Those who have knowledge of National Football League history are well aware of the more famous individuals who made their names and fame playing pro football. Men such as Joe Montana, Lawrence Taylor, Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice and so many others have all had their days in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and they are revered as being some of the greatest players to ever wear NFL uniforms. Is it at all possible that any of these legends of the game could possibly also be some of the most underrated players in NFL history? Spoiler alert: Of course it is.
There are some out there who would say that a player who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame cannot possibly be underrated. That is untrue for a variety of reasons. Some of the most-talented individuals to ever play particular positions have, at some point or another, gone unappreciated by fans and even by supposed NFL experts. This includes a wide receiver that some younger fans may have never before heard of, and also multiple quarterbacks who are still playing in the NFL as of the posting of this piece. One has to wonder if those QBs will ever receive the respect they truly deserve.
20. Drew Brees
This list begins with a quarterback who is preparing to play in the 2015 NFL regular season. Some of the hottest takes one will see as it pertains to Drew Brees involve criticisms of his numbers because of the fact that he has played the majority of his home games inside of a dome. Take a quick look at the long list of quarterbacks who have played for teams that host home contests indoors, and you will see how many of them failed to have careers anything close to that enjoyed by Brees over the years. Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation. Appreciate him for being that.
19. Eli Manning
Eli Manning is the greatest quarterback in the history of what is one of the most-storied franchises in all of the NFL, but some refuse to recognize that reality all because he has sometimes made an awkward face after throwing an interception. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion, a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, and he has engineered two championship-winning drives that beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The younger brother of Peyton Manning is one of the most underrated pro quarterbacks to ever play the position, and Eli will one day be honored in the Hall of Fame.
18. Ed Reed
Ray Lewis was a great linebacker who also served as a motivator and team leader during his career with the Baltimore Ravens. If placed in some imaginary situation where I would be forced to choose between Lewis and Ed Reed, I am taking Ed Reed every day of the week. Reed did not have flowing locks, nor did he perform Prime Time struts to the end zone that got him on the cover of video games. He was merely one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history and an all-time great defensive player, and it is a shame that he is sometimes overshadowed by others.
17. Seth Joyner
Seth Joyner is one of those athletes who is widely respected by fans of the team that he played for but who is also not always mentioned as being an underrated player. Joyner, who was beloved by supporters of the Philadelphia Eagles, is a member of the NFL 20/20 club for interceptions and sacks. The list of players who are in that club includes Ray Lewis, Rodney Harrison, Brian Dawkins, LeRoy Butler and Ronde Barber. Any defensive player breaking into the NFL in 2015 would love to be mentioned alongside such names when his career came to an end.
16. Sean Landeta
The prejudice against punters that kept such great players out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame came to an end when Ray Guy was honored by voters. Guy deserved to be inducted, no question about it, but the day passed long ago for Sean Landeta to receive his invite to Canton. Landeta is widely viewed by experts and fans as one of the best punters in the history of pro football, and the two-time Super Bowl champion was an All-Pro on six occasions. The time when Landeta will no longer make such lists will arrive when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, a day that cannot come soon enough.
15. Art Monk
The old adage says that there is no such thing as a wrong opinion. That theory is tested to the maximum every time that somebody attempts to suggest that Art Monk was a good but not great wide receiver. Outside of the incredible stats that Monk posted during his Hall-of-Fame career, is has to be noted Monk also never had the pleasure of playing with quarterbacks such as Joe Montana, Dan Marino or John Elway. One of the best players in the league during the 1980s, Monk is too often unappreciated in lists of all-time great wide receivers. That is a trend that needs to come to an end.
14. LaDainian Tomlinson
List the men you believe to be the greatest running backs in NFL history. Names such as Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson probably immediately come to mind. What about LaDainian Tomlinson? Tomlinson is fifth all-time in rushing yards, and he is third all-time in regular season touchdowns scored for all players and not just for running backs. Perhaps it has something to do with the era during which Tomlinson played, but that L.T. does not get the love that is handed to other running backs is something that could make you scratch your head.
13. Larry Fitzgerald
The lack of respect that Larry Fitzgerald has received from supposed football experts throughout his career boggles the mind. Fitzgerald has been a mainstay in lists of Top 100 players in the NFL for years. He has been named to eight Pro Bowl squads. Fitzgerald has played on some lackluster offenses. He has over 12,000 career receiving yards to date, and Fitzgerald could retire with over 100 total regular season receiving touchdowns before all is said and done. Perhaps Fitzgerald would get more love from the public if he mouthed off as do many diva wide receivers in the NFL.
12. Isaac Bruce
The unfunny joke that has been Isaac Bruce not being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is one that is going to end soon. He has already waited too long for that deserved honor. Bruce found the end zone over 90 times in regular season play during his career, and he is one of five players in the history of the NFL to go for over 15,000 total receiving yards. That he was part of “The Greatest Show on Turf” should not be a knock against him or a reason for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. He is one of the best receivers in history, and he has the stats to back up such claims.
11. Andre Reed
Andre Reed is an all-time great wide receiver who seemingly cannot escape lists of the most underrated football players in history. It is easy to understand why he would come up when the topic is being addressed, but that he is not respected as one of the best to play the position is difficult to understand. Reed was an offensive weapon that you hated to see going up against your favorite team because you knew that he was potentially a moment away from breaking for a game-changing play. He talked the talk and he walked the walk, and Reed should be recognized for being an all-time great receiver by all fans and journalists.
10. James Lofton
James Lofton is one of many cases of players being in the Hall of Fame and nevertheless being vastly underrated when compared with others who played the position. Lofton was the first player in NFL history to accumulate 14,000 receiving yards. He found the end zone in three different decades. Lofton could stretch the field with his speed, and he also had some of the best hands of his time. He may not have been as good as Jerry Rice or Randy Moss, but there is a solid argument to be made that Lofton is one of the ten best wide receivers in the history of pro football.
9. Ken Anderson
It is difficult to rank Ken Anderson in this list if only because he is constantly referenced as being an underrated player. Anderson was named to four Pro Bowl squads during his career, ad he led the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance that did not go Cincinnati’s way because of Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. Boomer Esiason was a fine player who remains seen on national television throughout the year, but it is Anderson who is, to this day, the greatest quarterback in the history of the Bengals. Anderson does not get the credit he deserves for reasons that cannot be explained.
8. Randall Cunningham
Randall Cunningham is one of the most polarizing individuals regarding these types of discussions. As much as there are people who would say that Cunningham remains an underrated quarterback, there are also some out there who would say that people have oversold how great he was during his career. Cunningham is widely regarded as one of the best running QBs in the history of the NFL, but his ability to make plays with his arm should not be ignored. Arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles, Cunningham rightfully so makes it into this list.
7. Ottis Anderson
No reasonable person is going to confuse Ottis Anderson for being one of the top-five running backs in the history of the NFL, but he is nevertheless grossly underrated by far too many who follow the NFL. Anderson is a member of the 10,000 rushing yards club. He won the Rookie of the Year and the Comeback Player of the Year awards as a professional, and Anderson was named the Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl XXV. While you may not put him in your top-tier of all-time great running backs, Anderson deserves more than a mention for a spot in the next tier of that imaginary list.
6. Sam Mills
Checking in at 5-foot-9 (on a good day) and 232 pounds, Sam Mills was one of the best pound-for-pound linebackers of his day, and it remains a surprise that voters have not yet deemed him worthy of being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former head coach Jim Mora has referred to Mills as “the best player I ever coached.” Along with being a talented defensive player, Mills was also respected for being one of the smartest defenders on the field during his career. It is a shame that he will never truly have his day in Canton, one that he deserved before he passed away.
5. Marvin Harrison
These ideas that Marvin Harrison cannot be considered to be one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the NFL all because he played with Peyton Manning need to be put to bed forever. Is Jerry Rice not the greatest wide receiver in history because he played alongside Joe Montana and Steve Young? Do people not recognize Rob Gronkowski as a great tight end just because he has had Tom Brady as his quarterback? Harrison’s numbers should speak for themselves, and those who would say otherwise are either trying to make a point or are simply ignoring how great Harrison was during his career.
4. Paul Krause
There are certain statistics that one would imagine would immediately pop into the mind of a football fan. For some reason, however, the community has somewhat forgotten that Paul Krause had held the record for most interceptions in NFL history for decades. No current player is even close to notching 81 career picks, and that record may never be broken. Krause is undeniably one of the best defensive players to ever play pro football, but his name nevertheless rarely pops up whenever such discussions arise among fans and even among analysts. Only if a player averages eight interceptions a season for ten consecutive years will some begin to recognize what Krause achieved during his career.
3. Kevin Greene
Debates about the greatest pass-rushers in the history of the NFL will conjure up mentions of players such as Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan, Reggie White and others. Why is it that history has seemingly forgotten about Kevin Greene? Greene remains third all-time in the list of career NFL sacks, and 32-year-old Jared Allen is the only active player who is remotely close to catching Greene. Allen is trailing by 26 sacks as of the start of the 2015 regular season. That Greene remains one of the most underrated defensive players in history is a mystery when you look at the numbers.
2. Steve Young
Some might find it ridiculous that Steve Young, widely revered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, even cracks into this list. Young checks in at No. 2 due to the fact that more than a few knowledgeable football people have publicly stated that they see Joe Montana as being the greatest quarterback in history. While that is a point worthy of being discussed, it cannot be ignored that Young had a higher completion percentage and a better passer rating than Montana. Young was also a much better rusher who could find the end zone via his arm or by using his legs.
1. Don Hutson
Don Hutson played multiple positions during his time, including defense and on special teams. He is, however, most remembered, for being a wide receiver who was decades ahead of his time. Hudson, a two-time NFL MVP, was the dominant receiver in the league at a time when passing attacks were nothing near what they are in the modern game. Football experts know of the Hutson’s accomplishments, but too many casual fans are unaware of all that the man credited with birthing pass routes that are used today achieved during his legendary career.