Highlighting the 25 Most Overlooked Players from the 2012 NFL Season

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2013

Highlighting the 25 Most Overlooked Players from the 2012 NFL Season

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    The end of the regular season heralds award time and Pro Bowl recognition. Sadly, those fields are all too often filled by the familiar cast of big-name stars.

    That can make it easy to forget the stellar performances of those players who hover below the radar. The 2012 NFL season contained many of these overlooked gems.

    The top 25 includes a Miami Dolphins wide receiver who proved he can be a No. 1 target. There is also a place for a talented AFC South rookie outside linebacker who won't stay unheralded for long.

    Whether they are hampered by playing alongside more recognisable stars, or simply stuck on struggling teams, here are the 25 most overlooked players from the 2012 NFL season. 

25. Kyle Love, DT, New England Patriots

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    Vince Wilfork usually earns the plaudits for the New England Patriots defense, but Kyle Love is just as destructive along the interior. The third-year defensive tackle has excelled at clogging rushing lanes and pressuring the pocket.

    A stout figure with excellent natural leverage, Love can command double-teams and spit gaps in blocking schemes. His season tally includes 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

    Those stats aren't exceptional, but Love makes the Patriots' defensive front a nightmare to run against.

24. Will Montgomery, C, Washington Redskins

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    Will Montgomery has very quietly become indispensable to the Washington Redskins' zone-blocking schemes. A scrappy and intelligent center, Montgomery called signals for the best rushing attack in the NFL during the 2012 regular season.

    He is a competent, high-effort technician. Montgomery is athletic and mobile enough to quickly get off his initial block and move to the second level.

    Left tackle Trent Williams earned the Pro Bowl nod, but Montgomery has been the focal point of Washington's front five.

23. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans

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    Before his season-ending injury in Week 14, Jared Cook was becoming a key playmaker for the Tennessee Titans. Rangy and athletic, Cook fits the mold of the modern tight end.

    He is quick and agile enough to attack a defense as an in-line or slot receiver. He can also be effective when split out wide.

    The 6'5", 248-pounder presents matchup problems for both linebackers and safeties. Cook compiled 44 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns.

    He averaged 11.9 yards per catch and showcased plenty of big-play potential. If the Titans are smart, they will retain the dynamic free agent and use him more often next season.

22. Stevie Brown, S, New York Giants

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    Stevie Brown emerged from obscurity to become a prolific ball hawk for the New York Giants defense. The 25-year-old had started just one game in his previous two seasons.

    The former Oakland Raider and Indianapolis Colt recorded eight interceptions and forced two fumbles. He also logged 76 tackles and defensed 11 passes.

    Brown is now a key figure in Big Blue's safety-heavy defensive schemes. His opportunism and knack for the big play were among the few positives in a bitterly disappointing Super Bowl defense. 

21. Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Darius Butler was a consistent source of big plays for the Indianapolis Colts defense in 2012. The ex-New England Patriot and Carolina Panther played a key role in the Colts' sub-packages.

    He snatched four interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Butler also broke up eight passes, forced a fumble and was in on 31 tackles.

    Butler became an important playmaker for the Indianapolis defense and probably did enough to earn a return in 2013.

20. Darrel Young, FB, Washington Redskins

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    Darrel Young is another player often overlooked in the success of the Redskins' dominant ground game. He has quickly become one of the best fullbacks in the NFL.

    He is an ideal fit for a scheme that emphasizes West Coast offense principles. Young is a thumping blocker, sure-handed receiver and is an effective runner between the tackles.

    He helped pave the way for the exploits of rookie tandem Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. The former linebacker brings true versatility to a position that should still be highly valued.

19. Daryl Richardson, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    It says a lot that a seventh-round pick could take carries away from a running back as productive as Steven Jackson. However, that's just what Daryl Richardson managed to do for the St. Louis Rams.

    The ex- Abilene Christian standout quickly overtook second-round pick Isaiah Pead in the pecking order. He didn't disappoint new head coach Jeff Fisher and added the element of speed to the Rams' running game.

    Richardson finished his debut season with 475 rushing yards from 98 carries. His acceleration and elusiveness could convince the Rams they can afford to finally part ways with Jackson.

18. Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Cecil Shorts was way below the radar in 2012. Not only was he a rare bright spot on a 2-14 team; he also surpassed a high-profile free agent and a first-round draft pick to lead that team in receiving.

    The second-year wideout emerged from obscurity to record 979 receiving yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also caught seven scoring receptions.

    Diminutive and deceptively quick, Shorts is a dangerous, big-play target from the slot. Although 2012 seventh overall pick Justin Blackmon came on strong as the season wore on, the Jaguars need Shorts.

    With last year's big bucks signing Laurent Robinson hinting at retirement, Shorts should be a key weapon again in 2013.

17. Rob Jackson, OLB, Washington Redskins

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    Replacing your team's best pass-rusher is no easy task. However, thanks to Rob Jackson, the Washington Redskins didn't miss Brian Orakpo too much.

    The ex-defensive end stepped in for a Pro Bowl player and performed admirably. Jackson's best quality was his knack for producing turnovers.

    He forced two fumbles and, most impressively, intercepted four passes, one of which he returned for a score. Jackson couldn't muster the same level of pressure as Orakpo, but did still chip in with 4.5 sacks.

    The unheralded 27-year-old became an invaluable member of the Redskins defense. His big plays upstaged the performances of 2011 first-rounder Ryan Kerrigan and proved crucial in the push for the playoffs.

16. Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland Raiders

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    It's impossible not to be overlooked when playing for the Oakland Raiders these days. However, that doesn't deter from the excellent numbers posted by Brandon Myers in 2012.

    A true all-purpose tight end, Myers registered 806 yards from 79 receptions. Those numbers deserve acclaim even in a conference featuring the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the position.

    Myers' production jumped from 151 yards on 16 catches in 2011. That's a phenomenal increase and testament to his ability to expose coverages.

    The 27-year-old gives the Raiders one of the few budding stars on their roster. At 6'3" and 256 pounds, Myers has the size to act as an in-line tight end and also be a factor in the running game.

    He also showcased the ability to be a threat when split wide or placed in the slot. That makes Myers the kind of versatile, dynamic pass-catcher the Raiders need, no matter who is under center in 2013.

15. Derek Cox, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jaguars defense didn't get much right in 2012, but cornerback Derek Cox was certainly no weak link. The four-year pro registered a quartet of interceptions after a down year in 2011.

    Cox has been a capable defensive back since entering the league in 2009. He could earn greater recognition under the tutelage of new head coach Gus Bradley.

    Cox can thrive in the aggressive, press-coverage schemes Bradley favoured while in charge of the Seattle Seahawks defense.

14. Danario Alexander, WR, San Diego Chargers

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    Danario Alexander continues to showcase the talent for the big play. He showed brief glimpses of his potential with the St. Louis Rams in 2010 and 2011. However, he really came to the fore with the San Diego Chargers this season.

    Alexander posted a 17.8 yards-per-reception average. He outperformed Antonio Gates and became a useful outlet in the Chargers passing game.

    The 24-year-old speedster is tailor-made to thrive in a deep attack. His 6'5", 217-pound frame only boosts that natural vertical threat.

    Durability has been Alexander's only issue. He has managed just 13 starts during his three seasons in the league.

    However, the Chargers need him if he can stay healthy. New head coach Mike McCoy can help scheme a dangerous combination between Alexander and quarterback Philip Rivers.

13. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, New England Patriots

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    Alfonzo Dennard went from seventh-round misfit to starting cornerback for the New England Patriots. He tumbled to the last round of the 2012 draft, after an arrest for suspected assault on a police officer.

    The Patriots' considerable gamble proved worth it. The ex-Nebraska star reversed recent years of draft failings at the position to become a key member of New England's coverage schemes.

    In fact, Dennard's play helped prompt a schematic shift for the entire Patriots defense. Thanks to his bump-and-run style, the Patriots were able to switch to more man coverages.

    That suited Dennard and he responded with 35 tackles, one forced fumble and three interceptions. With Dennard challenging receivers at the line, the Patriots increased their blitz calls.

    Veteran Aqib Talib made a difference, but Dennard's impact was just as significant. The style of the Patriots defense could again rely on his presence next season.

12. Akeem Ayers, OLB, Tennessee Titans

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    Akeem Ayers is a defensive playmaker on the rise. The youthful Tennessee Titans outside linebacker is a versatile weapon in a 4-3 defense.

    At 6'3" and 254 pounds, Ayers has the size to act as a rush linebacker on the outside. He showed ample evidence of his ability to pressure the passer by notching six sacks in 2012.

    Ayers is also no weak link against the run. He posted 104 total tackles, including 66 solo stops. The former UCLA ace also displayed his worth in coverage.

    He defensed eight passes and snared an interception. Still, he was somehow shamefully overlooked in Pro Bowl voting. 

    Ayers is fast becoming the key to coordinator Jerry Gray's multiple-front defensive schemes. Another season of the stellar production he achieved in 2012 should see Ayers receive the plaudits his skills warrant.

11. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Jonathan Dwyer shocked many by vaulting to the front of a crowded backfield rotation with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dwyer seized his opportunity and delivered the kind of smash-mouth power running Steelers fans adore.

    The bruising back punished defenses and finished the year with 623 yards on the ground. Dwyer averaged four yards a carry and posted two 100-yard games.

    A five-game slump from Week 12 to Week 16 and some fumbling issues derailed Dwyer's progress. He did return to average 4.7 yards on 11 carries in the season finale.

    Dwyer is a pending free agent, along with fellow runners Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. If they have to make a choice, the Steelers should make retaining Dwyer the priority.

10. Scott Chandler, TE, Buffalo Bills

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    Scott Chandler is developing a niche as a prolific red-zone target. Chandler has caught six touchdowns in each of the last two seasons since joining the Buffalo Bills.

    If anything, new head coach Doug Marrone needs to make more use of the sure-handed 6'7", 260-pounder. Chandler is a classic in-line tight end, adept at beating defenses underneath on short patterns or stretching the seams deep.

    His power and size make him a nightmare for any coverage matchup. Chandler should become a bigger part of the Bills' passing attack in 2013.

9. John Sullivan, C, Minnesota Vikings

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    John Sullivan somehow failed to get the recognition he deserved after a superb 2012 campaign. Instead, the highly skilled center was the forgotten contributor to Adrian Peterson's MVP season.

    Sullivan was the focal point of a stellar Minnesota Vikings offensive line. The 27-year-old has added quality technique to his power at the point of attack.

    The Vikings have more well-known names along their O-line, including young left tackle Matt Kalil. However, Sullivan's presence will ensure the group continues to perform at an elite level.

8. Glover Quin, S, Houston Texans

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    J.J. Watt naturally dominates the headlines, but Glover Quin is also a significant part of the Houston Texans defense. The instinctive and athletic young safety is a key member of coordinator Wade Phillips' nickel and dime fronts.

    In his fourth season, Quin became a force on early downs, but his real value was in sub-packages. In particular, he occupies a vital position in Houston's dime schemes.

    He acts as the dime linebacker and gives the Texans a useful coverage matchup against slot receivers and tight ends. Phillips will likely scheme more ways to help Quin cause havoc in 2013.

    That should see him earn as much praise as the likes of Watt and Johnathan Joseph for the continued excellence of the Texans defense.

7. Keenan Lewis, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers should move fast to re-sign Keenan Lewis once free agency begins. He is a versatile defensive back who has become invaluable to their coverage schemes.

    The fourth-year pro helped the Steelers boast the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL in 2012. Lewis broke up 23 passes and was in on 71 tackles.

    He is a natural zone defender, with the size and smarts Pittsburgh's defensive schemes demand. Dick LeBeau has done exceptional work strengthening the Steelers pass defense in the last two seasons.

    Lewis can play a major role in ensuring that progress isn't wasted next season.

6. Corey Liuget, DE, San Diego Chargers

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    Corey Liuget's dominance is unlikely to stay a secret for long. The hulking defensive lineman is a destructive force along the line of scrimmage for the San Diego Chargers.

    He is capable of disrupting the pocket both from the edge and on the inside. In 2012, Liuget posted seven sacks, 51 tackles and batted down nine passes.

    His initial quickness, agility and power make the Chargers' hybrid 3-4 fronts work. Expect to hear Liuget receive greater recognition next season.

5. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns

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    Josh Gordon will be a star sooner rather than later for the Cleveland Browns. The speedy flanker offers the kind of big-play capability that terrorises any defense, regardless of scheme or personnel.

    A dynamic deep threat, Gordon can stretch a secondary vertically on any given play. He averaged 16.1 yards per reception in 2012 as part of an 805-yard, five-touchdown effort that went largely unnoticed.

    Whether he is split wide or aligned in the slot, Gordon gives the Browns a true game-breaking weapon. He will be even more dangerous next season in the vertical passing offense favoured by new coordinator Norv Turner.

4. Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints

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    Lance Moore has been overlooked for years with the New Orleans Saints. Yet 2012 proved to be the season in which Moore finally revealed his talent.

    The diminutive 29-year-old topped 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. A crafty route-runner, Moore has the innate ability to find voids in zone coverages.

    He is also a prolific target in the red zone. Drew Brees is never shy about looking the 5'9", 190-pounder's way inside the 20.

    However, Moore expanded his repertoire this season and also showed the ability to attack defenses deep. He is now a major rival to Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham as the Saints' go-to receiver.

3. Arthur Jones, DE, Baltimore Ravens

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    Arthur Jones was lost in the talk about Ed Reed's status, Terrell Suggs' return and Ray Lewis's retirement. The emergence of outside linebacker Paul Kruger also drew attention on the Baltimore Ravens defense.

    However, Jones was just as important from his position on the defensive line. A powerful force along the interior, Jones is tough to move at the point of attack.

    The third-year lineman can collapse the pocket from the inside and split gaps to destroy the running game. Jones also demonstrated a habit for making crucial plays. He recorded two critical fumble recoveries to aid the Ravens' triumphant Super Bowl run.

    Jones has given the Ravens a complement to Haloti Ngata. As the Ravens transition from the old guard, expect Jones to be a leading light for their new-look defense.

2. Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    Until this season, Brian Hartline had offered little evidence that he could be the primary receiver for an offense. That perception should no longer exist after Hartline's efforts in 2012.

    Hartline led the Miami Dolphins in receptions and yards. He made 74 catches for 1,083 yards and averaged 14.6 yards per reception.

    Hartline is an intelligent route-runner who became more than just a possession target. He revealed deceptive speed to make big plays on the outside for a pass attack otherwise lacking true playmakers.

    The Dolphins do need a more prolific scoring threat. However, they also need the smart and sure-handed Hartline to continue helping young quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

1. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers

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    If Charles Johnson didn't play for the struggling Carolina Panthers, his name would be mentioned in the same breath as Julius Peppers and Jared Allen.

    It almost defies belief that Johnson doesn't receive greater recognition. He is arguably the most complete 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.

    In the last three seasons, Johnson has logged 33 sacks. He registered 12.5 quarterback take-downs this season, cementing his status as one of the game's premier pass-rushers.

    Johnson is also a credible force against the run. He plays bigger than his ample 6'2", 285-pound frame and consistently sets the edge for a four-man front.

    Johnson has dominated on both the weak and the strong side. He has effortlessly replaced Peppers as the marquee player on the Panthers' improving defense. 

    Johnson's omission from the Pro Bowl served as a shocking indictment of how name value often overlooks talent in the recruitment for the league's all-star game.

    It is surely just a matter of time before Johnson is rewarded with the accolades and recognition his outstanding play merits.