The NFL’s Pro Bowl teams operate with 44-man rosters. Each side is elected four wide receivers, three running backs, a fullback, two tight ends, three tackles, three guards, two centers, and three quarterbacks on offense; three defensive ends, three interior linemen, three outside linebackers, two inside linebackers, four cornerbacks, and three safeties on defense; and a kicker, punter, ‘special teamer’, and return specialist for special teams.
That adds up to 88 players who earn the distinction of being elected a Pro Bowler every season. Of course, by the time the Pro Bowl game is actually played, there are far more than the original 88 players who are termed a Pro Bowler.
Many players who end up not participating in the game do so, legitimately, because their team has advanced to the Super Bowl. That was the case for 10 players this season between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
When all was said and done, there were a total of 125 players who have been invited to participate in the Pro Bowl this year, including the players who dropped out due to a variety of injuries and ‘injuries’, and the players who were chosen to replace them.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are among those replacement players. Defensive end Cameron Heyward was named to the Pro Bowl after Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell backed out with an injury. Fullback Roosevelt Nix also earned his Pro Bowl nod because Patriots fullback James Develin has a game to play next week.
But the Steelers have eight other plays who were voted in straight away, of course, including offensive linemen Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro; running back Le’Veon Bell; quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; wide receiver Antonio Brown; linebacker Ryan Shazier; and kicker Chris Boswell.
All eight of those players with the obvious exception of Shazier (who was replaced by Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert) accepted their invitations and are participating with the rest of the Pro Bowlers—over a third of whom are replacement players.
Among those Pro Bowlers who are not participating due to ‘injury’ are Philip Rivers, Khalil Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, Campbell, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith, Trent Williams, Zack Martin, Jimmy Graham, Everson Griffen, Aaron Donald, Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and Landon Collins.
That is an awful lot of star power for a game that is intended to represent the best that the league has to offer. Maybe some of them have some actual injuries I’m not aware of, but the majority simply don’t want to be bothered.
And nobody should blame them, either. It’s an exhibition game that has greatly lost its prestige. And as a consequence, the inclusion of a third of the roster being replacement players only makes it less of an honor.