EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – This unique NFL season today took another twist for James Bradberry and Evan Engram, who learned they earned their first Pro Bowl selections although the game will not actually be played.
Bradberry, the cornerback in his first year with the Giants and fifth in the NFL, and Engram, the 2017 first-round draft choice in his fourth season, would have represented the NFC team in the game. But the league announced in October that it canceled the game to focus on completing its season amid the pandemic. Las Vegas, which had been scheduled to host the game, will instead host the Pro Bowl after the 2021 season. This will be the first time since the 1949 season that the NFL hasn't held some form of postseason all-star game.
"When they announced that, I was like, 'That would be crazy if I made the Pro Bowl and we don't even play the Pro Bowl,'" Engram said. "But I think they're doing some Madden tournament. I've been playing a lot of Madden lately, so hopefully I can go win that."
No Giants player was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019. Bradberry is the first Giants cornerback to be voted in since Janoris Jenkins in 2016, while Engram is the team's first Pro Bowl tight end since Jeremy Shockey in 2006.
"It's a surreal feeling," Bradberry said. "That's on everyone's, I wouldn't call it a bucket list, but it's on their goal list, to be Pro Bowl, to be All-Pro, just be the best in the game. I try not to think about it too much. I just try to go out there and play my best and just let the chips fall where they may."
"I'm really just truly thankful," Engram said. "Just blessed and thankful for just the whole process that I've been through. This past year has been hard for literally everybody. Me and my mom were talking about it this weekend."
The Giants devised a unique plan for informing Bradberry and Engram of their selections. They told them the NFL was scheduling Zoom calls so current players could meet former players who once played the same positions on their teams. Jason Sehorn spoke to Bradberry, while Howard Cross Zoomed with Engram. The retirees then told the active players they were Pro Bowlers.
"It was cool, because I really learned about who Jason Sehorn was when I got up here," Bradberry said. "I just started doing some research, and I saw that he was a great cornerback for the organization. It was cool to get the news from him, a fellow cornerback."
Engram didn't have to research Cross, who is a regular presence at Giants headquarters.
"My guy Howard, I see him all the time," Engram said. "I definitely was glad it was him. They made it seem like I was getting on to talk ball and chop it up with some of the former Giants. They set it up pretty good."
Bradberry joined the Giants as a free agent on March 26 and has been one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks this season. Frequently assigned to cover the opponent's best wide receiver, Bradberry leads the Giants with three interceptions, is tied for second in the league with 17 passes defensed and has 46 tackles (38 solo), two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He was the leading fan vote-getter among NFC corners with 87,818.
"It definitely means a lot that I made it," Bradberry said. "I try not to put too much emphasis on it beforehand because I just felt like it was something I couldn't control. The one thing I can control is how I play on the field, and that's what I try to control. But, of course, I wanted to be a Pro Bowler, so it feels good to be recognized as one."
Bradberry was asked if he thinks he has played better this season than he has in the past.
"I played pretty well in my last year in Carolina," he said. "But I think I've been playing at a high level this year. I actually think we have a lot of guys on the defense that are playing at a high level. Leonard (Williams) has been playing out of his mind. Blake (Martinez) has been playing well for us, he's been playing out of his mind. Logan (Ryan) came in, didn't even have a training camp and he's been playing some elite football."
Bradberry did not play in the Giants' loss last night to the Cleveland Browns because he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list week after he was deemed a high-risk close contact of an individual who tested positive. Bradberry was activated off the reserve list today.
"I was just disappointed I couldn't go out there and play and help the team," Bradberry said. "I kind of felt helpless because my team was out there battling and I wasn't out there to battle with them. It's just a difficult situation with COVID and stuff. I was just really disappointed that I couldn't be out there."
View photos of Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry during his time with the Giants.
Engram leads the Giants with 54 catches and is second with 572 receiving yards. He has scored two touchdowns, one receiving and another rushing.
Engram, who made his 12th start of the season last night, has a chance to play in all 16 games for the first time (he played in a career-high 15 as a rookie). That would be no small achievement considering in 2019, Engram played in only eight games and underwent foot surgery that required a long rehabilitation. That he returned to play at a Pro Bowl level is particularly satisfying.
"To where I am now and to receive this news today literally was just icing on the cake," Engram said. "I'm really just truly blessed and thankful for where I am, everything I've been through and everything that's going to come.
"The foot injuries, I didn't realize how tough it was going to be. That one was tough. It was just a lot of ups and downs. There was some doubt that crept in sometimes about if I would be the same. But I've had great people helping me.
"I'm a real positive person. I'm young still (26), but I feel like I've gained a little wisdom. Especially in this profession, doubt is an athlete's biggest enemy. It was definitely a fight because it's a natural thing, everybody has it. I'm not perfect and I'm a human being. It did creep in a little bit. But I just kind of stayed the course, I kept my faith and kept praying to God about it. He's definitely pulled through."
The Giants' newest Pro Bowlers insist this will not be a pinnacle, but a springboard for future achievements.
"I want to get more interceptions," said Bradberry, who has 11 in his career. "You see what (Miami's) Xavien Howard, (New England's) J.C. Jackson, they have eight-nine picks, so of course, you always want to be able to create more turnovers as a defender. But I feel like I also want to become more of a vocal leader. I don't really talk a whole lot. Just trying to be comfortable with that in the future."
"I want to be more consistent at all levels of my game," Engram said. "I want to continue to be more consistent when I'm blocking. There are sometimes where I'm very physical and use great technique, and there are sometimes where I get away from that. Same thing with route running. There are sometimes where I'm able to be really sharp and create separation. There are times where I get myself covered. Also, ball security. Holding the ball, catching the ball, being dynamic at the point of attack. Just being an overall consistent player, I think that's my biggest goal. Just continue to try to improve in all aspects of my game."
That is a good starting point for each of the Giants' 2020 Pro Bowlers.
Photos of Giants tight end Evan Engram.