The NFL’s unsung club: New England Patriots’ Christian Barmore and Baltimore Ravens’ Marcus Williams players deserving of more love ahead of 2022 season

Cameron Hogwood

Interviews, Comment & Analysis @ch_skysports

A look at some of the NFL players deserving of more recognition ahead of the 2022 season, including a New England Patriots battering ram and a fresh face in Baltimore; follow build-up to the new NFL season across Sky Sports’ digital channels.

Last Updated: 06/07/22 11:32pm

New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore has established himself as one of the rising stars in his position

With the NFL in the midst of its quietest period on the calendar, it is an ideal window in which to shed light on some of the league’s more underappreciated stars. 

From an Indianapolis Colts bodyguard to an Atlanta Falcon looking to establish himself as the best his position has to offer, Sky Sports NFL explore six players deserving of more recognition ahead of the 2022 campaign.

Sebastian Joseph Day – NT – Los Angeles Chargers

The small price for playing beside an Aaron Donald can be ignorance to a more subtle starring role, to which Sebastian Joseph-Day may be able to attest. Though not as far as Brandon Staley and his Hollywood exploits are concerned, the Los Angeles Chargers head coach this offseason plucking the interior blockade that helped furnish his stock-pumping defense with the Rams and tasking him to implement and teach the same scheme in a different LA jersey.

Sebastian Joseph-Day signed with the Chargers this offseason

Sebastian Joseph-Day signed with the Chargers this offseason

Limited personnel and production hindered Staley’s first-year efforts to replicate the Vic Fangio-fanboyed, light-box, two-deep system that invited and preceded to gobble up the run for Sean McVay. Joseph-Day’s arrival is key in enabling him to revert to his favoured approach after Staley was forced to rotate a safety down more often in single-high coverages over the second half of the year. The 2018 sixth-round steal’s 15.7 per cent run-stop rate ranked first among interior linemen with at least 100 run defense snaps in a 2021 season limited to seven games by injury, per PFF. Joseph-Day, who ranked second among interior linemen with 30 run stops in 2020, comes in to patch up a run defense that finished last in rush success rate, while creating more one-on-one matchups for a pass-rush duo of Joey Bosa and newly-acquired Khalil Mack.

Braden Smith – RT – Indianapolis Colts

Braden Smith can probably relate to Joseph-Day’s Aaron Donald-factor as he mauls and swats as one of the league’s most reliable right tackles across from a three-time First-Team All-Pro guard in Quenton Nelson on the Indianapolis Colts offensive line. There is a case that the success of the 2018 second-round pick has elevated and contributed to that of 2018 first-round pick Nelson, providing long-term balance to a pass protection unit that had been in turmoil prior to their joint-arrival.

Smith, who was drafted as a guard before shifting to tackle as a rookie, has allowed just 14 sacks as he heads into his fifth season with the team, surrendering zero in 2020 before giving up just four in 11 games last year. He has also answered Frank Reich’s calls for ground-supremacy behind Jonathan Taylor and is graded by PFF as the third-highest run-blocking right tackle in the league since 2019, thriving in the condensed tight-split formations the Colts have sought to run in two-tight end packages. The Auburn product has rather emphatically crushed concerns over his smaller-than-traditional length arms, and is unfortunate to have missed out on a Pro Bowl nod early in his NFL career.

Marcus Williams – FS – Baltimore Ravens

It lingers as an unwanted chapter that might never quite disappear, but thankfully, rightly, finally Marcus Williams’ recognition is soaring beyond a costly misread entitled the Minneapolis Miracle. The response since then has been to assert himself as arguably the NFL’s most accomplished free safety, and a heartbeat of the Dennis Allen scheme in New Orleans that relied heavily on Williams’ deep-shot diagnosis and stalking, along with the modern necessity to rotate down as a trusted box-filler post-snap.

Safety Marcus Williams, who signed with the Ravens this offseason, looked like Aaron Rodgers' intended target on a deep interception in the opening week of last season

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Safety Marcus Williams, who signed with the Ravens this offseason, looked like Aaron Rodgers’ intended target on a deep interception in the opening week of last season

Safety Marcus Williams, who signed with the Ravens this offseason, looked like Aaron Rodgers’ intended target on a deep interception in the opening week of last season

This season the Baltimore Ravens will proudly flaunt the downfield camouflage that sees Williams arrive on scene from nowhere to break up a pass, and the shrewd decryption of flood and mesh concepts underneath, with the fluid hips and body placement to back-peddle with deep routes and the re-adjustment speed to feint double teams in order to lure quarterbacks towards his desired assignment. He and rookie Kyle Hamilton loom as a league-leading safety tandem, Williams’ sideline-to-sideline coverage to break up a sideline pass leaving Jalen Hurts perplexed against the Philadelphia Eagles last season bearing daunting similarities to the Notre Dame product’s viral interception against Florida State. A porous, injury-hit Ravens secondary of 2021 might be about to become the league’s most potent.

Christian Barmore – DT – New England Patriots

The Patriots nabbed a big ole lunch money-stealing bully in defensive tackle Christian Barmore, whose modest crowd of smitten plaudits perhaps stems from an inevitability that his NFL transition would be seamless under Bill Belichick. Barmore laid out front seven stalwart credentials in his first year as he logged the highest pass-rush win rate by a rookie since 2006 (17.2 per cent) while ranking first among rookie interior linemen with 48 quarterback pressures (PFF). His production came from just 55 per cent of snaps as the Patriots tasked him primarily with pass-rush assignments, from which he was ferocious against double teams with quick hands, frightening upper-body strength, first-step burst and a dogged motor to tinker and climb upon initial contact.

When quarterbacks did squirm outside the pocket his reaction and lateral quickness culminated in bruising hits, while refined ball location offered encouragement should the Patriots look to utilise him more in the run game and as a three-down linemen moving forward. For an insight into the extent Barmore prides himself on old-fashioned ‘hustle’ (a given for any Nick Saban/Belichick protege), look back at the Patriots’ win over the Carolina Panthers in Week Nine and observe him steamroll Tommy Tremble to help force a fumble at the sideline despite there already being three defenders on the scene. That he was largely omitted from run-stuffing duties as a rookie hints at enormous growth potential.

AJ Terrell – CB – Atlanta Falcons

The 2020 first-round pick is included here with every expectation he will be showered with love come the end of the 2022 campaign, if not well before. As much should perhaps already be the case following a season across which he led all cornerbacks in completion percentage allowed (41.1 per cent) and yards allowed per target (4.1), according to Next Gen Stats. The Clemson product’s three interceptions and 16 pass defenses may not have matched the pick reel of Trevon Diggs in 2021, but he was far less generous in surrendering yardage than his route-jumping, risk-over-reward counterpart. Terrell buried a tough outing against Ja’Marr Chase in the 2019 College National Championship as an unwelcome reference point for good with a notable leap in his sophomore year, Dean Pees showing enough faith to pit his rising face of the defense one-on-one against the league’s top receivers.

The outcome was slick and sustained route-shadowing aided by shrewd body placement to pin himself to the hip of opponents, along with polished instincts and an ability to adjust to secondary motions and extended plays. He ran receiver routes like a receiver, became a nuisance with rangey arms that allowed him to stretch around players and break up passes, and disrupted in both press and soft coverage, the latter underlining his speed and angle-taking with which to shut down the space between himself and the ball-carrier or pass-catcher. The back peddle-turned-swivel and burst was tremendous, the mid-route physicality suffocating and the play recognition reflective of growth. In pairing him with Casey Hayward this offseason the Falcons carry one of the league’s more talented ball-tracking tandems into 2022. ‘Soon to be appreciated’ may be more fitting than ‘underappreciated’ or ‘underrated’ when it comes to Terrell, who will be hunting for a Pro Bowl selection this year.

Jauan Jennings – WR – San Francisco 49ers

There is just something about Jauan Jennings, something even those affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers might still be working to put their finger on. Whatever it is, Kyle Shanahan is an admirer and appears to have found a way to make it work. The 2020 seventh-round pick ran a less-than blistering 4.72 second 40-yard dash, and logged a not-so-high 29-inch vertical jump at the Scouting Combine to put his name largely out of sight, out of mind; apparently not a flyer, apparently not a lob-it-up lighthouse threat – noted.

With less than 30 seconds to go, Jauan Jennings got his second touchdown of the game as the 49ers forced overtime against the Rams

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With less than 30 seconds to go, Jauan Jennings got his second touchdown of the game as the 49ers forced overtime against the Rams

With less than 30 seconds to go, Jauan Jennings got his second touchdown of the game as the 49ers forced overtime against the Rams

His criteria for ‘more love’ is based on clutch emergence down the stretch last season as he compensated for injuries elsewhere with 19 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns over the final seven games, including six receptions for 94 yards and two game-levelling scores in the 27-24 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Rams on the final day. Behind the ‘finds a way to get open’ adage applied to him was crisp and often-underestimated route-running, accompanied by clever body positioning to impair and stall covering defenders, and plain old reliable hands. When it came to the dirty work PFF graded him fourth in run blocking (83.5) among all qualifying wide receivers. It pays not only to find soft spots, but to create them, and that might be his ‘something’. Glowing reviews from inside the building so far this offseason have set up a potential break-out year. He may not have even done enough yet to be labelled ‘unsung’ or ‘underrated’, but he is one to watch and one for whom Shanahan could have some planning.

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