Lots of traits can make a player underrated, though I tend to lean toward the ones that don’t always earn people commercial-level recognition.
Which tight ends block well? Which cornerbacks may not log a ton of interceptions but have exceptional opponent completion percentages? Which centers have to call their protections, make back-busting blocks and have to anchor an unoriginal offense that runs the ball straight up the middle 150 times a season?
Our list of the AFC’s most underrated players debuted on Friday and here is the second part of our installment. We hope you enjoy, especially if you, too, have gone unrecognized.
Dallas Goedert, TE
The Eagles are .25 yards per rush better when Goedert is on the field blocking and .13 yards better per passing play. NFL’s GSIS stats database lists all this minutiae and while it doesn’t seem significant, it is when the picture is broadened. The Eagles gained almost 100 more rushing yards in a season with Goedert. Add in that he caught 58 balls in 2019 and is a major threat in the red zone. Assuming Goedert continues to develop as a wide receiver, the Eagles may have something incredibly dangerous on their hands.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB
For two straight years now, Awuzie has allowed a completion percentage below 60 and, in 2019 added an opposing QB rating of 89. He tackles incredibly well, has A-plus closing speed and plays 95% of the team’s defensive snaps at a critical wide DB position. Though the loss of Byron Jones stings, Awuzie made it a little more palatable.
David Mayo, LB
Pro Football Focus’s second-best run defender among linebackers in 2019, Mayo drastically improved his coverage stats and missed tackle numbers to earn himself more of a regular role on defense last year (and was awarded with a contract extension in kind). While the Giants will continue to struggle defending backs and tight ends, Mayo is an example of a true workhorse who is developing his game to fit a changing NFL.
Chase Roullier, C
Committing just one penalty over 14 starts in 2019, Roullier logged another solid campaign in 2019, especially as a pass blocker. Washington ran up the middle behind Roullier 80 times for an average rush gain of 4.73 yards. The attempts were good enough for fifth in the NFL, outlining the offense’s level of trust in him (and Adrian Peterson’s propensity for running up the gut).
Jamaal Williams, RB
This is kind of crazy, considering some are projecting him on the outs in Green Bay after the Packers selected A.J. Dillon in the second round. But Williams pass blocks extremely well and may be one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. On 45 targets last year, he nabbed almost 90% of his passes, which is huge when you’re considering the critical role he plays. Williams finished seventh in Football Outsiders’s success rate rankings among running backs in 2019 as well, and yet all we can talk about are his replacements.
Kyle Rudolph, TE
Yes, Rudolph has made Pro Bowls before, but I think we completely misinterpret how valuable someone in his position is. The Vikings thrive on a two-tight end setup, which means Rudolph takes a heightened responsibility in pacing both the passing game and run blocking to develop play action. There was not a receiver in football who finished 2019 with a better catch percentage than Rudolph, who hauled in more than 80% of his targets.
Sherrick McManis, ST/DB
Despite missing half the season last year, the perpetually overlooked McManis still tied for the Bears’ lead in special teams tackles. He played a little box safety, a little free safety, a little slot corner and a little wide corner—logging a PFF coverage grade of 93.3, albeit in a very limited sample size. For added perspective, in 2018 McManis logged an opponent completion percentage below 55%. He blitzed, pressured the passer and didn’t miss many tackles.
Frank Ragnow, C
I thought Brandon Thorn over at Establish the Run has done a great job of illustrating Ragnow’s unique athleticism and how it allows the Lions to scheme up some of their runs. Ragnow is underrated because he can star at multiple positions. The Lions ran up the middle behind center more than only three other teams in the NFL last year.
Marcus Williams, S
Once remembered for a starring role in the Minneapolis Miracle, Williams thankfully put a bunch of tired tropes to bed with a resoundingly strong 2019 performance. Williams led the team in interceptions, finished sixth in tackles and had more passes defensed than any member of the Saints outside of Marshon Lattimore. His ability to manipulate some of the better passers in the league from a deep safety position was impressive.
Deion Jones, LB
Like a few other teams on this list, the Falcons were difficult in that the players you expected to be good were good. The players you could identify easily as underperforming were underperforming. Jones makes it here as a bit of a cop out, since I feel that (even still) not enough people are talking about how good he is. 100-plus tackles in three of his four years, a 58.5% completion rate allowed on more than 60 targets in 2019 and 36 contributions to Dan Quinn’s blitz package. There aren’t many linebackers built for 2020 and beyond like Jones.
Ryan Jensen, C
The former sixth-round pick from Colorado State-Pueblo, Jensen was graded out by PFF as their third-best center in 2019. For a third straight year, he logged 100% of the team’s snaps, and he committed just three penalties a year ago. With Tom Brady coming to town, there isn’t a better time for Jensen to be peaking.
Tre Boston, S
In the league since 2014 with no Pro Bowl berths, Boston has been an unsung foundational piece in many a defense over the years. In 2019, he allowed just a 74.9 opposing QB rating and 61.1% completion rate. Boston has a plus-163 yard passing NYoA, meaning that, over the course of a season, he shaves down more than 100 yards of passing offense.
K’Wuan Williams, DB
While we all know Richard Sherman played out of his mind last year, K’Wuan Williams made the 49ers almost half a yard better per passing play in 2019, which adds up to over 500 yards throughout the season. The former undrafted free agent logged a completion percentage below 70 and a passer rating more than 30 points better than the one he logged in 2018. The strength of secondaries often ebb and flow based on the talent in the slot, and luckily the 49ers have a good one.
Shaquill Griffin, DB
Griffin is the only 2019 Pro Bowler on this list and here’s my justification for doing so: because of the specter of the Legion of Boom, it will be difficult—I think—for the more general fan to accept that the Seahawks have found another player who may be just as good as his predecessors. I’ve predicted, with the addition of Quinton Dunbar, a bit of a renaissance when it comes to the way we view the Seahawks’ secondary and a big reason is because of Griffin’s stoic play out wide. He posted a 57.1 opposition completion percentage playing in one of the best offensive divisions in recent football memory.
Troy Hill, DB
With a 45%—forty-five percent!—opponent completion percentage on 57 targets this year, Hill also cut his opponent quarterback rating nearly in half. Imagine playing in the NFC West frequently as a cornerback and allowing only two touchdowns in a season. Or missing just two of your 45 attempted tackles in a division that has an equally potent cadre of running backs.
Maxx Williams, TE
Pro Football Focus’s No. 1 blocking tight end of 2019, Maxxxxxxxxx Williams had a Net Yards over Average of 241.35 yards in 2019. That’s incredible. The Cardinals were almost a yard better per run with Williams on the field, which, in case you're wondering, was more significant than every single one of the Cardinals’ regular starters on the offensive line.
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