Under-the-radar NFL Defenders Who Will Break Out in Week 1
Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker Bruce Irvin was thought by many to be a terrible waste of a first-round pick back in April, but he's going to bust out in a big way with a huge game in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Irvin isn't the only underrated defender who will break out in this weekend, either.
Here are the players who aren't being talked about as much as they should be now, but who will be on the lips of everyone after Week 1.
Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks
Last year, the Seahawks weren't a pass-rushing force, finishing the season in the middle of the pack with 33 sacks, which is why Pete Carroll was so eager to take Irvin so early in the draft. The young man has a ways to go before he's ready to become a complete NFL linebacker, but as a pure pass-rusher, he has the potential to be this year's Aldon Smith.
This week, Irvin and the Seahawks are travelling south to Arizona to face the Cardinals. The Cardinals' offensive line isn't in good shape, and I'm being supremely kind with that statement.
This is how bad it is for them. Levi Brown—one of the worst offensive linemen in the NFL the past few years, having given up 21 sacks and 90 hurries over the past two years (PFF)—was lost for the season with a triceps injury. As bad as he was, he was the Cardinals' best option...and now he's gone.
In Brown's place, the Cardinals are depending on D'Anthony Batiste—a 30-year-old career backup with four starts in his eight seasons as a pro.
The rest of the offensive line of the Cardinals isn't much better. They paid Adam Snyder—PFF's 76th-ranked guard of 2011—$17.5 million over five years to come in and "help" them this past offseason. It's not a pretty picture.
Irvin isn't going to play the entire game, but when he plays, he'll be effective at getting pressure on John Skelton, who will have trouble with turnovers in this game.
Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens
Kruger was highly productive in limited action for the Ravens in 2011, and due to Terrell Suggs' injury, he's moved into a starting role that will only further prove his capabilities.
The Ravens will be hosting the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Bengals find themselves in a similar situation on the offensive line as the Cardinals. Kyle Cook and Travelle Wharton were both lost to the IR, though Cook will be back later in the season.
This leaves the middle of the Bengals' offensive line open to being abused, and the Ravens have just the players to exploit the weakness. Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee and Terrence Cody are monsters in the middle, and it'll take at least four guys to block the three of them from play to play.
This leaves the door wide open for Kruger to have a field day behind the line of scrimmage. He'll be facing Andre Smith most of the night, mostly one-on-one. It's a matchup Kruger will win more often than not, and I expect him to have a big game.
Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
Dareus isn't as under-the-radar as the first two men on this list, but he's being overlooked by many heading into the 2012 season.
He had a fabulous rookie campaign, logging 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks, but he was largely ignored by the media due to the emergence of Geno Atkins of the Bengals. Additionally, he's being forgotten by most people these days due to the fact that the Bills brought in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to bolster their anemic pass rush.
Which player will bust out with the biggest game?
The Bills ran a 3-4 defense last year. Dareus was playing out of position as a nose tackle, and the team's switch to a conventional 4-3, combined with the additions of Williams and Anderson, is going to turn Dareus into one of the NFL's best defensive tackles.
The Bills will be facing the New York Jets in Week 1. It's going to be ugly. The Jets haven't been able to stop anyone from busting through their offensive line, and the Bills' front four will have a field day. Dareus is going to be unstoppable in the middle as the Jets attempt to double-team Williams and Anderson on the outside.
If you like carnage, then you're going to love watching the Jets get destroyed by Dareus and the Bills.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78.
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