Donald Butler and the 5 Most Underrated Defensive Players in the NFL
While Butler and the players on this list are not household names like Troy Polamlu or Ray Lewis, they may have just as much of an impact on their respective teams.
Some of the players who are unfortunate enough to make this list are simply playing for small-market teams or franchises that are not contending for anything significant. This lack of exposure has allowed these exceptionally talented defensive studs to fly under the radar.
Let's spotlight these underrated defensive players who are quietly some of the NFL's best.
Tim Jennings, CB, Chicago Bears
Tim Jennings of the Chicago Bears is finally blossoming into an elite cornerback, and with that should come the recognition as one of the better players in the league. Jennings has yet to receive that attention.
Jennings has intercepted six passes in seven games and has recorded 39 tackles. He's also defended 13 passes.
When mentioning elite NFL cornerbacks, Jennings typically isn't on this list. His teammate Charles Tillman, who could also qualify for this list, is more recognizable at this point.
Jennings is underrated for now, but with a chance to hit double-digit interceptions by the end of the year, it'll be a serious offense to not give him the credit he deserves.
Daryl Washinton, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Washington has had an outstanding year so far, recording 68 tackles and an astounding eight sacks. What makes his sacks number so impressive is the fact he plays inside linebacker, as outside linebackers typically record the statistic in bunches.
While there are a variety of players on the Arizona defense that stand out as impact players, Washington has yet to receive his due.
Last season could have been considered a breakout year with over 100 tackles and five sacks, but the pace he's on now should have him set for super-stardom.
Chris Long, DE, St. Louis Rams
Chris Long is one of the better defensive ends in the NFL but fails to receive national credit thanks to playing for a team as consistently horrible as the St. Louis Rams.
Long racked up an impressive 13 sacks last year, and already has four to start his 2012 campaign. Double-digit sacks is not out of the question at all for Long this season.
It's hard for a player to not be underrated on a team like the Rams, but Long manages to do just that. He's a force rushing the passer and is consistent against the run.
At 27 years old, the future is amazingly bright for Long. When he stops being underrated is anyone's guess.
Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have the best defensive tackle in the NFL, but you wouldn't know it with the lack of attention or credit Geno Atkins has received to this point in his career.
Atkins racked up 7.5 sacks in 16 games last year, but he already has seven this season in only seven games.
Not only is Atkins a force rushing the passer, he's a consistent disruptive force in the running game as his 22 tackles don't tell the whole story. Atkins is one of those players that is in on literally every play, and he also makes those around him better.
We're close to seeing Atkins hailed consistently as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Close.
Donald Butler, LB, San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers currently have a top 10 defensive unit in the NFL as the unit is only giving up just over 20 points per game, and a large part of that outstanding statistic is linebacker Donald Butler.
The Chargers also tout the second-best run defense in the NFL, only giving up 79.9 yards on the ground per game. Butler is the main reason for the amazing run defense as he occupies the inside linebacker spot, the position primarily used to shut down the run.
So far in 2012, Butler has 46 tackles and one interception. In only his second year seeing the field, Butler has emerged as one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL today.
It would be premature to call Butler the next Ray Lewis, but he's quietly paving the way to an elite career already. The Chargers have found a special talent in the middle of the defense, and the media and fans will catch up eventually.