Trent Cole and the 2011 NFL All-Underrated Team
In every sport, but especially in the NFL, there are some players who for some reason or another fly completely under the radar, even when putting out great numbers year after year. It may be that they're part of a small market, it might be because the team itself is inept or it might be chalked up simply to bad luck. At any rate, their accomplishments should not go unnoticed. Here's the 2011 NFL All-Underrated team.
QB: Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
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When selecting a QB to fill in the roster spot on the All-Underrated team, two names immediately popped into my head: Schaub and Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I ultimately decided to go with Schaub because of his superior numbers and much more proven track record. You'd think that being in one of the largest football markets in the NFL that a prolific gunslinging QB like Schaub wouldn't go unnoticed. However, due to the presence of Peyton Manning as well as the well-noted QB battles going on in Tennessee and Jacksonville, Schaub goes forgotten in his own division. Yes, he hasn't been able to take the Texans to the playoffs yet, but that's more due to the fact that Houston had an abysmal pass defense last year than any fault of Schaub's. He's stayed healthy the past two years, leading to two 4,300-plus yard seasons, 53 TDs against 27 INTs and a career QB rating of 91.5.
RB: Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
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Unless you're a fantasy football aficionado like I am or a Chicago Bears fan, chances are you don't know too much about Matt Forte. He's been overshadowed for the majority of his career by Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (a division rival) and Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans (who came in the same rookie class). He set the Bears' single season record for yards from scrimmage (ahead of guys like Gale Sayers and Walter Payton) in his rookie year and actually improved his YPC average last year to 4.5. He's also a prolific receiving threat coming out of the backfield.
FB: Ovie Mughelli, Atlanta Falcons
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For someone who signed the richest contract for a fullback in NFL history (at the time of the signing), Mughelli is a relative unknown. A two-time All-Pro, Mughelli is one of the main reasons that the Falcons and Michael Turner specifically have had great success running the ball in the past five years. He's asserted himself into the Lorenzo Neal and Mack Strong mold of being the best run blocking fullback of his era and the results have paid off (quite literally).
WR 1: Santana Moss, Washington Redskins
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For the better part of a decade, Moss has been one of the most reliable and steadiest wide receivers in the game, even if the person throwing him the ball wasn't. Moss has composed nearly 9,000 yards and 52 TDs over his career, all the while battling injuries and having to adjust to having quarterbacks such as Todd Collins and Rex Grossman pass to him. He's overshadowed by the flashy DeSean Jackson's and Dez Bryant's of his division, even though he has arguably the same amount of talent.
WR 2: Derrick Mason, NY Jets
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If I were to ask you to name a receiver that has had 11 straight 750-plus seasons, including eight 1,000-plus yard seasons, how likely would it be that you would come up with Derrick Mason? Even at the tender age of 37 (five years past what most people consider the "prime" of a receivers' career), Mason has been a contributor for whomever he plays for. Over his career, Mason has amassed 12,000 yards and 66 TDs. To put that into perspective, Hall of Famer Art Monk has only 800 more yards and one more TD than Mason. If Mark Sanchez can help Mason with another average year by his standards, he'll be able to eclipse those totals.
LT: Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos
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Kyle Orton has undergone a career resurgence in Denver and most of that can be contributed to the outstanding blocking provided by his blindside protector, Ryan Clady. Only a third year pro, Clady has started every game in his career at left tackle and has done a tremendous job. Through his first 20 games as a pro, Clady had only surrendered half of a sack, an NFL record. He's already been named to the Pro Bowl, and has been named both a second and first team All-Pro. He's a bright spot on an otherwise unsteady Broncos team that looks to be in rebuilding mode.
LG: Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints
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NFL.com recently conducted a poll amongst all of the players in the NFL in choosing the Top 100 Players in the league. In total, only four guards made the list: Chris Snee (who'll I'll talk more about later), Brian Waters, Logan Mankins and Nicks. At 55, only Mankins ranked ahead of Nicks in terms of position and even then deciding between the two is more of a toss-up. However, whereas Mankins has been in the spotlight by being the cornerstone of the Patriots O-Line, Nicks is a relative unknown. With a Super Bowl title, a Pro Bowl and a second team All-Pro selection already under his belt, the future is bright for Nicks.
C: Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns
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A surprising strength of the Cleveland Browns last year was found in their running game last year, with Peyton Hillis making enough of an impact to land on the Madden Cover. One of the key cogs to that career year was Mack. In only two years in the league, Mack has already been to one Pro Bowl, a game in which he actually scored a touchdown through a lateral. Mack is overshadowed on his own line, however, by who is arguably the best tackle in the NFL in Joe Thomas. Still, being the second best lineman on a team that has a future Hall of Famer isn't that bad.
RG: Chris Snee, NY Giants
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Be honest: How many right guards can you name in the NFL, outside of the starter on your team? Probably not that many. The right guard on an offensive line isn't exactly an illustrious position, yet Snee has managed to make the most of his talents for the majority of his seven year career. The small amount of attention he has garnered is well earned, being named to the All-Pro team every year since 2008. It's almost impossible to underrate a right guard in the NFL, since there are so few who are successful enough for a long period of time to be considered one of the greats. Snee is one of the exceptions, yet people take his consistency for granted, which explains his position on this list.
RT: Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
To think that any All-Pro New England Patriot could remain obscure in this day and age is mind-boggling, yet Vollmer, a two-year pro hailing from the rich football landscape of Dusseldorf, Germany, has managed to accomplish just that. In his rookie season, Vollmer mainly played in spot duty across the Patriots O-Line, mainly filling in for injured starter Nick Kaczur. However, he played so well in this limited role that he kept the slot even when Kaczur recovered and remained entrenched at right tackle for the rest of the year. His next season went even better. Although he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl, Vollmer started every game at right tackle for the Pats and earned a second team All-Pro selection. His career may just be getting started, but Vollmer has already become one of the best right tackles in the sport.
DE 1: Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
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No current defensive player in the NFL has been more overlooked as a dominating threat than Trent Cole, and with the additions of Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins to the defensive line, that trait will probably continue. No matter. Cole will just go out and do what he always does: cause havoc in the backfield and post a double digit sack season. Only being selected to the Pro Bowl twice as a reserve, Cole has made an impact from his first season, where he had five sacks in only three starts. Since then, Cole has only missed one other game in his career and has topped the 10 sack mark three out of the last five years. Although players like Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will get all the headlines this year, most Eagles fans would agree that Cole is the most integral part of their defense.
DE 2: Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions
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Another player who's overlooked on his own defensive line, Cliff Avril has quietly begun to mold himself into a threatening pass-rusher. Although he only has 97 tackles over his entire career, his real presence is felt through his ability to cause turnovers and disrupt the opposing team's passing rhythm. In three years, he already has eight forced fumbles and eight pass deflections to his credit. And last year he added another dimension to his game by causing nine sacks, almost doubling his career total to that point. However, with all of these statistical accolades, he will continue to be ignored as long as he remains linemates with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
DT 1: Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals
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It has taken a while, but Darnell Dockett is finally beginning to shed the "underappreciated" label in NFL circles. Still, for the majority of his career, Dockett has remained anonymous except to division rivals. The DE/DT hybrid has had equal success at both positions, averaging over 50 tackles per season for the last five years. He was selected as a first team All-Pro in 2009 with seven sacks and 51 tackles. However, his best season came in 2007 where he had nine sacks, 58 tackles and two forced fumbles. If he continues this pace, he'll find himself coming off of the underrated list real soon.
DT 2: Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks
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Those who are unfamiliar with Mebane may cry foul at the recent five-year, $25 million contract he signed to remain the Seahawks this offseason. After all, he only has 10 sacks over a four-year career, plus his career tackle totals are mediocre as well. However, Seahawk fans can attest to the fact that he is essential to the success of our run D. Consider this: When Mebane, Colin Cole and Red Bryant were all healthy for the first four games of the 2011 season, the big men helped to limit opposing rushing attacks to well under 70 yards per game. However, once all three succumbed to some sort of injury, the defense collapsed. The Seahawks need Mebane for their defense to remain at least decent. Without him (or any other of the 300 lb. tackles), then there's no hope in returning to the playoffs next year.
OLB 1: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
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Trivia: Who led the AFC in sacks last year? James Harrison? Mario Williams? Dwight Freeney? All good guesses, but wrong.
With 15 sacks last year, Hali officially made the jump from being "good" to "great," even though he had been having a solid career up to that point. On a team where Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey were expected to be sack machines, Hali has stolen that role and run with it. In his rookie season, Dorsey led the team with eight sacks, 3.5 more than fellow rookie Williams. Since then he's averaged nine sacks per season, the majority of those coming last year which incidentally also was the first year he was selected to the Pro Bowl. Like Darnell Dockett, another year or two like last year, and no one else will be calling Hali underrated.
OLB 2: Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
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He's only been in the league for two years, but Brian Orakpo is well on his way to becoming the next Julius Peppers. Admittedly, he has received a decent amount of attention from fans, getting selected to the Pro Bowl both years of his career. However, what he's managed to do in only two years of work is incredible. Orakpo had 11 sacks in his rookie year, with four coming in one game against the Oakland Raiders, a Redskins record. The next year that total decreased a bit, coming down to nine sacks. Orakpo would've had much more, but he was the victim of the third most holding penalties from opposing offensive linemen. If Orakpo continues on this sacking pace for the rest of his career, he will find himself among the all-time leaders in sacks in NFL history.
MLB: London Fletcher, Washington Redskins
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London Fletcher is the linebacker version of Derrick Mason. Both have been reliable, consistent veterans who somehow have been overlooked as one of the all-time greats. It is an absolute crime that Fletcher has only been to two Pro Bowls. Coming into the league in 1998, he has never missed a game in his entire career. Fletcher has also been a tackling machine, exceeding 100 tackles every year since the beginning of the millennium. In 2009, after being named to the Pro Bowl for the first time to replace Johnathon Vilma, Fletcher regarded himself as the NFL's version of Susan Lucci, a soap opera actress who won her first Daytime Emmy on her 19th try. A more fitting comparison cannot be made to sum up Fletcher's career.
CB 1: Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings
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The college superstar from Ohio State has had an equally illustrious career in the NFL, even if most people don't realize it. Generally regarded as one of the hardest hitting cornerbacks in the league, Winfield is more than just a safety in a corner's body. He's one of the leaders on a veteran Vikings defense that has been plagued by injuries and suspensions, but is otherwise very talented. Winfield deserves more recognition for what he's been able to accomplish throughout his career.
CB 2: Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs
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Brandon Flowers is a top five cornerback in the NFL. You just don't know it yet. A three-year pro, Flowers really hit his stride at the beginning of last year, giving up only 81 yards while being targeted by opposing quarterbacks 31 times, a YPA of only 2.6. Along with the aforementioned Tamba Hali, Flowers was a key piece to the Chiefs D that helped the team win the division and reach the playoffs. With a bit more seasoning and experience, and people will be talking about Flowers much the same way they talked about Nnamdi Asomugha this year.
SS: Adrian Wilson, Arizona Cardinals
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It's hard to believe that he's been around this long, but Adrian Wilson will be starting his 10th season with the Cardinals once the regular season begins. Whereas Larry Fitzgerald is the face of the Cardinals' offense (and was recently paid handsomely for it), the same role can be applied to Wilson for the defense. One of the most obscure three time All-Pros in the NFL, Wilson has earned his accolades with over 20 sacks as well as interceptions. He is only a single tier below Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu in terms of talent.
FS: Antoine Bethea, Indinapolis Colts
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Bethea's trip to the realm of obscurity has been an odd one, as he's one of the few players on the list to make return trips. Starting off as an injury replacement for former defensive player of the year Bob Sanders, Bethea became a household name when he actually began to outplay Sanders, and eventually replace him entirely. Then, once Bethea had the role of starting safety all to himself, he disappeared once again. Not out of lack of production, however. In fact, Bethea has been one of the most reliable players on a suspect Indianapolis Colts secondary. But with the play of Troy Polamalu setting a new standard for what qualifies as an elite safety, Bethea has become an unknown once again.
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So what do you guys think? Think that someone else should be included? Any constructive (or non-constructive, if you really hated it that much) is welcome, since this is my first article after all. Thanks for reading.