The timing of yesterday’s announcement that Antonio Brown would not be participating in the Pro Bowl due to injury—and that JuJu Smith-Schuster would be the wide receiver to replace him on the Pro Bowl roster—was fortuitous, given that I had an article lined up in my mind speculating that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year breakout star would wind up as a Pro Bowl alternate, and deservedly so.
While the Steelers no longer announce which of their players are named alternates who do not make the Pro Bowl, it was pretty easy to predict that Smith-Schuster would be one of the top alternates in the AFC side. With DeAndre Hopkins’ injury in the Houston Texans’ loss, I thought Smith-Schuster would already have a very good chance of reaching the Pro Bowl.
Instead, he replaces Brown, who looked like a Pro Bowl treadmill runner just two days ago. But certainly don’t blame or fault the nine-year veteran for backing out. It’s not as though he hasn’t been to the Pro Bowl before, and there’s no good that can come out of meeting up with some of his teammates there well before the dust has settled on his drama to end the season.
But this isn’t about the wide receiver who is taking himself out of the game. It’s about the wide receiver who should have been in the game in the first place. I already presented my argument for why Smith-Schuster should have already been named a Pro Bowler outright, comparing his numbers favorably to the Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen and suggesting that same-team bias worked against him.
Prior to Smith-Schuster’s inclusion, the Steelers had been second in the NFL in terms of the total number of players named to the Pro Bowl for the 2018 season, behind, if I recall correctly, the Chargers. The wide receiver brings them up to seven now, with the possibility of more to come.
Last season, the Steelers ended up with 10 players in the Pro Bowl, including seven on offense, two on defense, and one on special teams. Both Cameron Heyward and Roosevelt Nix were named to the Pro Bowl that year as alternates.
This year, they already have one alternate addition and there are at least a couple of other possibilities. The most likely would be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is likely the first- or second-alternate in the AFC.
Of the four quarterbacks remaining in the AFC postseason, three were named to the Pro Bowl, those being Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes, so unless Andrew Luck and the Colts reach the Super Bowl, at least one quarterback will be an alternate. Frequently, two or more end up backing out. I think it was two years ago that all three quarterbacks ended up not playing for one side.
Nix would be the other likely alternate possibility. Last year, Ramon Foster claimed that he was a first-alternate at guard, but he seemed to suggest that he would only play in the game if he were chosen outright. He could always change his mind.