Saints find their identity after tough start
0:39 | NFL
Saints find their identity after tough start
Thursday November 5th, 2015

Every year, there are players both overrated and underrated in the NFL. And while the overrated list tends to get under people's skin, it's the underrated list that bears watching. This is where you could see the next generation of great players, and at the very least it contains players who definitely deserve more recognition than they're getting right now.

Quarterback: Blake Bortles, Jaguars

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​Bortles's place on this list is unexpected after his disastrous rookie season in 2014—a rookie season in which the Jacksonville front office didn't even want him to start a game. But if you're watching the Jaguars these days, things appear to be heading in the right direction, and that starts with the second-year QB. Bortles is currently tied for fifth in the NFL with 15 touchdown passes, he's got an estimable battery of receivers, and he's the league's most prolific deep passer right now, with 19 completions on 52 attempts for 635 yards, four touchdowns and two picks. Yes, there are still points to refine, but Bortles is young quarterback to watch without question.

Running back: Mark Ingram, Saints

Ingram has mostly been a disappointment since he was selected 28th overall in the 2011 draft. He's never amassed 1,000 yards in a season in an explosive offense. But this season, as Drew Brees's targets have diminished, Ingram has definitely stepped up. He's got 530 yards and five touchdowns on 118 carries, and he's one of the best backs in the NFL in missed tackles caused and success rate per play.

Receivers: Travis Benjamin, Browns/Keenan Allen, Chargers

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Benjamin has been held back a bit by Cleveland's dysfunctional passing game, but he has certainly been an effective deep target when called upon, especially when Johnny Manziel is on the field. Benjamin has five deep catches on 14 targets with three touchdowns this season, and if he was paired with a consistent quarterback, who knows how productive he could be? Allen, in his third season with the Chargers, has become Philip Rivers' main man. He's third in the league in targets with 89, second in receptions with 67, and third in yards with 725.

Tight End: Ben Watson, Saints

No Jimmy Graham? No problem for the Saints, and given Graham's relatively paltry stats in Seattle this season, it looks like he benefited quite a bit from New Orleans' passing game, as opposed to Seattle's, which is about as elementary as you'll see at the professional level. One player who isn't struggling at all is the veteran Watson, who ranks third in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics for his position this season. Graham, by the way, ranks 10th.

Offensive line: Oakland Raiders

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The 2015 Raiders are definitely on the upswing, especially on offense, and its underrated line is a big reason why. Only the Cowboys' line has allowed fewer pressures than Oakland's 45, and while Derek Carr's short passing game is a factor in that, the protection is also great, especially on the left side. Left tackle Donald Penn has been a revelation since the Raiders picked him up in free agency before the 2013 season, and second-year left guard Gabe Jackson has the potential to be one of the best at his position. Center Rodney Hudson, the team's big free-agent acquisition this offseason, has allowed three total pressures in 272 passing snaps. Right guard J'Marcus Webb is the relative weak link, but overall, this is a line built for success.

Defensive line: Arizona Cardinals

Calais Campbell is the rock star of the Cardinals' defensive line, and it's no surprise that he's having another stellar season, as he's nearly unblockable no matter where on the field he plays. But it's not just Campbell who's made this line the best against the run per Football Outsiders' metrics, and decent enough when bring pressure. Linebacker Markus Golden, the second-round rookie from Missouri, leads the team in sacks and hurries, and the back seven does an estimable job when adding to run-stopping duties. Yes, Arizona is firing on all cylinders on offense, but don't overlook the job first-year defensive coordinator James Bettcher has done replacing Todd Bowles.

Linebackers: Aaron Lynch, 49ers/Telvin Smith, Jaguars/Deone Bucannon, Cardinals

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Lynch has turned himself into the lone bright spot on San Francisco's moribund defense. He's a great pressure player as proven by his 37 total disruptions, fourth in the league among 3-4 outside linebackers. Smith, meanwhile, is a point man in a Jags defense that is starting to show a bit of potential; he's developing in coverage as a run fit player. Bucannon speaks to Arizona's defensive versatility—drafted as a safety out of Washington State, he's become a situational linebacker with his tremendous ability to crash in on run fits.

Cornerbacks: Logan Ryan, Patriots/Patrick Robinson, Chargers

Ryan has been a great nickel corner for the Pats over the last couple of seasons, but all kinds of roster turnover forced Bill Belichick to put him outside more often this year. Ryan has responded well, with a 53.1 opponent passer rating, three picks and no touchdowns allowed on 38 targets. Robinson has been a bright spot in a very sketchy San Diego defense because he's equally adept outside and in the slot.

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Safeties: Dwight Lowery, Colts/William Moore, Falcons

Lowery had some good years with the Rex Ryan Jets and got a bit lost in Jacksonville over the last few years, but he's played well in his first year with the Colts, with one touchdown and two interceptions on 27 targets and 14 total stops. Moore has had an up-and-down career with the Falcons, but he's thriving in Dan Quinn's system—he's allowed a few catches underneath (which is typical against a Cover-1/Cover-3 defense like the one Quinn prefers), but he's aggressive after the catch and he's developed nicely as a run-stopper.

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