The NFL's superstars often get all the plaudits, but one of the many advantages of the PFF grading system is that it allows us to shine a light on players who aren’t getting the credit they deserve.
Sometimes we can highlight players whose performances have been excellent in limited playing time, suggesting that they should have an expanded role in the future. Other times, we are simply able to throw credit in the direction of a player who deserves more recognition.
Here is the most underrated player on every NFL team.
A former second-round pick, Williams was a dynamic receiving weapon as a draft prospect, but he has since been relegated to the role of a blocking tight end who rarely sees the football in the NFL. He has shown he can still make plays when his number does get called and has averaged 13.2 yards per catch over the last two seasons, 7.6 of which has come after the catch.
Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley get all of the attention in Atlanta, and because of that, Gage was able to just quietly perform. The now fourth-year receiver saw 108 targets last season, catching 66.7% of them and breaking 11 tackles after the catch. Opportunities are hard to come by in Atlanta, but Gage is an extremely reliable depth receiver.
Unlike many of the players on this list, Marlon Humphrey is already regarded as a top-tier player in the league. But even that might be underselling him. No cornerback has earned a higher PFF coverage grade in single coverage since the start of the 2018 season despite much of that coverage coming via the slot, where receptions are easier to come by for offenses.
Beasley is one of the most underrated players in the game; he is a phenomenal receiver and a great example of why you should focus on what a player can do rather than his limitations. Already one of the league's best route-runners, Beasley also caught nine of the 11 contested targets sent his way in 2020, the best rate in the NFL.
If he were playing 10 years ago, Denzel Perryman would be a celebrated force at linebacker, but his downhill-thumping style is not what the modern game calls for most of the time. Perryman is coming off a career year with an overall PFF grade of 83.3, and he even saw his coverage improve after allowing a career-low 5.3 yards per reception.
Yes, you read that correctly: Allen Robinson is still underrated. His 88.4 overall PFF grade was a top-five figure for all wide receivers last year, and he did that despite suffering poor quarterback play (again). Robinson has consistently been a top-10 receiver in the NFL with one of the worst quarterback situations in the game. If Justin Fields changes that, Robinson could immediately look as good as any receiver in the league.
Another clearly elite talent, Bates was still snubbed for the Pro Bowl last season, even though he put up an elite PFF grade of 90.1 on the year. Evidently, there are still people left to convince. Bates led all safeties with a combined 15 interceptions and pass breakups in 2020.
Higgins produces over and beyond what you would expect every time he gets featured in the Cleveland Browns offense. In his two highest-volume seasons, Higgins has generated a passer rating of 122.3 and 119.2 when targeted, with the latter figure coming this past season. Baker Mayfield to Higgins is a connection that just works.
The Dallas Cowboys are in a tough spot. By handing Ezekiel Elliott the contract they did, it is very difficult for them to reduce his role to the level it should be based on how Pollard has performed when given the opportunity. Since being drafted, Pollard is tied with Derrick Henry for the best yards after contact average in the league (4.0) and tied with Nick Chubb for the best broken tackle rate (0.25).
Callahan was one of the best players in the NFL in 2020, ranking No. 61 on PFF’s top 101 list after the season despite missing the final month of the campaign. Callahan was an elite slot corner who was repeatedly asked to man an outside position because of injuries in the secondary, and he held up exceptionally well despite being vastly undersized. He allowed a passer rating of just 46.9 when targeted in 2020.
No glimmer of hope can be redeemed from Okudah’s rookie year — if that were the only sample I had to work with, I’d be conjuring optimism out of thin air. However, we know Okudah was an elite college cornerback, and we also know that almost every rookie corner was routinely torched in 2020. The scheme Detroit employed also wasn’t helping anybody, so we have to assume that Okudah is better than the player we saw last season. How much better is the big unknown.
For some reason, no matter how well Amos plays, many people are reluctant to give him the credit he deserves. The veteran safety has never had a bad season in the NFL and now has another elite year under his belt — this time for a new team — after 2020. He has 15 pass breakups to go with five picks over the last two seasons, including the playoffs.
The Texans roster has undergone so much change in one offseason that it’s hard to make sense of it in any capacity. But of all the players they have thrown at the wall, Kevin Pierre-Louis has a good chance of sticking. Drafted in 2014, Pierre-Louis has played just 1,285 career snaps, but more than 700 of them have come in the last two seasons. He posted a PFF coverage grade of 91.0 in 2019 and 83.9 in 2020 at a time when coverage linebackers are hard to find.
The bigger Alie-Cox's role gets in the Indianapolis offense, the better he seems to play. He saw 40 targets last season, which resulted in 35 catches and an overall PFF grade of 80.9. He has rare athleticism and ball skills and keeps knocking on the door of an even bigger role.
Even the Jaguars appear to be sleeping on Sidney Jones, given how hard they have attacked the cornerback position between free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. A former second-round draft pick, the start of Jones’ career was hampered by injury, but he is coming off the best PFF coverage grade (71.3) of his career in Jacksonville after allowing just 51.4% of passes thrown his way to be caught.
A fourth-round pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, Sneed was a real find for the Chiefs and a big reason why they were able to make it back to the Super Bowl. In a season in which rookie cornerbacks were regularly torched, Sneed allowed a passer rating of just 66.6 when targeted, including the playoffs.
Few of the Raiders' recent acquisitions have outperformed expectations, but Kwiatkoski could certainly make that claim. He posted a career-best PFF coverage grade of 75.3 in his first year with the team, as well as matching a career-high in pass breakups (three) and setting a new best in defensive stops (30).
The Chargers have thoroughly revamped their offensive line over the offseason, but one of the best value moves was bringing in Matt Feiler from Pittsburgh. Feiler has played above-average football at both guard and tackle for the Steelers, and while he may be a better tackle, he should be a guaranteed upgrade for the team and solidify at least one position on the line while providing contingency against injuries elsewhere.
Dating back to college, Darious Williams really doesn’t have any bad tape to his name over any extended period. He assumed the No. 2 corner job in Los Angeles last season and proceeded to earn a top-10 PFF grade, allowing just 48.7% of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught for a passer rating of only 55.4.
The Dolphins threw plenty of resources at their offensive line last season, and while it was very much a work in progress, the most encouraging performance came from Robert Hunt, their second-round rookie, at right tackle. Hunt allowed just 15 total pressures all season, half the number of pressures Austin Jackson gave up on the other side.
Dantzler fell to the third round of the draft a year ago despite having first-round tape because he was extremely lightweight and struggled to run well when he added weight during the process. He had ups and downs as a rookie but put up multiple single-game PFF grades above 90.0 and forced his way into the starting lineup.
Listed as a guard, even though most of his play in his rookie year came at right tackle, Onwenu was a phenomenal first-year performer for the Patriots regardless of position. In a world where the league appreciated offensive line play as much as the play from “skill positions,” Onwenu would have had a strong case for rookie of the year after allowing just 11 total pressures all season.
Trautman played 450 snaps for the Saints in his rookie season but played well enough to suggest that he deserves a significantly bigger role in Year 2. His run blocking was excellent, earning a PFF grade of 87.1. And while he only saw 18 targets all season, he caught 16 of them, gaining 7.3 yards after the catch on average.
With the performance of other rookie tackles such as Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills Jr., it would be easy to dismiss Andrew Thomas as a bad pick. However, the Giants extensively reworked his technique, and we saw far better play from him as the season wore on. He earned just one PFF pass-blocking grade below 59.0 over the second half of the season, whereas every single outing before Week 8 fell below that mark. Outside of one disastrous game against Arizona, his pass-blocking grade was above 70.0 from Week 8 onwards.
Dominant run defenders are always underrated in today’s NFL, and the Jets have a pretty good history of developing this type of player. Folorunso Fatukasi the latest in the line. Fatukasi recorded the best PFF run-defense grade from any interior defender outside of Aaron Donald, who, it turns out, can actually play the run.
It was a tough market for safeties this offseason. Even so, Anthony Harris failing to sign anything better than a one-year $5 million deal (that’s actually for one year and $4 million with another million of incentives) shows that he remains criminally underrated. Harris isn’t coming off his best season, but he still has 10 interceptions and 14 pass breakups over the past three campaigns.
Some Steelers fans would have you believe that Dotson is already a guaranteed superstar and their offensive line is in good shape because of it. And while that may be putting the cart before the horse, there are certainly reasons for optimism. Dotson earned a PFF run-blocking grade of 87.2 last season and should be part of the solution to getting the running game back on track.
After being inexplicably released by the Raiders, Hurst now gets to show the 49ers what a valuable player he can be as part of their defensive line rotation. Maurice Hurst may never have become a devastating NFL player, but he has been a consistently good pass-rusher, earning PFF pass-rushing grades of at least 77.0 over each of the last two seasons.
Seattle has struggled to maintain the talent level on their defense in recent seasons, but one success story has been that of Poona Ford, who has 29 defensive stops in each of the last two years. Ford is a disruptive run defender who offers just enough as a pass-rusher to keep him on the field for as many snaps as he can handle.
Marpet's injury threatened to derail the Buccaneers' entire 2020 season — such was the impact it had on the offensive line. He allowed only 12 total pressures across 17 games, including the playoff run, and he didn't allow a sack until the Super Bowl. Marpet has never produced anything other than good PFF grades over a season and has become one of the best linemen in the league.
The No. 35 overall player on PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Big Board, Elijah Molden lasted until the third round of the draft — pick No. 100 — likely because of how limited he is in terms of role at the next level. Molden is a slot corner only, but that is a valuable and important position today. He generated back-to-back seasons with PFF grades of at least 85.0, while the best PFF coverage grade among players manning the slot for Tennessee last season was 60.9.
With all the first-round draft picks on the Washington defensive line, it makes sense that the most underrated player on it is the guy who was drafted in the fifth round back in 2016. Ioannidis has three straight seasons with a PFF pass-rushing grade of at least 70.0, having notched 137 total pressures over those three years.