Shutdown Corner - NFL

Higher Education: The all-underrated team (defense)

In the continuation of our scouting/stats series, and with the news getting better every day on the labor subject, it's time to talk more actual football! Today, we're going to feature a full team of underrateds — those players who impressed us through the 2010 season and who could do even more in future seasons. Here's the defense; you can find the offense here.

Defensive Ends -- Charles Johnson(notes), Carolina Panthers/Matt Shaughnessy(notes), Oakland Raiders

Under the proposed new four-year free agency rules, Johnson would be one of the more desirable players on the market; he's one in a very short list of players to finish with high marks in all pressure categories — sacks, hits, and hurries. He's one of several Carolina defenders who were overwhelmed in public perception by the Panthers' horrid 2-14 season — but it's important to remember that this was a team with an 8-8 defense and a Division III offense. Shaughnessy was one of the league's better overall ends, with a specific ability to keep pass plays under control. We'll give an honorary mention to Oakland's Lamarr Houston(notes) just because you should already know who he is. If you don't, do find out. The rookie brought it hard in 2010.

Defensive Tackles -- Terrance Knighton(notes), Jacksonville Jaguars/Antonio Garay(notes), San Diego Chargers

Knighton has been under the radar since he was selected by the Jags in the third round of the 2009 draft out of Temple, but he was unquestionably the driving force in Jacksonville's front seven last season. Not only was he an absolute terror against the run, but he managed four sacks and nine quarterback hurries despite the fact that opposing offensive lines knew exactly how good he was, and planned their double-teams accordingly. Garay was even further off the map until the 2010 season started and he opened up a can on the NFL. The 31-year-old veteran put up 5.5 sacks — the first 5.5 sacks of his career — and manned the nose tackle position with great efficiency despite question marks all around him on that front line.

Linebackers -- Mario Haggan(notes), Denver Broncos/Scott Fujita(notes), Cleveland Browns/James Anderson(notes), Carolina Panthers/Daryl Smith(notes), Jacksonville Jaguars

Anderson may have been Carolina's best defender in 2010; for the sheer of plays that went his way (130, per FO), his Stop Rates were especially impressive, particularly against the pass (16 stops n 28 pass plays). Haggan combined with D.J. Williams to become Denver's first line of defense on far too many plays; there was some serious leakage on that front line.

These days, Fujita is best known for his involvement in the NFLPA, but he also put together a pretty impressive season. Not only did he help his new team upset his former teammates in New Orleans, but Fujita also ranked in the top 20 in FO's metrics against the run and pass. He also created 38 Stops (an FO stat defined as 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, and 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down) on just 52 plays in his direction — only Miami's Channing Crowder(notes) had a higher Stop rate among inside linebackers. And Jacksonville's Smith had the highest Stop Rate of any 4-3 linebacker at any position; only Pittsburgh's combo of James Harrison(notes) and James Farrior(notes) had a higher Stop Rate than Smith's 66 percent.

Cornerbacks -- Ron Bartell(notes), St. Louis Rams/Brandon Carr(notes), Kansas City Chiefs

According to STATS, Inc's data, only five cornerbacks with 50 or more targets had a lower Burn Percentage (completions allowed) than Bartell's 45% (45 out of an even 100). Those five cornerbacks happened to be Darrelle Revis(notes), Stanford Routt(notes), Antonio Cromartie(notes), Tramon Williams(notes), and …. Brandon Carr.

One of the reasons that the Chiefs were the AFC's surprise team last year was that their secondary really stepped up. Carr was the forgotten man as everyone started talking about Brandon Flowers(notes) and Eric Berry(notes), but per those numbers (and only sometimes covering the other team's #1 receiver, it must be said), Carr was the most effective man in that defensive backfield.

Bartell was Mr. Unlucky in one department. Effective as he was against the pass and the run (per FO's metrics, he was the Rams' best run-stopping cornerback as well), he didn't get a single pick in 2010 — just 12 deflected passes. Carr had Bartell beat, there — 24 deflections and just one pick. Moral: When you're looking at cornerbacks, don't let interceptions be your ultimate guide when it comes to effectiveness.

Safeties -- Quintin Mikell(notes), Philadelphia Eagles/Brodney Pool(notes), New York Jets

Mikell's been an underrated guy for a couple years, but he really impressed in 2010. STATS, Inc's metrics had him with the lowest Burn Rate (26 burns in 57 targets) among safeties with at least 50 passes thrown their way. Mikell gave up just three touchdowns on all those targets, and no safety on that 50-plus target list had more passes defensed that Mikell's 15. Pool added his contributions to Rex Ryan's dominant defense with some amazing stats of his own. In 30 targeted passes, Pool allowed just 13 completions, racked up 11 passes defensed, and allowed no touchdowns at all. Mikell was also great against the run, ranking in the top 10 in Run Stop Rate among safeties.

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