2010-2011 NFL: The League's Most Underappreciated Players
The NFL is a league of stars, where quarterbacks and cocky receivers rule the day. However, these great players couldn't play to the level they do without the unheralded players doing the dirty work for them.
This list will attempt to find the player on each team who I think doesn't get as much media attention as some of their teammates, but is a crucial part of the team. Keep in mind as you're reading this that some players on here may be recognized by fans or their teammates as crucial players, but they don't get what I feel is adequate media coverage.
Also, I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of every team, so if you know of a player on your team who isn't on this list and deserves to be, tell me about them in the comments section. If I get enough comments, I'll post a second version of this list with fan picks.
Adrian Wilson: Arizona Cardinals
Adrian Wilson might be the best safety that's never talked about by the major media networks. Heck, he might be the best safety in the NFL.
For 10 years, he's been the do-everything playmaker for the Cardinals. He racks up tackles, gets big sacks, lays down monstrous hits, and nabs key interceptions. While the offense gets most of the coverage in Arizona, it's Adrian Wilson who has led a fairly good defense through the past few years.
Jason Snelling: Atlanta Falcons
Snelling has taken over for Jerious Norwood in the past few years as Atlanta's change-of-pace back and hasn't disappointed.
Snelling does a great job with the limited carries he gets and has averaged more than 4 yards per carry for the past two years. Not only that, he can come out of the back field and catch the ball very well.
With the teams that use one main back, the change-of-pace back makes all the difference because they keep the defense on their toes and get the first-string back some rest. Snelling is one of the better ones in the league at doing this under-appreciated job.
Haloti Ngata: Baltimore Ravens
Ngata is a massive truck of a man who takes on double and sometimes triple teams on the line. In doing this, he frees up the Ravens star linebackers to make big plays in the back field because they are able to run free through the line.
Just ask Ray Lewis how important Ngata is to him. Since the Ravens drafted Ngata, the Ravens Hall of Fame middle linebacker has seen his numbers rise every year and retain the level of success we had become used to.
Paul Posluszny: Buffalo Bills
Posluszny has come in and been a reliable force for a less-than-stellar defense. He's seen some injury struggles recently, but when on the field, he makes every tackle that he possibly can.
The secondary gets most of the hype on this teams unit, but Posluszny anchors the front seven with his steady play.
Jon Beason: Carolina Panters
Beason's been a force ever since he stepped into the league and has become quite the dominant middle linebacker. However, you still never seem to see him thought of a top 10 middle linebacker. As he continues to provide an excellent body of work, he should soon see some much-deserved recognition.
Chester Taylor: Chicago Bears
Taylor has always been underappreciated, even from his days with the Ravens. He was Michael Turner before Turner; that is, he was the ultimate secondary back who could fill in whatever hole the starting back had.
Taylor may have been the best in the league at doing this when he played behind Adrian Peterson last year and the Vikings didn't recognize it enough to keep him. Well, the Vikings' loss is the Bears' gain.
Domata Peko: Cincinnati Bengals
Peko is another guy who takes on a lot of double and triple teams on the line and gives his more famous teammates the room they need to make plays. He doesn't get a lot of sacks, but he does use his bulk to take up blockers and free up his linebackers and secondary to come in and force the offense into bad plays. This has been key for a defense that has quickly turned into one of the better ones in the league.
Peyton Hillis: Cleveland Browns
Seneca Wallace would be the popular pick here, but I decided to go with a less-talked about Browns player since Wallace is constantly heralded as the best backup in the league. I went with Hillis because he is quickly proving to be a really good back for the Browns and probably making the Broncos wish they hadn't lost him.
Last year I thought Hillis was poised to break out sometime soon, but I didn't think he would be playing quite this well so early.
Igor Olshansky: Dallas Cowboys
Expect to see some themes emerging in the players chosen for this article. Igor is another guy who frees up teammates to make plays. Unlike the other guys though, the player he frees up might be the best defensive player in the game.
Olshansky plays end on the same side of the field as DeMarcus Ware and when Olshansky is able to eat up blockers for Ware that let's Ware do what he does best—sack the quarterback. When both of these guys are on their game, they feed off each other and that's when the Cowboys defense can be dominate.
Kyle Orton: Denver Broncos
Orton has never been regarded as a great NFL quarterback, but in recent years he has proven that he belongs in this league. So far this year he has the most passing yards and while that probably won't last, he has been able to lead the Broncos to quite a few wins since he has gotten there.
Orton will never be considered among the league's elite, but he has become one of the best game managers in the game, which seems to be serving the Broncos very well.
Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler: Detroit Lions
Let's be honest. For the most part, the Lions offense comes down to one player—Calvin Johnson. Now because they rely on one player so much, they need other players to step up and keep teams from double- and triple-covering Johnson on every play.
Unfortunately, the Lions other wide receivers are mostly trash, but luckily, their tight ends have really started to play well this year. Both Pettigrew and Scheffler have over 20 catches through four games this year and it's obvious that when these guys are making plays, it gives Johnson some breathing room, which makes the Lions very dangerous on offense.
B.J. Raji: Green Bay Packers
The Packers have had two dominant pass rushers in recent years in Aaron Kampman and Clay Matthews. The common denominator in these two players racking up sacks is that they have had a great defensive tackle eating up blockers for them. In the past that player was Ryan Pickett and while he's still playing well, B.J. Raji has stepped up into the main DT position.
Kevin Walter: Houston Texans
Walter uses his more famous teammate and fellow wide out, Andre Johnson, to his advantage. Walter isn't the best receiver in the league, but he does use the good looks he's provided with because of AJ's skills to make catches and score TDs.
He's never going to be up there with the elite receivers, but as a secondary receiver he does his job and makes defenses cover him, thus freeing up Johnson a little, which results in big plays.
Gary Brackett: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts linebackers need to be fast, provide coverage, and make plays on the run. In the earlier days, the person who best exemplified what they needed was Cato June, but in recent years Brackett has been the man they look to.
On a defense with well-known playmakers in Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, and Robert Mathis, he has been able to be a constant leader who is always in the right position. Brackett may not be as celebrated as his teammates, but that doesn't mean he is any less of a player.
Greg Jones: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jones is a hoss, coming in at 254 pounds of blocking machine. When he leads blocks for Maurice Jones-Drew, it's hard for defenses to find Mo-Jo behind Jones' big body.
A good full back often goes unheralded, but that doesn't make guys like Greg Jones any less important to tough running teams like the Jaguars.
Derrick Johnson: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs surprised a lot of people this year with a quick 4-0 start, but if you had paid attention to the great, young defense they had been building, maybe you wouldn't have been caught off guard.
When Johnson was drafted along with Tamba Hali, it was obvious that this organization was going to build the defense into a force. Johnson was the man who started this trend and he's been the leader of this young squad for some time. As he improves, so will the defense and these guys should be around for quite some time.
Chad Pennington: Miami Dolphins
It's true that Pennington doesn't play, but you can see the impact he has on this team in the development of Chad Henne. Pennington never was an elite QB, but he was one of the most accurate in the game.
Henne is currently completing 65 percent of his passes and while some of that can be attributed to new wide-out Brandon Marshall, it can't be ignored that Pennington is on the sideline helping the young player learn how to play the position.
Heath Farwell: Minnesota Vikings
Here's the inspiration behind this list—Heath Farwell. You could really give this spot to any of the Vikings line-backing corps because of how overshadowed they are by the dominant front four.
Farwell is and has been the best special teams player in the league that's not a return man and he backs up every single linebacker position. His value can not be overstated because he never gets any of the credit he deserves.
BenJarvus Green: New England Patriots
Outside of Tom Brady, the Patriots are really built on guys who go under the radar. That, of course, seems to be by choice more than anything, but still it's kind of refreshing to see a team that stays away from the spotlight.
That said, I've been very impressed with Green coming in for the injured Fred Jackson and playing well. Brady and the passing game get most of the credit, but the Pats always seem to have solid running backs and Green isn't any exception.
Jonathan Vilma: New Orleans Saints
When Vilma came over to the Saints from the Jets, it seemed like the talking heads on TV wouldn't shut up about him, but now, they've quieted down and not because he's become less of a player.
Since Darren Sharper's ball-hawking ways have come to the Saints, you haven't really heard much about any of the other defenders. Of course, it's hard to get talked about when your offense plays like the Saints do, but Vilma is still a beast in the front seven and will make plays until he retires.
Keith Bullock: New York Giants
Bullock has been overlooked his entire career and that hasn't changed yet. He's been brought into a weak Giants line-backing core to give it a veteran presence and he's done just that. Bullock's contribution to the team goes beyond his own play though because he has become a mentor for the younger linebackers who look to him for guidance at the position.
David Harris: New York Jets
Harris doesn't get nearly the hype of his fellow linebacker Bart Scott, but he is as good of a player if not better. Aside from 2008 when he was injured, Harris has had more than 125 tackles and five sacks in every year he's been in the league. If that's not top-level production for a linebacker in the 3-4, then I don't know what is. It's easy to overlook somebody on a team full of stars, but Harris is one guy who opponents should never take for granted.
Michael Huff: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have one of the best corners in the game in Nnamdi Asomugha, but are lacking another good corner on the other side of the field. To offset this, they have Huff, who would be stud on any other team, but since he plays for a terrible Oakland team, he's never talked about. Maybe someday he can get out of there and show people how good he can be.
Quinton Mikell: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles defense relies a lot on blitzing from all over the field and, in the old days, they had the ultimate safety for that in Brian Dawkins. However, he has since left the team for Denver and someone had to take his place. That someone is Mikell. He may not be an elite safety, but he does what the Eagles need him to do. He'll never be the playmaker Dawkins was, but he's a good player in his own right.
Lawrence Timmons: Pittsburgh Steelers
Timmons is the victim of playing on a defense with a ton of playmakers. He probably will never become as well-known as James Harrison or Troy Polamalu, but his game is on par with the best middle linebackers. If he doesn't make at least a few Pro Bowl games by the time he's done, I'll be surprised.
Jacob Hester: San Diego Chargers
The Chargers have had a great running game for so long for two reasons. One, they've had great running backs and two, they've had great blockers, even in their fullbacks. When LT was still here, that fullback was Lorenzo Neal, but now it's Hester who opens holes for whoever happens to be in the backfield.
Manny Lawson: San Fransico 49ers
Lawson doesn't get the hype of his teammate Patrick Willis, and rightfully so, but Lawson does do a great job at using his game to fill the holes in Willis. These two make up what is becoming a great line-backing core and even though, he'll never be as good as Willis, Lawson will continue to contribute to the team in a big way.
Leon Washington: Seattle Seahawks
After last week, more people are realizing how good Washington is but it still needs to be said that he has consistently been one of the best return men in the league. It's just that guys like Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs get all the hype, while Washington just keeps taking kicks to the house.
Mark Clayton: St. Louis Rams
So far this season QB Sam Bradford hasn't really looked like most rookies do when they come into the league. This is because of guys like Clayton, who give him reliable targets to throw to and make it easier on the rook. Clayton isn't the most well-known commodity, but he is very important to the development of the Rams' rookie quarterback.
Aquib Talib: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronde Barber has been a fixture on the Tampa roster for years and has shut down opposing receivers the whole time he's been around. His lesser-known protege, Talib, is quickly becoming one of the better corners in the NFL. Soon he should be a household name as the Bucs continue to get better.
Javon Ringer: Tennessee Titans
So far in the 2010-11 season, Chris Johnson has been kept from dominating games like he did last year. Luckily for the Titans they have been able to be productive by using Ringer and Johnson to keep opponents on their toes with their differing running styles. As the season goes along I think Ringer will continue to play a big part in the Titans offense.
Chris Cooley: Washington Redskins
Cooley has long been one of the better tight ends in the league, but nobody really talks about him. He has soft hands, can make big plays, and is a pretty good blocker. Cooley probably will never be thought of as elite because he's already getting up there in years, but he has been a solid mainstay for the Redskins throughout the years.