The 2017-2018 NFL season is nearing its end with only the Super Bowl left to play. Accordingly, the stamp has been put on the performances for most players and now the debate is on: who was the best, who was the worst, who was over-looked, and who ended up being a letdown?
Here’s a look at 15 of the NFL’s most underrated players in 2017:
15. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
It’s hard to believe Michael Thomas, who has more receptions in his first two seasons than any wide receiver in history, could be considered underrated or overlooked, but it’s become apparent that he is. Thomas finished third among receivers in receptions (104), sixth in yards (1,245), third in first downs (70) and second in PFF grades (93.0), but failed to earn an All-Pro nod and was left off the PFWA All-NFL Team. He was voted into his first Pro Bowl, but he deserves much more recognition.
14. Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Jack Doyle made his presence known in 2016, but he still wasn’t really on anyone’s radar outside of Indianapolis entering this season. Despite the lack of attention, Doyle continued a steady progression, finishing second among tight ends in receptions (80), sixth in receiving yards (690), seventh in first downs (34) and 10th in Pro Football Focus grade (77.5). Even with the impressive credentials, Doyle remains underrated and overlooked, failing to earn a Pro Bowl nod, a spot on the AP All-Pro Team or any honors courtesy of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).
13. Blake Martinez, LB, Green Bay Packers
DeMarcus Lawrence was not happy with the officials on Sunday even though his Dallas Cowboys beat the New York Giants 30-10.
After the game, the Cowboys defensive lineman ripped the officials. He specifically complained about offensive lineman not getting called for holding against Dallas’ defensive line.
Lawrence punctuated his complaint in the strongest way possible, ending with a “f— the refs.”
Lawrence has 13.5 sacks this season, but he’s gone three of his last four games without a sack, including Sunday. Perhaps he’ll be fined for his comments, but the upside is he might start getting more favorable calls from the officials.
The 2017 regular season has been packed full of surprises. From a team perspective, the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants stand out for being so much better and so much worse than we expected, but it’s not just limited to those two organizations.
Yes, the Rams and Giants have gone in totally different directions than expected, but units like the New England Patriots defense have been worse than expected, and the the New York Jets have even found a way to open eyes.
But what players have contributed to all these surprises? Well, here’s a look at every NFL team’s most surprising player, good or bad, so far this season.
Arizona Cardinals – Adrian Peterson, RB
After appearing in only 20 games over his final three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, many believed the career of Adrian Peterson had reached its end. Even with another opportunity given to him by the New Orleans Saints, little changed for Peterson. He appeared in four games, gaining just 81 yards on 27 carries. Then came the trade to Arizona. Although he hasn’t exactly returned to Hall of Fame form, he has gained 369 yards in five games, providing the Cardinals with an unexpected spark on the ground.
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan, QB
A year after winning the NFL MVP Award and leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl, Matt Ryan has hit a bit of a wall. He’s returned to 2015 form and seen his completion percentage, yards per game, touchdown to interception ratio, yards per attempt and quarterback rating all drop — some of those considerably. He threw for 38 touchdowns last season and has just 15 in 10 games this season. His passer rating has dropped from 117.1 to 95.7. To cap it off, the Falcons are 6-4 and are no shoo-in to make the playoffs.
There can only be one NFL MVP, but each team can claim their own most valuable player, no matter how good or bad the franchise’s season goes. Sometimes the team’s MVP is an elite defender, a star quarterback, or a remarkable playmaker, or even a special teams player, if the rest of the team is struggling a lot.
Here’s a look at each NFL team’s MVP so far in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals — Chandler Jones, LB
The former New England Patriot is once again proving to be the defensive rock for the Cardinals, setting records along the way. He has picked up eight sacks in just seven games thus far in 2017, and is proving to be a nightmarish foe for opposing blockers and quarterbacks. The gaudy numbers are great, but Jones has also been valuable in other ways. He’s good against the run and has put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, even when he doesn’t get the sack.
Atlanta Falcons — Devonta Freeman, RB
In what has been a disappointing year for the Atlanta offense, Freeman has continued to stand out and produce no matter what is happening around him. His 2017 thus far has been every bit as solid as his 2016 was. Freeman is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has piled up five rushing touchdowns in six games. As Matt Ryan and his fellow offensive players have failed to hit the heights that they did in 2016, Freeman has simply been steady and reliable.
Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, several popular names still lead the fray when it comes to defensive production. However, key injuries to superstars like J.J. Watt have created a void that has been filled by some surprising players, many of whom are having career years.
Here’s a look at each NFL team’s best defensive player so far in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals — Tyvon Branch, S
There are a lot of talented defenders on Arizona’s roster, but through six weeks, it’s hard to argue that Tyvon Branch — who has been called a “wolverine” complement to the “honey badger” — isn’t the very best. He not only leads the team and is tied for the league lead with 55 tackles, but he’s also defended four passes, forced a fumble and was named to the Pro Football Focus First Quarter All-Pro Team. Branch getting the nod says a lot about his impact this season when you consider Arizona also has Chandler Jones and his six sacks.
Atlanta Falcons — Deion Jones, LB
Deion Jones has filled out the box score this year, leading the Falcons with 38 tackles. He’s also recorded a sack, three passes defended and an interception. Jones is also among Pro Football Focus’ top 15 graded linebackers this season, alongside teammate De’Vondre Campbell, who has also landed very high grades for Atlanta. Jones is blossoming well for Atlanta in his second NFL season.
Many players had standout performance in Week 1 of the NFL season. Things kicked off on Thursday night with the Kansas City Chiefs surprising many with a spectacular game against the Patriots, thanks largely to explosive performances from many players who find themselves on this list. A few teams that disappointed last season had great games on Sunday, and their top performers have made this list. So did quite a few youngsters making their NFL debut. Here’s a look at 15 standout performers from Week 1.
Antonio Brown, Steelers
After an offseason of rumors and drama, Brown opened the season by reminding us that he is simply one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers. On a day when Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant offered very little, Brown simply took over. He didn’t catch any touchdowns, but he didn’t need to. He had 11 receptions for 182 yards (on 11 targets), including a crucial late grab over Jason McCourty that gave the Steelers a much-needed first down to enable them to run out the clock on the Cleveland Browns. There is a reason that he may well be the NFL’s premier wide receiver.
Calais Campbell, Jaguars
There are lots of fun ways to look at Campbell’s performance. There is the obvious one — his 3.5 sacks had shattered the Jaguars’ franchise single-game record by halftime, and he added another half a sack in the second half to make it an even four. Another way? Campbell’s career high in sacks is nine, set in 2013 with the Arizona Cardinals, meaning that after just one week of action with Jacksonville, he is over a third of the way to matching his career high — and halfway to matching the eight he collected last season. That’s dominance. The Jaguars owned Houston up front all game, but Campbell was definitely the star of a unit that now refers to itself as “Sacksonville.”
Derek Carr, Raiders
Steady as it goes, Carr was his usual reliable self as the Raiders beat the Tennessee Titans. While there was nothing mindblowing about his showing, his numbers were quite gaudy: 22-32, 262 yards, two touchdowns, and a 114.3 QBR. This was his first meaningful action since breaking his leg at the tail end of last season. He didn’t look like he’d missed a beat, putting in a strong, confident performance that will have the Raiders thinking he’ll be every bit as good as he was in 2016, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate.
It’s a day ending in -y, so we have new controversy centering around Greg Hardy.
According to Cowboys Radio Network sideline reporter Kristi Scales, Hardy and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence went nose-to-nose on the sideline and had to be separated during Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.
It wasn’t the only sideline issue the Cowboys had on Sunday, as TV cameras caught an animated discussion between Dez Bryant and Matt Cassel.
Sideline confrontations aren’t entirely unusual, but between Hardy’s constant off-field distractions and the fact that this keeps happening, it’s going to raise an eyebrow.
Whatever happened on the sideline, there’s no doubt that Hardy was just instilling his brand of leadership on the rest of the team.