Some are not flashy, some are not big on the stat sheet, and some are on shit teams; But these 20 Football Players had game. Here are the 20 Most Underrated Football Players of the 21st Century.
STEVEN JACKSON – RUNNING BACK – ST. LOUIS RAMS
For whatever reason Steven Jackson never really received full credit for just how good of a running back he was. Mostly because the Rams were terrible for the majority of his prime years, but still…In 2006 Jackson put up MVP caliber numbers by posting 1,528 yards rushing, 90 receptions, and 16 total touchdowns. Jackson was one of the rare jack-of-all-trades types of running backs who could beat you in the receiving game or on the ground. When you think of great Rams running backs, the first names that come to most people’s minds are Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson. Well, Steven Jackson has almost 3,000 more rushing yards than either of them and is the then St. Louis, and Now Los Angeles Rams all-time leading rusher. Jackson retired after the 2015 season with 11,438 rushing yards (18th all-time) and 15,121 total yards from scrimmage (21st all-time).
JIMMY SMITH – WIDE RECEIVER – JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Twenty years ago the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the most exciting teams in professional sports, and Jimmy Smith was one of their most electric stars. Led by a younger version of the current Tom Coughlin, who was their head coach at the time, the Jaguars could score points with anybody. They had an offense that featured gunslinging Mark Brunell at quarterback, Fred Taylor in the backfield, and Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith at wideout. Jimmy Smith was originally a Dallas Cowboy, but injuries derailed his career. The Jaguars gave Smith a shot after the Cowboys cut him, and boy did it pay off. Jimmy went on to produce nine 1,000-yard seasons in 10 years with the Jaguars, including two 100 reception seasons. Jimmy Smith produced one of the greatest single-game stat-lines by a wide receiver in NFL history when he went for 15 catches, 291 yards, and three touchdowns against the 2000 Ravens defense. A Ravens defense which was one of the best defensive units ever. Smith struggled with addiction at the end of his career, and well into his retirement. Now, entirely sober, Smith has been inducted into the “Pride of Jaguars” ring of honor. Jimmy Smith is also the Jaguars all-time leading receiver.
LONDON FLETCHER – LINEBACKER – BUFFALO BILLS
The real-life Iron Man. London Fletcher is one of five players in NFL history to start in 250 consecutive games. He also holds the record for the most consecutive starts at the linebacker position. Fletcher has been quoted saying it still “pisses him off when he thinks about the credit he was given for his production.” While Fletcher was never once selected to an All-Pro team, his numbers speak for itself. Fletcher is second all-time in total tackles, trailing only the legendary Ray Lewis with 2,031 tackles. Fletcher was partially under-appreciated due part to the fact that he played in the same era as two of the greatest middle linebackers ever to live in Lewis and Brian Urlacher. London recorded 23 interceptions and 39 sacks throughout his career. Numbers never lie.
PHILIP RIVERS – QUARTERBACK – LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
With one of the more unorthodox throwing motions in NFL history, Philip Rivers possesses a side-armed cannon that has been going strong for over a decade. Rivers has received countless arbitrary discrimination due to his lack of postseason success. In 2006, the then 14-2 Rivers led Chargers had the Patriots beat after an interception by defensive back McCree late in the fourth, only to then fumble during his return and give the ball back to Brady and the Patriots. I think we know what happened next. The Chargers have had down years as of late, but Rivers has remained their one constant, and top producing NFL quarterback year after year. Maybe if he can lead the Chargers into a deep playoff run this 2018 season, his legacy will have a different tune. But, as for now, he’s a very underrated signal-caller due to his lack of postseason success.
NAVORRO BOWMAN – LINEBACKER – SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Fans and media have significantly undervalued Navorro Bowman all across the country. Part of the reason Bowman didn’t receive his credit was due to the fact that he was playing alongside NFL great Patrick Willis, and he received most of the headlines. For a four-five year span, they were the most dominant 1-2 punch at the linebacker position in the entire NFL. Bowman began his career at the tail-end of the Jim Harbaugh era and has since been a part of the mess that Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly created. When healthy, Bowman’s difference-making ability on the field is impossible not to notice while you’re watching a 49ers game. The reckless abandon that he attacks the ball with, along with his closing speed is unmatched. Still just 30 years old, Bowman has already missed north of 2 full seasons due to injury. When healthy, he’s made four all-pro selections and been one of, if not the best linebacker in the NFC since the retirement of Patrick Willis.
DERRICK MASON – WIDE RECEIVER – TENNESSEE TITANS
Line Derrick Mason up anywhere you want, and he’s going to find a way to be productive. Mason was one of the first true slot receivers of the 21st Century. He was lining up in the slot long before it was deemed an essential component to NFL offenses. Mason recorded four 1,000 yard seasons for the Jeff Fisher 1920’s style football coaching and another four 1,000 yard seasons for the Baltimore Ravens. Mason’s 95-catch 1,200 yard seasons in the early 2000s when it was still a smash mouth style of football would translate to 115-120 catches and 1,700 yards nowadays. The man changed the way star receivers lineup, and you see examples of it every weekend now with teams best receivers lining up all over the entire field.
TIKI BARBER – RUNNING BACK – NEW YORK GIANTS
The greatest running back in New York Giants history! Tiki Barber was a one-man show for much of the early 2000s. He was also the twin brother to Tampa Bay Buccaneers star cornerback Ronde Barber. In 2005, Tiki accumulated 2,390 all-purpose yards. It was the second most in NFL history at the time behind only Marshall Faulk. Barber also rushed for over 200 yards three different times in that same year. Still, to this day, Barber holds 22 New York Giants rushing records. Tiki was one of the first NFL players to retire during the peak of his prime since Barry Sanders. But that was just the way he wanted it. Tiki cited that he wanted to retire on top, and not some washed up aging veteran. Not often do you hear Tiki’s name mentioned during discussions regarding the best running backs from the early 2000s and it’s a damn shame because he most certainly was.
TERRELL SUGGS – LINEBACKER – BALTIMORE RAVENS
Terrell “T-Sizzle” Suggs, wow, what a player. Largely overshadowed by the best linebacker in NFL history Ray Lewis, Suggs still found ways to dominate. Ways to still be dominant. Now, Suggs is by no means someone who doesn’t receive credit, but he is someone who doesn’t receive enough credit, and that’s why he makes our list. For the numbers he’s produced he deserves far more praise. FAR MORE. Suggs has the second most sacks of any active player trailing only Julius Peppers and the 15th most of all-time with his 132. Suggs doesn’t possess the quickness of a Von Miller, but his sheer power is unmatched. Even now at 36 years old Suggs is worthy of a double-team. He can bull rush past just about anyone he lines up across. Suggs has one defensive player of the year award under his belt as well, which came in 2011. The man keeps performing and defining old age.
ROD SMITH – WIDE RECEIVER – DENVER BRONCOS
If you’re a diehard Denver Broncos fan, then it’s impossible for you not to love and cherish the days of the amazing Rod Smith. As an undrafted wide receiver out of Missouri Southern, Smith took the NFL by storm and became the greatest receiver in Broncos history. Smith accumulated eight 1,000 yard season. He also leads the Denver Broncos is career yards, receptions, and touchdowns. He’s 27th in the history of the NFL for receptions and 32nd for receiving yards. Despite the production, Smith has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, which is a shame. However, the Broncos inducted him into their own Ring of Fame in 2012. To go from undrafted to being the greatest player at a position in the history of a professional franchise is an unprecedented accomplishment and the true story of an underrated underdog who defied the odds and achieved greatness.
COREY DILLON – RUNNING BACK – CINCINNATI BENGALS
Search every which way, and you won’t find a more physical, punishing runner than Corey Dillon. Labeled washed up and diminished after an injury-ridden, underperforming 2003 season, Dillon demanded the Bengals either cut or trade him. He could no longer lay his body on the line for an organization that wasn’t doing anything to get him some help and find a way to start winning some football games. After the worst season of his career, he was shipped to the New England Patriots in return for a 2nd-round pick. In 2004, Dillon’s first season as a Patriot, he produced the best year of his professional career. Racking up 1,635 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The Patriots and Dillon won the Superbowl that season. Long before his New England days, Dillon established himself as one of the premier backs in football. In 2000, he broke Walter Payton’s 23-year old single-game rushing record with a 278-yard performance. Dillon is another Hall of Fame snub, which is why he makes this list. His 11,241 career rushing yards are good for 20th all-time. He also racked up 89 touchdowns over his career. Legend!
ISAAC BRUCE – WIDE RECEIVER – ST. LOUIS RAMS
Remember the “Greatest Show on Turf”? Yeah, we all do – those were the days. To this day that St. Louis Rams team is one of the most exciting offenses in NFL history. The combination of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Tory Holt, and Isaac Bruce is probably still the greatest quarterback, running back, wide receiver trio ever. Is Isaac Bruce underrated, publicly, probably not? All the fans, coaches, and viewers know how talented Bruce was. But the fact that there are 27 wide receivers in the pro football Hall of Fame and Isaac Bruce is not one of them is a complete joke, and the reason he’s underrated. The guy has the fourth most receiving yards in NFL history with 15,208 yards. He was second all-time to only Jerry Rice when he retired in 2009. Two more players have since accumulated more than him. He also finished his career with 91 touchdowns. Even if Bruce never gets into Canton, at least he’s got a Superbowl ring he can wear proudly. We salute you, Mr. Bruce.
BRIAN WESTBROOK – RUNNING BACK – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The former 2001 Walter Payton Award winner (given to the best running back in college football) Brian Westbrook was the first true swiss army knife running back in the pro football. Westbrook wasn’t a bruising back who was going to pummel through opponents, but he is going to give every defensive coordinator a migraine. The first running back to line up all over the field. Westbrook would lineup on the outside, the slot, come out of the backfield, and carry the pigskin. It was unheard of for running backs to lead a team in catches in the early 2000s, so what’d Westbrook do? He did exactly that. In 2007 he led the Philadelphia Eagles in receptions with 91. He was also a key piece to the Eagles 2006 Superbowl run, which they ultimately fell just short of the Patriots. Throughout his NFL career, Westbrook racked up over 10,000 combined yards between receiving and rushing, along with 71 touchdowns. Westbrook is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.
STEVE MCNAIR – QUARTERBACK – TENNESSEE TITANS
First and foremost, RIP to the late great Steve McNair. Another great man, gone far too soon. McNair was a superstar from the start. A high school icon labeled the greatest quarterback the press had ever seen. He then went on to star at Alcorn State University, where he went on to be a Heisman finalist and ultimately the #3 overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. McNair ended up on the Houston Oilers. By his 3rd NFL season, the team relocated to Tennessee. It was there where “Air McNair” was born. The combination of Steve McNair, running back Eddie George, and wide receiver Andre Dyson. In 1999 McNair and the Titans fell one yard short of Superbowl glory, as wide receiver Andre Dyson was tackled just outside the goal line on the final play of the game. That was the closest the Titans ever got to hoist the trophy. In 2003, McNair went on to become the co-MVP of the NFL with Peyton Manning. McNair will always be remembered as a true warrior on the field. One of the toughest places to ever play the game, positions aside. McNair’s numbers might not be up there with some of the greatest ever, but his heart most certainly is. What he meant to his team, teammates, and the city of Tennessee is next to none. He’s an Icon in those regards.
MUHSIN MUHAMMAD – WIDE RECEIVER – CAROLINA PANTHERS
He’s one of three players ever to catch a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl for two different teams. He’s also one of the wealthiest football players ever to live, thanks to his off the field investments. Muhammad is both top-30 in career receiving yards and receptions. On the field, he was the key receiver on two different NFC offenses, both of which made a Superbowl appearance. He starred for the Carolina Panthers, and then the Chicago Bears. Muhsin was as sure-handed as they came, and ran beautiful routes. Never labeled as one of the best receivers in the game, but his production sure did resemble one. His best year came in 2004 when he caught 93 balls for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. I’m sure Fantasy Football owners were drooling over him that season.
CHARLES TILLMAN – DEFENSIVE BACK – CHICAGO BEARS
The once superstar, ball-hawking cornerback who caused quarterbacks fits, is now an FBI Agent. How fitting. Peanut Tillman became too old to fight and battle with wide receivers anymore, so he decided to fight crime. On the gridiron, Tillman was an assassin. He was everywhere. Tillman was two interceptions away from being the only person in NFL history to force 40 fumbles, and also pick off 40 passes. Tillman was a key component of one of the greatest defenses of this Century. If there were a debate for the best defensive teams of this era, it’d be between only two franchises, the Ravens or the Bears.
DALLAS CLARK – TIGHT END – INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
The small-town security blanket from little old Iowa, Dallas Clark was drafted by the Colts in the 1st round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Clark played his first nine NFL season as a Colt and served as Peyton Manning’s sure-handed security blanket for all nine of them. Manning was becoming the best player in the NFL, and he sure did have the cast of support to go with him. Clark lined up alongside Hall of Famer’s Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. The aerial attack that Indianapolis possessed was ridiculous. Peyton Manning wasn’t yet labeled the greatest football player ever, but he was on his way. Clark produced his most touchdowns in a season, 11, in 2006, the year the Colts won the Super Bowl. The best season of his career, however, came in 2009 when he produced 100 receptions for 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Nowadays Clark spends his time on his 134-acre farm in Livermore, Iowa.
STEVE SMITH – WIDE RECEIVER – CAROLINA PANTHERS
If you need a definition for the word “bully”, look no further than wide receiver Steve Smith. Smith bullied his way up and down the field for 16 years. One of the most physical receivers to ever play the position. It was almost like he sought after contact. The passion in which Smith played with was contagious, and you could see it throughout the team. Battling through injury after injury, Smith never gave up and pushed his body to the limit time after time. In 2005 Smith led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,563 and receiving touchdowns with 12. No defensive back looked forward to their matchup with Smith, and I can assure you that. Now retired, Steve has spoken out about his lifelong battle with depression. We wish nothing but the best for Smith and his well-being in his post-career endeavors.
JAMAL LEWIS – RUNNING BACK – BALTIMORE RAVENS
CTE is real. Just ask former All-Pro running back Jamal Lewis, who has spoken out about his experiences since his retirement. Jamal Lewis would have gone down as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history had injuries not piled up and aged his body faster than it was supposed to. Lewis only played 9 NFL season, but he rushed for over 1,000 yards in all but two of them. One of those seasons being his final season, which he only played in 9 games because of injury. Lewis broke Corey Dillon’s record for the most rushing yards in a game with 295 in 2003. This record stood for four years, until Adrian Peterson broke it by a single yard in 2007. Peterson’s record still stands 11 years later, and Jamal Lewis is still 2nd. In 2003 Lewis rushed for 2,033 yards and 14 touchdowns. His 2,033 yards are good for the 3rd most in a single season ever. He also was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year that season.
TERRELL OWENS – WIDE RECEIVER – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
On December 17th, 2000, Terrell Owens set the single-game receptions record with 20 catches in a 17-0 win over the Chicago Bears. That was just the start. T.O. constantly made headlines because of his antics on and off the field. He was a world-class clown, a fool, cancer, and whatever other subjective nuisance you want to label him as. All of that is debatable. But, what isn’t debatable is Terrell Owens, the football player. The same player that is being punished by the Canton Hall of Fame Committee for things he did which were unrelated to football, which is a complete disgrace to the NFL. Yes, I understand that people are entitled to their opinions. Hell, I don’t even like the guy as a person. But, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, you have to put your personal opinions aside, and judge the athlete based off of their impact, contributions, and success on the field. There is zero argument whatsoever about T.O.’s career accomplishments (ON THE FIELD) that is anything less than Jerry Rice as the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game. Jerry Rice is 1A, and Terrell Owens is 1B. It’s that simple. This man is the only player in NFL history to score a touchdown against all 32 NFL teams. As if that’s not good enough, he one-upped himself. He’s the only player in NFL history to score 2 or more touchdowns against every team in NFL history. T.O. is 3rd all-time in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He’s 8th all-time in receptions. His career numbers are 1,078 receptions, 15,934 receiving yards, and 156 touchdowns. There are 27 wide receivers in the Hall of Fame. To see these numbers, where they rank and then consider the number of players that have been inducted, it’s a freaking joke that Owens isn’t enshrined.
LANCE BRIGGS – LINEBACKER – CHICAGO BEARS
Alongside All-World linebacker Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs formed what would be the best NFC linebacker duo of the 21st Century. The combination of the two could completely blow up your offensive game plan, and stuff the run time after time. During Briggs career, which began in 2003, no player at any position had more stuffs. He had 83 ½. A “stuff” in football is when a defensive player tackles a ball-carrier for a loss of yards. Briggs was a model of consistency and durability, and he only missed four games in his first decade with the team. Briggs retired 2nd in franchise history for tackles. He was a 7-time Pro Bowl selection.