The Best-Kept Secret on Every NFL Roster
Superstars get most of the love, but NFL teams are stitched together by above-average players who may never get their due. This article is an active salute to every franchise's unheralded anchor.
For some teams, that may be a young player who's slowly working up the depth chart. For others, it could be a veteran role player. Either way, these athletes help their teams on Sundays and influence offseason decisions, even if they aren't Aaron Rodgers or Odell Beckham Jr.
They're the offensive linemen or defensive tackles who aren't mentioned much by color commentators, the skill players who aren't picked up in fantasy football leagues and the late-round picks who bloom into starters.
Arizona Cardinals: Olsen Pierre, Defensive Lineman
In his first two seasons in the NFL, undrafted free agent Olsen Pierre was unable to get on the field. Last season, Pierre finished with 11.5 tackles at or behind the line. That number ranked behind only Chandler Jones (29) and Corey Peters (12) for Arizona in 2017.
Under defensive coordinator James Bettcher, the Cardinals had not had a full-time 3-technique role for any defensive tackle for several years. This is one reason why Pierre played just 33 percent of Arizona's defensive snaps, despite his production.
New Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks, formerly the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator, will bring a 4-3 defense and a full-time penetrating defensive line role to the desert. That can only mean good things for Pierre, who is one of the brightest young players at the position.
Atlanta Falcons: Brian Poole, Cornerback
Dan Quinn's last season as a college defensive coordinator was 2012 with the Florida Gators. That happened to be cornerback Brian Poole's true freshman season at Florida. When Poole went undrafted in 2016, his former defensive coordinator picked him up as a potential slot cornerback.
Since that signing, the 5'9" defensive back has played 1,465 defensive snaps for the Atlanta Falcons. Poole's story is a perfect example of scouting and projection into highly specific roles.
Quinn essentially found a full-time starter in college free agency. Only six Falcons (Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and Desmond Trufant) have played more defensive snaps over the last two years than Poole.
Baltimore Ravens: Willie Henry, Defensive Lineman
Baltimore's defensive line is so deep that who is on the field varies a lot for specific packages, a rarity in today's NFL with three-down nickel-heavy linemen. When you think of the Ravens' nickel front, Brandon Williams, one of the league's best nose tackles, and Michael Pierce, the rare splash undrafted free agent signing, likely come to mind.
In reality, Willie Henry, who plays a 3-technique role for Baltimore, played more snaps for the Ravens than any other defensive lineman in 2017. Henry found himself on the field for 55 percent of Baltimore's defensive snaps even though he only "started" three games last year.
Henry's penetration-specific role, compared to Williams and Pierce who are mostly run-stuffers, is valuable enough to fit into a lot of sub-packages. Considering Baltimore's depth at other defensive line roles, he may be missed more than any of the team's other defensive linemen if he were to miss games for injury.
Buffalo Bills: Jordan Poyer, Safety
It's difficult to find a hidden gem in Buffalo. Their top players are either paid to be top players or were high draft picks. There isn't a Day 3 pick who emerged as a homegrown rookie contract stud on this Bills roster.
A player who is underappreciated, though, is safety Jordan Poyer. Like fellow safety Micah Hyde, Poyer signed a free-agent contract with Buffalo last offseason. After he posted just 10 starts, two interceptions and six pass deflections in four seasons in Cleveland, Poyer's first year in Buffalo included career highs of 15 starts, five interceptions and 13 pass deflections.
Poyer, Hyde and Tre'Davious White, a first-round rookie cornerback, gave the Bills secondary a facelift in 2017. Poyer's contribution to that trio should not be overlooked.
Carolina Panthers: Taylor Moton, Offensive Lineman
Despite playing just 63 offensive snaps in his rookie season, sophomore offensive lineman Taylor Moton is in position to be a major factor for the Carolina Panthers moving forward. Andrew Norwell, a guard who played every offensive snap for Carolina last year, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, opening up a competition for a starting guard slot.
Moton and Amini Silatolu, who played 23 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps last year, should be the two top candidates for the opening. Long-term, Moton could push Matt Kalil out of the left tackle slot. Kalil struggled in his first year with Carolina after signing a $55.5 million deal. According to Spotrac, Kalil's dead cap will be higher than his cap hit until 2020, meaning the Panthers have their hands tied until then.
In two years, maybe after seeing some playing time at guard, Moton could kick out to tackle to replace Kalil. We've seen the college tackle to starting guard to starting tackle plan in action before in the NFL. Look for Moton to follow a La'el Collins-like path to offensive tackle.
Chicago Bears: Charles Leno, Offensive Lineman
Among starting veteran offensive linemen, the only left tackle with a lower cap hit than Chicago's Charles Leno this year will be Alejandro Villanueva. Leno has only made $10.7 million to this point in his career. Sixteen different offensive linemen have higher cap hits than $10.7 million alone this year.
Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.
Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Kroft, Tight End
Tyler Eifert is typically thought of as Cincinnati's top tight end. The once-promising pass-catcher has sustained so many injuries over the years, though, that he is playing on a one-year, $5.5 million contract at just 27 years old.
Eifert's insurance policy is Tyler Kroft, a 25-year-old 2015 third-round pick from Rutgers who posted 404 yards and seven receiving touchdowns last season. As far as insurance policies go, there aren't many who had the numbers Kroft did in 2017. Just five other tight ends league-wide recorded seven receiving touchdowns, and only Jimmy Graham (10 TDs) surpassed that total by more than two.
While Eifert has a higher upside, the combination of Eifert's potential and the safety net of Kroft allowed the Bengals to double down on Eifert's future on a short-term deal.
Cleveland Browns: Larry Ogunjobi, Defensive Lineman
After the trade of Danny Shelton to the New England Patriots, the Cleveland Browns' top interior defender is Larry Ogunjobi, even if he isn't proven as a full-time starter. Now a second-year under tackle, Ogunjobi earns his keep by making plays in the backfield.
Last year, despite playing just 28 percent of Cleveland's defensive snaps, Ogunjobi finished the year with 16 tackles at or behind the line. That number ranks behind only Emmanuel Ogbah (18 tackles) among Cleveland line-of-scrimmage defenders.
Ogunjobi should play an increased role in 2018, as the loss of Shelton (who played 44 percent of defensive snaps) will give the high-efficiency, low-snap player more playing time.
Dallas Cowboys: Jeff Heath, Safety
A 2013 undrafted free agent out of Division II's Saginaw Valley State, Jeff Heath went from an obscure special teamer to a full-time starter last season. Heath played 880 defensive snaps last year, the second-most on the Dallas Cowboys, while also playing a majority of special teams snaps.
Heath ranked 28th out of 45 qualifying free safeties in Bleacher Report's NFL1000 series this season. He isn't Earl Thomas, but his baseline emergence does benefit the team. For example, it's unlikely former first-round pick Byron Jones would move to cornerback, as the team has said is the plan this offseason, if Heath didn't take the next step last season.
His contract is also noteworthy. Heath is in the third year of a four-year contract in which his cap hit will never be more than $2.45 million. For the number of snaps he's playing, he's one of the best veteran values in the NFL.
Denver Broncos: Shaquil Barrett, Edge Defender
You're going to hear a lot about Denver's pass-rushing unit this season. The Broncos already had the all-world talent of Von Miller but doubled down on the position by selecting North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb with the fifth overall pick in the draft. Behind that duo are 2015 first-round pick Shane Ray and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Shaquil Barrett.
The Broncos tendered Barrett this offseason after the former undrafted free agent finished out a nine-start season that pushed his career sack mark to 11. In total, Barrett has made 40 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage over the last three years, the most of any line-of-scrimmage defender in Denver other than Miller.
At the moment, Barrett is one of the best third or fourth pass-rushing options in the sport. By this time next year, he could be your team's starting outside linebacker.
Detroit Lions: Kerry Hyder, Edge Defender
Kerry Hyder missed the 2017 regular season after sustaining a season-ending injury in the preseason, but his 2016 regular-season effort should not be forgotten. He led the Detroit Lions in sacks with eight and in tackles at or behind the line with 12.
In a down year for Ezekiel Ansah, Hyder was the Lions' top defensive lineman. In his absence in 2017, Anthony Zettel recorded 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles at or behind the line opposite Ansah. Hyder and Zettel should compete for playing time in 2017.
Who knows what Hyder would have looked like next to an in-rhythm Ansah, though? If Hyder wins the starting role next to a healthy Ansah, a season of double-digit sacks is not out of the question.
Green Bay Packers: Dean Lowry, Defensive Lineman
Last season, Green Bay defensive lineman Dean Lowry played 47 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps. Jake Ryan, one of the "3-4" team's inside linebackers, played just 48 percent of snaps in 2017.
Dom Capers' penetrating 3-4 scheme is much different than new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's more traditional defense, which means there will likely be more looks with three interior linemen in Green Bay in 2018 than in the recent past. If Muhammad Wilkerson, whose effort has been very hot and cold over the last two years, does not pan out, those extra reps will go to Lowry, who already is making an impact for the Packers.
In two seasons since being drafted as a fourth-rounder, Lowry has made 13.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, fifth among Green Bay's line-of-scrimmage defenders. 2016 first-round pick Kenny Clark is fourth with 16.5.
Houston Texans: Seantrel Henderson, Offensive Lineman
Seantrel Henderson wasn't great as a starter in Buffalo, but he was a bookend who got them out of some games without a disaster situation.
The 2017 Houston Texans were an absolute disaster situation on the offensive line. While the addition of guard Zach Fulton gives them a full-time starter on the interior, the Texans still have the weakest offensive tackle tandem in the league.
After the trade of Duane Brown, the Texans are left with second-year fourth-round pick Julie'n Davenport, rookie third-round pick Martinas Rankin and Henderson as the notable offensive tackles on the roster. Henderson would likely be a swing tackle for most NFL teams, but in Houston, he might be a 16-game starter.
If quarterback Deshaun Watson can simply survive and advance with Henderson at right tackle, Houston fans should be happy. The Texans basically sat out the 2017 free-agency period and the 2018 NFL draft, so there's not much more they could have asked for (outside of keeping Brown).
Indianapolis Colts: Chris McCain, Edge Defender
The Indianapolis Colts' pass-rushing unit will be more competitive this season than in 2017. Over the last two years, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis and Tarell Basham have been drafted in the top 100 by Indianapolis. In the 2017 free-agency period, the team added Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, who played significant snaps last year.
The overlooked player in the pass-rushing room, though, is former Los Angeles Charger Chris McCain. The poster boy for the NFL's sub-240-pound pass-rushers, McCain recorded nine tackles at or behind the line while playing behind the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
That nine-tackle number is neck and neck with Simon's 11 tackles as a nine-game starter, all while McCain only played 23 percent of the Chargers' defensive snaps last season. Why Los Angeles gave up McCain, who was technically a restricted free agent, is a big question mark.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Tommy Bohanon, Fullback
Every major defender in Jacksonville is a borderline superstar at this point, so we have to turn our attention to the offensive side of the ball for a Jaguars hidden gem. There, Tommy Bohanon played 273 offensive snaps last season, the third-most for an NFL fullback.
More than half of the NFL's touchdowns are scored from inside 10-yard lines. With the assist of Bohanon, running back Leonard Fournette carried the ball 26 times for 10 touchdowns last season inside the 10. Bohanon also ran for two touchdowns on three carries inside the 10 and caught a touchdown in the divisional round.
Fullbacks may not make or break most teams, but Bohanon was absolutely a contributor on a Jacksonville team that wants to be closer to a throwback squad than a new-age offense.
Kansas City Chiefs: Chris Conley, Receiver
The forgotten skill player in Kansas City is wide receiver Chris Conley. With Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins on the roster, Conley will be the third receiver for the Chiefs, buried behind the personalities of new starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt.
Still, Conley has 21 starts under his belt, including 16 in the last 21 games he's been healthy for. In a contract year on a loaded roster, expect him to produce enough for Kansas City to cash in a compensatory pick for the outgoing pass-catcher.
In 2016, Conley's last healthy season, he posted 530 receiving yards and 44 receptions, making him one of only nine sophomore receivers to hit those marks.
Los Angeles Chargers: Trevor Williams, Cornerback
Injuries to cornerback Jason Verrett stalled a once-promising career. In recent years, the Los Angeles Chargers have had to lean on other cornerbacks, notably Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams, to get the job done. Hayward, a Pro Bowler, has been acknowledged for the strides he has made with the Chargers, but Williams has been overlooked.
Joining the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Williams has started 20 games. The expectations for him should have been little to nothing. Despite that, he has outplayed 2015 third-round pick Craig Mager and gives Los Angeles a safety net behind Verrett in case another major injury comes his way.
Los Angeles Rams: Matt Longacre, Edge Defender
The Los Angeles Rams have had a lot of turnover at the pass-rusher position. Connor Barwin and Chris Long walked, while Robert Quinn and William Hayes were traded. At the moment, only hybrid lineman-linebacker Ethan Westbrooks and Matt Longacre make up the veteran outside linebacker unit.
Longacre recorded 5.5 sacks last season despite starting just one game, but the Rams may have to rely on him to be a full-time starter this year with just Westbrooks, Samson Ebukam, Ejuan Price, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Trevon Young to push him for playing time. Ebukam is a second-year fourth-round pick out of Eastern Washington, while Price, Okoronkwo and Young have all been drafted in the fifth round or later over the last two draft classes.
The Rams and the New York Jets are the thinnest teams at pass-rushing positions. Sure, Los Angeles' defensive line will be stacked this season, but they will still be starting two outside linebackers. In reality, Longacre will likely play more snaps than Michael Brockers this year.
Miami Dolphins: William Hayes, Edge Defender
Since 2012, only eight defenders have recorded at least 27 sacks and at least 68 other tackles at or behind the line. Those players are J.J. Watt, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Bennett, Calais Campbell, Muhammad Wilkerson, Kyle Williams, Aaron Donald and William Hayes.
Yes, Hayes belongs to an elite group of defensive linemen. That's surprising because we don't do a good job of presenting influential plays that defensive linemen make outside of sacks. Hayes' run game penetration value is elite.
However, he played over 50 percent of Miami's defensive snaps in just one game (at Baltimore) despite making crucial plays all season that helped lead to wins, like against the Atlanta Falcons. The addition of Robert Quinn to an already crowded defensive end room could push Hayes further down the depth chart, but at worst, he will be a high-efficiency, low-rep player in 2018.
Minnesota Vikings: Andrew Sendejo, Safety
There are stars on every level of the Minnesota Vikings defense. Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson should make up one of the most dominant defensive lines in the league. Behind them will be off-ball linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, one of the league's best tandems. In the secondary, Harrison Smith was arguably the league's top safety last season, while cornerback Xavier Rhodes continues to shine.
The most underrated piece on the Vikings defense is safety Andrew Sendejo. Once thought of as a liability, Sendejo has made 11 pass deflections and four interceptions over the last two years after recording just six pass deflections and two interceptions in his first six seasons in the NFL.
With a cap hit of just $3.5 million, Sendejo ranks 30th in veteran safety cap hits. He ranks one slot ahead of Seattle's Bradley McDougald, who may not start a game this season if Kam Chancellor stays healthy. As a bang-for-your-buck value, Sendejo isn't talked about enough.
New England Patriots: Cordarrelle Patterson, Kick Returner
The New England Patriots traded for former first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason. The former Minnesota Viking and Oakland Raider is better suited as a return specialist than the hybrid receiver-back role he was projected to play when he came out of the University of Tennessee.
An afterthought as an offensive skill player, Patterson still has high potential as a kick returner. In the 2000s, only three players (Josh Cribbs, Leon Washington and Dante Hall) have recorded more kick return touchdowns than Patterson has in his five years in the league. If Patterson continues to average one kick return touchdown per year, he will stand alone as the NFL's all-time kick return touchdown leader by 2021, as a 30-year-old.
A few facts show how dominant Patterson has been as a kick returner:
- He has five kick return touchdowns under his belt since 2013, while no one else has more than two.
- His 4,721 kick return yards since 2013 is 1,759 yards more than the next highest active player (Dwayne Harris.)
- His 31.3 yards per kick return is the highest of any player with 20 or more returns since 2013.
If there is a way to exploit new kickoff rules, the Patriots, with the help of Patterson, will likely be on the right side of the exploiting.
New Orleans Saints: David Onyemata, Defensive Lineman
After the trade up for UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport in 2018 draft, the New Orleans Saints will start three first-rounders on their defensive line this year. The open slot on their depth chart, nose tackle, includes a high-end sleeper: David Onyemata.
Onyemata was drafted in the fourth round in 2016 out of Canada's University of Manitoba. Despite playing just 57 percent of New Orleans' defensive snaps last year, virtually equal to Tyeler Davison (56 percent) and well behind Sheldon Rankins (77 percent), Onyemata led the Saints' defensive interior with 12 tackles at or behind the line in 2017.
If Onyemata can earn a full-time starting role on New Orleans' new and improved line, with players like Davison and Alex Okafor coming off the bench, the unit could be one of the best in the league. Currently, he's a low-rep, high-efficiency player. If he can prove to replicate the same production as a high-rep player, he won't be an unknown going into 2019.
New York Giants: Avery Moss, Edge Defender
The New York Giants traded Jason Pierre-Paul, arguably their best pass-rusher, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. That opened up a competition for the starting pass-rushing role opposite Olivier Vernon.
New defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who was the outside linebackers coach or defensive coordinator in Arizona since 2013, may lean toward giving the job to Kareem Martin, who was signed by the Giants this offseason and played with the Cardinals from 2014 to 2017. With that being said, Martin has recorded only 3.5 sacks over his four years in the NFL.
So, look for 2017 fifth-round pick Avery Moss to join the starting lineup. Moss played 248 snaps for the Giants from Week 5 on last year, more than any pass-rusher on the team not named Pierre-Paul or Vernon. You may not know his name, but there will be a starting opportunity for Moss in 2018.
New York Jets: Steve McLendon, Defensive Lineman
The New York Jets have had to replace defensive linemen after moving on from Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson over the last three offseasons. That could not have happened without the contribution of Steve McLendon, a hit free-agent signing from Pittsburgh.
In 2017, McLendon recorded 16.5 tackles at or behind the line—the most for any line-of-scrimmage defender on the Jets roster. Though he was playing on a veteran contract, McLendon's cap hit was less than $4 million, an absolute steal relative to market value. For reference, McLendon's 2018 cap hit ($4.3 million) ranks 377th in the league, tied with the likes of Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley.
McLendon, and his ability to play above his contract value, has been a steal for New York. Look for him to cash in next offseason on what could be his final contract.
Oakland Raiders: Ryan Switzer, Returner
During the draft, Ryan Switzer was traded from the Cowboys to the Oakland Raiders for 2016 second-round defensive lineman Jihad Ward. Switzer, a 2017 fourth-rounder, caught just six balls for 41 receptions as a rookie.
Switzer's impact on the passing game is not why the Raiders traded for him, though. He recorded 600 yards as a kick returner and 256 yards as a punt returner, including one punt return touchdown. After it traded Cordarrelle Patterson to New England, Oakland had an opening for a return specialist.
New Raiders assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia left Dallas for Oakland this offseason, which may have played into Switzer's following Bisaccia's path. Look for Switzer and Dwayne Harris, another standout return man, to push each other for playing time.
Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles, Quarterback
You know what's really hard to find? A secret on a team that just won the Super Bowl.
The player who may sneakily be more significant than people realize, though, is quarterback Nick Foles. The general consensus is Carson Wentz will return from injury and instantly assume the Eagles' starting quarterback spot again, but many ACL injuries have taken longer than expected to heal.
A backup plan like Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, is a great insurance policy. Philadelphia clearly thinks so, too, as Howie Roseman has been using creative methods to manipulate the salary cap but was still willing to rope off $13.6 million for Foles.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Tyson Alualu, Defensive Lineman
The Pittsburgh Steelers played more true 3-4 defensive looks last year than I can remember a modern NFL defense playing in years. With standout 5-technique defensive ends like Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, it made sense.
Many assumed 2016 third-round pick Javon Hargrave would become the third man in the defensive line room. That was the case, up until the free-agency addition of 2010 first-round pick Tyson Alualu.
Last year, Hargrave played 455 snaps to Alualu's 434, making them close to equals. While Hargrave is mentioned with some of the league's top defensive linemen, Alualu was overlooked as he became a contributor to a defense that helped the team finish 13-3.
San Francisco 49ers: George Kittle, Tight End
The talk about Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco is warranted, but George Kittle's contribution to the team's late-season winning streak should be noted, too. Despite starting just seven games, Kittle became one of four rookie tight ends since 2011 to post 515 receiving yards and two touchdowns. While that doesn't seem extraordinary on paper, on the scale of rookie tight ends, Kittle has an elite start on the competition.
Only one player in recent history, 2008 first-round pick Dustin Keller, posted more production at tight end with fewer starts than Kittle. After putting up just two 40-yard games in the first 14 weeks of the season, Kittle found a groove with Garoppolo and registered 194 yards in the last three weeks.
If Kittle can come close to recording 70 yards per game as a sophomore, he's going to become one of the biggest Day 3 steals in years.
Seattle Seahawks: Jarran Reed, Defensive Lineman
Nothing is stable in Seattle at the moment, but one player who will help the Seahawks in this transitional phase is nose tackle Jarran Reed. After jumping from six starts as a rookie in 2016 to 15 in 2017, Reed will join Frank Clark—a third pass-rusher until last season—as the anchors to the Seahawks defensive line.
The departures of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson left holes up front. Add in the loss of cornerback Richard Sherman and the questions about strong safety Kam Chancellor's future, and only more of the load will fall on Reed's shoulders.
Among returning Seattle defensive linemen, only Clark (34 tackles) has recorded more tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage than Reed (17.5) over the last two years. Reed has already established himself as one of the top players on the defensive depth chart, no matter if he can fully replace the likes of Avril or Bennett.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin, Receiver
Unless you own him in your dynasty league, you've probably forgotten about Chris Godwin already. The 2017 third-round pick out of Penn State ranked sixth in receptions during his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, registering 34 catches for 525 yards and one touchdown. His 15.4 yards per reception were also more than any of the Bucs who caught more passes than him.
That is to say, with the ball in his hands, Godwin looked like an NFL starter. Slot receiver Adam Humphries commands the third wide receiver role on a team that has invested heavily in two tight ends, but in Year 2, Godwin might elbow Humphries out of the rotation and assume some of the 83 targets and 61 receptions Humphries posted last year.
Long-term, Godwin could move up from a fourth receiver to a second receiver, as the 31-year-old DeSean Jackson's skill set, which is based on speed, should not age well. So while you may have forgotten about Godwin after your team passed on him in the draft, he is valuable to the Buccaneers moving forward.
Tennessee Titans: Quinton Spain, Offensive Lineman
Since Quinton Spain signed as an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia in 2015, he has started 33 games at left guard for the Tennessee Titans. According to Pro Football Reference's approximate value metric, Spain has been more valuable over the last three seasons than all but three Titans draft picks: quarterback Marcus Mariota, offensive tackle Jack Conklin and safety Kevin Byard.
On a loaded offensive line and overshadowed by the likes of Conklin, Taylor Lewan and Ben Jones, Spain is rarely noticed. Among young players on the Titans roster, though, Spain ranks highly. The team got a steal when it snagged the starting-caliber offensive lineman three years ago.
Washington: Matt Ioannidis, Defensive Lineman
Matt Ioannidis went from a fifth-round pick to a 10-game starter in two years. In the NFL, that is not normal, especially at a position with as much leaguewide depth as defensive line.
Ioannidis, the 152nd pick in the 2016 draft, recorded 4.5 sacks for Washington last season. To put that into perspective, only one other player, Anthony Zettel, was drafted later in 2016 and recorded more sacks. Zettel is also a 4-3 defensive end, while Ioannidis worked in the interior. Only one other interior defender selected later than Ioannidis recorded a sack last season, and Houston's D.J. Reader only posted one.
The losses of Chris Baker last year and Terrell McClain this offseason have put some stress on the team's younger defensive linemen, but the Temple product has played well for Washington.