News & Analysis

NFL's 10 most valuable players, on smaller contracts

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 22: Adrian Amos #38 and Kyle Fuller #23 of the Chicago Bears bring down Jordan Norwood #11 of the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field on November 22, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Broncos defeated the Bears 17-15. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Last year, we examined the economics of today’s NFL in search of the players providing the most value – that is the most productive players on the smallest contracts.

Interestingly enough, the top two from our list last season both received big pay days this past offseason as A.J. Bouye got a 5-year, $67.5 million contract ($26M guaranteed) from the Jaguars and Tony Jefferson signed a 4-year, $34 million deal ($19M guaranteed) with the Ravens.

This list examines the most valuable players in the NFL this season based on the above premise – most productive on the smallest contracts. These players were drafted in the fourth-round, later, or not at all and have yet to reach unrestricted free agency. Thus, while someone such as Philadelphia’s MVP candidate Carson Wentz (84.5 grade, No. 7 QB, and 45th-highest-paid QB) is providing amazing value at the league’s premium position, he was also the No. 2 overall pick and, thus, should be a high-quality performer. General managers keep their jobs by getting those decisions right, especially at quarterback, but they truly earn their pay by finding the players like those on the list below.

(Sorted based solely on PFF grade up to this point in the season. Financials referenced from are based on 2017 salary – total cash.)

1. Adrian Amos, S, Chicago Bears

  • Entered league: Fifth-round pick in 2015 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 92.0 (No. 2 safety)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 107th-highest-paid safety
    • A quality starter since being drafted (79.7 and 80.6 grades in his first two years, respectively), Amos has taken a leap to elite level of play through the first half of this season. His 3.2 yards per completion in his coverage is tops among all safeties, as he has only allowed 41 yards receiving for a passer rating of 53.8.

2. Trevor Williams, CB, Los Angeles Chargers

  • Entered league: 2016 undrafted free agent
  • 2017 overall grade: 87.5 (No. 9 cornerback)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 156th-highest-paid cornerback
    • Working his way from undrafted free agent to the practice squad and eventually active roster and starter in five of the final six games in 2016, Williams struggled in his little time last season as a rookie (41.7 overall grade). 2017 has a been a different story, as Williams is only allowing a 51.6 completion percentage and 66.1 passer rating on throws into his coverage, with five pass breakups already. In addition, his eight stops (a “win” for the defense) in the run game are second-most among all cornerbacks.

 3. Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

  • Entered league: Fifth-round pick in 2017 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 86.7 (No. 3 running back)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 77th-highest-paid running back
    • In what appears to be an extremely loaded rookie running back class, Jones was unheralded as a fifth-round pick out of UTEP. He has quickly emerged as the Packers’ primary option at running back and will be expected to carry much of the offensive load given the absence of QB Aaron Rodgers. Jones’ four game numbers extrapolated out would put him in the top six in the NFL in rushing yards and his 5.6 yards per carry is currently second in the league.

 4. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Cleveland Browns

  • Entered league: 2016 undrafted free agent
  • 2017 overall grade: 85.5 (No. 13 cornerback)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 156th-highest-paid cornerback
    • Much like the aforementioned Williams, Boddy-Calhoun was undrafted in 2016 and found his way onto the Browns roster, starting six games and playing in 14, after initially being cut by the Jaguars. Also like Williams, Boddy-Calhoun struggled in his rookie season with a 61.0 overall grade.  This season, though, he has only allowed a 50 percent completion rate and 74 yards into his coverage. In addition, he is often used as an extra pass-rusher and has four total QB pressures – making his pass-rush productivity (PRP) the third-highest among all cornerbacks.

 5. Shaq Mason, G, New England Patriots

  • Entered league: Fourth-round pick in 2015 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 85.2 (No. 3 guard)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 88th-highest-paid guard
    • Essentially a starter his entire time in New England since being drafted out of Georgia Tech (74 percent of snaps in 2015, 92 percent in 2016, and 100 percent this season), Mason has developed from an overwhelmed rookie (43.8 grade) to a high-quality performer for the Patriots. While his passing block continues to improve each year (97.0 pass blocking efficiency – 13 total QB pressures allowed thus far, 24th among guards in 2017), he is an elite run blocker, proven by his 90.2 run block grade which is third among all guards.

 6. De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Atlanta Falcons

  • Entered league: Fourth-round pick in 2016 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 84.7 (No. 7 linebacker)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 212th-highest-paid linebacker
    • Even though he saw the field for the majority of the Falcons’ snaps in 2016 (74 percent), Campbell struggled as a rookie (46.2 grade) – especially in coverage. He has also taken a leap in year two. After allowing 406 yards and five touchdowns in his coverage in 2016, Campbell has only allowed 143 yards and zero touchdowns thus far, including being tied for first among linebackers with with four passes defensed. He is also bringing pressure when asked, as his pass-rush productivity (seven total QB pressures) is sixth among 4-3 outside linebackers.

7. Grady Jarrett, DI, Atlanta Falcons

  • Entered league: Fifth-round pick in 2015 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 84.7 (No. 20 defensive interior lineman)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 93rd-highest-paid defensive tackle

8. Anthony Zettel, edge, Detroit Lions

  • Entered league: Sixth-round pick in 2016 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 86.7 (No. 17 edge defender)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 118th-highest-paid defensive end
    • After struggling and only appearing in 25 percent of snaps for the Lions in 2016 (50.0 grade), Zettel is another that has taken a Year 2 leap. He has played 61.6 percent of snaps thus far and leads the Lions with 23 total QB pressures, including a big time two-sack, eight-total QB pressure performance in Week 4 against the Vikings. His pass-rush productivity is currently sixth among 4-3 defensive ends.

 9. Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings

  • Entered league: Fifth-round pick in 2015 draft
  • 2017 overall grade: 83.6 (No. 6 wide receiver)
  • 2017 position salary ranking: 136th-highest-paid wide receiver

 10. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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