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Ranking the Top 15 Most Underrated Players in NFL History

Who are the most underrated players in NFL history? We're breaking down the top 15. Where do Jamaal Charles, Anquan Boldin, and Jared Allen rank?

Who are the most underrated players in NFL history? Which players managed excellent careers but have been — for one reason or another — largely forgotten?

Determining which NFL players were undervalued or not recognized adequately throughout their pro tenures is obviously a subjective exercise. None of the players on our list have yet been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, indicating at least some level of disrespect.

Let’s break down the top 15 most underrated NFL players of all time.

Top 15 Most Underrated NFL Players

15) Lorenzo Neal, FB (1992-2008)

Teams played for: New Orleans Saints (1993-1996), New York Jets (1997), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1998), Tennessee Titans (1999-2000), Cincinnati Bengals (2001-2002), San Diego Chargers (2003-2007), Baltimore Ravens (2008)

It can be challenging to quantify the value of a player like Lorenzo Neal, who spent most of his career blocking and handled just 226 carries in 239 games.

But here’s how successful Neal was at his job: He paved the way for a 1,000-yard running back in 11 consecutive seasons from 1997 to 2007.

Neal was LaDainian Tomlinson’s fullback for five years in San Diego, helping the Hall of Famer to his best seasons, including a 2006 campaign in which Tomlinson set the NFL rushing TD record while winning MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. Outstanding blocking campaigns in front of RBs like Warrick Dunn, Eddie George, and Corey Dillon litter Neal’s résumé.

14) John Abraham, DE (2000-2014)

Teams played for: New York Jets (2000-2005), Atlanta Falcons (2006-2012), Arizona Cardinals (2013-2014)

One of the more consistent pass rushers of his era, John Abraham seems to be somewhat forgotten now that his final NFL season is a decade in the rearview mirror.

Abraham ranks 13th on the NFL’s official all-time sack list and 18th on the unofficial rankings, which count sacks before 1982. He was a four-time All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler, and posted double-digit sacks in eight campaigns, including his last full season with the Cardinals in 2013.

And yet, he’s never been named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

13) Justin Smith, DE (2001-2014)

Teams played for: Cincinnati Bengals (2001-2007), San Francisco 49ers (2008-2014)

While Justin Smith never put up more than 8.5 sacks in a single season, his job wasn’t always to generate pressure on his own. After joining the Niners in 2008, Smith became a 3-4 defensive end and used his high motor and fantastic strength to occupy multiple blockers, creating tackling runways for San Francisco’s linebackers.

Smith didn’t get much recognition until he signed with the 49ers, earning his first Pro Bowl at the age of 30 and his first All-Pro nod at 32.

12) Jimmy Smith, WR (1992-2005)

Teams played for: Dallas Cowboys (1992-1993), Philadelphia Eagles (1994), Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2005)

Cut by the Cowboys and Eagles before becoming a franchise icon for the Jaguars, Jimmy Smith eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in nine of his final 10 seasons in Jacksonville.

From 1996 to 2005, Smith ranked second among NFL wideouts in receptions (84) and yards (1,421), trailing only the Indianapolis Colts’ Marvin Harrison Sr. in both categories. While Smith never posted the touchdown production of other elite receivers during his era, he was a consistent pass-catching force for a run-heavy Jags club.

11) Simeon Rice, DE (2006-2017)

Teams played for: Arizona Cardinals (1996-2000), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2001-2006), Indianapolis Colts (2007), Denver Broncos (2007)

Although Simeon Rice probably wasn’t a Hall of Fame-caliber pass rusher, he’s squarely in the Hall of Very Good (a real organization!)

Rice finished with 122 career sacks, at least 15 sacks three times, and 10+ sacks in eight of his 12 NFL seasons. The NFL’s 1996 Defensive Rookie of the Year Rice earned three All-Pro nods and was the sack leader of the legendary 2002 Buccaneers defense that won the Super Bowl and allowed just 12.4 points per game.

10) Jared Allen, DE (2004-2015)

Teams played for: Kansas City Chiefs (2004-2007), Minnesota Vikings (2008-2013), Chicago Bears (2014-2015), Carolina Panthers (2015)

Jared Allen has missed out on the Hall of Fame for four straight seasons. A finalist in 2024, Allen was left out in favor of fellow defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers.

While he seems likely to get into Canton at some point, the fact that it’s taken this long means Allen is underrated — because he should’ve been viewed as something of a shoo-in.

Allen is the only eligible player among the NFL’s top 12 all-time sack leaders who is not in the Hall of Fame. His 136 sacks include his dominant 2011 campaign when Allen led the league with 22 sacks and probably should’ve won DPOY instead of Terrell Suggs.

9) Jahri Evans, G (2006-2017)

Teams played for: New Orleans Saints (2006-2016), Green Bay Packers (2017)

A HOF finalist for the past two years, Jahri Evans has a chance to grab a gold jacket in the future, although guards are often overlooked in the selection process.

Evans was undoubtedly the best player at his position for several seasons, earning All-Pro honors every year from 2009 to 2013. But he boasted longevity and availability, too, missing just nine games over his 12-year career.

Evans, a member of the Super Bowl 44-winning Saints, is now an offensive assistant on New Orleans’ staff.

8) Jamaal Charles, RB (2008-2018)

Teams played for: Kansas City Chiefs (2008-2016), Denver Broncos (2017), Jacksonville Jaguars (2018)

Arguably one of the bigger “what-ifs” in NFL history, Jamaal Charles is our personal favorite on this list. Had he not torn the ACL in both knees, Charles may very well be in the Hall of Fame already.

Charles is the league’s all-time leader in yards per carry (5.4) among RBs with a minimum of 1,000 career attempts. A fantasy football darling, Charles totaled 1,300+ scrimmage yards five times and scored double-digit TDs twice.

And remember, he wasn’t managing this production with Patrick Mahomes under center in Kansas City. Charles was electric even while working with Chiefs QBs such as Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, and Brady Quinn.

7) Kevin Williams, DT (2003-2015)

Teams played for: Minnesota Vikings (2003-2013), Seattle Seahawks (2014), New Orleans Saints (2015)

It’s pretty absurd that Kevin Williams isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet. Sure, he only had 63 career sacks, which ranks outside the top 30 for defensive tackles.

But by nearly any other measure, Williams should already be in Canton.

He claimed five first-team All-Pro berths in six seasons from 2004 to 2009. He rarely missed time for the 2000s Vikings, working alongside Pat Williams on “The Williams Wall” to form one of the league’s most dominant run defenses.

A member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team, Williams deserves to be in the HOF — but whether he ever makes it remains unclear.

6) NaVorro Bowman (2010-2017)

Teams played for: San Francisco 49ers (2010-2017), Oakland Raiders (2017)

NaVorro Bowman is the defensive version of Jamaal Charles. How legendary could the former 49ers linebacker have been if he could’ve stayed healthy and/or played longer?

Often overshadowed by fellow San Francisco LB Patrick Willis, Bowman earned first-team All-Pro honors in his first four fully healthy seasons as a starter. However, he tore his ACL and MCL in 2014 and then ruptured his Achilles in 2016.

In 2017, Bowman oddly requested his release from the Niners, spent the rest of the season with the Raiders, then abruptly retired. His peak hit the highest of highs, but Bowman might be quickly forgotten.

5) Anquan Boldin, WR (2003-2016)

Teams played for: Arizona Cardinals (2003-2009), Baltimore Ravens (2010-2012), San Francisco 49ers (2013-2015), Detroit Lions (2016)

While he wasn’t one of the NFL’s truly elite receivers during an era that included Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, and teammate Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin sure was a lot of fun to watch.

At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, Boldin was incredibly physical and always willing to fight for catches in traffic. An excellent route runner unafraid to go over the middle, Boldin only grabbed three Pro Bowl nods but topped 1,000 receiving yards in seven seasons.

4) L.C. Greenwood, DE (1969-1981)

Teams played for: Pittsburgh Steelers

A six-time Hall of Fame finalist, L.C. Greenwood will need the Veteran’s Committee to put him in Canton at this point — and he should arguably be in.

While the NFL has only officially counted sacks since 1982, Pro Football Reference unveiled an unofficial sack list in 2021 that dates back to 1960, “based upon review of official play-by-plays, watching game film, photographs, and coaches’ stats.”

Greenwood finished with 78 career sacks after that review, a half-sack ahead of teammate and Steel Curtain Hall of Fame representative “Mean” Joe Greene. However, with Greene, CB Mel Blount, LB Jack Lambert, LB Jack Ham, and safety Donnie Shell already in the HOF, Greenwood might not stand a chance.

3) Ken Anderson, QB (1971-1986)

Teams played for: Cincinnati Bengals

Ken Anderson’s lack of a Super Bowl title will always hinder him in any Hall of Fame discussion, but the longtime Bengals quarterback was undoubtedly one of the NFL’s best signal-callers of the 1970s and 1980s.

Anderson won the 1981 MVP award, Offensive Player of the Year, and took Cincinnati to a Super Bowl appearance while leading the league in touchdown rate (6.1%), interception rate (2.1%), passer rating (98.4), and adjusted net yards per attempt (7.43).

PFR’s Hall of Fame monitor — which uses various statistical metrics and awards to gauge players’ worthiness for Canton — has Anderson slightly above fellow QB Kenny Stabler, who already received a gold jacket. Anderson is well ahead of other HOF quarterbacks like Sonny Jurgensen, Bob Griese, and Warren Moon.

“I don’t think twice about it, to be honest with you, except those times of year when it comes time for the election, and somebody will call and say, ‘What do you think?’” Anderson told Sporting News in 2021 about his Hall of Fame snub. “Other than that, it doesn’t cross my mind.”

2) Henry Ellard, WR (1983-1998)

Teams played for: Los Angeles Rams (1983-1993), Washington (1994-1998), New England Patriots (1998)

Henry Ellard is 14th among WRs on the NFL’s all-time receiving list with 13,777 yards. The only wideouts ahead who aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame are Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith Sr., Reggie Wayne (all of whom should get there eventually), and Anquan Boldin (who was No. 5 on our underrated list).

All those other WRs’ careers started after Ellard’s NFL tenure had already concluded. Ellard played in a much different era of professional football, an era before league rules were changed to benefit and protect wideouts. Posting seven 1,000+ yard seasons was different in the late 1980s and early 1990s than in the 2000s and beyond.

Ellard never even made the HOF semifinalist cut by 2023 and now must be selected by the veteran’s committee. His lack of awards (two first-team All-Pros and two Pro Bowls) hurts him, but Ellard has the production.

1) Philip Rivers, QB (2004-2020)

Teams played for: San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2004-2019), Indianapolis Colts (2020)

Will Philip Rivers eventually make his way into the Hall of Fame once he’s eligible? Probably. But he’s still likely to be overshadowed not only by Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning (his 2004 NFL Draft classmates) but by the other iconic quarterbacks of his era like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees.

Rivers doesn’t have a Super Bowl title. That will undoubtedly hurt his case, especially as he vies against QBs such as Roethlisberger and the younger Manning, who have two Lombardis each. But Rivers is a HOFer by almost any other measure.

He’s sixth all-time in passing yards (63,440) and touchdowns (421). Rivers was among the NFL’s top passers for more than a decade. He ranked first in yards per attempt in three consecutive seasons from 2008 to 2010 and finished top three in QBR in four years.

And then there’s the toughness: Rivers started 240 straight games and battled numerous injuries. He famously played through a torn ACL in the 2007-08 AFC Championship Game.

Rivers had so much fun playing football and talked so much trash that NFL fans may never actually forget him. But he’s probably going to be underrated in NFL history.