NFL All-Underrated Team 2021: Barnwell’s 24-player roster of vets, rookies, draft steals and free-agency finds
Today, I’m naming my All-Underrated Team for what we’ve seen so far in the 2021 NFL season. Last time we did this in 2019, I talked up players such as Matthew Judon, Austin Ekeler, Vita Vea, Fred Warner and others who have emerged with larger profiles over the ensuing two seasons. Hopefully, we’ll see the profiles of the players on this year’s list grow similarly in the years to come.
Of course, “underrated” is in the eye of the beholder. I suspect that just about everyone who reads this list will have a player or two they think of as underrated who isn’t going to appear among the 24 players here. In most cases, I suspect the only difference is just that I think those players are already given plenty of attention as valuable contributors. Some rules I worked with in putting this list together include:
Have you played at the same level for a long period of time? Veterans such as Andrew Whitworth or Micah Hyde have been “underrated” for so long that they’re appropriately rated now as excellent football players. This list tends to point out younger players and/or players who have changed their level of play versus what we’ve seen in years past, which includes the team’s only quarterback.
Were you a first-round pick? If you’re a first-rounder on your rookie deal, you’re generally going to be expected to play at a high level. There’s a first-rounder who makes it onto the roster here because he has emerged as one of the best players at his position and doesn’t often get talked about in that conversation. A top-five pick such as Ja’Marr Chase or Nick Bosa isn’t really underrated.
Have you been paid? If you racked up a big deal in free agency or from your team, you’re already valued as a significant player at your position. Trey Hendrickson was underrated (by me and others) heading into this season, and he has been excellent for the Bengals, but he’s also taking home $20 million, which tells you that he’s already being treated as a valuable player. Most of the players here are on either rookie deals or contracts below their market value. One player just got a new deal, so I’m cheating a bit by sneaking him onto the list.
With that in mind, let’s run through our team. We have 24 players from 15 different organizations, with a focus on trying to get in guys from some of the worst teams. We’ll start on the offensive side of the ball and then work our way through the defense and special teams, beginning with a player who surprisingly ranked in the top 10 at his position before suffering a season-ending injury: