Underrated Players  

Posted by Walter

1) David Irons, CB Auburn

Irons’ numbers won’t blow you away (23 tackles, 1 INT), and he is consistently overshadowed by his more well known teammate/brother (Kenny). But the bottom line is that David has been the most consistent and best player on the nation’s top defense in 2006 (no disrespect meant to LSU). The reason his numbers are relatively modest, is that most opponents just don’t bother throwing at him. David Irons has all but made it his specialty to shut down the opponents’ top WR. His hit list reads like a who’s who of All Americans. Consider the following:

Jason Hill: 4 catches for 18 yards against Irons, 19 catches for 261 yards and 3 TD against everyone else (that’s an average of 5 catches for 65 yards and 1 TD per game)

Dwayne Bowe: 4 catches for 56 yards against Irons, 17 catches for 297 yards and 3 TD against everyone else (that’s an average of 4 catches for 75 yards and 1 TD per game)

Sidney Rice: 4 catches for 48 yards against Irons, 21 catches for 356 yards and 5 TD against everyone else (that’s an average of 5 catches for 90 yards and 1.3 TD per game)

2) Will Herring, OLB Auburn

Unlike his teammate, Herring’s statistics will impress you, especially when one considers that he is a converted safety playing his first season at outside linebacker. Along with Irons, Herring has been a true leader for the Tiger defense, registering 27 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and 2 interceptions (including a critical, game saving takeaway in the endzone against South Carolina). Herring is the type of player a coach loves. He is willing to do whatever is best for the team, as evidenced by his position move, but he is also a versatile player who can be lined up in a number of places. Though he has played close the line of scrimmage all season, against South Carolina Tommy Tubberville lined Herring up as a cornerback in the red zone because he knew that the Gamecocks loved to throw the fade to star WR Sidney Rice around the goal line. What did Herring do? Well, all he did was make a game saving interception of a Syvelle Newton throw, outmuscling Rice (perhaps the most physical receiver in the entire SEC) for the ball. The bottom line is that if any other Tiger player had been in the position (trying to cover a fade to Rice man on man) South Carolina would have scored a TD there and sent the game to overtime.

3) Jamarcus Russell, QB LSU

I have been a critic of Russell, but I think its time to give the man some credit. Russell has always had immense talent (he has one of the three strongest arms on the planet, and that includes the NFL) and size (6’6’’ 252 lbs.) that make NFL scouts salivate, but now he has the poise and understanding of the quarterback position to complete the package. In 2006 Russell has put up remarkable numbers:

1246 yards passing, 70.4 completion percentage, 10 TD passes and 1 INT.

The completion percentage is really a remarkable statistic, considering the LSU offense demands that Russell be able to execute a vertical passing game. That is to say that Russell is not a system QB, piling up a high completion % by dinking and dunking the ball down the field. He has developed into an incredibly accurate and efficient passer, as evidenced by his 188.40 QB rating (good for second in the nation). Why he hasn’t gotten any hype is somewhat beyond me. Everyone, including the323, has been touting the virtues of Chris Leak all season, but in fact Russell has far outperformed Leak. Compare Russell’s line above to Leak’s:

1240 yards passing, 64.6 completion percentage, 14 TD passes and 4 INT.

The numbers don’t lie, Russell has been the more effective QB thus far…..and Leak hasn’t even faced the Auburn defense yet.

4) Malcolm Kelly, WR Oklahoma

I’d be willing to wager that if you asked 100 college football fans to name three players on the Sooners offense you’d hear 100 say Adrian Peterson, about 30 might follow up with Paul Thompson, and nary a one could give you Malcolm Kelly. That’s a shame, because Kelly has developed into one of the best passing game weapons in the entire Big 12. Oklahoma’s offense has been potent this year, and that has primarily been because of Peterson and Thompson. However, and this is a big however, the development of Thompson and the effectiveness of Peterson are directly related to Kelly’s ability to stretch the field. Defenses can no longer simply stack the box with 8 and 9 men to stop Peterson. Not in the Bob Stoops era have the Sooners had such a dynamic, big play weapon on offense. Witness Kelly’s stats this season:

17 receptions for 379 yards (which comes to an astounding 22.3 yards/rec.) and 4 TD.

Keep in mind that Kelly has amassed these numbers in only four games, and that he has been at his best against top competition. In Oklahoma’s two toughest games (vs. Washington and @ Oregon) Kelly has put up a combined 9 catches for 187 yards and 3 TD. That nobody knows about Kelly while other supposed stud WR are nationally touted is a crime. Compare Kelly’s stats to some more high profile WR:

Ted Ginn Jr.: 23 receptions for 337 yards and 5 TD

Jeff Samardzjia: 23 receptions for 319 yards and 4 TD

Dwayne Jarrett: 20 receptions for 207 yards and 3 TD

Jason Hill: 23 receptions for 279 yards and 4 TD

Kelly compares favorably with all of the above, despite Oklahoma only having played four games thus far. Another thing to keep in mind, the above WR all catch passes from a far more experienced and talented quarterback. I think that Paul Thompson has done an admirable job thus far in 2006, but make no mistake about it, as a thrower he is not yet in the class of a Troy Smith, Brady Quinn, John David Booty, or Alex Brink.

5) James Laurinaitis

Laurinaitis has really been remarkable this season, leading a very inexperienced Buckeye defense. Only a sophomore, Laurinaitis has already solidified himself as the next great OSU linebacker. Like his predecessors, Laurinaitis is a do-it-all linebacker who can stay on the field for all three downs, and from what I can tell is actually a better pass coverage linebacker than AJ Hawk or Bobby Carpenter ever was. Even a cursory glance at Laurinatis’ stat line this season emphasizes just how great an all around game he has: 41 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 2 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 sacks. WOW! The thing that jumps out about Laurinaitis is just how many game and series changing plays he has made in such a short period of time. Any coach will tell you, negative plays (sacks, tackles for a loss, penalties) kill drives. By himself, Laurinaitis has accounted for 5.5 of those plays, or roughly one every game. Moreover, Laurinaitis has caused 6 turnovers himself, which is a remarkable number in so few games. Laurinaitis’ numbers are by far the best of any linebacker in the nation, and he deserves to be a household name right now…..and he will be by the end of the year.


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