Want a sure formula for being an underrated, unsung hero? Play a non-glamor position for a bad team.
New York Jets second-year defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is having a breakout year and continued his amazing streak of performances in the Thanksgiving Day 49-14 blowout loss to the New England Patriots.
With few of his teammates playing well, Wilkerson had yet another fantastic game.
It is not hard to understand why Wilkerson is so unrecognized. He plays defensive end in a 3-4 defense, perhaps the least noticed position in the NFL (outside of special teams). Moreover, despite his production the Jets are 4-7 and probably not going to make the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Wilkerson's individual play has been a revelation. With Darrelle Revis injured for the year, Wilkerson has stepped up into the role of best player on the team. His has developed into a complete player who can do everything, and has made a solid case for the Pro Bowl.
In this situation, the stats do not lie. He is the second-rated (via profootballfocus.com, subscription required) 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, behind J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and ahead of the San Francisco 49ers Justin Smith. He is most dominant in the running game, where he ranks only a hair behind Watt as the best in the NFL. He leads all 3-4 ends with 41 tackles.
Where Wilkerson is perhaps the most underrated nationally is as a pass-rusher. He is sixth out of 3-4 ends in the league with 16 quarterback hurries, though he is not often mentioned as one the premier pass-rushers. Another reason he goes unnoticed is that he has had multiple sacks turned into intentional-grounding penalties. Despite having the same effect as a sack, an intentional grounding penalty deprives defensive players of getting credit for a sack.
Regardless, by any statistical measure Wilkerson continues to have a breakout season. The only man who can claim to be better at what he does is Watt, who may win Defensive Player of the Year.
Without a doubt, Wilkerson deserves his first Pro Bowl appearance now in his second year. However, if his teammates continue to let him down, his greatness might not be recognized just yet.