2023 NFL season: Ten likeliest first-time Pro Bowlers

Each week of the 2023 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 Games 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 13 of the 2023 NFL season.

We took a different approach to our methodology this week, leveraging machine learning to power the rankings. We built a model for each position group that predicts the likelihood of a player being selected for the Pro Bowl Games. This model takes into account the most relevant performance metrics for each position and compares them to historical performances of Pro Bowlers over the past five seasons. One thing to note is offensive linemen are excluded from this exercise because we have limited individual metrics to evaluate them.

NOTE: Scores are based on each player’s performance in Weeks 1 through 12.

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  • Age: 25 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 92%
  • NFL position rank: DT1

For as many cases in which a player earns a massive contract extension but never lives up to it, there are the Ed Olivers of the world, who actually get better following a big pay day.

Signing a four-year, $68 million deal with the Bills back in June, Oliver has been exceptional in 2023. Already having a career year with 22 pressures when fellow Bills defensive tackle DaQuan Jones went down with a torn pec in Week 5, Oliver has continued to produce. The fifth-year pro not only leads all defensive tackles in pressures (48) this season, but he’s tied with Quinnen Williams for the most pressures against double teams (16) among defensive tackles.

  • Age: 26 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 80%
  • NFL position rank: WR7

If Moore wasn’t already considered a true WR1, he is now. The linchpin of the Panthers’ trade for the 2023 No. 1 overall pick, Moore has teamed up with Justin Fields to create one of the most formidable quarterback-pass catcher duos in the NFL this season. The Moore-Fields connection leads the league in EPA per attempt (+0.88) among all quarterback-receiver duos (min. 40 attempts), leading, in part, to the second-highest Pro Bowl probability on this list.

Individually, the fifth-year wideout has not only set career highs in receptions over expected (+13.5) and receiving yards over expected (+301), but he leads the NFL in both of those categories through 12 weeks. He also ranks second in the league in yards after the catch over expected (+153) and is well on pace to beat his career-high YACOE mark (+181) he set in his 2018 rookie season in Carolina.

  • Age: 23 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 78%
  • NFL position rank: QB1

As much as opposing fans and talking heads alike tried to tear down Purdy in the midst of the 49ers’ three-game skid earlier this season, the former Mr. Irrelevant’s resurgence comes just as the Niners get set for an NFC Championship Game rematch against the Eagles on Sunday. Since snapping that losing streak in Week 10 coming off the bye, rattling off three wins in a row, Purdy is tied for the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL (seven) and has completed 7.1% more of his passes than expected, the second-highest rate in that span. When looking at the entire season, Purdy leads all qualified quarterbacks in total EPA (+81.5), EPA per dropback (+0.24) and success rate (54.4%). 

  • Age: 22 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 68%
  • NFL position rank: S1

Baltimore’s top pick in last year’s draft, Hamilton has seen his playtime increase from just 50.4% as a rookie to 96.3% through Week 12. The uptick has paid off for Hamilton and the Ravens, as the Notre Dame product has allowed the second-fewest yards per target (4.3) among all defenders who have been targeted at least 40 times this season, as well as the second-fewest EPA (-19.5) among safeties. Hamilton has also excelled as a pass rusher, generating the second-most pressures (15), and tying for the most sacks (three) among defensive backs this season.

  • Age: 24 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 66%
  • NFL position rank: CB2

His surname may mean “boring,” but the 2022 fifth-round pick’s on-field play has been one of the most exhilarating stories in the NFL this season.

In addition to setting the record for the most pick-sixes in a single season with more than a month still to go, there’s another record Bland is chasing – one that’s held by one of his current teammates. The Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) record for fewest target EPA allowed in a season was set by Stephon Gilmore in 2019 with -66.8. Through Week 12 of that season, Gilmore found himself at -57.9, whereas Bland has currently allowed -46.5 EPA when targeted, the fewest in the NFL by a longshot. Bland has some ground to gain if he hopes to catch Gilmore, but with one more regular-season game than Gilmore had to work with, a few more pick-sixes could do the trick.

  • Age: 22 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 52%
  • NFL position rank: QB4

The No. 2 overall pick out of Ohio State, Stroud has more than impressed early in his career. Since Week 9, the rookie has thrown for 300 yards in four straight games, totaling a league-high 1,466 yards, and his +7.0% completion percentage over expected and +32.5 EPA both rank in the top three in that span. His play has helped the Texans win three of their last four games, keeping them more than alive in the AFC playoff race. 

If recency bias isn’t enough, Stroud’s +0.10 EPA per dropback is fifth in the NFL this season, ranking ahead of the likes of Patrick Mahomes (+0.08) and Jalen Hurts (+0.04), and is the fourth-highest EPA per dropback by a rookie quarterback through Week 12 in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016).

  • Age: 25 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 62%
  • NFL position rank: QB5

One of the NFL’s best marriages in 2023 is Tagovailoa in Mike McDaniel’s scheme. By utilizing shifts/motion at the second-highest rate in the NFL (75.9%), McDaniel has been able to create mismatches for his speedy skill position players, who get down the field much faster than those of any other team in the NFL. The byproduct is the odd couple of Tua’s league-leading average time to throw (2.36 seconds) combined with the league’s second-highest yards per attempt (8.4).

This scheme is only effective if the quarterback operating it does so to near perfection. Tagovailoa’s league-high 741 yards on quick passes (the ball is thrown in 2.5 seconds or less) of 10 or more air yards are a major reason Miami’s offense has been so explosive this season. It’s also a reason the Dolphins are in contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC as the NFL calendar flips from November to December.

  • Age: 25 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 72%
  • NFL position rank: WR8

All of San Francisco’s skill position players have benefited from the consistent play of Brock Purdy, but none more than Aiyuk. The fourth-year pro is averaging a career-high 3.4 yards per route this season, second only to Tyreek Hill (4.2) and .5 more than the next closest receivers, CeeDee Lamb and A.J. Brown (min. 200 routes). Through Week 12, Aiyuk has already set career highs in receiving EPA (+48.0), receptions over expected (+4.3) and receiving yards over expected (+175).

Where Aiyuk has separated himself this season is on intermediate targets (throws between 10 and 19 air yards). Aiyuk leads the league in targets (40), receptions (26) and receiving yards (507) on such routes, while his 126 yards after the catch on intermediate targets are the second-most in the league behind only Travis Kelce (140).

  • Age: 27 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 58%
  • NFL position rank: ED10

Like the Bills with Ed Oliver, the Bears are another example of a team reaping immediate benefits after rewarding a player for his on-field performance and production. Sweat was already enjoying a career year in Washington prior to being dealt to Chicago ahead of the trade deadline, as his 33 pressures were the most through Week 8 in a season in his career, and he’s still been productive as ever after his new time signed him to a four-year, $72.9 million contract extension. Sweat leads all Chicago defenders with 20 pressures since Week 9, eight more than the next Bears defender (DeMarcus Walker), and his 53 total pressures this season are the 11th-most league-wide — one fewer than former teammate Chase Young, who’s now in San Francisco after also being traded from Washington.

  • Age: 22 years old
  • Pro Bowl probability: 61%
  • NFL position rank: WR10

The 22-year old rookie filled a Cooper Kupp-sized void in the Rams’ offense right out of the gates this season. Nacua had the second-most receiving yards in the NFL (572) through Week 5 behind only Tyreek Hill (651). He also ranked in the top 10 in receiving EPA (+29.3, ninth), receiving yards over expected (+95, ninth) and yards after the catch (197, seventh) in that span.

His production has tapered off some since Kupp’s return and with Matthew Stafford dealing with injuries, but Nacua’s production overall is still notable, especially for a fifth-round rookie. The BYU product has continued to make his mark after the catch, as his +100 YAC over expected is tied with San Francisco’s Brandon Aiyuk for eighth-most in the NFL.

HONORABLE MENTION:

  • Grant Delpit, S, Cleveland Browns
  • Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions
  • Raheem Mostert, RB, Miami Dolphins
  • Foyesade Oluokun, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Robert Spillane, LB, Las Vegas Raiders
  • Brandon Stephens, CB, Baltimore Ravens
  • Christian Wilkins, DT, Miami Dolphins
  • Darious Williams, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seattle Seahawks

— Mike Band, Keegan Abdoo and John Andersen contributed to this story.

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