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AFC unsung heroes: Hidden gems from each team

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The NFL Pro Bowl is coming up this weekend, which means some the league's best players will be in Orlando to celebrate their excellent seasons in style. But that also means a bunch of players who paved the way for those seasons will remain at home. In an effort to shine a light on those, here is our list of unsung heroes in the AFC. The NFC list can be accessed here.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor, quarterback. An unpopular opinion, I'm sure, but he was named a Pro Bowl alternate for a second consecutive season after putting up numbers remarkably similar to his production in 2015 -- only three fewer passing touchdowns and 12 fewer passing yards -- while still completing 62 percent of his passes. Taylor is above average for the position and played well despite some startling performances from his offensive line. He was sacked a career- and league-high 42 times this season, but according to Pro Football Reference, had a higher approximate value than he did last season.

Miami Dolphins: Byron Maxwell, cornerback. Last month, Maxwell claimed he was the No. 1 corner in the NFL. It was the launching pad for plenty of cheap jokes, but the truth is that executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum got a solid deal for a player many believed was busted.

New England Patriots: Logan Ryan, cornerback. The former third-round pick was recently praised by head coach Bill Belichick for his tackling ability in the secondary. Ryan's finishing the season with some shine, picking off passes in three of his last five games, including one in the Divisional Round win over the Texans. An impending free agent, Ryan adjusted to some mistakes early in the season to position himself in a solid spot come March.

New York Jets: Brian Winters, guard. Winters recently was rewarded for his efforts, signing a four-year contract last week. The interior of the Jets' offensive line played well enough that the tandem of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell put up 1,535 yards and 10 touchdowns. Though we can all agree that the ground game wasn't the issue in New York this season.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: Trevor Siemian, quarterback. Another unpopular opinion, though I feel like the Broncos value him more than we think. There's a new group of decision-makers in town, but I would not be surprised to see Siemian win the job in training camp (in the absence of another veteran brought in to take the gig). Siemian had five games with a passer rating above 90 and three games with a rating above 120. This is something you can build on.

Kansas City Chiefs: Mitch Morse, center. The offense is conducive to better line play, though it should not take away from the fantastic seasons we saw from tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Morse. The second-year center told the Kansas City Star in training camp that he bulked up, which allowed him to hang in a very competitive AFC West.

Los Angeles Chargers: Matt Slauson, guard. The 30-year-old has defined consistency since surprising the Jets and winning the guard job during his second NFL season in 2010 after entering the league as a sixth-round pick in 2009. From there, he bounced to Chicago and San Diego, where the Chargers utilized him to help power Melvin Gordon in 2016. Slauson is familiar with new head coach Anthony Lynn, who was the Jets' running backs coach during Slauson's time with that team, which can also aid the transition in 2017.

Oakland Raiders: Mike Tice, offensive line coach. This is a bit of a copout here, but consider the fact that many teams try to put together dream offensive lines on paper. Tice had to take all types of pieces -- two expensive free agents (Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele), a veteran (Donald Penn) and some developmental younger players (2014 third-round pick Gabe Jackson) -- and turn them into one of the best offensive lines in football. He succeeded in 2016.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: Zach Orr, linebacker. Orr retired last week at the age of 24 as a second-team All-Pro. While that can count as recognition, Orr deserved a Pro Bowl bid for his fantastic 2016 season, which included a team-high 132 tackles.

Cincinnati Bengals: Kevin Zeitler, guard. It's tough to get noticed when you play on the same offensive line as Andrew Whitworth, just as it's hard to get recognition on a larger scale when you're Whitworth, who has earned just three Pro Bowl nods despite a long and fantastic career. Zeitler's solid season is timely, given that he's about to hit free agency. Guards of his caliber have set a robust market, and the desire for interior protection is only getting more intense.

Cleveland Browns: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, cornerback. I liked Boddy-Calhoun more than some, and I'm gambling a bit on upside. The undersized undrafted free agent came off waivers and right into Cleveland's starting lineup, logging 14 appearances and six starts in his first season. Make no mistake, he was beat up in a few big matchups, but his three picks, 11 pass breakups and 39 solo tackles paint the picture of an aggressive defender whose heart and head are in the right place.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Stephon Tuitt, defensive end. The third-year player finished third on the team with four sacks and might have been Pittsburgh's most reliable and versatile down lineman, with Cam Heyward going on injured reserve in November. In a press conference last week, Bill Belichick called Tuitt "a force." Need we say more?

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: A.J. Bouye, cornerback. Anyone who follows the Around The NFL gang on Twitter knows that the Texans cornerback was a favorite of mine. He will not be eligible for this list any longer once he cashes in on free agency this offseason. The former undrafted free agent was considered by some of his peers to be one of the more egregious Pro Bowl snubs this season.

Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Castonzo, tackle and Jack Mewhort, guard. The offensive line is a constant source of ridicule in Indianapolis due to a general lack of understanding about all the factors currently befalling the Colts' offense. Needless to say, Mewhort and Castonzo played well this season. Though it is just one opinion, Pro Football Focus rated the pair (along with rookie center Ryan Kelly) as above average in its player-grading system this season. That's a whole lot better than they're getting credit for.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnathan Cyprien, safety. According to the Florida Times-Union, Cyprien missed just 10 tackles in 2016 after missing 21 in 2015. The four-year veteran was second on the Jaguars in tackles (127) behind only Paul Posluszny (133) and is hitting free agency after a season where he finally came into his own.

Tennessee Titans: Avery Williamson, linebacker. Williamson played more defensive snaps than any Titans player in 2016 and improved for a second straight season. The former fifth-round pick will be an absolute bargain at $690,000 for the 2017 campaign. Just 24, he's the play caller for a veteran-laden Titans defense.

CLICK HERE FOR THE NFC'S UNSUNG HEROES.

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