NFL

What is the Difference Between Being an NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowler?

At the conclusion of each season, the NFL announces the selections for two different All-Star teams within weeks of each other. Traditionally, the league announces those who have made that season’s Pro Bowl, followed by the selections for the All-Pro teams. What’s the difference?

Who makes the Pro Bowl?

The Pro Bowl is the NFL’s All-Star game. Unlike the other major sports, which hold their All-Star events mid-season, the Pro Bowl is held at the end of the football season a week before the Super Bowl.

Players are voted into the Pro Bowl by the coaches, players, and fans. Each group counts for one-third of the votes, and the fans vote online at the NFL’s official website. The Pro Bowl also includes alternate/replacement players who attend the game and play in the case of injury.

Since 2010, players of the two teams that advance to the Super Bowl do not play in the Pro Bowl and are replaced by alternate players. Players who would have been invited as an alternate but could not play due to advancing to the Super Bowl are still considered Pro Bowlers. 

In the 2020 Pro Bowl, the teams had 44 players from each conference. Players are paid for participating in the game, and the winning team receives a larger payout. In 2020, a player on the winning team received $74,000, while a player on the losing team earned $37,000. 

Who makes the All-Pro team?

While making the Pro Bowl is considered an honor, making the NFL’s All-Pro teams are more prestigious. Unlike the Pro Bowl, which fans count for one-third of the vote and is often a popularity contest, members of the media select the All-Pro teams.

In 2020, those media organizations include the Associated Press (AP), Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), and Sporting News (SN). Any player selected to the first-team of any of the teams is considered an “All-Pro” and included in the NFL Record and Fact Book.

The AP selections, which includes both a first- and second-team, is chosen by a national panel of 50 NFL writers and broadcasters. More than 300 national accredited media members, who cover the NFL, select the PFWA team. The Sporting News All-Pro team is voted on by NFL players and executives.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson knows what he must do to reach the Super Bowl. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

While there are multiple All-Pro teams, the number of total players selected is considerably lower than the Pro Bowl because the different media organizations often have crossover and name the same players to their respective teams. For example, in 2020, Lamar Jackson was named the All-Pro quarterback for all three teams. 

Unlike the Pro Bowl, players named to an All-Pro team aren’t guaranteed a financial payout. However, many of them have incentives in their contracts that reward them from making a team. In 2020, Richard Sherman received an extra $2 million for being named to the AP All-Pro second team. 

Notable All-Pro players left out of the Pro Bowl

Since being named an All-Pro is the more prestigious of the two honors, it would make sense that those selected to the All-Pro teams would naturally make it into the Pro Bowl. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t happen.

This past season, the New Orleans Saints had not one, but two players snubbed from All-Pro honors. Offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and linebacker Demario Davis both earned AP first-team honors, but neither player managed to make the Pro Bowl.

In 2018, it happened four times with Philadelphia center Jason Kelce, Green Bay offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Desmond King, and Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard. The four snubs in 2018 were the most in a single year since 1969.

Although making the All-Pro team is considered to be the higher honor, the annual snubs prove it’s not an exact science. And this pattern of snubs will continue as long as you have humans judging performance. Just ask Olympic gymnasts.