As following the NFL has evolved into a multi-faceted obsession — in addition to the games, there are highlight shows we must see, fantasy teams to manage and blogs and message boards to frequent — we fans are confronted with information overload. Even with the best TV package available, no human alive can watch the dozen or so games the NFL has running concurrently on a given Sunday (though you probably know someone who tries). The 32-team league sometimes seems like the 10 or 12 popular teams that get their games in prime time, plus the team we obsessively follow and its three division opponents.
The rest of the league can at times get lost in the shuffle — be honest, when’s the last time you watched the Texans or the Browns or the Buccaneers from start to finish? When that happens, we miss out on watching some of the league’s most talented players and their memorable performances.
After the jump there are 10 players I wish I saw play more often, but it’s no fun having a one-man discussion. Add the players you’ve always liked but are rarely able to see play in the comments below.
1. Andre Johnson
. Houston’s 6-foot-3, 223-pound stud wide receiver is almost universally regarded as the best in football. But while his peers have moments burned into casual fans’ memory — think Larry Fitzgerald turning a slant route into a 64-yard go-ahead touchdown in the Super Bowl or Calvin Johnson’s touchdown-that-wasn’t which cost the Lions a win against the Bears last season — Johnson hasn’t been able to make such impressions, partly because there have been so few nationally-televised, high-stakes Texans games in his career. We’re told
Johnson is the game’s best at going up and outmuscling a defensive back for the ball, but it would be nice to have more frequent visual evidence (Like this, for example).
2. Nnamdi Asomugha . I’m going to get my wish on this one this season, as the cornerback’s move from the Raiders to the Eagles will get him in the spotlight far more often. But to date, for all I’ve read about how infrequently he’s thrown at and how he’s neck-and-neck with the Jets’ Darrelle Revis for best cornerback in the game, I can’t think of one time I’ve watched a game and thought to myself ‘man, that guy is ridiculously good.’
3. Joe Thomas . The Browns recently locked up the player called the best left tackle in the game for seven years and $84 million (The League weighed in on his value vs. Fitzgerald’s). Yet if he were sitting next to me on a plane, I wouldn’t recognize him. (I would, however, worry about him squeezing past me to get to the aisle). Most of us don’t watch football to see dominant tackles, and maybe they’re like the officials in that it’s best when we don’t notice them. But when a player is entering his prime and being considered one of the best, I’d like to be able to appreciate it in real time.
4. Haloti Ngata
. The Ravens, who franchised the 6-4, 350-pound defensive tackle, play plenty of high-profile games. But a player who’s famous for eating space and keeping offensive linemen off star linebacker Ray Lewis often goes unnoticed anyway. If you watch closely enough, it’s remarkable the impact an interior defensive lineman can have on a game. Especially if he can blow up run plays. Nothing’s more demoralizing or frustrating as a fan than watching the other team run the ball down your team’s throat.
5. Eric Berry . You ever fall in love with a college prospect around draft time in hopes your team will take him, then lose track of him once it doesn’t happen? Berry is that guy for me. Even though I watched the Chiefs some, I don’t remember being as enamored with Berry, a free safety, as I was before the draft. But he earned his fellow players’ respect, making the NFL Network’s Top 100 list after his rookie season.
6. Adrian Wilson . Perhaps no defensive position offers as much opportunity for game-changing excitement as safety. Most fans grew to respect Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Brian Dawkins and Bob Sanders, even if they played for a hated rival. Unlike those players and Berry, Wilson is a strong safety, which means fewer flashy plays in coverage, and more opportunities to blitz or make bone-crushing hits in the box. Wilson is wilting in Arizona, where aside from that Super Bowl season, we rarely get to watch or appreciate him. He’s also battling an arm injury that leaves his Week 1 status in doubt.
7. Josh Freeman . Perhaps the most talked-about non-running back in fantasy circles, Tampa Bay’s third-year quarterback is coming off a 25-touchdown, six-interception season. That interception percentage was better than every QB last season except Tom Brady. Freeman started all 16 games, winning 10, and completed 61.4 percent of his passes, a seven-percentage-point jump from his rookie year.
8. Patrick Willis . The middle linebacker is a tackling machine, plain and simple. If you watch a 49ers game, you can’t miss him. And, he’s durable, having played all but one of 64 possible games in four seasons. But be honest, how often have you watched the 49ers in the last four years?
9. Cortland Finnegan . There are different styles of cornerback play. Asante Samuel likes to bait QBs into bad throws. Antoine Winfield is praised for his skills in run support. Some, like Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor, function better in a zone than man-to-man. And then there’s Finnegan, the Titans cornerback who makes up for whatever he might lack in size or talent by playing ferociously. And despite being known most for an on-field slapfight with the Texans’ Johnson last season, he’s earned the respect of his opponents.
10. Reggie Wayne . Okay, this is cheating. The Colts wide receiver is plenty noticeable on game day. But for as gaudy as his stats are, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak. Not even in that Reebok commercial he did a while back. He’s the Ichiro of the NFL; consistently produces, and consistently says little about it.
Who are the players you wish you saw play more often? Got anyone more obscure and underappreciated than the guys on this list?