Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, and spent the last 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of the podcast “Football Today.”
Free agency is right around the corner and we are seeing teams starting to purge their unwanted and overpriced players to make more salary cap space.
Very soon, players will be swapping teams at a breakneck rate.
But before we get into that frenzy, let’s look at one player from each team, this time from the NFC, that doesn’t get the national notoriety he properly deserves. Obviously we avoided free agents-to-be for this exercise and concentrated on players returning to the same squad.
Related: Breaking down every AFC team’s most underrated player
Cowboys – Cole Beasley
It’s hard to choose an underrated player for Dallas, but Beasley has become one of Dak Prescott’s two favorite weapons and is perfect for the young signal-caller. Of course he does his best work out of the slot and can be stereotyped in that manner, but there aren’t many in the league better at it than Beasley right now.
Giants – Justin Pugh
The Giants have two above average starting offensive linemen in Pugh and Weston Richburg with Pugh the better of the two. He has played tackle, but has proven to be an excellent guard. Few realize how good Pugh is at what he does. There are a lot of problem areas with New York’s offense, but Pugh, whose contract expires a year from now, certainly isn’t one of them.
Eagles – Brandon Graham
Did you know Graham is one of the league’s best edge pass-rushers? Did you know he constantly and consistently wreaks havoc off the edge? You do now. Graham is a star.
Redskins – Brandon Scherff
The Redskins raised some eyebrows in 2015 by using the fifth pick overall on Scherff, who they promptly moved to guard. Scherff is quickly developing into one of the best at his position and is a big reason why the Washington offensive line has improved so much of late.
Lions – Ameer Abdullah
Out of sight, out of mind, right? This isn’t to say Detroit should not bring in a bigger ball carrier to complement the stable they have, but Abdullah still has a chance to develop into a real difference-maker in this backfield.
Bears – Cody Whitehair
Whitehair is a tackle turned guard turned center. He was very impressive at the pivot in his rookie season and should team with Josh Sitton and Kyle Long to comprise one of the NFL’s best interior offensive lines. That threesome should be one of the top strengths of this Bears team for years to come.
Packers – Brett Hundley
Hundley has an awful lot of ability, but clearly is blocked in Green Bay. Don’t be surprised if Hundley starts to get a lot more national attention next year at this time as an exciting young quarterback that could be on the move. Hundley’s second stop in the NFL could be far more memorable than his first.
Vikings – Sam Bradford
Rarely do NFL starting quarterbacks fall in the “Underrated” category, but contrary to popular belief, Bradford is a very stable professional quarterback. In fact, with no running game or pass protection in his first year in Minnesota, Bradford was highly impressive. Like him or not, take a step back and realize that this is a quality starting quarterback.
Falcons – Austin Hooper
If you just glance at Hooper’s stats or thought of him from a fantasy perspective, it would be very easy to underestimate what this player might become. At a position where rookies rarely produce, Hooper got better and better as the season went on. Expect a breakout in 2017.
Panthers – Jonathan Stewart
Stewart has dealt with more than his share of injuries in his career, but this former first-round pick is still one of the more talented runners in the league and Carolina’s offense is noticeably much worse when he isn’t sidelined. The Panthers made a big mistake in not preparing for life without Stewart last year at this time. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistake twice.
Saints – Zach Strief
The Saints have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and while Strief isn’t a well-known name, he gets it done year after year for Drew Brees and New Orleans’ running games. Take a look at the other starting 31 right tackles in the NFL right now. Most teams are far worse off than the Saints are at that position.
Buccaneers – Cameron Brate
Expect there to be a lot of changes with the Buccaneers’ roster this offseason, but Tampa Bay is pretty well set now at tight end. Only 25 years old, the Bucs picked up Brate on the cheap and while they certainly need more receiving talent for Jameis Winston, Brate already has the trust of his young signal-caller and is a far better athlete than he’s given credit for.
49ers – Carlos Hyde
Hyde has missed time of late, but his supporting cast has been awful and he still produces. He is also an underrated receiver, though he’s not going to be confused with Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson in this area. There are a lot of positions that need upgraded in San Francisco, but the starting running back position isn’t one of them. In fact, the 49ers would be smart to extend him now and lean on him heavy through these rebuilding years.
Cardinals – Markus Golden
The Cardinals have a lot of free agents-to-be and will have a tough time bringing most of them back. Having Chandler Jones rush the passer from the opposite side of Golden certainly was helpful, but Golden broke out in his second season in a season where little went right for Arizona. He’s a keeper.
Rams – Aaron Donald
Of course Donald is a superstar and yes, everyone knows who he is. But he makes this list for two reasons: 1. The Rams didn’t have anyone else that stood out and 2. Most don’t realize that with J.J. Watt sidelined, Donald is the very best defensive player in the NFL. Therefore, he is underrated.
Seahawks – Doug Baldwin
Another big name player, Baldwin could really be on this list every year. What he brings to the table has been instrumental in Seattle’s sustained success of late, as he has been Russell Wilson’s most consistent and trusted target. The Seahawks’ offense would have been in a world of trouble without Baldwin these past few years, but rarely is he given such credit.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)