Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 May 2017

Ranking the Most Underrated Players in NFL History

In case you missed it on Monday, here's a huge feature at Bleacher Report from our man Mike Tanier, fuel for many historical NFL debates. His all-time underrated list does follow certain rules: no Hall of Fame finalists, no Super Bowl-winning fantasy players, and no players from historical dynasties. There's a good mix of recent players (Steven Jackson and my suggestion to Mike, Derrick Mason) with guys from the 80s (Henry Ellard) and back to the 60s (Jim Marshall). You will never, ever guess Mike's pick for No. 1 before you see it.

Go ahead and make suggestions for who was left off the list, although we already know "underrated small linebackers with moxie" could be its own completely separate article.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 31 May 2017

42 comments, Last at 07 Jun 2017, 11:28am by bachslunch


by CaffeineMan :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 3:57pm

Damn, I remember how much I wanted Derrick Mason to sign with the Pats as a free agent in 2005.

by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 4:32pm

Nice to see Philip Rivers get some love, although putting -any- QB on the list is a bit of a stretch. The Norv-Philip years were some amazing quarterbacking, and he's always been good, not always on good teams.

London Fletcher should be in the Hall.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 4:47pm

Didn't London Fletcher change his name mid-career. Not in a Chad Ochocinco way but he started double-barrelling it to include his mother's maiden name or something. If that doesn't get you recognition I'm not sure what will.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 1:11am

Yes. London fletcher-baker for a spelll

by jtr :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 11:21am

That's versatility for you. The dude could tackle, cover, blitz, make arrows, AND bake bread.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 12:57pm

Very good.

by theslothook :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:44am

Trevor Price is pretty underrated. Was a hell of a player. Also Antoine Winfield

by Dan :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 5:47pm

3 QBs came to mind before I read the article, and 2 of them made Tanier's list.

Philip Rivers, Ken Anderson, and Vinny Testaverde.

Jason Lisk had a post on the old PFR blog making the case for Testaverde, easily googleable with the title "Vinny Testaverde was better than you think."

by Biebs :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 5:52pm

Joe Klecko may have been a HOF finalist at some point. But that's the only reason I could think of for him not to be on this list.

by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 2:31pm

I feel Klecko deserves to be in the HOF, but he got a lot of hype playing in New York, and being a member of the Sack Exchange.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 7:55pm

Thanks for the reminder on Neal Anderson, who I agree is underappreciated. Glad to see Leroy Butler on the list. I'm still shocked Bryant Young isn't in the HoF.

by Salur :: Wed, 05/31/2017 - 10:47pm

The one player I was sure was going to be on the list when I saw the title was Jimmy Smith, who sure enough is there.

The other recent player (because those are the only ones I have any real knowledge on) I think should be on there is Warrick Dunn.

by James-London :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 5:26am

Richmond Webb?
7 pro bowls, 4 all-pros, all-1990's team, and not yet a HoF finalist. Feels like a fit here.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:04pm

not ebemn reading comemnts yet. only read opening jhere by A. Schatz. will make own liust and post lager tonight. then read M. Tanier article.

by IrishBarrister :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:26pm

I would have included Clay Matthews Jr. Put simply, if you've got the third most tackles in NFL history and haven't made it as a Hall of Fame finalist, you're drastically underrated.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 06/03/2017 - 10:28pm

It has been pointed out many times here that tackle stats are far overrated.

by Alternator :: Sun, 06/04/2017 - 11:51am

High in tackles can either mean that you're exceptional at getting to the ball and ending a play, or it can mean that your teammates are terrible at the same skill, leaving everything to you by default.

They're a pretty worthless stat.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 06/05/2017 - 3:41am

Which is also true of CBs and how often they're thrown at, if there are easier ways to move the ball against a defense. Or they could just be shutdowns.

by bachslunch :: Wed, 06/07/2017 - 11:28am

Fully agreed. In addition, there is no consistent standard for assigning tackles, and some teams are far more generous than others about this.

by jtr :: Sun, 06/04/2017 - 1:42pm

I think Matthews Jr also falls under Tanier's "Every town has its linebacker" comment. It looks like Tanier intentionally limited the number of LB's on the list, since every fanbase has a couple of all-time favorite LB's that it thinks belongs on here.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 2:03pm

Aaron Smith
The standard is the standard!

by theslothook :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 6:52pm

Brett Kiesel too. I think James Harrison deserves the hall of fame.

by BJR :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 6:26am

Harrison an interesting case. Has the high peak (DPOTY), highlight reel (Super Bowl int return), and now doing something almost unprecedented (performing as an elite level pass rusher into his late 30s).

by jtr :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 11:47am

Harrison is going to be part of a very interesting edge rusher glut in a few years. John Abraham, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Sugg$, and Dwight Freeney are all going to come up for the Hall of Fame around the same time as Harrison. I have no idea how that's going to get sorted out.

by andrew :: Thu, 06/01/2017 - 7:37pm

So winning a superbowl disqualifies you but not wining an NFL championship before there were superbowls? I guess NFL titles are less remembered. and technically Marshall also has one but only after the Superbowls had started.

As far as Marshall being the Ringo Starr of the Purple People Eaters, not sure I agree. There is no doubt Page was the best of that unit (NFL MVP, slam dunk HOF), Eller generally regarded as second (may have had better highlights than Page, had trouble getting into HOF due to HOF voting politics). And his peak didn't last as long, mostly due to heavy cocaine use.

Not sure which of those two is Lennon or McCartney then.

Marshall was at worst third, the George Harrison if you will. By far the most consistent, he was also the leader of the defense, the one Grant trusted to implement his schemes.

No offense to Gary Larsen or Doug Sutherland, but they were the Ringo. I would probably make Doug Sutherland the Pete Best except he came at the end and is even more forgotten than Larsen....

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 1:21am

No time to do own lsit. So just read this one. Is fine. Of course if we sll did this we sllnwould have different guys or maybe some same guys but didffenrt order

M y list would have Dave Grayson, hardy nickerson, frank minnifield, and some others

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 1:49am

Wish I could give you some of my free time as still waiting for your Hall of Game.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 11:02am

still worjkign Hall of Game requirement.s No p[roblem figuring guys like Joe Montana, A. Munoz, S. Baugh. it is some guys with very short careers but greta and some guys with long careers but never actually truly gerat where am working on how to handle.

hall of Game for those nto aware is my iown personal hall of fame basically. will be place for some guys n ot in actual hall of Fame. Will also be actual Hall of Famers not in Hall ofg Game.

Hall of Game not concerned with "fame" at all. Some relative obscure gusy will be in. Hall of Game aolso not concerned with coaches. strictly player thing.

in meantime, actually putting more tiem on deciding personal top 100 sports cards from own collection. so like if do not currentl y own the card, it won't make lsit. due to acquisition opf good, weird, and good/weird cards in future, list will be fluid.

get more joy from crap cards than cards that might be worth money some day. funny to see 1968 babseball card where Topps ended sentence with exclamation poitn about player's teammate havgin had brain tumor, leik it was excikting amazing news. Also 1960s topps card I have where left arm was removed form little photo in corner of card for some reaosjn and back mentioned guy coming back from arm trpuble. No kidding! he had arm chopped off apparently.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 12:56pm

As always enjoy seeing the Twitter feed of old baseball cards and your accompanying musings.
Twitter offering to "Translate from German" your "Former chiefs gerat Ron jaworski" was a recent highlight!

by rfh1001 :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 6:37pm

No, wait, what! You're on twitter? What the hell? I'm generally dilettantish on social media but that's because I had no idea about this.

by Scott de B. :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 3:54am

Whoever's on the top of this list can no longer be considered the most underrated player in NFL history, no? Which means they get tossed off the list. Then, whoever is now on top of the list is no longer most underrated, so they get tossed off. Continue until there is nobody on the list.

by Dan :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 6:59am

It's an elegant proof. But then Tanier publishes a list with 25 names on it, and you look at the name on top and think "yeah, that guy is underrated." And now you begin to understand why logicians have a tendency to go a bit mad.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 8:33am

Only if we all agree with Tanier or take his word as gospel. If he publishes a list that has Scott Norwood as #1 kicker of all-time, is that the end of the debate?

by Independent George :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 9:43am

Bryant Young is a great pick for this list. Unfortunately, the thing I most remember him for was watching his leg get broken on MNF agains the Giants.

It's interesting how much sack numbers play into defensive stats. Rickey Jackson is deservedly in the HoF largely on the basis of his sack numbers, but his teammate Sam Mills - widely considered the best linebacker of the Dome Patrol - is not.

by Megamanic :: Fri, 06/02/2017 - 10:25pm


So underrated he doesn't even get on a list of underrated players...

by Will Allen :: Sat, 06/03/2017 - 10:48am

I guess Chuck Howley being a HOF finalist as late as 2007 keeps him off the list. Still irritates me to no end that he isn't in. Chuck Freakin' Howley, not a Hall of Famer. Guess he needed to win two Super Bowl MVPs, as a linebacker.

Great list, and love seeing Mike Kenn getting recognized.

Bud Grant's favorite players were Marshall and Tinglehoff, because they always played. Hell, I dont think Tinglehoff even missed a practice in 17 years.

by PatsFan :: Sat, 06/03/2017 - 11:19am

WR Stanley Morgan - 557 receptions, 10714 yards, 72 TD

Had a career average of over 20ypc until late in his career (and still finished at 19.2ypc) being thrown to by the likes of Steve Grogan.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 06/05/2017 - 2:12pm

Ryan doesn't fall under the dynasty exclusion?

by Boots Day :: Mon, 06/05/2017 - 4:19pm

Frank Ryan earned his Ph.D. in math from Rice right in the middle of his NFL career. That's pretty badass.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 06/06/2017 - 4:50am

NFL Championship game in late Dec meant they had jobs in the offseason. July training camp was for getting back into shape to play football. I imagine learning the playbook wasn't even 10% as difficult then, especially for a PhD guy.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 06/06/2017 - 3:05pm

1. Hand ball to Jim Brown
2. Panic

It was a pretty basic playbook.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 06/07/2017 - 8:34am

1a) Throw ball deep for Paul Warfield