10 Most Underrated NFL Players

This list was composed during the 2007 NFL season

The stars in the NFL get all the attention. That, after all, is why they are the stars! Tom Brady's every move, whether a date with his super model girlfriend or his rolling on the ground in pain with an injured knee is breathlessly covered. Peyton Manning and his brother Eli, Randy Moss, LaDainian Tomlinson, we know everything about these guys. While those players and other stars like them eat up the headlines, there are scores of standout players doing the dirty work and not getting the recognition for it. These players fuel the fire their team needs for victory week in and week out, and every fan should know who they are.


Before the real list unfolds, here is a crash course for those of you who haven’t been paying attention. You better know these guys by now, but if you don’t, this is for you:


DeMeco RyansLinebacker, Houston Texans – DeMeco Ryans was the first pick in the 2006 draft… of the second round. Therefore, he didn’t get a whole lot of attention playing on the same team – and the same side of the ball – as number one overall pick Mario Williams. However, that all changed after he added the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy to his mantle after his first season. He notched up over 150 total tackles last year, in addition to hauling in an interception and recording 3.5 sacks. Ryans seemed destined for a decade of Pro Bowl selections and should anchor the Texans defense to great success.


Lance Briggs Linebacker, Chicago Bears – You probably heard the name Lance Briggs more often in this postseason than during the season itself, and that’s a shame because it is his exemplary play that made his postseason so well documented. Following the year, and another Pro Bowl selection, Briggs wanted to negotiate a long term contract. The team however decided to place the franchise tag on him, which means he can only get a one year deal (although that one year deal is usually a very generous averaging of the top five highest paid players at his position around the league). Briggs rebuffed the situation and his off season contract struggles were documented. Finally he accepted the offer, which is great news for Bears fans everywhere. Brian Urlacher gets the recognition, but Lance Briggs is one of the players that make that possible. In fact, Briggs had more tackles and sacks than his famous linebacker mate last season.


Adalius ThomasLinebacker, New England Patriots – As is the case in the NFL, if you play on a team with a star, or multiple big name players, you often get overlooked. Adalius Thomas lurked in the shadows behind the multitude of talent that the Baltimore Ravens have harvested on defense for the past decade. Guys like Ray Lewis and highlight reel Ed Reed gobble up the attention. Well, that’s all in the past for Adalius Thomas. The biggest free agent signing this off season, Adalius Thomas is renowned for his versatility. During his stint with the Ravens he played literally every position on defense, ranging from defensive end to safety. With strategic mastermind (spy tapes be damned) Bill Belichick, Thomas is sure to line up in some creative areas this season while wrecking havoc for opponents.
Hopefully that was nothing more than a tune up for you and you are already familiar with those Pro Bowl caliber NFL players. If you don’t, well, feel free not to tell your buddies that and mercilessly mock them if they are ignorant on the subject. Seven players you absolutely need to know remain:


7. Kerry RhodesSafety, New York Jets – Kerry Rhodes had a breakout 2006 season for the Jets. He is a very diverse player who can cover tight ends in man-to-man coverage, come up and help stuff the run or sit back and read the quarterback while playing centerfield, watching the action unfold before him. But perhaps his most coveted trait is his blitzing ability from the safety position. In addition to his four interceptions last season he also had five sacks. Taking over the role of best, young defensive player on the team from Jonathon Vilma, Rhodes has continued to improve. Expect him to replace an aging John Lynch on Pro Bowl ballots this season.


6. Nnamdi AsomughaCornerback, Oakland Raiders – Asomugha was always a reliable cover man, but last season he became a true shutdown corner and playmaker. He made his first career interception and then followed it up with seven more, including one returned for a touchdown. There wasn’t much bright about the Raiders during their 2006 campaign, but Nnamdi Asomugha was the standout from their stingy defensive squad. He made his first Pro Bowl, and with big name player Charles Woodson intercepting passes in far off Green Bay, Asomugha will get the attention he richly deserves as his Pro Bowl selections begin to rival his interception totals in number.


5. Adrian WilsonSafety, Arizona Cardinals – Adrian Wilson is another player who is enjoying the fruits of his labor after having a breakout season, although in reality Wilson has had about two or three breakout seasons. If Kerry Rhodes strikes fear into the heart of an opposing quarterback than Adrian Wilson might make them wish they didn’t play in the NFL at all. Tallying up 13 sacks over the last two seasons, including eight in 2005, Wilson can do anything that is asked of him. Oh, and apparently he is athletic, as in, he can clear a 66 inch jump type of athletic, please watch. If the Arizona Cardinals ever turn their fortunes around, expect Adrian Wilson to be the root cause of it, and not his flashy brethren on offense.


T-3. Terrell SuggsDefensive End, Baltimore Ravens – He has all of the accolades that would lead you to believe that he is a star. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003, two Pro Bowl selections and 40 sacks over his first four seasons. But, as is the case in Baltimore, there are several large shadows hovering over you at all times. Suggs is listed as a defensive end however also plays linebacker in his quest to disrupt the quarterback. Alas, would a defensive end look so scary if called by any other name? It doesn’t really matter where he lines up; Terrell Suggs completes that quest more often than not. If he’s not sacking quarterbacks he’s in their faces disrupting them.


T-3. Bart ScottLinebacker, Baltimore Ravens – Yes, it’s another Baltimore Ravens player. No, I’m not a Baltimore Ravens fan. Yes, all of these players really are that good. Bart Scott is Ray Lewis redux and that is a terrifying thought for NFL teams who thought they were finally catching a break with Lewis getting up in years. Starting every game for the first time last season, Scott had over 100 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. Expect those numbers to improve, and expect the Ravens to keep their stellar defense for years and years to come.


2. Aaron SchobelDefensive End, Buffalo Bills – Schobel finally made the Pro Bowl last season after totaling 45.5 sacks over the previous four seasons combined. While the Buffalo Bills have been plagued by injuries this season, Schobel continues his pass rushing tour de force. However, with all of the defensive free agents departing this winter to greener pastures (read: warmer weather and greener grass and free wheeling owners and greener wallets) Schobel is without much help. While he is man enough to carry the defense on his back, with every player and coach keying in on him, don’t bet on him surpassing his career high of 14 sacks this season.


1. Aaron KampmanDefensive End, Green Bay Packers – Like so many of the players preceding him on this list, Aaron Kampman enjoyed a breakout 2006 season in route to his first Pro Bowl. He was second in the NFL in sacks with 15.5, and along with upstart AJ Hawk he makes up the core of a suddenly resurgent Packers team and defense. Kampman is by far the best pass rusher the Packers have had since the late Reggie White donned the green and gold. Brett Favre fans can send a personal thank you note to the Kampman residence, as his play was surely one of the largest factors in securing the quarterback’s return to the field and sparking his resurgent play.


Notice a trend here? All of these players are on the defensive side of the ball. Defense wins championships, offense puts butts in the seats – just ask Peyton Manning how many rings he had until that run defense stiffened up last postseason. Furthermore, all of these defensive players are ball hawks and pressure fiends. They are playmakers in the truest sense. At any time they can cause a turnover, either by interception or fumble, and they will give even the best quarterbacks nightmares. Quarterback might be the most important position in the NFL, but the defensive players whose job it is to disrupt the quarterback fall in line right after.


Pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers and ferocious safeties are the foundations around which you build a great defense and a great team. Throw in a top tier cornerback and you could just see yourself having a top three defense for a decade (paging the Baltimore Ravens and Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Chris McAlister).You might know all of the big names at the quarterback position, but you can bet all of those big name quarterbacks know these names on the defensive side of the ball, guaranteed.