With the season halfway in the books, we thought it would be a good time to point out those players who, in our humble opinions, have not received the attention deserved for their performances so far. Our offensive team went up Tuesday, and the All-Underrated defenders can be found below. We'll see how many of these names hold up when the season is over, but for now, here's an underrated defense you can take to the bank.
Defensive End: Kroy Biermann, Atlanta Falcons/Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
I've been on the "Kroy Biermann is underrated" bandwagon for the last three years, and the veteran might be having his best season yet for the undefeated Falcons. We're calling Biermann an end for categorization purposes, but you'll see him all over the place -- frequently as a nickel tackle in pass defense sets, and dropping into coverage with aplomb. Few linemen are more effectively versatile.
Johnson's seven sacks are impressive enough this season, but when you pop on the tape, you get a real sense that his game is about more than just quarterback takedowns. Add in hits and hurries, and he's been as disruptive as any pass-rusher in the league on a snap-to-snap basis.
Near-misses: Brian Robison, Minnesota Vikings/Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans
Defensive Tackle: Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins/Dwan Edwards, Carolina Panthers
Like Biermann, Starks has been a versatile and undervalued player for a while, but he's starting to get more recognition as the Dolphins put together a surprising season. Edwards is playing at an extremely high level for a Panthers defense based on the trenches.
Near-misses: Henry Melton, Chicago Bears/Linval Joseph, New York Giants
Endbacker (Pass-Rushing Outside Linebacker): Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs/O'Brien Schofield, Arizona Cardinals
Houston's efforts are hidden behind the fact that nobody really wants to watch Kansas City Chiefs football right now, but there's no denying his ability to get to the quarterback. He's also a very strong run defender.
It's a real shame that Schofield was lost for the season with an ankle injury -- as badly as the Cards' defense has played of late, Schofield has been a remarkably consistent edge rusher in Ray Horton's multiple defensive schemes. It's time for Sam Acho, who we also like a lot, to step up.
Near-misses: Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers /Sam Acho, Arizona Cardinals
3-4 Defensive End: Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets/Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
The Jets' defense has certainly been a disappointment this season, but the second-year end from Temple has been anything but. Few ends or tackles of any stripe are better against the run. Hatcher is one of a handful of Cowboys defenders who have shown great improvement in Rob Ryan's defense. Makes you wonder who should be the head coach in Dallas right now...
Near-misses: Antonio Smith, Houston Texans/Corey Liuget, San Diego Chargers
Inside Linebacker: Bruce Carter, Dallas Cowboys/Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
When Sean Lee went down for the season, many thought that the Dallas Cowboys' defense would hit the rocks, but Carter is the main reason it hasn't. He was especially effective last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, racking up 10 tackles and proving tough to stop from any angle. Carter is also an effective blitzer, and you can expect to see him doing that a lot when the Cowboys reduce their down linemen and bring more standup pass-rushers to fill the gaps.
Wagner played from sideline to sideline at Utah State, and the Seahawks frequently expect the same of him. There's been little dropoff for the rookie -- his coaches are very impressed with his ability to grasp concepts and make them go on the field.
Near-misses: Donald Butler, San Diego Chargers/Mason Foster, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Outside Linebacker: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Wesley Woodyard, Denver Broncos
David was one of a large group of undersized linebackers selected in the 2012 NFL draft, and the Bucs have used him very well in their surprising defense -- especially in nickel packages. Woodyard, who won the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award last week, has been tremendously versatile in Jack Del Rio's defense.
Near-misses: Philip Wheeler, Oakland Raiders/Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis Colts
Cornerback: Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers/Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans
Once Charles Woodson broke his collarbone, Hayward started to make a real impact in Green Bay's complex coverages, but he's been an under-the-radar star all season. Verner gets overlooked because the Titans' pass defense is generally a huge problem, but he might be the best run-stopping cornerback in the league not names Charles Tillman.
Near-misses: Chris Harris, Denver Broncos/Chris Culliver, San Francisco 49ers
Safety: Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons/Glover Quin, Houston Texans
Remember when Peyton Manning was picked off three times in the first quarter of the Broncos' Week 2 loss to the Atlanta Falcons? People dismissed it as a function of Manning's struggle to regain his arm strength, but Atlanta's safeties played a major role. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan put DeCoud and William Moore in high-low looks that seemed to confuse even the ultimate coverage reader.
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