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2024 Pro Bowl Games: What We Learned from Thursday's competitions

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Thursday's action at the Pro Bowl Games skills competition. The second annual Pro Bowl Games conclude Sunday with more skills competitions and three flag football games to determine the AFC-NFC winner.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- 

1) Baker continues to cook in Florida. Perhaps it’s just something about playing in the Sunshine State, but Baker Mayfield hasn’t shined any brighter in his NFL career than he has in Florida. He turned in the best campaign of his career in 2023 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which earned him his first Pro Bowl selection and Thursday night’s showcase. Mayfield was able to defeat AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite C.J. Stroud in the precision passing finale to further accentuate a stellar run representing the Buccaneers. It kicked off the festivities and a night in which a calm-and-cool Mayfield was right at home in the all-star showcase. He showed off his arm, handled interviews aplenty and laughed and joked doing some commentary for the ESPN broadcast. Mayfield has most certainly been phenomenal in Florida. Will he be back with the Bucs in 2024? Well, that remains to be seen, but on Thursday he reminded them and the league of just how hot his hand has been as of late. On a night of stars, he might well have been the brightest.

2) CeeDee closes out NFC showing. Perhaps CeeDee Lamb had some pent-up frustration after the Cowboys’ stunning opening-round loss in the playoffs. Regardless, he came away smiling after playing some angry dodgeball. Thursday’s skills events offered a pair of dodgeball games, with the AFC winning the first thanks in large part to the imposing play of Derrick Henry. It was Lamb who sent the NFC home with a win and a lead heading into the finale, though. In short order, Lamb eliminated Minkah Fitzpatrick, Patrick Queen and Sauce Gardner. If there’s a dodgeball zone outside of middle school, Lamb found it at the University of Central Florida. His efforts gave the NFC three points and an overall 12-6 lead heading into Sunday’s finale, which offers more skills competitions and flag football action, with Lamb set to play -- though he’ll be back to dodging defenders by then. 

3) Stroud adds on to sensational rookie campaign. C.J. Stroud might have been a late add to the Pro Bowl roster, but he was most deserving after a rookie season for the ages in which he led the NFL with 273.9 yards per game and piloted the Texans to an AFC South title. So it was of little surprise that he shined again in Orlando. As the night began with precision passing event, Stroud outshined his fellow first-time AFC Pro Bowlers, Tua Tagovailoa and Gardner Minshew with a 26-point showing. That led to a showdown with Mayfield, who had 24 points going up against his NFC brethren. Mayfield won out in the final, 9-8, but watching Stroud throw beautiful passes is something the Texans and NFL fans have quickly gotten used to. Thursday’s performance was a reminder to expect plenty more magnificence from Stroud to come. 

4) Anger emerges as this year’s dual-sport standout. In the inaugural edition of the Pro Bowl Games last year, Bills safety Jordan Poyer picked up a win in the longest drive competition thanks to a 320-yard stroke on the golf course. This time around, it was Cowboys punter Bryan Anger who came away with bragging rights as the NFL’s dual-sport standout thanks to his game on the links. Anger won the closest to the pin event, coming within 2 feet of the pin to claim victory and edge Cowboys and NFC teammate Jake Ferguson. The big booter averaged a ridiculous 51.4 yards per punt this season and 38.6% of them landed inside the 20-yard-line. So perhaps it’s little surprise he excelled and showed that, punter or not, he’s a multi-sport marvel. That’s what the Pro Bowl games results tell us, anyway.

5) All stars can shine in all-star showcase. Though there’s a galaxy of stars in Orlando, there are plenty of Pro Bowlers who are far from household names. However, Thursday’s skills events allowed some lesser-known players to truly shine. Such was the case with Steelers special teamer Miles Killebrew and Vikings long snapper Andrew DePaola. Killebrew just finished his eighth NFL season and he’s made a grand total of five starts. However, he excelled in special teams in 2023, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors with 13 ST tackles and a blocked punt against the Ravens -- the fourth of his career. On Thursday, he was thrust into the high stakes competition, in which players attempt to catch multiple balls off a JUGS machine at the same time. Killebrew, who admitted after he had no idea what he was doing, led the AFC to a win as he hauled in a games-best six balls. DePaola made his second Pro Bowl trip in as many seasons and once again used the Pro Bowl Games stage to show just what a specialist he is. Last year, he provided the NFC all its points in the kick tac toe event. While that competition remains, it’s under a new format with DePaola taking part in the snap shots event in which players long snapped at an array of targets with different points attached. With the NFC trailing and an array of centers floundering, DePaula showed exactly why long snapping is such a defined skill. He went nuts, scoring nine points to lead his conference to a win in the event. Special teamers are all-stars, too, and Killebrew and DePaola showed just why on Thursday.

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