For the first time in 40 years the Broncos don’t have a single player on the NFL’s Pro Bowl roster. It’s a slap in the face to a young roster currently in the midst of their best season since Peyton Manning’s last ride in 2015. It’s also not altogether unpredictable, as it looked like there were as few as four real contenders for the honor back when Pro Bowl voting first opened and two of them all but disappeared since. By the time the Pro Bowl was announced on December 22nd, one player emerged as a dark horse for the all-star event because of his ridiculous ability to punk defenders while two defenders had a realistic shot. None made it.
The frustrating part about Williams missing the Pro Bowl is that the rookies been better on a per carry basis than Joe Mixon, who made the game. Pookie saw his chances evaporate because he’s caught in a timeshare backfield with Melvin Gordon. While splitting snaps has helped keep both backs fresh and given the Broncos’ offense some semblance of stability, it cut Williams’ total numbers and hurt his appeal to casual fans who point to Mixon’s 10 touchdowns. I suspected this would be the case back in November:
The fact Derrick Henry’s out until January may open the door for Javonte Williams, and from there it’s a matter of receiving opportunities. If Pookie emerges from the bye week as the bell cow back after Melvin Gordon’s fumble in the Eagles game, seven games and the backfield situations around the AFC could give him a shot. He’s clearly the future of the Broncos’ backfield. The rookie runs angry and combines elite contact balance with the kind of explosiveness to haunt a defender’s dreams. He’s also a well-rounded back who has the trust of his coaches, which means he sees the field on passing downs when Gordon sits.
Williams has been extremely productive when he has touched the ball this year. As I write this, he’s totaled 1,103 yards on just 208 touches, and his angry running style and underrated lateral mobility’s helped him average a very good 4.8 yards per tote across his 170 carries. In fact, by Sports Info Solutions charting Williams has either eluded or broken a tackle on 19.4% of his touches this season. The next closest back is James Conner at 12.8%.
The good news is barring injury, Williams should have other opportunities to make the event down the road. He’s been on the ballot for rookie of the week five different times this year, and won it after the Broncos’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys. It isn’t as if the league doesn’t recognize how great he’s been.
Javonte Williams's elite contact balance leads to a 38-yard run! pic.twitter.com/T8qooa70Z8— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 7, 2021
Patrick Surtain II
Surtain’s snub is more difficult to rationalize than Williams because the rookie has quickly established himself as one of the best cover corners in the NFL. Unfortunately what truly separates him from the Denzel Wards of the world is how he draws a ton of targets and still finds a way to shut down opponents, the kind of subtle excellence casual voters won’t recognize.
Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) when targeted for corners, along with target rate (targets / coverage snaps) through Week 13 of this season.— Anthony Reinhard (@reinhurdler) December 9, 2021
CPOE model: nflfastR
Def Targets: Sportradar
Cov Snaps: PFF pic.twitter.com/6T4A2tUwLf
So far this season Surtain’s allowed opposing passers to complete half of their 68 throws in his direction. He’s broken up 10 of those throws and picked off an addition four, all while allowing just three touchdowns. For comparison’s sake: Ward’s allowed 61.2% of the targets thrown his way to be completed, allowed two touchdowns, and only broke up five. It’s also hard to ignore how Myles Garrett playing like the Defensive Player of the Year makes Ward’s life easier, a luxury Surtain hasn’t experienced in the NFL.
It isn’t news that the all-star voting got a DB spot wrong, this happens most years, lest we forget Justin Simmons’ 2019. The good news is Surtain’s peers appear to recognize just how special the rookies been. If he continues to play as he has going forward he’ll become a Pro Bowl fixture for years to come.
Patrick Surtain II with his first NFL interception pic.twitter.com/9hoWtlGTVr— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Like Surtain, Simmons has had to make hay on a Broncos defense that’s dependent on Fangio’s pressure scheme for a pass rush. Like Surtain, it didn’t stop him from shutting down opposing quarterbacks. By SIS charting, Simmons gave up a grand total of 174 yards and no touchdowns in coverage this season as he broke up nine passes and picked off another five. He also pitched in two sacks and seven tackles for loss, which hint at the way he’s been a Swiss Army Knife for a Broncos’ defense.
Simmons didn’t make the Pro Bowl in large part because the roster hasn’t left the 1990s yet. In nickel league where teams have moved towards more two high coverage shells there’s still only one free safety on the all-star roster. In all reality, Simmons should have made the game. Instead he’s the first alternative behind Kevin Byard, who has had himself a very strong season. It’s a dang shame.