It barely even counts for the sake of pageantry anymore. It's the equivalent of any other All-Star game in any sport. It means nothing, it's like a pat on the back for people who do well but don't get into the Super Bowl. It's the Pro Bowl. A nice weekend before the big game during which the best of the losing teams get together to play a game that doesn't count, in front of a television audience comparable to about a tenth of the Super Bowl.
More often than not, the game includes a decent cross-section of players who either did well that year, did amazing enough the year before for everyone to remember, or a bunch of "alternates" after the real stars declined in favor of allowing injuries to heal, spending time with their families, washing their hair or watching paint dry.
Admittedly, whether it counts or not, the game is usually infinitely more entertaining than anything else on TV that day, but only because it is football. The plays are a bit more creative, as coaches and players are willing to take more chances in a game that does not matter, and occasionally two rivals try to mercilessly tune each other up given that penalties are less of a concern when one's paying club is not involved.
Ultimately though, some years involve a deeper pool of talent than others, and when primary selections and alternates bail on their invitations, there can be some pretty sad Pro Bowl selections. Here is our list of the worst players ever to play in that game. It will include players from before and after 1995. Before that time, only coaches and players voted, and of course, now, fans are included in the voting process. This list will also include any player who played in the game, whether as one of the players voted or an alternate.
Furthermore, this won't be a list of players who had subpar careers overall, but made the Pro Bowl during a year or two of outstanding play. Nor is this a list of players we simply don't like. This is a list of players, and a year in which they played in the Pro Bowl but should not have.
Sorry for the quarterback-heavy list. Also, sorry for the first entry, this is going to hurt a few of you.
15 Andrew Luck - 2012 (Hear me out...)
I wrote "hear me out" up there because I know that Andrew Luck had a very respectable rookie year and has now grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Furthermore, he has some pretty zealous fans and I wouldn't want anyone to throw their computer against a wall after seeing him on this list. I have immense respect for Andrew Luck, but his rookie year was not worthy of a Pro Bowl appearance.
I'll start with the positives: he finished the year with an 11-5 record and threw for 4,374 yards. Great numbers for a rookie, no doubt. But being a great quarterback is more than just yardage. He was tied for third in interceptions, with 18. He threw just 23 touchdown passes, which was good enough for fourteenth. Finally, completing just 54.1% of his passes saw him in 31st place among all starting quarterbacks in 2012 and he was the fourth most sacked quarterback in the league.
14 David Garrard - 2009
He isn't one of the worst quarterbacks to ever play the game but there is no reason he should have been in the 2009 Pro Bowl. He shouldn't even have been an alternate. Gerrard threw only ten interceptions on the year, so there is one positive.
He was in charge of a Jacksonville Jaguars team that went 7-9, and he threw just 15 touchdown passes over the course of 16 games. That was 22nd in the league among starting quarterbacks. Alex Smith started ten games that season and managed to throw 18 TD passes. His 3,597 yards through the air was good enough for sixteenth highest total in the league and a 60.9% completion rate wasn't terrible, and put him at 15th in the league. Not Pro Bowl worthy.
13 Jeff Saturday - 2012
This is one example of a player getting into the Pro Bowl off name recognition and past success rather than performance in the season. Center Jeff Saturday was one of the best in the game and played on a Super Bowl winning team with the Colts in 2006. He made six Pro Bowls and was a first team All-Pro twice.
Unfortunately, the sixth of those Pro Bowls took place while he was with the Green Bay Packers, and that year was a rough one for all involved. It was bad enough on his part that after fourteen weeks of "what happened to the guy we signed during the offseason," he was benched for the remainder of the season. Five times he most definitely deserved it, but in 2012, they could have found someone else for sure.
12 Brett Favre - 2008
Much like what I had to say about Andrew Luck, I have to say here about Brett Favre. He is one of the best to ever play the game and I have great respect for his career. Much like Jeff Saturday however, one of his Pro Bowl selections was due to prior success. In 2008, when he played with the New York Jets, Favre passed for 3,472 yards and had a 65.7 completion rate. The team went 9-7.
Unfortunately the end of his season was a step below abysmal. He threw eight picks and just two touchdowns in the final five games of the season. The Jets lost four of those five. Favre ended up leading the NFL with 22 interceptions.
11 Trent Dilfer - 1997
It was his fourth year in the league and Trent Dilfer was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Much like most of the rest of this list, his season wasn't completely pathetic, but it was nowhere near what should get a man into an All-Star game like the Pro Bowl.
On one hand, the Bucs went 10-6, his 21 touchdowns put him at seventh in the league, and his 11 interception season was middle of the road for quarterbacks in that year. On the other hand, he was 18th in completion rate (56.2%), and 20th in passing yards with just 2,555. It may have been the best full regular season of his career, but it shouldn't have gotten him a trip to the Pro Bowl.
10 Andy Dalton - 2014
Like quite a few names on this list, Andy Dalton was in the Pro Bowl because many, many quarterbacks declined to show up. A couple were in the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco's wife was having a kid, yadda, yadda, yadda. Dalton had an alright year and isn't an atrocious quarterback. He's just very average, except in the red hair department, in which he is outstanding.
In 2014 he threw for 3,398 yards with a completion rate of 64.2%, which was 12th and 16th in the league. Not atrocious. He was tied for third most interceptions however, with 17. On the short list of good things about his season, the Bengals went 10-5-1, but that was more due to the effective rushing game and a defense that performed well.
Moreover, he had one of the worst games in the history of football against the Browns in early November. He completed 10 of 33 passes for a total of 86 yards with no touchdowns and three picks. It was laughable. He should have been barred from the Pro Bowl just for this game alone.
9 Vince Young - 2006
This goes back to Vince Young's rookie year and it was an impressive rookie year, but there are some stats that were simply disturbing. To start out with some positives, the Titans went 8-5 with Young under center and he had 83 rushing attempts for 552 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He was an entertaining player and looked promising.
With regard to his passing game, he tosses 12 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and had the worst completion rate in the league, with just over 51%. His 2,199 passing yards was 26th in the league but even if you add that to his rushing total, it comes to 2,751: 18th, a single yard better than the Vikings' Brad Johnson.
8 Brent Fullwood - 1989
A disappointing first round pick for the Green Bay Packers from the late 1980s, Fullwood's 1989 year wasn't atrocious but there wasn't anything impressive about it. Plenty of other running backs obviously declined.
He rushed for four yards per carry, which was 13th in the league, scored five touchdowns and earned 821 yards (tied for 23rd and 16th respectively). He caught 19 passes for 214 yards and zero touchdowns. There was no reason for him to be there in 1989.
7 Tucker Frederickson - 1965
This one goes way back and Tucker Frederickson was the first overall pick for the New York Giants. He had an okay year in terms of rushing yards, with 659. That was 8th in the league. With five touchdowns he was 9th, but his 177 receiving yards, 3.4 yards per carry and league 4th nine fumbles was a great reason for which he should not have been in the Pro Bowl.
6 John Hadl - 1972
Overall, John Hadl was a pretty damn good quarterback, playing sixteen relatively successful seasons in the AFL/NFL between 1962 and 1977. For just over a decade he played for the San Diego Chargers. 1972 however, was a very rough year for him and there is no way he should have been a Pro Bowl quarterback. He did have a career high in that year, but it was interceptions, with 26, enough for the largest number in the league. Back then it was okay (still not ideal) if a quarterback tossed as many picks as touchdown passes, but Hadl only threw 15.
On top of that he was around the middle for completion rate and the Chargers went 4-9-1. In his defense however, he was fourth in throwing yards. Still though, 26 picks was stupidly high even back then.
5 Jim Hart - 1977
Playing much of his career for the St. Louis Cardinals, Jim Hart made four Pro Bowls in the mid 1970s. He led the team to three winning seasons in 1974-1976 but in 1977 his numbers dipped significantly as did the team's success. They went 7-7 in that year and he was part of the problem. He had usually had more touchdown passes than interceptions for years, but threw for 13 touchdowns and 20 picks in '77. On top of that, he was very average in terms of completion percentage and was around the top of the league in interceptions.
4 Jay Novacek - 1993
There is no question that Jay Novacek was a hell of a tight end. He played in five Pro Bowls and helped the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls. He earned those rings, but ultimately, one of those Pro Bowls is tainted due to the fact that he had a poor year and was only there because the other tight ends in the NFC were terrible that year. In my humble opinion, God-awful competition does not create an All-Star.
He caught 44 passes for 445 yards and a single touchdown in 1993. His three fumbles didn't help either.
3 Dave Krieg - 1989
Dave Krieg had a pretty solid career, even more impressive is that fact that he was undrafted. There were some years in which he was an obvious choice for the Pro Bowl. 1989 was not one of those years.
The team went 7-7 with Krieg under center and while he was 11th in completion percentage (57.3%), 10th in throwing yards and touchdowns with 3,309 and 21 respectively, he tossed 20 interceptions and coughed up 18 fumbles over the course of the year.
2 John Stallworth - 1983
During his time in the league, John Stallworth was one of the best in the league. He played wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s when they were the dominant force in the league. Remember the Iron Curtain? He was one of the key guys on offense. Four AFC Championships and four Super Bowl victories to match are on his resume.
He was selected to three Pro Bowls, but 1983 was a choice made on name rather than actual achievement. In that year he played just four games, caught eight passes for 100 yards and zero touchdowns. He was named as an alternate and ended up playing, but this was a case of a name and a reputation, rather than anything that actually went on in that year.
1 Mike Boryla - 1975
Boryla played four excruciatingly unimpressive seasons as an NFL quarterback, three for the Philadelphia Eagles and one for the Buccaneers. In 1975, tons of quarterbacks backed out of the Pro Bowl and he ended up going. In seven games, he threw for 996 yards. He threw six touchdowns and twelve interceptions. His 52.4% completion rate wasn't the worst in the league but everything else about his year was around the bottom.
He used his appearance in the Pro Bowl to have probably the best game of his career. He threw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win the game for the NFC.