Today on Rolling Stone I published an article highlighting five former undrafted free agents that are helping their teams stay in the playoff hunt. (Please read and share! Even just open the link 1,000 times!)
I don't have much else to add to this intro, except that today on the unPower Rankings I want to herald the unheralded. Fantasy Football is not my bag but I understand that a lot of skill players, even a fifth or sixth wide receiver, could be well-known because you've got your finger on the pulse of the waiver wire in case Karen from HR picks him up before you do, so I'm not highlighting ANY skill players.
Defense, offensive line, special teams.
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Do you know who all these guys are? Because even I learned a few things while writing this. ("Even I" because I'm a football genius.)
1. Oakland Raiders (0-10)
Last week: 1
The Raiders had that embarrassing moment in the offseason when they signed Rodger Saffold and then poopoo-ed the deal after he failed a physical, but it may work in their favor. Donald Penn, who was released by Tampa and subsequently signed by Oakland, is having a great season at left tackle; he's had only one penalty, tied for fewest at the position. "Penn"? More like "No Penn" ... alties.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
Last week: 2
You know about a lot of guys on the Jags defensive line but do you know about Ryan Davis? The 25-year-old getting his first extensive playing time in three seasons has 4.5 sacks, two batted passes, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Hey Gus, send him our way!
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
Last week: 3
I'm sure he's a big story in Tampa Bay, but I really didn't know anything about Danny Lansanah. That's not right. The linebacker was undrafted out of UCONN in 2008, basically never played in an NFL game (maybe on special teams?) and is now with the Bucs at age 29 and starting for the first time. He was a camp counselor a couple of years ago and today he has two interceptions returned for touchdowns with Tampa.
You watch Invincible and think "Wow, Mark Wahlberg is so invincible!" but while that story was great, Lansanah looks like he could be a legitimate starting player and this is a guy that would almost never be considered good enough from the pros; his high school team was 1-9, he was the only player on the team to get a scholarship offer, it was a football scholarship to UCONN, he wasn't drafted.
(The funny thing is that that Invincible guy did all the work and I think everybody literally credits Mark Wahlberg with the whole thing now. Nobody ever says what that guy's name is, it's always "Mark Wahlberg.")
4. New York Jets (2-8)
Last week: 4
Nose tackle Damon Harrison was undrafted out of William & Penn three years ago, but he's an elite run-stuffer already.
5. Washington Redskins (3-7)
Last week: 10
The Redskins have a punter named "Tress Way" and a kicker named "Kai Forbath" and they're both pretty good. Still, Tress Way and Kai Forbath are what you get when you play with your scrabble letters for six minutes looking for some combination that makes an actual word.
"Hmm, isn't a "tressway" a passage under a bridge?"
6. New York Giants (3-7)
Last week: 13
Robert Ayers disappointed during his five-year career with the Broncos, but he's got five sacks in 10 games with New York this year, only one sack shy of a new career-high.
7. Tennessee Titans (2-8)
Last week: 5
We've seen a lot of young left tackles really struggle in the NFL, but Taylor Lewan seems to have made the transition seamlessly.
8. Chicago Bears (4-6)
Last week: 8
Ready or not, rookie Kyle Fuller is third in Pro Bowl voting for cornerbacks, one spot ahead of Richard Sherman. I realize I'm supposed to be highlighting unheralded players, but let's take a moment to remember that the Bears pass defense is atrocious, and Fuller doesn't have an interception since Week 3.
9. Carolina Panthers (3-7-1)
Last week: 11
Former UDFA Mario Addison played for four different teams between 2011-2012. He's been with Carolina for two years now and is tied for the team lead with five sacks. And as far as I know, has not been convicted of any crimes, so that's a plus.
10. Atlanta Falcons (4-6)
Last week: 6
PFF credits Eric Weems with 10 special teams tackles. After eight seasons in the league as a receiver, punt returner, kick returner, and now on the other side of special teams, it's hard to come up with another guy that will literally do whatever it takes to play football.
11. Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
Last week: 9
"Tom Johnson" literally has to be a fake name. Apparently a guy using that alias has a sack in six different games for the Vikings this year.
12. St. Louis Rams (4-6)
Last week: 7
Rookie corner EJ Gaines was the 188th pick in the draft, but he's already playing at a high level. Hey Jeff Fisher, stay out of my territory.
13. San Diego Chargers (6-4)
Last week: 12
The Chiefs cut cornerback Brandon Flowers after he made the Pro Bowl last season. He's been even better with San Diego.
14. Miami Dolphins (6-4)
Last week: 17
Jelani Jenkins was a fourth round pick last year and this year, the outside linebacker has 68 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. I'm pretty sure this is what they gave Dannell Ellerbe $35 million to do, but he's on IR.
15. Buffalo Bills (5-5)
Last week: 15
If he was on the Seahawks, Preston Brown would be one of your favorite players. The rookie (73rd overall) plays the Jets this week and the last time he played them, he had nine tackles and an interception.
16. Baltimore Ravens (6-4)
Last week: 16
I don't watch enough of their games to give you a straight answer on this, but based on stats, is Terrell Suggs a better player than Pernell McPhee at this point? They play the same position, have almost identical stats, but McPhee is only on the field about 65% as often as Suggs. (McPhee is a Ravens linebacker, by the way.)
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4)
Last week: 18
After all these years, James Harrison is still underrated. This guy is a Hall of Famer, right?
18. Houston Texans (5-5)
Last week: 14
I would not have guessed that Kareem Jackson was a former first round pick (20th overall, 2010) or that he's been a full-time starter for his entire career. Or that he's pretty good at his job.
19. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)
Last week: 19
With their All-World linebacking corps decimated this year, welcome Aaron Lynch, Chris Borland, and Michael Wilhoite to the rivalry. They all might be pretty good.
20. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Last week: 29
It's hard to highlight an unheralded player on the Seahawks to you, so let's try and go deeper: DeShawn Shead has played really well on special teams and could still make a good safety.
21. New Orleans Saints (4-6)
Last week: 21
DT Tyrunn Walker almost never plays (150 snaps, which basically wouldn't total three full games) but he's active when he's in there. The undrafted free agent out of Tulsa has two sacks and five QB hurries.
22. Cleveland Browns (6-4)
Last Week: 22
Field Gulls Friend Rob Staton kept hammering home the name "Joel Bitonio" before the draft. The Seahawks clearly disagreed, and Bitonio is arguably one of the top five guards in the NFL already. Maybe Bitonio wouldn't have made a huge difference on this team (Carp and Sweezy are hardly the issue) but more to the point, why is Staton not an employee of some NFL team?
23. Philadelphia Eagles (7-3)
Last week: 20
Chris Maragos is still doing his thing on special teams. He also has 10 tackles covering kicks and punts.
24. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
Last week: 27
Most people remember him for calling his grandma on Hard Knocks, but since that day he was traded to the Colts, Vontae Davis has become an elite cornerback ... and former GM Jeff Ireland was fired. I wonder if he called his grandmother?
25. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3-1)
Last week: 25
According to Pro Football Focus, left tackle Andrew Whitworth has not allowed a sack this season. Per their numbers, he and Russell Okung are the only two left tackles not to do that (BestGuy investigated and found a possible Okung sack allowed against the Panthers) but Whitworth wasn't in the top 10 for Pro Bowl voting at his position.
26. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
Last week: 24
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick has quietly been with the Cowboys for seven years. He only became a regular starter last season, and he has yet to allow a touchdown in 2014.
27. Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)
Last week: 23
Go Cougs! Husain Abdullah wasn't drafted out of Washington State (his Wiki page makes no mention of his time there) and he missed a whole season after a series of concussions, but he's been excellent with Kansas City over the last two years.
28. Detroit Lions (7-3)
Last week: 32
Darius Slay is only 23, but the second-year cornerback has helped give the Lions one of the top pass defenses in the NFL.
29. Denver Broncos (7-3)
Last week: 30
When big-name left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season last year, no-name tackle Chris Clark came in and quietly played at a Pro Bowl level. Now he's arguably the best right tackle in football, but nowhere to be seen on Pro Bowl leaderboards, whereas Clady is second at his position.
30. Arizona Cardinals (9-1)
Last week: 26
It took a long-ass time for them to figure out how to do it, but the Cards finally found a left tackle worth playing when they signed Jared Veldheer to a five-year deal.
Last week: 28
While Green Bay has had some pretty questionable first and second round picks at defensive end (Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Mike Neal), at the end of the day, 2012 fourth rounder Mike Daniels has been the best of the bunch.
32. New England Patriots (8-2)
Last week: 31