Shutdown Corner - NFL

Higher Education: The all-underrated team (offense)

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, who could do even more in future seasons, and just don't get the credit we feel they deserve. Here's our offense (defense is here):

Quarterback — Shaun Hill(notes), Detroit Lions/Kyle Orton(notes), Denver Broncos

Don't look now, but Hill might be this generation's Scott Mitchell. He was better than bonus baby Alex Smith in San Francisco, and last year in Detroit, he was more efficient than the injured Matt Stafford per Football Outsiders' advanced metrics. Of course, the Lions are looking to Stafford to be their quarterback of the future, but if he should prove to be as injury-prone as he has been, the Lions are in good shape with Hill as their backup. Orton put up some ridiculous numbers over the last two seasons in Josh McDaniels' offense; the challenge now will be for him to either do it in a different style of offense in Denver following Josh McDaniels' departure, or do it elsewhere in the league. But while everyone's talking about Kevin Kolb(notes), it's Orton who's done far better in a high-speed offense.

Running Back — BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes), New England Patriots/LeSean McCoy(notes), Philadelphia Eagles

Funny how all the talk in New England was about little Danny Woodhead(notes), when Boston Legal was the one ripping things up. Just one year after dousing himself in End Zone Repellent before every game, Green-Ellis hit the end zone 13 times and finished third in FO's cumulative efficiency metrics. Yes, there's always a slight debit to running backs in New England's system because the passing game opens things, but Green-Ellis still went above and beyond in the Patriots' new fast-break offense. McCoy may be the best overall rushing/receiving threat in the game right how, helped as he is by opposing defenses trying to figure out what to do about Michael Vick(notes).

Wide Receiver — Mike Wallace(notes), Pittsburgh Steelers/Brandon Lloyd(notes), Denver Broncos/Stevie Johnson(notes), Buffalo Bills

Wallace got some props for his great 2010 season, but not nearly enough — he was the most efficient in the NFL per FO's metrics, and he helped the Steelers' offense further graduate from old-school smashmouth to new-wave pseudo spread.

No receiver was a better vertical threat than Lloyd, who finally transcended an early career that had people wondering if he was ever going to get it. According to STATS, Inc., 1,221 of his 1,448 receiving yards came before the catch, which led the league in a landslide (Roddy White(notes) was second with 1,008 yards before the catch) and set the Broncos up to upend secondaries with a true downfield weapon.

And given the lack of explosiveness around him, Johnson has to be named as one of the league's best young receivers. Johnson was the other kind of receiver — the guy who would pick up the short pass and make plays. Four-hundred-nineteen of his 1,073 receiving yards came after the catch, which was one of the highest totals for non-running backs.

Tight End — Jacob Tamme(notes), Indianapolis Colts/Marcedes Lewis(notes), Jacksonville Jaguars

The Colts' most efficient tight end last year? No, it wasn't Dallas Clark. Tamme was the beneficiary of the slot tight end role after Clark's wrist injury, and he really stepped up in the second half of the season against some tough opponents. Lewis does get some media love, but just three tight ends caught 10 touchdown passes last year: Antonio Gates(notes), Rob Gronkowski(notes) and Lewis. People know how good Gates and Gronkowski are -- public perception seems to lag behind in Lewis' case.

Offensive Line

Left Tackle: Eugene Monroe(notes), Jacksonville Jaguars — In FO's Adjusted Line Yards metrics, the Jags ranked very highly in most power stats, and were very strong to the left side. Monroe sometimes gets debited for his pass-protection, but FO's metrics tell us that he reduced his blown blocks total from 9.5 in 2009 to 6 in 2010. One also had to look at the quarterback when discussing pass pro, and David Garrard(notes) clearly has a problem pulling the trigger on pass plays designed for a quick release.

Left Guard: Wade Smith(notes), Houston Texans The Texans have improved their red-zone and short-yardage efficiency in the last couple of years, and Smith is as responsible as anyone.

Center: Nick Hardwick(notes), San Diego Chargers San Diego's run game was a disappointment in 2010, but the one place it worked was right up the middle; the Chargers averaged 4.34 yards per carry in the mid-guard area, the only one of five rushing zones in which they ranked in the top 10.

Right Guard: Josh Sitton(notes), Green Bay Packers Yes, he's a name to a degree, but the tape tells a story that needs to be told more often — this guy is a beast. If you don't believe me, check out what Ndamukong Suh had to say about Sitton when I talked with the Lions' terrifying tackle in February. If Sitton is the best guard Suh has faced … well, that's good enough for me.

Right Tackle: Sebastian Vollmer(notes), New England Patriots -- Vollmer moved to the right side to replace the injured Nick Kaczur(notes) in 2010, but if you get a chance to watch the Houston grad at left tackle in his rookie year of 2009, definitely check it out — especially his performance against Indy's Dwight Freeney, where he shut the dominant pass rusher out while replacing Matt Light(notes). He's the NFL's best swing tackle, and he's going to be much more in the future.

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