If you’re truly a professional in the NFL, there are two things you don’t do. Complain about how the rest of the team is performing in public and fail to do your absolute best every week. With few exceptions, those who don’t adhere to these simple rules tend to be kicked out of the league. However, doing these things doesn’t mean that player is guaranteed to be a success or a major star. It just means that they’re a true professional. There are plenty of players whose personal skills exceed the overall talent of the team they play on.
Since those players never get the chance to complain, allow us to do a little complaining for them. There are few things more frustrating in football than watching one of the league’s best talents spend their greatest years on a team that isn’t threatening to win their division, much less the Super Bowl. While it’s natural that this is going to happen given the nature of the draft process, there are players in the NFL that are being kept from reaching their full potential due partially to the lackluster teams they play on. They are the top 15 NFL players who would be stars on better teams.
15 Kenny Britt
In his still, relatively young, career, Kenny Britt has played for the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. No offense to either of those franchises, but they’re not exactly teams that have had a reputation for lighting up scoreboards during that time. Yet, Kenny Britt has still exhibited the kind of talent that we associate with the most dynamic receivers in the league. While he didn’t eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark until last season, Britt has proven to be a sure-handed receiver that can capitalize on the slightest defensive weaknesses and occasionally turn them into spectacular plays. The knock against Britt is that he’s not quite as explosive as the league’s best, but we have the feeling that if you put him on a team like the Patriots, there would be plenty of fireworks.
14 Andrew Whitworth
With the exception of the Dallas Cowboys group that may very well go down as one of the all-time best, offensive linemen tend to never reach the heights of NFL stardom. While there are many linemen who deserve more acclaim than they typically receive, Andrew Whitworth ranks among the most under-appreciated pieces of talent in the league. Since he entered the NFL in 2006, Whitworth has spent his career ensuring no harm comes to the Bengals’ starting quarterback. While names like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Carson Palmer get all the love for the Bengals’ most successful offensive outings, it’s really the work of Whitworth that allows it all to come together. Whitworth is one of the absolute best in the league, and you can bet more people would know his name if he were part of that legendary Dallas unit or a similar squad.
13 Linval Joseph
Actually, Linval Joseph used to play for a better team. Well, slightly better, at any rate. As a member of the New York Giants, Joseph overcame a slow career start to become one of the most promising defensive tackles in the league. His bulky frame made him a natural run stopper while his ability to get to the quarterback became greater and greater as he spent more time in the league. Eventually, Joseph signed a big money contract with the Minnesota Vikings which is when his popularity took a bit of a dive. Despite some of the Vikings' recent struggles, Joseph has managed to improve year after year and is coming off of a career season in 2016. Any Super Bowl contender would love to have Joseph on the roster.
12 Delanie Walker
Hey, you can’t really choose where you get drafted unless you’re Eli Manning or John Elway. Delanie Walker was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers the same year the 49ers picked up Vernon Davis. Davis was obviously the more highly-touted acquisition at the time, and San Francisco would treat him like a starter for years to come. In fact, they let Walker walk to the Titans because they thought that Davis was the only talented tight end they needed. Since he’s moved to a starting role on the Titans, Walker has proven that he deserves to be thought of as one of the best tight ends in the league. He’s a uniquely dynamic offensive weapon who is slightly wasting away on a Titans team that is a few key pieces away from actually being in contention.
11 Pernell McPhee
Did you know that Pernell McPhee has a Super Bowl ring? It’s true. He won it while he was a member of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens defensive squad. Even though McPhee had only been in the league for a couple of years by the time that Baltimore made their championship run that season, he still contributed to the Ravens’ impressive defense and shined especially bright during the playoffs. A couple of years later, McPhee signed a five-year contract with the Chicago Bears who haven’t exactly been setting the football world on fire with their stellar play ever since. That’s not really the fault of McPhee, however, as he’s still managed to be one of the best all-around outside linebackers in the league, despite suffering a couple of injury-related setbacks.
10 Giovani Bernard
Giovani Bernard is one of a few players on this list who is arguably a star already. However, the odds are good that Bernard isn’t really that well known outside of fantasy football circles and groups of Bengals fans. To be fair, that might have something to do with his somewhat diminished stats. To be even fairer, his diminished stats probably have something to do with the Bengals inconsistent run game and personnel issues. Good running backs are hard to come across in this league, and Bernard has exhibited many of the on-field qualities that experts typically look for in truly great position players. Put Bernard on a team that is ready to feed him the ball consistently, and we’re willing to bet he’ll become a household name.
9 Brandon Graham
While the Eagles aren’t exactly at the bottom of the league barrel, their struggles in recent seasons combined with some of their personnel issues has led to some of the team’s greatest contributors flying a bit under the radar. Brandon Graham may just be the most notable member of the under-appreciated Eagles. While he didn’t exactly enter the NFL as one of the league’s best defensive ends, he has greatly improved over the last few years and is quickly becoming one of the most feared outside presences in the league.
Graham is both an effective outside run deterrent and a burgeoning sack artist who is particularly good at forcing fumbles. While the Eagles may have problems on both sides of the ball, Graham is a true defensive star who sometimes doesn’t get the respect he deserves.
8 Kendall Langford
What is wrong with the Indianapolis Colts? If you’re just going off of the name value of their roster, you’d think that they would be one of the most dominant teams in the league. Yet, the group has struggled to make the most out of their weak division and considerable talent over the last few years. Because of their underachievement, guys like Kendall Langford haven’t always received all the attention they deserve.
Langford has bounced around the league since 2008, but he’s never really found himself on a roster that was on the path to a potential Super Bowl. Because of this, he’s seen as a solid but unspectacular defensive player. Yet, Langford’s most impressive moments suggest that he’s much more than just a contributor. Get him on a more talented defensive unit, and Langford could become a force to be reckoned with.
7 DeForest Buckner
Yes, DeForest Buckner is just coming off his rookie season. Yes, he entered 2016 as one of the most highly-touted defensive players in the NFL Draft. Yes, he did have an incredible rookie year that saw him become one of the 49er’s lone bright spots. Despite all this, Buckner did not receive the acclaim he so richly deserved. Right now, all anyone can seem to talk about when they talk about the 49ers are their quarterback troubles, offensive struggles, and various internal issues. There seems to be little room left in the conversation for just how great DeForest Buckner is. With 73 tackles and 6 sacks in his rookie campaign, Buckner let everyone know that he’s going to be a star. He just might have to leave San Francisco to achieve his full stardom potential.
6 Danielle Hunter
How good is Danielle Hunter? That’s not a rhetorical question, but rather an attempt to see how many fans can actually describe the talents of one of the league’s most dynamic defensive players. As a member of the LSU Tigers, Hunter put up the kind of numbers that are typically associated with an athletic college freak who doesn’t regularly play with people in his competitive league. Interestingly, Hunter has managed to put up oddly similar numbers in the NFL. In 2016, Hunter accumulated 12.5 sacks and 56 tackles from the defensive end position. He even scored a touchdown just for laughs. Honestly, the only real problem with Hunter is that he’s playing on Vikings team whose offense is so bad that they’re dragging the defense down with them.
5 Tyrod Taylor
As a quarterback, Tyrod Taylor already enjoys a degree of stardom. It’s hard to be an NFL starting quarterback and not be known by fans across the world. Still, the fact that Tyrod is the quarterback for a Bills team that only seems to make the headlines when they’re performing exceptionally bad doesn’t really help his star potential. Actually, the Bills’ struggles make what Tyrod has achieved over the last couple of seasons that much more impressive. In the last couple of years, Tyrod has put up over 3,500 all-purpose yards to go along with his 23.5 all-purpose touchdowns average. He’s accomplished all this despite the fact that his only real offensive weapon is Sammy Watkins, and he's been injured quite often. If you put Taylor on a team that is in contention, he will become one of the league’s most respected quarterbacks.
4 Jason Verrett
There are many who consider cornerback to the most difficult skill position in the league. It’s not hard to understand why. A professional cornerback needs to possess the athleticism of a wide receiver while still being able to work around the NFL’s increasingly tougher pass protection rules. Because of how difficult it is to be a truly great cornerback, you would think that the elite corners in the league would all be household names. Yet, Jason Verrett is struggling to establish himself as the star he is.
Verrett was selected with the 25th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, and he has rewarded the San Diego Chargers for their efforts with two brilliant seasons that have seen him inch towards true shutdown status. Despite a devastating 2016 injury, Verrett is the real deal.
3 John Brown
Sometimes, it’s hard to be the third man. Just ask James Harden. While being a great player surrounded by equally great players sounds like an appealing prospect, inevitably, someone is going to end up getting less of the action and less of the acclaim. John Brown is that man. As appealing as playing with Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald must sound, the Cardinals' recent struggles haven’t afforded Brown the chance to really break out on a league level. Brown did go over 1,000 yards in his 2015 season, but injuries derailed his 2016 campaign. If the Cardinals can find a way to bring it all together, then Brown can still become a star in Arizona. If not, then he’ll certainly achieve superstar status by joining a better squad. With Michael Floyd now out of Arizona and Fitzgerald getting closer to retirement, perhaps we'll see a true breakout campaign by Brown in 2017.
2 Cameron Jordan
The Saints’ fall from grace has happened so fast that it’s almost hard to remember a time when the team was one of the most feared offensive threats in the league. It actually wasn’t that long ago that Drew Brees had the NFC South and the rest of the league shaking in their cleats. Unfortunately, those glory days started to end around the time that Cameron Jordan joined the team. Don’t blame Jordan for the decline, though, as he has long been the best thing the Saints have going for them. In fact, you could make the argument that Jordan has been the best all-around defensive end since his breakout year in 2012. Despite putting up double digit sack figures in 2013 and 2015, however, the slumping Saints have diminished Jordan’s star power slightly.
1 Allen Robinson
The Jacksonville Jaguars franchise history is a story of struggle. With the exception of a few exceptional seasons, Jaguar fans have had to endure years of heartbreak. The worst part about these years of underachievement is that there have been quite a few great players who have donned the Jaguars’ uniform during that time. Allen Robinson is the latest among those great talents. It’s actually debatable if he or Allen Hurns is the Jaguars’ best receiver, but Robinson seems to have more star potential of the two.
In 2015, Robinson went off for a stunning 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. If he had done that for a more competitive team, he would have been a Madden NFL cover athlete. Because he did it for the Jaguars, however, Robinson continues to be denied his status as one of the most exciting players in the NFL.