New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson tops this list for two reasons. The first is that he has shockingly little name recognition, despite being one of the best individual players in the NFL. The second is that he is primed to dominate his position in 2013.
It is not hard to understand why Wilkerson is so unrecognized. He plays defensive end in a 3-4 defense, perhaps the least noticed position in the NFL. Furthermore, in spite of his production the Jets went 6-10 and failed to reach the playoffs in 2012.
Nonetheless, Wilkerson's individual play and improvement in his second season was astonishing. With teammate Darrelle Revis injured for most of the year, Wilkerson stepped straight into the role of best player on the Jets and developed into a complete player who kept his team's defense prominent, despite the failings of their offensive counterparts.
For the year, Wilkerson was the second-rated 3-4 defensive end, behind Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. He is most dominant against the running game, where he ranks only slightly behind Watt as the best in the NFL. His 57 tackles tie him with Watt for the most in the NFL at the position.
Where Wilkerson remains the most underrated nationally is as a pass-rusher. He is fifth out of 3-4 ends in the league with 22 quarterback hurries, but he is not often mentioned as one the premier NFL pass-rushers. He is tied with Haloti Ngata and ahead of Justin Smith, both of whom received comparable amounts of snaps.
A key reason that Wilkerson has stayed under the radar is that he has had multiple sacks turned into intentional-grounding penalties. Despite having the same effect as a sack, an intentional grounding penalty deprives defensive players of the credit for a sack. He has also not had quality linebacker play around him to help turn his pressures into sacks. With the Jets likely to draft an outside linebacker at No. 9 overall in the 2013 draft, that situation could change drastically in 2013.
Regardless of how the Jets fair as a team in 2013, Wilkerson is in prime position to earn the Pro Bowl bid he deserved this past season and become a dominant All-Pro. If the Jets can find team success, then Wilkerson will find himself thrust into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion.
Without a doubt, Wilkerson will vastly exceed the expectations of anyone who has never heard his name before.
Adam Waksman is a featured columnist for the Bleacher Report New York Jets community. Be sure to follow Adam on Twitter to receive updates right away.