Offensive Player Rankings, Week 15: Building AFC, NFC Pro Bowl rosters on offense
With the 2021 Pro Bowl roster set to be announced on Monday, Dec. 21, I’ve decided to make my own list of offensive players worthy of making this year’s all-star team.
Below, I have selected 42 players — splitting them up by conference — who deserve to make this year’s Pro Bowl, which is going virtual in Madden NFL 21 this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to my usual offensive player rankings next week. Until then, here is my list of offensive Pro Bowlers.
NOTE: There is still time to fill out your own ballot, as fan voting concludes Thursday.
AFC quarterback analysis: What Patrick Mahomes does in Andy Reid’s system proves he’s a special player. What he does outside the system — when plays break down — shows he’s the best player in the league. Look no further than Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins for proof. The NFL’s passing leader through 14 weeks tossed three of his five interceptions and took a 30-yard sack (the longest sack since Stoney Case’s 30-yard sack in 1997), and the Chiefs still won — and should’ve by double digits. Deshaun Watson is doing some incredible things, considering the hand he’s been dealt. Without the weaponry of other quarterbacks on this list, it’s pretty shocking to see where Watson is at production-wise. He ranks second in the league in passing yards (3,761), is completing 68.9 percent of passes and has a 25:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 109.4 passer rating. Josh Allen has always been a talented player, but he’s made so many strides since his rookie season. In the MVP conversation earlier in the year, Allen’s improvements as a passer and decision-maker — combined with his outstanding running ability — have the Bills in the best position they’ve been in in years.
NFC quarterback analysis: The Green Bay Packers have one of the most consistently productive offenses when Aaron Rodgers is under center. The veteran has really taken ownership of the attack and finds a way to involve every player on the field, from No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams to previously unheralded tight end Robert Tonyan, who has an impressive nine TDs in 2020. Rodgers is in a groove with Matt LaFleur and playing some of his best football in years with 39 touchdown passes to just four picks. While Rodgers and Mahomes are likely the MVP front-runners, Russell Wilson is probably the most valuable player to his team. The Seahawks aren’t always on the winning side of the scoreboard and Wilson makes his share of mistakes, but he has incredible command of the offense and is never panicked. Kyler Murray is the most exciting quarterback to come into the NFL over the last decade (that includes Mahomes and last year’s MVP, Lamar Jackson). Murray can beat you with his legs and arm equally, making for a dangerous combination that keeps defensive coordinators up at night.
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AFC running back analysis: With 1,532 rushing yards through Week 14, Derrick Henry needs to average 156 rush yards per game over the last three contests to rack up 2,000 for the season. The NFL’s reigning rushing champion has an opportunity to become the first player in over a decade to lead the league in rushing in back-to-back seasons. How can you leave a player of this caliber off this list? You can’t. Nick Chubb finds himself on this list — despite missing four games and splitting touches with Kareem Hunt — due to his efficiency. Chubb is averaging 5.9 rush yards per carry and 97.9 yards per game, while ranking fifth in rushing yards even though he’s played at least three fewer games than the rest of his company in the top five. Lastly, I gotta give rookie James Robinson some love. The Jags knew what they were doing when they released Leonard Fournette, a former No. 4 overall draft pick, before the start of the season. Speaking of, the undrafted free agent has surpassed Fournette (1,361) for the third-most scrimmage yards by a rookie in Jags franchise history. Watch out, Maurice Jones-Drew, he’s right on your tail!
NFC running back analysis: Where are the Vikings without Dalvin Cook? Everything Gary Kubiak does on offense goes through him — play action, bootlegs, Kirk Cousins … they’re all bad without one of the NFL’s most dynamic players. Not to mention, Cook is tied with Henry with a league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns. Alvin Kamara is probably the best all-around weapon at the position (along with the injured Christian McCaffrey). Sean Payton uses him in so many different ways and he’s equally effective no matter how he’s utilized in the system. Kamara could be named to the Pro Bowl as a slot receiver, too. He’s that good in the passing game. Ronald Jones has come a long way since last season and he’s given the Bucs’ pass-heavy offense a physical rushing attack. A top-five rusher with three games remaining, Jones has remained the Bucs’ RB1 all season despite having Fournette, LeSean McCoy and Ke'Shawn Vaughn behind him on the depth chart. It’s unfortunate that he might have to miss time for a fractured pinky finger, but that doesn’t take away from what he’s done so far this season.
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Fullback analysis: Alec Ingold is a big reason for Josh Jacobs and the Raiders’ success on the ground, but his athletic ability is underestimated. Most QBs don’t lobby to get fullbacks involved in the passing game these days, but my brother, Derek, often petitions for Ingold to be more heavily involved in that aspect. More “Spider 2 Y Banana,” anyone? The NFC representative was between C.J. Ham and San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk, and I ultimately went with the Viking. Ham has been an integral part of Gary Kubiak’s scheme as one of only three fullbacks in the league to play at least 300 offensive snaps this season. He’s excelled as a lead blocker for Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison in the Vikings’ sixth-ranked run game and has earned a 71.0 grade in pass protection from Pro Football Focus.
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AFC wide receiver analysis: Mahomes simply needs to get the ball into Tyreek Hill’s hands. “Cheetah” routinely takes over with his speed as a runner or receiver, whether he gets the ball at the line of scrimmage or 40 or 50 yards downfield — evidenced by his 16 total TDs (14 receiving) this season. Stefon Diggs has given the Buffalo Bills a No. 1 receiver who not only produces week in and week out but elevates everyone around him. Quite frankly, all of the things he took heat for in Minnesota have gone away. Maybe the change of scenery he asked for truly was what he needed.
The Titans’ offense isn’t complex, as Ryan Tannehill usually hands the ball to Derrick Henry or throws to A.J. Brown. It’s that simple, and Henry and Brown keep making plays to help keep the Titans atop the AFC South. Like a running back with the ball in his hands, Brown is extremely physical and tough to tackle, dragging defenders with him for days. He is tied for fourth in forced missed tackles (14) among wide receivers this season. Choosing the last AFC wideout was a tough decision; ultimately, Chase Claypool has consistently impressed and taken the Steelers’ passing game to the next level. The rookie has the size (6-foot-4, 238 pounds) to win contested catches while being a crafty route runner. Just 13 games into his NFL career, he’s already built a strong rapport with Ben Roethlisberger that’s led to eight TD receptions.
NFC wide receiver analysis: Davante Adams does everything for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense by essentially beating the cornerback on every play. I won’t be surprised to see Adams earn an MVP vote if he continues to build on his 14-TD campaign down the stretch. DK Metcalf has turned into the player the Seahawks envisioned when they drafted him. Russell Wilson finally has a consistent target he can count on in any situation, and the second-year receiver is a matchup nightmare due to his sheer size (6-4, 229 pounds). Most cover men aren’t big enough to defend him, and the ones who are aren’t fast enough to keep up with him. Metcalf has probably left 300-400 yards on the field and still ranks second with 1,180 receiving yards this season. Once he figures out how to completely take over games, he’s going to start putting up Calvin Johnson-type numbers.
I love what Calvin Ridley’s doing down in Atlanta. He’s the best pure route runner in the league right now, as he breaks his routes so effortlessly. There isn’t a route where he has to slow down; Ridley executes patterns exactly how the coach draws ’em up on the tablet with his amazing lateral quickness and body control. A deserved Pro Bowl nomination would be the icing on the cake for his first 1,000-yard receiving season. Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson is making a real push for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, racking up 1,078 receiving yards through 13 games — leading all 2020 rookies and ranking fourth among all players in their first 13 games since the 1970 merger.
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AFC tight end analysis: Travis Kelce leads the league in receiving yards (1,250) and is just 128 yards shy of George Kittle’s single-season tight end record for many reasons, but one in particular: He has great feel for where Patrick Mahomes is at and always finds space when the play breaks down. Darren Waller has followed up his breakout 2019 campaign with an equally impressive season that’s included a career-high seven touchdown catches. Waller has been Derek Carr’s No. 1 target all season long as a mismatch nightmare for linebackers and safeties. I haven’t seen a defender who can cover Waller or Kelce yet.
NFC tight end analysis: Robert Tonyan has become a good all-around tight end for the Packers. Sure, he’s benefitted from playing with Aaron Rodgers, but he’s also had to make plays. The third-year pro has hauled in nine touchdown receptions in a breakout season on Green Bay’s No. 2-ranked passing offense. The Packers finally found a mainstay at the position after the Jimmy Graham experiment failed. Another gem hidden in the NFC North is T.J. Hockenson. The Lions’ tight end is still finding his way, but provides a big challenge matchup-wise for most linebackers or safeties. He has a good feel for space and has a Tony Gonzalez-like presence on the field. He’s having a fine Year 2 with six receiving TDs as an up-and-comer.
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AFC tackle analysis: Garett Bolles earned some well-deserved loot back in November (a four-year, $68 million contract extension) due to his remarkable 2020 campaign. He’s the AFC’s highest-graded tackle (per PFF) for good reason, as he hasn’t allowed a sack on 481 pass-blocking snaps. Isaiah Wynn is much improved from his rookie season and has played an instrumental role in the Patriots’ top-five run game led by Cam Newton and Damien Harris. Jack Conklin’s arrival in Cleveland couldn’t have come at a better time. The one-time Pro Bowler is one of the top linemen in the NFL, especially as a run blocker. I’m still wondering how the Titans let him walk last offseason.
NFC tackle analysis: Trent Williams is the most dominant offensive tackle in the league. His size (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) and athletic ability are displayed in his aggressiveness in the run game. Taking a year off has only made him better. No one is quite as lucky as Aaron Rodgers, as he’s had the luxury of having David Bakhtiari protecting his blind side for years. The veteran tackle has been exceptional in pass pro this season, allowing a grand total of seven hurries (no sacks) on 378 pass-blocking snaps. Terron Armstead’s consistent play when blocking for Drew Brees and Taysom Hill should earn him his third consecutive Pro Bowl nod.
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AFC guard analysis: The Browns boast a top-three rushing attack thanks, in part, to the stellar play of their offensive guards, Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio (who narrowly missed this list). Teller has earned Pro Football Focus’ highest overall grade among guards this season due to his exceptional run-blocking ability. Quenton Nelson is the most physically gifted and aggressive guard to come along in several decades. A more athletic Chris Snee (or maybe even Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson), Indy’s young guard possesses the graceful hand position of a black belt in jujitsu.David DeCastro, a five-time Pro Bowler, has provided Ben Roethlisberger plenty of time in the pocket this season. The veteran guard has not allowed a single sack on 447 pass-blocking snaps, with just nine total pressures.
NFC guard analysis: To no one’s surprise, Zack Martin was having another stellar season before landing on IR with a calf injury in late November. Remarkably, the six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro hadn’t recorded a single penalty in 10 games and allowed just one sack. Washington’s Brandon Scherff is as steady and consistent as they come. The sixth-year pro has kept Washington’s quarterbacks clean by allowing two sacks all season, while paving the way for a rejuvenated rushing attack that features rookie Antonio Gibson (when healthy). Martin and Scherff epitomize what guard play should be: nasty, tough and brilliant. Tampa Bay’s Ali Marpet is PFF’s third-highest ranked guard in the NFC due to his outstanding pass blocking. Marpet has helped keep 43-year-old Tom Brady clean on 416 pass-blocking snaps, allowing zero sacks, seven hits and four hurries.
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AFC center analysis: Brandon Linder has been one of the few bright spots for the Jaguars this season. As PFF’s highest-rated center in the conference, Linder has done well run-blocking for the team’s spectacular undrafted rookie running back, James Robinson. Over with the Raiders, Rodney Hudson has been amazingly dominant over the last several seasons, having not given up a sack since 2017. Incredible.
NFC center analysis: Corey Linsley had been the All-Pro front-runner all season prior to his knee injury suffered in Week 12. The Packers center earns a Pro Bowl selection due to his consistent and great play in both the run and pass games. Frank Ragnow might be on a team that doesn’t get much attention, but his play alone merits watching the Detroit Lions. He’s one of the NFC’s best and a joy to watch.
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