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View from the O-Zone: These felt wrong


JACKSONVILLE – The truth often means little in the moment.

Here's a truth that may not mean much to Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith or defensive end Yannick Ngakoue Tuesday night or Wednesday morning:

The Pro Bowl is cool, but it's not always an accurate reflection of level of play.

A lot of times, it doesn't mean all that much.

And it's often just plain wrong.

A lot went right for the Jaguars when the NFL announced selections for the 2018 Pro Bowl Tuesday, and the four Jaguars players selected – cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Malik Jackson – absolutely were deserving.

All four are major reasons the Jaguars are in the playoffs for the first time in a decade, major the Jaguars' defense is perhaps the NFL's best.

Ramsey and Bouye have played at such a high level that both could make the prestigious Associated Press All-Pro team. Campbell leads the AFC with a career-high 14.5 sacks and Jackson's eight sacks are an eye-catching number for an interior player.

But as is often the case with honors, those not honored elicited more interest and emotion than those included – and leaving Smith and Ngakoue not honored felt wrong for the simplest of reasons:

It was wrong. They deserved to be there.

Here's the thing, though: the Pro Bowl system of fan voting, player voting and coaches voting isn't a "fair" system. The reality is there is not such a thing as fair in any system that involves humans voting for something, but we do know the Pro Bowl sure doesn't always honor deserving players. I've always thought of the Pro Bowl as something players should enjoy if fortunate enough to be named, and but not something they should worry too much about if not. Easy to say, not particularly easy when you're the one snubbed.

The thought here is both Smith and Ngakoue will get their due in the future.

Smith, in his fourth season, is in a tricky position. As a 4-3 outside linebacker, Smith undoubtedly was hurt because Pro Bowl voting at the position favors 3-4 outside linebackers who rush the passer. Fans often vote sacks over all else, and notoriety at the position often goes to sacks leader rather than complete players – and there are few if any more complete 4-3 outside backers than Smith.

Ngakoue's absence undoubtedly is equally irritating to those who get irritated over these things. His 11 sacks rank third in the AFC and tie him for sixth in the NFL. He pressures when he doesn't get sacks; he forces turnovers when he does.

He is elite and he has had a better season than players who made it. Smith unquestionably has, too.

The guess here is these oversights won't last forever for these players, and the guess here is Pro Bowl honors await both Ngakoue and Smith – and perhaps other Jaguars players who didn't make it on Tuesday. Some likely will even make it as alternates this season.

Others will make it in the future, and the guess here is making it will get easier for a lot of Jaguars players. Reputation and exposure isn't everything in Pro Bowl voting, but it plays a role. The Jaguars because they were 3-13 last season and in double-digit losses a long time before that weren't on national television this season – and before this season, few Jaguars got national attention.

That's changing. They're in the postseason with a chance to clinch the AFC South with a victory Sunday. They are good enough to win in the playoffs – one game at least, perhaps more.

This is a fun team to watch. It's entertaining. They have established star players and a bunch more on the rise. Running back Leonard Fournette, left tackle Cam Robinson and center Brandon Linder look like players who will receive future Pro Bowl recognition on offense – and that's leaving out injured wide receiver Allen Robinson, who already has been there (in 2015).

Defensively, there are rising stars, too. Linebacker Myles Jack has a Pro Bowl feel, and free safety Tashaun Gipson had a strong argument this season. Ramsey feels like a perennial choice, as does Bouye.

The hope here is that Ngakoue and Smith join that group, and here's another hope for these guys – that maybe they get a future Pro Bowl nod to make up for this season. It often happens that a veteran makes a Pro Bowl or two at the end of their careers on reputation when they didn't quite deserve it. Sometimes, that offsets a Pro Bowl or two they didn't make early in their careers when their reputations didn't yet quite match their level of plays.

Here's hoping that eventually happens for Smith and Ngakoue.

It sure would be deserving for a couple of guys who should have had a better feeling Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

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