The most underrated player on all 32 NFL teams

The most underrated player on all 32 NFL teams post thumbnail image

There are many accolades available for good NFL players, ranging from All-Pro votes and Pro Bowl appearances to just getting attention with videos on Twitter and Instagram highlighting their best plays.

But not every good NFL player gets the accolades he deserves.

Below, the staff of Football Outsiders — Scott Spratt (AFC East), Robert Weintraub (AFC North), J.P. Acosta (AFC South), Mike Tanier (AFC West), Rivers McCown (NFC East), Derrik Klassen (NFC North), Bryan Knowles (NFC South) and Vincent Verhei (NFC West) — highlight some of those underrated players, one from each NFL team, heading into the 2022 season. From a couple of fairly well-known quarterbacks to the linemen who make a quarterback’s job easier, we argue these 32 players deserve more recognition.

Now, underrated can mean a couple of things. It could refer to a good player conventional wisdom tells us is mediocre, or it could refer to a useful player who doesn’t receive the star treatment from NFL fans. Our list below includes both.

Many of the advanced stats referenced below, such as DVOA and DYAR, are explained here, and others, including coverage success rate, are explained here.

Let’s start with the underrated players out of the AFC East:

Jump to a team:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

Devin Singletary, RB

Singletary has averaged 211 touches and 5.0 touchdowns the past two seasons and has been a modest producer in typical fantasy football formats. His above-average 4.4 and 4.6 yards per attempt in the past two seasons deserves extra credit behind a bottom-10 run-blocking offensive line with 69% run block win rates. Singletary leads running backs with 200 or more touches with a 23.5% broken tackle rate the past two years, according to Sports Info Solutions charting.


Tua Tagovailoa, QB

Tagovailoa can be conservative on deep passes. His 7.1-yard average depth of target was the third lowest among quarterbacks with 200 or more pass attempts last season. But that was likely at least partially a strategy to avoid hits behind an offensive line with a 47% pass block win rate that was the worst in football.

Tagovailoa’s 50.0% completion rate and 119.3% passing DVOA rate on deep passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field ranked first and third at the position.

And his overall minus-8.5% and minus-0.7% passing DVOA rates in his first two seasons have him on a promising trajectory only slightly below those of Joe Burrow (minus-7.3% and 5.1%), Kyler Murray (minus-3.1% and 4.6%) and Andrew Luck (minus-5.1% and 4.6%) from recent seasons.


Kendrick Bourne, WR

With a career high of 74 targets, Bourne has fallen well short of the 100-catch and 1,000-yard benchmarks that earn receivers the most attention. But not even Cooper Kupp or Davante Adams could match Bourne for efficiency last season.

The Patriots receiver led his position (minimum 50 targets) with a 30.1% receiving DVOA. And he ranked in the top 12 at the position with both a 7.0 receiving plus/minus — which estimates that he caught seven more passes than an average receiver with his distribution of targets — and 7.0 average yards after the catch.


Carl Lawson, Edge

Lawson missed the 2021 season with a ruptured Achilles and underwhelmed with the Bengals in 2020 with just 5.5 sacks. But that most recent sack number belied a total of 58 pressures that was seventh highest among pass-rushers, per Sports Info Solutions charting. He might not always bring a quarterback to the ground, but Lawson disrupts passers with hurries and hits that lead to the incompletions and interceptions that kill drives.

A healthy return in 2022 could spur a Jets jump into the top 10 in pass block win rate. They ranked 16th last season without Lawson and without first-round rookie Jermaine Johnson II.

AFC NORTH

Chuck Clark, S

The signing of Marcus Williams and drafting of Kyle Hamilton has Ravens fans giddy about the future of the safety position. Clark, though, proves there is nothing wrong with the present. Clark is a strong safety who made big plays (15 defeats, second on the team), was sturdy against the run (his run stop rate was 17th among safeties) and is a strong presence in the pass game (12 passes defensed, including a pair of interceptions).

One of the few Ravens who avoided serious injury in 2021, Clark might not have the hype of the new safeties in Charm City, but he is a key component as the team attempts to get back into the playoffs in 2022.


Eli Apple, CB

Apple might have given up the touchdown that won the Rams Super Bowl LVI. However, he isn’t the first corner Cooper Kupp has caught passes on — and he won’t be the last. Apple played far better than his perception would indicate in 2021. His 60% coverage success rate placed him 17th among all corners (Denzel Ward was 18th), and with 10 passes defensed and two interceptions, Apple was getting his hands on plenty of footballs.


Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR

Peoples-Jones didn’t have a great 2021, existing in the morass that was Cleveland’s passing game. Indeed, he had a catch rate of just 59%, and didn’t take the big leap many expected of him after he showed flashes as a rookie in 2020. But when he did catch the ball, he was highly efficient — his DVOA was 18th in the NFL among wideouts. Peoples-Jones’ play should be a building block regardless of who is throwing the ball as he enters his pivotal third season.


Levi Wallace, CB

Wallace was an under-the-radar signing from Buffalo, where he turned in a very strong 2021 season and allowed the Bills to survive the loss of Tre’Davious White to injury. Wallace was sixth in the NFL in yards per pass allowed, was 21st in coverage success rate and was a strong run defender as well. His numbers in a vacuum indicate an elite corner — so why was he available in free agency, and for just two years and $8 million?

Part of it is the perception that the Buffalo defense was so strong that Wallace went along for the ride. Part of it is that he played zone for the Bills and lacks man-scheme skills. And part of it is Wallace’s background — he walked on at Alabama and went undrafted. Buffalo has the players to replace him, while in Pittsburgh he immediately becomes the team’s top corner.

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AFC SOUTH

Davis Mills, QB

Mills navigated a seemingly rough situation in Houston admirably. He finished second among all rookie quarterbacks in regular stats (16 touchdowns) and in advanced metrics (DVOA, DYAR and QBR). He doesn’t have the ability to wow you with arm talent, but Mills did show signs of being an accurate passer while keeping the ball out of harm’s way. With another year under his belt and the Texans beginning to build an offense around him, Mills can continue to improve.


Michael Pittman Jr., WR

Pittman was the eighth receiver to come off the board in the 2020 NFL draft, after receivers like Justin Jefferson who can make you fall under the radar. However, he is due for a year finally placing himself in the conversation of top young receivers.

In 2021, Pittman caught 88 passes for 1,082 yards and six touchdowns, and finished 18th in DYAR — a large increase from finishing 64th in 2020. He often wins with his size, and when lined up out wide, his DVOA was 12.1%, the exact same as Davante Adams. With Matt Ryan now under center for the Colts, Pittman is due for a breakout.


Christian Kirk, WR

Jaguars signing Kirk to a four-year, $72-million deal in the offseason was surprising, but Kirk has quietly been one of the best slot receivers in the league.

In 2021, Kirk finished with a 23.9% DVOA from the slot or tight to the line of scrimmage on 81 passing targets, a number similar to Deebo Samuel on almost the same amount of targets. In the limited time he was on the outside, Kirk was even more successful, posting a 27.7% DVOA. He was in the shadow of DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green on the outside, but Kirk’s ability to become a reliable target for Kyler Murray downfield helped elevate the Cardinals offense. He’ll look to do the same with Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville.


Denico Autry, DL

Although his fellow defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons might get more attention, Autry should get credit for the defensive turnaround the Titans went through in 2021. In 2020, the Titans finished 24th in the NFL with a pressure rate of 23%, and were 31st in the league in adjusted sack rate.

After signing Autry, the Titans jumped to 15th in pressure rate and 10th in adjusted sack rate. In 2021, Autry had nine sacks and led the Titans in quarterback hurries. He commands attention from an offensive line, freeing up his other teammates. His presence on the defensive line allowed for defensive coordinator Shane Bowen to get creative and free up Simmons and Harold Landry, who both made the Pro Bowl for the first time in their careers.

Autry might not always have his name highlighted, but he is a critical piece behind the Titans’ defensive resurgence and one of the most underrated players at his position.

AFC West

Tim Patrick, WR

Patrick led the Broncos in receiving yards (1,476) and touchdowns (11) over the last two seasons. He has also led Broncos receivers in both DVOA and DYAR in each of the last two seasons, in part because he is so reliable in high-leverage situations. He led the team with 16 first-down catches on third or fourth downs in 2020 and finished second to Courtland Sutton with 11 such catches last season.

Patrick signed a three-year contract extension last November and is slated to be the No. 3 receiver that Russell Wilson has lacked for many years. Sutton and the others may get all the attention, but Patrick’s the guy Wilson will be looking for on third-and-7.

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Fabian Moreau, TE

When Darren Waller was injured in the heat of the 2021 playoff chase, backup tight end Moreau stepped up with seven catches for 65 yards against the Browns and four catches for 67 yards against the Broncos in a pair of narrow victories for the Raiders. Moreau’s play down the stretch helped him finish 22nd in the NFL in tight end DYAR, well above big-name tight ends like Zach Ertz, Mike Gesicki and even Waller.

Moreau actually ranked third in the NFL in DVOA and 14th in DYAR in limited action as a rookie in 2019, but he got lost in the shuffle in 2020 when Jason Witten came out of retirement. Witten is gone, and Josh McDaniels loved to deploy lots of two tight end sets during his years in New England. So, look for Waller and Moreau to each get plenty of opportunities in 2022.


Nick Bolton, LB

If the Chiefs defense hadn’t been such a disaster in the first half of the 2021 season, Bolton might have been a popular candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Bolton led all rookie defenders with 70 solo tackles and 42 assists last year. Per Sports Info Solutions, Bolton recorded 60 tackles short of a first down on rushing plays and allowed just 14 catches for 131 yards on 21 pass targets. Solid numbers for any linebacker, let alone a rookie for a shaky defense.

The Chiefs are trying to rebuild their defense around younger players like first-round picks George Karlaftis and Trent McDuffie in the wake of last season’s disappointing finish. Bolton should emerge as a leader for a unit that will be expected to grow up in a hurry.


Matt Feiler, G

Left tackle Rashawn Slater earned Offensive Rookie of the Year award notice while protecting Justin Herbert‘s blind side. Center Corey Linsley was named to the Pro Bowl while establishing himself as one of the Chargers’ veteran leaders. But left guard Feiler quietly had an outstanding season in his own right while blocking between them. Feiler ranked 16th in ESPN’s pass block win rate. His blown block rate on all plays of 1.6% ranked 16th in the NFL among guards, per Sports Info Solutions.

Feiler played right tackle for the Steelers early in his career and may move back there now that the Chargers drafted guard Zion Johnson in the first round. Wherever he lines up, Feiler will be one of the anchors of what has the potential to be one of the league’s best offensive lines.

NFC EAST

Jayron Kearse, S

While it’s very easy to point to Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs as key factors in Dallas’ defensive turnaround last season, the improvement from Darian Thompson and Xavier Woods to Kearse at the safety position was as big as any. Kearse hit free agency off a career-high 15 starts and 67 solo tackles. He was underrated enough that nobody made a real play for him, and he settled for a two-year, $10-million contract with Dallas. His sure tackling and solid coverage probably deserved more of a push from an outside team.


Andrew Thomas, OT

Thomas is underrated by association. He was part of one of the league’s worst offensive lines last year. Thomas allowed 2.5 sacks and blew 19 blocks, but that was a massive upgrade from the five and 42 that were given up in 2020. He also ranked in the top 10 for ESPN’s run block win rate. But, stuck on a unit that needed a ton of retooling this offseason, there wasn’t much talk surrounding his improvement.


Josh Sweat, Edge

Who led the Eagles in hurries last year? Was it Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett or Javon Hargrave? No. It was fourth-year edge Josh Sweat, with 25 hurries and a team-high 7.5 sacks. Sweat’s three-year extension with Philadelphia will see him never have a cap hit above $6.1 million until 2024. Meanwhile, even with Haason Reddick onboard, Sweat might already be the most powerful edge on the team. There are edge players as good and as young as the 25-year-old Sweat, but you can count them on one hand and they probably weren’t drafted in the fourth round.


Antonio Gibson, RB

Gibson finished sixth in rushing DVOA as a rookie in 2020, then rushed for 1,000 yards on a bad team with no passing game and while playing through multiple injuries. His reward was the team bringing back J.D. McKissic even though Gibson is more than qualified to be a good receiver. And then the Commanders drafted Brian Robinson Jr. in the third round. Gibson at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds has feature-back size and has showed feature-back skills. But the Commanders’ moves might be preventing him from being one.

NFC NORTH

Trevis Gipson, Edge

Gipson emerged as a strong No. 3 and spot starter for the Bears last season, racking up seven sacks and 15 hurries in just under 500 snaps. Though a bit raw in his approach, Gipson has good length, functional strength and stunning flashes of bend around the corner. If Gipson can use this year’s opportunity as a starter to take another step forward, the Bears may have a real difference maker on their hands.


Derrick Barnes, LB

Barnes, a 6-foot-0, 238-pounder with a 97th-percentile wingspan, is a classic inside linebacker with the strength to bang between the tackles and enough speed to work to the perimeter. His ability to take on blocks, find the ball carrier and tackle with consistency was impressive to watch out of a young player, much less one who was a mid-rounder. Barnes will need to find his footing in coverage (the Lions preferred to take him off the field in nickel packages last season), but he has the physical skills and length to get there in time.


Jon Runyan, OL

In over 1,100 career snaps, a majority of which came last season when he was the starter, Runyan has yet to commit a single penalty of any kind. Runyan was also 21st in run block win rate among guards last season. He may not bulldoze defenders like some other Pro Bowl and All-Pro guards, but Runyan is a sharp player who consistently executes his assignment and helps stabilize the Packers interior.


Harrison Phillips, DL

Phillips blossomed as a player last season, particularly in the run game. He finished eighth in ESPN’s run stop win rate in 2021, placing him just below the Rams’ vaunted duo of Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson. For a Vikings team that finished the 2021 season last in adjusted line yards, second-to-last in ESPN’s run stop win rate and 25th in run defense DVOA, Phillips could make a major impact.

NFC SOUTH

A.J. Terrell, CB

Terrell somehow missed the Pro Bowl last season, despite significant praise from the advanced stats community. By our numbers, he was the best cornerback in football last season. He allowed 3.3 yards per target, which didn’t just lead the league; it was the best number for any qualified cornerback since Darrelle Revis in 2010.

Some of that comes from there being little reason to challenge Terrell considering the state of the rest of the Atlanta secondary last season, but Terrell’s play when he was targeted was exemplary. Those who know the game already have Terrell grouped among the top players at his position. It shouldn’t take long before the casual fans find about him, too.


Taylor Moton, RT

Carolina’s offensive line was a disaster in 2021, and the Panthers entered the offseason needing four new starters. That didn’t include Moton, who doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves in part because of the poor quality of play around him. Moton’s 1.7% blown block rate was both a career high and eighth best among qualified tackles last season. He’s a punishing power run blocker who never comes off the field. There’s only so much one good lineman can do, so hopefully Carolina’s offensive revamp will let Moton show more of his stuff in 2022.


Demario Davis, LB

Maybe it’s cheating a little to name a second-team All-Pro as his team’s “most underrated” player, but seeing as how Davis has never been named to a Pro Bowl, he deserves a little more attention. His name never comes up when talking about the best off-ball linebackers in the league, and it really should. Last season, he led all linebackers with five passes defensed.

He was one of 11 linebackers to finish in the top 20 in both yards per pass and coverage success rate, and one of only two who pulled that off while playing over 90% of his team’s snaps. And he did all this while having more quarterback knockdowns than any off-ball linebacker not named Micah Parsons.


Russell Gage, WR

Gage is more than just your run-of-the-mill slot receiver. He is a phenomenal route runner with the ability to consistently work himself open at the short and intermediate areas of the field. He has seen his DYAR and DVOA increase every year he’s been in the league, and his 195 DYAR over the past two seasons has him in the top 50 wideouts. Now, he gets to move from one of the worst offenses in the league to the finely tuned unit in Tampa Bay. Look out.

NFC WEST

Justin Pugh, G

For two years in a row now, Pugh has ranked among the top 10 guards in ESPN’s pass block win rate and has also finished among the top five left guards in snaps per blown block according to SIS charting. Pugh considered retirement after the season, but Arizona general manager Steve Keim convinced him to return on a re-worked deal. At OTAs, Pugh was taking (delivering?) snaps at center in Rodney Hudson‘s absence, and he might end up playing there should Hudson fail to return for the regular season.


Tyler Higbee, TE

Only three tight ends have ranked in the top 15 in receiving DYAR at Football Outsiders in each of the past three years: George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Higbee. Higbee doesn’t have the volume of those other two, and he’s not as explosive, but he moves the chains, picking up a first down on 56% of his third- or fourth-down targets since 2019 — better than Kittle (51%) or Kelce (50%). Higbee is also reliable with more touchdowns (13) than drops (eight) in that timeframe.


Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

In his career, Garoppolo is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, a better rate than Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or any other quarterback who started in 2021. A lot of the credit for that goes to coach Kyle Shanahan and YAC machines such as Deebo Samuel, and it doesn’t account for Garoppolo’s penchant for racking up sacks, interceptions and injuries.

But in a league where spare parts such as Sam Darnold, Drew Lock and Carson Wentz have starting jobs, it’s hard to believe nobody wants to give Garoppolo another chance.


Will Dissly, TE

Good things happen when the Seahawks throw to Dissly — in his career, he has a 79.2% catch rate and 9.4 yards per target, similar numbers to those of Rob Gronkowski (64.7%/9.7) and Travis Kelce (70.8%/9.1). It’s easier to be efficient as the fourth or fifth weapon in Seattle than as the cornerstone in New England or Kansas City, but the Seahawks paid Dissly like he deserves more targets, guaranteeing him over $10 million in March. They also acquired Noah Fant in the Russell Wilson trade, so maybe Dissly won’t get those targets after all.



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