November 29, 2010
Recently, we did our "No-Pro" teams on offense and defense -- these were the players who underperformed more than any other. But now, it's time to get positive and talk about those players who have done the most with the least amount of fanfare. If you were able put this under-the-radar offense on the field, you'd surprise a lot of defenses. We'll have a similarly underrated defense up Tuesday morning.
People first became aware of Cassel when he helped the 2008 New England Patriots go 11-5 after Tom Brady(notes) was hurt for the season in the opening game. Despite never starting a game at USC, Cassel showed some embryonic characteristics of excellence, though he got away with a lot of stick throws and had abysmal pocket presence. He looked decent in his first year as the Chiefs' starting quarterback in 2009, but he's gone completely off the hook this year. In his last seven games, Cassel has thrown 18 touchdowns ... and one interception.
[Photos: Cassel in action on the field]
Meanwhile, the acquisition of Orton in the Jay Cutler(notes) trade may be the only thing Josh McDaniels has done right since he started blowing the Broncos up before the 2009 season. Through Week 11, Orton ranks third in Football Outsiders' quarterback efficiency metrics behind only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning(notes) (after the Chargers game, we're going to take a wild stab and assume that Manning's rating is about to head downhill). Orton showed promise at times with the Bears, but he's definitely benefited from McDaniels' offense and managed to perform despite all the ancillary drama and roster churnage.
[Photos: See more of surprise Broncos star Orton]
Only Houston's Arian Foster(notes) has more rushing yards than Charles, but Charles has put up his 1,021 yards on just 161 carries -- an amazing 6.3 yards-per-carry average -- and he's as much a total yardage threat as there is in the game. He's received more than 20 carries just twice this year, and when he does, watch out -- he put up 177 yards on the Bills and 173 on the Seahawks.
Green-Ellis is getting lost in the Danny Woodhead(notes) hype, but only Foster and Charles have been more efficient this season, and only Ricky Williams(notes) and Chris Ivory have been more consistently successful in converting short-yardage situations and avoiding negative plays on a per-play basis. And McCoy has benefitted from Michael Vick's(notes) ability to set defenses in their heels, but he's also been an important part of the Eagles' more balanced offense.
Forget about the five drops (and the one killer) against the Steelers -- Johnson, the seventh-round pick in 2008 from Kentucky, has very quietly become one of the league's more productive receivers in an offense that turned Lee Evans(notes) into a pumpkin last year. Obomanu put up a career-high 159 yards in Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the four-year veteran has increased his per-game yardage totals in each of the last five games and he becomes Matt Hasselbeck's(notes) favorite deep target. The Seahawks are finally using Obomanu's ability to be sudden in short coverage, get into windows, and use timing to make plays.
[Photos: Incredible action shots of Obomanu]
Bowe may not be underrated in the traditional sense -- people seem to know who he is -- but people may not understand just how dominant he's been in the last six weeks. Since a Week 5 loss to the Colts, Bowe has 49 pass receptions for 733 yards and a whopping 13 touchdowns.
We know Gronkowski from his three-touchdown performance against the Steelers, but even if you see that game as more of a referendum on the idea that William Gay(notes) shouldn't be covering tight ends, you can't deny the rookie's ability as a red-zone target and fine blocker. And speaking of red-zone targets, Lewis has more touchdowns (eight) than any other tight end except Antonio Gates(notes).
If the Chiefs are the best running team in the league (and they are), someone up front has to get some love. We'll go with Albert, as Kansas City is currently averaging over 5 yards per carry around left end, and only the Patriots and Jets have allowed fewer negative plays.
Right tackle Eric Winston(notes) is probably the best player on Houston's excellent run-blocking line, but it's hard to say that he's overrated. How about Smith, who's started all 11 Texans games, picked up just one penalty, allowed zero sacks, and is part of a line that has made Arian Foster the most dangerous back in the league?
Another point of strength -- even with an inconsistent running game, the Saints are averaging almost 5 yards per carry up the middle.
It's a shame that Joseph went down for the season with a fractured foot in Sunday's game against the Ravens; he was the Bucs' best offensive player during some of the franchise's rebuilding time, and his run-blocking is particularly dynamic.
The second-overall pick in the 2009 draft underrated? Well, in the offense that has the Rams as a very surprising first-place team in the NFC West, the former left tackle has been a factor after missing much of his rookie year with injuries. He's played 10 games on the right side this season and given up just two sacks despite the fact that rookie quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) rolls out to that side all the time.
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