With the NFL offseason officially upon us, pundits and fans alike will attempt to eagerly anticipate the crucial moves of the sports finest and not especially notable franchises. Although there are a plethora of elite free agents that will be available on the open market to offer their coveted services, there is an equal number of underrated players that have the potential to be great within the proper organizations. While it may be difficult to discern the difference between the underrated and overrated athletes at times, all of the relatively unknown players have one very essential trait in common: they have persevered either through injuries or limited playing time to display their unique and exciting skill sets. Before looking at the likes of Jimmy Graham and Le’Veon Bell, NFL teams would behoove themselves to look at the following underappreciated athletes first to see if there are any game changers that could be had at a discounted price.
10. Orleans Darkwa, RB
Although Darkwa has been traditionally regarded as a capable backup rusher, he actually had a great year for a New York Giants team that was riddled with injuries to nearly all of their prominent playmakers on offense. Rushing for 751 yards and five touchdowns (both career highs), Darkwa did not shy away from the limelight and was vital in alleviating some of the pressure off of quarterback Eli Manning. If Darkwa can take his game to the next level as a receiver (6.1 yards per reception), he could very well be a solid contributor for a team that is in need of a young and versatile weapon on offense.
9. Josh McCown, QB
At 38 years of age, it would be fair to assume that McCown is most likely on the verge of retirement. However, when you consider that the journeyman quarterback set career highs in passing yards (2,926), touchdowns (18) and completion percentage (67.3%), it appears that the veteran passer may still have a bit more left in the tank. While McCown lacks the natural ability and instincts to be anything more than an average starter, he is the perfect bridge quarterback for any team that is looking to develop their roster before drafting a franchise passer.
8. Ryan Grant, WR
Largely inconsistent throughout his four-year career, Grant stepped up in a big way for the Washington Redskins in 2017. Averaging 12.7 yards per reception (career high) Grant proved to be a capable deep threat for quarterback Kirk Cousins, which was impressive considering the other playmakers that were around him. He may not be the most elite or physically imposing wideout in the game, but his speed and quickness are definitely coveted traits for a team that has a passer that loves to chuck the football deep downfield.
7. LeGarrette Blount, RB
Unsurprisingly, veteran running back LeGarrette Blount regressed to the mean in 2017 after putting up legendary numbers for the New England Patriots two seasons ago. However, Blount was still utilized on a regular basis as a third down battering ram that could penetrate some of the more stout defensive lines in the NFL. Although Blount’s skill set is static and his frame prevents him from being shifty or capable as a receiver in the backfield, his durability and fierceness are worthy of consideration for a team that loves to wear down opposing defenses with an intimidating and physical rushing attack.
6. Crockett Gillmore, TE
Although the three-year tight end has yet to play a full season in the NFL, Crockett Gillmore has the prototypical size and hands of an athletic and reliable playmaker. When healthy, Gillmore is an electric playmaker that is especially deadly in the open field (5.3 yards after the catch in 2015). While he is a high-risk and high-reward player, Gillmore should come at a bargain bin price this offseason, making him an athlete worth taking a chance on for any team that has a serious need at the tight end position.
5. Taylor Gabriel, WR
If he did not play alongside Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel would easily be one of the more prolific secondary wideouts in the NFL. While his numbers may appear to be underwhelming at an initial glance, the speedy wideout was allotted just 51 targets in 2017 (82nd amongst receivers). Given the chance to play consistently as a number two receiver, Gabriel could easily become a favorite target for any quarterback that likes to work the football downfield.
4. Terrelle Pryor, WR
Without a doubt, Terrelle Pryor was one of most disappointing players from a statistical perspective in 2017. After garnering over 1,000 receiving yards with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, Pryor took a major step back with the Washington Redskins as he brought in just 240 receiving yards and one touchdown reception. However, the intriguing wideout played in only nine games this past season and was targeted 37 times, suggesting that Pryor was not given the requisite opportunities needed to excel. While some teams may be tentative to give Pryor a chance after his noticeable regression last season, I believe the quarterback turned wide receiver can return to greatness for a team that can fully utilize his impressive athletic abilities.
3. Alfred Morris, RB
Once a perennial 1,000-yard rusher, Alfred Morris has since been relegated to being second to third-string running back in the Dallas Cowboys’ offense. Although the aging Morris will unlikely be able to attain the former glory that he had with the Washington Redskins, he still has the instincts and ability to be a strong third down back. If a team is willing to give Morris close to 200 carries in a season, they could easily reap the benefits of having a versatile rusher that still has plenty left in the tank.
2. Tyler Eifert, TE
One of the most talented tight ends in the NFL, Eifert will undoubtedly come at a discounted price this offseason because of his injury history (played in just 10 games during the last two seasons). However, Eifert’s incredible production when he was healthy still allows him to be considered a coveted and intriguing free agent this offseason. Any team that decides to acquire him will be taking a tremendous risk, but they could also be getting the steal of free agency if the young pass-catcher can stay healthy for most the regular season.
1. Jeremy Hill, RB
Before this past season, Jeremy Hill had missed just one game during the previous three seasons of his career. From 2014-2016, Hill rushed for 29 touchdowns and was a capable albeit underutilized weapon as a receiver in the Cincinnati Bengals’ backfield. Although Hill may lack the name recognition and electric performances of an elite rusher, his overall production, and immense size should allow him to find a home with a team that needs a physical and relentless running back.