The National Football League is full of modern day heroes whose athletic pyrotechnics on the gridiron inspire mass discussion—people like: Calvin Johnson, J.J Watt, Tom Brady, and many others. But, there are 1,696 players in the NFL, and football is a team sport—one where every player’s contribution is important. The aforementioned makes it clear that it is impossible to cover all of the stellar talent that the NFL has to offer—regardless of the NFL Network’s 24-hour status.
This begs the question; who are the NFL’s best players that nobody talks about? Well, the intent of this article is to discuss such a pressing question.
Adrian Wilson—New England Patriots
In a passing league, top-flight safeties are becoming progressively more desired by NFL teams—safeties like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, and Adrian Wilson.
The two formerly stated players are household names among NFL fans. But, the latter is somewhat more obscure—possibly due to the fact that he spent of his career as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
Now a member of the New England Patriots, the five time pro-bowler is one of six players in NFL history to have twenty five career sacks and twenty five career interceptions.
Only five sacks and five interceptions away from the distinction of the 30/30 club—a fraternity that currently hosts only Ray Lewis and Rodney Harrison—Wilson has been one of the premier defenders of his generation. And, nobody seems to talk about him.
Just a fun fact, the Cardinals were abysmal last year. But, their pass defense was among the leagues best—ranking 5th overall. A large part of this performance was Adrian Wilson.
Michael Johnson—Cincinnati Bengals
It’s hard to get respect in the AFC North if you aren’t the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens. This fact is worsened when some of the more cynical residents of Ohio don’t even consider the Cleveland Browns or the Cincinnati Bengals to be the best football teams representing the state. Rather they think that the Ohio State Buckeyes are the most formidable pigskin squad in the great mid-western state.
But, the truth is that the Bengals are among the league’s young, up and coming teams. With a young set of skill players on offense, a stout offensive line, and a stingy defense, the Bengals may win the AFC North in the 2013 NFL Season.
A large part of the Bengals defense—a unit that ranked among the top ten of the NFL in points, overall yards, and pass yards allowed in 2012—is their young defensive end, Michael Johnson.
Totaling 11.5 sacks in the 2012 NFL Season, Johnson may help anchor a defense that—in 2013—could be better than the Bengals’ rivals in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Chad Greenway—Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings were one of the league’s surprise teams in the 2012 NFL Season. After selecting Matt Kalil with a top 5 pick—a high selection that came about after a disastrous 2011 NFL Season that featured the blunders of Donavan McNabb—the fading veteran quarterback.
In a division filled with defensive talent, Greenway is somewhat shrouded by his fellow NFC Northerners: Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh, and Jared Allen. But, he is one of the most respected leaders on the Vikings defensive unit. And, nobody seems to talk about him.
Max Unger—Seattle Seahawks
Being an interior lineman in the NFL is possibly among the least glamorous positions in all of professional sports. As an offensive lineman, the players undertake the most important responsibility on team. But, they don’t get to bask in the limelight to the same degree as quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends.
Anchoring one of the league’s toughest offensive lines in Max Unger—the center for the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks had consecutive games where their offense scored fifty points. And a big part of that offensive success was the stout protection provided by Unger and company.
Chris Snee—New York Giants
The New York Giants offensive line has been a patchwork affair for the past few seasons—with aging veterans being shifted about the ever-changing lineup of big men.
But, one constant amidst the shuffling of strong men has been veteran guard Chris Snee, who has been a top guard in the NFL for a decade. Drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft, Snee has been one of Eli Manning’s most trusted protectors for the duration of his career.
Also, he’s married to Tom Couglin’s daughter. The dude’s got spine to say the least.
Geno Atkins—Cincinnati Bengals
As stated previously, the Bengals defense is among the NFL’s premier offense-stopping units. And, a ferocious defensive line fronts them.
Geno Atkins, who is beginning to surface as one of the NFL’s best interior D-lineman, is a player who accumulated 12.5 sacks in 2012—a Bengals record for interior lineman.
Jahri Evans—New Orleans Saints
To state the obvious, Jahri Evans isn’t the most spoken of offensive player for the Saints. And, until Carl Nicks left town for Tampa Bay, he wasn’t even the most spoken of guard on the Saints.
But, Evans—like Snee and Unger—is among the NFL’s best interior lineman. And, he doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of respect. In 2011, Drew Brees set the single season record for passing yards, and Darren Sproles set the record for most yards from scrimmage.
A large part of such offensive performances was Evans’ superior offensive line play.
Ahmad Brooks and NaVarro Bowman—San Francisco 49ers
Everyone talks about the Niners defense and how—in 2011—they went over half of a season without allowing a rushing touchdown. Everyone talks about their two superstar linebackers; Patrick Willis—the next coming of Ray Lewis, and Aldon Smith—the freakish pass rusher who is only two seasons into his career.
While the two aforementioned players are stellar and deserving of the praise that they receive, they only compose half of the Forty Niners’ linebacking corps.
Ahmad Brooks and NaVarro Bowman are the lesser spoken of half of the Forty Niners linebacking corps. And, they are just as fearsome as Willis and Smith.
Duane Brown and Chris Myers—Houston Texans
Lead by Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson, the Houston Texans have developed an extremely formidable offensive assault.
But, like any high-powered offense, all that firepower must start with a dominating offensive line. And the Texans have the aforementioned—with a top left tackle and a powerful center, the Texans offensive front is among the league’s best.
But, like all the other athletes on this list, they aren’t spoken of due to the heroics of the quarterback, running back, and receivers for whom they protect.