As we continue through our halfway-point landmark columns, we thought it would be a good idea to point out some of the great players in the NFL who don't get the recognition they deserve for whatever reason — they are eclipsed by more famous players, they don't get a lot of national TV time, they play in Buffalo, whatever. Here's our team of guys who deserve a bit more of your critical eye — we think you'll be impressed. Offense here; defense coming very soon!
Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills
"The Amish Rifle" has received some play in the national media, but not nearly enough — the former mop-up man for the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals has flourished as few expected under Chan Gailey's play-calling. Buffalo's loss to the New York Jets last Sunday should not negate the contributions of Fitzpatrick, or anyone else from the Bills on our All-Underrated team. Through eight weeks, Fitzpatrick ranks eighth in Football Outsiders' DYAR metrics among starting quarterbacks; that's better than Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers. We'd give Fitzpatrick extra points for the "Foghat roadie" beard, but he doesn't require them. That's just how he rolls.
Running backs: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots/Ben Tate, Houston Texans
You may not know it because the Patriots don't always run the ball when it would seem to be to their advantage, but Green-Ellis has become one of the better short-yardage and goal-line backs in the league today. Those qualities balance out the fact that he often faces nickel and dime defenses in other field position, and there's his most impressive stat of all: 437 carries in his NFL career, and not one fumble. We just hope we didn't jinx him with that statement.
Tate is Arian Foster's backup, and a reason that Mr. Foster isn't going to get the big contract he wants with the Texans. In the time Tate's received this year when Foster's been hurt, he's put up more big plays (rushes of 10 yards or more) than Foster — 24 to Foster's 15. Tate is proof that it's just as much about the blocking, and the team's ability to find quality running backs, as it is about Foster's own excellence.
Wide Receivers: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers/Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks/Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
We talk about Wallace a bit as the main man in Pittsburgh's new cottage industry of speed receivers, but do people really know how valuable he's become? In 2010 and 2011, he's been the most valuable receiver in the NFL, per Football Outsiders' stats -- No. 1 in DYAR (season-cumulative) and DVOA (play-to-play value). We like the ridiculous catch rate of 73 percent for a guy who makes so many big plays downfield.
Baldwin has been by far Seattle's most productive receiver this season (and yes, we realize that's a bit like being the best surfer in Iowa), which isn't bad for an undrafted guy. And who expected Nelson to become Aaron Rodgers' deep threat? He's got catches for 50, 64, 80 and 93 yards this season.
Tight Ends: Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills/Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
A fourth-round pick by the Chargers in 2007, Chandler didn't do much in the NFL until this season, when he blew up for four touchdowns in the Bills' first three games. After a scoring drought, he's one touchdown away from setting a record for Bills tight ends (he currently shares the record of six with two others). And among underrated players in the Bills' offense, he's been a tough guy for linebackers and safeties to cover. Davis had to wait for Chris Cooley to get hurt to overcome his previous "draft bust" label, but he's been a rare bright spot in Mike Shanahan's alleged 2011 offense.
Left Tackle: Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
Greg Cosell and others who watch the Eagles a lot will tell you, very simply, that Jason Peters has been the best left tackle in the game this season. It's easy to make the case — watch the tape and see how well he holds the point and pass-protects. The special treat, and what gives him the edge over other great left tackles right now, is his ability to block downfield on screens, which is a huge part of Philly's offense.
Left Guard: Chris Williams, Chicago Bears
Surprised? So were we that this former bust of a first-round left tackle out of Vanderbilt could become such a great success as a guard, especially in Chicago's offensive line. But watch the way Williams is not only blocking man-on-man but using his agility to pull right and execute seal blocks on the right edge.
Center: Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
You want power? This is where it comes from. Kelce is great at blowing his man off the ball, and he's the primary reason the Eagles are averaging 4.79 Adjusted Line Yards per play up the middle.
Right Guard: Mike Brisiel, Houston Texans
It was tough to exclude Houston left guard Wade Smith and center Chris Meyers form the All-Underrateds this time, but we had to get someone from the Texans' interior line in here, and Brisiel's our man. The Texans have 33 runs to right guard this season, and they're averaging an astonishing 5.79 yards per carry.
Right Tackle: Erik Pears, Buffalo Bills
Another team that could have multiple offensive linemen on our little squad — Pears is the ideal representative of this no-name line that has done an amazing job this year. "We all just come to work, each and every day," Pears recently told Buffalo radio. "We definitely take our job serious to get all on the same page to work hard every day on technique. You kind of get what you put in to stuff, so we feel like we put in a lot of work and hopefully the results will keep showing."
Bills center Eric Wood was more succinct about Pears' abilities: "He's a stud, man." We agree.
- Buffalo Bills
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Houston Texans
- Arian Foster