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Ryan Tannehill, Ronnie Stanley among most underrated players

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As hard as it might be to believe, there are underrated players in the NFL. Even in an era of coverage on a granular level, the success of certain figures can fly under the radar relative to their better-marketed peers.

Below, I've assembled the 12 most underrated players in the NFL in 2019. The concept is, of course, subjective, but every player listed here is under-recognized to some degree.

1
Ryan Tannehill
QB
Titans

I'm on the record as being bullish about Tennessee's offseason acquisition of Tannehill, and I feel even stronger about the soundness of this move today, with the former Dolphins signal-caller playing lights out after replacing Marcus Mariota under center. In his six starts this season, Tannehill has thrown for 243 yards per game with a 71.9 percent completion rate, a 12:3 TD-to-INT ratio and a 117.1 passer rating. More importantly, Tannehill has gone 5-1 as a starter, putting Tennessee squarely in the postseason race with two games looming against the AFC South-leading Houston Texans. Tannehill's performance down the stretch will go a long way toward determining whether the Titans try to keep him in the fold in 2020. I realize a certain amount of buzz has been growing around Tannehill in the past few weeks, but after his career in Miami ended with such a relative thud, with the Dolphins essentially giving him away, I wouldn't be surprised if his reputation is still lagging a bit behind his production.

2
Ronnie Stanley
LT
Ravens

The best offensive linemen prefer to work in anonymity, because it means they're helping other players succeed without calling attention to themselves via penalties and poor blocking or protection. That's exactly what Stanley is doing. There are left tackles in the NFL with higher profiles, but few if any are playing as well or working as hard at their craft as Stanley. Per Pro Football Focus, Stanley has yet to allow a sack this season while committing a modest five penalties in 805 offensive snaps. Baltimore raised a few eyebrows by drafting Stanley sixth overall in 2016 ahead of the more highly touted Laremy Tunsil, but nobody is second-guessing the pick now. By protecting Lamar Jackson's blind side and taking care of business as a run-blocker, Stanley has helped shape one of the best offenses in the NFL. It should eventually pay off in a lucrative extension, with Stanley heading into the final year of his rookie deal in 2020.

3
Justin Simmons
FS
Broncos

The AFC is loaded with safety talent, headed by Earl Thomas, Jamal Adams, Kevin Byard, Devin McCourty, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James and others. Simmons can make a legit claim to be included in that list. Solid both in coverage and at stopping the run, Simmons paces the Broncos with three picks and is tied for second on the team in tackles with 70, while his 10 passes defensed rank second among safeties. With 10 career picks, Simmons has the fourth most among safeties in Broncos history in a player's first four seasons, just behind Steve Atwater (12). Keeping Simmons, who is bound for free agency, in the fold, whether via extension or the franchise tag, would be prudent for Denver.

4
DeVante Parker
WR
Dolphins

Parker's roller-coaster career is on the upswing once again -- and this time, it might stay up. Five seasons after Miami took him the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Parker finally appears to have established himself as the No. 1 receiver in the Dolphins' offense. Parker is enjoying easily the best three-game stretch of his NFL career, logging 20 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns, with the highlight being his seven-catch, 159-yard, two-score performance in last week's upset of the Eagles. Parker already has 53 catches in 2019 with a career-high 854 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and there are still four games remaining. At long last, Parker is proving himself to be one of the NFL's most dangerous downfield threats, and he should enjoy another leap in notoriety when the Dolphins upgrade their roster in 2020.

5
Mark Andrews
TE
Ravens

Andrews wasn't the first tight end drafted by the Ravens in 2018 -- No. 25 overall pick Hayden Hurst had that distinction. And yet, Andrews has proven a more productive option so far, looking like a third-round steal in coordinator Greg Roman's offense. Through 12 games in 2019, Andrews has already collected 53 catches, easily exceeding the receptions total (34) that allowed him to set the record for rookie Ravens tight ends last season, and he's tied with Darren Fells for the lead among NFL tight ends in touchdown catches (seven). Andrews is one of those guys who plays faster than his time. Making his accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that he has Type-1 diabetes, which requires him to check his blood sugar during games.

6
Blake Martinez
LB
Packers

Martinez doesn't get mentioned in the same breath as some of the NFL's other top linebackers, but when it comes to tackles, no one is more productive than the man who enters Week 14 leading the league in that category (with 118). Martinez -- credited with a team-high 10 stops in Sunday's win over the Giants -- is set to become the first player to lead the Packers in tackles in three straight seasons, barring injury, since Nick Barnett did it in 2003-05. Whether Martinez gets a chance to lead Green Bay for a fourth season depends on whether the Packers are able to re-sign him this offseason.

7
Charvarius Ward
CB
Chiefs

Though it barely registered as a blip on the NFL radar, Kansas City's decision to send reserve offensive lineman Parker Ehinger to Dallas in exchange for Ward in August of 2018 has proven to be one of the best moves the Chiefs made all year. While Ehinger suffered a knee injury shortly after joining the Cowboys and ended up being released this April, Ward parlayed limited playing time in the Chiefs' secondary in '18 into a full-time starting gig this season, and he's been playing very well, mirroring the unit as a whole by showing steady improvement in 2019. Ward currently leads Kansas City with nine passes defensed and has logged two picks and contributed on special teams, including last week's blocked point-after attempt against the Raiders that he turned into two points.

8
Anthony Harris
FS
Vikings

Anyone working opposite an elite-level safety like the Vikings' Harrison Smith will be playing in Smith's shadow, but Harris has started to carve a name for himself in his first full season as a starter in Minnesota. He came to the NFL with bona fide ball skills, as evidenced by his FBS-leading eight interceptions as a junior at Virginia in 2013, and those skills have been on full display this season, during which Harris has logged four picks, including one returned for a touchdown in Monday's 37-30 loss to the Seahawks. The former undrafted player has recorded a career high in tackles (52) and passes defensed as he heads toward free agency this offseason.

9
Nick Chubb
RB
Browns

The collection of colorful characters assembled by Browns general manager John Dorsey, like Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham, along with Cleveland's failure to live up to astronomical expectations, have drawn attention away from Chubb's impressive second NFL season. The former second-round pick has recorded at least 75 scrimmage yards in 12 games, which is the NFL's longest active streak and the longest by a Brown since Jim Brown did it in 1961 and '62. Chubb also leads the league with 1,175 rushing yards and has four games remaining, including two against the Bengals, who boast the league's worst run defense. And to top it all off, he's proven to be a better pass-catcher (51 catches in two seasons) than many assumed when he was coming out of Georgia, which doesn't really throw the ball, especially to running backs.

10
Jordan Phillips
DT
Bills

Phillips illustrates what makes scouting so hard. I know him like the back of my hand. He grew up in Kansas, went to Oklahoma, ran a 5.17-second 40, threw up the bar 28 times and looked like he had everything you could want in a player -- except he'd never carried it through to the field. Despite the lack of competitive results, Phillips is the kind of guy you draft in the second round because he just looks so good, and then you hope you can make something out of him. After the Dolphins tried doing just that in 2015 and struck out, Phillips was granted his release in 2018 and landed with the Bills. He's made the most of his second chance in Buffalo, becoming a key contributor to the NFL's third-ranked defense. With 7.5 sacks in 2019, Phillips trails only the Rams' Aaron Donald (who has 9.5) among all defensive tackles. The timing couldn't have been better for Phillips, who is headed toward free agency. Whatever happened to help Phillips flip a switch, his turnaround is one of the most significant I can remember seeing; he's gone from doing nothing to playing his tail off.

11
Darren Fells
TE
Texans

One of the NFL's true developmental projects is paying big-time dividends for the Texans. The former pro international basketball player began transitioning to the NFL in 2013. Five teams and seven seasons later, the 33-year-old is putting it all together on the gridiron, enjoying a breakout campaign. He's already set a career high in catches (28), and he's tied Baltimore's Mark Andrews for most TD catches by a tight end (seven), proving himself to be a reliable red-zone target for Deshaun Watson.

12
Rodney Hudson
C
Raiders

Hudson didn't receiver recognition as an All-Pro in his first eight NFL seasons, but the Raiders knew his value when they made him the NFL's highest-paid center in August, handing him a three-year, $33 million extension. Through Week 13, Hudson hadn't allowed a single sack or quarterback hit in 359 pass-blocking snaps. He's also helped pave running back Josh Jacobs' path to the front of the Offensive Rookie of the Year race.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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