The competition in the NFL is unlike that in any other league. Between the playoff parity and the fight for players to earn individual accolades, many of the NFL’s finest players never get the chance to play in the Super Bowl or be named to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams.
This may not be a big deal to fans, but these accolades have an impact on contract negotiations and Hall of Fame arguments.
We’ve studied rosters around the league and found the best eight candidates to make their first Pro Bowl in 2022. Some are young stars who are ascending at the right time, while others are in the prime of their physical peak and have more urgency to earn recognition.
Each of these players has the right blend of talent, production and opportunity at a position that has a potential opening for them to take. Let’s dive into our top eight players set to make their first Pro Bowl this season.
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
2021 stats: 70.4 completion percentage, 4,611 yards, 34 TDs, 14 INTs, 108.3 rating
Despite leading the NFL in completion rate and average yards per attempt (8.9), the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow didn’t make the 2021 Pro Bowl. More astounding was that rookie Mac Jones and injured Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson did. The only statistical advantage either had as a passer over Burrow was that Jones had an interception rate 0.2 percent lower.
We can chalk up this mistake to the fact that Burrow ripped off a hot streak at the end of the season, whereas Jackson and Jones cooled off as their campaigns progressed. Burrow’s momentum came too late.
However, his final five-game stretch in the regular season and impressive playoff showing has established him as the next elite AFC quarterback.
Now protected by a much improved offensive line and still surrounded by an elite cast of playmakers, Burrow should get even better in 2022. He’ll need to for the Bengals to win the AFC North again since both Baltimore and Cleveland figure to be stronger teams. We can also expect Pittsburgh to be feisty and competitive based on their success under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Burrow’s rare touch and confidence in the pocket help overcome average arm strength. His ability to pick apart defenses with underneath receiving threats Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd is perfectly paired with the big plays he and Ja’Marr Chase create.
Odafe Oweh, Edge, Baltimore Ravens
2021 stats: 33 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles
If there’s ever a position to bank on sheer athleticism, it’s edge-rusher. Large humans who quickly explode out of their stance are difficult to find. As much as evaluators love to see collegiate production, sometimes factors beyond an individual’s control limit the raw stats.
There’s not a better example of a fantastic athlete being a better NFL player than a collegiate one than Baltimore Ravens edge-rusher Odafe Oweh, who had zero sacks in seven games for Penn State in 2020. But the Ravens grabbed him 31st overall in 2021 nonetheless.
Baltimore knew that gambling on Oweh’s immense upside was worth the risk. The 6’5″, 251-pounder ran a jaw-dropping 4.37-second 40-yard dash, 6.9-second three-cone drill and 4.2-second short shuttle. He also posted an 11-foot, 2-inch broad jump and 39.5-inch vertical.
Oweh rewarded Baltimore with five sacks and three forced fumbles despite only two starts in 15 appearances as a rookie last year. Pro Football Focus named him to its All-Rookie Team as he led the first-year players with 49 quarterback pressures and 10 quarterback hits.
New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will rely on Oweh more, since veterans Pernell McPhee and Justin Houston have departed. He could break out with a double-digit sack season and establish himself as the next dominant pass-rusher in the AFC.