At its core, PFF is a player evaluation system — play-by-play grading of every player in the NFL and access to some of the same stats, grades and info that all 32 NFL teams use on a daily basis.
It also provides the opportunity to place certain players in their proper context. Often, NFL fanbases have an unduly harsh or favorable disposition toward a certain player without the necessary context to properly evaluate them relative to the alternatives.
So let’s use that data to come up with an underrated player for every NFL team.
JUMP TO A TEAM:
A player so underrated that his own team just drafted his likely replacement, Williams has been quietly doing well with whatever opportunities are afforded to him. Typically seen as a blocking specialist, Williams was making plays as a receiver in the Cardinals' offense before an unfortunate knee injury ended his 2021 season, with the team trading for Zach Ertz to pick up the slack. The start to Williams’ NFL career in Baltimore was bumpy, but he has five straight years of consistently above-average PFF grades in almost every facet.
Hayward has been underrated since Day 1 in the NFL, and it’s continued into the twilight years of his career. Fresh off a bounce-back season with the Las Vegas Raiders, Hayward still had to take a modest two-year, $11 million deal with the Falcons to continue playing. He was one of the best cornerbacks of the past decade and showed last season that he can still start and perform well. He should provide an able foil to A.J. Terrell, who took his performance to an All-Pro level in Year 2 in Atlanta.
It’s unfair to Williams that he’s forever attached to the Minneapolis Miracle as the player in the wrong place, at the wrong time and doing the wrong thing while Stefon Diggs trotted into the end zone to steal a win, and it probably taints his league-wide perception. Overall, Williams has been a phenomenally consistent player in the NFL, earning an overall PFF grade of at least 74.0 in each season of his career. Three of his five years of play have seen him earn an 84.3-plus coverage grade, and now he goes to a defense in Baltimore with the potential to maximize his coverage skills and overall impact.
Buffalo's safety duo has long been among the league’s most underrated players. Hyde has flown under the radar relative to his performances for his entire NFL career while playing for two different teams. Since moving to Buffalo, he has one season with a PFF grade lower than 79.5 and no below-average years at a position where it's difficult to maintain excellent performances. He has consistently been an elite coverage player with the versatility to move around in the secondary and allow that Bills system to function.
One of the very best right tackles in the game plies his trade on one of the worst offensive lines in the game. Moton was the lone pillar of quality play on a disastrous Panthers line last season, and it seems likely that he would be more highly regarded if he played on a better line in recent seasons. Over the past three seasons, no tackle has played more snaps than Moton’s 3,162, and his 84.8 PFF grade ranks among the best right tackles in football over that same span.
If you polled only Bears fans, Mooney might actually be a little overrated, but they have good reason to be optimistic about their speedster receiver and he does appear to be a lot lower in everybody else’s consciousness. Mooney has dropped just 4.1% of catchable targets in Chicago and possesses the kind of speed and quickness combination that scares defenses at all levels. If the team can put a viable offense around him, Mooney could quickly see his production jump to meet his potential.
Linebacker has been a problem spot for the Bengals for years, but Wilson’s play last year went a long way toward solving it. He had a rough stretch in the middle of the season, but his good play made a visible impact on the defense, and he was notably productive throughout the playoffs on the team’s run to the Super Bowl. Wilson’s best three single-game PFF coverage grades all came in the postseason, and if he can maintain that into next year, the Bengals will have found a long-term answer.
Mayfield has certainly been a disappointment as a former No. 1 overall pick, especially relative to a unanimous MVP (Lamar Jackson) and one of the game’s best quarterbacks (Josh Allen) from the same draft class. He isnt, however, bad. Mayfield’s worst season — which came while trying to play through a torn labrum — is still better than Drew Lock’s best season, yet Lock has a starting job and the Browns can’t find anybody to take on Mayfield’s fifth-year option contract. Mayfield is likely a league-average starting quarterback with an unusually volatile baseline of play, but he has a large minority of detractors acting like he doesn’t belong as an NFL starter at all.
Lawrence is widely regarded as an excellent player, but he doesn’t get the full recognition he deserves because his high pressure totals haven't resulted in the usual number of sacks. League-wide, around 15% of pressures convert into sacks, but that number has been just 12.3% for Lawrence over the past three years, and 11.1% in 2021. Generally, there is little in the way of a “skill” in finishing pressures and getting to the quarterback. Rather, that data point is more heavily driven by variance and other factors. Effectively, Lawrence has been unlucky when it comes to sacks over the past few seasons, but before that, he had back-to-back years with 13 or more sacks. His lowest PFF grade in the past five seasons is 86.2.
Simmons is one of the very best safeties in the game. He posted a career-best 90.7 PFF grade in 2019 that really set the bar for how good he could be, and though he hasn’t quite repeated that season, he has been consistently impressive since. Simmons is an excellent free safety with the range to make plays in coverage, but he also impacts the run game far more than most at the position. He is averaging more than 25 defensive stops across the past three seasons, far more than a typical free safety.
DETROIT LIONS: EDGE Charles Harris
Once a former first-round pick starts being labeled a bust, it’s very difficult for them to get recognized for the player they may ultimately become down the line. Harris was the No. 22 pick overall for Miami in 2017 and notched just three sacks for the Dolphins. For Detroit in 2021, however, Harris tallied eight sacks, 52 pressures and a 78.7 PFF pass-rushing grade in a career year. If that’s the player Harris has become for the Lions, he’s far better than the one lingering in people’s perception right now.
The grand old man of the tight end position in the NFL, Lewis will be 38 this season. Though he was a former first-round pick, he has developed into a blocking specialist during his career. He did flash the ability to still make some plays as a receiver last year. It didn’t happen often, but Lewis ended the season with the most yards per route run he has recorded since 2016. As a second tight end, he is more than capable of contributing when teams aren’t fully accounting for a player they consider to be just part of the protection or blocking scheme.
The Texans' roster is in such bad shape that it’s tough finding too many worthy candidates for an underrated list. You could argue Davis Mills at quarterback, but despite some flashes in his rookie season, he still finished with a 58.0 overall PFF grade and has more than enough supporters. Meanwhile, Greenard quietly put together a really nice season for the Texans in 2021. He recorded an 89.2 PFF pass-rushing grade, ranking seventh in the league among edge rushers on a much lower sample size than full-time starters. Greenard earned a bigger role going forward, which might generate him more recognition.
Moore has been arguably the best slot cornerback in the NFL over the past several years, or at least he is always in the conversation with other players who have had that claim. Moore has never had a bad season for the Colts and consistently makes plays on the football. 2021 was a relative down year for him. Still, his 66.6 PFF grade was above average and he recorded four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Moore is a very tough player to beat and has a knack for making plays from the slot.
Being a run-stuffing specialist in today’s NFL will almost certainly land a player on an underrated list because of the pass-happy nature of today’s league. Defending the run is still a very valuable skill, especially if one can do it well enough that it enables a defense to reallocate resources elsewhere. Fatukasi has proven capable of that. In three years of significant snaps with the Jets, Fatukasi twice notched an 86.0-plus PFF run-defense grade, and he made at least 24 defensive stops in each of the past two seasons. He may not offer much as a pass-rushing force, but neither is he completely inept in that area, able to at least push the pocket and make an impact.
The Chiefs took some time to adjust their defensive personnel last season and pivot away from underperforming players toward younger, more capable ones. Nick Bolton drew immediate praise as a rookie, but Gay has found it tougher to get his share of the limelight. His play hasn’t always been consistent, but he has excellent range and movement skills and allowed a solid 87.3 passer rating when targeted in 2021, some 20 points lower than the average pass thrown into a linebacker’s coverage.
The Raiders elected not to pick up Jacobs' fifth-year option, doing the same for their other two first-round picks from that season. It was, by any definition, a pretty disastrous first round for the Raiders, but Jacobs shouldn’t fall into the same category as the other two players. He has actually been a very good running back in the NFL, but injuries have hampered him and, more importantly, the Raiders' offensive line has fallen apart, which makes his chances of success much smaller. Jacobs has never earned a PFF rushing grade lower than 79.4 and boasts 180 forced missed tackles across three seasons.
Capable starting guard is a description that’s always going to make a player underrated. Capable starters are often viewed in the light of not being great players, rather than seen as valuable commodities because of how much worse it could get. The Chargers signed Feiler because of how much worse their guard play had been, consistently, for years, and he has immediately upgraded one spot on their line. Feiler earned a 78.5 PFF run-blocking grade in his first year with the team and allowed 25 pressures across 17 games.
Yes, you read that right. No matter how good you believe Donald to be, chances are the data says he’s better. Donald is redefining pass rushing from an interior alignment. Edge rushers generate significantly more pressure than their interior counterparts. They may have further to travel to get the pressure, but they have more space to work with and much more of their rush takes place out of the quarterback’s field of vision. Donald doesn’t just rival any edge rusher in the league for pressure, he exceeds them all. Over the past three seasons, Donald leads all pass-rushers in pressures by 32 from the next best mark. He has a pass-rush win rate of 23.2%, which is also the best mark in the league. Donald is the best pass-rusher the NFL has seen over the past 16 seasons of PFF grading and is in another world compared to any player at his position.
When you’re a seventh-round draft pick out of Ferris State, you’re going to face an uphill battle for recognition in the NFL. Sieler hung around on the periphery of playing time for the Ravens before catching on in Miami and becoming a significant asset on their defensive line. He has played over 500 snaps in each of the past two seasons for the Dolphins, and his PFF grade jumped from 69.8 to 84.9, a figure good enough to rank inside the top 10 among interior linemen in 2021. Sieler is already a real success story as a late-round pick, and he may not even be done with his development.
By virtually any measure, Cousins has vastly outperformed any reasonable expectations the Vikings could have had for him when they signed him from Washington. He has been a consistent top-10 quarterback over that time and seems to be slowly improving with each passing season. This has tracked, unfortunately for him, with the Vikings falling away from contention as a real threat to win a Super Bowl, and so Cousins doesn’t get the respect his play deserves. He may never be one of the game’s truly elite passers, but he’s right at the top of the next tier, and most of the arguments thrown at him don’t hold up tremendously well to deep scrutiny. Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, Cousins carries a 90.5 PFF passing grade — tied for fifth in the league.
Onwenu seems to be underrated even by the Patriots, who couldn’t find a starting spot for him last season despite his excellent play across multiple positions since being drafted. Onwenu has played left guard and right tackle well for the Patriots and has back-to-back seasons with a PFF grade of at least 84.3. His run blocking is outstanding, while his pass protection is more than adequate. He has already vastly exceeded expectations as a sixth-round pick and could develop into an elite offensive lineman.
Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, Davis has the best PFF grade of any linebacker in the league — and the only one above 90.0 overall (90.1). He was solid with the Jets but has taken his game to another level in New Orleans. For some reason — perhaps a lack of splash plays like interceptions or forced fumbles — he doesn't get recognized as one of the very best off-ball linebackers in the league, but his play absolutely deserves that distinction.
The Giants overdrafted Jones at No. 6 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, but since then he has had an ugly situation around him that has only deteriorated. His box score statistics (21 touchdowns to 17 interceptions over the past two seasons) have belied better play, and had his offensive line not fallen to rack and ruin, we may have seen a player who the team had full confidence in going forward rather than a man at the last chance saloon. Jones isn’t a superstar quarterback by any means, but he has played better in a bad situation than people give him credit for. And that situation should have improved in dramatic fashion this offseason. Don’t be surprised if we see a significant bump in Jones’ PFF grade from the 70.0s into the 80.0s.
All we heard about the Jets in the lead-up to the draft is how badly they needed a pass-rusher for Robert Saleh’s defense. They ended up securing Jermaine Johnson II with a trade back into the first round, and they also have the return of Carl Lawson to look forward to. But New York also rosters a very real impact player already in Franklin-Myers. He has at least 50 pressures in each of the last two seasons for the team, and his PFF grade has improved each year in the NFL. With Lawson and now Johnson in town to complement Franklin-Myers, we may see him get a little more recognition as offenses have their attention pulled elsewhere.
Edwards has been underrated for virtually his entire playing career. A star at Wisconsin, he posted elite PFF grades but was a marginal and undersized athlete, causing him to go undrafted in 2019. From there, he had to earn his spot by excelling on special teams, in the preseason and then eventually in the regular season. At every step along the way, Edwards earned good PFF grades and is now a capable starter. In 2021, he earned a 75.5 overall PFF grade, putting in at least above-average marks in every facet of linebacker play. Edwards is walking proof that players can still thrive in the NFL without elite physical tools.
Wallace is a classic underdog story. An undersized cornerback without special physical traits, he was a walk-on at Alabama and went undrafted in the NFL before going on to start consistently for Buffalo opposite Tre’Davious White. He likely won’t ever be a great player, but he’s consistently better than he is given credit for and exceeds expectations because of it. Wallace has never earned a below-average PFF coverage grade in a season, and he'll likely continue to impress after signing with the Steelers this offseason.
Cornerback has been a problem spot for the 49ers for years, but that has more to do with the group as a whole than the complete absence of any quality play at all. Moseley may not be a Pro Bowler, but the two seasons in which he has played his most snaps have been above average in overall and PFF coverage grade. For his career, he has allowed an 83.6 passer rating, which is better than average, and while he isn’t anybody’s idea of a suitable No. 1 cornerback, he can make a difference as a solid part of a secondary.
Seattle traded multiple first-round picks to secure Jamal Adams from the New York Jets, but Diggs has been the better player for the team since that move. Diggs may not have the physical profile of Adams — he’s four inches shorter and at least 10 pounds lighter — but he owns an impressive history of good play in coverage. Diggs began his NFL career as a slot cornerback before transitioning to free safety, and he still has some matchup flexibility because of that early experience. Two of his past three seasons have seen him post a 70.0-plus PFF coverage grade.
Somehow, despite a record-setting pace of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to open his NFL career, Evans remains underrated when it comes to the best receivers in the game.
Tannehill has a similar image problem as Kirk Cousins, for slightly different reasons. Despite seeing how well the signal-caller has played since taking over as the Titans' starter, nobody really believes he is the driving force behind that play. Rather, Tannehill is the product of the offensive scheme, the play-action passes, Derrick Henry or A.J. Brown. All of those things may help, but only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have a higher PFF passing grade than Tannehill over the past three seasons. There’s only so much you can discount that because of the offense around him.
Leno is the classic example of a player whose reputation suffers simply because he’s not one of the best tackles in the game. He often loses as a pass protector, surrendering five or more sacks in each of the past four seasons. But 43 different tackles posted a worse PFF pass-blocking efficiency rate in 2021, and Leno's overall PFF grade (81.2) was enough to rank 12th. He is a good player, but not a great one, and that’s enough to draw the ire of a certain section of the fanbase that isn't interested in anything short of elite.