The NFL has its share of underrated players. With the salary cap working to ensure competitive balance, and rookie wages more or less predetermined, having a roster full of underrated players can be the difference from a last place finish or a berth in the playoffs. New England just won the Super Bowl with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Butler ending up playing huge roles in the Pats' victory. Thanks in large part to these underrated players, the Patriots pulled out a win in last season's Super Bowl.
Some underrated players can be Pro Bowl caliber players like Jason Witten, and still struggle to get their fair share of attention. Others, like the venerable Ike Taylor and scrappy Rob Ninkovich, are lucky to have NFL careers with so much productivity. Most players can be considered to be underrated when their respective teams know of their importance to the team, but most fans and others around the league are less aware of their productivity. Some underrated players are stars in their home towns, but thanks to their youth and inexperience many people don't know much about them. Thanks to the salary cap, there are others who are lucky enough to earn roster spots but don't seem content to just be a name on the depth chart. These are the players who put up some big numbers without breaking the bank and ruining a team's "cap".
Most of these underrated players will put up some serious numbers, only to get snubbed when it comes time to selecting for the Pro Bowl. This happens every season, adding to the ranks of the underrated. The following 20 players are all examples of what constitutes being underrated. There are many stars on this list, but in all cases there are other players who happen to get more attention. These players are the best of the underrated.
20 Ike Taylor, CB - Pittsburgh Steelers
Ike Taylor has had a long career spent with just one team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Taylor's body might finally be showing some signs of wear, but his value to the franchise has still been hard to define. Taylor was not exactly destined to be NFL material when he was playing collegiate football at Louisiana-Lafayette. Taylor was a tremendous athlete, coming into the draft with a 4.18 second time in the 40-yard dash.
19 Alshon Jeffrey, WR - Chicago Bears
Alshon Jeffrey was able to open many eyes with his collegiate play at South Carolina in the competitive SEC. At South Carolina, Jeffrey was once rated as the top recruit in the SEC, earning runner-up recognition for the 2010 Biletnikoff Award after making 88 catches for 1,517 yards. Jeffrey was pretty well known in the professional ranks. He had the 4.5 second 40-yard dash speed and 215 pound body to go along with his long 6-foot-3 frame. His combination of size and speed, made him a can't miss type of prospect heading into the 2012 NFL Draft.
18 Greg Olsen, TE - Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen has spent a good amount of time playing in relative obscurity, since his days as a college player when he transferred from Notre Dame to the University of Miami.
17 Marshal Yanda, G - Baltimore Ravens
Marshal Yanda entered the draft with little expectations and ended up being selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round, with the 86th pick.
16 Nate Solder, T - New England Patriots
Quality left tackles are hard to come by in the NFL, and the New England Patriots appear to have a good one in Nate Solder. Solder is able to use his long arms and great size, 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, to keep defenders at bay. Solder was a durable player at Colorado, starting in every game during three seasons of play after he switched to tackle, but Solder was still a raw prospect.
15 Anquan Boldin, WR - San Francisco 49ers
Anquan Boldin has been able to make many tough catches throughout his career, despite being the second receiver. A standout quarterback in high school, Boldin was converted to wide receiver in college where he played for Florida State in his junior and senior seasons before moving on the the 2003 NFL Draft. Boldin was a terrific athlete, but his combine times were quite slow.
14 Jason Peters, T - Philadelphia Eagles
Jason Peters certainly has impressive size, 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, and superior athleticism that enable him to do a good job protecting the quarterback, but his dominant play at the left tackle position is often easy to overlook.
13 Antonio Brown, WR - Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite leading the league in receptions and receiving yards in 2014, many sports fans still do not know much about Antonio Brown. Brown played in relative obscurity at Central Michigan, being named a first-team All-American as a punt returner in 2008 and 2009. He had enough speed to help anchor a state champion 4x100 relay team at Norland High School in Miami, Florida.
12 Rob Ninkovich, DE - New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have a habit of finding overachievers on the defensive side of the ball. Rob Ninkovich proved he had the motor to make big plays while he was in college at Purdue. He tied a school record with four quarterback sacks in a game as a junior and repeated the feat against the same opponent, Indiana, in his senior year.
11 Aqib Talib, CB - Denver Broncos
Aqib Talib is used to having to prove himself after coming out of the basketball school of Kansas. At Kansas, he led the nation in pass deflections and had six interceptions as a sophomore. In his senior year, he caught four touchdown passes as a wide receiver and was a unanimous All-American selection as well.
10 Frank Gore, RB - Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore was a steady performer for the San Francisco 49ers even though he has only cracked the league's top three rushers once in 2006, with 1,695 yards. He was lucky to have such a successful NFL career following the recovery from a torn ACL that he suffered as a sophomore at the University of Miami. Gore finished his Hurricanes career with 1,975 yards of rushing and 17 touchdowns in limited action. At the 2005 NFL Draft Combine, Gore tried to silence critics that thought he had lost a step by running a respectable 4.55 second 40-yard dash.
9 Alex Smith, QB - Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith will never be confused with Brett Favre. He will not allow himself to take such chances. Since coming into the league from Utah, Smith has become known more for his efficiency than taking chances by throwing into tight windows downfield. At Utah, he passed for 2,952 yards with 32 touchdowns and ran for another 631 yards in his senior season. In two seasons as a starter at Utah, Smith only had seven interceptions, showing an efficiency that he would carry over to the next level.
8 Connor Barwin, LB - Philadelphia Eagles
Connor Barwin is a dynamic football player with exceptional speed, explosive strength and solid football instincts.
7 DeAndre Levy, LB - Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions defense has always been more about the defensive line with Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, but DeAndre Levy has been right behind them making most of the tackles. Levy is not big, exceptionally fast or even that quick, yet all he does is make tackles and make plays.
6 Alfred Morris, RB - Washington Redskins
As the Washington Redskins struggle with stability at the quarterback position, the offense continues to revolve around Alfred Morris. Morris has good size, exceptional balance, and a good burst, enabling him to be as effective at running between the tackles as he is outside of the box. He has a low center of gravity and a solid 220 pound body, enabling him to break his share of tackles and squeeze between blockers for extra yards.
5 Jason Witten, TE - Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys fan base knows how important Jason Witten is to the team, even though many casual NFL fans are pretty quick to label him average. With Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis representing the past and future at the tight end position, very little attention has been focused on Witten.
4 Russell Wilson, QB - Seattle Seahawks
It is hard to call Russell Wilson underrated, but his productivity is not exactly near the top of the league. Russell Wilson is not concerned with yards or touchdowns on his own stat line, preferring instead to produce wins without personal glory. Coming into the draft, there were questions about his height and presence in the pocket. Wilson just goes out and performs, with the intention of breaking perceptions.
Wilson was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Wilson has played a role with the Seahawks, being asked to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch while making an occasional play downfield. What many people have not come to realize is how successful Wilson is at making that big play. His career quarterback rating of 98.6 is impressive considering his limited opportunities. He has 72 passing and 11 rushing touchdowns in only three seasons of play and has averaged almost 8 yards per pass attempt, completing 63.4% of his passes. Wilson has even rushed for a total of 1,877 yards while passing for over 3,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. He makes his point by winning even if his stats contribute to him being underrated.
3 Philip Rivers, QB - San Diego Chargers
The fiery leader of the San Diego Chargers has been recognized with five trips to the Pro Bowl, yet he always seems to have a place in line when it comes to comparing the AFC's great quarterbacks. The Chargers ended up with Philip Rivers when Eli Manning balked at becoming a Charger, leading to a trade with the New York Giants that included the swapping of their first round picks.
2 Steve Smith, WR - Baltimore Ravens
Steve Smith spent most of his career playing in relative obscurity at Carolina. Being rather small in stature and from humble beginnings, Smith has played football with a chip on his shoulder and a passion that is unequaled. Smith ended up being selected with the 74th overall pick in 2001 by the Panthers.
1 Jordy Nelson, WR - Green Bay Packers
Believe it or not, 2014 was the first time Jordy Nelson was selected to the Pro Bowl. Nelson is a receiver who can do it all, with adequate size to be an effective blocker, terrific speed, great concentration, work ethic, and of course, a great pair of hands.
Nelson had another solid season with impressive totals of 98 receptions, 1,519 yards, and 13 touchdowns. He didn't make the Pro Bowl before, despite racking up 1,314 yards receiving in 2013, and 1,263 yards receiving with 15 touchdowns in 2011. Nelson has 43 touchdowns in his last four seasons of play, averaging about 16 yards per reception during this same time. If he continues to perform at such a high level and Aaron Rodgers remains at the helm in Green Bay, Nelson will go from making this list to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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