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Top 10 Underrated Players in NFL History

Updated on May 19, 2015

These men have slipped through the cracks of NFL history and their legacies have all but been eliminated. Today I rank the top 10 underrated players in NFL history.

For every Joe Greene, Jerry Rice, and Emmitt Smith, there is a cast of supporting players who are just as important to the team. These players might have been pro bowlers, Hall of Famers, or just unrecognized. Either way these players are not recognized nearly enough for their contributions to their team or the NFL.

For this list I'm taking into account the era of play as well as how they impacted the game today. I also note a players personal accomplishments as well as their impact on the teams they played for.

10. Randy Gradishar

Gradishar is probably one of the biggest snubs by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He was the cornerstone of Denver's "Orange Crush" defense in the 70's. In his 10 seasons with the team, he led the team in tackles each year, was a seven time pro bowler, and was the 1978 Defensive Player of the Year. During his 10 years, Denver's defense gave up the third fewest yards from 1974-1983 and were the second best run defense during that time. He became the first great inside linebacker to play in a 3-4 defense. He is regarded by both Woody Hayes and Dan Reeves as the best linebacker they ever coached.

Regarded as one of the smartest players to come along, Gradishar retired as the NFL's all time leading tackler. Despite his stats and reputation, he has yet to be inducted into Canton. Its been over 30 years since he retired, and its time for Gradishar to get his gold jacket.

9. Troy Brown

Mr. Patriot did it all during his career in Foxborough.

He retired as the team's all-time receptions leader, remains top in punt returns and even was effective as a defensive back. In 2004, he tied for the team lead in interceptions. Despite these accomplishments, Brown never seemed to get his due, making just one Pro Bowl appearance while serving as one of the most indispensable parts to three Super Bowl winners.

With the arrival of Wes Welker in 2007, The Patriots saw Brown as expendable. If Troy Brown would have had Josh McDaniel's as an offensive coordinator earlier in his career, he would have put up numbers that would out match Welker's.

8. Chuck Howley

This one was tough for me. I could have gone with either Chuck Howley or Lee Roy Jordan. I decided to go with Howley as he is less recognized than Jordan.

Howley was a dynamic playmaker who played better in his 30s than 20s, which is not to say he was bad in his 20s. The five-time first team All-Pro at outside linebacker was excellent in space, picking off 25 balls in his career, including three in two Super Bowls. He is the only player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP.

All this, and he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seriously!? If playing big in big games makes one a Hall of Famer like a Lynn Swann,who did not have great numbers, how is Howley not in Canton? He played 14 years, making the Pro Bowl as a 35-year-old outside 'backer in 1971. Had the Cowboys not been so awful in the early '60s as an expansion team, and devoid of talent defensively, Howley might have received more accolades sooner.


7. Wayne Chrebet

Mr. Third Down was a fan favorite for the Jets franchise.

Chrebet worked his way up from 11th on the depth chart as an undrafted rookie, to making the team and become one of the greatest possession receivers in history. In fact Chrebet had more catches in his first two seasons than any receiver in league history. That's impressive enough when you considered the fact that the Jets were coached by Rich Kotite in that time.

Unlike former teammate Keyshawn Johnson, he let his play do the talking. And when Johnson left for Tampa Bay, Chrebet caught the winning touchdown against the Bucs. 379 of his 580 catches were third down conversions. He retired as the team's second leading receiver and third leading receiver for undrafted wide outs. He may not have been name all-pro or a pro bowler, but his legacy lives on in New York.

6. Neal Anderson

It's never easy following a legendary NFL player. And when that player is Walter Payton, it's even harder.

Yet, that's just what Neal Anderson did. Anderson took the reins after Payton retired in 1988 and never looked back. Anderson rushed for more than 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns every year from 1988-1990, twice helping carry the Bears to the playoffs where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion (San Francisco in 1988, New York in 1990). Unfortunately for Anderson, his time came after one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game, and right at the beginning of the Bears' fallout during the early 1990s.

Had he rushed at a better time for the Bears, he wouldn't need to make underrated lists.

5. L.C. Greenwood

As a 10th-round draft pick from a school that at the time was called Arkansas AM&N, Greenwood entered the NFL behind 237 other players in 1969.

As a defensive end who weighed less than 230 pounds, Greenwood was no lock to make the roster. He would go on to be a two-time first-team All-Pro while being voted to six Pro Bowls, and he would retire as the Steelers' all-time leader in sacks. Even so, Greenwood always was an underrated component of the defense that dominated the NFL for most of the 1970s. Greenwood started a grand total of 151 games as the end next to tackle Joe Greene on the Steel Curtain, and some of his best days came in the playoffs.

He had four sacks in Super Bowl X, one in Super Bowl XIII, and was the one who batted the Fran Tarkenton pass that was intercepted by Greene in Super Bowl IX. He had four sacks in those five classic 1970s playoff street-fights with the Raiders. Overall, he posted 10 sacks in 17 playoff games, to go along with 73.5 sacks during his 132 regular season appearances between 1972 to 1981. He led or tied for the team lead in sacks four times in eight Steelers seasons that included four Super Bowl championships, and Greenwood was the preeminent pass-rusher on one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. L.C. Greenwood deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and because he is not, he qualifies as underrated.

4. John Taylor

Playing as Robin to Jerry Rice's Batman, Taylor was the perfect No. 2 receiving option for the San Francisco 49ers.

He was neither flashy nor physically imposing, but he was multi-dimensional finishing his career with the second-most punt return yards in franchise history. He was also big in the clutch. You might recall Montana's game-winning touchdown pass to Taylor, not Rice, in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XXIII. Taylor is sixth all time in receiving yards in team history, but even more impressive is that he's one of just two Super Bowl champions enshrined in the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame along with Randy White. If that doesn't epitomize underrated, I don't know what does.

Playing opposite the greatest wide receiver in history makes Taylor an after thought in the minds of most people, but the plays he made the clutch live on in the hearts of 49ers fans.

3. Anthony Muñoz

I know what you're thinking. Muñoz is in the Hall of Fame and he played in two Super Bowls. How can he possibly be underrated. Simple, he was the shining star on an average team for most of his career.

Munoz is the best offensive lineman in NFL history, but he does not always receive that distinction. He went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1998 after a 13-year career in which he made 11 Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro nine times. The only other player to be first-team All-Pro that many times is Jerry Rice, who was selected 10 times.

There have been many reports that show he never gave up a sack in his entire career. That alone should make him more recognizable than any NFL left tackle.

2. Clay Matthews

Browns followers widely consider Matthews the biggest of the team's snubs for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it's hard to argue.

Given the high-attrition associated with his position, his 19-year NFL career (16 with the Browns, three with the Falcons) is nothing short of incredible. It's even more impressive given his relatively small frame for his position at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds. Matthews was highly versatile and played every linebacker spot, registering 1,430 tackles, 62 sacks, 14 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries with the Browns. He retired averaging almost 85 tackles a year,

To some, he's better known as the father of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and brother to Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. In time though, there will be more and more consideration to put him Canton.

1. Tommy Nobis

Unless you're a die hard Falcons fan, you probably don't remember Tommy Nobis. And that's not how it should be.

You can't underestimate what Tommy Nobis means to the Atlanta Falcons. He was their first ever draft pick, their first Hall of Fame-type player, first Rookie of the Year, first everything. The man compiled 294 tackles in his rookie season and it is still the all-time NFL record. You can't exaggerate his contributions to the franchise he played 11 years for. Whereas a team like the Saints had to suffer for decades with retreads and guys on their way out of football, at least Atlanta had Nobis. He was the 1966 defensive rookie of the year, made five pro bowls, and his #60 has since been retired by Atlanta

When Norm Van Brocklin coached the Falcons he once gestured towards Nobis' locker and said to a reporter, "that's where our football team dresses." That's the sort of thing written for B-movies, not reality, but during his tenure in Atlanta, that could truly be said about Mr. Nobis. The fact that he played for the expansion Falcons should not diminish his chances as a Hall of Famer.

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      STEELER FANATIC 

      4 years ago

      Good list! Howley and Gradishar are too low on the list. Munoz doesn't belong period! He is the epitome of the LT. Nobis is another forgotten great. My #1 would be Gradishar.

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