It is easy for certain players to get lost in the shadow of guys like Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Roman Harper. We also tend to undervalue certain players because they do not put up massive numbers like Brees or Graham.
I do not believe that any Saints fan would dispute the fact that the Saints are the definition of an unselfish team. Every player is more concerned about the team winning games than their own personal stat column. The reason for that is the locker room atmosphere that has been created and maintained by guys like Brees, Will Smith and Johnathan Vilma.
Some guys get little or even no recognition for how well they play because the Saints roster is filled with guys who are the best at their respective position. Even Saints fans are too tough on some players because we have learned to expect excellence from every position on the football field.
I am not saying that extremely high expectations are a bad thing, but we tend to under appreciate some guys when they actually deserve a ton of credit for how they have played. Some are starters who we constantly say are not doing well enough, and others are backups who have outperformed the starter ahead of them at certain times.
There are plenty of players on the Saints' current roster who deserve a lot more credit from the Who Dat Nation, but five stick out above the rest. So let's give them some well-earned recognition.
All three of these guys could be on this list, but I think that they already get a little more credit than some other guys.
I believe that Strief is valued about right by the national media and Saints fans. Most people know that Strief has been a long time backup, knows the playbook and has played relatively well this year. He typically is not a weakness on the Saints' offensive line and is given credit as being that guy pretty consistently. At this point, Strief has received some recognition for what he has accomplished as a first-year starter.
I did not include Charleston on this list because just about every Saints fan I know loves Charleston. He is a fan favorite, and most dedicated Saints fans can tell you who he is and that just about every time he's on the field, a big play happens. He may never be a dominate defensive end, but he is a high-motor guy and will give you everything that he has on every play of the game. That is why fans, and Saints coaches, love this guy. He gets some credit, but I do wish that more people knew just how passionate of a player this guy is.
I think Robinson has received a lot of criticism this year, and most of it has been deserved. However, we need to remember that this is a second-year guy. He is young and still learning the game. Robinson also plays in a defense in which Williams preaches aggressiveness and turnovers. If you watch the games, most of Robinson's mistakes come from being too aggressive and trying to do too much. Yes, he has missed tackles and looked out of place too, but so do a ton of other second-year players.
I strongly believe that Robinson will develop into a fantastic nickel corner and will constantly challenge Tracy Porter for the No. 2 spot at cornerback. Robinson deserves some of the criticism, but we also need to give him a little credit for the good things we've seen from him.
Brian de la Puente has stepped in and done fantastic this year. I normally know every single Saints player and at least a little about them, but this guy literally came out of nowhere for me. I fully expected Matt Tennant to be the backup for Olin Kreutz at the beginning of the year.
However, when I heard Puente's name in the preseason, I began to watch him and really pay attention to how he played. I was impressed with his play in the preseason and thought of him as a solid backup guard and center.
Whenever Kreutz went down with injury, Puente came in and played better than Kruetz had all year. He played so well that the coaches told Kreutz that he would be a backup and Kreutz decided he wanted to leave the Saints. Thus far, the Saints have not missed Kreutz.
I believe that Puente is highly underrated and undervalued because of the perception that he is a weakness on the Saints' offensive line. I heard Trent Dilfer say on Monday Night Countdown that Puente is a liability on that Saints offensive line. I honestly could not believe that I heard that.
Puente's reputation comes from the fact that he plays between Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, the best guard tandem in the NFL. It is very possible that he has played so well because of these two guys, but I don't remember Kreutz, a potential Hall of Famer, playing this well between the same two guards.
It is time for Puente to step out of the shadows cast by Nicks and Evans and claim the recognition that he has earned this year.
I absolutely love Tom Johnson. He has not had a lot of playing time, and I believe that is why he is undervalued. Ever since the preseason I have been impressed with Johnson's play.
This is a guy who has earned his way into the NFL. He has previously played in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League after being drafted in 2006 by the Indianapolis Colts. Johnson played his way to being a CFL West All-Star last year and the Saints took notice.
Johnson plays the game with high intensity and gives a ton of effort. I have seen him tackle running backs going down the sideline and throw offensive linemen out of the way as if they were rag dolls.
There have been times this season when I wouldn't mind seeing Johnson get the start over Shaun Rogers or Aubrayo Franklin. I believe that the difference between Johnson and these other guys is that he is hungry. Johnson wants a chance to be the guy and I think he is on his way to earning that shot.
Johnson was injured at the beginning of the season, but since Week 7 he has been a constant contributor. I look for Johnson to be a lot more involved as the season continues and possibly transform into the Saints starter.
I think that Johnson has the skill set and, more importantly, the desire to be a great NFL player. It is about time that we start paying attention to him when he's on the field.
Please tell me who expected this kid to come in and do what he has done this year.
The Saints chose to not bring back full back Heath Evans in the offseason, and instead signed Korey Hall away from the Green Bay Packers. Collins was brought in as an unrestricted free agent. He has bounced around training camp after training camp since being undrafted in 2008. Before finally landing in New Orleans, Collins had been a part of seven other practice squads or training camps.
The Saints got a steal with this guy. He performed so well in the preseason that he has started over Hall all season. He also has three touchdowns this year and is the lead blocker for the eighth-ranked rushing attack. I am sure that the Saints had no idea they would be getting this type of player when they brought Collins into training camp.
Collins is the prototypical full back for an offense like the Saints have. He can block very well on run plays and during passing attempts. He is also athletic enough to catch passes out of the backfield, carry the ball himself and lead the way blocking on screens.
Collins is surely to be the Saints' full back for a long time to come and is becoming a very important part of the offense in New Orleans.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar has been absolutely amazing in Vilma's absence. He was already playing at a high level as an outside linebacker and special teamer, but he has blossomed since becoming the full-time middle linebacker.
When compared to Vilma, Dunbar is much closer to that of a typical middle linebacker. He is a big, strong player who closes the gaps and makes tackles every time he gets the chance. I am not sure that I have seen Dunbar miss a tackle this season. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I know that if Dunbar is playing, I do not have to worry about problems in that position.
I think that Vilma is a much better leader than Dunbar and controls the defense more effectively. However, if Dunbar ever develops those types of skills, then the Saints may be able to let Vilma go. That sounds outrageous, especially considering how valuable Vilma has been to the Saints since he came on board, but that is the type of potential that Dunbar has.
No matter how the Saints use Dunbar, or if he ends up with another team, he will be an effective linebacker and deserves to be known as such.
Jermon Bushrod is constantly attacked for being an under-average offensive lineman, by Saints fans and the national media. Everyone seems to have the game in 2009 against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys ingrained into their minds.
People like to forget that in the '09 NFC Championship game, Bushrod held Jared Allen to zero sacks and only two tackles.
Bushrod has had a few notably horrible games, but he has also had just as many fantastic games. He is consistently regarded as the main weakness on the Saints' offensive line, but he has played great for the last couple of years. Bushrod has played so well that the Saints feel comfortable enough to continue to let him guard Drew Brees' backside.
I have also read articles that say Bushrod will never be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but is just an average offensive lineman. I strongly believe that Bushrod is still developing and could very well be in multiple Pro Bowls in the near future.
It is time that New Orleans Saints fans and the national media alike begin to give Bushrod the credit that he has deserved for the last few seasons. Bushrod should continue to be an integral part of the Saints' offensive line for many years to come, and earn Pro Bowls along the way.