6 Under-the-Radar NFL Players Set to Break out This Season
Six underrated talents are primed to announce themselves to the rest of the NFL during the 2012 regular season. The list includes a budding star at inside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and a young tight end who is the most dangerous offensive weapon on the Washington Redskins roster.
These six players have steadily established a consistent run of fine performances and impressive production. However, they have not yet received the accolades they deserve.
Strong showings this season will make it impossible for them to remain in the wilderness and will bring them to the attention of their peers and the pundits.
Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Cleveland Browns
Man-mountain defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin is one of the most underrated players at his position in the entire league.
The four-year pro has wasted no time establishing himself as the linchpin of the Cleveland Browns defensive front since becoming a regular starter in 2010.
Rubin has not missed a game in the last two seasons, logging 165 total tackles and seven sacks in that same period. Not bad for an interior defensive lineman.
The 6'2", 330-pounder plays with impressive raw strength and excellent natural leverage. Rubin is hard to push back off the line and regularly draws double-teams.
What's most surprising about the talented 25-year-old is his deceptive first-step quickness and smart technique. A resourceful pass-rusher, Rubin is a constant threat to the backfield and determines the success of the Browns' 4-3 front.
With youngster Phil Taylor lost for the season, the pressure will be on Rubin to be even more consistently dominant in the middle. If he manages it, the rest of the NFL will surely start to take notice.
Fred Davis, TE, Washington Redskins
Playing in a contract year should be enough to keep Fred Davis out of trouble, and that will mean plenty of trouble for opposing defenses.
Davis was hit with a four-game suspension for drug abuse to close the 2011 campaign. It was a season in which the talented but temperamental tight end was finally showcasing his immense playmaking ability.
In 12 games, Davis amassed 59 receptions for 796 yards and three scores. He averaged 13.5 yards per reception and was easily the most explosive weapon in the Washington Redskins passing game.
The 26-year-old signed his franchise tender this offseason, and he is on the verge of a spectacular year, as he bids to show he merits a long-term deal. Davis can stretch the seams vertically and runs excellent routes across the field, in front of the safeties.
The 6'4" 258-pounder allows offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to get creative and be expansive with the play-action passing game. Designing plays to take advantage of Davis is the best part of Shanahan's play-calling.
James Anderson, LB, Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers linebacker James Anderson has flown under the radar for the past two seasons.
In that time, he has made 275 tackles, registered five sacks, defensed 14 passes, snared three interceptions and forced two fumbles.
Anderson is a complete 4-3 linebacker and a true playmaker at the position. Smart, physical and fast, Anderson is a stout hitter, effective blitzer and has the size to jam a tight end and smother a slot receiver at the line.
This season, most of the attention on the Panthers linebackers will surround the returning Jon Beason and top rookie Luke Kuechly.
However, count on Anderson to be consistently strong and productive all season long. Maybe then, the rest of the NFL will finally take notice.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans
Jared Cook is quietly establishing a niche as a productive downfield threat in the Tennessee Titans pass attack. The fourth-year tight end finished 2011 with 49 receptions for 759 yards, despite starting only five games.
A tight end more in the Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates mold, Cook excels at attacking the deep middle and is also a mismatch for most linebackers on hook and curl patterns.
At 6'5" and 248 pounds, Cook has the size to manhandle the safeties, with the speed to get behind underneath coverage.
Last season, he displayed his talent for the big play by hauling in an 80-yard score in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns and also recording a 55-yard touchdown in Week 16 against the AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars.
Lethal after the catch, Cook should become the focal point of the Titans pass offense this season and post big numbers.
Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys
It is baffling that the Dallas Cowboys don't have a top-10 defense with a unit boasting DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and budding star Sean Lee.
The entire league knows all about Ratliff and Ware, but the Cowboys' opponents are quickly beginning to learn all about Lee's skills.
The third-year pro has a natural understanding of the nuances of the game and superb instincts. He is an athletic marvel who combines his smarts with a versatile physical skill set.
Lee has the quickness to operate sideline to sideline and the power and technique to take on and defeat blockers in the middle of a 3-4 front.
Since announcing himself with two interceptions of Peyton Manning in Week 13 of the 2010 season, Lee has consistently made big plays for the Cowboys defense.
Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Isaac Redman always seems to produce a big play for the Pittsburgh Steelers just when they need one. A versatile player, Redman does whatever is asked of him, and he does it well.
He rushed for 479 yards in 2011 at a respectable 4.4 yards-per-carry average. The 6'0", 230-pounder is tough between the tackles and deceptively quick.
He is a crafty receiver out of the backfield and is very effective near the goal line. NFL.com recently reported that Redman is set to see more action this season, thanks to Rashard Mendenhall's injury.
Expect the ex-Bowie State star not to disappoint and provide a crucial complement to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.