The Pro Bowl is a popularity contest that many players don’t care for and some even actively avoid.
Still, making the Pro Bowl means a player’s performance has begun to get league-wide recognition, often a year later than it should have.
We looked at five offensive players in line to make their first Pro Bowl appearances Thursday. Now, let’s examine which up-and-coming defensive non-rookies could join them:
Shane Ray, Broncos
No one can fill the void left by the recently retired DeMarcus Ware, but Shane Ray could do a solid impression of the surefire Hall of Famer as he likely moves into the starting lineup alongside Von Miller in 2017.
After racking up four sacks in his rookie season, Ray took a significant leap in his development in Year 2. He finished with eight sacks in a part-time role, and though his run defense skills are a work in progress, he should hit double-digit sacks this upcoming season.
Having maybe the best pure pass-rusher in the league next to him should get Ray some one-on-one matchups he can consistently win. Plus, the Broncos’ defense should remain one of the league’s best – and, therefore, one of the most visible – giving Ray the spotlight needed to break into the Pro Bowl.
Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
From the second Jalen Ramsey stepped onto an NFL field, he didn’t look anything like a rookie, especially considering he plays one of the more difficult positions to transition to.
The 2016 first-round pick had an argument to make the Pro Bowl last season, but his game-to-game consistency was somewhat lacking, and some overlooked his play due to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ regression as a whole.
Ramsey will be joined in 2017 by free-agent signing A.J. Bouye, giving the Jaguars a potential shutdown duo. Bouye will likely be tasked with covering No. 1 receivers, leaving Ramsey to roam, utilize his athleticism, and make big plays – the exact type of thing that helps a corner get to the all-star event.
Grady Jarrett, Falcons
Few outside Atlanta knew much about Grady Jarrett entering Super Bowl 50. While his play was overshadowed by the Patriots’ historic comeback, the defensive tackle ended the game with three sacks and five total tackles.
He would have likely earned Super Bowl MVP honors had the Falcons held on.
Jarrett should be a cornerstone of Atlanta’s defense in 2017, and he’ll likely be freed up to rush the passer more thanks to the addition of nose tackle Dontari Poe in free agency.
The Falcons’ defense will always be the unit that surrendered a 25-point lead on the NFL’s biggest stage, but it’s actually a solid, up-and-coming group – and Jarrett is one of its brightest stars.
Joey Bosa, Chargers
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)
Somehow, Joey Bosa didn’t make the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Like Ramsey, Bosa’s play more than warranted a trip to the all-star game, so he’s an easy pick for this upcoming season.
Again, like Ramsey, Bosa looked a seasoned veteran during his rookie campaign. After an offseason holdout threatened to delay the start of his first season, the third overall pick missed the first four regular-season games due to a hamstring injury.
Bosa should’ve had an unremarkable rookie year after all that. Instead, the pass-rusher immediately began terrorizing offensive tackles and dominating games all by himself. He finished with an eye-popping 10.5 sacks in 12 games.
A fully healthy Bosa playing the entire 16-game schedule should have opposing offenses shaking in their cleats.
Darius Slay, Lions
For the past two seasons, Darius “Big Play” Slay has been playing at a Pro Bowl level – but he’s been lost in the horde of good-to-great cornerbacks around the league.
It’s a tough group to break out of, and Slay’s standing wasn’t helped by the Lions’ pass defense finishing an unremarkable 19th in the league.
However, if Slay can produce a few more signature plays like his game-winning interception against the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving, he should make his first all-star game in 2017.
Better late than never.
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