The selection of Vernon to replace Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and one of the favorites for this season’s award, was somewhat of a head scratcher.
He missed the first five games of the season with a high ankle sprain, finishing with seven sacks in the Giants’ final 11 games. He needed a 2.5 sack performance in the regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys to wrestle the team lead from rookie defensive tackle B.J. Hill (5.5 sacks).
On the contrary, Mack finished the regular season with 12.5 sacks in 14 games. Hall of Famer Richard Dent is the only other Bears player with at least 12.5 sacks in a season.
In addition to his seven sacks, Vernon led the Giants with 21 quarterback hits. He also had 30 tackles, five tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
He was moved from defensive end to linebacker in James Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme. He entered the season as the only proven pass-rusher on the Giants’ roster. His performance was at times maddening. There was no one on the other side to complement him, evidenced by the Giants’ measly 30 sacks (“good” enough for 30th in the league).
Nonetheless, Vernon will be the first Giants linebacker to play in a Pro Bowl since Antonio Pierce in 2006. He is also the first outside linebacker named to the Pro Bowl since Jessie Armstead, who was named to five consecutive Pro Bowls (1997-2001).
Vernon is the fourth Giant named to the Pro Bowl, joining rookie running back Saquon Barkley, second-year kicker Aldrick Rosas, and safety Landon Collins. Collins will not play following late-season shoulder surgery.
The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 PM EST. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN and simulcast on ABC.