The Titans have had at least one first time Pro Bowl selection for three straight seasons: Delanie Walker and Jurrell Casey in 2015, Taylor Lewan in 2016, and then Kevin Byard, Brett Kern, and Brynden Trawick in 2017. All six of those players made the trip last season — the most the team has sent since 2008 — but can the team extend their streak of first timers to four in 2018?
First, we have to weed out the players who have already been selected to the Pro Bowl previously. In addition to the six guys listed above, Brian Orakpo (2009, 2010, 2013, 2016) and Malcolm Butler (2015) have also earned the honor before so they are disqualified from this list.
The Front Runners
2017 AFC Pro Bowlers: Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr (alternate), Alex Smith (alternate)
Mariota has a pretty good chance to make the Pro Bowl simply because of the numbers at his position. There are only 16 starters in the AFC and out of that group, at least three will get selected. Usually there end up being around five or six who end up getting the nod due to one of the top three going to the Super Bowl and others often skipping due to injury or apathy.
Last year’s five selections all return in 2018 with the exception of Alex Smith who was traded to Washington in the NFC. Mariota’s primary competition will likely include Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck, and Deshaun Watson in addition to the four returning Pro Bowlers.
To get there, Mariota will have to bounce back from a statistically rough 2017 season. The new offense under Matt LaFleur and the development of the young wide receivers will have a lot to do with whether Mariota is able to put himself in the Pro Bowl discussion.
2017 AFC Pro Bowlers: A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Aqib Talib, Casey Hayward
Jackson grew by leaps and bounds as the 2017 season wore on. The 2018 offseason has been his first in his football career that has been 100% dedicated to football training after spending his high school and college summers competing in track competitions and last season splitting time between football drills and combine training. The physical tools have never been in question so if Jackson is able to continue the developmental trajectory he was on late last season, he could quickly become one of the best corners in the game.
The competition for Pro Bowl spots at this position will be stout. Talib is now in the NFC, but the rest of the 2017 selections are back and still in their prime. In addition to those guys, Jackson will also have to beat out the likes of Chris Harris Jr., Tre’Davious White, Stephon Gilmore, Jimmy Smith, and his own teammate in Malcolm Butler.
One thing that could give Jackson a leg up on the competition is his participation on kick returns, punt returns, and offense. For one, it gives him another route to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist — though it will take a big effort to knock Tyreek Hill out of that spot. It also helps his name recognition around the league as the media is always fascinated with guys who play both sides of the ball.
2017 AFC Pro Bowlers: Alejandro Villanueva, Taylor Lewan, Donald Penn, Russell Okung (alternate)
If Conklin weren’t coming off knee surgery and likely to miss at least part of the upcoming season he’d be easily my top choice. The Titans big right tackle has put together two very strong seasons since entering the league as the 8th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Conklin has quickly become one of the best tackles in the league and probably deserved to make a Pro Bowl appearance in at least one of his first two years.
Let me take a quick detour here to gripe about the gross disrespect of right tackles by Pro Bowl voters. The Pro Bowl selects just three tackles with no distinction between left and right and that has created a situation where no AFC right tackle has been selected since Willie Anderson in 2006.
That’s RIDICULOUS. Especially since the importance of left tackles as compared to right tackles is significantly overstated in today’s NFL as Andy Benoit explains here. Right tackles face some of the best edge rushers in today’s NFL and shouldn’t be viewed as an afterthought compared to their counterparts on the left. So will this season be the year that Pro Bowl voters finally stop ignoring right tackles?
Conklin benefits from a relatively weak group of AFC tackles in 2018. Taylor Lewan figures to be a likely candidate to make his third straight trip to Orlando, but the other 2017 selections — Villanueva, Penn, and Okung — are all going to be on the wrong side of 30 by the end of this season and none of them are the kind of consistent Pro Bowl locks like you see in the NFC with Tyron Smith, Trent Williams, and Lane Johnson.
How quickly Conklin gets back in the lineup and how effective he is once he gets there could have a huge impact on the Titans 2018 season.
2017 AFC Pro Bowlers: Von Miller, Jadeveon Clowney, Terrell Suggs, Telvin Smith (alternate)
Morgan has been solid and steady for the Titans for years now, but solid and steady isn’t what gets players selected to postseason honors. It’ll take the best year of his career to make his first Pro Bowl in the coming season, but an upgraded secondary combined with a coaching staff led by a man who has a reputation for getting the most out of edge rushers gives Morgan a chance to do just that.
The competition at outside linebacker is fierce though. Miller, Clowney, Suggs, and Smith are all back and unlikely to suddenly fade. Joining that group are outstanding players like Whitney Mercilus, Myles Jack (if he doesn’t end up being reclassified as a middle linebacker), Justin Houston, and Brian Orakpo who will make Morgan’s odds of slipping in to the top three at this position relatively slim.
2017 AFC Pro Bowlers: C.J. Mosley, Ryan Shazier, Joe Schobert (alternate)
Normally I wouldn’t give a rookie much of a shot at making a Pro Bowl, but Evans has a chance for a couple reasons. The first of those reasons is that he has a chance to accumulate big time stats thanks to his pass rushing skills and the Titans stout defensive line playing in front of him. Evans also had a penchant for the big highlight hits during college which could help his cause with voters.
The second reason I give Evans a chance is the relative weakness of the inside linebacker group in the AFC. Similar to the tackle position, most of the league’s premier inside linebackers reside in the NFC currently. Evans’ competition for the two inside/middle linebacker spots for the AFC likely comes down to Mosley, Vontaze Burfict, and D’onta Hightower.
Derrick Henry/Dion Lewis
2017 AFC Pro Bowlers: Le’Veon Bell, Kareem Hunt, LeSean McCoy
Right now it feels very unlikely that either Henry or Lewis get a large enough workload to net the kind of numbers needed to crack in to this group, but the Saints ended up sending both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to the Pro Bowl last season so its not impossible to make the cut as part of a backfield committee. If one of Henry or Lewis were to take the job and run with it, that would increase the odds of one of them making it.
The competition here is tough. Bell and McCoy are established bell cow backs who figure to see big workloads again this year. Hunt is coming off a Co-Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign and figures to be the lead back in a talented Chiefs offense again this year. Beyond those three, Henry and Lewis will also have to contend with the likes of Melvin Gordon and Leonard Fournette.
I think all these players have at least an outside chance at extending the Titans “first time Pro Bowler streak” to four years. My (theoretical) money is on Marcus Mariota as I have a hunch that he’s going to bounce back statistically in a big way in 2018. My longshot pick is Rashaan Evans. I think the combination of lack of competition at that position in the AFC and Evans’ ability to put up big numbers when it comes to attention-getting stats like sacks and tackles for loss could sneak him in.
Who do you think will be selected for their first Pro Bowl in 2018?