Today at 5 p.m. MT the NFL Pro Bowl will take place in Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hi., and no former Utah football players will be part of the game. Injuries certainly played a part in possibly keeping several former Utes out of the game. We will take a look at several Utah players who had a case to be invited to Hawaii. It would not have shocked me if Steve Smith Sr. would have made the Pro Bowl if he did not suffer a season-ending injury.
Eric Weddle - safety San Diego Chargers
Things were not harmonious between Weddle and the Chargers this season, which led to a bit of a down year for the three-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. Weddle also missed three games in the 2015 season. Weddle was passed over for the Pro Bowl for safeties Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs), Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles), and Reshad Jones (Miami Dolphins), who will be playing today (several are replacements for players who opted not to play in the game). Weddle's numbers were down in 2015, but he is still one of the best safeties in the NFL and should be a hot commodity on the free agent market this offseason (I doubt he returns to San Diego next year). Here is an article from CBS Sports that illustrates some of the problems between Weddle and the Chargers. Hopefully, with a change of scenery, Weddle will be back to his All-Pro ways.
Alex Smith - quarterback Kansas City Chiefs
While some call Smith a "game manager," he was a key cog in turning around Kansas City's season and getting the team to the second round of the playoffs as part of an 11-game winning streak. The quarterbacks playing in the Pro Bowl are Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings), Eli Manning (New York Giants), Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders), and Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills). Smith had a higher QBR than Bridgewater, Carr, and Winston. He threw fewer interceptions than every quarterback except Taylor. Smith threw more touchdown passes than Bridgewater and the same as Taylor. He had more yards passing than Bridgewater and Taylor. Based on these stats, it seems clear Smith should have made it into the Pro Bowl over one of the quarterbacks selected.
Star Lotulelei - defensive tackle Carolina Panthers
Lotulelei is one of the anchors on the excellent Carolina defense, a team that is playing in the Super Bowl. Star missed the first two games of the 2015 season with a foot injury. He is a player where you cannot always tell his impact on the game with stats alone. He eats up blockers and allows other players around him to make plays. He had several big moments (like a forced fumble against Tampa Bay) that helped the Panthers have the best record in the NFL in 2015. The Panthers had 10 players selected to the Pro Bowl, and Lotulelei was not one of them. No, he did not have great stats, but he was a key piece for one of the best teams in the NFL.