When the NFL announced its Pro Bowl selections on Tuesday, many Ravens fans were unhappy to see third-year nose tackle Brandon Williams left out.
In fact, the 2013 third-round pick wasn’t even announced as a Pro Bowl alternate despite being graded by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s top run-stopping interior defender this season. In 14 games, Williams has collected 47 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble to lead the league’s 11th-ranked run defense.
(For the record, Williams received my vote as the team’s MVP in a forgettable 2015.)
“I would say he’s very deserving of an opportunity,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I was a little surprised. But, hey, you know what? That should serve as motivation. Obviously, the rest of the players and the coaches and the fans don’t see it the way we see it. I’m quite sure it’ll motivate Brandon to play even better.”
So, was Williams truly a Pro Bowl snub? It’s easy to argue in favor of a player you’ve watched all season, but it’s difficult to evaluate 3-4 defensive linemen considering it’s not a front where statistics are easily collected. Williams has been the Ravens’ best defensive player in 2015, but that doesn’t mean he’s automatically one of the top defensive tackles in the league.
No one would dispute that Williams has been an exceptional performer in an otherwise lousy season for the Ravens, but how does he stack up to the defensive tackles — Geno Atkins, Calais Campbell, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, and Kawann Short — who were invited to Honolulu?
These six all have more quarterback sacks and played more passing snaps than Williams, who is often taken off the field for passing situations and hasn’t distinguished himself as a consistent rusher in his first three seasons. As outstanding as he is against the run, Williams being more of a one-dimensional player than other defensive tackles doesn’t help his cause in the Pro Bowl discussion.
All except McCoy had a better overall PFF grade than Williams among interior defenders this season as the Ravens nose tackle grades 16th overall when combining both run defense and pass-rush ability. Graded by PFF as the 65th overall interior defender, McCoy made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and appears to fit the description of a player who was chosen based solely on reputation this year as he dealt with a rotator cuff injury for much of the season.
But Minnesota’s Linval Joseph, Green Bay’s Mike Daniels, and Miami’s Ndamukong Suh could also make strong cases as snubs, and all three were graded higher than Williams by PFF. Of course, all methods of evaluation — including Pro Football Focus — beyond basic statistics are imperfect, but Williams’ case doesn’t appear to be markedly better than others who were left on the outside looking in.
“I can’t control any of that,” Williams said. “I’m just going to control what I can control, and that’s helping my team right now. Obviously, you want to prove that you’re one of the best, and you want to go. But as of right now, I’m worried about the Steelers.”
Defensive linemen playing in 3-4 systems always struggle to receive recognition because of what they’re asked to do on the field. Even former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had to wait until his fourth season before making five consecutive Pro Bowls in Baltimore.
As arguably the best run-stopping nose tackle in the NFL, Williams would have been deserving had he been selected.
But was it a severe injustice that he won’t join guard Marshal Yanda and punter Sam Koch in Hawaii?