In the NFL, you hear the term “overrated” is thrown around almost at will. Great corner gets burned badly a couple times? Oh, he’s overrated. Quarterback has a good few weeks but then falls back to earth by throwing three picks in a game? Yeah, he wasn’t that good.
The word “underrated,” however, is thrown out much less frequently. By definition, I guess it would have to. But even when pundits talk about “surprising” or “improving” players, they’re still never underrated so to speak.
So what does underrated really mean?
The word defines two types of players: those who are “functionally” underrated guys who don’t show up in the stat sheets but are sparkplugs for their team and those who play at a high level all (or most) of the time and put up good numbers but are less publicized than their sexier counterparts. I like to call the second group the “forgotten” underrated.
The Eagles have a handful of guys who fit into both categories, but these five are the cream of the crop.
Quintin Mikell has gotten some due; he was a second-team All-Pro in 2008, and last year he made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement alternate.
But as much as Eagles fans sometimes scorn him for his momentary lapses of focus, he’s made some huge plays during his tenure in the defensive backfield.
In 2004, his first career interception stopped the Giants from scoring before the half, preserving Philly’s 7-6 lead; they later scored 20 in the second half and actually wrapped up the NFC East with a 10-1 record.
In 2005, Mikell blocked a Nate Kaeding field goal, which Matt Ware recovered and rumbled 65 yards for a TD. It not only gave the Birds a late win over San Diego, but was the first FG block returned for a TD in franchise history.
On Christmas Day 2006, Mikell made a huge tackle on fourth-and-goal against Dallas that spurred the Eagles to victory and helped them win the division.
Oh yeah, and Mikell just so happens to have averaged 86 tackles, 9 passes defensed and 1 sack in each of the three years (two and three-quarters, really) since he took over as the starter at strong safety.
With Brian Dawkins and both corners he broke in with gone to greener pastures, Mikell is now the veteran in the secondary and a key cog to the Eagles’ defense.
Patterson is one of the better 4-3 tackles in the league, but he never gets any love.
Sure, he has the first-round draft pedigree (No. 31 overall in 2005), has been the starter at LDT almost since the get-go, and puts up some decent numbers for a DT: 260 tackles and 11 sacks in five seasons.
Heck, he was a three-year starter and All-American at USC. You know he can go.
He’s even outshined Brodrick Bunkley, who was a “better” prospect and drafted much higher.
But he has no Pro Bowls, no All-Pro selections, and most unfortunately, no love. All he has is a slot on USA Today’s 2008 All-Joe Team, which, according to their page, honors “players and coaches deemed hard workers and over-achievers that may be overlooked by the traditional media.”
That’ll have to do for now.
Nick Cole is one of those functionally underrated guys.
He’ll never put up gaudy numbers, will probably never make the Pro Bowl, and may not even ever have a set position. But without him (or at the very least someone like him), the Eagles would be lost.
Andy Reid has always loved versatile lineman, and Cole is perhaps the most versatile of the bunch.
After playing all over the line in his first two seasons, Cole started the last five games of 2008 at right guard after Max-Jean Gilles got hurt. Then, last year, he started six at left guard in place of Todd Herremans, nine at right guard in place of Gilles/Stacy Andrews, and then the final two at center after Jamaal Jackson tore his ACL.
One year, three positions, and a different assignment every week-yet Cole always rose to the challenge.
Just like that, he might be headed back to the bench.
Andrews looks ready to reclaim his starting job at RG. If AQ Shipley beats Cole out to be Jamaal Jackson’s temporary replacement, Cole will go back to his “sixth man” role.
No worries for him though, because after this season, someone (hopefully Andy Reid) will make Cole a very rich man.
There’s a reason the Birds re-signed Avant to a five-year deal this spring: he’s worth it.
Andy Reid knew what he had when he drafted Avant; as he said in a post-draft interview, Avant “has great hands, toughness, and leadership; he's very intelligent and a good route runner.”
In other words, he was considered the perfect possession receiver ... and so far he has been.
Avant had decent numbers as a lower member of the depth chart in his first few years, recording 62 catches for roughly 700 yards and 5 TDs.
Last year he broke out as the slot receiver (and starter opposite DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin in nine games) and set new career highs (41-587-3) in all categories.
He also became Donovan McNabb’s favorite target on third down, with 32 of his 37 catches in that situation leading to first downs.
There not exactly Steve Smith numbers, but it certainly was a big boost to an Eagles offense that struggled on small passing plays throughout the year.
Avant was rewarded with not only a new contract but a slot on USA Today’s All-Joe Team, which, based on the definition in an earlier slide, sounds like they honor the underrated just like me.
Trent Cole has made the Pro Bowl twice in the last three years and hasn’t missed a game since his rookie year in 2005.
His 70 tackles led all NFC defensive ends in 2007, and he’s recorded 42 sacks and 61 total tackles for loss in the last four years—more than Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney and Mario Williams.
He also has a huge contract, working on a five-year, $26m extension (with $12m guaranteed) that he signed back in 2006.
So how the hell is Cole underrated?
When people talk about the top ends in the NFL, how often do you even hear his name, let alone in the same sentence as Peppers, Freeney, Williams, or Jared Allen?
Exactly. That’s why he’s a three-time member of the aforementioned All-Joe Team.
Reality, both in hard numbers and in visual evidence, says that Trent Cole is in fact one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. In addition to finishing third in the NFC in sacks last season, Cole was ranked by ProFootballFocus.com as the best 4-3 end against the run last season. (You can see that ranking here, and thanks to Bo Wulf of PhiladelphiaEagles.com for mentioning that as well).
He’s one of the best. Until he gets the same love as his sexier counterparts, he’s the leader of the All-Underrated Team.