Editor's note: Our two-week series, "The Best," looks at the NFL's best in a number of key categories.
The Best: Player you've never heard of
Jeffri Chadiha: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland
After not intercepting a pass during his first three seasons in the NFL, Asomugha picked off eight last season for the Raiders. He didn't generate much notoriety from that production -- primarily because Oakland limped through a 2-14 season -- but he did turn some heads around the NFL with his maturation. Asomugha has great size for his position (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and he thrives in press coverage. He's also in position to void his contract after this season, so don't be surprised if he finds a fat payday in the open market next spring.
The best player you might not know about is Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo. Sure, people might know his name from his positive steroid test prior to the 2005 draft and his first-round selection by the Chargers. But what people might not appreciate is how good he is. Wade Phillips, his former defensive coordinator, considers him one of the best young defensive ends in the game. In practice and in games, he's almost impossible to block. Linebacker Shawne Merriman draws all the attention on the Chargers' defense because he's the double-digit sack guy, but Castillo will continue to gain more prominence. The Chargers have perhaps the best one-two punch on defense in football with Castillo and Merriman.
Merril Hoge: Aaron Smith, DE, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith is the best player in the NFL that most people haven't heard of. The reason for that is because he plays in the trenches on the line and doesn't put up the huge sack numbers that other ends may put up. But the Steelers defense wouldn't be nearly as effective without him on the team. He creates havoc for opposing offensive lines because he has the ability to power through blocks to get pressure on the quarterback and also disrupt the running game. He also does a decent job of occasionally dropping back into coverage and disrupting tight ends that come across the middle, which allows Troy Polamalu the opportunity to roam freely.
Len Pasquarelli: Kevin Williams, DT, Minnesota
It's difficult to maintain any degree of anonymity when you've been selected for a pair of Pro Bowl appearances. But outside the Twin Cities, it seems that not many folks are familiar with Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, or how good the four-year veteran really is. The Vikings' first-round choice in the 2003 draft, Williams began his NFL career playing mostly at end, then sliding down inside on passing downs. He collected 10½ sacks as a rookie in 2003 and 11½ sacks in 2004, then moved full-time to tackle. His sack numbers are down, with just nine in the past two seasons, but Williams has emerged as one of the NFL's most complete interior linemen. He combines quickness and strength, uses his hands well, and has become a much better defender against the run than he was earlier in his career. That he is so active along the line, and such a good athlete for a 300-pounder, is best reflected in the fact he has 23 pass deflections in four seasons.
Matt Mosley: Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona
Even though he finally went to a Pro Bowl this past season, I still think Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson is a player we don't hear enough about. Over the past few years, the 28-year-old has been a player that opposing offenses always have to account for. I had an NFC East wide receiver tell me last season that he fears Wilson more than any safety in the game. He had eight sacks in 2005 and then followed that up with five sacks, four interceptions and 87 tackles last season. Wilson used to be a player who needed to be close to the line of scrimmage to succeed, but over the last two years, he's worked hard to improve his ball skills. He's capable of taking some of the top tight ends in the league completely out of games and he has great timing when it comes to blitzing. You put Wilson on a better team, and he would've had at least three Pro Bowl trips by now. And while a lot of players have complained at how poorly the club has been run, Wilson has been an excellent teammate.