The Most Underrated and Overrated Positional Units in the NFL
Many teams in the NFL are led by the consistently strong performance of a particular unit. Equally, other teams around the league are frequently undermined by the mistakes of a positional group rated higher than they should be.
There are those franchises who live or die by the play of their defensive line or the effectiveness of their wide receivers.
Some clubs have units on their team loaded with star names who don't always deliver the production they are capable of.
Here is a list of 10 positional units. The first five are those that are the most underrated in the league. These are followed by the five groups that are the most overrated by those within the game.
10. Underrated: Carolina Panthers Linebackers
It's hard for a group to receive the appropriate acknowledgment of their talents when they play on a 2-14 team. But the Carolina Panthers have a terrific group of linebackers.
Led by dominating duo James Anderson and Jon Beason, the Panthers linebacker corps offer the strongest possible foundation for new head coach Ron Rivera's rebuilding efforts.
Beason is a phenomenal athlete with the necessary smarts to quarterback the defense. Anderson is a rising talent who is a strong tackler and an effective pass rusher.
This intimidating combination is supplemented by the solid Dan Connor and stellar reservist Thomas Davis.
9. Underrated: Oakland Raiders Defensive Line
With multiple options available in the rotation, the Oakland Raiders posses one of the deepest and yet most under appreciated defensive line units in the game.
At defensive end the Raiders can call on standout veteran Richard Seymour and talented youngster Lamarr Houston. Kamerion Wimberly and Jarvis Moss offer more speed off the edge and youngsters Matt Shaughnessy and Trevor Scott provide excellent depth.
For the interior the Raiders retain the option of sliding Seymour inside where he can partner the giant John Henderson or the stout Tommy Kelly. Desmond Bryant brings speed and youthful exuberance to the mix.
This powerful unit was the main reason the Raiders were able to join a three way tie for second in the NFL with 47 sacks.
More athleticism at linebacker would improve the run defense and then the Raiders front four might finally get the recognition it deserves.
8. Underrated: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offensive Line
The surprising success of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers young trio on offense often overshadows the efficient play of a skilled offensive line.
Led by powerful guard Davin Joseph, the Buccaneers front five are a resourceful group who rely on tremendous strength and sound technique.
The group was integral in creating running lanes for LeGarrette Blount and providing the time for signal caller Josh Freeman, allowing the young pair to shine.
This is no minor accomplishment in a tough NFC South loaded with talented defensive linemen like Will Smith, Charles Johnson, John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux.
7. Underrated: Chicago Bears Wide Receivers
It is often felt that the Chicago Bears are held back by an ordinary stable of wide receivers. But the defending NFC North Champions actually boast a dangerous and versatile group of flankers.
These receivers present offensive coordinator Mike Martz with a variety of options. Dependable possession receiver Earl Bennett is a valuable safety valve for Jay Cutler.
Burners Johnny Knox and Devin Hester have the pure speed to stretch any defense. The Bears receivers were devastating at times last season, particularly in the week two victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
After a full season's experience with Martz's playbook, Knox and company could be set to post spectacular numbers in 2011.
6. Underrated: Green Bay Packers Running Backs
Aaron Rodgers and an aggressive defense may have led the way for the Green Bay Packers last season. But it was the late season improvement from the ground game which was the real catalyst for their Super Bowl victory.
James Starks' performances in the postseason provided just enough of a rushing threat to keep defenses honest and prevent them from simply teeing off on Rodgers.
Starks would ground out the tough yards which kept the chains moving and controlled the clock. The 6'2" 218 pound running back rushed for an impressive 4.7 yard average in the Super Bowl.
John Kuhn offers a multiple threat around the goal line. A short yardage specialist, Kuhn provides an effective compliment to Starks and the returning Ryan Grant.
5. Overrated : San Diego Chargers Defensive Line
The San Diego Chargers may have topped the defensive statistics in 2010 but their defensive line went missing at crucial times during the season.
Defensive ends Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire failed to match the solid play of nose tackle Antonio Garay.
Castillo in particular has suffered an alarming loss of form in recent seasons. He is not the pass rush threat he once was and routinely struggles at the point of attack.
The Chargers were overpowered twice by the Oakland Raiders, costing them a shot at the playoffs. A lot of their finest defensive efforts could be attributed to the exotic schemes and sub packages of former coordinator Ron Rivera.
4. Overrated: Pittsburgh Steelers Secondary
The Pittsburgh Steelers intimidating defense is built on the powerful ferocity of their front seven. The secondary is the big weakness of the unit.
The coverage group is protected by the scheming of Dick LeBeau but can still be shredded by a competent passing game.
All action safety Troy Polamalu will always ensure that the Steelers have a strong rush defense. His instincts against the run are second to none.
But he is too often exposed in coverage. Polamalu can be easily moved out of position by a smart quarterback.
Fellow safety Ryan Clark is a big hitter but lacks the speed and range of a true center fielder. The corners frequently guess wrong in their tight zone coverages.
The Steelers have been regularly torched by the pass first game plan of Bill Belichick's New England Patriots.
If the Pittsburgh front seven ever loses a step, opponents will be able to victimise the suspect secondary.
3. Overrated: New York Giants Wide Receivers
The New York Giants' collection of young wide receivers are certainly talented but they are also a long way from being the finished article.
Mario Manningham must find more consistency in order to boost his undoubted big play potential. Hakeem Nicks can reel in the difficult throws but often fails to grab more direct passes.
Many of Eli Manning's league leading 25 interceptions were a result of passes being deflected off the hands of his inexperienced pass catchers.
These youthful flankers need to improve their timing and consistency to emerge as an elite unit in 2011.
2. Overrated: New England Patriots Offensive Line
The New England Patriots have plenty of big names on their line with the likes of Logan Mankins and Matt Light.
But the two biggest problems for the Patriots in recent seasons have been the lack of a credible ground game and the inability to adequately protect Tom Brady in the playoffs.
In the past two seasons the Patriots have been knocked out of the playoffs after their first game. Both the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets have swarmed all over the New England front five.
Shaun Ellis destroyed the pass protection pocket in the the divisional playoffs last season. The year before Terrell Suggs was too quick for the Patriots tackles.
The team has failed to generate a significant ground game since the days of Corey Dillon. Many of the good plays made in the running game are a result of fine individual efforts from Danny Woodhead and Benjarvus Green-Ellis.
The Patriots need their line to step up in the postseason if they are to have any chance of lifting a fourth Lombardi trophy.
1. Overrated: Atlanta Falcons Running Backs
The Atlanta Falcons can grind out the tough yards as well as any team in the league. But too often in the biggest games their rushing attack lacks the crucial spark to lead them to victory.
Workhorse Michael Turner will control the clock but lacks the explosion to provide the Falcons with that extra dimension needed against better teams.
Turner posted just over four yards per carry in 2010 and nobody else on the team was capable of adding the dynamism needed once defenses began to slow Turner down.
For a team so reliant on its running game, the Falcons need something extra from it in the most important games. The team will be hoping that fleet footed draft sleeper Jacquizz Rodgers can provide it.
If the teams on this list are going to experience strong 2011 seasons then there best positional units will either have to force the rest of the league to take notice, or in some cases, simply justify their reputations.