Yesterday, I had a conversation on Twitter with @NotSE1851 about which Northwestern players were the most underrated or overlooked. He suggested linebacker Damien Proby and safety Ibraheim Campbell. While I think Campbell gets enough credit — certainly, all of it is deserved — I've also noted from time to time that Proby doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves. So that got me thinking about which other NU players are overlooked, and it turned into a post. Agree? Disagree? Let us know.
Damien Proby, MLB
To me, Proby is the most underrated player on the team. The Big Ten is stacked at linebacker this year, so he won't gain a lot of preseason publicity in from a conference-wide perspective, either. However, he's a three-year starter who played so well when he burst onto the scene as a sophomore that he pushed David Nwabuisi — a player a year older than him — over to outside linebacker. Last year, he posted 112 tackles, which was over double the year before — granted, he only made seven starts in 2011. Proby will be the anchor of NU's linebacker corps once again. While the focus in camp will be on the battle between Collin Ellis and Drew Smith for the SAM linebacker sport and fans will remember the turnovers recorded by Chi Chi Ariguzo more than Proby's tackles, Proby is a consistent, steady force at middle linebacker and one of the best players on the team.
Rashad Lawrence, WR
There's a lot of hype surrounding the wide receivers, and deservedly so, even if the numbers weren't that great last year (and may not be this year). Former five-star recruit Kyle Prater certainly has the physical tools, Christian Jones looks poised for a breakout year, Cameron Dickerson is a big young player with a lot of talent and Tony Jones has electrifying speed. But what about Rashad Lawrence? After all, Lawrence is the leader of the receivers and will probably be the quarterbacks' No. 1 target this season. He has a great combination of speed and size, and he has a knack for making tough catches close to the sideline. He won't be a first team All-Big Ten receiver — no NU receiver will, considering how much the Wildcats run the ball — but he's a very good player who is often overlooked by the fans.
Brandon Vitabile, C
This one might be a stretch. After all, Vitabile made three different preseason award watch lists, so somebody is recognizing his ability. However, some fans don't seem to recognize just how important Vitabile is to this team, especially this year, as the Wildcats break in a new offensive line. He made our most important players list for that reason and he has a claim to the "best player on the team" title, along with defensive end Tyler Scott and running back Venric Mark. Vitabile will be a rock in the center of the offensive line — there's no reason not to believe that — and he's sure to have a nice NFL pay day coming his way in a couple years.
Jack Konopka, OT
Konopka took some heat at the beginning of last season, and some of it was certainly deserving. It took him a little while to settle into his role as the No. 1 offensive tackle, especially after switching from the offensive line to superback and back to the line in the span of a year. However, he really came into his own and showed a learning curve similar to the rest of the line, beating up on opposing defenses by the time the season came to a close. This year, Konopka switches to the left side. That switch has some people worried, and maybe Konopka really will be more comfortable on the right side, but he's shown the ability to adapt quickly to new positions and has been a major asset for a team that was desperately in need of a solid option at tackle last season.