Five Saints made the Pro Bowl, all of them deserving. Let’s take a look:
Drew Brees was the easy choice to start at QB in the NFC. He’s having far and away the best season at the position in the conference, even after the recent three-game slump. He and Patrick Mahomes (and maybe Philip Rivers) are in the conversation for the MVP award, but Brees is the only one of them playing in the NFC.
Michael Thomas was another no-brainer, as not only one of the NFL’s leading receivers but as someone on track to smash the ceiling for catch rate among wide receivers. The NFL has only tracked the statistic since 1992, but the highest rate I can find in that time among anyone at wide receiver (minimum 80 targets, or 5 a game) is Wes Welker in that 2007 all-time great Patriots offense, at 77.2%. And Welker was running lots of short, high-percentage routes, with the threat of Randy Moss over the top to help make life easier. Thomas has no help; he is the help. And his catch rate this year is at 85.8%; that’s sixth among all players since 1992, Welker’s season, by comparison, is 53rd.
Terron Armstead has long had the talent and skill to deserve a Pro Bowl bid, but injuries kept him off the field too much to get the votes until this year. And that trend hasn’t changed: Armstead has missed the last five games with a shoulder injury, though he’s off the injury report and set to return against Pittsburgh. Fortunately for Armstead, he had gained enough votes before that injury to get selected anyway.
Max Unger has been a rock of the offensive line during his time in New Orleans. He had played every snap of the season until leaving the Panthers game early with a concussion. He received an All-Pro bid in his time with the Seahawks, but has been long overlooked for such accolades since joining the Saints. He at last gets his due as one of the anchors of one of the best lines in the NFL.
Cameron Jordan is once again one of the NFL’s best pass rushers and sack leaders; his 12 sacks put him second in the NFC among defensive ends, making him an easy choice for one of the three defensive end spots.
Eight other Saints were, I thought, deserving of or at least in contention for a Pro Bowl nod, but didn’t get one:
Alvin Kamara hasn’t been quite as efficient as he was last year, but he’s having another tremendous season, with nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. The three NFC running back selections– Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Saquon Barkley– have all cracked 1,800 yards from scrimmage on the season. It’s as tough to say Kamara isn’t having a Pro Bowl season, but it’s also tough to say he should clearly get in over any of those three.
Ryan Ramczyk stepped in as a rookie and played both tackle positions at a high level last year. This year, he’s having another great season (he was a selection for Pro Football Focus’ Pro Bowl team), and he’s the only Saints offensive lineman (and offensive player, actually) who has played every single snap this season. Dallas’ Tyron Smith is having a down year and got his selection largely on reputation; Ramczyk or Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari would’ve been a better choice. (PFF seems to prefer Bakhtiari to Williams, specifically.)
The entire Saints’ offensive line is of Pro Bowl caliber, honestly. Larry Warford was a replacement selection last year, and he or Andrus Peat would have been a worthy selection. That said, the three choices for the NFC team– Zack Martin, Brandon Brooks, and Trai Turner– are all worthy, with the first two in particular having the best seasons at the position by consensus.
Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, Sheldon Rankins‘ eight sacks make him a strong pick for an interior lineman, but he lost his spot to two guys having strong seasons with more buzz around them, Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox and Chicago’s Akiem Hicks. (Aaron Donald, leading the league in sacks and the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, isn’t competing for a spot with anybody.) Rankins has more sacks than both, but Cox’s reputation and big contract help him here, as Hicks is helped by the story of Chicago’s dominant defense (though the former Saint has been playing very strongly). Hopefully soon Rankins’ fearsome pass rush and high draft position will build his reputation enough to begin earning the selections he deserves, though Donald, Cox, and Hicks were in their own rights all worthy.
Demario Davis getting the off-ball outside linebacker spot over Anthony Barr should be no question; Barr’s selection was made largely on reputation, as he’s missed time and hasn’t been at his best when he was on the field. Davis, on the other hand, is the major reason New Orleans’ run defense has improved so much, as he has uncanny instincts in diagnosing run plays, closes well, and makes sure tackles. He’s also an effective blitzer, with four sacks on the year. A comparison of their counting stats makes the case clear (Davis also has four passes defensed to Barr’s two):
Marshon Lattimore started off shakier than his rookie campaign, but, like the rest of the Saints defense, he’s shaken off those September struggles to return to his old form. People haven’t adjusted their perceptions yet to the improved performance of the Saints defense (as we discussed last week), and, unlike last year when he missed three games, Lattimore has been healthy, only second to Marcus Williams in snaps played for the defense. That said, it’s hard to say Lattimore was snubbed when considering the four people who were selected– Kyle Fuller, Patrick Peterson, Darius Slay, and Byron Jones have all had outstanding seasons.
And on special teams: I think Wil Lutz should have made it over Aldrick Rosas. Both have only missed one field goal this year, and Rosas’ 28/29 advantage over Lutz’s 27/28 is negated by Lutz making 21 more extra points (46/47 to 25/26). Lutz is third in the league in scoring, first among NFC kickers, and was leading the fan voting at the position, so it’s hard to figure how he missed out.
All of these players deserved to go; Ramczyk, Davis, and Lutz were the only ones where I felt someone who was having a clearly worse year was selected, though. And there were a few guys I thought were having good seasons who might have merited a selection but weren’t likely to have a realistic chance– players like Marcus Williams, Thomas Morstead, and Justin Hardee. I’d like to have seen more Saints selected, in recognition of the seasons the players (and the team as a whole) have had, but ideally, the team will be in a position where none of its selections get to play in the game anyway.