If the Pro Bowl was intended to be a showcase of the NFL’s best and most talented players than Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy should have been a starter in the game. Instead he wasn’t even invited. The Pro Bowl has come under fire in recent years for being slow-paced and uninteresting but its greatest fault may be a selection process which leaves out the best players in favor of their more famous and recognizable counterparts. Most casual football fans are more familiar with (and hence more likely to vote for) brand-name players like Aaron Rodgers or J.J. Watt than they are the under-rated players from small market teams such as DeAndre Levy.
There’s no doubt that Levy is one of the leagues best players at his position. He led all NFL LB’s with 117 solo tackles and contributed 2.5 sacks and an interception to the Lions defense as well. Levy’s accomplishments go far beyond the stat sheet though. He is a uniquely talented player, combining special physical abilities with an intense intelligence. Levy is powerful and surprisingly quick which allows him to cover the field from one sideline to the other while delivering punishing hits and tackles. On top of that he possesses an ability to see the plays as they develop, allowing him to make instant decisions about where to move. Levy is almost never fooled by the fakes and deceptions which NFL offenses frequently employ and I’ve seen him anticipate a runner’s movements countless times in every game, dropping the RB or WR behind the line of scrimmage. After an elite season DeAndre Levy has established himself as one of the best LB’s in the league and yet he wasn’t even a Pro Bowl reserve.
The main reason is that voters usually favor the edge-rushing LB’s who rack up gaudy sack totals. Teams usually use one of two base defenses, either a 4-3 or a 3-4. A 4-3 defense, which is what Detroit typically uses, has 4 defensive linemen up front with 3 LB’s in middle coverage. The DE’s are usually assigned to rush the passer while the LB’s hang back to guard against the run and to cover the TE’s and slot receivers. A 3-4 defense puts 3 players at the line of scrimmage, freeing up one of the 4 LB’s to rush the QB from the edge. Although the 3-4 LB’s may appear better due to their higher sack totals the statistical difference is actually because of the varied usage of LB’s in different defenses.
The NFL clearly needs to do something to change the selection process for the Pro Bowl to make it more fair to 4-3 LB’s. They could separate the LB’s into two categories or allow the players and coaches to add a few more players after the voting, a method which works fairly well for the MLB All-Star game. Unfortunately, until something is done to fix a broken selection process deserving players like DeAndre Levy will continue to be denied the recognition they deserve.