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Some of these names you will recognize, others maybe you won’t. The NFL is littered with players who too often get lost in the shuffle or toil in the shadows of high-profile teammates or national stars.
Serby Says has therefore decided to shine a light, with the assistance of bright football minds Brian Baldinger (NFL Network analyst) and Charles Davis (CBS NFL analyst), on 32 unsung heroes of the NFL, with apologies to the players (and their agents) we may have overlooked:
- James Bradberry, CB, Giants
- Stephon Tuitt, DE, Steelers
- Zach Cunningham, ILB, Texans
- James Robinson, RB, Jaguars
- Trey Hendrickson, DE, Saints
- Cole Beasley, WR, Bills
- J.C. Jackson, CB, Patriots
- Ali Marpet, LG, Buccaneers
- Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Dolphins
- Neville Hewitt, ILB, Jets
- Brian Burns, DE, Panthers
- Jessie Bates III, S, Bengals
- Julian Blackmon, S, Colts
- Alexander Johnson, ILB, Broncos
- Mark Glowinski, RG, Colts
- Daniel Sorensen, S, Chiefs
- Kenny Moore II, CB, Colts
- Kerry Hyder, DE, 49ers
- A.J. Klein, LB, Bills
- B.J. Goodson, MLB, Browns
- Austin Reiter, C, Chiefs
- Jonnu Smith, TE, Titans
- C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S, Saints
- Foyesade Oluokun, OLB, Falcons
- Romeo Okwara, DE, Lions
- Charvarius Ward, CB, Chiefs
- David Onyemata, DT, Saints
- Wyatt Teller, RG, Browns
- Tim Settle, DT, Washington
- Mike Onwenu, OL, Patriots
- Kamren Curl, S, Washington
- Shane Lemieux, G, Giants
James Bradberry, CB, Giants
Yes, even after securing a three-year, $43.5 million free agent contract. He has three interceptions, 16 passes defended, two forced fumbles.
“Bradberry doesn’t get the attention that he should,” Davis said. “I think if the Giants keep this run going, he’ll get discovered by the national people. Everything’s an intelligent play. He’s not a blazer, he will tackle, he puts himself in a good spot before the ball’s snapped, he eliminates routes knowing what the splits are, what they’ve done on tape before, then he puts himself in position to make the play he expects to come his way.”
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Steelers
In the shadow of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, Tuitt has a career-high eight sacks and 35 tackles.
“The big body, he can rush the passer,” Baldinger said.
“No one mentions his name, but he beats people up upfront,” Davis said.
Zach Cunningham, ILB, Texans
Has a league-leading 119 tackles.
“Tackling machine,” Davis said. “He looks like he should be an outside linebacker with his length chasing things off the edge, but he’s an inside sideline-to-sideline guy, and he cleans up everything.”
“He’s good in coverage, he can really run, he came out of Vanderbilt, he’s a smart guy,” Baldinger said.
James Robinson, RB, Jaguars
An undrafted 5-foot-9, 220-pound free agent rookie out of Illinois State, he has 212 carries for 968 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, 42-for-310 with two TDs receiving.
“He’s one of those guys honestly you go, ‘Do we need to spend the second [overall] pick on Saquon Barkley or spend 50 million dollars on Le’Veon Bell when you could find James Robinson?” Baldinger said. “He’s not gonna give you a highlight, but he’s gonna line up and give you everything you need. There’s nothing he can’t do, that guy.”
“He’s more than workmanlike, student of the game, tremendous effort but better skill than you give him credit for,” Davis said.
Trey Hendrickson, DE, Saints
Fourth-year Florida Atlantic stud with 10.5 sacks.
“He can play the run, he’s got good pass rush moves, he plays with great effort, he gets to the football,” Baldinger said.
“He’s always been a good pass rusher,” Davis said.
Cole Beasley, WR, Bills
Has 66 catches, 797 yards and four TDs.
“He’s Wes Welker, he’s Danny Amendola,” Baldinger said. “There’s nothing that guy can’t do from that position, he runs every route, he catches everything they throw to him. … He’s just dependable.”
“It’s one of those things where we harp on what he doesn’t have so much, we forget what he does have — he’s a much better athlete than he gets credit for,” Davis said.
J.C. Jackson, CB, Patriots
Has seven INTs and 12 PDs)
“He leads the league in interceptions, but I don’t think anybody ever talks about him as a shutdown corner,” Baldinger said.
Ali Marpet, LG, Buccaneers
“He’s so unsung, it’s not unsung anymore. He’s just good,” Davis said.
“Who comes out of Hobart unless they’re a lacrosse player?” Baldinger said. “I think guys that go up against him, know what kind of day they’re gonna have, they’re gonna have their hands full.”
Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Dolphins
Journeyman with a career-high eight sacks.
“People started to think that maybe he just didn’t have the twitch coming off the edge to get home, and he’s shown the twitch is there,” Davis said.
“They run a lot of the same stunts and a lot of things in Miami that they ran in New England, and he’s just like the perfect guy for that,” Baldinger said.
Neville Hewitt, ILB, Jets
Has 103 tackles and sacks.
“He’ll strike you now,” Davis said.
Brian Burns, DE, Panthers
Has six sacks and three forced fumbles. “His array of moves is growing. He’s gonna be a top-five pass rusher in this league for years to come,” Baldinger said.
Jessie Bates III, S, Bengals
Has 88 tackles and three INTs.
“Loved his range coming out of Wake Forest,” Davis said. “He’s like a center field safety who will tackle.”
Julian Blackmon, S, Colts
Star teammate Darius Leonard is touting him (32 tackles, two INTs) for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“He was a corner [at Utah] who moved to safety, student of the game, excellent tackler,” Davis said.
He punched the ball out of Marques Valdes-Scantling’s hands to set up game-winning overtime field goal against Packers.
“He’s a great tackler, and he’s got a presence,” Baldinger said.
Alexander Johnson, ILB, Broncos
Has 98 tackles and one sack.
“He’s 6-5, 260 pounds, he’s got an unbelievable presence,” Baldinger said. “He’s a freak athletically.”
Mark Glowinski, RG, Colts
Quenton Nelson’s bookend.
“Scrappy, he’s a tough guy, plays every snap, doesn’t come out of games,” Baldinger said.
Daniel Sorensen, S, Chiefs
Has 73 tackles, three INTs, one TD return, two forced fumbles.
“He’s a combo hybrid guy, put him in the sub packages, he’ll play linebacker for you,” Davis said.
Kenny Moore II, CB, Colts
“Might be the best slot defender in the league,” Baldinger said.
Kerry Hyder, DE, 49ers
A Lions and Cowboys castoff with 7.5 sacks.
“He’s one or those sawed-off guys who makes a lot more plays than you expect,” Davis said.
“He’s more than just effort, he’s got legitimate pass rush moves, he can win one-on-ones against good tackles, he’s gonna get to your quarterback,” Baldinger said.
A.J. Klein, LB, Bills
Has 62 tackles and five sacks.
“He is a playmaker everywhere he goes,” Baldinger said.
B.J. Goodson, MLB, Browns
Has 81 tackles and two INTs.
Ex-Giant flourishing behind DTs Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi. Stuffed Derrick Henry on a two-point conversion try this past week.
“Is kind of free to run because those guys will eat up blockers,” Davis said.
Austin Reiter, C, Chiefs
“He snaps the ball to the MVP [Patrick Mahomes] every play, he starts the play,” Baldinger said. “If [Mahomes] can’t step up, he can’t make a lot of these throws that he wants to throw. [Reiter is] athletic enough and strong enough to handle the middle and not get pushed around.”
Jonnu Smith, TE, Titans
Has 30 catches for 378 yards and seven TDs.
“I knew that kid when he was at Florida International, played in front of no fans, not drafted,” Baldinger said. “That guy can block, he’s dependable as hell.”
C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S, Saints
Has 54 tackles, eight pass defenses, one INT and one sack.
“That guy does everything for ’em, and is tough,” Baldinger said.
Foyesade Oluokun, OLB, Falcons
Has 58 tackles, two sacks, four forced fumbles and one INT.
“His speed jumps off the charts, he runs with wide receivers,” Baldinger said.
Romeo Okwara, DE, Lions
Ex-Giant with seven sacks.
“Easy bend, easy twitch, but some people didn’t just turn him loose,” Davis said.
Charvarius Ward, CB, Chiefs
Has 42 tackles and five PDs.
“You can win a Super Bowl with Charvarius Ward,” Baldinger said.
David Onyemata, DT, Saints
Has six sacks and one INT
“He’s like your interior pass rusher, and he plays a lot of snaps, and he plays every Sunday, and he’s just a really good player,” Baldinger said.
Wyatt Teller, RG, Browns
“He’s a free agent guy, scrappy guy, tough guy, but he’s really a good puller. He’ll hunt guys up, nobody’s just running him over,” Baldinger said.
Tim Settle, DT, Washington
Has five sacks and five tackles for loss.
“He just beats people over and over again,” Baldinger said.
Mike Onwenu, OL, Patriots
A 6-foot-3, 350-pound sixth-rounder who played RG at Michigan:
“He was a guy that most of us evaluated him as he’s a guard only,” Davis said, “and he’s out there playing tackle with some agility.”
“He’s one of those guys you get in the fourth round, 10 years later he’s still in the league, you know?” Baldinger said.
Kamren Curl, S, Washington
Has 62 tackles and two sacks.
“Seventh-round pick out of Arkansas, all I see him do is make tackles,” Baldinger said.
Shane Lemieux, G, Giants
A Baldinger favorite.
“He looks like Chris Snee or Billy Ard, or pick a Giant from folklore days,” Baldinger said.