NFL's First Team All-Underated: The Most Overlooked Players at Every Position

Kyle Vassalo@VassaloBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2010

MIAMI - OCTOBER 4: Cameron Wake #91 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after a play against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Field on October 4, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

There are guys who soak up media at all times, regardless of their performance; however, there are others who quietly go about their business, silently destroying the opposition. The members of the All-Underrated team are often overlooked, but have a huge impact on their teams.

While not everyone on this list is going to be a no-name player, everyone who made the cut has an underestimated impact on their team. For whatever reason, be it a small market, an underachieving team, being overshadowed with talent, people fail to pay homage to the blue-collar guys.

Fear not, stereotypical overachiever, your recognition has arrived.




Matt Cassel (Kansas City)

  • Teams make a huge deal over Tom Brady's touchdown to pick ratio. How about Matt Cassel? Cassel has thrown 23 touchdowns and four interceptions, with only one interception in his last nine games. Obviously, the run game for the Chiefs is a huge part of their success, but Cassel is playing error-free football. He may not have the yardage, but he is lethal in the red zone and his 98.4 QB rating is fifth-best in the league.


Running Back:

Darren McFadden (Oakland)

  • The Raiders are a completely different team when Darren McFadden is in the huddle. Despite missing two games with an injury and struggling for two games, McFadden never stays silent for long. He has broken for 95 yards or more in six of the ten games he has played in. Not only does he affect the run game, the entire offense clicks when he gets it going. He has the ability to put a defense completely on their heels and his near-5.0 YPC pays dividends for the Raiders.


Wide Receiver:

Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh)

  • Mike Wallace has over 100 more yards than DeSean Jackson, three more touchdowns, three more catches, and has led the league in back-to-back years for the largest per catch average. That being said, when people speak of the best deep threat in the league, Jackson is usually the first one mentioned.

Steve Johnson (Buffalo Bills)

  • Steve Johnson is known for dropping the game-winning pass in overtime against the Steelers. He should be known for his nine touchdowns and leading all receivers with 333 yards after contact this season. All the while, Johnson has been on the Bills. Gaining 158 yards vs. Baltimore in one of three 100-yard games this season? Not too shabby for a guy a lot of people hadn't heard of before he botched the Steelers game.


Tight End:

Marcedes Lewis (Jacksonville Jaguars)

  • Marcedes Lewis happens to have Maurice Jones-Drew on his team. Teams constantly lose Lewis in the red zone. He has great hands and a huge frame, making him the perfect target near the goal line. While his yards aren't overwhelming, his eight scores on just 41 catches means he scores once out of every 5.125 times he touches the ball.


Left Tackle:

Sam Baker (Atlanta Falcons)

  • The Falcons have only allowed 17 sacks this season. They have a top five running back, and yet when people talk about their offense, all people speak about is the Matt Ryan-to-Roddy White connection. People forget that their blind side protector was instrumental in turning around the Falcons franchise. He doesn't get the hype of a D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Joe Thomas, but he is just as important to his offense.


Left Guard:

Logan Mankins (New England Patriots)

  • We couldn't do this list without featuring a Patriots offensive lineman. Logan Mankins is unshakable in pass protection, but it is his ability to pull effectively and clear a path for guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Mankins embodies everything the Patriots try to represent. He sells out on every play and plays every game with purpose, with the team first.



Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh Steelers)

  • Maurkice Pouncey is getting some media attention. That being said, he deserves to be on this list. He could easily be the best offensive lineman on the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie. The sky is the limit for Pouncey in Pittsburgh. He takes charge at the line of scrimmage and while he dominates in run and pass blocking, it is the leadership he is showing at such a young age that is so impressive.


Right Guard:

Chris Snee (New York Giants)

  • Many people realize that Snee is an elite guard, but aside from that, he has underrated athletic ability. It's no mistake that the Giants are so effective at running the ball. Snee is a monster in space and surprisingly quick. He is a staple on the offensive line and is coveted by teams around the NFL for his knowledge of the game and consistency that go with his production.


Right Tackle:

Marc Colombo (Dallas Cowboys)

  • Marc Colombo is the perfect example of a veteran tackle who has his best days behind him, but still manages to produce. He is a mammoth, mauling right tackle, with sound pass blocking. Despite all of the Cowboys' woes, they allow less than two sacks a game. Colombo is reliable and when teams go after tackles with his experience and size, he is exactly what they are hoping to get.


Defensive End:

Trent Cole (Philadelphia Eagles)

  • No defensive lineman bests Trent Cole's nine sacks. He has single-handedly brought down the quarterback multiple times in one game on three occasions. Teams certainly don't approach him as the would Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, or Dwight Freeney, but he has more sacks than all of them. It is Cole's semi-under the radar production that allows him to continue to rack up the numbers.

Jason Babin (Tennessee Titans)

  • Jason Babin has nine sacks and eight tackles in the backfield. The Titans like to attack on defense, and Babin continues to dominate against the run and pass. Babin is a guy who is undersized, but always seems to find himself around the quarterback. The Titans have a complex front and Babin gets little credit, relative to the production he is having.


Defensive Tackles:

Haloti Ngata (Baltimore Ravens)

  • Ndamukong Suh has had a terrific rookie season, but he is still second best to Haloti Ngata. It may seem odd to put a player I believe to be the best in the NFL, but America has taken such a liking to Suh, they have forgotten about Ngata. Ngata is the heart and soul of the Ravens defense. Remember when Ray Lewis went out of his way to lobby for the Ravens to bring in an elite DT? Just ask No. 52 how big of a role Haloti Ngata plays.

Fred Robbins (St. Louis Rams)

  • Sure Robbins has five sacks this season, which is moderately impressive, but he has had a much bigger impact on the Rams this season. The Rams are improved on defense and anchoring their 4-3 is Robbins in the middle. Whether it's run stuffing, taking the heat off Chris Long, or batting down passes -as he has done seven times this season already- Robbins is making his presence felt.


Outside Linebacker:

Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins)

  • Cameron Wake is the ultimate representative of this list. This is only his second NFL year, despite being 28 years old. After a long break from football, he was forced to go to Canada for two seasons after playing at Penn State, because teams felt he was not NFL-ready. He earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in both seasons he played in Canada, forcing teams to take notice. He leads the league in sacks this season with 12, even beating out Clay Matthews. If his team were better, he would certainly have a chance at obtaining DPOY honors. 

Shaun Phillips (San Diego Chargers)

  • Shaun Phillips first caught my eye when I was watching him against the Arizona Cardinals. While I originally wanted to see how the Chargers handled a receiver as physical as Fitz without Antonio Cromartie, my attention quickly shifted to Phillips, who happened to have four sacks and an interception for a touchdown. Shawne Merriman who? There is a new outside pass rusher in San Diego and his ten sacks make Merriman's four sacks in the last three years look like a joke. The best part is he's getting it done without the noise.


Middle Linebacker:

Jerod Mayo (New England Patriots)

  • The Patriots might pride themselves on being team oriented and free of the super stars that drag other teams down, but they couldn't function without Jerod Mayo on defense. Mayo looks like he is going to break the tackle record set in Patrick Willis' rookie season. He makes plays sideline to sideline and consistently cleans up broken plays for the Patriots. He is the leader and enforcer of the Patriots D. Mayo fails to get the recognition he deserves, because everyone points to Brady and Belichick as the only reasons for their success.

Takeo Spikes (San Francisco 49ers)

  • The 49ers scored when they picked up Takeo Spikes, after his time in Cincinnati and Buffalo. While he is on the tail end of his career, Spikes is able to excel next to sensation Patrick Willis. Spikes has been able to provide solid play, while the team needed a middle linebacker. As they groom Nevarro Bowman to one day take over his spot, Spikes continues to play solid football. Last week against the Packers, he had an unspeakable 17 tackles. It's important two backers who are knowledgeable of the intricacies of a 3-4. Teams are keying on Willis, which makes it absolutely necessary to have a veteran presence there to take advantage.



Terrell Thomas (New York Giants)

  • Terrell Thomas is 6'0, 200 pounds, which allows him to initiate solid contact at the line. The Giants have a ruthless defensive line and Thomas capitalizes by smothering wide receivers and jumping routes when quarterbacks panic. Not only does Thomas have five interceptions this season, he has three forced fumbles, and a blocked kick. His willingness to lower his shoulder pad and make contact is refreshing for that position. He is on this list now, but shouldn't be for too much longer.

Tramon Williams (Green Bay Packers)

  • When you play corner opposite Charles Woodson, the ball comes your way, a lot. Tramon Williams hasn't shied away though, picking off four passes and defending another 15. Together, Williams and Woodson allow 6.5 yards a pass. There is a reason Williams got a four year 41.25 million dollar extension. Teams still try to pick on Williams, which bodes well for the Packers. They have an elite tandem and would love to keep Williams a secret. He gets the nod over just about every number two receiver in the league and can hold his own against the best of them.


Strong Safety:

Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis Colts)

  • Bob Sanders has made his presence felt on the IR more so than the football field. Antoine Bethea has been the consistent force in the secondary for the Colts in Sanders absence. Bethea doesn't offer what Sanders does in coverage, but in the Colts defense Bethea is geared more towards helping against the run, which he does as well as any strong safety in the NFL. The Colts struggle on defense and without Bethea and his help in the run game, it is scary to think what would happen without his services.

Michael Huff (Oakland Raiders)

  • The Raiders secondary is among the best in the league. Every single member of the secondary can hold his own in coverage, but the biggest play-maker on the Raider defense is Michael Huff. Huff has three forced fumbles, four sacks, and a pick. He makes plays five yards in the backfield and 20 yards down the field. The more aggressive the Raiders are with Huff, the more dangerous he becomes.



Rob Bironas (Tennessee Titans)

  • It is rare that teams can find a kicker that can change games. Bironas is 21 for 22, and a perfect 9-9 on kicks beyond 40 yards. While the Titans are struggling, they can have complete faith in their kicker, which is crucial when games come down to the last second.



Jason Baker (Carolina Panthers)

  • Jason Baker has become a hero to every punter in America. Leon Washington held the ball up in celebration, writing off Baker as a legitimate tackling threat. Baker, who is on the worst team in the NFL, completely sold out, dove, and knocked one of Washington's feet into the other one, forcing him to trip over his feet and fall short of the goal line. While Baker might not have the best punting average, that sort of attitude in Carolina could do wonders if it became infectious.


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