Top 6 Underrated NFL Players Ahead of the 2021 Season
Bruce Arians recently called Blaine Gabbert the most underrated player in the NFL. Maybe I am missing something, but Gabbert’s name never crossed my mind when I was coming up with the list of names to feature on this page.
Perhaps Gabbert is a good cheerleader and doesn’t cause any distractions, but the 31-year-old journeyman QB is a career 56.2% passer with nearly as many interceptions (47) as touchdowns (50) on his lifetime resume.
I am a big fan of Arians and love what he’s doing in Tampa Bay, we just don’t see eye to eye on this particular topic.
Here are the guys who come to mind when I think of the most underrated NFL players in 2021.
Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliot signed a $90 million deal and so the Cowboys feel obligated to feature him as their #1 back. It’s a shame. Tony Pollard was far more effective in 2020 and is the much more elusive RB.
I’m not saying Dallas should cut Zeke off completely, but Kellen Moore should make it a point to at least make the backfield duties a true committee.
Since Pollard entered the league in 2019, his broken tackle rate is tied for tops in the league with Nick Chubb. He’s knotted with Derrick Henry atop the NFL in most yards after contact per carry.
And he’s doing this all while making less than a million bucks per year.
Cole Beasley, WR, Buffalo Bills
The Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs connection blossomed in 2020; there’s no denying that. However, while Diggs was running fly patterns and leaking behind secondaries, Cole Beasley was putting in work in the middle of the field.
In terms of hauling in the contested targets, Beasley also ranked 2nd (81.8%).
After elevating his game in his first year in Buffalo (2019), Cole ascended toward the upper echelon of NFL slot receivers in 2020. Coming off an 82-967-4 line, look for Beasley to topple 1,000 yards in 2021.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To say that Tristan Wirfs had a productive rookie season might be the understatement of the century.
The Buccaneers first-round pick in 2020 received an 82.2 PFF grade – the second-highest mark among all NFL right tackles.
Rather than use a bunch of descriptive words to tell you how well Wirfs played, the following tweet from NFLonCBS pretty much sums it up.
How about this rookie campaign from Bucs OL Tristan Wirfs: • 22 years old • started all 20 games • did not miss a single offensive snap (1,280 plays) • 1 penalty since Week 5 • 799 pass-blocking snaps • 1 sack allowed • Super Bowl champion February 8, 2021
Justin Herbert was outstanding, and Justin Jefferson played out of his mind. Nevertheless, no rookie played as consistently good as #78 in Tampa Bay.
Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders
Travis Kelce is the undisputed top tight in football. The public assumes George Kittle is next in line, and everyone is amped up about the arrival of Kyle Pitts.
With that said, Darren Waller belongs at the forefront of any conversation about the second-best tight end in the league.
The Raiders have had virtually no outside help to take the attention off Waller, and yet the 6th-round pick in 2015 has had no problem generating gaudy numbers in the last two seasons.
|Darren Waller – By the Numbers Since 2019|
|Year||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Touchdowns||Drop Rate|
Darren is far a traditional tight end. He is a 6’6” 255-pound pass-catcher with wheels who can run every route in the playbook. His specialty?
Lining up out wide and dominating one-on-one matchups.
Jessie Bates III, S, Cincinnati Bengals
If you ask casual fans who the best safety in the NFL is, they’ll probably say Jamal Adams or Tyrann Mathieu. They might say Minka Fitzpatrick or Harrison Smith; some might even point to a healthy Derwin James.
What they should say with little hesitation is Jessie Bates III. Jessie who?
The 24-year-old Wake Forest product gets little attention playing for what’s been a porous defense in Cincy, but I’ll allude to Bates’ superiority by zeroing in on his contributions this past season.
- Led All NFL Safeties in Interceptions + Pass Deflections (18)
- Led All NFL Safeties with a 90.1 PFF Grade
The unrestricted free agent at the end of 2021 is in line to make a whole bunch of dough next March.
Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings
Since registering 92 tackles as a rook in 2015, the Vikings inside linebacker has racked up at least 107 tackles in every season.
The heart and soul of Mike Zimmer’s middle level should be commended for his reliable tackling, but let’s not forget that Eric is also among the best coverage linebackers in the sport.
And that’s not hearsay or some biased opinion – that’s based on Kendricks yielding a 58.8 passer rating in 2020. That mark was good enough for the second-best mark among all NFL linebackers.
Minnesota’s defense surrendered 27.7 points per game in the 11 that Kendricks played last year; that number ballooned to 34.0 ppg in the five that he was sidelined.
A healthy Eric Kendricks in the middle is a big reason the Vikings have surged up my NFL defense rankings in 2021.
More Underrated NFL Players in 2021
I highlighted a six-pack of the most underrated players in the NFL. Other names I considered before condensing my final list to six were the following.
- Wyatt Teller, G, Cleveland Browns
- Trey Hendrickson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
- Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Wyatt Teller went from an unknown commodity in 2019 to the best run-blocking guard in the NFL in 2020.
Trey Hendrickson tied Aaron Donald for the second-most sacks in the league – he’s one of the up-and-coming edge rushers hardly anyone is talking about.
Look out for Cooper Kupp to turn in his best season yet playing with a highly competent quarterback for the first time of his career.
Enough about the underrated NFL player. What about those who are overrated?