Defensive end Calais Campbell smiles Saturday night against Houston, his night done after just a few snaps.
Calais Campbell is so good that some of guard Jonathan Cooper's problems in training camp have been directly attributed to having to face one of the best defensive ends in the NFL on a daily basis.
Yet Campbell not only has never made a Pro Bowl, he's only been an alternate once.
Campbell is good enough that the "Madden" video game franchise gave him a 96 overall rating in their new version, trailing only elite ends J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and tying him with Cameron Wake – all of whom were Pro Bowlers last season. He's good enough that the Cardinals gave him a giant contract extension back in 2012.
Yet Campbell has never been included in the NFL Network's Top 100 players list.
Campbell isn't the sort to step up on a soap box to complain. He'd admittedly finds it awkward when asked to talk about his place in the game. But he's noticed what is said and not said about him.
"The term underrated, it's a term you don't want," Campbell said. "You'd rather be viewed as one of the best in the
game. But if you're not getting the top accolades at least people know you are working hard and they recognize you a little bit. It's better than nothing."
The Cardinals know what they've got. It's why they signed him long-term and why, when the team drafted Kareem Martin in the third round in May, they were thrilled to discuss him as a Campbell clone. Given that he is a 3-4 end, Campbell's tackle numbers are usually higher than expected. He had a career-high nine sacks a year ago and a team high 12 tackles for loss.
Darnell Dockett still gets the spotlight along the defensive line, but it is Campbell who anchors the crew.
"When Calais came out, he was 274 pounds and the questions were, 'Is he a 3-4 end, is he a 4-3 end, is he an under tackle, is he a linebacker?' " General Manager Steve Keim said. "Our projection the whole time was when he hits puberty, he's going to be a 300-plus pound man with long arms and tremendous leverage. He's 308 pounds now, and still scratching the surface. It is scary how the guy just continues to get better.
"When you look at the national scene and J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh and the elite defensive linemen, I am obviously biased, but in my mind there is no reason why Calais Campbell wouldn't be considered among the top five defensive linemen in the NFL."
The defensive ends with the flashy sack numbers are the ones who earn Pro Bowl trips. Campbell's rise to complete player also came after the Cardinals' division title run, so his play
has been undervalued.
What Campbell might value himself, however, won't help in getting him on any top 100 list. He's a believer in the best players making those around him better. In games, that might mean absorbing a double-team so a linebacker can go make a play.
Off the field, it might mean tips for Cooper or fellow guard Earl Watford, the men against whom he often battles in practice.
"He's a really good player, he's a unique talent, a good leader and he's always looking to help guys, especially me," Watford said. "He helps with (my) weaknesses and stuff I can work on to put me in better positions against not just him but other players.
"You're going to line up against good players every Sunday. You learn and get better from it, and limit the number of times he beats you. That's how it works. It's good to have players like Calais to go up against."
Those are veteran moves for a guy who still has a hard time seeing himself as a veteran. As he goes into his seventh season, Campbell insists he can improve considerably.
If he were in a 4-3 defense, perhaps the numbers would be more flashy. As it is, Campbell moves around all along a defensive line – in both the 3-4 base and the four-man nickel line – and has even been used as nose tackle.
Dockett has had much better success making Pro Bowls, and to this Campbell shrugs. Dockett is listed as a defensive tackle and Campbell an end, even though "me and Dockett do pretty much the exact same thing."
Then again, Campbell smiles when he notes that being called an end helped him tremendously on the financial end when he received the franchise tag with such a designation. He likes the challenge of playing end.
When the coaches and front office are in his ear saying he should be able to take over games, Campbell knows his talent is appreciated and needed. So maybe sometimes, he isn't going to be on a "Sunday Night Football" promo, or be on the NFL Network Top 100 countdown.
"You can control what you can control," Campbell said. "With that, all it can be is, 'Wow, left off again?' "
"Madden knows what they're doing," he adds. "They've always given me good rating though. They know good football."
Images from Monday's training camp practice at University of Phoenix Stadium