There is a large group of National Football League players who do not receive the recognition and praise that they deserve for whatever reasons. Perhaps those players have had lackluster moments that have led some to believe that they are not elite talents when that is not the case. Maybe, in other scenarios, fans and even analysts who are supposed to be objective when offering their critiques of athletes are, for lack of a better word, “haters.” The list of underrated NFL players is long, and it includes more than names that you would only know from reading box scores.
Quarterback is the most important position in organized football and maybe in all of sports, so it should be no surprise that men who play QB dominate the top spots of this list. Two names that are familiar to even casual football fans sit atop the mountaintop of underrated NFL players for the 2015 regular season. Both of them have won Super Bowl championships during their careers, both could be in for solid and maybe even good regular seasons, and both are commonly underrated in pieces that rank the top quarterbacks in the game today. One would think that the resumes belonging to those individuals would speak for themselves.
20. Golden Tate – WR – Detroit Lions
The first Detroit Lions wide receiver that comes to mind whenever the team is mentioned is going to be Calvin Johnson, a once-in-a-generation talent and probably the best overall wide receiver that the NFL has seen in some time. While Johnson did miss three games because of an injury last season, it was Golden Tate and not Megatron who led the team in receiving yards. Tate may not find the end zone all that often for the Lions – he did so on four occasions last year – but those who undersell what Tate is able to provide quarterback Matthew Stafford during games are underrating the wideout.
19. Sam Koch – P – Baltimore Ravens
He is not known for being spotlighted on the cover of fitness magazines because of his impressive physique that he shows off on social media websites such as Twitter. Nobody looks to him for his opinions on political matters and on NFL stories. Sam Koch of the Baltimore Ravens is simply as reliable as punter as you will find in the league, and the Ravens wisely locked him up to a five-year extension in July 2015. Only when a punter is awful does the position receive attention from beat reporters. That should not be an issue for the Ravens anytime soon.
18. Kyle Fuller – DB – Chicago Bears
While he remains a work in progress, Kyle Fuller of the Chicago Bears has taken multiple steps toward proving himself to be the best defensive back taken in the 2014 NFL Draft. Fuller had a stellar debut campaign in Chicago, and he has been praised for the work that he has put in behind the scenes during what was his first professional offseason. Fuller is not yet worthy of having a fictional island named after him, nor is he at the level of a certain defensive back who plays for the Seattle Seahawks. Fuller could, however, be closer to being a shutdown corner than some would believe.
17. Andrew Hawkins – WR – Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns took a flier on Andrew Hawkins during the 2014 offseason, hoping that the former member of the Cincinnati Bengals would be the slot receiver that the team was missing. Hawkins was just that in year one of his tenure with the Browns, finishing the regular season with 63 receptions and doing so while the team had questionable-to-poor play at the quarterback positions. Hawkins and also those who are on the coaching staff of the Browns will be hoping that veteran journeyman QB Josh McCown will connect with “Hawk” dozens of times in 2015.
16. Julian Edelman – WR – New England Patriots
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman often does not get the respect that he deserves all because he has had the good fortune of playing on an offense that is run by all-time great quarterback Tom Brady. That is both understandable and unfair to a man who had 92 receptions during the 2014 NFL regular season. Brady has helped make good talents into stars who are worthy of cashing in on massive contracts, and he does deserve credit for what Edelman has accomplished in the NFL. Fans and journalists should still appreciate what Edelman has meant to the Patriots.
15. Delanie Walker – TE – Tennessee Titans
The tight end on the roster of the Tennessee Titans is an interesting player to rank because one would have to imagine that he would post impressive numbers if he played on a better offense that had better quarterback play. Delanie Walker reeled in over 60 passes and he found the end zone four times in 2014, and his ability to feature as a blocker has been lauded by scouts and analysts. If the light clicks for rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and Mariota is a success right out of the gates, Walker could prove to be a steal in fantasy football drafts. That is a big “if” as of the posting of this piece.
14. Bryan Bulaga – OT – Green Bay Packers
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers receives the majority of the praise in write-ups on the Green Bay Packers, and deservedly so since he may be the best overall player at the top position in the game. Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga has been tasked with keeping Rodgers on his feet during games, and Bulaga has been up for that challenge and then some, particularly in 2014. Bulaga could have considered testing the free agent waters this past offseason, but he instead re-signed with the Packers and did so at somewhat of a discount when you consider what he could have fetched from other clubs.
13. Ryan Tannehill – WB – Miami Dolphins
Along with being an underrated athlete who can spin the ball and who can hang with the best of the best on Sundays, Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins has also been under-appreciated for far too long. People who expect every starting quarterback in the NFL to be Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers might see Tannehill as being nothing more than an average quarterback who does not cost the Dolphins wins. That is an unfair take on an underrated quarterback, and there are multiple NFL teams that regret not acquiring Tannehill when the opportunity to do so existed.
12. King Dunlap – OT – San Diego Chargers
The offensive tackle who features for the San Diego Chargers picked a great time to start in all 16 regular season games in 2014. San Diego rewarded Dunlap with a four-year contract this past offseason, securing the services of the team’s best offensive lineman for the foreseeable future. It is often said that the best offensive linemen in the NFL do not generate headlines because good play up front largely goes unnoticed by casual observers. You thus may have missed that Dunlap has become of the more underrated talents at the tackle position.
11. Colin Kaepernick – QB – San Francisco 49ers
What was thought to be the rise of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick occurred so quickly that he was anointed as the next great NFL quarterback when he did not deserve that praise. Kaepernick has mechanical flaws as it pertains to delivering the football, issues that he reportedly worked on over the offseason. He is also one of the most naturally gifted QBs in the league, and he has talents that one cannot learn during practices or inside of a film session. Those who have already written Kaepernick off as being a future flop should put such predictions to the side; for now.
10. Alex Mack – OL – Cleveland Browns
Nobody, not even diehard fans of the Cleveland Browns or beat reporters who cover the team on a daily basis, truly understood how vital Alex Mack has been to the Browns until he went down to a broken leg last season. The offensive line without Mack was a shell of its former self, and that includes All-Pro left tackle and local media darling Joe Thomas. Mack is expected to make a full return to the starting lineup for the first game of the NFL season, and the coaching staff of the Browns will be hoping that he remains eligible for every meaningful game of 2015.
9. Nick Foles – QB – St. Louis Rams
Whatever it is that head coach Chip Kelly has cooking over at the Philadelphia Eagles is anybody’s guess these days. Nick Foles will be looking to show that Kelly made a mistake in dumping him, a move that saw Foles end up with the St. Louis Rams. The future home of the Rams is a storyline that is going to have plenty of twists and turns over the next several months, but what is known for now is that Foles and company will be playing home games inside of a dome. Those who have closed the book on Foles being a top-tier quarterback could be in for a rude awakening.
8. Cam Newton – QB – Carolina Panthers
I have seen some quarterback rankings that have Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers in the bottom half of the list, which had me wondering if certain people actually bothered to watch Newton play in 2014. Newton is not a perfect player, but I could think of ten different NFL clubs that would put him atop the depth chart at the quarterback position for the upcoming season. How good would Newton look playing behind the offensive line of the Cleveland Browns? How much of a star would be become if he was able to throw to ball to Megatron on Sundays?
7. Jay Cutler – QB – Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears starter Jay Cutler may be the most-polarizing quarterback in all of the NFL at the start of the 2015 regular season. There are two things that critics needs to do before lashing out at anybody calling Cutler underrated: Ignore the contract that he was awarded, and also realize that he was tasked with throwing the ball while the Bears were trailing in 2014 way too often. Cutler unquestionably makes baffling errors during games, and he may not be the best teammate you’ll find in the NFL. More than one team would happily start him at quarterback in September if given the chance.
6. Ben Roethlisberger – QB – Pittsburgh Steelers
Andrew Luck is the top young quarterback in the game today, but anybody who would take him over Ben Roethlisberger for just the upcoming season would be choosing hype over on-the-field play. Big Ben may not be as flashy as some of the other signal-callers in the league. The guy just consistently wins and continues to prove doubters wrong. Roethlisberger could be on the verge of having a stellar season while playing an on offense that is filled with play-makers. Some are predicting that the Steelers will compete for a Super Bowl championship during the upcoming season, and Roethlisberger is one reason those picks are being made.
5. Desmond Trufant – CB – Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been overrated in some NFL circles by individuals who ignore that Ryan has not won anything of merit as a starter, but Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant is an underrated talent who has met and even exceeded expectations since entering the league in the 2013 NFL Draft. The defense of the Falcons was a mess last year, but Trufant was not part of the problem. He was, in fact, a bright spot in the Atlanta secondary, and he could evolve into one of the best cornerbacks in all of the league before the upcoming season comes to a conclusion.
4. Phil Dawson – K – San Francisco 49ers
Placekickers are people too, everybody, and many of the best in the business are underrated because they see limited in-game action on Sundays. Phil Dawson is the best player in the history of the so-called “new” Cleveland Browns that reentered the NFL in 1999, and he continues to be a solid performer during the closing days of his career with the San Francisco 49ers. Dawson was reportedly booting 65-yard field goals during July 2015. That is impressive for any kicker, and it is especially noteworthy for a man who will turn 41 years old next January.
3. Russell Wilson – QB – Seattle Seahawks
The backhanded compliments that are routinely thrown toward the starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks have got to disappear. Russell Wilson has improved in each season since his rookie campaign, and he is still evolving as a starting pro quarterback. That second fact gets forgotten by some because Wilson has already performed in two Super Bowl contests. It is true that the Seahawks have been known more for the stellar play of the team’s defense than for Wilson dominating games, but that does not mean that Wilson is not underrated by those who see him as a “game manager.”
2. Peyton Manning – QB – Denver Broncos
The hot takes about Peyton Manning being damaged goods and a guy who is no longer the quarterback that he was during his prime have gotten as hilarious as they are ridiculous. Were a real-life fantasy football draft to occur among general managers for just the 2015 regular season, the veteran who is maybe the best regular season quarterback in the history of the NFL likely would not make it out of the top-five before being selected. Yes, Manning is not quite the stud that he was while featuring for the Indianapolis Colts years ago. He is still damn good, and he is also quite underrated.
1. Eli Manning – QB – New York Giants
There will eventually come a day when people in the NFL community will wonder why New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was so underrated for so long a time. Manning has twice led the Giants on game-winning drives in Super Bowl contests, and he won Most Valuable Player honors for his efforts on those two occasions. He is the greatest quarterback in the history of a franchise that has been around for nine decades, and he will be enshrined in Canton after his career wraps up. Manning could be in for a banner year in 2015 if his offensive line provides him with the protection that he needs.