A team-by-team look at the most underrated players in the division.
Kroy Biermann, defensive end: As I recently mentioned in the NFC South Soon to be Stars series, I am excited by what Biermann brings to the table. He is considered by many to just be a hustle player, but his athletic ability is quite strong. His sack numbers are not high, but his ability to disrupt the passer is very good. He can play the run at him or as a backside pursuit player. Biermann needs to be recognized as a very solid starting-caliber defensive end for Atlanta’s 4-3 defense.
Charles Johnson, defensive end: It baffles me that Carolina chose to put the franchise tag on Ryan Kalil rather than on Johnson. Johnson, 24, got recognition for his play last season, but few realize he outplayed nearly every 4-3 defensive end in the league. He is a power and leverage player who excels versus the run. He also has an array of pass-rush moves and plays the game with an excellent motor. Johnson has been very good with every opportunity that he has received and should get better. He proved last season he is a great pass-rusher already, and it is imperative the Panthers lock him up for the long term.
Carl Nicks, guard: Nicks might be the best guard in football, or he might be the second-best guard on his team behind Jahri Evans. That is debatable, but what is not debatable is that Nicks does not get his due in the public eye. His movement skills for his size (318 pounds) are amazing. He is quick to recover when beaten, can pull and trap and is a good blocker in space hitting a smaller target. Nicks is a very good pass-blocker, but he is just an animal in the run game. If the Saints need a tough yard, they should run behind Nicks, even more so than Evans.
Quincy Black, linebacker: Black is up for free agency, as is MLB Barrett Ruud, so the Bucs used a third-round pick on Mason Foster. Foster could conceivably play any of the three linebacker spots in Tampa Bay’s defense, but I see his best fit in the middle. I think the Buccaneers agree with me and will do everything possible to keep Black, even though he isn’t as well known as Ruud. That would be the wise move, because Black is an up-and-comer who has exceptional range and playmaking skills. He does everything well and never should come off the field. Black is the perfect fit in this defense and could be poised to excel behind Tampa’s young and ultra-talented defensive line. If there is a choice to be made between Black and Ruud, the answer is a very simple one: Black.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL