C’mon, hyperboles are fun.
While lists of underrated NFL players too can be fun during the summer months, they also can be perennially routine and usually feature guys that are easily predictable, or frankly, aren’t underrated at all.
I’m not condemning fellow football writers with that statement. Quite the opposite. June isn’t exactly the easiest month to create fresh material, and formulating a list of underrated players always seems like a great idea.
Because once again I’m experiencing what I like to call the “June NFL writer’s rut,” the state of mind when creative juices sit stagnant in my thick skull, I’m relying on “the underrated list” for your reading pleasure.
Instead of being discouraged by the inherent dullness that typically comes with this type of list, I’m going a step further to add some intrigue.
The following five Buffalo Bills head into the 2012 season vastly underrated and will play surprisingly vital roles in the team’s success or lack thereof this Fall.
The talk regarding the Bills offense this offseason has either surrounded the footwork/potential progress of Ryan Fitzpatrick, finding the receiver who will win the “No. 2″ spot opposite newly minted Stevie Johnson, or the possibility of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller seeing an increased workload in 2012.
Somehow, 6’7,” 263-pound Scott Chandler has gone relatively unnoticed.
The former Iowa Hawkeye caught nine passes and three touchdowns during Buffalo’s 3-0 start in 2011, and while he struggled during the team’s mid-season road trip, he stayed reasonably consistent all season.
He played in 14 games last year, and was held without a catch only once.
You don’t need to be a film guru to realize his potential is tapped out, and that he’ll never be a true game-breaker at his position, but he and Fitzpatrick have a fine rapport.
By all reports, Chandler was steady during the team’s OTA’s and minicamp scrimmages, making his presence felt in the red zone and on short check downs.
The majority of Buffalo’s receivers are rather unproven, so during their acclimation process, Chandler could be in for many targets and may become a major contributor especially when the Bills near the end zone.
Quick, who’s the most physically impressive defensive player on the Bills roster? Ok, it’s obviously a 6’6”, 300-pound beast named Mario Williams, but the menacing 6’5”, 305-pound, third-year defensive lineman Alex Carrington isn’t far behind.
He was drafted to play the unsexy defensive end spot in Buffalo’s now discontinued 3-4 alignment, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be utilized in the 4-3.
His pass-rushing skills aren’t refined, but he has the raw strength and athletic talents to become a powerful bull-rusher and sound run defender. With the slew of defensive linemen currently on the Bills roster, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Carrington to get on the field, but he should see more time than we all initially think.
He has a year and a half valuable experience and doesn’t seem to be a major liability in any one area. If Chris Kelsay is cut, which seems highly unlikely, Carrington should be a first and second down defensive end at the very least.
Though his role may not be as vital as the other players on this list, Carrington has a chance to emerge as a fine complementary player on Buffalo’s beefed-up defensive line.
Morrison was a late free-agent addition to Buffalo’s 2011 roster but played sparingly. Unfortunately for him, he simply didn’t have a spot in the 3-4. He appeared in 14 games, but had only seven tackles and one sack.
So, he’s shifting from total afterthought to the team’s starting outside linebacker, a player who will be relied upon a great deal this season.
During his time in a 4-3 defense with the Oakland Raiders to start his career, Morrison was extremely effective. He had more than 116 tackles every year and he totalled 134 tackles with two sacks and three forced fumbles in a stellar 2008.
However, at age 30, is he still capable of moving sideline-to-sideline tracking speedy ball-carriers?
There won’t be as many eyes on him as Kelvin Sheppard and Nick Barnett, but Morrison will be an integral facet of the Bills defense in 2012.
As a member of the Bills since 2007, Scott’s a fairly well known member of the team. Though he isn’t a stat sheet-filler, he’s an essential aspect of Buffalo’s defense, and I imagine he’s a defensive coorindator’s best friend.
He plays well against the run, can cover the majority of the league’s tight ends, is a sure tackler and has experience playing the outside linebacker position.
The Bills intelligently selected Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder in this year’s draft to add depth at their linebacker position, and Scott’s leadership skills will be invaluable to those youngsters. While Bradham and Carder learn the nuances of the OLB spot, the nine-year veteran and defensive utility man will be asked by to lead by example.
Scott won’t get the notoriety of Jairus Byrd and George Wilson, but he’ll be used in a variety of nickel and dime packages with many teams applying more spread sets to their offenses.
I’ve saved Brooks for last, because it’s unfair to hit him with the “underrated” distinction before he’s stepped onto an NFL field. But Brooks is as gifted athletically as any defensive back on Buffalo’s roster, comes from an amazingly competitive SEC conference, made the most of his time on the field at LSU, and will be buried on the depth chart to begin the season.
However, he’s the ideal slot cornerback.
As previously stated, we both know NFL clubs have installed a variation of spread formations to their offenses, so don’t be stunned to see Brooks (and potentially Justin Rogers) on the field quite often.
If Brooks can quickly transition to the pro game, he’ll have a profound impact on the stoutness of Buffalo’s secondary, though he likely won’t receive as much recognition as other players on his side of the ball.