NFL

NFL’s All Underrated Team: Defense

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For one reason or another, there are a ton of guys who don’t get the credit that they deserve as football players. These players are great talents who help their team win on Sunday’s; however, for one reason or another they fly under the radar.

Some of these players are young guys on the rise and some are proven veterans who just don’t get their due. Whatever the case may be, these players deserve more credit and acclimation for what they do on the football field.

Without further ado, let’s take a look which player’s make up this writer’s all underrated team.

First we looked at the offense, and now it’s time to examine the defense.

Defensive Ends: Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers

Versatility. That is the word that best describes Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers. Both of these players have the flexibility to win on the edge or on the interior as they utilize leverage and great hand usage to wreck havoc in opposing backfields.

Jackson is the best defensive end that you don’t hear about. He is overshadowed by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the Broncos defense, but he was as good as either of them last year. He only recorded four sacks, but he added 11 quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus, to show how disruptive he was as a pass-rusher. The thing that makes Jackson special is how well rounded he is. To go along with his ability to get after the passer, he is one of the best run defending defensive ends in the NFL.

While Jackson is extremely well rounded, Ayers is known primarily for his ability to get after the passer. In just 386 snaps, Ayers had five sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries per Pro Football Focus, which is better than Jackson who played almost 200 more snaps than Ayers. With Jason Pierre Paul’s situation, expect Ayers to fill in admirably. Don’t be surprised if Ayers is up for a Pro Bowl nomination when 2015 is over.

Defensive Tackles: Sharrif Floyd and Kyle Williams

Sharrif Floyd fell in the NFL draft because teams felt that his short arms would inhibit him from being as dominant as he was in college. However, Floyd has proved all of his doubter wrong as he has become one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, even though you’ll never hear about that fact. Floyd uses his quickness to knife through his gaps and make plays in opponents’ backfields. His ability to split double teams and blow by guards is uncanny.

While Floyd is relatively new and has just recently been playing at a high level, Kyle Williams has been one of the best under tackle in football for years, but he still doesn’t receive enough credit. Williams is always among the sack leaders among defensive tackles and that is no accident. He uses his quickness, power and repertoire of pass-rush moves to keep opposing linemen guessing throughout the game. In 2014, Williams was fifth among defensive tackles in sacks, first in quarterback hits and sixth in quarterback hurries per Pro Football Focus. While most teams worry about pressure from the edge, when you line up against the Buffalo Bills, you need to worry about the big man in the middle first.

Linebackers: DeAndre Levy, Ryan Kerrigan, Daryl Smith

The signal callers of the defense are usually the players that receive the amount of credit they deserve as they are the tackling machines who make the most plays. Nevertheless, there are always a few that slip through the cracks.

DeAndre Levy was among the best linebackers in the NFL last year as he was the glue to a revamped Detriot Lions defense. Levy was the NFL leader in tackling among 4-3 outside linebackers with 121 tackles per Pro Football Focus. Levy uses his fantastic instincts to identify a play quickly, which allows him to then use his athleticism to make the play.

C.J. Mosley received the most credit among the Baltimore Ravens linebacker group, but Daryl Smith was actually the best player for the Ravens second level of defense. Smith is a well-rounded linebacker who can make plays blitzing, in coverage or filling against the round. He always plays with sound technique and you will rarely catch him out of position. His 93 tackles were good for seventh among inside linebackers per Pro Football Focus.

Ryan Kerrigan is probably the best pass-rusher who doesn’t receive a lot of credit. Most of it is probably due to the fact that he has played for some bad Redskins teams, but that shouldn’t take away from how well he has played in the last couple of years. Last year, Kerrigan had the third highest pass-rush productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers and that was by no accident. If you had to choose one player in the NFL to get after the quarterback, Kerrigan shouldn’t be too far down the list.

Cornerbacks: Desmond Trufant and Orlando Scandrick

The Atlanta Falcons’ defense has been horrific in the past couple of years, but Desmond Trufant has done his part. He has a legitimate case to be the best young cornerback in the NFL at the moment. His silky smooth hips and quick feet allow him to take opposing receivers completely out of the game. Unlike most cornerbacks, he is a very good run defender, which adds to how valuable he is to a defense.

When you play for the Dallas Cowboys it is really hard for you to go under the radar, but for some reason that is exactly what Orlando Scandrick has done. He is quite possibly the best slot cornerback in the NFL and he showed last season that he can play extremely well on the outside as well. Scandrick isn’t the most physical receiver, but he mirrors receivers extremely well. He can cover any type of receiver and hold his own. With a revitalized defense, expect Scandrick to get the credit he deserves in 2015.

Safety: Harrison Smith and Glover Quin

While Eric Thomas is the consensus No. 1 safety in the NFL, Harrison Smith and Glover Quin Could be considered No.2 and No. 3, but you’ll rarely hear about either player.

Smith is elite at nearly every aspect of playing safety. He has elite instincts, he is a very good athlete and he is a good tackler. Smith can cover like a cornerback or play the run like a linebacker. He can play in the box or he can play single-high. His versatility will give head coach Mike Zimmer a great chess piece to utilize this season, which will make the Vikings defense extremely scary.

Glover Quin has a legitimate claim as the best pure cover safety in the NFL. Not only can he cover tight ends down the season, but he can line up and play man coverage against a great receiver, something you never see from a safety. He has the range to play from sideline to sideline, not just in between the hash marks. Furthermore, Quin makes opponents pay when they throw his way as he recorded seven interceptions last year per Pro Football Focus.

When you’re looking for two underrated safeties, it is hard to pick anyone better than Smith and Quin.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com