For years the Pro Bowl has been the ugly stepchild of the NFL season. The league has tried to figure out a way to make the fans, and the players, care about the annual all-star game but it hasn’t worked. They’ve implemented drafts, rule changes, and even a skills showcase with dodgeball and other events (which actually is semi-entertaining). But still, nothing took. The NFL ran out of ways to make people care about a game that more closely resembled a Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl with your cousins than a collection of the greatest football players on the planet. They finally got the message this year, ditching the actual game for a flag football game and leaning more into the skills showcase events, renaming it the Pro Bowl Games.
That was all fine and dandy until an announcement was made on Tuesday. As the old saying goes; one step forward, two steps back. The announcement was that the Ravens’ Tyler Huntley was named as a replacement for Josh Allen. Yes, that means the same Huntley that threw two touchdowns and three interceptions this year will be sharing the same team as players such as Justin Jefferson, Micah Parsons, and Derrick Henry.
I understand that he was only selected after a rash of other players opting to not participate in the game, but it is still wildly egregious for him to earn that distinction. If Huntley played enough to qualify for the quarterback rating leaderboard he would rank 32nd, ahead of just Zach Wilson and Kenny Pickett (and Pickett still would have been a better Pro Bowl choice). Huntley threw the same amount of touchdown passes as Taysom Hill, and at least Hill doesn’t have any interceptions.
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to call Huntley the worst all-star in any of the four major sports leagues. Off the top of my head, the only ones I can think of that come close to him are Yao Ming in 2011 without playing a single game and that time the fans voted journeyman John Scott as the all-star captain of the pacific division team in 2016 (but at least that one was fun). The difference between those and the Huntley situation is that the fans were to blame for the other two, not the league.
This begs the question of why the league was even in a position to consider Huntley for the Pro Bowl Games. It’s clear the players could not care less about the event. If they cared at all then Allen, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert (who I’m sure was extended an invitation before Huntley) would not have declined to participate. It’s unclear who else they went to before Huntley, but I can’t imagine someone such as Jacoby Brissett (who was definitely more deserving of a spot on the roster) would have turned down the invitation.
But the NFL should not have to be asking guys like Huntley and Brissett to participate in the Pro Bowl Games. They need to set a hard line of who qualifies for the distinction, or else it loses all merit. It’s an incredible story that Geno Smith rightfully earned a Pro Bowl honor this year, but it means a lot less when someone like Huntley does the same. There is no longer any need for a conference to have three quarterbacks on the roster. There is no game and even if there was, it doesn’t matter anyway.
For the AFC, that line should have been right under Trevor Lawrence, maybe it could be extended to under Derek Carr (who was also named a Pro Bowl replacement on Tuesday) because the game is being played in Las Vegas. That would leave eight potential quarterbacks for the AFC, which is already over half of the starters in the conference. It also shouldn’t just apply to quarterbacks, although that is the position where it is the biggest issue. The qualification line should be for every position, there shouldn’t be a scenario where Noah Fant is a Pro Bowl tight end for the NFC.
At the end of the day, if any fans even watch the Pro Bowl Games this year, they just want to see the best players participating. If there are only two quarterbacks for the AFC, nobody will mind seeing more of Lawrence instead of Huntley. I give the NFL some props for trying to address its Pro Bowl problem this year but until they can fix this problem as well, the event will remain largely unwatchable.