Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-2018 NFL season is nearing its end with only the Super Bowl left to play. Accordingly, the stamp has been put on the performances for most players, and now the debate is on: Who was the best, who was the worst, who was overlooked and who ended up being a letdown?

Here’s a look at 15 of the NFL’s most underrated players in 2017:

15. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

It’s hard to believe Michael Thomas, who has more receptions in his first two seasons than any wide receiver in history, could be considered underrated or overlooked, but it’s become apparent that he is. Thomas finished third among receivers in receptions (104), sixth in yards (1,245), third in first downs (70) and second in PFF grades (93.0) but failed to earn an All-Pro nod and was left off the PFWA All-NFL Team. He was voted into his first Pro Bowl, but he deserves much more recognition.

14. Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts

Jack Doyle made his presence known in 2016, but he still wasn’t really on anyone’s radar outside of Indianapolis entering this season. Despite the lack of attention, Doyle continued a steady progression, finishing second among tight ends in receptions (80), sixth in receiving yards (690), seventh in first downs (34) and 10th in Pro Football Focus grade (77.5). Even with the impressive credentials, Doyle remains underrated and overlooked, failing to earn a Pro Bowl nod, a spot on the AP All-Pro Team or any honors courtesy of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).

13. Blake Martinez, LB, Green Bay Packers

Blake Martinez is young, talented and appears to have a very high ceiling. However, outside of Green Bay and the NFC North, he’s not widely known. He’s certainly not a household name. He wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl, didn’t receive an All-Pro nod, PFF All-NFL nod or any honors courtesy of the PFWA. Why is that relevant? Because Martinez finished tied for the league lead with 144 tackles, tied for second with 96 solo tackles, and for good measure, added nine passes defensed, one interception and one sack. Sooner rather than later, Martinez will be a more well-known name.

12. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears

Jordan Howard made a name for himself as a successful rookie in 2016, earning a Pro Bowl nod and a place on the PFWA All-Rookie Team. While Howard’s numbers dipped a bit in 2017, he still finished the year with 1,122 yards, which was sixth-most in the NFL among running backs, and nine touchdowns, which was tied for third-most in the league. But even as one of only nine backs with more than 1,000 yards, Howard was overlooked and blanked when it came to honors and awards. Even with a PFF grade of 73.6, Howard was passed over for the Pro Bowl, All-Pro Team, and all other PFF and PFWA honors.

11. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

A third-round pick in 2016, Yannick Ngakoue may be one of the most talented up-and-comers in the NFL that most have not heard of. After being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team last season, Ngakoue improved his game and his numbers this season but had less to show for it in terms of awards. Despite 30 tackles (24 solo), 12 sacks and a league-leading six forced fumbles, Ngakoue was snubbed from the Pro Bowl, left off the All-Pro Team, passed over for the PFWA All-NFL Team and didn’t earn a spot on the PFF All-Pro Team (84.7 grade).

10. Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants

Damon Harrison is arguably the league’s best run defender, having led the NFL in run stop percentage for the fifth consecutive season. He also finished with a league-leading 40 run stops, which marked the third straight year in which he topped that number — three times as many as the rest of the NFL combined over the last decade. His 90.4 PFF grade was also sixth-highest among interior defenders this season. But all of that success failed to yield a spot in the Pro Bowl, on the All-Pro Team or on the PFWA All-NFL Team. It didn’t even warrant a spot on the PFF All-Pro Team.

9. Robbie Gould, K, San Francisco 49ers

A kicker listed as one of the NFL’s most underrated? That thought alone makes Robbie Gould worthy, but the fact that he was arguably the league’s most automatic kicker and came away with nothing to show for it warrants his placement here. He converted on 95 percent of his field goal attempts (39 of 41) and 93 percent of his point after attempts but was still snubbed for the Pro Bowl, left off the All-Pro rosters, passed over for the PFF All-NFL First Team and ignored when the PFWA handed out their honors.

8. Antoine Bethea, S, Arizona Cardinals

Antoine Bethea is a well-known veteran around the league, having appeared in three Pro Bowls during his 12-year career. However, 2017 was arguably his best season as a pro, and few seemed to notice. Bethea finished the year with 57 tackles (47 solo), 14 passes defensed, one sack, one forced fumble and five interceptions, which was tied for fifth-most in the league. He also finished with an impressive 86.7 PFF grade. He still did not receive a Pro Bowl nod, All-Pro nod, or any other PFF or PFWA awards.

7. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys

Even though Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was named to both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro Team, he’s still rarely considered among the league’s elite. While his career numbers lend some validity to that, there’s no denying how dominate Lawrence was in 2017. He finished tied for first in the league with 14.5 sacks and added an impressive 58 tackles (35 solo). His 94.1 PFF grade was also third among edge rushers league-wide. It’s still going to take some consistency for Lawrence to be considered an elite edge rusher, but at least for now, he deserves a tip of the cap.

6. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

After appearing in just nine games over the previous two seasons, Keenan Allen promised to come back with a bang in 2017. He delivered on that promise and was named the PFWA Comeback Player of the Year as a result. While he warranted that recognition, he was passed over for more deserving honors. Allen was left off the All-Pro team despite recording 102 receptions (a franchise record), 1,393 yards (second-most in team history and third-most in NFL) and six touchdowns. He also led the league in third-down catches (36) and became the first player in league history to record at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and one touchdown in three consecutive games.

5. Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

A discarded fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, Alex Collins signed an under-the-radar practice squad deal with the Ravens in early September 2017. Less than two weeks later, following an injury to Danny Woodhead, Collins was promoted to the active roster and never looked back. In 15 games (12 starts), Collins gained 973 yards and scored six touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry — an average ypc that was eclipsed by only three running backs with more than 200 carries on the season. His PFF grade of 87.6 was also the fifth-highest by a running back in 2017. It doesn’t feel like many noticed his excellent body of work in 2017 as the Ravens failed to make the playoffs.

4. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

Like many others on this list, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham seems to be a permanently underrated superstar. No matter how well he plays, how much he stands out or how much he impacts a season, he never seems to receive the recognition he deserves. That pattern held true in 2017 as Graham finished the season without Pro Bowl, All-Pro or PFWA honors despite an elite grade of 91.6 — eighth among all edge rushers — courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Graham also recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks to go along with 47 tackles (33 solo), two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two passes defensed and nine stuffs.

3. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans

When the league’s elite tight ends are discussed, the names usually brought up are Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. Rarely, if ever, is Delanie Walker’s name lumped in with them despite putting up similar numbers. In 2017, Walker finished third among tight ends in receptions (74), fourth in yards (807) and fourth in first downs (43). Walker also finished fourth among tight ends with a PFF grade of 84.0. Those numbers weren’t good enough to warrant a Pro Bowl selection (named an alternate) or a spot on the All-Pro Team. He also didn’t receive any honors from the PFWA.

2. Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

When is Alex Smith not underrated? It’s become a staple of his entire career, and 2017 was no different. Despite leading the NFL with a passer rating of 104.7, Smith faced constant talk about being replaced in 2018 by Patrick Mahomes. Even with that lingering in the back of his mind, Smith finished the season with a career-high in passing yards (4,042) and touchdowns (26), and a career-low in turnovers (6). His play led the Chiefs back to the playoffs, but Smith was ultimately snubbed for the Pro Bowl (named an alternate) and left off the All-Pro team.

1. Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings

In any other year, this spot would have been reserved for the all-time underrated Alex Smith, but without quarterback Case Keenum, the Vikings would not have reached the NFC Championship Game. Period. A longtime backup, Keenum was thrust into the starting role when Sam Bradford went down injured and Teddy Bridgewater was still a ways off from getting back on the field. In return for the starting nod, Keenum rewarded the Vikings with 3,547 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 15 games. His quarterback rating (98.3) and PFF grade (85.6) were also among the top 10 league-wide. Despite all of that, Keenum was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, left off the All-Pro roster and didn’t even warrant a mention in the year-end awards by the PFWA.

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This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.

QUIZ: Name the oldest player currently on the every NFL team

How many of the NFL's elder statesmen from the 2017 season can you name in six minutes?

Good luck!


ARZ / 42 / K
Phil Dawson
ATL / 42 / K
Matt Bryant
BAL / 37 / TE
Ben Watson
BUF / 34 / LB
Lorenzo Alexander
CAR / 37 / DE
Julius Peppers
CHI / 35 / K
Mike Nugent
CIN / 34 / DB
Adam Jones
CLE / 33 / OT
Joe Thomas
DAL / 36 / LS
L.P. Ladouceur
DEN / 33 / OT
Allen Barbre
DET / 37 / DE
Dwight Freeney
GB / 34 / OT
Jahri Evans
HOU / 41 / P
Shane Lechler
IND / 45 / K
Adam Vinatieri
JAX / 33 / TE
Marcedes Lewis
KC / 35 / P
Dustin Colquitt
LAR / 36 / OT
Andrew Whitworth
MIA / 39 / LS
John Denney
MIN / 39 / CB
Terence Newman
NE / 40 / QB
Tom Brady
NO / 38 / QB
Drew Brees
NYG / 36 / QB
Eli Manning
NYJ / 38 / QB
Josh McCown
OAK / 39 / K
Sebastian Janikowski
PHI / 37 / P
Donnie Jones
PIT / 35 / QB
Ben Roethlisberger
SD / 37 / TE
Antonio Gates
SF / 35 / K
Robbie Gould
SEA / 36 / P
Jon Ryan
TB / 35 / QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick
TEN / 35 / QB
Matt Cassel
WAS / 34 / DB
DeAngelo Hall

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