The Most Underrated NFL Player at Every Position
Every football team in the country has one or more players who is under-appreciated or underrated. This is particularly true at the professional level.
Be it the fans of the team a player competes for, fans around the country, or NFL analysts, some players don't get the recognition they deserve. Others, for whatever reason (usually due to bigger media markets) become overrated (I'm talking to you, Mark Sanchez).
No matter their position, the following players are underrated for a myriad of reasons in my opinion. Feel free to share your thoughts and try to sway my opinion in the comments.
Quarterback: Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
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Matt Schaub spent the first three years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons backing up superstar Michael Vick. Due to this, he spent very little time on the field and few people knew how good he would become.
In March 2007, the Houston Texans traded second round picks in 2007 and 2008 to the Falcons to acquire Schaub's services, fully intent on making him their starting quarterback after the failed experiment that was David Carr (due in large part to Houston having an exceptionally poor offensive line).
Since that trade, Schaub has gradually improved, culminating in throwing for nearly 5,000 yards in 2009 with 29 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions. In 2010, he threw for over 4,000 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Houston has yet to make the playoffs with Schaub at the helm, (or anyone for that matter) but that is in large part due to a lack of a consistent pass defense.
For as good as Schaub has been, he gets very little recognition. His name rarely comes up when discussing the top QB's in the league, and the media rarely talks about him.
To top it off, Atlanta lost Michael Vick in April 2007 due to his involvement in a dog fighting ring. With no proven quarterback on the roster, they were forced to employ Joey Harrington as their starter.
Running Back: Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
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From the moment he entered the NFL Draft in 2004, Steven Jackson has struggled to get the recognition he deserves.
Rated as the top running back in the draft after an excellent career at Oregon State, Jackson was projected to be drafted in the top 10. Team after team passed on him however, until the St. Louis Rams, looking to find a future replacement for Marshall Faulk, traded up to the no. 24 pick to select the big bruiser.
Since that pick, Jackson has amassed nearly 8,000 rushing yards (in only six seasons as the starter) with 47 rushing touchdowns to go along with over 2,500 yards receiving and seven receiving touchdowns.
Those are good numbers no matter how you look at it, but when you factor in that Jackson has played on some of the worst teams of the past decade while facing eight men in the box the majority of the time, those are GREAT numbers.
Even when he led the league in yards from scrimmage in 2006, people who weren't fans of the Rams continually said that he didn't deserve to be in the conversation as one of the top five backs in the league. They're wrong.
Fullback: Le'Ron McClain, Kansas City Chiefs
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While fullbacks are, by and large underrated, Le'Ron McClain has proven himself a capable runner after taking over as the primary running back for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 season.
In addition to blocking for running backs Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, McClain is a threat as a receiver and as a runner, something few fullbacks in the NFL are able to claim.
The Kansas City Chiefs, already a dangerous running team, will be even more dangerous with McClain leading the way for Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.
Wide Receiver: Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys
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With as much press as the Cowboys get year in and year out, deserved or otherwise, I never thought that I would actually use the word underrated followed by the name of a person associated with the Dallas Cowboys.
Austin rarely gets any press, and when he did, it was usually due to his celebrity girlfriend, Kim Kardashian. That's too bad, because over the last two years, Austin has averaged 75 catches for 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. Not that anyone has noticed. They're too busy talking about Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
Tight End: Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins
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Tight ends have just recently begun to be appreciated in the NFL. With the popularity of the two tight end offense, the position has become more and more valuable. The St. Louis Rams recently used their second round pick to select TE Lance Kendricks while several top tier wide-outs were still on the board, an obvious position of need for St. Louis.
Chris Cooley has been the image of consistency, when healthy, that any team would dream of having on their roster. However, because of his position, he doesn't get the respect that he deserves.
Center: Jamaal Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
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Jamaal Jackson has had a tough last couple years, being bitten by the injury bug. The Eagle's offense has suffered, as Jackson is the most underrated center in the NFL.
The injuries that Jackson has suffered in the last couple of years can be attributed to the fact that the Eagles rely on him to block opposing defensive tackles one-on-one almost exclusively, rarely giving him any help as the other offensive linemen tend to double team opposing defensive ends.
When one of the best offensive teams in the league struggles, even slightly, because of one offensive lineman going down due to an injury, it says something about how important that lineman is. All the more impressive considering Jackson won the starting job after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
Guard: Harvey Dahl, St. Louis Rams
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Harvey Dahl was one of the more under-the-radar free agent signings during the frenzy that occurred after the lockout was lifted.
Dahl was a solid guard with the Atlanta Falcons. The nastiness factor that he brings to the Rams offensive line is what makes him underrated, something that has been severely lacking in St. Louis over the last couple of seasons.
Dahl was ranked as the eighth dirtiest player in the NFL as recently as two seasons ago. When quarterback Sam Bradford was told this, he said they would do what they could to move him up to No. 1. It's like my dad used to say, if you're gonna do something, be the best at it.
The new attitude has already started to rub off on the rest of the line as even guard Jacob Bell has played with a renewed passion for his job over the first three preseason games.
Offensive Tackle: Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams
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With the selection of Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick last season, not many people payed attention to the player selected with the Rams second round pick, offensive tackle Rodger Saffold.
It was expected that Saffold would be the Rams right tackle of the future, but due to an excellent showing in camp and tackle Jason Smith's struggles to adequately protect Sam Bradford's blind side, the Rams opened the season with Saffold as the starting left tackle. He didn't disappoint, allowing 3.5 sacks and garnering eight penalties in 16 games started. These would be excellent numbers on any team, especially a team that struggled with coverage sacks last season. As a unit, the Rams' offensive line allowed 34 sacks in 2010. Saffold effectively allowed 10% of the team's total sacks. Not bad for a rookie.
Defensive End: Chris Long, St. Louis Rams
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Chris Long, son of Raiders legend Howie Long, makes this list due to his low sack totals. On a vastly underrated defense (they ranked middle of the pack in most defensive statistics, but their points allowed was almost top 10), Long was double teamed a majority of the time. With his non-stop motor, he led the league in quarterback hurries and pressures, and with a little bit of work he won't remain underrated for long.
Expect his sack totals to be in the double digits this season. With James Hall lining up on the other side, pass rush specialist Robert Quinn joining the team this season and Steve Spagnuolo's blitz schemes, the Rams will once again be a top 10 defense in sacks (last season they ranked seventh, five sacks behind the vaunted Steelers defense).
Defensive Tackle: Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
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Ngata is a monster of a man. At 6'4" and 330 lbs, the speed and burst that he possesses are incredible. He's extremely effective as a run blocker as well as being one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in football.
Despite all of this, he rarely gets mentioned when people talk about the best defensive players on the Ravens. Those conversations usually revolve around Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Linebacker: James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams
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Son of WWE legend "Animal" of the Road Warriors, "Little Animal" as he is affectionately known in St. Louis, is another under the radar draft pick by the Rams. Laurinaitis has averaged 117 tackles since being picked by the Rams in the second round in 2009 while receiving little to no support from the outside linebackers that the Rams have put around him.
The fact that he gets no press can be attributed to several factors. For one, he played on a team that is just now becoming relevant in the NFL once again. Playing in the same division as Patrick Willis doesn't help his case for accolades either. This year, with starting quality outside linebackers next to him, Laurinaitis will finally get the respect that he deserves.
Cornerback: Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
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It's pretty hard to believe that a defensive player on the Pittsburgh Steelers could actually be underrated, but that's the case when it comes to Ike Taylor.
He has consistently been one of the better corners in football since joining the league. The only real knock on him is his inability to make an interception. He has butterfingers nearly every time he gets his hands on the ball. If his interception numbers went up, opposing teams would begin to respect him almost as much as they respect Troy Polamalu.
Safety: Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis Colts
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Antoine Bethea is a player that isn't talked about often due to the fact that he has played his entire career with an All-Pro safety lining up in coverage with him in Bob Sanders.
That doesn't change the fact that Bethea is a tackling machine and has the ability to be an interception machine as well, rarely making big mistakes in coverage. 2011 will be the first season that the Colts have been without safety Bob Sanders on the roster since drafting Bethea, meaning that this will be the first season fans will truly have the chance to see how good Bethea can be.