Most Underrated Player on Each NFL Playoff Contender

Aidan MackieSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2011

Most Underrated Player on Each NFL Playoff Contender

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    Every NFL team possesses a player that is underappreciated by the majority of the public.

    Despite consistently high performances, these players are overlooked because of their lack of media attention or public popularity.

    Each of the 16 teams currently alive in the playoff race boasts a player that has been critical to their success, but has not received the recognition they deserve. 

Green Bay Packers: Desmond Bishop

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    Desmond Bishop has come out of nowhere to perform like one of the best linebackers in the league today.

    The 27-year-old is one of the leading tacklers in the NFL, and he is one of the best run stoppers in the game.

    The California product also leads NFC inside linebackers in sacks with five.

    Bishop is a complete player, and he is one of the rocks in the middle of the Green Bay defense. 

San Francisco 49ers: Navorro Bowman

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    Much of the 49ers defensive turnaround should be credited to the unbelievable play of Navorro Bowman.

    The young inside linebacker has been one of the best players at his position all season, as he is one of the leaders of San Francisco's vaunted run defense.

    Bowman is currently fifth in the NFL with a staggering 133 tackles, but he is often overshadowed by big-name teammates like Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. 

New Orleans Saints: Marques Colston

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    Despite consistently putting up gaudy numbers, Marques Colston does not receive the media attention he deserves.

    The Saints wide receiver is just two yards away from his fifth 1,000-yard season, as he continues to be one of Drew Brees' favorite targets.

    The Hofstra product is overshadowed by teammates Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, but he quietly is still one of the NFL's most dangerous ball catching threats. 

New York Giants: Victor Cruz

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    Victor Cruz has put up ridiculous numbers this year, but his breakout year has been largely unnoticed.

    The second-year wideout is third in the entire NFL in receiving yards with 1,358, and he is tied for ninth in the league with eight touchdown grabs.

    The Giants star was one of the Pro Bowl's biggest snubs, as big-name receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Greg Jennings were chosen instead of him.

    Cruz is one of the game's most explosive players, and he will be key to Big Blue's January success. 

Dallas Cowboys: Sean Lee

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    Sean Lee has quietly had a breakout year in his second season as a pro.

    The Cowboys star is a tackling machine and is one of the best coverage linebackers in the game today. He currently leads all NFC linebackers in interceptions with four.

    Without Lee, Dallas' solid defensive unit would have big trouble defending the pass across the middle of the field. 

Detroit Lions: Cliff Avril

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    Despite performing at an All-Pro level, Cliff Avril is often overshadowed by Ndamukong Suh on the Lions defensive line.

    The fourth-year man out of Purdue is one of the game's most ferocious pass rushers, as he is fifth among defensive lineman in sacks with 11. 

    The breakout star is a constant playmaker, as he ranks first in the NFC with six forced fumbles.

    If he can keep up his tremendous play, Avril will be a household name in a few years. 

Atlanta Falcons: Sean Weatherspoon

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    Sean Weatherspoon is a little known name despite him being a staple to the Falcon's stingy defense. 

    The young Missouri product is a leader in Atlanta's solid defensive unit, and he ranks third among all outside linebackers with 109 tackles. 

    The 24-year-old is also a skilled pass rusher, as he is tied for second on his team with four sacks.

    Weatherspoon was a snub in this year's Pro Bowl, but he will be heading to Hawaii for years to come. 

New England Patriots: Kyle Arrington

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    Without Kyle Arrington, the Patriots secondary could be the worst in NFL history.

    Arrington has been the only consistent defensive back for New England all year, and he has emerged as one of the league's better cornerbacks.

    The Hofstra product leads the NFL in both pass deflections and interceptions, and his passer rating against is one of the lowest in the league.

    The 25-year-old also ranks first among AFC cornerbacks in tackles with 82.

    The former Buccaneer is quietly becoming a star for the Patriots. 

Baltimore Ravens: Corey Redding

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    With big names like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs hogging the spotlight, Corey Redding does not get the credit he deserves.

    The 31-year-old, along with Haloti Ngata, is one of the game's best run stoppers, as he helps lead the league's second best rush defense.

    Redding is also a viable pass rusher, as he has recorded an impressive 4.5 sacks this season. 

Houston Texans: Connor Barwin

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    The Texans defensive turnaround is largely due to Connor Barwin's resurgence as one of the game's best pass rushers.

    After an injury-plagued 2010, Barwin has helped lead one of the league's most feared defenses this year, as he currently ranks third in the AFC with 11.5 sacks.

    The 25-year-old was an unacceptable Pro Bowl snub, and he deserves more recognition for his outstanding play this year. 

Denver Broncos: D.J. Williams

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    D.J. Williams is not known by the casual fan, but he has been one of the leaders of a solid Broncos defense this season.

    The outside linebacker ranks second on the team in tackles with 86, third on the team in sacks with 5.5 and first on the team in forced fumbles with three. 

    The Miami graduate is a complete player, as he can drop back in coverage, defend the run and rush the passer. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ike Taylor

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    Ike Taylor has been a solid player for the Steelers for years, but he has really stepped up his game in 2011.

    The veteran cornerback has been one of the best coverage men in football this season, as he consistently shuts down the opposition's top receiver.

    Despite being overshadowed by household names like Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, the two-time Super Bowl champion is one of the main reasons the Steelers own the league's best pass defense. 

Cincinnati Bengals: Geno Atkins

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    Geno Atkins has established himself as one of the NFL's premier defensive tackles this year.

    In just his second year in the league, the 23-year-old leads all defensive tackles in sacks with eight. 

    The Georgia product is also a superb run stopper, as he has led the league's fifth-best rush defense. 

    Atkins is one of the up-and-coming stars in the game today. 

Oakland Raiders: Tommy Kelly

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    Tommy Kelly has built on a solid 2010 to further establish himself as one of the league's most intimidating defensive tackles. 

    The 31-year-old receives little media attention despite being one of the game's finest pass rushing nose tackles.

    Kelly currently ranks second in the NFL among defensive tackles in sacks, with 7.5. The mammoth Mississippi State product has also recorded two forced fumbles and one interception.

    The veteran is one of the league's most underappreciated defensive players. 

Tennessee Titans: Cortland Finnegan

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    Cortland Finnegan's questionable behavior has overshadowed his terrific play on the field.

    The Samford graduate may be a dirty player, but he is also one of the game's best cover cornerbacks.

    The 27-year-old consistently shuts down opponent's top wide receiver, and he is also one of the game's best tackling cornerbacks. 

    Finnegan is feared by quarterbacks throughout the league. 

New York Jets: David Harris

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    Despite ranking first among all inside linebackers in sacks and first among all linebackers in interceptions, pass deflections and touchdowns, David Harris is still not a household name. 

    The Michigan product has been one of the game's best defensive players for years now, but he receives little attention due to his quiet behavior.

    The 27-year-old is one of the NFL's most consistent defensive playmakers, and he will continue to dominate opposing defenses for years to come.