Every year, there are several players who have the potential to become the face of their franchise. Minkah Fitzpatrick showed his All-Pro ceiling after a trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kolton Miller is now viewed as a rising left tackle after a promising second season with the Oakland Raiders. Even Kenyan Drake shined as the feature back once moving to the “Red Sea” in Arizona.
One season in the league can do wonders for a player’s stock. Slowly, talent finds a way to break through the ranks and become faces fans will remember. Throw in coaching changes or a change of scenery; it’s easy to see how much upside a team could have with a new face of the franchise.
The 2020 NFL season is already going to be filled with surprises, but several names could impress on their way to Pro Bowl-esque careers.
Who are the top underrated NFL players after 2020?
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson
The Steelers have been known for finding mid-round receivers that become a household name in the league. Despite JuJu Smith-Schuster breaking out in 2018, his 2019 numbers might have him better suited as a No.2 option. After the promise of Diontae Johnson, maybe this is the Black and Yellow’s new top man.
The Toledo sensation finished with 59 catches for 680 yards and five touchdowns. During his final four games, Johnson was the team’s top target, averaging nearly six catches and 64 yards per contest. With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger throwing him touchdowns, this could be the start of the next big-name star for the Steel City offense.
New York Jets S Marcus Maye
People talk about the former Jets’ safety Jamal Adams. That should change now with the All-Pro heading to Seattle in a blockbuster trade earlier this offseason, leading the attention towards the other safety. Marcus Maye might not have the flash that Adams brought, but he’ll be proving his importance by September as he enters a contract year.
Maye rebounded after an injured-plagued 2018 season — playing in 99 percent of snaps and tallying 65 tackles, seven pass deflections, and an interception. PFN’s Matt Williamson graded Maye out as a top 25 safety thanks to his versatility in Gregg Williams’ scheme. As the new leader of Gang Green’s secondary, expect him to show that his talent has gone unnoticed.
Las Vegas Raiders LB Nick Kwiatkoski
Sometimes a change of scenery will do wonders. For Nick Kwiatkoski, this should be a perfect chance to earn his way into the top linebacker status. After a promising year with the Chicago Bears, a fresh new deal could make him the next big name.
Playing as a part-time starter last season, the 27-year-old excelled to great heights. Finishing the year with 76 tackles, three sacks, four pass deflections, and an interception, Kwiatkoski should play the “MIKE” role in Paul Guenther’s 4-3 system. As a full-time starter, this should allow him to become a consistent triple-digit leader in tackles for Sin City.
New York Giants WR Darius Slayton
Daniel Jones was competent as a rookie, but he’ll need to take the next steps forward as the franchise quarterback. In a likely down year for the Giants entering the new decade, one thing fans should be on the lookout for is the progression of second-year wideout Darius Slayton.
Another late-round gem that began to scratch the surface, Slayton led New York with 740 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 wideout slowly built chemistry with the rookie quarterback, especially as a vertical threat. Should he improve, expect the Auburn product to become the next 1,000-yard target in the league.
Indianapolis Colts LB Bobby Okereke
The Colts might have the top linebacker corps in the league entering 2020. Darius Leonard shines as the “WILL” while Anthony Walker has been the general up the middle. However, don’t be surprised if Bobby Okereke expands his role into a full-time starter come September.
The Stanford alum surprised in a limited role with 68 tackles, two pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Fantastic in coverage, Okereke could better play the middle, thus allowing Walker to shift towards the strong-side against the run. If Okereke moves inside, expect his numbers to climb across the board in every category.
Cincinnati Bengals FS Jessie Bates III
One dimensional safeties usually won’t be viewed as superstars. However, it helps when the team builds around them and creates an environment for them to succeed. After the Bengals’ offseason additions, fans around the league should begin to appreciate the skills that Jessie Bates III has brought to the jungle.
One of the more rangy players in deep coverage, the Wake Forest product has tallied 16 pass deflections and six interceptions in two years. Last season, the secondary saw struggles due to injury and miscommunication, leading to a poor showing on deep passes. With three new defenders, plus a healthy William Jackson III, Bates can focus on his deep coverage ability and cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks looking to go deep.
Denver Broncos TE Noah Fant
There’s no denying that George Kittle and Travis Kelce are the top two tight ends in football. After that, anyone can become the bronze player at the position for years to come. With a new offensive coordinator and another year with Drew Lock, Noah Fant believes he can be that name by the end of this season.
The Iowa standout finished with 583 yards and three touchdowns during his rookie campaign — tallying two games with over 100 yards. According to his Relative Athletic Score, Fant graded out as one of the highest-ranked tight ends since 1887 with 9.98. If he can improve as an in-line blocker while continuing to develop the chemistry with Lock, Fant should be in line as the rising star in Mile High City.
Washington Football Team WR Antonio Gandy-Golden
Washington’s offensive arsenal will host Terry McLaurin and not much else. With Kelvin Harmon to miss the season with a torn ACL, Dwayne Haskins will have to find a young, but competent No.2 option. Despite being a rookie, let’s not sleep on Antonio Gandy-Golden as his year’s late-round gem.
The Liberty product was unstoppable in his final two years, posting 150 catches for 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns. There are overall concerns with his separation and route-running, but his hands should create some highlight moments. The 6-foot-4 Gadney-Golden might be a perfect big-bodied possessional target to McLaurin’s superb route-running.
Tennessee Titans DL Jeffery Simmons
Jurrell Casey was traded to the Broncos this offseason to make room for Jeffery Simmons as a starter. While some might have called his rookie season a lost one, keep in mind the Mississippi State product was coming off an ACL tear. When healthy, Simmons could have been a top-five pick an immediate contributor to any defensive front.
Once finally activated, Simmons impressed as a rotational lineman in the Music City with 32 tackles and two sacks. A perfect fit for Mike Vrabel’s 3-4 front, the former Bulldog can win as a bull rusher but has the speed to stuff running backs off the edge for losses. There’s a reason many considered Simmons a top-10 talent, and 2020 will be the year he’s viewed as the next great defensive lineman in the league.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Fresh off their Super LIV performance, Kansas City’s run game at Arrowhead could be taking a hit with LeSean McCoy leaving via free agency and Damien Williams opting out. For that reason, all eyes will be on rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire as that final offensive piece.
The pinball runner from LSU was a star in the bayou, tallying 1,867 total yards and 17 touchdowns. It was Edwards-Helaire’s elusiveness that allowed him to have 71 missed tackles by contact and be a nightmare in the open field. Despite his 5.45 Relative Athletic Score, as the only runner for the Chiefs, this should lead to impressive numbers for the rookie and, eventually, a prominent role in the Kingdom’s favorite players.