Whatever one thinks of Ryan's bold statement, it does highlight one truth about the league: Plenty of guys toil in relative anonymity, left off popular rankings and saddled with a serious buzz deficiency despite their high-impact status. Among all the lesser-known talents out there, who strikes you as the most underrated player today?
A pair of defensive ends wreak havoc under the radarSince I'm not sure how others "rate" players, I'll roll with two under-publicized names that have been at the top of the game for years. There isn't another player in the NFL quite like Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell. Checking in at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Campbell requires double teams at all times. He's too big to move in the running game, yet he's an incredible pass rusher. He can play in any defensive formation, inside and out. He should be a superstar.
Cameron Wake also deserves mention. People know the Miami Dolphins defensive end is good, but it's taken awhile to realize he might be the best overall pass rusher in the NFL since 2010.
Though he's overshadowed in Seattle, Kam Chancellor stands outThe single most underrated player in the NFL is Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Playing among the defending Super Bowl champions' galaxy of defensive luminaries, Chancellor sadly is often overlooked; heck, he's the second-best safety (behind Earl Thomas) and third-best defensive back (behind Thomas and Richard Sherman) on his own team!
But don't let that distract you. Chancellor capped off another sensational regular season in 2013 with a difference-making effort in the title game (nine tackles, two passes defensed and a pick that led to Seattle's first touchdown), setting the tone for the Seahawks' dismantling of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Chancellor -- for whom I voted, along with Thomas, to be first-team All-Pro at safety -- needs to be recognized for what he is: a star in his own right.
Jordy Nelson catches everythingJordy Nelson is my favorite NFL litmus test. Those who actually watch the games realize the Green Bay Packers vet is one of the league's elite wide receivers, consistently making spectacular plays with a huge catch radius. He's taken the baton from Hall of Famer Cris Carter as the NFL's premier boundary receiver, specializing in sideline and end-zone acrobatics.
Outside of Calvin Johnson, no wide receiver has better game tape than Nelson.
Bobby Wagner is the glue that holds the 'Hawks togetherThough the Seattle Seahawks' secondary deservedly receives plenty of attention, Bobby Wagner is one of the most important pieces of one of the NFL's best defenses -- the play-caller who holds the unit together, getting everybody lined up right. He's also a do-everything force from the middle linebacker spot, making tackles all over the place, sacking the quarterback and picking off passes; over the course of two pro seasons, he's collected 260 tackles, seven sacks (including five last season) and five picks.
Wagner doesn't have the same level of name recognition as fellow 2012 draftee Luke Kuechly, but he has significantly outstripped expectations people had for him as a second-round pick. When Seattle needs someone to make something happen, Wagner is the guy who does it.
Aaron Rodgers, Vernon Davis underappreciated despite accoladesIt might seem strange to label Aaron Rodgers and Vernon Davis -- both of whom seemingly have standing invites to Honolulu's annual exhibition game -- "underrated." But let's look a little closer.
Around The League hero Chris Wesseling's recent list notwithstanding, most quarterback rankings start with the names Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (and sometimes Drew Brees). Rodgers collects division titles just like those other three, but he's done so behind an almost perennially lousy offensive line, without a target as good as Demaryius Thomas, Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham and without -- until Eddie Lacy's arrival last season -- much of a ground game to lean on. (By the way, with apologies to the aforementioned hero, I wouldn't put Jordy Nelson -- as terrific as he is -- on the same level as the pass catchers I just listed. And yes, I do actually watch the games.)
As for Davis, he might not match the regular-season numbers of Gronk or Graham, but over the past three Januarys, he's been the game's best tight end -- and maybe the postseason's single best player. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but consider his production: 27 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns in eight career playoff games. If NFL tight ends are types of fruit, Gronk is a plum: delicious when available, but rarely in-season. Graham is a seeded grape: spectacular in one regard, but hampered by a significant liability (in this case, an inability to block). Davis, meanwhile, is an apple: strong and steady year-round, with an elevated quality in winter -- when most other fruits wilt.