A team-by-team look at the most underrated players in the division.
D.J. Williams, linebacker: Williams was a first-round pick in 2004, and the Broncos paid handsomely to keep him a couple of years ago. He is appreciated in Denver, but this athletic, smart linebacker doesn’t get much national notice. He has never been to a Pro Bowl, yet Williams is a tackle machine. He has had at least 119 tackles in three of the past four seasons. He is versatile and has played virtually every linebacker position possible.
Brandon Carr, cornerback: I chose Carr over stout guard Ryan Lilja and play-making linebacker Derrick Johnson. Carr is younger than Lilja and Johnson, and he may eventually get the recognition he deserves. One of the reasons Carr is overshadowed is that he plays opposite fellow four-year cornerback Brandon Flowers. Flowers was a second-round pick in 2008, and Carr was taken three rounds later. The terrific Flowers has gotten most of the accolades, but Carr is standout as well. He is approaching free agency soon, and he’ll hit the cornerback jackpot by getting paid by either the Chiefs or some other lucky club.
Marcel Reece, fullback: The fullback is becoming extinct in the NFL. Many teams just don’t have a use for this position. The fullback, however, thrives in Oakland, a franchise with a rich tradition of fullback play. The Raiders have scored again with Reece. A college receiver, Reece gives Oakland’s offense a delicious variation. He is a key blocker in one of the NFL’s best running attacks, and he is a receiving weapon in short-yardage situations. Plus, the intelligent Reece has become a leader of the unit. The fullback position is alive and well in Oakland.
Antonio Garay, defensive tackle: Garay had an incredible impact on the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL last season. The Chargers’ defense was long ignited by the ferocious nose tackle play of the massive Jamal Williams. When Williams got hurt in the first game of the 2009 season, ending his career in San Diego, the Chargers were worried that their defensive identity was gone. But Garay, a 31-year-old journeyman, took over in 2010. He instantly became an anchor on the defense and dominated the line of scrimmage. The dominance of the nose tackle has continued in San Diego with Garay.