NFL: Unsung Players Who Make a Difference from Every Team

Scott ReighardAnalyst IJune 27, 2011

NFL: Unsung Players Who Make a Difference from Every Team

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    Not to put out TMI, but there’s a certain feeling I am having regarding this whole lockout deal. That is, we are close, folks. The withdrawal is nearly over. I can smell the sweet scent of dew on the morning grass as hundreds of cleated football players trot out to handle their professional duties.

    From this feeling, I began to think about how we often miss the little things in life because we are waiting on the big things to happen. This segued into a consideration of the unsung guy, the one most outsiders are not aware of. Each team has one of these guys, and my mission is to try to let you know each team’s unsung player.

    The criterion is simple: The player is a starter, but one many have never heard of or know little about. Maybe I can enlighten you as you journey through 32 teams and 32 unsung players.

    As always, your comments, hopefully clean and constructive, are welcome.

AFC East: New England Patriots

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    Basically, the ultimate lunchbox team where no man is an island, or where no man is above any other. A utopian environment if there ever was one. That describes the Patriots, but this challenge is to seek and shout from the rooftops my barbaric yawp.

    The Patriots' most unsung player is Dan Koppen, Center.

    I know, an offensive lineman, you ask, but consider the Patriots offense without him. Koppen lives in the shadows of Tom Brady, Wes Welker and even Logan Mankins, but this man is the driveshaft to the Patriot engine.

    To try to understand the role of the center is to understand the yin without the yang, the feng without the shui; you get the point. Koppen is vital to Brady’s success—just ask him.

    Koppen was drafted in 2003 out of Boston College and has started in 119 of 120 games. Riddle me this, Batman: How many people have heard of Dan Koppen? Enough said.

    Unsung yet pivotal, unknown unless you are the opponent—that is Danny Boy.

New York Jets

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    It’s difficult to have someone just a few miles from Broadway be an unsung player, but for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, there is a player most do not know about: Jim Leonhard, Safety.

    When Leonhard went out in December with a freak injury, the Jet secondary didn't have its usual stoutness, yet most people do not know about a guy who has been a steady performer for years.

    Leonhard is not an interception machine, but he is a strong tackler and smart safety. He can return kicks as well as punts. His loss was evident in the playoffs, as teams had greater success with the downfield game.

Miami Dolphins

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    You ain’t a fish if you ain’t wet, and if you are a fish and you ain’t wet, then most likely you’re sucking O2 instead of H2O. For the Dolphins, that true blue fin is Yeremiah Bell, Strong Safety.

    The Dolphins defense does not get a lot of credit, mostly because it is dogged by a relatively anemic offense. I say that because there are a lot of people outside the AFC East who are not aware of many Dolphins players, and Bell is one of those unsung guys who just brings it.

    Bell was drafted in 2004 by the Dolphins, so he is my true blue fin for hanging around this team since his draft year. He has been a tackling machine and one of the more consistent defenders who is not a household name, other than in Hialeah or South Beach.

    In 2010, Bell had 101 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two INTs and one fumble recovery. He is a rock in the sand of South Florida.

Buffalo Bills

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    Hmm, it would be easy to poke fun at the Bills given their recent lack of success, but I will refrain from saying the only people not being Buffaloed are opponents of the AFC East.

    With that said, Steve Johnson, Wide Receiver is the Bills' unsung hero.

    On a team with many anonymous players, it was tough to choose, but Johnson is an important part of the Bills offense. He is a receiver who, in his third season, is coming into his own.

    In 2010, he had 82 receptions and more than 1,000 receiving yards with 10 TDs, and that was with a carousel quarterback crew.

    It is safe to say that if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick improves his relationship with his receivers, Andre will not be the only Johnson receiver who will command opponents' respect in 2011.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

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    This team is loaded with solid players indicative of its Super Bowl run, and one would be hard pressed to single out a starter who is unsung.

    The Steelers are a who’s who when it comes to Hall of Famers, and most likely this guy is not going to be a HOF player, but like that steel mill guy who just shows up, does his job and doesn’t moan about his role, this player is nearly indispensable to Ben Roethlisberger.

    When you are the same side of the ball as Hines Ward, Big Ben, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall, you are often overlooked.

    I was thinking of pulling out an offensive lineman here, but I couldn’t resist: Heath Miller, Tight End.

    Miller has been a constant for the Steelers offense since his selection from the University of Virginia in the 2005 draft. He averages 40-plus catches a year and numerous third-down conversions. He is a chain mover, and Roethlisberger is lost without this guy.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Amazingly, if you close your eyes and only had an opportunity to feel defensive and offensive stats, you would be hard pressed to distinguish between the Ravens and Steelers. Are there any two teams more alike than them?

    I know fans from both cities are spitting on their computer screens right now, scoffing at that idea of same but different, but it’s true.

    Last year Pittsburgh’s defense ranked No. 2 overall, while the Ravens were No.10. That may seem like a disparity, but how many years have we seen both defenses in the top five? Their blue-collar mannerisms are uncanny.

    Moving on, the Ravens also have an unsung hero, and as much as I would like to say it’s Todd Heap, I have to go with someone on defense who does not get the press of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed or Haloti Ngata. Ask any of those guys, and they’ll say without Kelly Gregg, DT, their defense is significantly different.

    For 12 years, 10 with the Ravens, Gregg shows up and gets dirty, sweaty, bloody and whatever else you can throw in there and doesn’t complain or make crazy salary demands.

    He strikes me as the ultimate team player. He helps guys like Lewis and Suggs make those great plays. I would have a Kelly Gregg on my team in a heartbeat.

Cleveland Browns

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    Speaking of blue collar, we venture over to Ohio and the Browns of Cleveland.

    Brown...fitting of plain yet strong and earthy. Brown...appropriate for saying not flashy. Other than the black and yellow of Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find more fitting colors than the brown and...brown of the Cleveland Browns. Hell, they even have the color in their name.

    To say someone from Cleveland is unsung is to say Adam Sandler is a bad actor. Come on now—my son has acted better than Sandler when he wants his pre-bedtime cereal when we already said no.

    Man, this is tough. Someone help me out here. An unsung Cleveland Brown—where to start?

    Consider this: The Browns won five games last year, three of those by three points or less. You see where I am going here? That’s right: Phil Dawson, Kicker is my unsung hero for the Browns.

    Before you start burning effigies of me on your front lawn, think about this. Dawson converted on 23 of 28 field goals, and he was perfect on extra points. He obviously means something to the Browns because they franchised the guy.

    I don’t often look at kickers as unsung players, but in a league with players like Adam Vinatieri, Rob Bironas, Stephen Gostkowski and Nate Kaeding, it’s easy to see the value in this guy and why he is under the radar.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Ah, my favorite team to bash. I’m sorry, Cincy fans. I really want to like the Bengals, but when they hang on to a coach that needs to find employment elsewhere, and with a quarterback situation that is comical, not to mention the seemingly ubiquitous Ocho-nono, there is just too much fun to make of with the Bengals. Sorry.

    The Bengals are like a trip to the mall—so much to see and laugh at.

    Okay, I’m done. It’s on to the most unsung player on the Bengals roster. Well, there are a few guys we can instantly scratch off, and I cannot include my favorite Bengal, Dhani Jones, so let’s see...

    After coming over to the Bengals from the Eagles in 2004, this man has been an absolute anchor for the Bengals front line: Bobbie Williams, Guard.

    For the Bengals, he has started in 111 of 114 possible games. He is a steady performer who provides a strong ability to run and pass block. Since his arrival, he has been the longest-tenured lineman for the Bengals. He also helps to anchor an offensive line that gives up very few sacks. Williams is definitely one of those unsung guys any team would love to sing about.

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

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    When a team is a perennial playoff participant it’s hard not to know who the players are and what they do for their team, but oddly enough, the Colts have a valuable guy who is oftentimes an unsung player.

    Jacob Tamme, TE was a valuable replacement when Dallas Clark went down. Most critics would argue that you can put any receiver or tight end on the Colts and Peyton Manning will make him look good. That’s a valid argument, but receivers and tight ends need to know how to run routes, read defenses and catch balls, so it’s not as easy as it sounds.

    Tamme was thrust into a very daunting situation and blossomed. 2011 will be an interesting year. Clark, one of the league’s best, enters year 10 and just turned 32. Meanwhile, Tamme is 26 entering year No. 4.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jaguars have a few household names, like Maurice Jones-Drew, David Garrard and Marcedes Lewis, but little else is known, and justifiably so, because the Jags are an up-and-down organization.

    Since their heyday of the late '90s, the Jags have made the playoffs only twice: 2005 and 2007.

    For the Jaguars, their most likely unsung guy would have to be Terrance Knighton, DT. Knighton is an underrated player due to the Jags' defensive woes, but he is an integral part of their run defense.

    Knighton is only in his third year out of Temple, but he is making his mark on the defense and is garnering considerable notice from opposing offensive linemen.

Houston Texans

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    This team could not be more disparate. You have an offense ranked No. 3 and a defense ranked No. 30. It’s no wonder it finished where it did.

    With that disparity come knowns and unknowns—players we readily recognize and others we go, “who?” The Texans are no different.

    For the Texans, you would think that most fans are aware of their offensive firepower, hence the players are known also, but there is a player who flies under the radar of Andre Johnson, arguably the league’s best receiver, and that is:

    Kevin Walter, WR.

    Most people have heard of Walter, but few know the valuable contributions he makes to this offense.

    Entering season nine in 2011, Walter will provide a nice secondary target for quarterback Matt Schaub and puts just enough pressure on the defense to have to respect his game. This allows Johnson more room to excel.

    Although his productivity dipped in 2010, Walter still pulled in 51 receptions and five TDs.

Tennessee Titans

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    A team with so much promise a few years ago suddenly appears to be a team in flux. Offensively and defensively, the Titans were No. 27 and 26 respectively.  But this is not a team analysis.

    The Titans live and die by the run, and Chris Johnson has adequately acquitted himself to be one of the league’s best, but he can’t do that alone. Johnson is not a one-man wrecking crew. He needs a counterpart, and that guy is Ahmard Hall, FB.

    Hall is not like a complement to Johnson. On the contrary, he averages around four carries per year. That’s right, per year. No, Hall is Johnson’s wrecking ball, his bulldozer, his lead man. In many respects, without Hall there is no 2,000-yard season.

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

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    For the Chiefs, last year was one of those surprising years where so much goes well and you wind up winning the division. That’s not a knock on the Chiefs, but most people felt as though the Chiefs were a few more players and a year or two away from challenging for the West division crown.

    The Chiefs have many players who are not household names, but at the rate they are going, that won't be true for long. With rising stars like Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, Eric Berry and even Bowe emerged. But there is a player who I feel doesn’t get much press but sure makes the highlights.

    Dexter McCluster, WR/KR/PR.

    Now, some may argue that McCluster is not an unsung player, but I don’t want to spend this whole article on mostly linemen, because we know what an inglorious job that is.

    McCluster does not get the press of Reggie Bush, but if you look at his numbers, he is every bit as effective. Despite his injuries, when healthy, he is very productive.

    Here are some stats for 11 games: WR: 21/209, KR: 26/527/20.3 per return, PR: 13/202 yards with a 94-yard return for a TD.

    Conversely, here are Bush’s stats for eight games: Receiving: 34/208, KR: 1/32, PR: 14/92.

    2011 will be a big year for McCluster, and don’t be surprised to see him taking handoffs from Matt Cassel.

San Diego Chargers

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    As perennial playoff contenders, the Chargers are household names; however, their recent shortfalls have landed them the title of “most talented team not to go to the Super Bowl this decade.” I believe the only reason the Chargers front office continues to have patience with coach Norv Turner is due mostly to their kicking of the backside of Marty Schottenheimer in 2006 after a 14-2 campaign.

    The Chargers are an enigma with the many stars they have, but there are also some unsung players on this team. On both sides of the ball there are two guys in particular.

    I am going to go with Antonio Garay, DT. As a NT in a 3-4 defense this guy constantly gets double-teamed, yet he still managed 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

    With so many stars on both sides of the ball, Garay is a guy one might not think about initially, unless you are the opposing center or guard.

Oakland Raiders

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    A tale of two teams—one that plays within its division going undefeated, and another that puts together a 2-6 campaign. Okay, so they have the divisional thing down—now it is time for the Raiders to put it all together.

    Being on the left coast, most East Coasters are filling their bellies with Sunday pasta as the boys out west are just downing their burgers and beer lunch, so oftentimes East Coasters are not always that familiar with West Coast teams.

    Moreover, if you are NFC born and bred, the AFC West can seem as remote as the Solomon Islands.

    However, with that said, Oakland is a team full of unsung guys, and one in particular is Tommy Kelly, DT.

    I know, another DT, but this guy is a stud inside. In his seventh year as a Raider, Kelly had one of his more productive years. Having Seymour beside you doesn’t hurt, but the big man from Mississippi State had 59 tackles and seven sacks.

    On a defense with Richard Seymour, Nnamdi Asomugha, Rolando McClain and Michael Huff, Kelly remains relatively anonymous, but in all likelihood next year he will be a Pro Bowl player.

Denver Broncos

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    This just in: The Denver Broncos have been renamed the Denver Tebows. Okay, maybe not, but it does have a certain ring to it.

    The Broncos are a team in flux. They have had several players exit and some come in, some of them big-name players.

    However, the Broncos just need to get back to the old Orange Crush defense and an offense being led by the second coming of John Elway. That may or may not be Tim Tebow, but the kid will lead, run through a brick wall, out-train his competition—whatever is needed.

    Last year was a tale of expectations versus results. Coach Josh McDaniels was a terrible experiment, and now they move on with an experienced coach who in two years will make the Broncos playoff contenders.

    Because their defense was so putrid, I could not possibly list a player here. However, one unsung player on this team is Jabar Gaffney, WR.

    Hang on, let me explain. Gaffney was a lost man in New England. He averaged just under 30 catches a year for them, and prior to that he was in Houston pre-Schaub—enough said there.

    Last year Gaffney grabbed 65 balls for 875 yards. He is not the home run guy, but his 13.5 YPC avg. is pretty decent.

    With Brandon Lloyd getting the headlines, Eddie Royal oft-injured and fans waiting on Demaryius Thomas to emerge, Gaffney is the quiet guy putting together solid numbers.

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

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    This one is easy. The Eagles are another team blessed with household names and high talent, but there is a guy who you would not normally consider unsung, and this one goes relatively unnoticed.

    Sav Rocca, P. I had some other players listed, but last year the Eagles had their rash of injuries, and Jamaal Jackson, C was my top choice, but I already have several centers listed.

    Rocca is an effective punter who had a 43.8 avg., 28 punts inside the 20 and 21 fair catches. There were no TD returns against him, and his net of 39.0 was in the top 10.

    Rocca is not your everyday conversation piece, but he helps the Eagles defense, and last year they needed it.

New York Giants

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    The Giants have star power, and to be in New York and a relative unknown is hard to imagine. This player is known, but in the grand scheme of things, he is an unsung player who adds an element to the offense that oftentimes bails out Eli Manning's situation.

    Kevin Boss, TE has had to fill the shoes of Jeremy Shockey, and in my opinion he has more than acquitted himself.

    Boss has continued to put up solid numbers since the big mouth departed NY and headed to the bayou. Although Boss' pass-catching totals were down last year, his YPC increased, and he still had five TDs.

    The Giants offense is a complex series of reads and precise route-running, and even though Boss is not thought of as a primary guy, he is a reliable third-down receiver and a very good blocker, something the Giants relish almost as much as his catching ability.

    Boss has the potential to be a Pro Bowl TE, and offseason hip surgery will speak volumes if he continues on that track.

Dallas Cowboys

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    When your emblem is a star, it’s hard to imagine any Cowboys player being an unsung guy. When your ego is as big as Jerry Jones, who loves the spotlight, it’s hard not to think of him going out there to make that big splash every year.

    The Cowboys have arguably one of the most talented rosters just east of San Diego, but they, like their western counterpart, are having a tough time putting it all together.

    There are several unsung players wearing the star on their helmet, and the most obvious one to me is Anthony Spencer, LB.

    On a defense filled with all-star names like DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking and Jay Ratliff, Spencer is a solid run stopper and can rack up sacks in a hurry.

Washington Redskins

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    As the NFC East goes, so do big names, and Washington is no exception. It could be said the owner is trying to put together a puzzle of success, though he has no idea whether the pieces fit or not. I am no expert, but that is not a recipe for continued success.

    The Redskins, despite being in a town of egos equal to that of small nations, have their fair share of balloon-inflated egotists, but this guy just shows up every year and goes about his business.

    London Fletcher, LB.

    I must be on a roll with LBs right now, so let’s keep going. The man just finished his 14th season, led his defense in tackles and had 2.5 sacks and one INT. To put this into perspective, Fletcher has had 10 seasons of more than 100 tackles. Remarkable!

    Despite Fletcher being a household name, he is still an unsung player who should be recognized for his contribution to the game. After all, if they can honor a guy like Sam Mills, who had some real good LBs playing beside him, perhaps they can shout out some kudos to a guy who has been hauling the heat for 14 seasons.

NFC North: Chicago Bears

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    The Bears surprised a few people last year by winning their division, and even more of a surprise is they did it with the offense ranked No. 30. That’s not a typo, folks. How in tarnation did they pull that off?

    Most of us are familiar with the who’s who of Bear players, but there are some guys who roam the field on Sundays that seem to go unnoticed. One in particular is D.J. Moore, DB.

    Moore is primarily a nickel guy, but how many nickel guys rack up four INTs, one returned for a TD, a sack and eight passes defended in short spot duty?

    One could argue there are other guys on this team who are unsung, but this is my list, and I can say that Moore makes the most of his playing time.

Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers have many well-known players, and deservedly so. The Super Bowl champs have an A-star list of players who are very solid players, but there is always room for that guy who does not seek the stardom. He is the kind of guy who just wants to play football.

    For the Packers, that guy is Josh Sitton, G. Sitton has been a steady starter and lives in the shadow of fellow guard Chad Clifton.

    The three-year veteran from UCF has been a starter since 2009 and does not look to relinquish that job anytime soon.

    There are many reasons for Aaron Rodgers' success at quarterback, and Sitton is just one of those. You’re welcome, Packers fans. I am sure most of you wanted a lunch bucket Larry kind, and Sitton fits that bill.

Detroit Lions

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    The Lions have been doormats for so long that it’s easy to find an unsung guy on this team. In fact, there are many unsung guys on this team who really are putting it all out there, but the results just keep coming up short.

    Both offensively and defensively the Lions improved from 2009, but they will have to continue that trend if they want to battle it out for the NFC North.

    I had several players listed, and I came up with two guys, so I decided to put both here.

    Cliff Avril, DE or Alphonso Smith, CB.

    Both are relative unsung players, but both are extremely important to the Lions defense. With names like Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and now Nick Fairley, it’s safe to bet most people don’t even know Avril or Smith.

    As a side note, Avril has recorded 19 sacks in his first three years.

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Vikings are two years removed from a NFC Championship Game loss, and most people would say they are in a rebuilding phase. Bull hockey. The Vikings are simply retooling as they try to put 2010 behind them.

    Although they will most likely have a rookie quarterback under center, don’t discount the Vikings' ability to pull the vaunted rabbit from the hat and challenge for the division title.

    Even with Brett Favre’s “supposed” retirement, the Vikings are still loaded with household name players, but in many cases there is always that unsung guy who lurks in the background but every team would love to have.

    Again, I have two players here who I feel are unsung Vikings players, one on offense and one on defense.

    Jim Kleinsasser, TE or E.J. Henderson, LB.

    Kleinsasser has been steady as a rock for the Vikings since his arrival in 1999. His 13-year leadership and work ethic are to be admired. He has never scoffed at a contract, nor has he pined for attention. Kleinsasser is the ultimate pro, and it would be a shame if he were to get cut this year given the draft of Kyle Rudolph, the steadiness of Visanthe Shiancoe and the versatility of Jeff Dugan.

    As for Henderson, the steady LB again got snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Remember, this guy broke his frickin’ femur in the Cardinals game, Week 13, 2009 and came back for preseason ball—incredible.

    Henderson’s career got off to a slow start, and even I doubted his ability to play, but he has proven me wrong five times over. Well done, Mr. Henderson. Now you should be rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection or two before you call it a career.

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons

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    This team is just emerging with superstars, and it added another in the draft in the name of Julio Jones. Although I am not as optimistic as most, Jones has that chance to be another prima donna who will use injuries as his fallback for not being a top performer.

    I am going to lay odds right now: He will not be the Rookie of the Year for 2011. I’m just saying.

    Okay, on to more important things—an unsung player for the Falcons. Well, there is a position that seems to fit that description, and that is the whole entire offensive line.

    I know, that’s cheating, but seriously, this group as a collection did one heckuva job last year, and the offensive linemen just don’t get that much needed attention unless they are committing a false start, holding someone or applying the hands to the face call.

    Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo all deserve to be on this list. To list one would be an injustice to the others.

    Hey GMs, want to draft a franchise quarterback? Surround him with guys like this and you will see immediate results.

New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints are here to stay, it seems, as long as Drew Brees is under center and Sean Payton is playing Jedi mind tricks on the sidelines with other coaches.

    Da Saints are quickly developing a who’s who of players, and drafting Cameron Jordan with their first pick this year was nothing short of brilliant.

    There are several unsung players on this team who aren’t getting the press that Brees, Bush, Darren Sharper and the former Shockey get, but one guy who is absolutely crucial to this team’s defensive success is Roman Harper, S.

    The guy may not wow you with stats like INTs or sacks, but play in and play out he is as solid as it gets. He is a FA, and the Saints better be careful once free agency rolls around, because several DCs know about Mr. Harper.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Bucs had a great season last year only to miss the playoffs. 2011 will hopefully bring about a different outcome, like a playoff appearance.

    The Bucs have several players flying under the NFL radar, and that is why they surprised many teams last year, plus they seemed to play as a team unit.

    Most would agree the Bucs are not full of great talent, but just well-coached players who play great, so with painstaking research, I had a tough time trying to whittle it down to one player, but the guy I came up with is Quincy Black, LB.

    Before going down with a season-ending injury in December, Black was putting together a pretty good season and in the absence of Barrett Ruud was the new stud amongst the LB corps.

    The four-year pro is finally coming into his own, and his return in 2011 will be a welcome addition to an improving defense that just added book-ends, if you will.

Carolina Panthers

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    Man, just typing that out hurts. Wow—what can be said that hasn’t already been said or printed about the Panthers? The real shame is they have many really good players. I did not see last season coming.

    So it’s 2011, and the Panthers are moving on with a new coach and apparently a new QB, so who is left to say is unsung?

    I know one area that will continue to improve, and that is the defensive side of the ball, and mostly because of Charles Johnson, DE.

    The Panthers were smart to tag Johnson as RFA—otherwise, see ya mama, headed for greener pastures.

    In his four years he has steadily improved his game and is emerging as the leader on the defensive front. My guess is that it will not be long before this Johnson is not lost among the all-star Johnsons of the NFL.

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

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    I know this sounds cliché, but the Seahawks were flying high at season’s end only to realize that after they lost to the Bears, they would be drafting No. 25 in this year’s draft, and that was with a 7-9 record. Can you say holy bird turd, Batman?

    Needless to say, the Hawks and their gray ghost Pete Carroll have a pretty decent team; they just need to add some fuel injection here and there and they should easily win the West again.

    Some players that are relative unknowns to fans but not to other players litter this team every Sunday. One notable loiterer is Chris Clemons, DE.

    Clemons is in a conference dominated by names like Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware, so he doesn’t exactly show up on the radar at first look, but this DE is on his fourth team and likely his last.

    Clemons is that ultimate late bloomer. After not being drafted, he joined the Redskins, followed that up with one season in Oakland and a few years in Philly and now has apparently found a home in Seattle.

    His veteran presence gives stability to a defense that is relatively young and needing to get better.

St. Louis Rams

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    It’s hard to believe the greatest show on turf was grounded for so many years, but now they appear to be getting off the ground thanks to a young buck named Sam Bradford. I fully expect the Rams to hammer it out for the division title next year.

    This may sound crazy, but the West is going to be a very competitive division next year, and if one were to look at predicting the winner of this division in 2011, you would have better luck predicting next year’s Kentucky Derby winner.

    The Rams are a team on the rise with many anonymous guys strapping on the helmet every week, and one in particular is Daniel Fells, TE.

    A rookie quarterback’s best friend is a TE, and Fells is an underrated one at his position.

    Fells pulled down 41 receptions for 391 yards, and of those 41 grabs, an astonishing 24 were for first downs. Talk about a chain mover.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Under new man Jim Harbaugh, the 49er hopefuls are, well, hopeful. Hopefully gone is the coaching carousel, and Harbaugh will bring immediate attitude to a team lacking the last several years.

    The Niners have several under the radar guys, but one that stands out is Josh Morgan, WR.

    Lining up across from Michael Crabtree, Morgan has continued to impress. His 44 grabs for a 15.9 avg were third to Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Morgan adds a triple threat, and Harbaugh will like what he sees in this four-year veteran.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals have fallen off quite a bit since the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner and the departure of some key free agents, but coach Ken Whisenhunt hopes to right the aircraft of the Cardinals this year.

    As soon as they settle the quarterback issue, the Cardinals can move on to other issues, but one thing is certain—they better do it soon.

    An unheralded player on this team is Paris Lenon, LB.

    In his first year in Arizona, Lenon led the team in tackles with 125 and had two sacks, marking a career high. Even though he has been in the league for nine seasons, this was his most productive; maybe it’s the Arizona climate.