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The Top 20 Most Underrated NFL Players

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The NFL is a star-driven league. As some players continue to grow their stardom and gain league-wide recognition, others are less talked about, often flying under the radar for several seasons or even entire careers without proper acknowledgment. While every fan base is sure to have two or three names they feel are undervalued and worthy of this list, here are my current top ten underrated players in the NFL. 

1. Chandler Jones, Defensive End - Arizona Cardinals

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Year after year, Chandler Jones is one of the best pure pass rushers in football. The start to his career is Hall of Fame worthy and includes a Super Bowl championship while with the New England Patriots. It is absurd that Jones isn’t talked about more with his ability to impact games. In both New England and Arizona, Jones has wreaked havoc on quarterbacks, demonstrating versatility as a 3-4 OLB and 4-3 DE. 

Jones is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection. Since 2013, Jones has registered six double-digit sack seasons including a 17 sack season in 2017 that led the NFL, and a career-high of 19 in 2019. Jones topped the 100 career sack total in week one of 2021, a five-sack day that tied a Cardinals franchise record and set a personal career-best. It’s hard to think of a player more dominant and less talked about over a long period of time than Chandler Jones.

2. Terry McLaurin, Wide Receiver - Washington Football Team

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Terry McLaurin has played through one of the more unstable quarterback situations in football with Washington since entering the league but continues to emerge as one of the top wideouts in football. McLaurin registered 87 catches in 2020 after 58 during his rookie season in 2019. With 4.35 speed, McLaurin can take the top off any defense but has also rounded out the rest of his game since his time at Ohio State. McLaurin’s route running continues to improve while routinely making contested catches look easy. Coaches rave about his work off the field and his dedication to improving his craft. 

McLaurin’s numbers through two-plus seasons are very similar to Stefon Diggs, who went through a similar quarterback situation early during his career in Minnesota. Quarterback ratings for Washington skyrocket when targeting McLaurin, who has become a nightmare to defend with the ball in his hands after the catch. Following a strong start to 2021, McLaurin is slowly beginning to earn the respect his game deserves.

3. Darren Waller, Tight End - Las Vegas Raiders

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Travis Kelce and George Kittle dominate the conversation at tight end but Darren Waller is quickly emerging as a name that should be discussed as well. Not enough credit is given to Waller who lacks the Shanahan offense or elite QB to help take his game to the next level.

Waller was a sixth-round draft pick at wide receiver by the Ravens in 2015 and struggled to find targets early in his career in spite of his 6’6” frame. During his first four seasons, three with the Ravens and one in Oakland, Waller caught just 18 passes on 29 targets while also being suspended all of 2017. Waller overcame addiction and his suspension to emerge in 2019, catching 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns while starting all 16 games for the Raiders. Waller upped his game in 2020 and hauled in 107 passes and nine touchdowns to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. A great story off the field and rare talent on it, Waller appears to still be getting better at age 29.

4. Lavonte David, Linebacker - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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A lifelong Tampa Bay Buccaneer, David’s 10-year career has been about consistency and productivity. David entered the league as a terrific coverage linebacker and has continued to grow into an all-around complete linebacker and playmaker. Starting in at least 13 games every year since entering the league in 2012, David has finished just one season with less than 100 tackles. After making the Pro Bowl twice early in his career, David has failed to make it since 2015 while still playing at a high level.

David was a crucial component of the Bucs defense during their playoff run in 2020 that culminated in a Super Bowl victory. Along with Devin White, David was all over the field making plays around the ball and was one of the more valuable players in shutting down the Chiefs offense in the Super Bowl. David has amassed 12 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries, 24 forced fumbles, and 53 pass deflections during his career. Even without the same speed and athleticism as when he entered the league, David continues to find ways to make impact plays like a seasoned veteran.

5. Taylor Moton, Offensive Tackle - Carolina Panthers

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Taylor Moton has quietly emerged as a dominant presence at right tackle for the Panthers. Moton started all 16 games each of the last four years, gradually improving and joining the conversation of best right tackles in football. A dominant presence as a run blocker, Moton uses his athleticism to get to the next level of the defense in a hurry. As a pass blocker, Moton has developed into a steady presence capable of holding his own, and at times even dominating top pass rushers that include Joey Bosa and Cameron Jordan.

Entering 2021, Moton had allowed only 10 sacks in over 2,000 pass-blocking snaps. Moton has also committed just 10 penalties in over 50 career starts, an average of less than one penalty every five games. They say you know an offensive lineman is doing a great job when his name is rarely brought up, but it’s time Moton is talked about more for his success. 

6. Kyle Juszczyk, Fullback - San Francisco 49ers

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The fullback has become a non-factor in many of today’s NFL offenses, but Juszczyk remains an integral part of how the San Francisco 49ers run their offense. Shanahan uses Juszczyk as a traditional lead blocking back, but he provides plenty of versatility out of the backfield and with the ball in his hands. Juszczyk knows his role and is a winning player that will always fight to win those tough yards. 

Juszczyk has made five Pro Bowl appearances, including each season since joining San Francisco in 2017. This past offseason, Juszczyk signed a five-year $27M contract to return to the 49ers, making him the highest-paid fullback in football by a wide margin. The Niners' willingness to spend big money on a long-term deal at fullback demonstrates the value and unique skill set Juszczyk provides.

7. Jessie Bates, Safety - Cincinnati Bengals

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As Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase earn praise for helping bring competitive football back to Cincinnati, safety Jessie Bates is a huge reason for the Bengals turnaround on defense. Bates is a ball-hawking safety in coverage with excellent range, intelligence, and athleticism. While coverage is Bates' strength, he can still lay the big hit and be a factor in run support. While under the radar, Bates has emerged as one of the better all-around safeties in football.

Bates started every game during his first three seasons since entering the league in 2018, recording three interceptions in each season and averaging over 100 tackles. Bates finished tied for 6th in 2020 with 15 passes defended. Overshadowed on a bad team for much of his early career, Bates also came from a draft that featured top safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James. Bates has still developed into a leader in the Bengals secondary and arguably their best player on defense.

8. DeForest Buckner, Defensive Tackle - Indianapolis Colts

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DeForest Buckner plays great team defense and has done so successfully for two franchises. This commitment to team defense is perhaps one of the main reasons Buckner is not more recognized as one of the top interior defensive linemen in football. Buckner is rarely discussed with the likes of Cameron Heyward, Fletcher Cox, or Grady Jarrett among the top interior defensive linemen (next tier behind Aaron Donald), but he is every bit as talented. 

Buckner is a smart player and one of the better-run defenders in football. At 6’7” Buckner also has a wide arsenal of pass rush moves to pressure the quarterback. Buckner plays within the defense, often allowing others to make plays, but remains a nightmare trying to block one on one. Buckner earned his first All-Pro honors in 2020 and still has plenty of untapped potential to take his game to another level at just 27 years old. 

9. John Franklin-Myers, Defensive End - New York Jets

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A bit more well-known after recently signing a four-year contract extension, John Franklin Myers is an easy player to root for and deserving of the success he has achieved. Franklin-Myers went from fourth-round draft choice of the Rams in 2018, to a final roster cut in 2019. After spending a season on the practice squad and injured-reserve with the Jets, Franklin-Myers made the most of his opportunities as a rotational player throughout most of 2020, leading to a starting role in 2021 and a massive $55M extension. 

Franklin-Myers has the ability to play anywhere on the defensive line and is off to a strong start in the Jets' new 4-3 defense under head coach Robert Saleh. Saleh has compared Franklin-Myers to Arik Armstead, whom he coached in SF while registering 10 sacks in 2019. At age 25, Franklin-Myers seems to be just scratching the surface of his potential and should benefit from some additional pieces being added to a young rebuilding Jets defense. 

10. Diontae Johnson, Wide Receiver - Pittsburgh Steelers

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Wide receiver Chase Claypool stole headlines as a rookie in 2020, while teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster always seems to attract headlines one way or another. On the field, it is Diontae Johnson that has emerged as a favorite target of Big Ben. Upon entering the league in 2019, Johnson recorded 59 catches as a rookie and then topped that mark in 2020 with 88 catches. 

At only 5”10”, Johnson lacks the ideal size. His 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was far from elite level speed either, but none of that has not stopped Johnson from playing fast and producing at a high level for the Steelers. Johnson can line up all over the field and consistently find space in the opposing defense. According to Next Gen Stats, Johnson averaged 3.6 yards of separation for each target during his rookie season, the most of any receiver in football. While the 2021 season is still early, Johnson looks to have cleaned up some issues with drops that hindered his 2020 performance and is perhaps the only thing stopping him from gaining more notoriety. 

The Best of the Rest!

11. Matthew Stafford, Quarterback - Los Angeles Rams

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Playing in Detroit can stifle any career. Matthew Stafford is approaching 50,000 career passing yards, a number only topped by 11 quarterbacks in history. While Stafford's game is Hall of Fame worthy, an 0-3 career record in the playoffs on some flawed Lions teams has done little to elevate his name into the conversation of top QBs.

12. Dre Greenlaw, Linebacker - San Francisco 49ers

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Fred Warner gets a lot of attention at linebacker for the 49ers, but Dre Greenlaw flies under the radar as a young playmaker quickly on the rise. Greenlaw is equally effective against the run and pass, a sure tackler, and brings plenty of energy to the Niners' defense.

13. Mike Williams, Wide Receiver - Los Angeles Chargers

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Mike Williams is an elite deep threat at wide receiver and has maintained an average YPC of over 15 every year since 2018. The former top ten draft pick looks to be on the verge of breaking out. Williams' career-high in receptions is only 49, but with increased targets, he has already recorded 31 catches over the first five games in 2021. 

14. Jerry Hughes, Defensive End - Buffalo Bills

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Jerry Hughes has been a consistent pass rusher and important piece to the Buffalo Bills defense. During his nine seasons in Buffalo, Hughes has emerged as a leader while registering double-digits in QB hits every season but one. 

15. Brandon Graham, Defensive End - Philadelphia Eagles

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Brandon Graham is an incredibly underrated defensive lineman and lifelong Philadelphia Eagle. Graham has only missed one game since 2012 prior to 2021, and similar to Hughes is a winning culture type of player. While Graham's sack numbers have never hit double digits, he remains a complete player and Super Bowl champion. 

16. Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver - Los Angeles Chargers

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Some might say it's a stretch to put Allen on this list after four straight Pro Bowl seasons and 95+ catch seasons. Still, Allen rarely gets respect as a true number one wideout. He isn't the dynamic threat that Tyreek Hill or Davante Adams are, but Allen is an elite route runner that consistently puts up elite production. 

17. Emmanuel Ogbah, Defensive End - Miami Dolphins

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Ogbah has always been a steady presence rushing the quarterback but broke out in 2020 during his first season with the Dolphins. Ogbah improved against the run while putting up a career-high in both sacks (9) and QB hits (21).

18. Courtland Sutton, Wide Receiver - Denver Broncos

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Both Courtland Sutton and teammate Tim Patrick could easily make this list together as neither player is discussed nearly enough. Sutton hauled in 72 catches for 1,112 yards during his second season in the league before a knee injury cut short his 2020 campaign after 1 game. Off to a fast start in 2021, Sutton is quickly reminding opposing defenses of his talent. 

19. Laviska Shenault, Wide Receiver - Jacksonville Jaguars

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Although it is tough to put a second-year player on this list as underrated when he is still relatively unproven, Laviska Shenault has such a unique skill set at wide receiver that will quickly start to garner more attention. Shenault is dynamic after the catch and plays like a running back with the ball in his hands. Developing a rapport with new QB Trevor Lawrence should only help Shenault quickly reach his true potential.

20. Deion Jones, Linebacker - Atlanta Falcons

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Deion Jones is one interception away from tying the all-time record for pick 6's by a linebacker, and he's done it in a fraction of the games. Jones has also recorded at least 100 tackles every year since entering the league with the exception of 2018 when he played in only 6 games. A beast in coverage, Jones continues to round out his game as one of the top overall linebackers in football.

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