It can be debated as to how much the Pro Bowl actually means anymore. Do the best players in the league really even end up playing in the game, whether it’s because they’re passed over entirely for ‘name’ players getting the nods on their legacy or because they’re backing out due to injury or participation in the Super Bowl?
That’s a legitimate discussion to have. But one of the values of the game that regular people don’t get to see is simply the opportunity for great players to learn from one another. In any other profession, this is the equivalent of a major conference, in which those from a similar skill set can gather and share their practices and how they achieve their success.
This can be a big deal, especially for younger players like T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his second season in 2018, and he told reporters down in Orlando last week that he learned a lot from that experience.
“I remember being here with Von Miller and Dee Ford last year, just talking about getting off the ball and those first few steps, and a couple more stuff I don’t really want to give away”, he told reporters. “Some stuff that really helped me, and I really believe being here, talking to those guys and being around some of the best pass-rushers of the game really helped me visualize and be able to actually put the film to work and just things to look at to become a better player”.
Whatever trade secrets he learned last year, he did a great job of applying them, because he had a career year that later this week could see him earn Defensive Player of the Year honors. He already went from being a Pro Bowl alternate to a starter and a first-team All-Pro, and he is certainly one of the top three or so candidates for the year-end individual award.
This year, Von Miller is back again, while the NFC is represented by Chandler Jones, Shaquil Barrett, and Za’Darius Smith as an alternate at the outside linebacker position. There is also Calais Campbell, Melvin Ingram, Cameron Jordan, and Danielle Hunter. Plus, the rookies and younger players, Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, and Matt Judon.
With the different age ranges, levels of experience, and even positions played, this is a good pool of players to learn from. “I remember being down here last year this time and talking to a lot of the pass rush guys and just, all the little intricacies of the game that you don’t necessarily get to talk about during the season”, Watt said. “You get to see guys with different mindsets, and I’ll take away a lot of things that I can apply to my game”.
If for no other reason, this may be the biggest that the Pro Bowl as an experience still retains some value. Sure, a lot of players still back out of the event simply because they have no desire to participate, but it’s still a great opportunity to gather with your peers and talk shop, regardless of the recognition for your greatness.