifth in the NFL with 689 yards entering Week 11 and has kept the Jaguars offense baseline-functional and the team quasi-competitive as they pinched pennies and juggled quarterbacks this year.

Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

Anyone who has watched the Bears’ offense this year knows that a) no one wants to watch the Bears’ offense this year, and b) Robinson is often the only person standing between the Bears and a shutout in most weeks. 

Robinson, who has been shackled to legendarily off-target quarterbacks for Penn State (Christian Hackenberg), the Jaguars (Blake Bortles), and the Bears (don’t make me type their names), somehow ranks sixth in the NFL with 63 receptions and eighth with 755 receiving yards entering Week 11. There’s a very good chance he was on your Pro Bowl candidate shortlist anyway. But Robinson has not been selected to a Pro Bowl since 2015, so I wanted to make sure. 

It’s a shame there won’t be a game this year (it will be virtual instead): it would give Robinson a chance to finally catch a pass from a good quarterback. Though with his luck, Ben DiNucci would somehow wind up on the squad.

Terry McLaurin, Wide Receiver, Washington Football Team

McLaurin isn’t just Washington’s top receiver and only consistent offensive weapon. He has also emerged as a team captain and locker-room leader in his second season in Washington, which should come as no surprise to anyone who followed his Ohio State career or at least interviewed him leading up to the draft.

With 57 catches through Week 10, McLaurin has been much more productive than big names like Julio Jones (43 catches) and Adam Thielen (41). Make sure there’s room on your ballot for this up-and-comer and worthy 2021 Pro Bowl candidate.

TJ Hockenson, Tight End, Detroit Lions

No George Kittle? No Zach Ertz? No problem. Hockenson is ready to fill the void as a reliable tight end who can be the focal point of an offense (he leads the Lions with 36 catches), provide some seam-stretching capability (he has nine catches for 166 yards on passes of 10-plus Air Yards, per Sports Info Solutions) and adds value as an in-line run blocker. Plus, you have to vote for someone on the Lions. Well, you don’t have to, but it would be a nice gesture. 

Garrett Bolles, Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos

The Broncos offense has had a miserable year due to injuries, Drew Lock, and Drew Lock’s injuries. But Bolles has climbed out of the “first round bust” category with an excellent season after three years of penalty-marred inconsistency.

Bolles has blown just six blocks this year, per Sports Info Solutions, despite protecting a trio of quarterbacks with almost no pocket presence. He has also been flagged for holding just three times this season after committing 13 fouls last year. The Broncos are finally getting their offensive line sorted out. Now they just need a quarterback. 

Trent Williams, Offensive Tackle, San Francisco 49ers

Williams spent the 2019 season in exile when Washington refused to trade or release him after he clashed with the team’s medical department. Williams has been one of the few healthy bodies on the 49ers this season and would be on everyone’s Pro Bowl candidate shortlist if injuries didn’t cripple the team. He deserves a nod, not just for his excellent play, but for coming back from both a health scare and an ugly situation in Washington.

Wyatt Teller, Guard, Cleveland Browns

Browns fans and lovers of line play know all about Teller, the former fifth-round pick for the Buffalo Bills who has become one of the most effective running-game road graders in the NFL. Teller missed a few weeks in October with a calf injury; when he returned in Week 10, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 230 rushing yards. Hop on the Teller bandwagon now before it’s full, then tell your friends you knew about him all along.

Defense and Special Teams

Brian Burns, Edge Rusher, Carolina Panthers

Don’t just pick your pass rushers off the sack list! Burns has caused 38 pass pressures this season, per Sports Info Solutions. No other Panthers defender has caused more than 15. Burns, a second-year edge rusher out of Florida State, would be approaching double-digit sacks if he played on a better defense.

But Burns has just four sacks because the Panthers’ defensive line is loaded with rookies, so Burns faces constant chips and double teams, and quarterbacks can easily step up in the pocket to avoid him. Burns is having a better season than many bigger names who happened to notch an extra sack or two.

Poona Ford, Defensive Tackle, Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks fans love to gush about fan-favorite Poona Ford, a 310-pound fireplug of a nose tackle with a teddy-bear name who has been eating up blocks and stuffing the run since making the team as an undrafted rookie in 2018. Heck, Ford suffered a very minor injury in the Seahawks 28-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, and Seahawks Twitter nearly held an Irish wake for him. 

There’s a reason for that popularity. Ford will never lead the league in sacks, but he has become a more effective pass rusher in recent weeks, with two hits on Jared Goff in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams and more consistent pressure up the middle of the field. Pete Carroll has even been sliding Ford away from nose tackle to other spots along the defensive line to take advantage of his surprising quickness.

Instead of using a Pro Bowl vote for a veteran defensive tackle candidate with a huge name having a so-so year (hello, Fletcher Cox), consider voting for a young throwback who is keeping his defense from going into full Falcons collapse.

Blake Martinez, Linebacker, New York Giants

File Martinez in the “lone bright spot and valued leader on an awful team” category. Martinez ranks fifth in the NFL entering Week 11 with 44 tackles short of a first down and has only had one of his tackles broken, per Sports Info Solutions. The free-agent acquisition from the Green Bay Packers has also registered two sacks, been solid in coverage, and has captained a defense that is starting to show faint signs of improvement.

Related | 2021 NFL Pro Bowl Voting: Here’s how to vote

Martinez led the league in tackles in 2017 and is leading the league right now. While tackles aren’t the best measure of a linebacker’s performance, someone who produces about 10 per game clearly belongs in the Pro Bowl candidate conversation.

Xavier Rhodes, Cornerback, Indianapolis Colts

Rhodes looked like something you clean out of the bottom of a toaster oven by the end of last season for the Minnesota Vikings: few cornerbacks have ever been burned so badly so often after making an All-Pro name for themselves in previous seasons. But Rhodes has been rejuvenated in Indianapolis. Through Week 10, he has allowed just 15 receptions on 39 targets, intercepted two passes, and broken up eight others. Rhodes made the Pro Bowl last year on pure reputation. This year, he deserves to make it on pure merit. 

Yannick Ngakoue, Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens

In case you haven’t heard the story: the Vikings traded a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick to the Jaguars for Ngakoue, then traded him to the Ravens when the team realized it wasn’t going anywhere this year. The “conditional” pick becomes a fourth-rounder if Ngakoue reaches the Pro Bowl. So a mix of Jaguars fans, NFC North rival fans, and general smart-alecks are voting for Ngakoue, who is having a very ordinary year, just to stick it to the Vikings.

Do you want to be party to this? Of course you do! It’s a great way to hold Vikings general manager Rick Spielman accountable for not accurately self-scouting his roster (the Vikings are now creeping toward the playoffs and could use an extra defender). It’s also a reminder that your 2021 Pro Bowl vote really does have implications: some players have bonuses in their contracts, others can use the honor for future negotiating leverage, and a Pro Bowl selection even impacts the value of the fifth year of a first-round draft pick’s contract (which is a good reason to consider some of the rookies mentioned here). 

So consider voting Ngakoue for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl. If nothing else, you will be helping out the Jaguars. And they need all the help they can get. 

Jakeem Grant, Return Specialist, Miami Dolphins

You want to vote for a Dolphins player to acknowledge what a special season they are having. But you know voting for Tua Tagovailoa is a little silly at this point. And you have not heard of half of the guys who are playing well on defense. Andrew Van Ginkel? Isn’t that a brand of single barrel bourbon?

Luckily, there’s Grant, whose punt return touchdown against the Rams made life easy for Tua in his debut, and who added a pair of other productive returns to help the Dolphins pull away from the Chargers. Voting for Grant is a great way to say, “hey, Dolphins special teams. I see you.”

You should also consider voting for Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders for a spot on the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl roster.

Rookie candidates to consider for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl

Here are some rookie candidates (besides James Robinson) worthy of your consideration and vote for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl roster.

Justin Herbert, Quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers

Herbert enters Week 11 ranked seventh in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. You can only select six quarterbacks, but Drew Brees ranks fourth, and he a) is injured, and b) doesn’t need your vote for his 173rd Pro Bowl berth. 

Justin Jefferson, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Averaging 18.1 yards per reception is impressive. Averaging 18.1 yards per reception while catching passes from Kirk Cousins is other-worldly.

Tristan Wirfs, Offensive Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another rookie candidate to consider for a spot on the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl roster is Tristan Wirfs. The best of this year’s rookie tackle crop and a big reason why Tom Brady doesn’t look a day over 37 in most games.

Mekhi Becton, Offensive Tackle, New York Jets

The second-best of this year’s rookie tackle crop (who may emerge as the best once he’s fully healthy and properly coached) and the only reason to watch the Jets these days.

Antoine Winfield Jr., Safety, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A versatile, wise-beyond-his-years defender with big-play capability and reliability when playing deep.

Jack Fox, Punter, Detroit Lions

A special teams rookie candidate for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl? Fox leads the NFL with 52.2 gross yards per punt and has also handled kickoffs for the Lions, so aging kicker Matt Prater can focus on beating bad teams with 59-yard field goals. 

2021 NFL Pro Bowl Voting: How to Vote

  • Go to and make your selections.
  • Via Madden NFL 21 on consoles or Madden NFL 21 Mobile.
  • Via Twitter from December 1 by adding #ProBowlVote to a tweet with your chosen player’s first name and last name, Twitter handle, or a hashtag that includes the player’s first name and last name.

More NFL news and analysis from Mike Tanier

Looking for more NFL news and analysis from Mike Tanier? Be sure to check back every Sunday evening and Monday morning for his NFL Recap, and then again later in the week for another NFL column.

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