We all know the big names in the NFL. The difference-makers who dominate the headlines, stand out and get all of the attention. But sometimes, the guys who do the little things are even more valuable than those who rack up big-time numbers.
Some guys who fly under the radar deserve the recognition they simply don't get nationally.
Here is a look at the top five defensive players you may not have heard of.
The Seattle Seahawks found a gem when they plucked Brandon Browner from the Canadian Football League prior to last season. The two-time CFL All-Pro stepped in right away, and in his first year with the Seahawks, he reached his first Pro Bowl.
Browner had 54 tackles to go along with six interceptions and two touchdowns in 2011. He led the NFL in passes defended last season with 23. Browner is also a monster at cornerback, checking in at 6'4" and 221 pounds.
After going undrafted out of Oregon State, the Denver Broncos signed him, but he went on injured reserve in August of 2005 and missed the rest of the season. He was released prior to the start of the 2006 season and went to Canada to play.
Now, Browner has emerged as one of the top corners in the NFL, and his imposing size and aggressive style make him an extremely tough matchup.
Because of his size, Brandon Flowers doesn't get a whole lot of attention. But the diminutive cornerback has big-time talent.
In 2011, Flowers was in his fourth season out of Virginia Tech and he made a big impact. He was fourth in the NFL in passes defended last season, and he added four interceptions and a touchdown to go along with 59 tackles.
Flowers has yet to be selected to a Pro Bowl, but the 5'9" corner is on his way to earning that distinction.
With the Carolina Panthers suffering a ton of injuries at linebacker in 2011, James Anderson stepped up and had a huge season.
Anderson had a nice year in 2010, but verified that it wasn't a fluke in 2011. Over the past two seasons, the Virginia Tech product (the second straight Virginia Tech guy on this list) has combined to rack up 275 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, three interceptions and 14 passes defended.
Those are outstanding numbers for a guy who had 106 total tackles in his first four seasons in the NFL.
This offseason, Anderson got a five-year, $22 million deal from the Panthers, and he is worth every penny.
The only reason you probably haven't heard of Jabaal Sheard is that he just wrapped up his rookie season. But the Cleveland Browns defensive end is shaping up to be a force in the NFL.
As a rookie, the Pittsburgh product racked up 55 tackles, 8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovered. He played in all 16 games, and his impact continued all season, even when the Browns struggled mightily down the stretch.
Sheard is a future star, and I expect him to be making Pro Bowls before long.
Somehow, the Atlanta Falcons let Curtis Lofton leave town this offseason after he had a fantastic year in 2011. Now with the New Orleans Saints, the 26-year-old Lofton is ready for a big breakout.
Last year, Lofton racked up 147 tackles, one sack, seven passes defended, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one recovered and a touchdown. He was everywhere all season, and now with the Saints, he'll be expected to anchor the defense.
Lofton will be entering his fifth NFL season. He has been a durable, tackling machine who has played all 16 games in each of his four seasons. He has also made 94, 133, 118 and 147 tackles in his first four years.
Lofton is one of the league's best and most underrated players.