Last year the Titans had five players selected to the Pro Bowl: Delanie Walker, Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, DeMarco Murray, and Taylor Lewan. Lewan was the only first timer out of that group, although it was the first trip as a Titan for Murray and Orakpo. In addition to those five, Marcus Mariota, Jack Conklin, and Jalston Fowler were all named alternates, but did not end up getting in (Mariota only missed due to injury). Besides the five that made it last year, only one other current Titan has ever made the Pro Bowl. See if you can guess it without looking it up (I couldn’t)...
If you guessed Matt Cassel in 2011 (following the 2010 season), you’re correct and I’m impressed. Cassel was the first quarterback alternate and replaced an “injured” Tom Brady for the game.
With only six players off the board, there are lots of opportunities for new Titans to make their first Pro Bowl in 2017. Here’s my top 6 list ranked from longest shots to safest bets:
(When I say “2017 Pro Bowl” below, I’m referring to the Pro Bowl that took place at the end of last season)
Logan Ryan (10%)
2017 AFC Pro Bowl Corners: Marcus Peters, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Casey Hayward, Stephon Gilmore (replacement for injured Peters)
Ryan makes this list for two reasons. First, he’s a ballhawk on defense who is among the top 10 in the NFL in interceptions since coming in to the league in 2013. Pro Bowl voters love interceptions as evidenced by Stephon Gilmore’s inclusion last year. If Ryan racks up a ton of picks over the course of 2017, he could find himself getting the nod.
The second reason is that Ryan is going to get a lot more shine on the Titans than he did on the Patriots. On the Pats, he was always the Robin to Malcolm Butler’s Batman mainly due to Butler’s Super Bowl winning interception against the Seahawks. Now that Ryan is in Tennessee he will be looked at as a leader on this defense and will likely get most of the credit if the pass defense improves substantially from last season. There is a good narrative there and voters love a good narrative almost as much as they love interceptions.
What keeps Ryan from being higher on my list is his competition at the position. The two Broncos are almost certain to make it again and Peters likely will too. Jalen Ramsey figures to be a primary candidate to compete with the likes of Hayward, Gilmore, and Butler for that last spot. I doubt Ryan makes it unless his interception totals are insane.
Kevin Byard (30%)
2017 AFC Pro Bowl Free Safeties: Devin McCourty, Reggie Nelson, Eric Weddle (replacement for Super Bowl bound McCourty)
Kevin Byard is one of the Titans players that just feels like he is about to explode on the NFL scene. Last year he was quietly outstanding rotating with Rashad Johnson, Da’Norris Searcy, and Daimion Stafford while getting work at both safety spots. Entering this season he figures to dominate the snaps at free safety since the other top safeties on the roster — Searcy, Johnathan Cyprien, and Brynden Trawick — all profile more as a strong safety types.
Byard was a ballhawk in college with 19 career interceptions (tied for 16th most in NCAA history) and playing more snaps as a deep safety in 2017 may give him a chance to show those skills off to the NFL. As I mentioned with Ryan, Pro Bowl voters love interceptions. Again, competition keeps Byard from being higher on this list as McCourty, Weddle, and Reshad Jones are all established veteran free safeties performing at a high level in the AFC. While it may or may not happen this year, I fully expect Byard to be in a Pro Bowl — or several — over the course of his career.
Derrick Morgan (35%)
2017 AFC Pro Bowl Outside Linebackers: Von Miller, Lorenzo Alexander, and Brian Orakpo
The case for Morgan is pretty clear. He finished 6th among AFC outside linebackers in sacks last season behind Miller, Alexander, Erik Walden, Brian Orakpo, and Dee Ford. Out of that group Alexander is almost certain to regress and Walden still hasn’t signed with a team for the 2017 season. Miller is a virtual lock to make it again next year, but outside of him it seems the other two spots are up for grabs.
Morgan was outstanding last year and the presence of Orakpo and Casey in the pass rush means he will seldom face double teams. There is a chance that he cashes in on a few more sacks this year thanks to an improved secondary holding up for a split second or two longer. If he does, he will stand a good chance at making his first Pro Bowl.
There are two reasons he didn’t land higher here. First, if Kevin Dodd is healthy and productive this season, there is a chance we see him eat in to Morgan’s snaps over the course of the year. Second, there are a few other OLBs who could slide up to challenge for a spot like Melvin Ingram and Shane Ray.
Jack Conklin (55%)
2017 AFC Pro Bowl Tackles: Joe Thomas, Donald Penn, Taylor Lewan, Andrew Whitworth (replacement for injured Donald Penn)
Conklin was an alternate for the Pro Bowl last year after an exceptional rookie campaign. He was named First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press as the best right tackle in the NFL, but unfortunately for him the Pro Bowl does not recognize a distinction between right and left tackle which kept him out of the festivities in Orlando last season. Unfortunately this lack of division between right and left tackles means it is always extremely difficult for right tackles to make Pro Bowls. In fact, no right tackle has played in a Pro Bowl since Tyson Clabo in 2010 and since he was actually an injury replacement, you have to go back to Jon Stinchcomb in 2009 to find the last one elected outright, and if you want to be even more adventurous, the last right tackle to play for the AFC in the Pro Bowl would be Willie Anderson of the Bengals in 2006. Right tackles simply don’t make Pro Bowls historically.
However Conklin could be the guy to break that streak. His impressive rookie season laid the ground work and given a full year of work with the Titans strength coaches and Russ Grimm, it is hard to see how Conklin doesn’t improve from year 1 to year 2. With Whitworth moving off to the NFC and Donald Penn and Joe Thomas both another year older, the path is somewhat clear for Conklin to ascend to the roster, but his stiffest competition may come from his 2016 draft classmates Laremy Tunsil — who will move over to left tackle this year after spending his rookie season at guard for the Dolphins — and Ronnie Stanley.
I’m giving Conklin slightly better than even odds that he will end up becoming the first right tackle to make the Pro Bowl in the AFC since 2006.
Jalston Fowler (70%)
2017 AFC Pro Bowl Fullbacks: Kyle Juszczyk
Fullback is a dying position in the modern NFL, but the Titans are one of the few remaining teams that use the blocking back pretty frequently and they have a good one in Fowler. He was already the alternate last year so we know he was close. With Juszczyk moving to the NFC to play for the 49ers, the opportunity is there for Fowler to step in to that spot in the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. His primary competition will likely come from whichever Bills fullback emerges out of Pat DiMarco and Mike Tolbert. While we’re here, can anyone tell me why the Bills signed two fullbacks this offseason?
Fowler doesn’t catch many passes which is a strike against him, but if he helps pave the way for the AFC’s leading rushing attack this year that may be enough to get him in.
Marcus Mariota (99%)
2017 AFC Pro Bowl Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton (replacement for injured Derek Carr), Alex Smith (replacement for Super Bowl bound Tom Brady)
I think this is about as close to a lock as you can get for a list like this. Short of an injury, its hard to see a whole lot getting between Mariota and his first Pro Bowl. Of course, he will be skipping the game to play in the Super Bowl, but he will be honored nonetheless. He would have made it last season as the first alternate if he hadn’t been injured, and that was before Jon Robinson went out and got him Eric Decker, Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith to play with.
There are a few good quarterbacks in the AFC. Obviously Tom Brady will be selected barring injury, but he always sits out of the Pro Bowl so he won’t hold one of the three spots. Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Carr, and Andrew Luck are the big competitors for Mariota, but he only has to finish in the middle of that pack to make the game. I think there are big things in store for this offense and Mariota in 2017 so a Pro Bowl nod for the trigger man seems like a given here.
Let me know what you guys think in the comments below.