Here is a meaningless question: Who won the 2013 Pro Bowl MVP?
The answer: Kyle Rudolph.
Don’t know who Kyle Rudolph is? Here’s a picture of his face:
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The Minnesota Vikings tight end has 133 receptions for 1,286 yards and 17 touchdowns … in his entire career. Rob Gronkowski once had 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns in four months.
The point here is not to say that the Pro Bowl is dumb. Some people seem to like it, good players will occasionally participate, and the uniforms are pretty cool if you ingest just the right amount of psilocybin before kickoff. Rather, the point is that the Pro Bowl has become a place where Kyle Rudolph can be the best player in a game that, according to Wikipedia, consists of “players who … are considered to be elite.” In other words, the Pro Bowl has become a place where our wildest Rudolphian fever dreams can come true.
In related news: Andy Dalton was just named to the 2015 Pro Bowl. He’s the seventh alternate, offered a spot only after Joe Flacco declined in order to spend time with his wife before she gives birth to the 58th president of the United States. Did Andy Dalton play a game this year in which his team literally would’ve been better off hiking the ball directly into a volcano on every snap? Doesn’t matter. In the Pro Bowl, you are living every parallel dimension all at once. Interstellar is a better football movie than Draft Day.
All of which brings us to the truly meaningful question: What would it take to get Johnny Manziel to play in this year’s Pro Bowl? If there was one obvious roadblock on Manziel’s OVO-tagged path to greatness this season, it was that the other teams were allowed to employ a defense. All of those whirling scrambles where it seemed like his movements were writing a cursive “rescue me” message to God and those hopeful downfield heaves where he looked like a mini-robot Atlas trying to shot put planet Earth — it all would’ve worked out a whole lot better if there had been no one trying to tackle him or intercept his passes. In a sense, Manziel making the Pro Bowl — Manziel playing against defensive players who are there to do little more than stand around and not hurt anyone — is America’s post–Great Recession Manifest Destiny.
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There are 30 quarterbacks who qualify for ESPN’s QBR metric — and Manziel is not one of them. So, right off the bat, he’s at least number 31. If we just went by total QBR, Manziel would be the 73rd Pro Bowl alternate. But we will not just be going by total QBR, because that includes three Jets Wildcat running backs — SPARANO, BRO — and a handful of receivers who connected on one successful gimmick pass. We also won’t be considering players who made the Pro Bowl at another position or anyone who played only one snap at quarterback. Nothing is given, everything is earned. Northeast Ohio is the Pro Bowl of Middle America.
So, instead, we’ll look at the the total Expected Points Added to sketch out the long tail of Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Manziel, it turns out, is not within the first 50 alternates, which seems pretty bad, but considering that the list of Pro Bowl alternates extends infinitely, beyond the capacity of the human mind and well into the outer reaches of space where all matter becomes as dense as onyx quartz, it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Just look at this list:1
The number listed next to each player’s name is his number as an alternate.
A.k.a. Charlie Whitehurst.
Due to their selection at other positions, Antonio Brown (49th in EPA among all other players), Arian Foster (54), and Odell Beckham Jr. (81) are all ineligible as Pro Bowl signal-callers despite superior play under center. Russell Shepard (68), whom you know as the “Aristides of the NFL,” and Marion Grice (72), who, yes, is your uncle, are both also ineligible since neither one recorded more than a single quarterback snap. All in all, 19 one-snap players were more effective than Manziel and will therefore not be chosen.
So, how many links away is Manziel from appearing on Saturday, then? First, another quick look at some of the luminaries in his way:
44. Blaine Gabbert
50. T.J. Yates
51. Phil Simms’s other son
53. Carson Palmer’s brother
54. Your 2015 Denver Broncos starting quarterback, Brock Osweiler
62. Tom “Tom Savage” Savage
64. Connor Shaw
65. Mike Vick
Sixty-six? Not so fast, pal. We’ve still got Chad Henne and Christian Ponder, and only then does Manziel get the call. So there you have it: Johnny Manziel is the 68th alternate for this Saturday’s Pro Bowl. While it seems unlikely that 61 other players will get injured and/or pass up the opportunity to play in the game over the next three days, stranger things have happened on what I am in the process of copyrighting as Magic Saturday. If you don’t believe me, go take a look inside Kyle Rudolph’s trophy cabinet.