The Deep Post: Under-the-Radar NFL Studs You Need to Know About

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The Deep Post: Under-the-Radar NFL Studs You Need to Know About
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The NFL has become a 24/7 news cycle, but no matter the hours devoted to covering the 32 teams, not every player deserving of attention gets it. Even though the league has its own network, too much time is spent talking about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and any controversy that pops up over the course of the year.

Instead of writing another article about the read-option or Richie Incognito this week, I want to mention the players who should be getting air time and aren't.

While they may get local coverage on TV or on Twitter, the players listed here should be receiving national accolades. Maybe now they will.

 

WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

If you're new to reading my work, you probably haven't caught on to my lasting obsession with all things Alshon Jeffery.

Before the 2012 NFL draft, I rated him as the No. 1 wide receiver and my No. 7 overall player—a stance that was widely mocked when he fell to the second round. Fast-forward two seasons, and the Chicago Bears are laughing alongside me as other teams realize what they passed on.

Jeffery has exploded onto the scene this year, drawing rave reviews from film-crazed NFL writers, but he's yet to make it on SportsCenter. 

That should be changing soon. Jeffery's 54 catches, 818 yards and three touchdowns might not be Calvin Johnson-level stats, but he's doing more with fewer balls thrown his way.

Top Wide Receivers Catches vs. Targets
Player Targets Catches
Alshon Jeffery 88 54
Calvin Johnson 103 59
Andre Johnson 111 72
Brandon Marshall 100 64
Jordy Nelson 78 57

Pro Football Focus

Jeffery was starting to emerge as a go-to threat for quarterback Jay Cutler before he went down with injury. But with Josh McCown in the game, Jeffery has taken his game to another level, showing the size to out-muscle defensive backs for the ball and the concentration to make tough catches in traffic. For a player many mocked for a lack of speed and separation skills, Jeffery is consistently making big catches down the field.

To say that many people got this one wrong would be an understatement. The Chicago Bears nailed it, though, and now they have a wide receiver with top-10 potential.

 

LB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The dominance of the 3-4 defense in the NFL today has left many elite 4-3 outside linebackers lost as fans and the media look more for the sack artists that come out of the 3-4.

To overlook Lavonte David is criminal.

On the year, David leads all outside linebackers in tackles (87) and all 4-3 'backers in sacks (five). He also added an interception of Geno Smith in Week 1. David is a do-it-all outside linebacker in a day and age of specialization. And he's doing it at an All-Pro level.

Maybe it's because the Buccaneers have only won two games this season, but David gets zero recognition. If he played for the Patriots or Broncos, he'd be all we'd hear about, but instead, analysts talk about the suspensions of Von Miller and Aldon Smith when we could be talking about how great David has been.

 

LB DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions defense doesn't get much positive press, and when they do it's centered around defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

But there's an outside linebacker on the roster who is severely underrated: No. 54 DeAndre Levy.

The former Wisconsin linebacker has come alive in his fifth NFL season, playing with the athleticism and instincts that made him the No. 76 overall pick back in 2009. But Levy is exceeding those expectations and playing like a Pro Bowler against the run and in pass coverage.

Levy has made a name for himself in coverage this season. He's been thrown at often, but offenses are finding him tough to move the ball on. He's posted five interceptions (most of any outside linebacker) and added another four passes defensed.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he's holding NFL quarterbacks to a passer rating of 58.8. Pretty good considering he's seen Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger this season.

Levy likely won't get your Pro Bowl vote, but he should. His consistency as a three-down outside linebacker and the impact he's having against the pass cannot go unnoticed or unrewarded.

 

CB Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans

If you ask NFL fans who the best cornerbacks in the game are, you'll get answers like Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden and maybe even Aqib Talib.

One name you're not likely to hear outside of Tennessee is Alterraun Verner, but he's arguably been better than them all this year.

Alterraun Verner vs. top cornerbacks
Player Targets Catches INT Passes Defensed
Alterraun Verner 47 19 5 10
Darrelle Revis 37 19 2 4
Richard Sherman 43 25 4 3
Patrick Peterson 63 33 3 2
Aqib Talib 41 19 4 6

Pro Football Focus

Verner is excelling in the Titans defense, putting up high interception numbers (five) while limiting targets thrown his way. When compared to Revis, Sherman and others, it's easy to see the type of year the free-agent-to-be is having. Verner's ability in man coverage has allowed the Titans to use their safeties more over the top and helped hide a pass rush that's not been very effective off the edge. 

Verner will be drawing big money on the open market after the season, as his ability to shut down the run and take on top wide receivers won't go unnoticed in pro scouting departments.

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