NFL 2012 Regular Season: The Most Under-Appreciated Player at every Position

Do you recognize this Arizona Cardinals’ linebacker? I doubt it.

When you play in the world that is the NFL, fans, analysts, commentators, and just general observers often get lost in reputations, statistics, and off-the-field incidents rather than focusing on football. For some players, this is a wonderful thing.

For others however, there is nothing that drives them more than the lack of respect they receive in the national media. For those players, I decided it was time to give them their very own article of recognition. It may not be much, but it’s the thought that counts.

Here are the least appreciated players in the NFL at every position.Quarterback—Kyle Orton

Despite the fact that plenty of Kansas City Chiefs fans were desperate for their franchise to keep Kyle Orton after his brief spell with the team this past season, the 29-year-old veteran is now a backup in Dallas.

Orton hit free agency this year, but received no offers to become a starter anywhere. This made little sense considering how well he had done in Denver as the team’s starter. Orton was labelled a loser for the Broncos because he stockpiled yards when the team was losing.

Instead, the Broncos wanted Tim Tebow and they got what they wanted. The Broncos offense got worse with Tebow under center, but fans were able to point to their winning record to support Tebow over Orton. Orton’s offense in Denver had a lot more consistency over his 33 starts than Tebow’s did.

Admittedly, Tebow’s style of offense helped the defense play better because of his running, but it was largely coincidental that the defense stepped up at that time.

Orton is definitely not a superstar, but he’s in a league with Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Cassel as a potential starter. It’s shocking that he didn’t even get an opportunity to compete.

Honorable Mention:
Mark Sanchez

Fullback—Lawrence Vickers

Basically anyone outside of Vonta Leach fits here. Vickers is probably the second best fullback in the NFL, but after playing most of his career in Cleveland, he’s not well recognized.

He fit right in with the AFC North before becoming Leach’s replacement in Houston for the Texans. This year he has a good chance at getting noticed as he will be the lead blocker for DeMarco Murray in Dallas with the Cowboys.

Just because he’s not a LeRon McClain or Leonard Weaver type, many overlook Vickers, but he is still a good player.

Honorable Mention:
Every single blocking fullback throughout history not named Tony Richardson or Vonta Leach.

Running-Back—Pierre Thomas

The obvious option here was Matt Forte, but how can an obvious option be included in an under appreciated team if the fans appreciate him? Obviously Forte would prefer cash over support but that’s not the way this list works.

It’s difficult enough for receivers in New Orleans to receive credit in their passing offense, so just imagine how hard it must be when you’re a running back not named Darren Sproles.

Thomas may not be Sproles, but he did average over five yards per carry last year with a startling 50 receptions. Thomas is often the odd man out in the backfield, if you discount Chris Ivory who is only used as depth, but he serves a vital role.

He is not as explosive a runner as Mark Ingram, nor is he as dynamic or as elusive as Darren Sproles, but he does offer a combination of both styles. Thomas is an excellent receiving back with the ability to break tackles or consistently carry the ball up the middle with the threat of breaking it outside for a big game.

His versatility is very important to the Saints’ balanced offense.

Honorable Mention:
Matt Forte (duh!)

He may need to work on his route running, but DHB improves from season to season.

Wide Receiver—Darrius Heyward-Bey

Who had more yards last year? Julio Jones, Percy Harvin, DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Dez Bryant, Torrey Smith, Laurent Robinson or Darrius Heyward-Bey?

I’ll rephrase that…

Who is the punchline of more jokes? Julio Jones, Percy Harvin, DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Dez Bryant, Torrey Smith, Laurent Robinson or Darrius Heyward-Bey?

The answer is the same. Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The only person laughing should be Al Davis. RIP.

Honorable Mention:
Nate Washington

Tight End—Heath Miller

Heath Miller was recently ranked by ESPN AFC North Blogger Jamison Hensley as the third best tight end in the division. He was placed behind Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham (fair enough) and the Baltimore Ravens’ Ed Dickson (What????).

The reason for this was that Miller’s production has fallen as of late. For stat heads it has fallen at least. Miller caught 51 passes last year(which is still only three less than Dickson who also had less yards) which ranked him 17th in the whole league.

Miller’s issues aren’t with producing, they are with getting the opportunities to produce. Last year, because of the Steelers’ very talented receivers and lack of talent on the offensive line, Miller spent a significant amount of time blocking in pass situations.

In fact, there were many times when he lined up in the backfield. With Hines Ward gone next year, most of those possession receptions should go to Miller. Maybe then Hensley will pay attention to football rather than picking and choosing from his stat sheet.

Miller will never be recognized on the level of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, but he shouldn’t be disregarded so easily.

Honorable Mention:
Martellus Bennett

Left Tackle—Jared Gaither

Over the past 12 months I have written a lot of articles about Jared Gaither. Prior to last year I believed that re-signing him would be key to the Ravens’ offense. Of course, the Ravens didn’t re-sign him at all and Gaither couldn’t win a job with the Raiders in training camp.

He eventually, after a stint in Kansas City, winded up in San Diego with the Chargers. Gaither is definitely not under appreciated in San Diego as he was directly responsible for Philip Rivers’ return to form towards the end of last season.

Gaither solidified the Chargers’ pass protection and prevented Rivers from being neck deep in defenders every time he dropped into the pocket. If he hadn’t been injured in Baltimore, he likely never would have been let go. He has as much talent as anyone playing left tackle in the NFL.

The Chargers locked him up this off-season, but even then he probably deserved more attention.

Honorable Mention:
Eugene Monroe

Left Guard—Leroy Harris

Leroy Harris isn’t a superstar, nor is he a bad player. Much like the rest of the Titans’ offensive line, he is very undervalued nationally. Harris is actually being shifted to right guard this year to accommodate a player who is atypical of this list, Steve Hutchinson.

That shift could actually aid Harris as he gets more help from his fellow linemen and has an easier role in pass protection. He’s no slouch as a pass protector though and is more than capable of creating holes for Chris Johnson in the running game.

He is versatile enough to play center also.

Honorable Mention:
Evan Mathis

Center—Scott Wells

Generally when people talk about the Green Bay Packers, they talk about the offense. Generally when they talk about the offense, they talk about Aaron Rodgers. Generally when they talk about Aaron Rodgers, they talk about how he overcomes his offensive line. Generally when they talk about the offensive line, they talk about Brian Bulaga and Josh Sitton.

Very few people talk about Scott Wells for the Packers, and they won’t at all now that he is Ram. Wells is a fine center who is obviously going to be overlooked when his quarterback is so talented and the roster is loaded.

Don’t be surprised if the Rams offensive line dramatically improves this year and everyone is wondering how it happened. Don’t worry Scott, I’ve got your back!

Honorable Mention:
John Sullivan

When you’re an offensive lineman and you can’t make the Steelers roster something must be wrong…For Kraig Urbik, it was the evaluation!

Right Guard—Kraig Urbik

After initially being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Urbik was deemed not good enough by that organization for their offensive line. That was an offensive line that was starting Chris Kemoeatu at the time.

Mental.

Today, Urbik is a much better player than Kemoeatu after landing in Buffalo with the Bills. He has the versatility to play either guard or center and showed himself to be a very good two way guard last year.

Honorable Mention:
Antoine Caldwell

Right Tackle—David Stewart

Despite coming in at number four overall in Matt Miller’s right tackle rankings, David Stewart is still consistently overlooked by most NFL fans. Not since 2008 has he been recognized as an all-pro player, which is fair enough considering the presence of Eric Winston, but he surely should have made the Pro Bowl at least once since then.

Stewart is the rare right tackle specimen who excels in pass protection. In today’s NFL, that should be valued a lot more than it is.

Honorable Mention:
Zach Strief

Defensive End—Chris Clemons

After six years wandering from franchise to franchise in the NFL, Chris Clemons eventually was adopted by Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahwaks. During his past two seasons in Seattle, Clemons has been an excellent defensive end.

More often than not people simply look at sack numbers to judge defensive ends. Clemons is a lot more than just a pass rusher though. That said, he still notched 11 sacks in each of the past two seasons. Clemons is a very stout run defender and has what is maybe a unique ability to track tight ends in coverage from the defensive end position when asked to.

Because he is 30 years of age and playing in Seattle, casual NFL fans have no clue who he is.

Honorable Mention:
Jeremy Mincey.

Defensive End—Glenn Dorsey

When you type Glenn Dorsey’s name into Google, the first suggestion that comes up is “Glenn Dorsey bust.” That baffles me. Dorsey definitely doesn’t deserve a hall-of-fame bust just yet, but he is nowhere near a draft bust either.

Dorsey had a dominant season in 2011 against the run despite not notching any sacks. The Chiefs ask their defensive ends to man two gaps in their 3-4 scheme. This makes stuffing the run a priority for Dorsey. Even DeMarcus Ware would struggle to get to the quarterback playing defensive end for the Chiefs, and in reality, he’d probably be completely useless.

Pass rushing isn’t everything people, if it was Jason Babin would be an all-pro….what?…oh

Honorable Mention:
Ray McDonald

Nose Tackle—Kyle Williams

Bet most of you are wondering why I listed San Francisco 49ers diminutive running back Kyle Williams as an under appreciated nose tackle? I guess you could say he is, but no I’m talking about the Kyle Williams in Buffalo.

Over the past few years, Kyle Williams has been a dominant nose tackle. His 5.5 sacks in 2010, from nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, equates to about 20 sacks for an outside linebacker in the same scheme. Williams is an unbelievably powerful football player who can take over football games whether teams try to pass over him or run through him.

He may be moving into a new scheme, and as such new position, next year, but that should only make him even more dominant.

Honorable Mention:
Sione Pouha

Defensive Tackle—Geno Atkins

Atkins isn’t really that under-appreciated, but when you put him in context with the Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh, you have to feel for him. Atkins easily outperformed Suh last year, but got very little credit.

Suh is a sack merchant, he appears to have an allergy towards running backs though, as he regularly doesn’t bother playing the run. Atkins on the other hand may not be as big or physically talented as Suh, but he can take over games as a pass rusher without being a liability in the running game.

As the Bengals defense takes steps forward, Atkins could be the guy to emerge as their leading star.

Honorable Mention:
Jason Jones

Daryl Smith is not the only one in Jacksonville who doesn’t receive the credit he deserves, and I don’t mean MJD.

Outside Linebacker—Daryl Smith

Outside of the guys over at Pro Football Focus, nobody really recognizes the skills of Daryl Smith. In fact, Smith is the Jaguars’ defense in a nutshell. Just like his teammates, his talent is underrated and his performances aren’t respected.

The fact he only gets roughly 3.5 sacks per season is obviously not working in his favor, but outside linebackers in 4-3 systems are generally not getting much opportunities to rush the passer from week to week.

Smith has played for the Jaguars for a long time, so I’m sure he’s well used to being overlooked, but that doesn’t make it okay either.

Honorable Mention:
Erin Henderson

Outside Linebacker—Sam Acho

While Sam Acho did not match the sack numbers of fellow rookie, and limelight stealer, Aldon Smith, he did have an incredible rookie season that was overlooked because of Smith and Von Miller. If Acho had gone in the first round, everyone would be talking about how he was going to be an amazing player.

Aldon Smith may have been a great pass rusher, but he did not play as many snaps as Acho. Acho showed off an all around game for the Cardinals and has already proven that he can be an every down player from week to week for the Cardinals.

As much as Smith’s numbers are made to look better because he had fewer opportunities to get to the quarterback, it also shows that he wasn’t a complete enough player to start from day one. He still needs to put together 16 full games. He’s someway behind Acho in that category.

Honorable Mention:
Jarrett Johnson

Inside Linebacker—Daryl Washington

The second pair of teammates to make this list reside in the linebacking corps. Daryl Washington is a physical specimen like most linebackers in the NFL, but he also has a nose for making plays on the football.

Washington has six sacks and nine pass deflections, with three interceptions, during his first two seasons. Throw in 185 tackles and it’s not hard to see why the Cardinals were a top 10 defense last year with the likes of him, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell and Acho in the lineup. That’s without even considering Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes(who missed most of last year) and Darnell Dockett.

Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis owned 2011, don’t be surprised if Washington stakes an early claim on 2012.

Honorable Mention:
Colin McCarthy

Cornerback—Lardarius Webb

Lardarius Webb started his first season last year, but that surely would have come earlier had he not torn an ACL earlier in his career. Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Webb is set to break out into an elite NFL corner.

Last year he played like an elite cornerback, but of course one season isn’t enough to solidify that status. Webb had 20 pass deflections and five interceptions to go along with a sack and forced fumble. He won’t receive a huge amount of credit for his work over the coming years, because many fans will just say it’s all Ray Lewis’ doing, but Webb is an emerging star in the NFL.

Honorable Mention:
Brent Grimes

Did your favourite cornerback give up a touchdown in 2011? No, then he must be on this team.

Cornerback—Tim Jennings

You can bet that the Indianapolis Colts would love to have Tim Jennings back this year. Jennings, even if he is benefiting from a system that suits him perfectly, has been nothing short of outstanding for the Chicago Bears the past two seasons.

He doesn’t often come up with the ball, but rarely does he let his man get it either. According to Pro Football Focus, Jennings was one of only two cornerbacks not to allow a touchdown in 2011. The other, of course, being Lardarius Webb.

Jennings may be a beneficiary of a scheme, but what is wrong with that if he stays in Chicago? It’s not like anyone could just walk in and do his job. If that were the case I’d be doing it for a fraction of his salary.

Honorable Mention:
Corey Webster

Strong Safety—Donte Whitner

The Buffalo Bills were only too happy to get rid of Donte Whitner, but that was largely due to his contract situation with the AFC East team. Similarly, the 49ers were delighted to pick up Whitner and add him to their dominating defense.

Whitner is outstandingly physical, but last year showed a huge improvement in coverage also with 10 pass deflections and two interceptions. What will shock you is that Whitner is still only 26, he has plenty of football ahead of him with six seasons already under his belt.

The 49ers run defense was historically good last year, but Whitner is often overlooked in that despite his fantastic run support.

Honorable Mention:
Kam Chancellor

Free Safety—Kendrick Lewis

Eric Berry gets a lot of credit in Kansas City for his awesome performances as a rookie, but the Chiefs added a second rookie safety last year also. When Berry went out last year, Kendrick Lewis stepped up as a leader and performed admirably for the most part.

Unlike Earl Thomas, Jairus Byrd or TJ Ward, Lewis doesn’t get much recognition as one of the better young defensive backs in the NFL. He and Berry are set to form an excellent pairing this year and into the future.

Honorable Mention:
Danieal Manning

Special Teams

Kicker—Robbie Gould

While David Akers, Sebastien Janikowski and Josh Scobee get reputations using their huge legs, Robbie Gould continues to be a consistent kicker for the Bears.

Punter—Sav Rocca

In only 66 punts, Rocca landed 28 inside the 20 for the Washington Redskins. His 43.1 average was only good enough for 24th overall however.

Long Snapper—John Doe

If any of you have long snapper ratings, my level of respect for you just quadrupled.

*This article was written on May 23rd.

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About cianfahey91

Cian Fahey is a journalist for Irishcentral and the Guardian, as well as being previously published in various other media outlets.
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