15 most underrated NFL players in 2017
7. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Even though Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was named to both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro Team, he’s still rarely considered among the league’s elite. And while his career numbers lend some validity to that, there’s no denying how dominate Lawrence was in 2017. He finished tied for first in the league with 14.5 sacks, and added an impressive 58 tackles (35 solo). His 94.1 PFF grade was also third among edge rushers league-wide. It’s still going to take some consistency for Lawrence to be considered an elite edge rusher, but at least for now, he deserves a tip of the cap.
6. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
After appearing in just nine games over the previous two seasons, Keenan Allen promised to come back with a bang in 2017. He delivered on that promise and was named the PFWA Comeback Player of the Year as a result. But while he warranted that recognition, he was passed over for more deserving honors. Allen was left off the All-Pro team despite recording 102 receptions (a franchise record), 1,393 yards (second-most in team history and third-most in NFL) and six touchdowns. He also led the league in third down catches (36) and became the first player in league history to record at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and one touchdown in three consecutive games.
5. Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens
A discarded fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, Alex Collins signed an under-the-radar practice squad deal with the Ravens in early September of 2017. Less than two weeks later, following an injury to Danny Woodhead, Collins was promoted to the active roster and never looked back. In 15 games (12 starts), Collins gained 973 yards and scored six touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry — an average ypc that was eclipsed by only three running backs with more than 200 carries on the season. His PFF grade of 87.6 was also the fifth-highest by a running back in 2017. It doesn’t feel like many noticed his excellent body of work in 2017 as the Ravens failed to make the playoffs.
4. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
Like many others on this list, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham seems to be a permanently underrated superstar. No matter how well he plays, how much he stands out, or how much he impacts a season, he never seems to receive the recognition he deserves. That pattern held true in 2017 as Graham finished the season without Pro Bowl, All-Pro or PFWA honors despite an elite grade of 91.6 — eighth among all edge rushers — courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Graham also recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks to go along with 47 tackles (33 solo), two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two passes defensed and nine stuffs.
3. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans
When the league’s elite tight ends are discussed, the names usually brought up are Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. Rarely, if ever, is Delanie Walker’s name lumped in with them despite putting up similar numbers. In 2017, Walker finished third among tight ends in receptions (74), fourth in yards (807) and fourth in first downs (43). Walker also finished fourth among tight ends with a PFF grade of 84.0. Those numbers weren’t good enough to warrant a Pro Bowl selection (named an alternate) or a spot on the All-Pro Team. He also didn’t receive any honors from the PFWA.
2. Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
When is Alex Smith not underrated? It’s become a staple of his entire career, and 2017 was no different. Despite leading the NFL with a passer rating of 104.7, Smith faced constant talk about being replaced in 2018 by Patrick Mahomes. Even with that lingering in the back of his mind, Smith finished the season with a career-high in passing yards (4,042) and touchdowns (26), and a career-low in turnovers (6). His play led the Chiefs back to the playoffs, but Smith was ultimately snubbed for the Pro Bowl (named an alternate) and left off the All-Pro team.
1. Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings
In any other year, this spot would have been reserved for the all-time underrated Alex Smith, but without quarterback Case Keenum, the Vikings would not have reached the NFC championship game. Period. A long-time backup, Keenum was thrust into the starting role when Sam Bradford went down injured and Teddy Bridgewater was still a ways off from getting back on the field. In return for the starting nod, Keenum rewarded the Vikings with 3,547 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 15 games. His quarterback rating (98.3) and PFF grade (85.6) were also among the top 10 league-wide. Despite all of that, Keenum was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, left off the All-Pro roster and didn’t even warrant a mention in the year-end awards by the PFWA.