In the NFL, it can be tough to receive the credit you deserve. There are plenty of established stars, some with production to match their reputations and some who’ve been coasting on name recognition for a couple of seasons now. Sometimes a player finds that they’re playing among the shadows of their own teammates.
10 Most Overlooked Players in the NFL in 2020
The following are 10 players who may have flown under the radar during the 2020 season but are poised to make a jump to the big stage in 2021.
Atlanta Falcons – Foyesade Oluokun, LB
Oluokun was solid at linebacker for the Falcons in the first two seasons of his career but stepped up his production to become one of the pillars of Atlanta’s defense in 2020.
In 2020, Oluokun used his sideline-to-sideline speed to lead the Falcons in solo tackles with 78, four of those for a loss. He added nine quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.
Atlanta’s 2018 sixth round draft choice is ready to break out of the shadow of Deion Jones as an impact player in his own right.
Baltimore Ravens – J.K. Dobbins, RB
If it weren’t for Lamar Jackson rushing for over 1,000 yards as a quarterback, Dobbins would get Pro Bowl caliber recognition.
He rushed for 805 yards in 2020 and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. In other words, this rookie running back was not a sight opponents wanted to see head their way. He also topped the Ravens offense with nine touchdowns.
Watch out for Dobbins in 2021. He won’t be playing in Jackson’s shadow much longer.
Buffalo Bills – Gabriel Davis, WR
The Bills will have Emmanuel Sanders joining their impressive wide receiver group for 2021. Someone who got pushed down a spot on the depth chart by that signing but should be on the rise once the season starts is Gabriel Davis.
The fourth round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft caught 35 passes for 599 yards. That doesn’t tell Davis’ entire 2020 story though. He was second on Buffalo’s receiving corps in touchdown with seven. Another telling stat is that four of those seven touchdowns were on plays covering 20 yards or more.
Josh Allen has an All-Pro wide receiver that needs double coverage in Stefan Diggs. In 2021, he’ll have Davis to keep the field stretched and open up plenty of opportunities for Buffalo’s offense.
Carolina Panthers – Brian Burns, DE
Carolina drafted Brian Burns 16th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft to shore up a weak pass rush that finished 27th in sacks and 31st in quarterback hits in 2018.
Last season, that draft pick began paying dividends for the Panthers. Burns led the team with nine sacks, eight tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hits.
Heading into his third NFL season, expect Burns to take his place as one of the rocks of Carolina’s defense.
Chicago Bears – Bilal Nichols, DL
A lot of experts have been calling Allen Robinson the most underrated players on the Bears. The problem is, everyone who follows the NFL knows the value of Robinson and teams would be in line to bid for his services if he ever became available.
Nichols was a fifth round pick for the Bears in the 2018 NFL Draft and has developed into a talent, both inside and outside, on Chicago’s defensive line.
In his dual role on defense, Nichols was credited with 40 tackles last season. He tied Pro Bowler Khalil Mack for second on the Bears defense with 13 quarterback hits. He also tied for fourth on the team with seven tackles for loss.
Nichols is in a contract year so expect the stellar play to continue from the formerly lightly regarded fifth round pick.
Cincinnati Bengals – Jesse Bates III, FS
Cincinnati doesn’t have a safety like Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick patrolling their secondary but Bengals fans shouldn’t be concerned. Bates outplayed the First Team All-Pro in most categories across the board in 2020.
He led all NFL safeties with 15 passes defended in 2020 and intercepted three. That gave Bates three interceptions for each of his first three seasons in the league. He’s also registered at least 100 tackles in those seasons.
Teamed up with Vonn Bell at strong safety, Bates gives the Bengals a secondary to be reckoned with in 2021.
Denver Broncos – Malik Reed, OLB
Everybody knows who Bradley Chubb is on Denver’s defense. In 2021, NFL fans will be getting to know Malik Reed, who plays opposite of Chubb.
Last season, Reed topped Denver’s defense with eight sacks and was second to Chubb with 17 quarterback hits.
For a late bloomer, he wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent, Reed has developed into a force on Denver’s defense. There’s also plenty of ceiling left for this overlooked linebacker.
Philadelphia Eagles – Josh Sweat, DE
Brandon Graham played 68.8 percent of defensive snaps for Philadelphia last season and delivered eight sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. For that, Graham was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Josh Sweat played 38.2 percent of defensive snaps for the Eagles and produced six sacks, nine quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss and forced three fumbles. He might not get the ink that Graham, Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett receive for their work on the Eagles defensive line but on a snap for snap basis, Sweat delivers the goods.
San Francisco 49ers – Jeff Wilson, RB
Unfortunately, Wilson suffered a a torn meniscus in May that will keep him out of San Francisco’s linup until at least Week 7 of the 2021 season.
With both Raheem Mostart and Tevin Coleman missing time to injuries in 2020, Wilson stepped up to lead the 49ers with 600 yards and 10 all-purpose touchdowns. In Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals, Wilson carried 22 times for 183 yards and one touchdown.
Wilson was looking like a running back that would provide uninterrupted production when Mostart needed a breather in 2021. He has all the skills to be that when he gets back.
Washington – Montez Sweat, Edge
Montez Sweat isn’t related to his Philadelphia Eagles counterpart but he’s joining Josh in making his presence felt across the NFL world.
Sweat had a solid rookie campaign befitting the 26th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, then followed up in 2020 with a demonstration of why The Football Team invested a first round pick on him.
Chase Young may have received all the accolades for what Washington achieved on defense in 2020 but Sweat led the team with nine sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 12 tackles for loss. He also contributed two forced fumbles, six passes defended and one interception to Ron Rivera’s defense.
Sweat isn’t going to be overlooked much longer. He and Young are going to strike fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks for years to come.
All statistics from Pro Football Reference.com
Header Image: All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons