Each year, all 32 NFL franchises employ athletes who produce at high levels but do not receive the credit they deserve. We all know the Tom Bradys and Patrick Mahomeses, but who are the players who fly under the radar? Without further ado, we present the most underrated players for all 32 NFL teams heading into the 2021 season.
Most underrated NFL players on all 32 teams | AFC
Beginning with the AFC, who are the most underrated players in the NFL?
Baltimore Ravens: Gus Edwards, RB
Is there any running back that is as consistently efficient as Edwards but doesn’t receive recognition (outside of the fantasy football community)? Since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2018, Edwards has averaged 5-plus yards per carry every season. In each of his three years in the NFL, he amassed 133-plus carries and over 700 yards.
The touchdowns aren’t there, with just 10 in his career (6 in 2020), and he is not a potent receiving option (18 receptions). Still, Edwards has gained a first down on 30% of his carries and continually produces despite being bumped down the depth chart by the likes of Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins.
Buffalo Bills: Jerry Hughes, EDGE
Poor Jerry Hughes. He’s been the lone pass-rush threat in Buffalo for years now. Sure, the Bills drafted Gregory Rousseau in the 2021 NFL Draft. Yet, that pick was more of a replacement for Hughes than providing him with support. Hughes hasn’t recorded a double-digit sack season since 2014 (10), but sacks are not the most stable stat for pass rushers. Plus, it is hard to get home when the opposition knows you are the only one they have to worry about.
Regardless, Hughes has registered 10-plus QB hits every season since 2012 outside of 9 in 2019. He may not be the athlete he once was at 32 years old, but Hughes is still a reliable starter on Buffalo’s defense.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jessie Bates III, S
When you think of the top safeties, I am sure you bring up names such as Tyrann Mathieu, Derwin James, or Harrison Smith. But you know who should be in those conversations? Jessie Bates. Not only has he recorded 100-plus tackles in each of his three seasons in the NFL, but he has snatched exactly 3 interceptions in each as well.
Despite breaking out in 2020, Bates was snubbed from the Pro Bowl. That is more of a fan and name-recognition award anyway. The true NFL evaluators saw his exceptional play and named him second-team All-Pro, a much more prestigious honor.
Cleveland Browns: Troy Hill, CB
The Browns, like many NFL teams, have a plethora of players who can be considered underrated heading into 2021. Former Rams CB Troy Hill leads the pack. Despite piecing together stellar seasons, not many know his true impact. Yes, playing alongside Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams — more on him later — will benefit you, but Hill has made the most of his opportunities.
Working primarily out of the slot, he is a solid tackler with impressive ball production. From 2018 to 2020, Hill generated at least 2 interceptions and 5 pass deflections each year. His best season was his most recent, as Hill totaled 77 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 INTs, 10 pass deflections, and 2 pick-sixes in 2020.
Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton, WR
The “Jerry Jeudy is the best receiver on the Broncos” talk needs to stop. Courtland Sutton is one of the best wide receivers in the AFC. It seems many forgot about him due to an ACL injury last season, so let me remind you. As a rookie out of SMU in 2018, Sutton hauled in 42 receptions for 704 yards and 4 touchdowns. Who was Denver’s signal-caller at the time? Case Keenum. He is a solid backup in his own right, but he is not a quality starter.
Who were Sutton’s QBs in 2019? A mix of Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, and a pinch of Brandon Allen. Despite that underwhelming group throwing him the football, Sutton corraled 72 receptions for 1,112 yards and 6 scores. If, and this is a big if, Lock proves to be a much more accurate QB, Sutton could put himself on the national map in 2021.
Houston Texans: Zach Cunningham, LB
Although the Texans’ 2021 roster is bereft of star talent, Zach Cunningham is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He is as durable and consistent as they come, starting every game since Week 13 of his rookie season in 2017. Furthermore, he is only improving every year. Usually, the Madden-style linear progression expected from players is unrealistic, but Cunningham has legitimately done so the past four years.
Since 2017, he has racked up 90, 107, 142, and 164 combined tackles. Tackles are not a be-all-end-all statistic, but it showcases Cunningham’s innate ability to seek out ball carriers. He isn’t exceptional in any one area, but his ability in coverage and against the run should not be understated.
Indianapolis Colts: Marlon Mack, RB
To the dismay of fantasy players and Jonathan Taylor believers, Marlon Mack re-signed with the Colts this offseason. He tore his Achilles tendon early in 2020 and subsequently watched Taylor seize the role of lead back in Indianapolis.
After a quiet rookie campaign, Mack accumulated 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns off 442 carries from 2018-2019. Mack may never earn another opportunity as a feature back due to the NFL’s view of the position, but he is definitely worthy.
I would be remiss to leave Kenny Moore II entirely off the list. In fact, he is one of my favorite players in the NFL. The Colts corner is a menace in the slot, both in coverage and coming off a blitz. Just Google his interception against the Raiders last season and you will become a fan, too.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Marvin Jones, WR
After spending five seasons on the Bengals and three with the Lions, Jones signed with the Jaguars in free agency. All he does is put his head down and produce. Outside of his rookie year, he hasn’t amassed less than 500 yards or 4 touchdowns in a single season. In 2020, at the ripe age of 30, he hauled in 76 catches on 115 targets for 978 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Can he build a connection with No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and manufacture his best season yet?
Kansas City Chiefs: Tershawn Wharton, DT
Outside of Chris Jones and Frank Clark, the Chiefs do not have much of a presence on the defense. However, Tershawn Wharton demonstrated his worth as a depth piece last season, delivering 27 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. The Missouri S&T alum should garner more reps in 2021 due to his play in limited action.
Las Vegas Raiders: Cory Littleton, LB
Cory Littleton was among the top linebackers in the sport just a year ago with the Rams. Yet, a poor season on a self-sabotaging Raiders defense tanked his stock. With Paul Guenther out and Gus Bradley in as defensive coordinator, Littleton should experience positive regression. If he can reel in the missed tackles and return to form as a coverage defender, Littleton will win back fans in 2021.
Los Angeles Chargers: Keenan Allen, WR
Keenan Allen is the case of having respect from many but still deserving of much more. Media outlets hardly mention his name when creating scenarios surrounding the best receivers in the game. His route running is impeccable, and he can make any defender dance at will. Despite battling injuries early in his career, Allen owns two of three 100-catch seasons in Chargers history and fresh off four straight Pro Bowls.
Still, Allen has never earned a first-team All-Pro nod. There are three things that are certain in life — death, taxes, and Keenan Allen moving the chains.
Miami Dolphins: Jerome Baker, LB
The Dolphins defense only recently earned respect while under head coach Brian Flores. Yet, one player who is rarely mentioned when talking about the team’s revamped defense is linebacker Jerome Baker. The four-year veteran quietly led Miami in tackles the last two years. He broke out in 2020, compiling 112 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits, and 7 sacks (second on the team). Expect him to continue his growth in the third year of Flores’ system.
New England Patriots: J.C. Jackson, CB
Legend has it that when you look up “ball hawk,” a picture of J.C. Jackson appears. Since entering the league in 2018, he’s snatched 17 interceptions and 30 pass deflections. He nearly has the same amount of takeaways as he does starts in his young career (22). Jackson is well-known in New England, but outside he is one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
New York Jets: Jamison Crowder, WR
When you think of the top slot receivers in the NFL, does Jamison Crowder come to mind? If not, that affirms his place on this list. During four years with Washington and two with the New York Jets, Crowder exhibited his reliability as the No. 2 or 3 option. He’s gained 194 first downs (26 touchdowns) on 358 receptions. The chain mover has averaged 11.6 yards per catch in his career and will likely become rookie QB Zach Wilson‘s favorite target.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kevin Dotson, OG
Offensive linemen are asked to smash their bodies into large humans every single down. Moreover, they only receive media attention on the few downs where they lose a rep. Thus, the entire position is underrated, and Kevin Dotson is no different.
The Steelers drafted Dotson in the fourth round last year and saw 360 snaps as a rookie. He seldom lost in pass protection and was a mauler in the ground game. Expect to see some pancakes in 2021 as Dotson paves the way for Najee Harris.
Tennessee Titans: Jayon Brown, LB
The final member of the AFC on this list of underrated players entering the 2021 NFL season, Jayon Brown is a modern-day linebacker. A decade ago, Brown would have struggled to play the position. Standing at 6’0″ and 226 pounds, he does not possess the stereotypical size fans of the game have grown accustomed to. Nevertheless, LBs have begun to decrease in size and increase in athleticism due to the onslaught of targets heading their way.
Although Brown’s run-defending prowess is nothing to write home about, he is exceptional in coverage. He reeled in an interception and 6-plus pass deflections in each of the last three years. Durability might be an issue as Brown hasn’t started a full season, but he will have every opportunity to do so in 2021.
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