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NFL’s most underrated player: Vikings C Joe Berger

Minnesota Vikings center Joe Berger (61) sets to snap the ball against the St. Louis Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won in overtime, 21-18. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Right now, there is no more underrated and anonymous player in the NFL than Joe Berger.

The veteran lineman had been a utility backup for the Vikings for the past several seasons, but had always shown glimpses of high-level play when given time on the field.

He may have started anyway this season given Minnesota’s line issues, but when John Sullivan (a former PFF All-Pro center) went down with an injury, Berger was handed the starting spot, and has posted an All-Pro-caliber season of his own.

Berger is tied for the best PFF grade at center with Travis Frederick, a player almost universally acknowledged to be the league’s best at the position. While most could tell you about Frederick, Berger has nowhere near the same kind of name recognition or hype surrounding his play, but he has been every bit as fantastic this year, and has done so with a supporting cast that pales in comparison to the Cowboys’ offensive line.

Berger has allowed just one sack all season, and 12 total pressures, despite playing in an offense that leads the league in seven-step drops—all while pass-blocking for a quarterback that has the ball in his hands, on average, longer than all but one other (Tyrod Taylor, if you’re curious). Few interior players have as tough of a time schematically as Berger does, and yet he has performed well as a pass blocker, and even better in the run game.

While Adrian Peterson averages just 2.7 yards per carry (45 rushes for 123 yards) when running between the guards and tackles, he averages 4.8 when running on either side of Berger this season, better than his overall average on the year.

In a league where offensive linemen don’t get the same kind of recognition as “skill position” players, even those that do are often more figureheads of dominant teams or offenses, rather than true individual standouts.

It is very rare that a team can replace one injured Pro-Bowl/All-Pro-caliber player with another, but that is precisely what the Vikings have been able to do in going from Sullivan to Berger, and may even have found a slight upgrade. Berger is on pace to eclipse the best grade Sullivan has posted since his PFF All-Pro season of 2012, and should be firmly in the Pro-Bowl discussion.

He, of course, won’t be, because Minnesota’s offensive line is viewed as struggling around the league. But, if he continues on this pace, he has a real shot to match Sullivan in being named a PFF All-Pro.

Not bad for a journeyman backup.

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