Mr. Relevant: NFL Guys Who Play In The Shadows Of Superstars

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Mr. Relevant: NFL Guys Who Play In The Shadows Of Superstars
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The NFL can be a tough place to make a living.

If you aren't fighting for a good spot on the depth chart—preferably the top spot—then you are fighting to keep the guy behind you at bay.

There are eleven slots on either side of the ball and you can only have one if you are chosen to be the guy.

You know the one I mean: the guy who is the indisputable superstar. The one that everyone points to and says "he's the one that pays the bills for us."

Guys like Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson, etc. The ones who are so money and they actually know it—yeah, those are the guys I am speaking of when I say "the guy."

However, the depth chart hardly ends at that one player. How many people outside of New England knew the backup for Brady prior to his going down last season? Sure, us NFL die-hards knew, but the casual fan would have been hard-pressed to know the answer.

Most of the time we hope to never have to know who the No. 2 is for our team; let that one be relegated to garbage time or preseason games. We don't want to see him.

That said, the No. 2 guy hardly feels that way. He wants that time to shine. He's paid his dues the same as every other cat and feels like he can be the guy too. The only thing standing between him and that opportunity is an injury or a free agent deal. Until then, he is forced to watch from the sidelines, constantly questioning himself.

He wonders:

Do I fit with what they want? Am I good enough to face the critics and fans who will likely dissect my every move both on and off the field? Can I be the guy who makes the difference between a 8-8 team and a 11-5 one? Am I man enough?

The questions aren't hard, and I challenge anyone to ask them of the 1,440 players who suit up every week—I doubt there would be many of them who will tell you that they can't be the best guy on the field.

However, what about those guys who could be starting elsewhere, yet languish behind the guy the team has decided is "the man"?

What about him? Well, he loses productive years and risks injury just to showcase his talents whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Does it mean he will get noticed and be traded? Not necessarily, but for some, the dream does get realized and they find themselves finally able to show the world what they knew all along—they are better than No. 2 or 3 on the depth chart. Don't believe me? Ask Michael Turner.

So, this is a small sampling of guys who I feel could be starting elsewhere if not for that little issue of being "the guy behind the guy."


Jerious Norwood, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Jerious is in a precarious situation in Atlanta. He has always been promised a shot, but never really has gotten one.

Between the revolving door that was the coaching and offensive coordinator carousel and the consistent mediocrity that has been the Atlanta franchise, no one seems to be giving Norwood his due.

Last season, the new brass saw fit to bring in Michael Turner—a guy who knows a thing or two about being stuck behind a superstar, having played behind LaDainan Tomlinson for three seasons in San Diego.

I am sure Norwood could not have been pleased with the signing, but he still managed to chip in 2,138 all-purpose yards for the Falcons while providing an able-body when called upon to spell Turner.

He's always played solid, averaging 5.0 yards per carry each season since being drafted by the Falcons in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft.

His receiving ability makes him an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield and his field vision has continued to get better over the years—proving that the time he spent behind veteran, and consummate professional, Warrick Dunn, was well-spent.

His ability to fool defenders with his footwork is a thing of beauty and once he gets into the open field, forget it, he's gone; he uses every bit of that speed to leave guys looking silly.

So, why isn't he starting? Right.

Well, he's not better than Turner, but he's not appreciably worse than Turner either—if given the right opportunity, I see no reason why he would be unable to get a team 1,200 yards as a starter.

I can name a few teams right now who would take that in a New York minute.

The Falcons seem happy to have Norwood to back up Turner, but just as Turner did last season, Norwood has to be seeing his opportunity to shine coming soon. He's only 25-years-old and with limited carries, he has a lot of wear left on those tires.

This is a contract year for Norwood and, promise or no promise, I don't expect to see him in a Falcons uniform after this year if he continues to play the way he has in seasons past.

Also good enough to start on the Falcons: Chauncey Davis, DE



Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys

I have to admit that it's a hard row to hoe when you are sitting behind Terrell Owens and Roy Williams on the depth chart.  But somehow, Austin has managed to take his chances where he's found them and with Owens gone, he may finally be able to put a little spit on that shine of his.

Austin is entering his fourth season in D-Town and after last season left him sporting a 21.4 yard per catch average, he is primed for a break-out this year if he starts.

That's right, if.

The thing is, he still isn't guaranteed a starting nod even with the departure of Owens.

The Cowboys are slimmer at the wide receiver position, but that does not mean the cupboard is bare—Roy Williams will be the new No. 1 and Patrick Crayton is the likely No. 2.

If anything, Austin will be competing for a starting position, not guaranteed one.

Austin has the size and the hands to be a very good receiver in the league. Any doubts about his ability to play on a higher level should be starting to dissipate by now.

I know he doesn't have many starts and his yardage totals are minuscule, but blame that on the depth chart, not Austin. Clearly the kid has some serious talent if the Jets were interested in picking him up prior to this year's draft.

Dallas knew enough to keep him on their own roster but he's only signed for one year and this is his time to show he's worthy of being more than a role player.

He's a tough receiver who uses his size well and is not afraid to go over the middle and rip the ball out of the air using that nice vertical of his.

Any raw ability he had coming out of Monmouth has since been molded and shaped into one very nice receiving option. No way he should be sitting behind anyone at this point. Austin needs to start, maybe not as a one, but definitely as a two.

He's good enough.

Also good enough to start on the Cowboys: Martellus Bennett, TE


Seneca Wallace, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Seneca Wallace has been wasting away on the Seahawks roster for years. He's now 28-years-old and hasn't had a significant shot to do anything more than play a little quarterback every once in a while.

Many say that he is a serviceable backup, but by no means is he QB1 material.

I beg to differ.

Last season, in eight appearances, his line reads as follows: 1,532 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, and an 87.0 quarterback rating—not bad for a guy who really has only had 12 pro starts in his career.

Some suggest a position switch and say that he needs to consider doing the switch now while he can still be productive (he's played some wide receiver and some feel that he could be a decent option at that position). After all, Hasselbeck returns to the coveted spot this year and Seneca won't likely find himself with many new opportunities to show what he can do.

Again, I say, he should stick to his guns and continue to make his case for playing quarterback—if not for Seattle, then maybe some other team will be willing to give him a shot. 

Last season showed me that if he is given a chance to do well, he will.

When Holmgren was in Seattle, he made no bones about Hasselbeck being his guy.  He wasn't considering any other options—that's not a secret.

However, with new coach Jim Mora at the helm, I see a chance for Seneca to prove his worth and make an argument for being considered for the role.

Hasselbeck may be returning, but there are no guarantees that he will return to his 2007 form and our last images of him were not pretty—seven starts, 1,216 yards, five touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for a 57.6 quarterback rating.

Wallace may be dreaming and maybe I am reaching to believe that he can play quarterback in this league, but consider this: Shaun Hill is almost a lock to be the Niners quarterback next season and when you compare the two, Wallace's numbers are fairly similar to Hill's.

If you are in the camp that thinks Shaun Hill is only average, then you are not likely to be impressed, but there again is my point—if Hill is good enough to start, then so is Wallace.

Also good enough and since departed: Maurice Morris, RB—now with the Detroit Lions


Melvin Bullitt, DB, Indianapolis Colts

If you follow Colts football, this guy's name is hardly news to you, he's been solid for the Colts thus far in his career and he's only entering his third season.

Last season, with big time safety Bob Sanders on the mend, Bullitt came through big time—leading the team in interceptions, with four. Three of those interceptions came with the game on the line and helped to seal some key Colt's victories.

Bullitt also came up huge in pass-defense, deflecting nine passes and tallying 72 tackles.

A guy like that deserves a starting gig and he no doubt made a case for that with his play this past year—perhaps the Colts are thinking of doing something to be sure this guy doesn't exit stage left once his contract comes to an end in 2010.

He could be starting on any number of rosters right now, and with Bob Sanders suffering a production decline, I have to scratch my head as to how Bullitt hasn't been more prominent before now.

Also good enough to start on the Colts: Anthony Gonzalez, WR


Chester Taylor, RB, Minnesota Vikings

I think Chester has had some pretty rotten luck during his eight-year career. He spent the first half of it sitting behind Jamal Lewis in Baltimore—relegated to spot duty and hardly relevant.

He jumped ship in 2006 in order to find freedom to be "the man" in Minnesota and proved he was worthy of his contract by rushing for 1,216 yards and catching 42 passes for 288 yards.

Not bad.

However, he again found himself looking at the glass half-full as Chester was good, but newly drafted Adrian Peterson was better.

Still, in eight starts of his 2007 season with the Vikes, he managed 844 yards and a 5.4 yards per carry average.

Taylor may not be up there with an Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, or Matt Forté, but he could certainly give you what Warrick Dunn, Earnest Graham, Fred Taylor, or Edgerrin James could give you—all of whom were starters at some point last season.

He may be a valuable asset in Minnesota right now because they are using Adrian Peterson quite a bit and Taylor provides a nice respite without them having to sacrifice quality, but why would anyone want to play second fiddle?

As of right now, Taylor and Peterson make for one very dynamic duo for the Vikings and, true enough, Taylor is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.  But that said, one shot at glory in an eight-year career seems like a bit of a waste for such a talented guy.

I doubt he goes anywhere, but in my opinion, he is as good as most of the other backs in the league who have had a chance to start.

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