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Five who are underrated

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Travis from Hudson, FL:
I noticed your "top five pass-rushing ends in the game today" list didn't include the Bucs' Simeon Rice. Why is that? In the past four years he has accumulated 53.5 sacks. That's more than Abraham, Berry and Taylor in the same time frame, and since 2002 he has had more sacks then Freeney and Peppers. He may be getting up there in age but he has showed he can still get to the quarterback.

Vic: Simeon Rice rushes the passer on every play and I don't like that. I like guys who also give the same effort against the run. I won't put pass-rush specialists or guys who play for the sacks on that list. In my opinion, Rice has really been a play-for-the-sacks guy, especially in the last couple of years.

Cody from Calgary, Canada:
I have been arguing with my roommate over who has the toughest division in football. I personally think the AFC West is the strongest while he argues that it's the NFC South. What division do you think is the toughest in the NFL?

Vic: You could certainly make an argument for either of the two divisions you've mentioned. As I've said more than a couple of times, I'm expecting Cincinnati to be a surprise team this year. If that happens, the AFC North could become real tough. At this point, however, I still think the AFC East is the best division in football.

Wade from Conway, AR:
Forgive me, I'm new to the Jaguar nation, but what player, position or unit is the "X" factor regarding the success or failure of the Jags' season?

Vic: Quarterback is always the position that will ultimately determine a team's fate. He is the most important player in the game and on the Jaguars that player is, of course, Byron Leftwich. In my opinion, if Leftwich stays healthy and has a solid year, he will lead the Jaguars to the playoffs. Anything less than that at the quarterback position will make it very difficult for the Jaguars to be a playoff team in 2005.

Tim from Jacksonville:
Who do you think are the five-most underrated players in the NFL today?

Vic: Here are five candidates: Curtis Martin—He may be the most underappreciated player in NFL history; Jake Delhomme—He has Tom Brady-like qualities; Alan Faneca—Guards are often overlooked, but this one has also played left tackle and he may be the most dominant guard since John Hannah; Anthony Henry—He'll be recognized in Dallas for the premier cornerback he is; Patrick Kerney—Every down, every day.

Chris from Jacksonville:
Who is leading the series between the Jags and the Texans? Does this statistic worry you?

Vic: The Texans hold a 4-2 lead on the strength of last year's series sweep. The only statistic that worries me is the final score of the last game between these two teams.

Chris from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
Who are the top five capologists in the NFL today?

Vic: In my opinion, the five teams that do the best job with the salary cap are: Philadelphia, New England, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Minnesota.

Aaron from Lubbock, TX:
Who, in your opinion, has had the more successful franchise, Carolina or Jacksonville?

Vic: There's one game, in my opinion, that separates the two teams: the Super Bowl. The Panthers have made it to the Super Bowl and the Jaguars haven't, and I think that gives Carolina the edge. Otherwise, they've each enjoyed similar periods of winning and losing.

Nick from Hanover, NH:
What was the league's reasoning for suspending Onterrio Smith? Did he fail another drug test? I'm well aware of his possession of the Whizzinator, and that where there's smoke there's fire, but that couldn't have been enough for the league to suspend him for a year without the players union freaking out. What was the headline that I missed?

Vic: There was no headline because the NFL does not divulge specific information about a player's suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy. Possession of paraphernalia such as the Whizzinator is not a violation of the league's substance abuse police so, therefore, was not the reason for Smith's suspension. The rumor is that he missed a drug test.

Rob from Green Cove Springs, FL:
Are the Jags disappointed with season ticket sales at this point in the process or are they on-target with their projections?

Vic: I don't know what the team's opinion of ticket sales is but I am disappointed that Alltel Stadium isn't sold out for the 2005 season. The stadium has been downsized by nearly 10,000 seats. No more excuses.

Rashad from Charlotte, NC:
I am currently in Iraq now and I love your column; it gets me through the day. Two questions: 1.) Whatever happened to Ron Dayne? 2.) Why do critics call him slow and say he can't run? He did break Ricky Williams' record to win the Heisman.

Vic: The Giants allowed Ron Dayne to leave in free agency and he signed with the Broncos. When he was drafted, a lot of draftniks and scouts didn't think he had the quickness to make it in the NFL and those critics, at this point in time, were right. This is a speed game, and that includes quickness. In fact, being quick may be more important than having straight-line speed. Jerome Bettis doesn't have great straight-line speed but he has great feet.

Ron from Jacksonville:
If talks between Antonio Gates and the Chargers broke down and other teams had the chance to sign him as an RFA, do you see him as a candidate for the Jaguars to go after? Also, what kind of draft picks would a team lose for signing him?

Vic: If Antonio Gates has another season like he had last year, the Chargers aren't going to let him get away in restricted free agency. There are four tenders a team might use to retain a player who has reached restricted free agency. Those tenders and their restrictions, compensation and salaries are: 1.) Right of first refusal, original draft pick compensation and $656,000 salary. 2.) Right of first refusal, first-round pick and $1.43 million. 3.) Right of first refusal, first and third-round picks and $1.906 million. 4.) Right of first refusal and not having to match contract language, first-round pick and $2.406 million. Those salaries, by the way, can be expected to increase by five percent next year. No one has ever used the fourth tender. The Eagles tendered Brian Westbrook at the second level and nobody touched him. Depending on the kind of year Gates has, I would expect him to be tendered at the second or third levels. He's not likely to be tendered at the first level because he was undrafted.

Tony from Los Angeles, CA:
It's J.J. Stokes' birthday so please answer this question. I was wondering what cornerback holds the record for most interceptions in his career and who, in your opinion, is the best cornerback ever?

Vic: Paul Krause is the NFL all-time interceptions leader with 81, but Krause was a safety. Emlen Tunnell is second with 79 but Tunnell played much of his career before the cornerback position, as we know it, was instituted. The top interceptor who played modern-day cornerback is Rod Woodson with 71, but Woodson spent much of the back half of his career at safety. In my opinion, Deion Sanders is the best cover guy in history, but he didn't hit anybody and literally ran away from tackles, so, I have trouble making him the top corner of all-time. I favor Mel Blount for a few reasons: He has 57 career interceptions, he was a big and physical player and he forced the rules changes of 1978. Blount's combination of size and strength allowed him, and corners like him, to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage so dominantly that the league went to the five-yard chuck rule. Blount was the prototype of his era, which may be the most physically-demanding period in NFL history.

Adam from Bremerton, WA:
Khalif Barnes graduated from the University of Washington on Saturday. When can we expect him in Jacksonville?

Vic: He's here.

Danny from Jacksonville:
My wife wants to know who you think are the top five cheerleading squads in the NFL?

Vic: 1.) The Eagles cheerleaders. 2.) The girls who were cut during Eagles cheerleading tryouts. 3.) The Eagles cheerleaders' mothers. 4.) The Eagles' cheerleaders' grandmothers. 5.) The guys why do the J-E-T-S cheer.

Matthew from Melbourne, Australia:
What happens to a player's remaining signing bonus (proration) when he retires?

Vic: It depends when the team declares his retirement. If the player retires after June 1 or the team declares to the league his retirement after June 1, and if the player has two or more years remaining on his contract, his remaining bonus amortization is divided over the next two years' salary caps. If he retires before June 2 or his retirement is recorded before June 2, all of his remaining amortization will appear on that year's salary cap.

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