The National Football League, or NFL, is one of the most-watched sports in the USA. The NFL is regarded as the zenith of professional American football. In 2020, the league’s 18-week regular season witnessed over 15.4 million people tuning in to watch the sport on television and across online streaming platforms.
While the sport itself is exciting to watch, the NFL players are the real deal. Because of their exceptional performances, players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have become household names. However, some names are not as well-known as they should be – here are the 8 most underrated NFL players of all time.
- Steven Jackson
During his stint as a running back, Steven Jackson was extremely popular. When he used to play for the St. Louis Rams, he consistently landed impressive touchdowns. Not many know that Jackson holds the all-time Rams record for the most rushing yards. Jackson played for the St. Louis Rams, the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots and when he called time on his career, he had an impressive 11,438 rushing yards and 15,121 scrimmage yards.
- NaVorro Bowman
In 2010, this line backer began his NFL career as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers. He finished that year with an impressive 46 tackles. Until his retirement in 2019, he was hailed by many as one of the best defensive players in the game.
His 2017 one-off season with the Oakland Raiders indicates how invaluable a team asset Bowman can be. Bowman might have gotten the recognition he deserved if it had not been for a string of injuries, incompetent team management, and sheer bad luck.
- Johnny Robinson
It’s time for a trip down memory lane. Johnny Robinson was a big name in the AFL and NFL during his time but his name is not well-known today. Although he primarily played as a safety, he also served as a halfback and flanker.
Robinson’s versatility is only shadowed by his roster of records, including six All-Pro selections and 57 career interceptions, and let’s not forget Robinson’s awe-inspiring 1966 and 1970 seasons of 10-interceptions. The only major blip in his 12-year career was the slipshod voting system that prevented him from taking his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.
- Ron McDole
When you hear the name Ron McDole, it’s hard not to sigh and say, “If only he had existed in a different time”. Fondly known as the ‘Dancing Bear’, his illustrious career was full of achievements – over a dozen successful interceptions, fourteen fumble recoveries, two touchdowns and three safeties. As a defensive lineman, he was a big part of the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship winning teams. To top it off, he has nearly 251 games under his belt.
5. Brodie Croyle
One of the most underrated players in AM Football, Brodie Croyle was drafted into the NFL by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006 after being a college football standout with the University of Alabama. He announced his retirement from pro football in 2010, not long after signing with the Arizona Cardinals. Despite his injuries, Croyle set many records, including for the most passing yards and touchdowns in a season.
6. London Fletcher
Another underappreciated and overlooked linebacker, Fletcher was outstanding as a player for the St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills. The feathers on his cap included 2039 tackles, 23 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles, two touchdowns, four Pro Bowl selections, and an all-time NFL record of the most consecutive starts in the linebacker position. He was also a big part of the 1999 Super Bowl-winning Rams team.
It’s hard to understand how someone of Fletcher’s stature can be underrated, but that’s what lousy timing can do.
7. LeRoy Butler III
In the 1990s, LeRoy Butler III was a force to reckoned with in the NFL. He was a clinical asset – a safety, cornerback and free safety – all rolled into one and he was a vital part of the 1996 Green Bay Packers squad that won the Super Bowl XXXI.
For some, he is the player responsible for the iconic Lambeau Leap celebration. With 38 career interceptions, 20.5 sacks and 721 solo tackles, it’s a shame that Butler is another deserving Hall of Famer who is yet to get his due.
8. Frank Ryan
One of Cleveland’s local heroes, Frank Ryan was a quarterback for three iconic teams, including the Cleveland Browns. The Browns last won an NFL title in 1964, and Ryan led the team that year. Between 1964-1969, his career was at an all-time peak.
At the end of his career, he had 1090 completions, 149 touchdowns and 111 interceptions to show. If Ryan’s playing days had coincided with the Super Bowl era, we might be telling a different story altogether.
There are so many Hall of Fame near-misses and underrated players in American Football that it’s hard to count them. We can only hope that every deserving player gets their due in some way or another!