The Pro Bowl has really lost plenty of its aura of an offseason acknowledgment.
It has almost turned into a game of who they can actually get to show up to the game, as players often opt out of the exhibition game. It also doesn’t seem like as high of an honor because fans play a pretty substantial role in the voting process, which means you end up with quite a few snubs that really shouldn’t happen. It makes sense though, as the league is trying to find any way to get people to actually watch the game.
The Bengals could still see a number of players end up getting the invite to the Pro Bowl though. Well, they have a few players who are worthy of getting that nod as a Pro Bowler at least, and the best part is some of them are really young players. Unfortunately, the Bengals also have guys like A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, who probably won’t be included due to their injuries.
Geno Atkins, defensive tackle
Atkins had a hat trick in the sack column last week (three). He now has his third-highest sack total of his career with two games left to play. Atkins has had a very quiet season after starting out hot with six sacks in his first five games. After that, he had one sack in his next eight games before having three last week.
Some may look at that and see it as Atkins struggling, but if you watch most of those games, he is still providing pressure and is that same force in the middle. It is a matter of his pressure causing the quarterback to try and escape the pocket, and maybe he creates a sack for someone on the outside.
It also doesn’t help that after Carl Lawson went down the team has struggled to have someone be able to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups that are created by doubling Atkins. That means teams are less inclined to even try leaving one guy responsible for Atkins.
In any case, Atkins is third among interior defenders with 10 sacks. It is hard to make a case that doesn’t get you a Pro Bowl nod.
Jessie Bates III, safety
Bates has shown he has a bright future in this league. His stats don’t quite jump off the page at you, but it is what he does that the box score doesn’t show that makes him a great Pro Bowl choice. He has been one of the darlings of the analytics crowd. He even was second in the race for Rookie of the Year through Week 9 over at Pro Football Focus.
As far as his stats that do show up in the box score, he leads the Bengals with 98 tackles, and he is second on the team with three interceptions, which includes a pick-six that helped the Bengals beat Bucs. He also has five passes defended on the season. The bigger headline is all the plays he has prevented. He has shown he can be a proper center fielder in the NFL, and the good news is he is probably going to get better.
Joe Mixon, running back
Running back usually has pretty stiff competition for the Pro Bowl. Luckily for Mixon, his stiffest competition seems to be in the NFC, and since the Pro Bowl is returning to the AFC vs. NFC format, that means his spot should be all but secured. He currently leads the AFC in rushing yards. He also has eight rushing touchdowns, which is just one below Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay’s nine. Those two also happen to be his biggest competition. The only other running back with close to comparable stats in the AFC is the Colts Marlon Mack, who may be coming on strong too late to steal a spot.
It is great that Mixon is showing his worth in only his first full year of being the lead back. It is also impressive he is so high up considering he missed two games earlier in the year. If the Bengals were smart, they could have used him a little more during key times, but hopefully, these last few games and a Pro Bowl invitation will get them to realize what they have in Mixon.
Carlos Dunlap, defensive end
Dunlap doesn’t have the strongest case of making it. He has eight sacks on the season, which has him tied for 21st in the NFL. There are 12 defensive ends with eight or more sacks so far this season. The AFC and NFC split could ultimately get Dunlap the nod though. It also helps that he has two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery along with seven passes defended.
Dunlap is the 14th-best edge defender at Pro Football Focus. He’s actually got the sixth-best run defense grade, as he’s one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in football when it comes to setting the edge and defending the run.
Again, it isn’t the strongest resume to get in the Pro Bowl, but considering some people will opt out, Dunlap should end up with an invitation, even if he isn’t the first choice.