It’s sometimes easy to spot the overrated players in the NFL. Fans and the media tend to “over hype” certain players based on popularity, flashy skills, or success at the college level. What can be difficult to spot are players who quietly have great seasons without anyone talking about them. You’ve seen the NFL’s all-overrated team, now get ready for the all-underrated team. This article will focus on the defense and special teams.
The NFL’s All-Underrated Team: The Defense and Special Teams
Defensive End: Danielle Hunter
How can a player go completely under the radar and finish a season with 12.5 sacks? That’s exactly what Danielle Hunter did for the Vikings. Only five games without a sack, Hunter finished the season with 56 tackles, a safety, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble.
Defensive Tackle: Damon Harrison
When you think of the Giants defensive front, you probably immediately think Jason Pierre-Paul (or fireworks). Damon Harrison came in to the Giants organization last season and had arguably the best season of his career. Harrison led the league in tackles by a defensive lineman with 86. He also added two-and-a-half sacks and a forced fumble.
Defensive End: Kerry Hyder
Kerry Hyder benefited tremendously from an injury to Ezekiel Ansah last season. Hyder quietly finished the season with eight sacks for the Lions and may have very well earned himself a starting spot opposite Ansah this season. Hyder had at least one sack in each of his first four games of the season. He finished with 36 tackles as well and a pass deflection.
Outside Linebacker: Markus Golden
Calais Campbell gets a lot of the praise for how the Cardinals defense played last season. Markus Golden quietly racked up 12.5 sacks, much like Hunter, and finished the season with 51 tackles. He also batted down a pass and forced four fumbles.
Inside Linebacker: Preston Brown
The Bills aren’t necessarily known for having a strong defense. They do, however, have a solid inside linebacker that goes unnoticed in Preston Brown. Brown quietly finished sixth in the league in tackles last season with 139. He also added a sack, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble.
Inside Linebacker: Jordan Hicks
The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t been all that impressive on the defensive side of the ball lately. There’s one player who had an incredible season for the Eagles that no one really mentioned, however. Jordan Hicks finished 2016 with 85 tackles, a sack, 11 pass deflections, and five interceptions. Dak Prescott had an incredible rookie season and is mostly praised for throwing only four interceptions. Hicks was responsible for three of those interceptions, including two in the final game of the regular season.
Outside Linebacker: Telvin Smith
Myles Jack gets most of the attention on the Jaguars defense. Jacksonville looks to have a top defense on paper but there’s a player whose name you probably don’t know and he’s making big plays for the Jaguars. Telvin Smith finished 2016 with 118 tackles, a sack, eight pass deflections, and two interceptions.
Cornerback: Bashaud Breeland
When you think Washington Redskins secondary, you immediately think Josh Norman, maybe even DeAngelo Hall. Bashaud Breeland was one of the best nickel corners in the league last season and nobody talked about him. Breeland finished 2016 with 73 tackles, a sack, 11 pass deflections, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
Cornerback: Casey Hayward
How can you lead the NFL in interceptions and not be talked about? Casey Hayward finished with seven interceptions last season (tops in the league) and was second in the league with 27 pass deflections. The Chargers defense seems to get overlooked altogether, minus Joey Bosa, but Hayward deserves some attention.
Safety: Kurt Coleman
The Carolina Panthers had one of the worst defenses last season. It’s really no surprise that one of their defensive players, especially in the secondary, would go unnoticed. Kurt Coleman finished third in tackles for the Panthers last season behind Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. Along with his 95 tackles, Coleman finished 2016 with a sack, seven pass deflections, four interceptions with one touchdown, and a forced fumble.
Safety: Ricardo Allen
The Falcons received plenty of attention last season on the offensive side. The defense received a little praise but the safety garnering the most praise was Keanu Neal. Neal had an incredible rookie season and deserved every bit of praise but the safety opposite Neal deserves it too. Ricardo Allen has progressively gotten better in the last three seasons and had a great 2016 season. He finished the year with 90 tackles, three pass deflections, and two interceptions and picked off a pass in every postseason game except the Super Bowl.
Kicker: Greg Zuerlein
It’s hard to pick a kicker who’s underrated. Greg Zuerlein is a big part of the Rams success (if you can call it that). The Rams offense didn’t exactly give Zuerlein much to work with but he only missed three field goals last season and two of them were over 50 yards. They only scored 23 touchdowns last season but Zuerlein also made all 23 of the extra points.
Punter: Bryan Anger
Much like the kicker, it’s hard to pick an underrated punter. Bryan Anger doesn’t get a lot of attention because of the Buccaneers high-powered offense. Even so, Anger finished 2016 with 70 punts for 3,215 yards. 37 of those punts landed inside the 20 yard line and only 24 punts were returned for a total of 128 yards.
Be sure to check out the all-underrated team on offense.