NFL

NFL 2014 All-Underrated Team: Defense

on



Everyone knows that guys like Aaron Rodgers, DeMarco Murray, J.J. Watt and Rob Gronkowski are having huge seasons. Well they aren’t the only ones, as the NFL is loaded with players who are playing well, but either aren’t household names or not receiving the credit they deserve. In the final edition of this two-part series, it’s time to recognize these defensive stars.

Defensive Tackles- Sen’Derrick Marks, Jacksonville Jaguars; Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams

It took Sen’Derrick Marks a second team and a second defensive scheme to realize the potential of a former second-round pick. Marks has been a force on the Jaguars’ defense as he consistently penetrates into the backfield and makes big plays. Marks’ 7.5 sacks is not only a career high, but it’s more than he had entering this season in five years. Marks should be a Pro Bowler this year despite the Jaguars overall poor defensive stats.

Aaron Donald has been dominant at every level, and he’s been somewhat overlooked at every level due to his height (only 6-foot-1). As a rookie, Donald has become the best player on the Rams’ talented defense and he leads all rookies with eight sacks on the season, despite not starting for the first month of the year. Not only does he play the run well, but he’s among the league leaders in sacks at his position.

Defensive Ends- Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans; Corey Liuget, San Diego Chargers

Jurrell Casey has been much more dominant than the stat sheet shows this season. Casey is often the focus of opposing blocking schemes due to the lack of talent around him, but he’s still having a fine year, with 62 tackles and five sacks, despite playing 3-4 defensive end. Casey is having a great year, although the lack of team and statistical success doesn’t truly indicate it.

Corey Liuget is another player who is outperforming his stats. The former first-round pick from Illinois makes an impact every week, even if the stat sheet shows pedestrian numbers (53 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles). Liuget is the best player on the Chargers’ defense, which has them in playoff contention.

Linebackers- Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks; DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions; Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins

There are few linebackers in football better than Seattle’s Bobby Wagner. The main reason he’s on this particular list is because he’s largely overshadowed by the vocal “Legion of Boom” that plays behind him. With strong personalities on the defense such as Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett, Wagner simply goes about his work and doesn’t get as much recognition as he deserves. Wagner has missed five games this season and the defending Super Bowl champs were 3-2 in his absence. Since he’s returned, the defense is allowing a league-best 6.8 points per game.

DeAndre Levy is rarely mentioned among the best linebackers in football, but he should be. Levy is the glue in the resurgent Lions’ defense that ranks second in the NFL. Levy is one of those players that’s seemingly always making the routine play and misses very few tackles. The sixth-year pro from Wisconsin is having a career year as he’s third in the NFL with 132 tackles, five passes defensed, 2.5 sacks and an interception.

Olivier Vernon is often overshadowed by his bookend pass rusher Cameron Wake, but Vernon is a factor in Wake’s success. Lining up at both outside linebacker and defensive end, Vernon is probably best with his hand off the ground. The former third-round pick from Miami has 6.5 sacks this season with a pair of forced fumbles, and he can routinely beat single blocking.

Cornerbacks- Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings; Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons

Xavier Rhodes is becoming one of the best young cornerbacks in football, and the Vikings’ defense has the arrow pointed north. In his second season, the former first-round pick has turned into an elite cornerback. Rhodes is fourth in the NFL with 17 passes defensed and is strong in run support as he has 42 tackles with an interception.

Desmond Trufant is perhaps the sole bright spot in the cavernous darkness known as the Atlanta Falcons’ defense. Trufant is becoming a playmaker in the secondary as he has two interceptions with 14 passes defensed (ninth in the NFL) in just his second season. He’s doing it with the worst pass rush in the NFL in front of him as the team has just 16 sacks.

Safeties- Rashad Johnson, Arizona Cardinals; TaShaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns

Rashad Johnson is breaking out in Year 6 after being selected in the third-round from Alabama. Johnson plays a big role in Todd Bowles’ defense as he is often on an island due to the heavy pressure packages. Johnson is making plays all over the field as he has 81 tackles and four interceptions, including two that he’s taken back to the house.

Tashaun Gipson has been a ball magnet in his third season after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming. Gipson has played himself into a starting role and is flourishing as he is tied for the league lead with six interceptions. He also has 52 tackles, a forced fumble and eight passes defensed. Gipson has benefited from solid cornerback play, which has allowed him to ball-hawk in the secondary. He’s a major reason why the Browns have the seventh-ranked pass defense in the NFL.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.