Some NFL players don’t receive enough credit. As organized team activities unfold, here’s a list of the most underrated player on each NFC roster, with the caveat that each hasn’t made the Pro Bowl or been named to an All-Pro team:
Arizona Cardinals: Calais Campbell, DE
Patrick Peterson is the talent. Tyrann Mathieu is beloved as the “Honey Badger.” Darnell Dockett is one of the most engaging players in the NFL. However, Campbell was the best player on a very good Cardinals defense last year. His nine sacks were a career high, and he added 40 quarterback hurries.
San Francisco 49ers: Tramaine Brock, CB
Brock finally earned a starting role during the final six games of the regular season and through the playoffs. He led the team with five interceptions and was rewarded with a four-year, $14 million contract. Brock is now the one constant at cornerback for the 49ers, while the other starting spot is up for grabs between three veterans and a pair of rookies.
Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Mebane, DT
The Seahawks’ ultra-talented defensive line is often overlooked. Mebane, in particular, is one of the most disruptive interior defenders in the NFL. He has a lightning quick first step and regularly shoots gaps. It’s that type of disruption up front that makes everyone else’s job on the defense easier.
St. Louis Rams: Janoris Jenkins, CB
Jenkins is developing into one of the better young cornerbacks in the NFL. During his two seasons in the NFL, Jenkins outplayed veteran Cortland Finnegan, whom the Rams eventually released. Jenkins will now move into a leadership role as the Rams’ No. 1 cornerback.
Dallas Cowboys: Doug Free, OT
The Cowboys have invested heavily in the left side of their offensive line the past three years. Free, meanwhile, found a home at right tackle, even though it always seems like he’s on the verge of being replaced. He’s started every game the past four years, while putting together a really strong season in 2013.
New York Giants: Will Hill, S
While the Giants struggled at nearly every level last season, the team’s pass defense ranked 10th overall. Part of the reason for the team’s play in the secondary was Hill’s permanent insertion into the starting lineup for the final eight weeks of the season. Hill steps in against the run well and proved to be the perfect complement to Antrel Rolle.
Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Boykin, CB
Boykin technically isn’t a starter, but he’s quickly developed into the NFL’s best nickel corner. No single cornerback graded higher in coverage last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Boykin tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions during his second season. And he contributes as a kick returner.
Washington Redskins: Barry Cofield, NT
For the past three years, Cofield has started every game for the Redskins and sets the tone up front as the team’s nose tackle. Cofield isn’t a traditional nose tackle, though. He excels when asked to shoot gaps and provide pressure from the interior instead of taking on double-teams.
Chicago Bears: Matt Slauson, OG
In 2013, the Bears revamped their offensive line. Slauson was signed as a free agent and became the team’s best blocker. Slauson has always been very physical at the point of attack, and he continues to improve as a pass blocker. Slauson did require shoulder surgery after the season, but he’s expected to return to the field by the start of training camp.
Detroit Lions: Stephen Tulloch, LB
While rarely mentioned as one of the NFL’s top middle linebackers, Tulloch has been consistently productive the past five seasons. During that time, Tulloch accumulated 639 total tackles. Tulloch is also comfortable in coverage, which makes him a valuable piece to the Lions’ defense.
Green Bay Packers: Mike Daniels, DE
Daniels is rotational player along the Packers’ defensive line, but he makes an impact when he’s on the field. Daniels provides a rare commodity: he’s a strong interior pass rusher. Daniels was second on the team with 6.5 sacks, and he outplayed the team’s first-round pick last year, Datone Jones.
Minnesota Vikings: Brian Robison, DE
Jared Allen has been one of the NFL top sack masters for years, and Robison proved to be a strong bookend. Over the past three years, Robison accumulated 25.5 sacks. He has a quick first step and consistently provides pressure. His 63 quarterback hurries led the NFL in 2013. Robison now has chance to prove he wasn’t simply capitalizing off of Allen and become the team’s top pass rusher.
Atlanta Falcons: Jonathan Babineaux, DT
For nine seasons, Babineaux has been a constant along the Falcons’ defensive line. He’s proven to be a disruptive interior defender. And he was rewarded with a three-year, $9 million contract in the off season. As the 32-year-old lineman enters this season, he has an opportunity to further prove his worth as the Falcons transition from a base 4-3 defense to a 3-4 front.
Carolina Panthers: Greg Olsen, TE
Olsen already led the Panthers in receiving last season with 73 receptions for 816 yards, and his role should expand now that the team’s top four wide receivers left the team. Olsen is already used primarily as a receiver and spends most of his time lined up wide. It allows some leeway to overlook the fact he’s a below average blocker.
New Orleans Saints: Junior Galette, LB
When the the Saints converted to a 3-4 base defense under coordinator Rob Ryan, the team realized it already had a talented outside linebacker on the roster in Galette. During his first year as a full-time starter, Galette was a terror off the edge with 12 sacks and 12 more quarterback hits. Galette’s sack total was sixth best in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Demar Dotson, OT
While the Buccaneers set out to improve the offensive line during the offseason, they didn’t have to worry about right tackle. Dotson has developed into one of the top strong side blockers in the NFL. Only two right tackles graded higher than Dotson last year, according to ProFootballFocus. Dotson’s size (6-9, 315) makes it difficult for defenders to get around.