The Ohio State Buckeyes were well-represented in this past Sunday’s NFL Pro Bowl... which has become an abomination, and should never be played again, if this is the product we’re going to see. The game is expected to be an exhibition - unless one were to have previously asked the late, great Sean Taylor - but it was seemingly taken to a whole new level this year. There was (predictably) little competitive spirit on the field, outside of a few second half possessions, the physical contact was somewhere between slim and none, and the game speed was that of a high-intensity walkthrough. It was, for lack of a better term, an embarrassing display of football.
The Pro Bowl is similar to the NBA or NHL All-Star game, and well behind the MLB All-Star game, in terms of competition and physicality — which is understandable, given the physical nature of football. But Sunday’s walkthrough made a mockery of the game. Every “tackle” was a cross between two-hand touch and a hug. Linemen were barely getting cardio out there, skill position players were joking around with their opponents rather than trying to get past them for a touchdown, and most of the players were completely disinterested. The NFL is not hurting for viewers, and the Pro Bowl has been an issue for a handful of years now, so this clearly won’t make or break the game... but damn, this year’s version was just flat-out gross.
All of that being said - and problems aside - getting voted into the Pro Bowl is still an honor. It is acknowledgment for an outstanding regular season. Furthermore, for NFL players, it is recognition that they are among the best of the best. Based on this year’s results, it is fair to say that former Buckeyes made up the top tier of the best of the best... of the best. Allow me to explain:
Ohio State led all schools with seven former players being named to the Pro Bowl. You could easily argue that other players opted out of the event or were otherwise busy with playoff/Super Bowl preparation, but that happens every year, in every sport. These Buckeyes earned their spots in the game, and only one (Jonah Jackson) was named as a replacement. It goes to show the amount and depth of talent that OSU has produced in recent years, and it is a great selling point for the program.
All of this year’s participants except Jackson pre-dated Ryan Day as the head coach, but it’s just a matter of time before his guys are rewarded with votes. Hopefully they will be playing in a different game or format altogether, because the current Pro Bowl is a sham... which, given the recent news, is something the NFL is completely familiar with.
Let’s take a look at the players who were named to a roster:
Joey Bosa — Starter, AFC
Bosa is becoming a mainstay in the Pro Bowl, making it in four out of six seasons... basically when he is healthy and/or plays most of the games. He held out as a rookie, and despite winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, his relative lack of playing time was held against him. He then missed nine games during the 2018 season. Otherwise, Bosa has been a no-brainer for this game every other year.
Bosa was listed as a late scratch for this one. Given the humorous nature of the game, it was probably the right call if he was the least bit banged up.
Corey Linsley — Starter, AFC
After seven seasons of stellar play, Linsley was finally rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance. The center position typically doesn’t get receive much attention, and only two make each roster, so it’s not as if Linsley has been snubbed. This former Buckeye just had to get over the hump. He may now be recognized as a top center for years to come.
Nick Bosa — Starter, NFC
The younger Bosa led all NFC players in voting, and finished just behind the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor for top overall vote-getter. Quite an impressive feat for the third-year player, especially given his injury last season. This was Nick’s second Pro Bowl.
Like his older brother, Nick sat out the Pro Bowl. Having just played in the NFC Championship game, it was not a surprise to see him pass this one up.
Cam Heyward — AFC reserve (technically)
Big Cam is like a fine wine. He continues to get better with age. 2021 marked for the fifth season in a row for which Heyward was named to this game. This man set a career high in tackles at 32 years old, and it may have been his best season yet! I don’t know how many more of these he has left in him, but Heyward’s relatively late peak has been a joy to watch.
Despite being voted in as a reserve, Heyward was on the field for the AFC’s first defensive snap, making him a surprise starter. He made it a total of four former Buckeyes chosen to start the Pro Bowl, in one way or another.
Denzel Ward — AFC reserve
Similar to his the Bosa brothers and his teammate below, Ward is becoming a familiar face in the Pro Bowl. This is his second appearance in four seasons, with injuries likely preventing him from one or two more. He is a sticky cover man who hasn’t even come close to maxing out his potential.
Jonah Jackson — NFC reserve
In only his second season, the former OSU guard (by way of Rutgers) was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. Regardless of how he got there, for Jackson to be recognized in spite of playing for a dreadful Detroit team, is impressive. He is the franchise’s first home-grown guard named to this game in the Super Bowl era.
Marshon Lattimore — NFC reserve
Lattimore has been the model of consistency. And not just consistency... He has been consistently great. This is the corner’s fourth appearance in five seasons. The season in which he wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl? 2018, when he finished with 59 total tackles, 2 INT, 12 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries! He was a snub that year, otherwise Lattimore would be a perfect 5/5.
With no skill position players representing Ohio State, there were few former Buckeye stats to speak of. However, Lattimore did come down with an interception — one of seven in the game.
Hopefully this year’s result will bring about change in the Pro Bowl. Nobody is asking for a street fight, but the smallest semblance of competition would be nice. Expand the Skills Challenge(s), try to make it full-speed flag football, incentivize the players... anything!
These players put their bodies through hell, and the shelf life for NFL players is relatively short — I get it. But don’t spit on my head and tell me it’s raining. The current Pro Bowl is not a football game. Fans shouldn’t have to pay money to attend, and trying to convince them that they should continue doing so, is an insult to their intelligence. Do better, NFL.