NFL All-Non-Power 5 team

In honor of the NFL draft, which is all about finding value in the later rounds, I decided it is time to put together the team of non-power 5 players currently in the NFL. So that means any player who played college football outside the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.

More often than not, these are the players that make the differences at the pro level for teams. It is easier to hit on players that went to big schools. The best franchises find those late-round gems to build out the roster and win championships on their contributions. So don’t despair if your favorite team drafted a player form a small school you have never heard of. This team would almost certainly win a Super Bowl if all these players were on the same roster. Here is the NFL All-Non-Power-Five:

Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
A proud alum of Miami Ohio, Roethlisberger is Hall of Fame bound. He’s still got it to after leading the league with an absurd 5,129 passing yards. He is a bit interception prone, but with the other notable options being the oft-injured Carson Wentz and inconsistent Joe Flacco, Roethlisberger is an obvious choice.

Aaron Jones
Jones racked up over 4,000 yards in his career at UTEP. (Wikimedia Commons)

Running back – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
He didn’t lead the league in rushing or anything, but the former UTEP running back had a healthy 5.5 yards per carry and is criminally underused in Green Bay. Jones is a bruising runner who picked up just under 1,000 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in only 12 games this season. At only 24, Jones has a ton of upside and will on get better with more touches.

Wide receiver – Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Forget small school, Thielen didn’t even play Division I college ball at Minnesota State. Yet, he caught 204 passes for 2,649 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Thielen is in the prime of his career at age 28 and as long as he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, he will be on this list.

Wide receiver – Central Michigan, Oakland Raiders
It was tempting to go with Davante Adams here because Antonio Brown had a down year. However, a down year for Brown was still 100-plus catches, 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is one of best receivers in NFL history and one of the best draft finds ever as a 6th round pick out of Central Michigan.

Tight end – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
It conveniently works out that the best tight end in the league went to Cincinnati. Travis Kelce dominated the league finishing top 10 in receiving yards and to go with 10 double-digit touchdowns. He is a solid blocker and an incredible receiver.

Offensive tackle – Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
Over the past few years, Armstead has turned into an elite pass blocker on one of the top offenses in the league. Pro Football Focus rated him the top offensive lineman in 2018. Teams pay a premier to find a true left tackle and Armstead fits the bill.

Offensive guard – Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Over looked as a college prospect because of the competition he faced at Hobart, Marpet has become a top-tier offensive lineman. He is one of the cleanest blockers there is, committing just two penalties during the 2018 season. Marpet has versatility as well, having played at both guard positions and center in his four-year career.

Carson Wentz
Kelce was the leader of a Super Bowl winning line in 2017. (Wkimedia Commons)

Center – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
Turns out that one Kelce brother was not enough. The elder Kelce is arguably the best center in the NFL. He is just a year removed from a Super Bowl title in Philly protecting the former mayor of Philadelphia Nick Foles and a two-time All-Pro. Pro Football Focus rated him the best center in the league in his eighth season out of Cincinnati.

Offensive guard – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
Bitonio is one of the best guards in the league in his fifth year out of Nevada. He is an excellent blocker coming off a Pro Bowl season. Bitonio has started all 32 games over the past two seasons and committed just three penalties in that span.

Offensive tackle – Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
The former No. 1 overall pick has not lived up to the expectations that come with being the top pick. Fisher struggled as a left tackle when he first arrived out of Central Michigan. Six years into his career, he is finally hitting his stride as a quality right tackle. Fisher was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018 and finally seems to fulfilling his potential.

Defensive end – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Mack is the poster child for small school players working out in the NFL. He has dominated the league since arriving from Buffalo in 2014. He has racked up double-digit sacks each of the last four seasons. Mack is a three-time All-Pro and possibly the best defensive player in the league.

Defensive tackle – Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears
We have our first member of this team from Canada. Hicks went to school at Regina College north of the border and has turned into one of the most versatile defensive tackles in the league. He is a talented pass rusher, with 16 sacks over the past two seasons, rushing from the interior. Hicks has also proven himself as a run stopper as well.

Defensive end – Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
You’ve probably been hearing about Demarcus Lawrence over the past few months. He finally landed himself a big-time contract extension. Rightfully so as the Boise State product has racked up 25 sacks and 29 tackles of loss over the past two season. Assuming Lawrence continues to produce even after being paid, he is capable of being one of the best defensive linemen in the league.

Outside linebacker – Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
While Davenport is not technically an outside linebacker, he is an edge rusher. After just one season in the league as a raw defensive talent, the former UTSA standout should have a bright future. With 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits as just a situational rusher in 2018. While far from proven, it is difficult to find a ton of defensive talent coming from smaller schools.

Inside linebacker – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and 1st team All-Pro is a no-brainer on this list. Hailing from South Carolina State, Leonard took the league by storm in 2018, finishing as the NFL’s leading tackler. He is still improving in coverage, but his nose for finding the football makes him invaluable.

bobby_wagner_2015
Wagner accounted for nearly 450 tackles at Utah State. (Wikimedia Commons)

Inside linebacker – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
Wagner is the best all-around linebacker in the NFL (except for maybe Luke Keuchley). The former Utah State standout racked up the fourth most tackles in 2018 while also adding 11 pass breakups, second most by a linebacker. He is reliable and possesses a lot of the intangibles teams look for in a middle linebacker.

Outside linebacker – Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens
This might not be a name casual fans are overly familiar with. Judon is a product of Grand Valley State and a situational rusher for the Ravens. He has piled up 15 sacks and 39 quarterback hits over the past two seasons and could be in line for increased playing time with some of Baltimore’s offseason departures.

Cornerback – Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Jones took some time to figure out his best role in the NFL, but after putting up insane combine numbers, it was just a matter of time before technique caught up to athleticism. The former UConn star is a lockdown corner in Dallas. He length and speed make him a great cover corner.

Safety – Damontae Kazee, Atlanta Falcons
Kazee came out of nowhere to lead the league in interceptions this year with 7. Thrown into the fray because of injuries, the former San Diego State standout thrived with more playing time. He has shown some versatility as well at nickle corner.

Safety – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans
Byard often flies under the radar, but he a stud in Tennessee. One of the better tackling safeties in the league, he has transformed himself into a top safety in the NFL. At just 25 years old, the Middle Tennessee State product has a lot of football left in him.

Cornerback – Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
Yet another Bears defensive player joins this team. Bryce Callahan was in a contract year and played like a true shutdown corner in the process. He turned that into a nice contract with the Broncos. Coming from Rice, Callahan had to forge his path into the league and seems to be entering the prime of his career.

Kicker – Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants
Named a Pro Bowler and second team All-Pro, Rosas burst onto the scene in 2018. The former Southern Oregon kicker was probably the most reliable player on the Giants this season not named Saquon Barkley. He made all but one extra point attempt and Rosas made 32 of 33 field goals on the season.

Punter – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans
Kern just missed out on making it on an All-Pro team this season. He has been a consistent punter since arriving in the league in 2012 from Toledo. Kern’s accuracy is a useful tool for Mike Vrabel’s defense.

Kick returner – Andre Roberts, Buffalo Bills
Roberts earned his way to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team in 2018 with the Jets. He led the league in punt return average and brought back two kicks for scores. The veteran out of The Citadel showed his explosiveness and aided Sam Darnold with improved field position during his rookie year.

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NFL Cornerstones: Middle Linebacker

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you all agree.

The selection: Luke Kuechley, Carolina Panthers Honorable mentions: Paul Worrilow, C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland, Curtis Lofton, Bobby Wagner

Hard to argue with probably the most productive linebacker over the last three years. Luke Kuechley since entering the NFL in 2012 has been a stalwart on a very good Carolina defense. He began his blossoming career with a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and he continues to impress. Kuechley has set himself apart from his peers by simply dominating the position. The most talented middle linebacker the league has seen since Ray Lewis is rolling through his career. There are a number of young up and coming linebackers in the NFL but Kuechley is the cream of the crop.

For starters, the Panthers defensive mainstay has never missed a game in his three years; he also started every single one of them. He has youth, at the ripe age of 23, potential, as a former first round draft pick, and talent, based on his incredible production. Kuechley is also an all-around stud. He has the ability to play the run or the pass better than just about any linebacker does in the league. It all starts with his tackling. Kuechley has led the league in tackling in two of his three seasons; he finished fourth in 2013. He has registered at least 150 tackles in every season. He also demonstrates an ability to make both open field and gang tackles on the field. He is one of the best tacklers in the league and at middle linebacker, fundamental tackling is the backbone of success.

To his ability as a run stuffer, Kuechley has proven to be an asset over a liability. Kuechley has 29 run stuffs in his career, with some solid consistency in recording them. He has tallied at least eight in each of his three seasons. For a comparison, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner only has 16 in his three-year career. Kuechley’s totals have marginally declined each year, which is mildly concerning but assuming her continues to produces with consistency, he will be a piece of a great rush defense.

Kuechley is even more prolific as a cover man. His numbers in pass coverage are impressive in general. The former Boston College All-American has 26 pass deflections since 2012. Again, Kuechley has never tallied any fewer than 8 in a season. His 26 total disrupted throws is only one less than Curtis Lofton has in his entire 7-year career. Wagner only 14 pass deflections over the same span as Kuechley. The Panthers’ defensive quarterback was only one of three linebackers to record 10 or more pass deflections in 2014, and the only middle linebacker. That coupled with his tackling ability makes him ideal to drag down players down in open space as is usually required of coverage linebackers.

Linebackers often thrive on big plays and Kuechley has also been an elite source of turnovers and impact plays in career. In his 3 years, Kuechley has accounted for four forced fumbles, seven interceptions and a forced fumble as well. He has proven that he can force turnovers in multiple ways. He is a dynamic player that makes plays all over the field. Winning the turnover battle is the most crucial part a football game. Having a game changer like Kuechley makes a huge difference.

Kuechley is playing at a Pro Bowl level already as a 23-year old. If that is indication of how talented he is, he will likely be a Hall of Famer one day. He is the unparalleled best middle linebacker in the NFL, at any age. He is an elite tackler, top pass defender and excellent run defender. No one is capable of putting up the same numbers with any form of consistency. The one thing that would likely put Kuechley into the category as one of the best defensive players of all-time would be if he was a more prolific pass rusher. However, Kuechley is still an iconic player who will dominant the league for the next dozen years. He is easily the best to make as a cornerstone linebacker in the NFL.