GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have a Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Kenny Clark. They’ve got an All-Pro linebacker with De’Vondre Campbell and a former All-Pro cornerback with Jaire Alexander. And they’ve got a budding star with outside linebacker Rashan Gary.
Floating under the radar is the safety tandem of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. They are entering Year 4 together.
“You’re putting a new system in or you get new players into a system, you’ve got to build piece by piece. You watch these players and they develop together, to be on the same page
“From a coaching standpoint, we always say we want you to communicate. We want you to signal. We’ve got to be on the same page. We talk to the safeties about the communications between you two first on the back end. If you two guys are on the same page, now we can echo it to your side of the field. These guys, it’s just like a relationship. They’ve been together for so long they can look at each other and they know what the other one’s thinking because they’ve been in that position hundreds of times together.”
With that as a backdrop, our NFC North insiders – Bill Huber of Packer Central, Will Ragatz of Inside the Vikings, Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest and John Maakaron of All Lions – get you ready for the season with a 12-piece roundtable discussion. In Part 4 of this series, we focus on each team’s most underrated player.
Green Bay Packers: S Adrian Amos
A couple weeks ago, I would have gone with outside linebacker Rashan Gary but he was picked as the Packers’ breakout star by NFL Network and the hype train has gone into overdrive. And for good reason. Only the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby had more pressures among edge rushers than Gary last season.
Amos will never get the credit he deserves because he doesn’t make many big plays. Since being signed away from the division-rival Bears in free agency in 2019, Amos’ production is practically copy-and-paste: 81 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed in 2019, 83 tackles, two interceptions and nine passes defensed in 2020 and 93 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed in 2021. He’s started all 49 games and topped 1,000 snaps each year.
Amos is just so consistent. At safety, it’s not always about the big plays you make. It’s about the big plays that are prevented. Amos is in the right place at the right time every time, and is one of the best tacklers in the NFL. If tackling is something of a lost art, Amos is a Picasso. Of 64 safeties with at least 50 percent playing time last season, Amos ranked sixth with a missed-tackle rate of 6.1 percent (six misses), according to PFF.
Amos is 29 and entering his final season under contract. A big decision awaits.
Minnesota Vikings: RT Brian O'Neill
The Vikings have a few underrated players, including longtime defensive studs Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks. Still, O'Neill stands out as the answer here because of how consistent he's been since entering the league in 2018 and how little that seems to get noticed outside of Minnesota.
A second-round pick four years ago, O'Neill didn't allow a single sack as a rookie. He then allowed just one in 2019. Even as he allowed a whopping three sacks in 2020, he shined in pass protection while becoming one of the best run-blocking tackles in football. O'Neill had an incredible season last year, allowing one sack on just shy of 700 pass-blocking snaps. He was finally rewarded with his first Pro Bowl nod, but only as an injury replacement.
For a Vikings franchise that has been starved of great offensive linemen since the days of Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, O'Neill has been a revelation. He's out there at right tackle week in and week out, winning his matchup in pass protection while creating big holes — and getting to the second level — in the ground game. There's never a need to worry about his play, which is rare for the Vikings. After getting a big extension last year and finally making the Pro Bowl, O'Neill deserves even more national recognition as one of the game's elite right tackles.
Chicago Bears: WR Darnell Mooney
It's not the Bears who underrate Mooney, a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft. Rather, it's analysts, NFL "experts" and mostly fantasy football folk who believe he is not a No. 1. Mooney is the No. 1 Bears receiver and a No. 1 who is better than a lot of other No. 1 receivers for teams across the league.
Only Justin Jefferson (196) and CeeDee Lamb (158) from 35 wide receivers drafted in 2020 have more receptions than Mooney (142) in two seasons, and both Jefferson and Lamb were selected in Round 1. Receivers like Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, Laviska Shenault Jr., Chase Claypool, Michael Pittman, Jerry Jeudy and Gabriel Davis all have fewer catches. Since coming into the league, Mooney has made more catches, more yardage, more yards per catch, more yards after catch and more TD receptions than former Bears receiver Allen Robinson. Only 14 teams had wide receivers who caught more passes last year than Mooney.
Mooney is smaller (5-foot-11, 173 pounds) but his slippery running style suggests he'll be a much bigger force after the catch now in Luke Getsy's Bears offense than he was in Matt Nagy’s stagnant attack, one that seemed to be in love with using wide receivers on hitch routes. Eventually, maybe the fantasy football fanatics may recognize Mooney as a No. 1 guy, especially if his quarterback, Justin Fields, makes expected strides in Year 2.
Detroit Lions: S Tracy Walker
The Lions brought back Walker with a three-year contract extension worth $25 million, including $17 million guaranteed.
Walker could have tested the free agent market, but instead chose to remain in Detroit.
"My main objective right now is to continue to grow with this coaching staff, continue to grow with this group of guys I've got surrounding me, and just continue to try and build a foundation. One thing I've been saying all year is we're trying to establish a foundation, and that's something I want to be a part of," Walker said at the end of the 2021 season. "I just want to do the best and be the best player I can possibly be."
Walker started last season ranked among the top five safeties in the entire league. Unfortunately, injuries derailed the Lions’ secondary, and the talented defensive back did not finish the season as strongly as he would have liked.
With another offseason under his belt working in coordinator Aaron Glenn's defensive scheme, Walker should have more opportunities to make game-changing plays in 2022.
The 27-year-old led the Lions with 108 tackles, a career high. It represented the second occasion he topped 100 tackles since 2018. He added one interception to give him three in four seasons. According to PFF, and its judgement of passing plays, he allowed two touchdown passes – a major improvement after seven last year and five in 2020.
NFC North Insiders
Get ready for the 2022 NFL season with our 12-part NFC North Insiders series, with stories running every Saturday and Sunday until training camp. Next week: The best- and worst-case scenarios for the Packers’ and their divisional rivals.
Part 3: Most overrated player for each team.