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We’ve all seen guys come out of nowhere with a one-year deal or guys that get multiyear deals that you’ve never heard of. You scourge the internet for information on this guy, you read what local writers put on Twitter, and you stalk the message boards, but this column is for fans who loosely follow the league, only follow their conference or team and those who only know the big names. Here is a look at 13 guys who go greatly underappreciated in the national spotlight and are overlooked by fans. We all want a Dashon Goldson, Jarius Byrd or Ryan Clady, but these guys could provide valuable talent and experience to the Eagles and other teams.
DeVito is a guy that has never had it easy. He was undrafted out of the University of Maine. He was a rotational guy for his first three seasons with the Jets, but took on a major role in the 2009 season (Rex Ryan’s 2nd season). So what did the team do? They drafted two 3-4 DEs in 1st round in back-to-back drafts. Still, DeVito has started 26 of the 28 games he’s played in over the past two seasons. What makes DeVito valuable for a 3-4 team is that he also has the ability to play nose tackle. This season, Jets starting nose tackle, Siona Pouha, went down with an injury, forcing DeVito in at nose tackle. He was able to play and play well. DeVito isn’t likely to be resigned by the Jets due to their atrocious salary cap situation and a bundle of important guys hitting the market that they’d most likely keep over the big New England native. DeVito is more of a run-stopper than a pass rusher (only 2.5 career sacks) and has the ability to take on double teams, no matter if his team is playing 1 gap or 2.
He’s not a Pro Bowler, but Levitre has been a perennial bright spot of the Bills offensive line. The four-year veteran has never missed a game or a start, since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft. His offensive line has gotten flack over the years, but Levitre has been the only constant when blocking for Ryan Fitzpatrick. It also should be noted that he lined up against Demetress Bell during Bell’s "break-out" 2010. Levitre is a two-way guard (can and has played left and right) and is a solid pass and run blocker. Much like the previously mentioned DeVito, Levitre is very adaptable to a position change. When Eric Wood (picked with the 1st round pick the Eagles traded for Jason Peters) tore up his leg (http://bit.ly/9Q3PH4) their rookie year, Levitre stepped inside to center to fill in for his injured comrade.
Phillip Wheeler, Oakland Raiders, OLB, 28-Years-Old, 5-Year Veteran
Wheeler is a veteran that some might call a typical journeyman. The prototypical weakside linebacker is coming off a career year with the Raiders. While it’s not really a fantastic distinction to be a top player on the Raiders, nevertheless, Wheeler is good player who has played on good teams. The Georgia Tech grad was taken in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by Indianapolis and played in the Colts-Saints Super Bowl. This season, Wheeler showed the ability to get the quarterback, racking up 3 sacks and two force fumbles. While he isn’t likely to be a Pro Bowler during his career, he is definitely a solid pick up for a team searching for a solid WILL.
Smith is in an odd predicament as a free agent in 2013. He’s coming off a season where he only played in the final two games of the Jaguars season in 2012 after dealing with a groin injury. Like Wheeler, Smith is a Georgia Tech alum and the guy has produced throughout his entire career. Ask a Jacksonville Jaguar fan who their favorite defensive player of the last 3-5 years is and they’ll likely tell you that Daryl is their guy. Smith is most valuable as a SAM, but has played all three linebacker positions throughout his tenure with the team. Smith’s age and injury concerns could make the Jaguars All-Time leading tackler, a bargain on the open market.
You may have heard of Hartline. He’s a guy most teams would want as number 2 or 3 guy, but somehow was able to pick up over 1,000 yards receiving this season with rookie Ryan Tannehill at QB. Hartline is a good route runner and has even better hands. He’s not much of a speed demon (understatement) but much like Jason Avant, his route running prowess gets him open frequently. Hartline is not a likely Eagles target but could be a name worth knowing if the Giants or Cowboys look to free agency for a third WR.
Did you like Leonard Weaver? Yeah, this guy has similar attributes. Much like Weave, Casey is a converted tight end, who is more of an H-back. He can do it all, with a great emphasis on run-blocking and receiving. The Texans didn’t resign Vontae Leach during the 2011 offseason because of their fondness for Casey, who has started at the fullback ever since. Keep in mind, during that time, Arian Foster has run for 2,600 yards in that time frame. There is a lot to like about Casey, considering Foster stats, his 66 career catches for 752 yards, his height (6’3") and his versatility (do you want a good 2nd/3rd tight end without taking up an extra roster spot?).
Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders, TE, 27-Years-Old, 4-Year Veteran
If you play fantasy football, you’ve likely heard Myers’ name but have never seen him play and couldn’t differentiate him from any other white tight end not named Brent Celek or Jason Witten. Myers had been a role player with very little on his resume until 2012. With Kevin Boss cut and Zach Miller long-gone, Myers took on the role of go-to tight end for Carson Palmer. While Carson had a pretty rough year, Myers turned out to be an impressive and underestimated pass-catcher (79 catches, 806 yards, 4 TDs). While he’s not an ideal number 1, he could be a force for a team looking run a lot of the 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends).
Loadholt should be familiar to college football fans. He was heralded out of Oklahoma and taken in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, his first two years were nothing to be excited about. However, starting in 2011, Big Phil turned his play around and is now among the better starting right tackles in the league. Adrian Peterson will never be considered an "East-West" runner, but when he did go outside, Loadholt handled fools. Very good for a team makes running the football a priority (hint, hint).
Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DE/OLB, 27-Years-Old, 4-Year Veteran
You may have heard of Michael’s older brother, Martellus (http://bit.ly/bdXPBu). Anyway, Michael has been making his bones in Tampa Bay, which isn’t known as a defensive juggernaut, and while Martellus likes Capt’N Crunch, Mikey likes sacks (shout out to Life cereal). The big man from Texas A&M brought down opposing QBs for sacks 9 times this season. The 6’4’’ mammoth is among the top defensive lineman in free agency and has the ability to stand-up in a 3-4. The great thing about Bennett is that he seems to just be entering his prime. If I’m Greg Schiano, I’m Franchising this beast.
Some BGNers might remember me championing for this kid when was dropped from the Tampa Bay Bucs early into the season. This kid had 6 sacks in limited action for the Bengals in 2012 and looks to be a valuable guy for a defensive line rotation. He has positional versatility, having played in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 (he was a five-technique) and played DE and DT in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3. Hate to bring it up, but he’s also scored more touchdowns in an Eagles game than Jason Avant this season (scored on a fumble recovery on Nick Foles on Thursday Night Football).
Antwan Barnes is a familiar name if you were an Eagles fan prior to 2010. He was a late-preseason trade acquisition by Philadelphia, who lasted two games in green. He was cut and was quickly snatched up by San Diego, where he became a rotational pass rusher as a 3-4 OLB. Barnes failed in Philly because Rory Segrest was his defensive line coach and as he proved in SD, he is a much better rush linebacker than defensive end. If you sign Barnes, you want him to be the third rusher in your rotation as he’s not an ideal starter due to his lack of run-stopping ability.
Erin Henderson, Minnesota Vikings, OLB, 26-Years-Old, 5-Year Veteran
Erin Henderson is the younger brother of E.J. "Leg Goes the Wrong Way" Henderson (http://bit.ly/5rkqhy). The younger Henderson is a WILL linebacker who has starting and special teams experience. He’s not going to stick out with his stats but is a decent tackler and has range. The Vikings are not a defensive powerhouse, but Erin Henderson has played well over the past two years. The downside with Erin is he searching for serious linebacker money, but will most likely have to settle for a less than stellar deal for the 2nd year in a row. He’s worth considering if we stay as a 4-3.
While the Eagles secondary needs starters, they could use some veteran competition and depth as well. Toler caught a tough break (literally) in 2011, when he was lost for the whole season, after being solid as a starter in 2010. In 2012, Toler served as depth on Ray Horton’s talented defense. Toler has falsed potential and is ballhawk in the making (http://bit.ly/V1ppXa). He has good size (6’2") and speed and great hands. The guy can be a great option as a third outside corner and dime corner.