Now a couple of weeks into the off season we find ourselves looking forward to free agency and the draft, and then a long off season before pre-season starts in August. NFL Network provide as much entertainment as they can and one of the highlights is the weekly Top 100 Players of 2019. Well before they name Brady and Donald the best players in the league, allow me to profile an alternative top 10 of players whose names you probably won’t be hearing this May. Players who usually fly under the radar but deserve so much more credit than you’d think;
Perhaps the Superbowl MVP had Goff thrown the ball to one of his own players in the dying moments of the game instead of Stephon Gilmore. Hecker along with the Seahawks Dickson have been the gold standard of punting in 2018, yet Hecker has been doing it longer and with a lot less plaudits until his pass in the playoffs versus the Saints. Alongside the Superbowl check out the Green Bay game in regular season to see just how dominant and valuable Hecker is to the Rams, so often leaving opponents starting possession in their own 5 yard line.
Has it really been 4 years? Kenny Clark was part of a very good UCLA Bruins defence with Takk McKinlay, Myles Jack, Fabien Moreau and Eric Kendricks, Clark was drafted to fill the literally giant shoes of BJ Raji and has excelled on the Packers defensive line. Still only 23 Clark was responsible for In 13 games, the UCLA alum recorded 55 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks and three passes defended according to PFF. You might argue that this was expected of a 1st round pick, perhaps, but if that’s the case why aren’t more people talking about him as one of the leagues best defensive tackles?
Joe Thuney & Shaq Mason
Ok, so this list is 11 players, but I’m submitting the guards of New England as a pair, a pair who throughout the regular season gave up just one sack between them. Impressive right? Tom Brady may be labelled “The Goat” by some, and have too many rings for one hand, but he would be nothing without the help of his offensive line. These 2 players were drafted in the 3rd and 4th round respectively and grown into 2 of the league’s best linemen, yet they will so often be overshadowed by Brady, New England Patriots are a team not an individual, and that’s forgotten so often.
Making up for the loss of the Legion of Boom is no easy task, more so when you consider that defensive linemen Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are also no long with the team. Frank Clark has picked up the role of sack master and is a very highly rated free agent this off season, but almost under the radar is the performance of DT Jarran Reed, thought of a a massive run stuffing presence Reed has actually racked up 10.5 sacks and lies joint sixth in this stat among defensive tackles with no less the Fletcher Cox and Geno Atkins, alongside this add 12 tackles for a loss and 24 QB hits.
The endless pursuit of perfection is something you see every day in the NFL, and yet so few players come close, you have the MVP of the league every year, again players get called the goat, but what about an example of true perfection? A quarterback rating is a formula most of us wouldn’t dare to try and comprehend, we know 100+ is good, under 100 average or worse, but a perfect passer rating is the lofty heights of 158.3, a quarterback can do no more, that is perfection, well the Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett connection earned the perfect rating as a pair for the entire 2018 season, drink that in! The Seahawks should consider themselves lucky they had already signed Lockett to a contract extension before the start of the season.
Filling out your Pro Bowl ballot you think of the household name blindside protectors like Tyron Smith, Trent Williams, Joe Staley and Andrew Whitworth, but give some time to the right tackles too, arguably as important as the left because you will find players like JJ Watt line up all over the place to gain an advantage. Protecting a mobile quarterback is never easy, as shown for years now in Seattle, but when the player you are blocking for turns out to be the League’s MVP you know you have done something right, the Chiefs also seamlessly transitioned their running game from Kareem Hunt to Damian Williams. Keep an eye on Joe Thomas’s consecutive snaps record as Schwartz currently sits first in active NFL players at 6934.
Often the forgotten man in L.A. due to being in the same position group as Donald and Suh, Michael Brockers has arguable as tough a job as anyone in the league to be noticed – I know of one prominent mock drafter who forgot to include Brockers in their draft at all back in 2012! Yet Brockers is that man the line would not operate without, just as Brady couldn’t do what he does without his o-line. Common thought processes are that if Donald is being double teamed, it frees up Suh, the 2 of them in turn free up room for Brockers to achieve 54 tackles this season, just 1 short of his career high. He is the nose tackle that takes care of the run D and allows others to take the spotlight.
Budda Baker – Fans Choice
With 46% of the vote we sure have smart fans! Budda Baker was part of an excellent secondary in Washington which made the College Championship semi-finals, forming a great foursome with Marcus Peters (until late in the season, Sidney Jones and Kevin King. The play of Budda Baker helped the Cardinals transition easily from Tyrann Mathieu at the back, the later being deemed simply too expensive to keep in favour of other players. Filling in at slot corner this season and now likely to replace Antione Bethea at safety, Baker is making some very tough decisions very easy for the roster builders in Arizona. He is a young player they can build around on a defence being rebuilt.
Larry Ogunjobi’ blend of speed and strength overshadows any concerns about his size, it may have caused his slip to the 3rd round of the draft but he has been the one shining light on a Browns defensive line that without linebacker Garrett would be a much bigger concern to the team. Having been a backup in his rookie season he lead the line with 12.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks, strong against the run and pass; he will be the player the new line is built around in Cleveland.
Add Xavier Williams to the list of mistakes made recently by the Arizona Cardinals, having become a great run stuffing nose tackle in his 2 years in Arizona, having joined the team as an undrafted free agent, the Card’ designated him with an original tender lost Williams to the Chiefs for nothing. He went from strength to strength all season and now starts for the Chiefs, racking up 7 tackles against the Patriots alone in the Championship game. A name to remember.