DAVIE — Michael Thomas led the NFL in special teams tackles last season, but when he learned that wasn’t enough to break the grip the Patriots’ Matthew Slater had on the lone AFC special teams Pro Bowl slot, he told himself he wouldn’t get his hopes up again.
So when the teams were announced Tuesday night, Thomas tried to take it in stride even though the numbers say taking Slater over Thomas makes less sense this year.
“I think there are some other guys that are probably a little bit more deserving of that recognition,” Thomas said Wednesday.
Thomas wouldn’t say if he’s one of those “other guys” and said it’s nothing against Slater, whom he respects as a player and as a person.
Slater was named to his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl — tying Buffalo’s Steve Tasker for the most selections by a special teams player — despite playing in seven games because of injuries.
Although Thomas missed last week’s game at Buffalo with a knee injury, he played in the other 13 games for the Dolphins and hopes to suit up in Kansas City on Sunday.
Slater has five special teams tackles, which doesn’t even lead his team. He’s third on the Patriots in that department.
Thomas has 11 special teams tackles to lead the Dolphins.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase was speaking in general about how some players get voted in year after year based on reputation when he said, “Sometimes it’s perception that guys have of what somebody did in the past. It’s always hard to get that first round when you’ve been there a few times. That name’s a little bit easier to write down.”
That must be the case here. The only alternative is to presume that for the time Slater has been out there, he has performed twice as well as Thomas. Why that logic? Because Thomas has played twice as many games and has twice as many tackles.
Pro Football Focus doesn’t buy the selection of Slater. In a list of the most-snubbed performers this season, it said Thomas ought to replace Slater (which could still happen if the Patriots go to the Super Bowl, making Slater ineligible for the Pro Bowl).
“Matthew Slater has a lock on the AFC special teams spot for the Pro Bowl, and he has been a great special-teamer in the past, but he is getting there now on name recognition alone,” PFF wrote. “He isn’t even the best special-teams player on his own team.”
PFF said Slater has played just 12 total snaps as a gunner this year, at least 26 fewer than either player ahead of him.
“Miami’s Thomas is the true ‘special teams ace’ people think Slater is, and he may once have been,” PFF wrote.
“For people like that, a program like that who watches every snap, who actually watches the film and they recognize you — that means more to me,” Thomas said.
So does respect from peers. Thomas said four players on other teams texted him when the rosters were announced “saying that was crazy that I wasn’t voted in.
“That’s what means a lot to me,” Thomas said.