2014 Minnesota Vikings: No Vikings Make the Pro Bowl, Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith Snubbed

The Pro Bowl list was announced and the Minnesota Vikings have no selections to the squad. This is a fairly big disappointment given the high level of play from some players, like safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen. Outside shots like Xavier Rhodes and Jerome Felton also figured to receive votes, but not enough to make the Pro Bowl. If they are not high enough alternates on the list when players begin pulling out due to injury (or personal preference), then it will be the first time the Vikings do not have Pro Bowlers since 1983.

Everson Griffen, with a game remaining on the season, ended with 12 sacks, while Pro Football Focus has him with 11 additional hits and 38 hurries. In addition to that, Everson is credited by them to have 29 run stops, the third-most of 4-3 DEs. Advanced Football Analytics ranks Griffen as third overall in Win Probability Added of all defensive ends (3-4 and 4-3) behind Jason Pierre-Paul and J.J. Watt.

The defensive ends who made the Pro Bowl ahead of him are 3-4 DEs Calais Campbell and J.J. Watt and 4-3 DEs Demarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Mario Williams. Three of those 4-3 DEs (Ware (10.0), Quinn (10.5) and Wake (11.5) had fewer sacks). Only Wake had more total pressures (including sacks) noted by Pro Football Focus (with 61 total pressures over Griffen’s 60), while only Quinn had a higher run stop percentage. None of them had a bigger impact in winning games by AFA’s WPA metric, and only Williams had a higher run defense grade from Pro Football Focus.

Given that Everson was generally a more impactful pass rusher than many of the selections and that he was a better run defender than many of them, this was a snub.

The safeties who made it ahead of Harrison Smith were Tashaun Gipson, Glover Quin, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Kam Chancellor and T.J. Ward. In ancillary duties like pass-rushing, Harrison Smith ranks second out of all safeties in Pro Football Focus’ pass rusher productivity scores, with two sacks, three hits and five hurries. In coverage, only Gipson of the Pro Bowl safeties allowed a lower passer rating when targeted (41.9 versus Smith’s 67.9) and only Weddle and Chancellor have more total pass deflections. Gipson and Quin have more interceptions (7 and 6 respectively) compared to Smith’s 5 and of those two, only Gipson allowed fewer touchdowns (2).

Weddle, Ward and Chancellor beat out Smith in run stop percentage, though Smith had by a significant margin the highest run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus of any Pro Bowl safety. Quin and Weddle missed fewer tackles, but Quin also only had four stops in the run game. Harrison Smith had the second-highest Win Probability Added of all safeties in AFA’s analytics and the highest expected points added. He had the fifth-most “successful” plays, meaning he had more plays that resulted in offensive losses than all but four safeties, none of whom made the Pro Bowl above him.

It’s difficult to really evaluate the impact of defensive players using advanced statistics, especially ones that use down-and-distance (AFA) over individual play grades (PFF), but the margin by which Smith and Griffen exceed their competition in both measures is quite large at times and significant enough that they should have been first-team Pro Bowlers. On film, it is difficult to say Smith was worse than Ward this year, and though Glover Quin had a stellar year in Teryl Austin’s defense in Detroit, Smith played like the better safety this year.

Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake and Demarcus Ware may be riding on latent recognition as defensive ends, but neither performed at nearly the level Griffen did, especially when accounting for impact in the run game, where Wake and Quinn were liabilities. Wake not only couldn’t finish his pressures and turn them into sacks, but he was the only one who could even get into the backfield more than the other 4-3 ends.

Jerome Felton likely didn’t play enough snaps to truly argue that he was snubbed, but it should be significant that between consistently overrated John Kuhn and quick ballcarrier Marcel Reece, that Felton did more to enable offenses while running. The Vikings lead all teams in the NFL in yards gained per carry with two running backs on the field (versus one), and Felton’s run blocking was from a technical and on-field perspective much better. It seems as if Kuhn’s 3.8 yards a carry and one touchdown was worth more than the traditional role assigned to a fullback, because though he has improved significantly as a run blocker, it wasn’t as consistently on-point as Felton’s.

Still, Anthony Sherman and Kyle Juszczyk were more deserving of the “snub” title at the fullback position.

At cornerback, Xavier Rhodes was beat out by Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Joe Haden, Chris Harris, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and Aqib Talib. It’s a tough class to break, though I think Rhodes outperformed Peterson (who had a mediocre year, all being told). Peterson allowed eight touchdowns to gain only three interceptions. Rhodes allowed a 74.6 passer rating when targeted in coverage, while Peterson’s below-average 97.9 was a liability to an otherwise rock-solid defense. That said, Rhodes was not consistent throughout the year, and other cornerbacks may have a better case to be called snubs, like Buffalo’s Corey Graham or Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant

The Pro Bowl is always a flawed process that draws ire every year, but it’s important to recognize those who didn’t make it who deserve it, especially because bonuses and salary ride on this kind of recognition. Injury and withdrawal will allow some of these players in and gather Pro Bowl recognition, but it’s no guarantee.