2022 NFL season: Ten likeliest first-time Pro Bowlers so far

Each week of the 2022 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. With Pro Bowl fan voting now open, we’ve assembled a list of the 10 players who are likeliest to earn their first Pro Bowl nods heading into Week 11 of the 2022 NFL season.

Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each individual’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.

NOTE: Scores are based on each player’s performance in Weeks 1 through 10.

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Age: 23 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 88%

NFL position rank: WR4

 

The second-year pro out of Alabama has teamed up with Tyreek Hill this season to form one of the fastest receiver duos we’ve ever seen. In fact, no receiver this season has averaged a faster top speed on their routes than Waddle (14.58 mph) or Hill (14.54 mph). Head coach Mike McDaniel has utilized this blazing speed to attack the coveted intermediate middle area, which is prime real estate for offenses looking for explosive plays. Both receivers have combined for 41 total targets between 10 and 19 air yards in the middle third of the field, while no other player has more than 11 targets in that area this season. Waddle has made the most of that opportunity, gaining more than double the receiving yards over expected (+129) as any other player on such throws and generating +26.1 expected points added (Hill is second at +13.2).

Age: 22 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 83%

NFL position rank: CB2

Since Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Ronnie Lott was elected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1981, there have only been five rookie cornerbacks to get the nod (Charles Woodson, Devin McCourty, Marcus Peters, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward). Gardner looks primed to become the sixth. One of our can’t-miss prospects heading into the draft, Sauce has acclimated to the league faster than even his biggest advocates could have imagined. Gardner is already one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the league, recording a league-high 13 passes defensed this season. Opposing quarterbacks have lost -26.3 expected points added this season targeting Gardner, which ranks second in the NFL and is already the best mark by a rookie CB in a season during the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). Fifteen years after drafting Darrelle Revis, it appears the Jets have found another corner who will trap opposing receivers on an island for years to come.

Age: 24 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 82%

NFL position rank: QB3

Hurts faced plenty of questions about whether he is good enough to be the Eagles’ franchise quarterback prior to this season, and his critics were perhaps the loudest after a Super Wild Card Weekend loss to Tampa Bay in which the Eagles were shut out through three quarters. Hurts responded by getting back in the lab, and his vast improvements have shown up in his second season as the full-time starter. Hurts’ average time to throw of 3.12 seconds was comfortably the highest in the NFL in 2021, but his processing has greatly developed with another year under coach Nick Sirianni, as that number has dropped to 2.75 seconds in 2022 (the largest decrease among QBs qualified in both seasons). That embrace of the quick game has paid dividends for Hurts, who has a career-high 76.3 completion percentage on quick passes. Hurts ranks fourth in the NFL with a 92 NGS passing score, and he has led the Eagles to the NFC’s No. 1 seed entering Week 11.

Jalen Hurts has earned a league-high 93 NGS passing score against split-safety coverages this season.

📸: The rest of the top 5 pic.twitter.com/MVTVumA0QG

Age: 24 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 79%

NFL position rank: QB4

Entering this season, there was talk that Tagovailoa simply wasn’t a capable enough downfield passer to succeed in the NFL. To be fair, the numbers didn’t do much to refute that; Tagovailoa threw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8) on passes traveling at least 10 air yards in his first two seasons and had the fifth-lowest completion percentage on such passes (42.3, min. 400 total attempts). But the additions of head coach Mike McDaniel and receiver Tyreek Hill have made a bigger impact than even the most optimistic Dolphins supporter could have envisioned. Tua has completed 68.7 percent of those downfield passes in 2022, the highest rate in a season in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). The key to that success has been finding open windows — he has more than doubled his open-throw rate (3-plus yards of separation) on those passes from 21.4 percent in 2020-2021 (third lowest) to 46.5 percent this season (another NGS era record). While some of this can be attributed to scheme and talent, Tagovailoa deserves credit for his quick release on passes of 10-plus air yards — his average time to throw of 2.75 seconds is .15 seconds quicker than the next-closest passer. The Dolphins have not lost a game this season in which Tagovailoa played in both halves, as Tagovailoa has asserted himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, earning the second-highest NGS passing score (95) in the NFL this season.

Tua Tagovailoa has twice as many completions (32) to the middle of the field over 10 air yards as any other QB this season, despite missing two games.

Most Receptions, Middle of Field & 10+ AY (2022):

🥇 Tyreek Hill: 16
🥈 Jaylen Waddle: 15
🥉 Mike Gesicki: 8#FinsUp pic.twitter.com/ff8JQm10Ou

Age: 25 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 73%

NFL position rank: DT2

Much like the rest of the 7-2 Giants team, “Sexy Dexy” has been having the time of his life this season with plenty of opportunities to show off his signature dance. The former Clemson star leads all defensive tackles with 33 pressures and has completely taken over multiple games. Lawrence has been unleashed by legendary defensive line coach Andre Patterson and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who have moved him to more of a traditional nose tackle role. Lawrence has aligned as a zero-technique directly over the center (as opposed to shaded to the side) on 150 snaps this season, making him one of two players with more than 100 snaps at the position (Raekwon Davis: 205). In his first three seasons, he aligned as a nose tackle on 113 snaps combined. In Martindale’s blitz-heavy scheme, that sets up Lawrence for one-on-one matchups with the center on a consistent basis. To say he has taken advantage of these opportunities would be an understatement — he has recorded more than three times as many pressures (17) as any other nose tackle this season.

Dexter Lawrence has aligned as a zero-technique nose tackle on 150 snaps this season (2nd in the NFL), more than in his first three seasons combined (113).

Lawrence has recorded 17 pressures aligned as a 0-tech in 2022, more than triple any other player.#TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/NiLvv3Vrf0

Age: 24 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 73%

NFL position rank: DT3

The Jets’ resurgence on defense has largely been defined by newcomers: Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, Carl Lawson (missed last season — his first with the Jets — due to injury), Jordan Whitehead, Kwon Alexander and so on. But the team does have some key returning players, as well, and Williams has been one of them during his dominant start to the season. Williams has feasted as a pass rusher in 2022, ranking in the top three in QB pressure rate (13.5 percent) and sack rate (3.1 percent) among defensive tackles with at least 100 pass rushes. Williams’ seven sacks are tied for the most among all defensive tackles, alongside Chris Jones and Javon Hargrave. The 6-3 Jets have already won as many games this season as they did in 2020 and 2021 combined, and their defense — with Williams leading the way up front — is the clear catalyst for this sudden vault to playoff contention.

Quinnen Williams generated a career-high 7 QB pressures with 2 sacks on 34 pass rushes in Week 6.

Williams leads all defensive tackles in pressure rate (14.8%) & sack rate (3.7%) this season (min. 80 pass rushes).#NYJvsGB | #TakeFlight pic.twitter.com/Drg4YWRU7l

Age: 25 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 72%

NFL position rank: LB4

The Seahawks brought in the former second-round pick in March on a middle-market, two-year contract, a signing that has proven to be one of the biggest steals of the offseason. To borrow a concept from basketball, the Millsap Doctrine states that a part-time player’s efficiency will remain stable when they are promoted into a full-time role. This idea most naturally translates to rotational pass rushers in football, which made Nwosu a prime candidate to test this theory’s application to the NFL. He flashed elite pass-rushing efficiency as a role player in his first three seasons, before becoming a starter in his fourth and final season with the Chargers. Nwosu has generated at least a 12 percent pressure rate in every season of his career, placing him in exclusive company. The other three players to do so since 2018 are Myles Garrett, Robert Quinn and Marcus Davenport (min. 100 pass rushes). The Seahawks’ bet on efficiency has paid off — Nwosu has recorded 39 pressures in his breakout season, trailing only Za’Darius Smith (40). 

Uchenna Nwosu maintained a high pressure rate in his first season as a full-time starter, generating the 15th-highest pressure rate in the NFL last season (12.9%, min. 300 pass rushes).

Nwosu joins a Seahawks defense that ranked 26th in pressure rate in 2021 (25.0%). https://t.co/QQdIfK2PDG pic.twitter.com/PBjBN25eMZ

Age: 27 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 71%

NFL position rank: WR8

It might be surprising to see McLaurin on this list given that he totaled 3,090 receiving yards over his first three seasons from 2019-2021, but he indeed has not yet made the Pro Bowl in his career. That appears to be set to change in 2022, though, with McLaurin having a career year so far. McLaurin has excelled on deep passes (20-plus air yards) this season, where he ranks among the top five in in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (274). McLaurin also has continued his career-long excellence with contested catches, as he ranks fourth with 140 receiving yards on tight-window targets, trailing only big-bodied wideouts A.J. Brown, Mike Williams and Mike Evans. McLaurin has thrived no matter who has been throwing him the ball this season, meaning the fourth time might be the charm for his Pro Bowl chances. 

Terry McLaurin faced Darius Slay on 19 of his 29 routes (66% shadow).

McLaurin caught 5 of 7 targets for 90 yards with Slay as the nearest defender, the most yards given up to a receiver by Slay since Week 15, 2021 (51 yards, also against McLaurin).#WASvsPHI | #HTTC pic.twitter.com/9JHEhBsgjC

Age: 25 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 71%

NFL position rank: DT4

The Broncos lead the NFL in scoring defense despite their 3-6 record, and Jones’ consistent improvement over his four-year career has played a big part in the defensive success. Taking on a larger role this season after Shelby Harris was traded to Seattle, Jones has thrived. He’s one of three defensive tackles this season with at least 25 QB pressures and 10 run stuffs (rushes stopped for no gain or negative yardage). The other two? A couple of guys named Aaron Donald and Jonathan Allen. While Harris, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have departed Denver over the past year, Dre’Mont Jones and teammate D.J. Jones have kept the Broncos’ defensive front performing among the league’s best.

Age: 22 years old

Pro Bowl probability: 71%

NFL position rank: S1

After starting only three games as a rookie in 2021, Hufanga is enjoying a breakthrough season in his first year as a full-time starter following Jaquiski Tartt’s departure from the 49ers this offseason. Hufanga’s physicality has never been in question, even since before he was drafted, and he has lived up to that reputation this season, as his eight run stuffs are tied for third most among defensive backs (trailing Budda Baker and Jalen Pitre). But his impact in pass coverage has arguably been even greater, as he leads the NFL with a miniscule 36.5 passer rating allowed as the nearest defender this season (min. 15 targets). Hufanga is the safety most likely to make the Pro Bowl right now, and the 49ers appear to have found a diamond in the rough with the fifth-round draft pick.

Talanoa Hufanga has excelled on the back end of the 49ers defense this season.

Hufanga in Coverage (safety ranks, min. 20 targets)

🔹 35.0% ball hawk rate (1st)
🔹 -5.5 receptions over expected (1st)
🔹 -19.5 target EPA (1st)#LACvsSF | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/F9D0BDmpJ8

JUST MISSED: Alex Highsmith, OLB, Steelers; Zach Allen, DE, Cardinals; Tariq Woolen, CB, Seahawks; Travis Etienne, RB, Jaguars; Donovan Wilson, S, Cowboys; Daron Payne, DT, Commanders.

— Mike Band, Keegan Abdoo and Cole Jacobson contributed to this piece.

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