The Most Underrated College Football Player at Every Position

Carl StineCorrespondent IJune 24, 2012

The Most Underrated College Football Player at Every Position

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    The college football offseason is all about the hype.

    We list preseason top 25s, best quarterbacks by conference and coaches who are on the hot seat.

    Prevalent among such lists are rankings denoting the most overrated or over-hyped players in the nation.

    While such rankings are somewhat subjective, they are the fare that sustains us throughout the long, football-less offseason.

    That said, this list is about the opposite.

    The guys on this list do not get enough hype, credit or national attention.

    Every one of them delivers at an elite level, and has the potential to compete for All-American consideration.

    While they may not be the most recognizable players in the nation, these players deserve way more props than they have been receiving.

Punter: Bobby Cowan, Idaho

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    2011 Stats: 88 punts, 46.4 yards per punt, 76-yard long

     

    Idaho punted a ton last season.

    As a matter of fact, Cowan led the nation in number of punts in 2011.

    And yet, even though he punted a whopping 7.33 times per game, he finished with the second-best average in the nation.

    With that much practice, it's hard not to be good at what you do.

End: Roosevelt Nix, Kent State

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    2011 Stats: 82 tackles, 14.5 sacks, five passes broken up, seven forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two blocked kicks, 17 tackles for loss

     

    As you can see, this guy absolutely blows up the stat sheet.

    Nix gets plenty of respect around the MAC, and even made some preseason All-Conference teams.

    That said, his talent level and skill are such that they would translate well into any conference.

    The numbers he put up are ridiculous, no matter what conference he performed in, and he is primed for another great season in 2012.

End: Scott Crichton, Oregon State

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    2011 Stats: 74 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, six forced fumbles, one blocked kick, three passes broken up

     

    Crichton absolutely exploded onto the scene as a freshman last season.

    His speed off the edge and ability to knife his way into the backfield led to 14.5 tackles for loss, and he wound up as one of the top freshman of his class.

    With a year of experience and conditioning under his belt, Crichton is primed to dominate the Pac-12 this season.

Tackle: Kawann Short, Purdue

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    2011 Stats: 54 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two passes broken up, one forced fumble

     

    Short lines up on either side of the center and is a force to be reckoned with.

    He does get a lot of notice on a national level, so he might not be considered "underrated."

    That said, he is easily the best tackle in the nation, and because he plays for a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, he does not get enough hype.

    But this guy is legit and will dominate the conference again.

Tackle: Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech

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    2011 Stats: 51 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, one pass broken up, one forced fumble, six quarterback hurries

     

    As a sophomore, Hopkins showed flashes of brilliance at the tackle spot and the ability to be a difference-maker at the position.

    As a member of a defense that returns the majority of its starters, Hopkins will have the opportunity to improve immensely on his numbers from last season and emerge as one of the top tackles in the ACC.

Linebacker: Mike Taylor, Wisconsin

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    2011 Stats: 150 tackles, two interceptions, nine tackles for loss, two sacks, three passes broken up, three forced fumbles

     

    Taylor has got to be the only guy in the nation with the capability to lead the conference in tackling for the conference champs and still not garner much national hype.

    His 150 tackles led the Big Ten in 2011. Coupled with linebacker Chris Borland, they will form one of the most dangerous linebacker tandems in the country.

    Taylor plays smart, is strong and has the speed and size to cover some wide receivers and just about any tight end.

    After another season like last year, there is no way to overlook this guy anymore.

Linebacker: Jeremy Grove, ECU

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    2011 Stats: 122 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two passes broken up, five hurries

     

    Grove was a freshman in 2011.

    Fortunately for him, the East Carolina defensive line leaked like a sieve, allowing Grove to make plays all over the field.

    Averaging over 11 tackles per game is extremely impressive for a guy that was a true freshman, and you can expect him to equal or better those numbers in 2012.

Linebacker: Christian Kirksey, Iowa

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    2011 Stats: 110 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, three passes broken up, two forced fumbles

     

    Kirksey was a great find for the Hawkeyes, turning in an extremely solid sophomore season last year.

    He has the speed to be successful in coverage and makes surprisingly smart plays on the ball for a young guy.

    He will be one of the veteran members of the Hawkeye defense next season, and will wind up near the top of the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Cornerback: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

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    2011 Stats: 57 tackles, four interceptions, 12 passes broken up, one interception return for touchdown, one punt return touchdown

     

    Poyer had a huge season last year, filling up all parts of the stat sheet.

    His speed is excellent, he absolutely has the talent to shut down receivers and his ability to make a difference in the return game makes him an elite level cornerback.

    Poyer will be part of an Oregon State defense that has its work cut out for it in 2012, facing offensive juggernauts such as Wisconsin and Oregon. But regardless of the opponent, you can expect to see him making big plays.

Cornerback: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

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    2011 Stats: 65 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, seven passes broken up, one forced fumble, one punt return touchdown

     

    Fuller is an elite-level corner who gets hype on a regional level, but not as much nationally.

    This guy is the real deal.

    His speed allows him to make all kinds of plays in the backfield, as evidenced by his 14.5 tackles for loss.

    Fuller has the opportunity to match up against some extremely talented receivers in the ACC this season, and with another year such as 2011, he will cement his status as one of the best cornerbacks in football.

Safety: Matt Elam, Florida

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    2011 Stats: 78 tackles, two interceptions, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, seven passes broken up, two forced fumbles

     

    The SEC is replete with elite defensive talent.

    Due to the number of talented players on teams actually competing for the conference title, Elam has been overlooked.

    But the man can flat-out play.

    He reads plays well, is fast for a safety and is excellent in run support.

    If Florida is any better on offense this season, with guys like Elam on defense the Gators will be in good shape.

Safety: Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech

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    2011 Stats: 78 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, three passes broken up, three interceptions, one interception return for touchdown

     

    Georgia Tech got off to a hot start last season, jumping out to 6-0 before faltering halfway through the season.

    Johnson was consistent throughout the season, however, starring on a defense that was not exactly the stoutest in the nation.

    His ability to step up in run support was excellent, and given another season to hone his skills, he will have a huge season for the Yellow Jackets.

Kicker: Matt Weller, Ohio

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    2011 Stats: 25-of-34 field goals made, 48-of-49 extra points made

     

    Weller is a solid kicker who does not get much press because he plays in the MAC, and he is not automatic from 40-plus yards.

    Last season, he only made five of 13 attempts beyond 40 yards, but he has shown the ability through the course of his career to extend his range.

    He's also a key reason the Bobcats made it to the MAC title game last season, as his five made field goals against Bowling Green clinched their spot atop the division.

Center: Graham Pocic, Illinois

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    When Mikel LeShoure tore up the Big Ten in 2010, it was Pocic under center, leading the way into the teeth of the defense.

    He's quick, athletic and blocks his assignments with regularity.

    His height, 6'5", is conducive to playing the position, especially with the frame to build more mass and become a force to be reckoned with on the line.

    Expect him to have a quietly great season in Champaign.

Tackle: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

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    Joeckel did a bang-up job of protecting Ryan Tannehill last season.

    But that was against Big 12 defenders.

    Some of the best defensive ends in the nation play in the SEC, and he will have his work cut out for him to prove he is still one of the best.

    That said, his two years of experience and ability to perform well in the run game lead me to believe he will do quite well in the Aggies' new conference.

Tackle: Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas

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    Hawkinson has been developing into a great option for NFL teams to look at over his three seasons with the Jayhawks.

    Kansas is not good, not even a little bit, but he has been one guy on this team that executes his position very well.

    Kansas has started him at the left tackle spot for all three years now, and he has shown the quickness and strength to match up against some pretty stout pass-rushers

Guard: Blaize Foltz, TCU

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    Foltz was part of an offensive line that was extremely solid in 2011, allowing only one sack per game.

    The Horned Frogs' offense averaged over 440 total yards per contest, in part due to the solid play of Foltz and company leading the way.

    He's extremely mobile, and definitely one of the most underrated linemen in the nation.

Guard: Spencer Long, Nebraska

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    Long had an excellent sophomore season in 2011, and has a chance to improve his status this year with another solid performance.

    He has great mobility and was a key part of the offensive line that paved the way for the Huskers' 217 rushing yards per game last season.

    This guy has a legit shot to go from walk-on to All-Conference performer over the course of his college career.

Tight End: Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin

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    2011 Stats: 356 yards receiving, eight touchdowns, 11.9 yards per reception

     

    Pedersen is part of a Wisconsin offense that runs like a juggernaut.

    He was deadly in the red zone as a big target for the Badgers to throw to off of play-action to Montee Ball.

    Once again, in 2012, he is going to be a key option for Wisconsin, and his skill blocking in the run game is second to none.

    Watch out for him to pave the way for several Montee Ball scores this year.

Wide Receiver: Tevin Reese, Baylor

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    2011 Stats: 877 yards receiving, 102 yards rushing, seven touchdowns, 7.2 yards per reception

     

    Reese was the third receiver in Baylor's offense last season and still managed to get very near the 1,000-yards receiving mark.

    He has the chance to make a huge jump in his production as he steps into a role as one of the top two receivers on the team, but he will also find himself covered a little more closely than he was in 2011.

    That said, his speed is a killer, and he will have plenty of huge plays in 2012, keeping that average up above 15 yards per catch.

Wide Receiver: Conner Vernon, Duke

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    2011 Stats: 956 yards receiving, five touchdowns, 13.7 yards per catch

     

    His touchdown numbers are not the greatest, but that's more a product of his quarterbacks, or lack thereof, than it is of his inability to put the ball in the end zone.

    He has been consistent throughout all three seasons, averaging over 13 yards per catch in every season.

    In addition, he has a great combination of size, 6'1", and speed with the hands to match.

    With a talented quarterback, Vernon would get quite a bit more notice.

Running Back: Cameron Marshall, Arizona State

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    2011 Stats: 1,050 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns, 4.6 yards per carry

     

    With Todd Graham taking over the helm of the program, Marshall is in good shape to do big things this season.

    He will be the featured back for the Sun Devils, and the most talented member of the offensive unit, by far.

    His speed and ability to make guys miss are excellent, and he has good hands.

    For a man of his size, he has surprising agility and speed, and he will be near the top of the conference in rushing in 2012.

Running Back: Christine Michael, Texas A&M

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    2011 Stats: 899 yards rushing, eight touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, 6.0 yards per carry

     

    Michael split carries with Cyrus Gray in 2011, and despite missing the final four games of the season due to injury, he still wound up with 899 yards rushing.

    He faces a whole new level of defensive players in the SEC this season, and A&M is not exactly busting at the seams with talent right now.

    But Michael is the exception.

    If he returns from his torn ACL to pre-injury form, he will be a 1,500-yard rusher in 2012.

Quarterback: Tyler Bray, Tennessee

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    2011 Stats: 1,983 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, six interceptions

     

    Bray put up very good numbers for the Volunteers in his first year as a starter in 2011.

    He missed five games with a broken thumb and still put up solid stats.

    In 2012, Bray gets to spend the season passing to a healthy Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. He has the potential to be the best quarterback in the SEC this season.

    Tyler Wilson and Aaron Murray have more experience, but this guy is legit and has the smarts, tools and skills to go off this season.