NFL Preseason: 10 Most Underrated Defensive Standouts

Mike NelsonCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2011

NFL Preseason: 10 Most Underrated Defensive Standouts

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    There are certain players that fans, media and coaches glorify into being viewed as some of the best in the business.

    Whether or not some of those players who get glorified are deserving of that glorification is open to debate. But on the other side, there are plenty of players who get overlooked by players, coaches and fans for the work that they've done over their NFL careers.

    The purpose of this slideshow is to examine 10 players who might get overlooked by fans and the media or be "underrated" for what they've done.

    There are players on this slideshow who have been recognized for their work with the honor of being named to a Pro Bowl. But in this writer's opinion, a player recognized with one or two Pro Bowl trips can still be considered underrated.

    With that out of the way, here are 10 defensive players, in no particular order, who are underrated.

Chad Greenway, OLB, Minnesota Vikings

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    That Chad Greenway wasn’t a member of the 2011 NFC Pro Bowl roster is unbelievable.

    Greenway was fourth in the league and led the NFC with 144 tackles. He’s a solid at defending the pass and even better at stopping the run.

    Sure, no one will ever mistake Greenway for Green Bay outside linebacker Clay Matthews when it comes to pass rushing (Greenway has 6.5 sacks in five healthy NFL seasons while Matthews had 13.5 last season).  

    Since suffering a season-ending ACL injury on the first kickoff of Minnesota’s first preseason game in 2006, Greenway has only had one season in the past five in which he recorded fewer than 100 tackles (he had 99 tackles in 2009). But every other season he’s had 100 or more tackles and has been the dictionary definition of durable—he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season. 

Tramon Williams, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    Williams was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011 and it could be the first of many for the fifth-year corner from Louisiana Tech.

    He posted six interceptions in 2010 which was tied for fifth best in the league and led the Packers—a team that also features top-tier cornerback Charles Woodson.

    Williams has played in all 16 games every year of his career and over the past three seasons he’s averaged five interceptions (15 total). That’s more interceptions over the same period of time than New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (11),  Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (2), Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (6), and New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (8). 

Donte Whitner, S, San Francisco 49ers

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    Whitner led all safeties with 140 tackles in the 2010 season. Yet Whitner was left off of the 2011 Pro Bowl roster…it doesn’t help that he played for the lowly Bills last season. But 140 tackles for a linebacker is impressive, let alone a safety.

    Part of why Whitner is undervalued is that he’s only played all 16 games of the NFL season once in his six NFL seasons. He’s had two seasons of 15 games played and those two years he posted over 85 tackles (104 tackles in 2006, 89 tackles in 2007). 

    Interceptions and sacks are rare for Whitner as he only has five interceptions and 1.5 sacks in his career. But he does his job well and deserves more credit for his body of work.

Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona Cardinals

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    Like many of the players on this list, it’s not like Wilson has never been named to a Pro Bowl. He has been named to three Pro Bowls. But when his name is spoken, does it resonate with fans as one of the top safeties in the league?

    For some, yes. For others, not so much. But it should.

    Over his 10-year career he’s a four time Pro Bowl member, 2009 First Team All-Pro and has only two seasons with less than 74 tackles. His interception and sack totals don’t jump off the page (22 sacks and 25 interceptions in 10 years) but the body of work should.

T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns

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    Many people remember TJ Ward from his destructive hit on then-Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson in 2008 while Ward roamed the defensive backfield as a safety for Oregon.

    In his rookie campaign of 2010 Ward did more of the same for the Cleveland Browns.

    He finished 2010 with 123 tackles, 14th best in the NFL and second most by a safety. The two interceptions aren’t overly impressive, but based upon his 2010 performance Ward is on his way to reverence as one of the game’s hardest hitting safeties.

    It’s not that Ward is underrated, but 123 tackles for a rookie safety deserves more attention. Part of the problem was that it was done on a Cleveland Browns team that went 6-10. Look to hear more about Ward in 2011.

E.J. Henderson, MLB, Minnesota Vikings

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    If not for injuries Henderson would have had 100 tackles the past five seasons. Instead he endured a season-ending toe injury in 2008 and played in only four games. But he had 27 tackles in those four games which equates to 108 tackles if he had played the full 16 games.

    In 2009 Henderson had a Pro Bowl caliber season through 12 games when he fractured his femur against the Arizona Cardinals. Through 12 games he had 83 tackles (6.92 tackles per game) which equates to over 110 tackles in a 16-game season.

    Despite the injuries, Henderson’s been the quarterback of the Vikings defense which has been a top 10 team against the run for the past five seasons and was the No. 1 team for three years (2006-2009). And while the Williams wall of Pat and Kevin deserves much credit for clogging up the middle from the defensive tackle position, Henderson seemingly gets overlooked.

Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Grimes has as many interceptions (11) in the past two seasons as New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (11) has in the past three seasons and more than Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (6), New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (8), and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (2) have in the past three seasons.

    Grimes has more tackles (153) in the past two seasons than Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (94), New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (86), and as many tackles as Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

    Grimes was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl roster, which is a start towards giving him recognition.

    But Grimes is the No. 1 cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons, the team with the best record in the NFC in 2010, which should warrant recognition—despite the aerial show Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game put on the Falcons during the 55-14 route in the playoffs last season.

David Hawthorne, MLB, Seattle Seahawks

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    The past two seasons Hawthorne has started for Seattle and posted 100-plus tackles each of those years (117 in 2009 and 106 in 2010).

    The problem for Hawthorne is that simply being a stud tackler isn’t enough to get recognition. The past two seasons the third-year linebacker from Texas Christian has had four sacks (all came in 2009) and four interceptions. It also doesn’t help that the Seattle defense as a whole was poor in 2010 (28th against the pass and 21st against the run).

    If Hawthorne adds some interceptions and sacks to his resume in 2011 he’ll get more recognition—recognition that is already deserved but just hasn’t come yet.

James Laurinaitis, MLB, St. Louis Rams

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    At Ohio State Laurinaitis posted three straight seasons of 100-plus tackles and hasn’t had a football season with less than 100 tackles since his freshman year at Ohio State.

    Laurinaitis was a second round pick in 2009 (35th overall) and burst into the NFL posting 120 tackles his rookie season and 114 his sophomore year.

    Maybe it’s because he’s played on the lowly St. Louis Rams. Maybe it’s because he has only five sacks over his first two NFL seasons. Maybe it’s because he has three interceptions in his career.

    Whatever the reason for why he hasn’t gained much recognition, if Laurinaitis does more of the same in 2011 then he needs to receive more recognition for it.

    Especially if the Rams make a push for the playoffs like many think they can.

Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Yes, Winfield was a member of the past three NFC Pro Bowl rosters which should suggest that he’s not underrated. It would suggest that he does receive the recognition for his work. But hear me out.

    Over the past seven seasons with Minnesota Winfield has only had less than 85 tackles twice and those two years he played only 10 games.

    Two of his last three years with the Buffalo Bills he had 80 tackles or more. In 2003, his last season with Buffalo, he had 107 tackles. That many tackles by a cornerback, and no Pro Bowl recognition? That’s garbage.

    Recently, Winfield has received the proper recognition for his work. At 5’9”, 180 pounds Winfield is an extremely physical player who stuffs the run better than any corner in the league.

    Part of Winfield’s lack of recognition probably has to do with his lack of interceptions. Interceptions are sexy. Doing one’s job, like filling a hole as a running back enters it and stuffing the running back for no gain, isn’t sexy. But Winfield does his job at an elite level and often gets left out of the discussion of top corners in the NFL.